Wind whips the branches of the massive oak tree that shadows the garden at Number 12, Grimmauld Place. Lightning sparks through the sky, cutting through the heat of a stifling August night. Thunder grumbles in the distance. The street lamps send a weak yellow glow into the shadowed sitting room; the light glints off the lenses of the man who sits there wreathed in shadow.
Harry Potter slumps on the sitting room couch, ignoring the way the velvet bristles scratch the skin of his arms and the back of his neck. He shifts to relieve the pressure from the lumps in the cushions. The room is lit only by the faint glow of the street lamps outside and the occasional flash of lightning.
He sits in the dark, motionless, as he has been for the past hour or so; he hasn’t yet found the energy to get up and turn on the light. He’s been sitting on the couch all evening, staring at the same crack in the plaster — a task made more difficult as the light fades — waiting for a letter from Ron and Hermione.
They promised to check in today. The clock is in the other room, and it seems like too much bother to pull out his wand to cast a Tempus, but it feels late. They’re supposed to let him know how much progress they’ve made in restoring Hermione’s parents’ memories. They’ve already extended their stay in Australia twice, and Harry is beginning to get desperate. He doesn’t know how many more days he can handle the solitude.
They could have firecalled, of course, and then he wouldn’t have to wait on the flaky International Owl Post, but Grimmauld place had been disconnected from the Floo Network not long after they'd left. He’d received a stern letter on official Ministry letterhead warning that he’d been operating the Floo on permits that had expired several years before.
He’d snorted at that. The Order of the Phoenix had apparently not thought renewing the permits vital to the war effort.
It’s just bureaucracy. He’ll have to fill out a few forms, talk to someone at the Ministry permitting department, get something signed… maybe have a bored Floo repair technician have a look at it— but it sounds like far too much effort. He feels a pang of regret, as he sits in the dark, waiting, but not enough to force him to walk across the room and start filling out the forms he left sitting on the corner of his desk, buried beneath a stack of letters and invitations he hasn’t responded to.
The owl is late. He knows that he shouldn’t be worried. He knows that International Owl Post can be slow, and that post from Australia seems especially bad. Hermione has been nagging at him, in her recent letters, to get the Floo reopened. He knows that were she here, she’d have had it taken care of within a day, and would probably have had it cleaned and dropped off a dozen other piles of paperwork at the Ministry while she was at it. Even an imaginary Hermione is exhausting.
He tilts his head to one side and then the other, until his neck gives a satisfying crack, comforted by the hope that she’ll be home soon, and then she can take care of it and he won’t have to worry about it at all.
He finally tires of staring at the crack in the wall and flops his head onto the back of the couch to stare at the ceiling instead. His eyes find another crack, trace it to where it intersects with a spider web that stretches all the way to the corner. He and the spider consider one another for a long moment, and then the spider turns its attention back to its dinner, unconcerned. Even the spiders know that Harry isn’t likely to be chasing them with a broom anytime soon.
He’s missing yet another pub night to be here, waiting on the owl that still hasn’t come. Ginny hadn’t understood, of course, when she’d dropped by to collect him as usual and he’d told her he couldn’t go out. He couldn’t explain the rush of terror he’d felt when she’d reminded him that the owl would find him anywhere — even at the pub. But the thought of missing the owl, of chancing delivery in a crowded pub instead of his home, of being skewered by prying eyes as he reads the letter — his brain skitters away from the thought. But he knows better than to try to explain it. There’s no way to make her understand.
Ginny hasn’t understood a lot of things, lately. She’s bright and sparkling and full of energy as ever, and just looking at her leaves Harry exhausted and longing for his bed.
His head is starting to ache from the memory of their outing a few days before. Thursday? Or perhaps it had been Tuesday? The days blur together, a streak of grey punctuated by flashing lights and a pounding beat that gets into his blood and leaves his limbs feeling like lead. They seem to leave Ginny fizzing with energy and he can’t keep up.
What if the owl isn’t coming? What if he’s missed it? What if something has happened to them, halfway across the world? He feels his panic spiralling upward and braces himself. His fingernails grip the sofa’s velvet-upholstered edge. The stiff bristles poke into the sensitive pads of his fingers, nearly unbearable with his senses heightened. He shifts, eyes trained on the window. The storm clouds move off and the moon rises, inch by tantalising inch. The empty house yawns cavernous around him. The seconds crawl by. The owl doesn’t come.
Where’s the bloody owl? Tonight, Hermione’d said. Had promised, even. Tonight her letter would arrive. That’s what Ginny had relayed to him, anyway. He hopes they return soon. He isn’t very good at living alone.
The moon creeps higher; Harry’s tension fizzles. He drifts in and out, like the night fog that creeps past his window. He feels like he’s floating away, out the window, toward the night skies the Post Owl navigates.
He imagines it swooping low over some distant ocean, trailing the tips of its wings through the gently lapping water, soaring high over a moonlit desert, where nothing moves except for the sifting sand; he imagines it winging through leafy branches, the silence broken by the calls of night birds and the echoing howl of a jungle cat; he imagines it pausing in its journey to hunt, trailing an unwary mouse across a grassy field and then swooping down upon it in a silent whirl of doom; as his eyes drift closed, he seems to see it flitting silently over rooftops, past steeples, dodging power lines, sees, too, the dangers in the darkness: cats on the prowl, lurking in alleyways, automobiles speeding carelessly along night roads…
An insistent tapping drags him back to consciousness, and he stands, swaying as his joints protest. He stumbles to the window and lets the owl in, fumbling with one hand in the drawer of the sideboard for some owl treats as he unties the letter with the other. His fingers find only emptiness as they scrabble across the bottom of the drawer. Finally, his questing fingers find a few treats in the very back. He thinks he really ought to buy more before Hermione’s next letter arrives, but the thought fades as the parchment unrolls.
His vision swims and he has to scrub his eyes before he can make sense of the words.
Harry, says Hermione’s brisk, businesslike script, and he feels himself relax a little, feels some of the tension he’s been carrying bleed away. It slams back into him at her next words.
We’re having a bit more success, now, but restoring memories is a tricky business. Much harder than removing them, as it happens. We’re making progress, but if we left now, everything we’ve accomplished would unravel. We’re going to have to stay for quite a while, I’m afraid. I’ve already flooed McGonagall to let her know Ron and I won’t be returning this term. We’ll work on our lessons here, and take exams with you in the spring. I hope you’re doing well, and that you’re remembering to eat — vegetables, Harry! Don’t forget to get out and walk and get some sunshine every day. We love you, and we’ll see you as soon as we can.
Ron’s scrawl at the end makes him smile a bit, but it fades as he reads the words.
Harry, mate, I hope you’re well. You really should get that Floo fixed, you know. International Owl Post is rubbish. Anyway, as Hermione said, we’re going to be here a while longer. The beaches are great — I’m getting a proper Australian tan and everything. Between you and me, I’m not too fussed about missing school, but I’m sure Hermione will keep me on task.
Harry can almost hear his put-upon sigh in the way the sentence ends with a scribble that trails off.
Hope you’re doing well. Look after my sister, if she’ll let you.
Harry lets the letter drop to the floor and rubs his temples, the despair looming up again. They won’t be back soon. He’s been clutching onto the promise they’d made him when they left: that they’ll be back before he knows it, and Hermione will drag them all back to Hogwarts, and…
He’ll have to send an owl to McGonagall. There’s no way he’ll be returning to Hogwarts without them. He can’t bear it. But the parchment is on the other side of the room, in some drawer or other. And he can’t begin to imagine where he’s stuck his quills. He’ll do it tomorrow.
He contemplates dragging himself up the two flights of stairs to his bedroom and decides it isn’t worth the effort. He stretches out on the couch instead. It isn’t very comfortable, and there’s a spring poking into his ribs, but it’s easier. He lets his eyes fall shut and lets himself drift.
He blinks, trying to put his scrambled thoughts in order and slow his frantic breathing. The room fades in and out of focus. The walls seem to move closer and then drift farther away. Shadows skitter around the edges of his vision. He stares at them, willing them to melt away, tells himself it’s just a dream. He pinches his arm to try and wake up, feels his racing heart begin to slow. A scratching at the window startles him, sends his heart rate skyrocketing again. Tree branches, he tells himself firmly. Just tree branches.
He makes a mental note to cut them. The moonlight filters in, streaking the floor with pale light. As he works to slow his breathing, he stares at the floorboards, coated with a thin layer of dust.
He dozes. Wakes again to sunlight, harsh and grating against his pounding head. He squints his eyes and puts up his hand to block the glare. Dozes again.
The next day he drifts. He feels like a ghost in his own life, wandering aimlessly through the empty house. He thinks of sending an owl to Ginny but discards the thought immediately. He’d have to go out to get a Post Owl. He can’t handle even the thought of the crowds lurking outside the safety of his house.
Light and dark stripe his consciousness like they stripe the floor. Time becomes meaningless.
Sometimes he remembers to take his pills and potions, looking guiltily at the pillbottles Hermione had last had refilled, at the days he’s missed. At least, he thinks he’s missed them. He can’t be sure. He’s not even entirely sure he knows what day it is. Is it better to take too much or too little? He stares at the bottle in his hand. Which one is this? Has he taken it today? How can he be sure?
Sometimes he rouses himself and pokes through the sparse contents of his fridge. Kreacher had tried to shop for him, cook for him, but Harry had railed at him until he’d given it up. Now he pointedly doesn’t cook for him, when Harry would actually be glad of the help.
He used to like cooking, he thinks, staring blankly around the empty kitchen. With Ron and Hermione gathered around the big table in the centre of the kitchen, it had been comforting. They’d regale him with stories about their day — he didn’t go out much, even then — and he’d chop and whisk and…
He sighs and pokes unenthusiastically at a wilted lettuce. At least, he thinks it’s a lettuce. He finds a tin of beans in the back of the cupboard and eats it over the sink because there aren’t any clean dishes. He wonders where Kreacher has got to.
He leaves the empty can on the counter and drops onto the couch, rubbing his tired eyes. He’s no longer sure if it’s night or day; everything seems to have faded to a twilight sort of grey. He dismisses the question as unimportant and lets sleep claim him.
He wakes from confused dreams of being lost in a windy, drippy cavern to find a cold, wet nose sniffing at his face. He pushes it off with a groan as he struggles to sit up. His hips ache and, for a moment, his arms and legs refuse to obey him. He forces his eyes open and looks straight into the warm brown eyes of George’s dog.
“George,” he mumbles blearily, willing his eyes to focus, and then, “Ugh, get off me you great lunk,” as the dog pushes its exuberant face toward him again.
“Hi, Harry!” Ginny says brightly as she bounces into view, tugging the dog away from him. “We were out for a walk on this lovely summer day and thought we’d ask you to join us!”
Harry looks at George’s dour expression and thinks the walk was likely entirely Ginny’s idea. Not that it matters. He glances over at the window and winces as a ray of light stabs into his brain and burrows in, sending shooting tendrils of pain in every direction.
He flops back onto the couch, covering his eyes with his arm, but the damage is done. “Gin,” he tries, but it comes out more of a croak and she ignores it.
“Harry. Did you sleep here? Why are you still asleep? It’s past noon. It’s gorgeous out. Get up, get up!”
He stares at her, trying to will his thoughts to come. “What are you doing here?” he manages after several seconds, and then pauses, trying to think of what he’s going to follow that with. Ginny doesn’t give him time to figure it out.
She frowns at him, hands on hips and lips pursed. The light from the window outlines her, casting her in shadow with a halo of light. “We’re going for a walk,” she says briskly. “Hermione instructed me to roust you out of your wallowing.”
He tries. His knees creak alarmingly and he feels his left knee give a little. He wavers, catches himself. “I can’t go walking today, Gin.”
“Of course you can,” she says, striding toward the stairs. “Let’s get you dressed.”
He stares blankly up at the staircase that leads to the second floor. It looks like it goes on forever.
Ginny gives him a light push and he feels his knee give. He falls, catching himself on the railing at the last minute.
“Gin,” he says, more firmly, “I can’t. My leg isn’t working today.”
“What?” she asks, puzzled, and he remembers that he hasn’t told anyone else, except Ron and Hermione. He sighs.
“My left leg. It gives out sometimes when I have a migraine. I can’t—”
“Nonsense. Come on, you can lean on my arm. But we’re getting you dressed and then we’re going outside. Some sun will do you good.”
He doesn’t protest again. It doesn’t seem worth it. Ginny will just steamroll over him like she always does. He leans against her, letting her bear the weight his left side can’t, and slowly starts up the stairs. It’s easier to give in to her this way, and with Ginny here to hold him up, it isn’t so bad.
The only trouble is that when they’re out on pub nights, she doesn’t sit still long enough for him to lean on her.
Which is how he ends up sitting in the corner with George, his glass of pumpkin juice long empty but not trusting his legs to carry him to the bar. He glances at Ginny, sparkling as always on the makeshift dance floor at the centre of the room, with Neville this time, and sighs wistfully. He thinks he should probably be wishing he was Neville, laughing and holding her as she twirls. Only he doesn’t want to be out there.
He looks at his empty glass again. Maybe it’s time to head home. But that seems like too much effort and so he sinks further into his chair, head propped on his hand, and lets the lights and the music and the movement blur together until it’s a meaningless, chaotic whirl.
He spends much of the next morning picking up one thing after another and then putting it down. He can’t decide on a project without Hermione and her ever-present planner there to guide him; he can’t remember if there’s anything he’s supposed to do. He doesn’t think so. He’s not going to his appointment with the Mind Healer, but then he never does. Hermione continues to make them with an optimism he doesn’t share, and he continues to skip them. It’s a habit now, well on its way to becoming a tradition. He’s certainly not going to break it when Hermione isn’t even here to nag him about it.
Someone knocks at the door and he spends the better part of five minutes frozen, wondering whether he should open the door or not. He isn’t expecting anyone today. Ginny never comes by after a pub night, and no one else ever does. It could be anyone.
Luna waltzes in, announcing breezily that she thinks his door must be broken. Or perhaps the Wrackspurts have gotten so thick around his head that they’ve muffled his hearing. He considers explaining that he wasn’t sure who it was at his door but then decides it doesn’t matter. Luna doesn’t seem to mind and whiles away an hour relating tale after wacky tale of her and her father’s experiments in tracking some of their favourite hypothetical magical creatures.
Harry is free to sit and listen, or sit and pretend to listen, and he knows she won’t judge him either way. He lets the soothing cadence of her words wash over him, the meanings lost in the gentle tide.
“Oh, Harry,” Luna says, as she prepares another pot of tea, “I almost forgot. Hermione firecalled yesterday and asked that I give you this. She said it was too heavy for the post owl.”
She reaches into her patchwork bag and pulls out what looks like a notebook. Harry takes it, puzzled, and then snorts in horrified disbelief.
It’s a planner, like the one Hermione uses, though hers has far more notes scribbled in it. He thumbs through the pages, eyebrows climbing higher with each one. She’s marked all his therapy appointments for the year, along with the birthdays of all their friends and suggested weekly tasks. They’re even colour coded. He smiles, feeling a wave of nostalgia for her colour-coded exam study schedules. Hermione is always Hermione, and this thought is soothing, too.
He continues thumbing through the pages since the planner is thicker than it seems like it should be. And, yes, at the end there’s a journal, complete with inspirational quotes.
“Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” he reads, assuming the solemn tone people always seem to use for quoting prophecies. He shakes his head as he wanders into the sitting room and drops the planner on his desk, next to a letter from the Ministry and a stack of job offers.
Luna follows, cocking her head to the side. “Well,” she says after a moment, “it’s not wrong.”
He laughs and thanks her, then follows her back into the kitchen for more tea, planner already forgotten.
After Luna bids him farewell he feels better than he has in days and tackles a project that he leaves half-finished later that evening. It’s not like there’s anyone there to care about the mess, after all.
They’re at the Pixie’s Poison tonight — Ginny’s favourite club. Harry hates the club, with its flashing lights and pounding bass, and he hates dancing, and he really ought to just go home. They’ll be here until closing — they always are. But he can’t find the energy to drag himself to the door, so he slumps here, in this dingy booth in the corner, with only George and his hip flask for company.
George slumps like Harry, shoulders bowed against the weight of everything he has lost. He’s a shadow of himself without Fred, a pale imitation of a Weasley twin. Harry doesn’t know why he always goes with them on these outings — he only ever sits and drinks from his flask, his eyes bleak and empty
He doesn’t offer Harry the hip flask. He’s scared of Hermione, Harry thinks ruefully, staring down into the orange depths of his glass of pumpkin juice. They all are. He doesn’t blame them. It’s fear of what Hermione would say that keeps him from drinking as much as fear of the alcohol interacting poorly with his medications.
God, but he misses her. She’s always there to shove him into a routine, to bludgeon him with her ever-present planner until he does whatever chore she wants done next so that she can check it off. She gets a strange pleasure from checking things off. He doesn’t understand it himself, but he can’t deny that things get done when Hermione is there. There are alarms and schedules and he knows when to get up and when to eat and what to make and what to buy and who to call and it’s so much easier than now. Now, he’s adrift in a strange sea of fog and flashing lights, and he can never remember what he’s supposed to be doing or stay focused long enough to actually complete any tasks at all.
He needs Hermione there. His days and nights are blurring together without her and he’s forever grasping, trying to catch the edge of the slippery, elusive thing he’s meant to be doing.
He wonders what she’s doing, she and Ron and her parents, in the cozy bungalow in Australia that she’s described in her letters. He can’t picture it. She’s supposed to be here. They both are.
He knows she needs this, and she needs Ron for support, but he resents her for going. For taking Ron, and for not taking him, and for breaking her usually rigid schedules to extend their stay again and again. Something about the Obliviate reversal, he thinks, and her parents aren’t taking it well, and if she leaves they might lose all the progress they’ve made. He thinks that’s what her letters have said.
The song changes, and he loses the focus of his thoughts and lets them drift away, shredding into the ever-present fog as he stares blankly at his empty glass. He should probably refill it, but he can’t remember what he was drinking and he can’t remember how to get more of it anyway. Whatever it was. It’s easier to sit and wait for someone to drag him to wherever they’re going next.
His eyes are drawn to the absurdly colourful chaos that is Ginny, Luna, and Neville dancing, and he watches. He should probably feel a pull to join them, to replace Neville, but he feels nothing at all.
The strobe lights begin to flash, turning his world starkly black and white, making the movements of the dancers seem stiff and jerky. Two bodies move through the crowd to greet Ginny, somehow still moving fluidly while everyone else resembles cartoon robots, and he knows that Pansy and Blaise have arrived.
They’ve insinuated themselves into the club nights. Pansy demanded to be invited and wouldn’t take no for an answer — Blaise just oozed in behind her and glommed onto them. Harry doesn’t mind them, except their presence always reminds him of the war. Of the trials, and the chaos, and the demands of the public. Of Malfoy.
He doesn’t want to think of Malfoy, of how empty life feels without him, so he forces his thoughts elsewhere.
His mind wanders for a moment, then his eyes settle on Pansy shaking her head and pumping her fist in the air beside Ginny, and for a moment he’s caught by the contrast of her blue-streaked bob and neon pink jumper against Ginny’s vibrant red hair. He wonders where Pansy acquired the half-dozen piercings he can see flashing from here, and where she learned to patch the rips in her clothing with safety pins. Then he remembers that the Wizengamot was harsh on former Death Eaters, but his testimony and arguments had persuaded them to be lenient with their children.
Pansy’s punishment after the war had been community service, since she’d not played an active role; she and Blaise had been assigned to work in a new Muggle outreach program headed by the Muggle Relations department. Where they’d apparently discovered the Muggle punk scene.
Remembering the trials leads him inevitably to remembering Malfoy’s trial. He’d been treated as an adult since he’d been a marked Death Eater, but Harry’s grudging testimony had been enough to get him house arrest instead of Azkaban. His father had weaselled out of many of the charges against him and had garnered another brief stint in Azkaban and heavy fines. His mother had been given house arrest, too, as she’d done no more than play hostess to a monster.
Harry rubs his eyes and looks out at the dancers again. So much for not thinking about Malfoy, he thinks glumly. Again, Pansy’s jumper catches his eye and he wonders what fire drives her, that she dances so fiercely?
He knows what drives Ginny. The death of her brother hit them all hard, but Ginny reacted differently. Unlike the rest of her family, faded nearly to ghosts, she is full of fire and energy after everything, constantly in motion, living defiantly in memory of Fred.
She’ll be returning to Hogwarts in a few weeks, too, he remembers, and his wandering thoughts latch on to this new topic. Anything is better than thinking of Fred. Or of Malfoy.
Hogwarts had been closed for a year after the final battle, with teams of students joining the teachers in making repairs. The castle had suffered extensive damage during the war; that McGonagall had managed to get it rebuilt in a year was nothing short of miraculous. She wouldn’t stand for it being closed longer, though, and even though some wings were still off limits, the majority of it would reopen on September 1 as usual.
She’d sent each of the students whose 7th year had been interrupted an owl with their options: return for an 8th year in the castle, or study on their own and sit their N.E.W.T.s the following spring.
Harry had left the letter on his desk without replying. Honestly, he’d been expecting Hermione would make the decision for the three of them and drag him and Ron back with her. But now…
The others are all returning in a few weeks, so their partying has become wilder as the summer drags on. They are all determined to live this summer, but he feels set apart from it all. Now that Ron and Hermione are staying in Australia indefinitely, he doesn’t intend to return to Hogwarts at all.
He doesn’t have a job lined up, either, though he’s had plenty of offers he’s ignoring. He’s simply floating, existing. He feels numb, cut loose, as he drifts aimlessly through his days.
Another pub night. Another club night. The insistent beat snakes its way into Harry’s brain, and he fears suddenly it will never let him go.
Ginny launches herself from the dance floor, laughing breathlessly as she sprawls across the cramped bench beside him. “Having fun?” she asks, blowing at a strand of hair that falls across her face.
Harry smiles at her — or tries to. He’s pretty sure one side of his mouth twitches, anyway. His eyes are drawn to the door as it slams, as Pansy and Blaise enter, later than usual. Blaise pats her on the shoulder and then turns, shoving his way onto the dance floor. Pansy lingers at the edge for a moment, looking lost. Then her eyes lock with Harry’s before shifting to Ginny beside him, and she moves jerkily toward their table, skirting the dancers.
She stumbles up to the table and throws herself at Ginny, burying her face in Ginny’s shoulder. Ginny holds her for a moment, stroking her hair, an odd look on her face.
“Budge up,” she says, not looking at Harry. Her concerned eyes are all for Pansy. Harry can’t blame her; Pansy looks terrible. She’s pale and her eyes are red-rimmed; her clothes are so rumpled she might have slept in them.
“I’m all right,” she protests weakly, rubbing her eyes with the back of her sleeve. Ginny shoves Harry further into the corner and pulls Pansy onto the bench seat beside her.
“Sit,” she orders, and “drink this.” She swipes Harry’s water, and then George’s hip flask. Neither of them protests.
Pansy gulps the water and then takes a swig from the flask, and some of the rigid tension of her shoulders seems to slide away. She melts into Ginny’s side, giving George back his flask, and sniffles.
“Now,” Ginny says, pulling her close. “What’s wrong?”
Pansy sniffles again. “They’re dead,” she says quietly. Then again, more harshly, “They’re dead.”
“My father. My mother, who didn’t even have anything to do with the war. She was in France!”
Neville taps her on the shoulder and, when she turns to him, hands her a glass of shimmering amber liquid.
Her mouth twists into a half-smile. “Thanks, Nev,” she says.
The mirrored ball spins above them, sending shards of light skittering over their faces.
“Did you call the Aurors?” Ginny asks.
Pansy snorts. “For all the good it did me. My father was a Death Eater. That’s all they needed to know. They’re reporting it as one of those Vengeance Killings and not looking into it any further. Open and shut case. Never mind that he’s been helping them all year. And now I’m too afraid to go home to get any of my things. I’ve been crashing on Blaise’s couch.”
She takes a sip of her drink, then another.
“They hacked them to bits,” she says, eyes fixed on her glass. “When I got home, there were pieces scattered everywhere, and so much blood…” she trails off on a sob and buries her face in Ginny’s shoulder again.
“Shhh,” Ginny says, stroking her hair. “You can come home with me tonight. I’ll lend you whatever you need. And you know Mum will let you stay as long as you like. She says it’s too quiet now, anyway, with just me and George to make trouble.”
Harry sits silent, seething. There have been far too many vengeance killings in the year since the war. The Ministry should be doing something about them. He knows they won’t, though. The public is on their side, and hungry for blood, riled up and full of righteous furore against anyone who’d had any association with the Death Eaters.
But that doesn’t make it right.
Pansy’s father had been a minor Death Eater. He’d helped the Ministry round up more dangerous players for a plea deal. Her mother had never been involved. Pansy might have tried to turn him over to Voldemort, but she’d been trying to save everyone else. He’s long since forgiven her.
He doesn’t know what to do with the public. It’s why he hardly ever goes out. They still revere him, disturbingly so, but they’re also very possessive of him and want to mould him to fit their ideal of the perfect golden boy hero — a mould Harry has no intention of filling even if he could.
Hell, they’d probably revere him more if he announced that he’d been responsible for the so-called Vengeance Killings. The thought turns his stomach and he pushes his drink away in disgust.
The lights strobe through the room, spearing the dancers and highlighting their cheekbones smeared with glitter, their piercings winking in the light.
Harry sits in the booth long after Ginny has bundled Pansy off to the Burrow, staring over the seething crowd with narrowed eyes. He doesn’t want to leave, doesn’t want to go home to his empty house, still stinking with the bitter tang of Dark Magic.
The flashing lights make him dizzy; the drumbeat pounds through him, echoing the beating of the blood in his temples. He feels the migraine coming on, slipping slow and sinuous through his head, ready to flare in electric fireworks of pain the moment he relaxes. He doesn’t want to relax.
He wants to be out there, among the gyrating bodies, and yet… he can’t. He feels as if there is a wall between him and the rest of the room, a transparent wall of glass separating him from the feverish crowd.
Neville is out there somewhere, and Blaise, and Luna, but he can’t find them. The migraine whispers over his scalp like tiny strikes of lightning and he groans, slumping forward and burying his face in his arms, trying to escape the light and the insistent drumming beat. It’s like trying to will the sun not to rise — it just comes on, relentless and unwavering.
Harry tries half-heartedly to pull away as he’s dragged down the street, hand clasped firmly in Ginny’s relentless grip. They’re headed to Luna’s biweekly Tuesday Brunch — a tradition he’s thus far managed to avoid since it takes place in a cozy little teashop on Diagon Alley in full view of passersby. He stares at the cobblestones, hiding his face from anyone who might recognise him. The sun is warm on his neck. He’s debating protesting, even though he knows Ginny will ignore everything he says anyway so it seems rather pointless, when he hears the sound of a scuffle.
He turns his head, frowning, to look down the alley they’ve just passed, drawn to the sound like iron to a lodestone.
Ginny sighs impatiently as his footsteps slow. “Come on, Harry, we’re late as it is.”
“But someone could be hurt. I have to help.”
“You’re not an Auror, Harry,” she groans, “Remember? You could have been, but you turned them down. Call them, if you must, but don’t get involved.”
Harry pulls away from her, his fingers slipping through hers as if they’re made of water. “I didn’t turn them down,” he says distractedly, “I just didn’t reply yet.”
“Harry, I mean it,” she says. “If you go down there, I’m leaving without you—”
But it’s too late, because he’s just caught a glimpse of a drawn, pale face, a shock of blond hair, and he’s ignoring her words, running down the alley without conscious thought.
It’s like he’s been peering out at life through a haze of fog and it’s suddenly lifted. The scene before him is clear and sharp as a razor’s edge. He can almost taste it, like those perfect winter days where you can see for miles.
He sees the three figures standing rigid in the early afternoon light, and it’s the first clear thing he’s seen in so long that for a moment he just stares, drinking it all in. Ginny’s voice comes to him from far away; it’s easy to let her words run off him.
He sees the wands raised and the cloaked assailants closing in and Malfoy’s grey, grey eyes going impossibly wide as he sees his doom bearing down upon him, and Harry doesn’t think. He acts. It’s what he does best. He draws his wand on the masked figures and shouts “Expelliarmus!” because that’s the only thing he can think of in that moment — get their wands.
As usually happens, since the end of the war, his magical strength is unpredictable, and in the next moment eight wands are sailing toward him and smacking thunk thunk thunk against his palm.
The alley breaks into chaos as eight bodies start to flee and he’s shooting off tripping jinxes and body binds without thought and the masked, cloaked assailants are running, running, until the sound of their panicked footsteps falls away. In the end, only one man falls with a soft “Oomph” and Harry turns to the Malfoys, standing pale and proud in the centre of the alley, giving the masked figure on the ground a sharp kick as he does so.
His eyes never leave Malfoy’s.
For a moment, there is silence, broken only by the soft grunts of the body on the ground, and then Harry speaks. His body still thrums with adrenaline, but he keeps his voice even.
“Malfoy. What’s going on?”
Malfoy draws back like an affronted cat; Harry half expects him to hiss. “What does it look like, Potter?” he spits. “We were attacked. Tell me, is Expelliarmus really the only spell you know? I read you killed the Dark Lord with it — is that true?” He curls his lip. “All the dangerous spells you know, and you choose Expelliarmus?”
“Shut up, Malfoy,” Harry says, suddenly weary. He feels the chill of the night air, gets a whiff of rotten fruit from the garbage bins at the end of the alley. He remembers the bathroom in sixth year, Malfoy’s blood on the floor. So much blood.
He hears wood squeak in protest and realises that he’s still gripping the masked assailants’ wands.
He’s suddenly at a loss for what to do. He stares down at the unfamiliar wands, hoping they’ll spark some inspiration. He’s standing in an alley with the Malfoys, a bound masked man, and a handful of wands. Clearly he has to do something, but what?
A polite cough echoes in the tense silence.
“If I may,” Lucius Malfoy says, and Harry turns toward him, glad to look anywhere but Malfoy’s face.
Lucius looks — not disheveled, but certainly not as well-put-together as Harry expects. He’s leaning heavily on his cane with one arm wrapped around his wife’s shoulder. She looks ready to collapse, and the strain of bearing her weight is clear on Lucius’ face. Harry steps forward and wraps an arm around her other shoulder, taking some of her weight. He wonders why none of them are holding wands, and then remembers the trials, and how their wands were taken when the Wizengamot had sentenced them to house arrest at the Manor…
“Why are you here?” he blurts. “You can’t leave the Manor! You’re breaking the terms of your sentence. If the Ministry gets wind of it—”
“I told you,” mutters Malfoy behind him. “Going to rush us to your friend the Minister and turn us in, Saint Potter?”
Lucius clears his throat. “As I was about to say, we were on our way to the Ministry when these miscreants attacked us.” He sneers down at the bound man at their feet. “We’re having a small difficulty with the Manor at the moment.”
“What’s wrong with the Manor?” Harry asks suspiciously, wondering if the Malfoys violated the terms of their sentence to complain about the Ministry house-elves. He frowns, distracted by a groan from his prisoner.
“It’s burning to the ground as we speak,” Lucius says calmly.
It takes a moment for Harry to register what he’s said, but when he does he glances up sharply at Lucius. “Burning?”
“Indeed. I suspect these masked cowards who attacked us had something to do with it. We were on our way to the Ministry to report the attack when we were waylaid.”
Harry takes this in, along with Narcissa’s drawn face and the tightness around Lucius’ eyes. He doesn’t let himself look at Malfoy’s face, but his body language says he’s tired. They all look exhausted, he thinks, and they’re all waiting for him to make a decision.
“Fine,” he says, sighing. “I’ll take you to Kingsley. It’s not like I’ve anything better to do at the moment.”
He winces, hoping Ginny has already left, and holds a hand up to forestall Malfoy’s squawked protest. “Not to turn you in, Malfoy. To escort you to Kingsley so you don’t get mired in bureaucracy before you can get to him.”
Malfoy closes his mouth with a quiet “humph.” Harry decides to count it as a victory.
He gets them through the Ministry with minimal fuss by leveraging his “saviour of the Wizarding World” status. He deposits them in front of Kingsley’s desk with a sigh of relief, hoping the Minister can deal with them quickly. Unfortunately, the Minister proves more difficult than the office staff.
Kingsley listens with growing impatience as Harry makes his report, finally throwing up his hands, exasperated.
“Attacking a convicted Death Eater shirking his entirely too lenient punishment of house arrest? I’ll be lucky to make a slap on the wrist stick, Harry.”
“They don’t have wands!” Harry bursts out. “How were they supposed to defend themselves?”
“They shouldn’t have been able to leave the property!” Kingsley counters, then he turns to Lucius, eyebrows knitting together. “Why could you, do you think?”
Lucius raises an elegant eyebrow. “Maybe the fact that the Manor is burning to the ground as we speak?”
“Oh,” Kingsley says, rubbing his chin. “Yes, I suppose that would do it.” He sighs and pushes his chair back, spinning it slowly back and forth as he thinks. “That does cause quite a dilemma. We’ll have to rush proceedings to get you tied to a new property, and even then I don’t know if we’ll be able to move fast enough for the bond.”
He gestures to the desk, nearly covered in two towering stacks of parchment. “And, as you can see, I’m a very busy man.”
“What happens if you don’t make it in time?” Harry asks, frowning.
“We die,” Lucius says, voice grim.
“Honestly, I’m surprised you’re still standing,” Kingsley said. “That bond ought to be pulling pretty hard right now. The fire must be weakening it.”
“It’s… quite strong,” Narcissa interjects weakly, the first words she’s spoken. She sounds so frail it startles Harry. He looks into her face, paler now than when he’d found them in the alley.
Kingsley slumps a little. “She doesn’t have much time. I’m not sure I’ve a suitable property to hand, but—”
“They can stay with me,” Harry blurts, turning his attention to Kingsley. “At Grimmauld Place.”
“No. I won’t stand by and let them die because you can’t find a suitable property. I have a suitable property. It’s even linked to two of them by blood. That should make it easier, right?”
Kingsley massages his temples. “Harry. Even if we could rush it through, we’d only be able to link Draco and Narcissa to Grimmauld Place. Lucius has no link to it.”
Harry looks again into Narcissa’s rapidly greying face and makes a decision.
“Fine. Then link him to me.”
There is a pause that lasts seven heartbeats too long — Harry counts them as he watches the expressions flitting over Kingsley's face — and then Kingsley says, “You don’t know what you’re asking me to do, Harry. What you’re asking — it would be breaking every rule in the book.”
Harry glares at him. “The Wizengamot already broke every one of those rules when they dug up this arcane ritual — don’t try to deny it.”
Kingsley doesn’t. Harry knows he’s asking Kingsley to put his job on the line, and maybe his neck too, but he asks anyway, mouth hard. Kingsley didn’t start this mess, but he didn’t stop it either, and Harry can’t forgive him for that.
Kingsley’s slow nod is all the acknowledgement he gets, but it’s enough. He draws in a deep breath and lets it out, a hissing sigh that shows he’s not happy but he doesn’t have any better ideas.
“We’ll do Narcissa and Draco first,” he says, glancing apologetically at Lucius. “They seem to be feeling the effects more keenly, and it will be easier, as it’s a simple transfer from one property to another.”
Kingsley turns and rummages in one of the seemingly endless file cabinets behind him, pulling out a sheet of parchment heavy with signatures and official seals. He frowns at it for a moment, then picks up a quill and scratches through the words ‘Malfoy Manor.’ “What’s your address?” he asks, without looking up.
Harry clears his parched throat, wishing for a glass of water. "Number 12, Grimmauld Place." He watches as Kingsley records the address, the strokes of his quill sharp, final.
Narcissa moans softly and he feels her slump further against Lucius, but when Harry whirls to look at her, afraid that they're too late, she graces him with a wan smile. Her colour is already returning. Draco doesn’t say anything, but a soft sigh gusts out of him, and Harry knows it’s worked. He feels the relief rush through him, pushing out the tension in a cool wave.
“That’s done,” Kingsley says, adding a note and signing his name with a flourish. He blots the parchment and returns it to his file cabinet.
“Now you,” he says, gesturing Lucius forward. “You too, Harry. Mrs. Malfoy, you can sit there.” He gestures with his wand and a small chair shifts forward from its place by the wall and nudges the back of her knees. Lucius helps her into it and she sinks onto the cushion with a grateful smile, briefly clasping Harry’s hand as she does.
Harry moves forward with Lucius to stand in front of Kingsley’s desk. Kingsley eyes the towering stacks of parchment with a frown, then levitates them off to the side, revealing the top of his desk, etched with a pale circle.
Not a decorative circle, Harry realises, but a functional one. This is Old Magic.
“Palms up,” Kingsley says, his voice distant and emotionless. The voice of a stranger. He's the Minister now, and his words hang heavy with the power and weight of the office.
Harry doesn’t look at his face as he obeys, pushing up the sagging sleeve of his jumper. His attention is caught by the slight tremor in Lucius’ hand as he, too, turns his palm up. The movement steels Harry. This is real, and Lucius is afraid — and Harry can do this.
The cut opening across his palm startles him, and he hisses with the sudden pain of it. Kingsley had given no warning. Harry glares at him, but his eyes are distant, faraway. He isn’t seeing Harry in this moment; he’s seeing something else entirely.
A strand of magic made visible, liquid silver with a greenish tint, flows from the end of Kingsley’s wand and wraps itself around their hands, probing at the edges of the cut. Harry feels a strange sensation, almost as if the magic is tasting him, and then it darts into the cut and whispers through his bloodstream. He feels it all through his body, is alive with it, and then it withdraws and dives into the hand lying next to his. He can’t remember whose hand it is. A shimmery silver-green cloud of mist forms between their hands, drawing them together and binding them. And then it’s gone. Harry shakes his hand a little, dazed, as he watches the cut close.
“That’s it?” he asks, surprised.
“Don’t let him get too far from you,” Kingsley says, ignoring him. It isn’t clear which of them he’s talking to. He doesn’t look them in the eyes, instead focusing on a patch of wall somewhere to the right of Harry’s head.
“Inside your wards you don’t have to worry,” he continues, “but if one of you leaves, the other must accompany him. The distance allowed between you varies — it could be ten feet, it could be twenty. I’d advise you not to push it. The results of trying to move too far away from one another… Well. They wouldn’t be pleasant for either of you.
“It’s an Ancient spell,” Lucius says to Harry, rubbing his wrist distractedly. “Related to a bonding spell. For arranged marriages. Modified, in this case, but not as much as the Dark Lord modified it.”
Oh. The colour makes sense now, as does Lucius' shaking. Harry feels a little guilty for not realising. He thinks he probably ought to say something, though he’s not sure what, and in the end he decides that it’s hopeless and just gestures them out of the office and down the hallway. “This way.”
At the door he turns back and meets Kingsley’s eyes. “Thank you,” he says softly, knowing as he says it that it’s not nearly enough.
Kingsley nods, a sharp jerk of his chin. “You’re welcome, Harry. It was the right thing to do.”
As Harry leads them down the hall, he realises that Lucius hardly needs to be led — he probably knows the layout of the Ministry far better than Harry — but he follows without complaint. He’s faded, Harry thinks. Reduced from the powerful man he used to be. Now he just seems old.
He walks close to Harry. Not too close; not enough that people will notice, but he increases his pace to match strides with Harry as they push through the crowd in the Ministry lobby. Harry, busy kicking himself for not thinking to ask if there was a more discreet exit, doesn’t notice at first, and then he forces himself to slow with a muttered “Sorry.”
Lucius just nods. Malfoy and Narcissa hang back from them a little. Narcissa leans heavily on Malfoy’s arm, and Harry wonders if he ought to offer his own arm to her instead, as Malfoy doesn’t seem completely steady himself. He doesn’t want to risk Malfoy’s irritation, so he tries to match his pace to theirs.
The queue for the Apparition point seems to be moving slower than usual, and he taps his fingers on his sides in irritation. Lucius shoots him a pointed look and he stops, or tries to, but he finds that his foot starts tapping instead. How does the man stand so very still? Especially with the growing whispers of the crowd surrounding them. Although, Harry supposes that people have always talked like this about Lucius Malfoy. Maybe he’s just gotten used to it.
Finally, finally they reach the Apparition point and Harry holds out his arms. “I can Side-Along all of you,” he says, “but you’ll have to be closer”. They sidle up to him until he’s reasonably sure he won’t accidentally leave parts of anyone behind. Then he reaches out, placing one hand on Lucius’ arm and one on Malfoy’s, making sure his fingers are touching Narcissa’s where they’re wrapped around Malfoy’s forearm, and whisks them away from the stares and the mutters.
He heaves a sigh of relief as the lobby dissolves around them and another when they reappear in the quiet street outside Number 12 Grimmauld Place. His shoulders lower as his muscles release their tight hold, and he spends a moment looking up at the house in relief. Then he realises that the Malfoys are looking around in confusion and feels the rush of embarrassment all over again.
“Er, right. It’s under a Fidelius,” he says to cover it, stumbling a little over his words in his haste. He clears his throat, forces himself to speak clearly. “I live at Number 12 Grimmauld Place.”
He can see the moment the house shivers into life in front of them, because they all relax too. Narcissa makes a soft sound beside him.
“Oh,” she whispers. “I’d forgotten. Sirius would have inherited it, and he left it to you?” she turns it into a question, but he detects no malice in her tone, no snide disdain. She’s simply surprised.
“Er. Yes,” he says, scuffing his feet on the sidewalk. “He— I—”
She grants him the ghost of a smile. “It’s all right,” she says. “I understand. I’m glad it went to someone who would care for it.”
He thinks guiltily of the dust and the gloom, and wonders if maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. He hasn’t cared for it. Not like it deserves. His pulse spikes and he waves them inside, trying desperately to squash his misgivings. It’s his house, no matter what Narcissa Malfoy might think.
As they enter Grimmauld Place, Harry is struck by how dark and gloomy it appears. From Draco and Lucius’ raised brows, they’ve noticed too. Narcissa’s face is impassive, though the creases on her brow ease as she passes the threshold, and he finds himself holding his breath as he waits for her reaction. She’s the only one of them who has spent time here when the house was more than it is now.
Narcissa runs her fingers along the stair rail in the front hall, and Harry tenses, flashing back to Petunia checking to see if he’s dusting enough. He cringes as he sees the dust on the rail, on her fingers. He hadn’t noticed. How had he not noticed?
She holds the rail for a moment, closing her eyes as if listening, and then flicks the dust off her fingers without comment.
“Harry,” she says, and her voice seems more frail than it had before. “I think… I think I need to lie down for a bit. Would you be so kind as to show me to my room?”
“Of course,” he says, swallowing his panic. She looks frailer now, too, and he can see that she needs to rest; she looks about to faint.
But then, he feels rather faint himself. They’re all exhausted; surely everything else can wait for morning.
He shows Lucius and Narcissa to the larger guest room on the third floor. He can tell the moment he opens the door that it will need work but Narcissa only says, “It will do. Thank you.”
“Oh, er," he says, hesitating at the door, "the bathroom is over there." He waves toward it. “There’s only one, so you’ll have to share. You can use any of them, I suppose —there’s one on each floor— but I don’t recommend the one upstairs. It’s a bit dodgy and we’ve not gotten around to having it looked at.” He pauses, then adds, a bit reluctantly, “My room’s just down the stairs — first door on the left. If you need anything, you can knock.”
As the door closes behind them Harry leads Malfoy to the door across the hall. “You can stay here,” he says, ushering him forward. Malfoy opens the door and then hesitates before entering, turning to look at Harry out of one eye. His hair flops forward to cover the other. Harry has to force himself to focus on Malfoy's words and not the distracting lock of hair.
“I still hate you, Potter,” he says, though there’s not any venom in it.
Harry sighs heavily, feeling the events of the day catching up to him. All he can think about is falling into bed and sleeping for a week. “Likewise, Malfoy,” he replies on a yawn.
He doesn’t wait for the door to shut in his face; instead he turns and walks back down the stairs to the second floor. His steps slow and he leans heavily on the bannister; his left leg is protesting now that the adrenaline is draining out of him. He gratefully shuts his bedroom door and slumps back against it, finally letting his body relax.
His heart is thumping in a way that screams alive, alive, alive and even though this is all most likely a terrible, terrible idea —and if Hermione were here she would likely beat him over the head with her planner— he’s startled to find himself smiling. His lips are curving up in a way he hasn’t felt in so long he can’t picture the last time. It feels like it’s been years.
A loud thump and a muffled curse echo down the stairs and he winces.
He wonders what on earth he’s gotten himself into.
Harry woke to a muffled thumping on his bedroom door. For a moment, he struggled against the cotton sheets in confusion, feeling dazed and trying to remember where he was. Then it all came back in a rush that left him lightheaded. He was in his bed. He hadn’t slept in it in so long that it felt weird and unfamiliar. He winced, missing the lumpy couch cushions he’d grown used to.
The thumping grew more insistent, escalating to a repetitive pounding, and he finally wrenched himself free of the sheets and stalked barefoot to the door, stopping only to jam his glasses onto his nose.
A shout of “Potter!” echoed from the other side of the door and he sighed, some of his energy already draining away.
He wrenched the door open, rubbing at his eyes under the lenses. “What, Malfoy?”
Malfoy glared down his nose at him. He was only a few inches taller than Harry, but he knew how to use them to his advantage. Harry felt very small; he hated how defensive it made him. He reminded himself that Malfoy was a guest in his house, and he really ought to try to behave civilly.
“I require hair potion,” Malfoy said haughtily, cutting into his mental pep talk. “And a comb. And clothes. Did you even think before offering us your dubious hospitality?”
Harry sighed again. He’d known it wasn’t going to be easy, sharing a house with Malfoy, but he’d forgotten how annoying the git could be.
“I do have a house-elf, you know,” he grumbled. He’d saved Malfoy and his family last night, from attackers and from dying with the Manor, and he thought he deserved a thanks at the very least. Not that he expected one, but still.
“And,” Malfoy continued without seeming to hear him, “what do you mean— wait. You do?”
Harry couldn’t help but grin at the way Malfoy cut himself off mid-rant, at the confusion and delight that darted across his expression before he slammed his Malfoy mask down.
“Kreacher,” Harry called as he snapped his fingers, keeping his eyes locked with Malfoy’s.
“Yes, Master?” came the grudging reply as Kreacher materialised before them with a crack, drawing Harry’s attention from Malfoy. Kreacher was as disheveled and disreputable-looking as ever. His shrivelled body was covered only by a dingy tea towel and the necklace he’d sworn to never take off because it had belonged to Regulus. It reminded Harry of the war, and brought up memories he’d rather not remember, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask Kreacher not to wear it. He usually tried not to look at it.
Hermione had tried several times to give Kreacher proper clothing, but he’d wailed and wrung his hands until she’d given it up. Harry wished he’d accept something. That grey tea towel didn’t do anything to make him seem more approachable.
“We’ve guests,” Harry said, ignoring Kreacher’s familiar glare and trying not to look at his chest, where Regulus’ necklace swung from its thick chain. “Malfoy and his parents. They’ll be staying with us for some time. Please treat their requests as if they were coming from me.”
Kreacher lit up. “Master!” he crowed, clasping his wrinkled hands together. “Guests! And proper guests at that!” He looked at Malfoy greedily, but his delight changed to a look of dismay as he took in Malfoy’s appearance.
Harry looked Malfoy up and down. He’d been so focused on his words and face that he’d not noticed what the rest of him looked like. Malfoy was wrapped in a faded green bath towel with loose threads dangling toward his knees, and his hair was… Harry grinned again. His hair was a tangled mess.
“Master!” Kreacher squeaked, scandalised. “Master Malfoy requires clothes! And hair potion!”
“See?” Malfoy said. Then he frowned, realisation dawning on his face. “Hang on—” he said indignantly.
But Kreacher had already disappeared with a crack that echoed through both the hallway and Harry’s head.
“Good luck with that,” he said on a yawn as he closed his door, shutting out Malfoy’s offended features. “He hardly ever listens to me.”
The sun was streaming through his bedroom window when Harry next woke, jolting from a pleasant dream about food, and he wondered how late he’d slept. Not that it mattered, except that he found himself itching to find out how the Malfoys were getting on. And if Kreacher was really taking orders from Malfoy.
Then he stretched and realised that he was feeling more awake than he had in… A long time, anyway. He didn’t know how long he’d been drifting in a fog — since soon after Hermione and Ron had left, he supposed — but it seemed to have cleared away for the moment. The dazzling newness of the morning pumped through him, and he felt as if he were fizzing with energy.
The scent of frying eggs and bacon he remembered from his dream still hung heavy in the air, tugging at him. His stomach rumbled. He started for the door, then pulled up short. Now that the Malfoys were staying with him, he supposed he ought to get dressed for breakfast, in case he happened to run into one of them. The thought of Narcissa Malfoy pursing her lips at the sight of him in ratty pyjamas was not the sort of start to the day he envisioned. He groaned as he realised that Malfoy had already seen him in them, then shrugged the thought off. It didn’t matter what Malfoy thought of him, and he hadn’t been any better off anyway. Harry snickered to himself as he remembered the ratty towel. But Narcissa was another matter entirely.
He hadn’t done laundry in long enough that he wasn’t sure which of the piles of clothing on his floor were clean, if any. Shrugging, he pulled on the clothes he’d been wearing the day before. Then he bounded down the stairs in search of what smelled an awful lot like breakfast. He tried not to get his hopes up, reminding himself of Kreacher’s miserable attempts at past breakfasts, but in the kitchen he found food — actual food. It even looked edible. Actually, he thought, eyeing it again, it looked fantastic.
“Kreacher?” He asked, amazed. He couldn’t remember the last time Kreacher had cooked for him, and the results certainly hadn’t smelled this good. Charred eggs and shrivelled bacon and burnt toast came to mind, as well as Kreacher’s signature dish: that horrid lumpy grey porridge that stuck to the bowl and his insides alike.
“Yes,” said a warm, amused voice, “but also me.”
Harry looked up, startled, to find Narcissa Malfoy smiling at him. She was thinner than he remembered, dressed in a simple grey gown, with her long blonde hair pulled back and fading to grey at the edges. A checkered blue apron was tied around her waist.
“Don’t worry,” she said lightly, uncovering a heaped plate and sliding it across the scarred wooden table toward him. “It’s not poisoned.” Her voice sounded playful, and he was pretty sure she was joking.
Harry eyed the food dubiously anyway as he settled into his chair, wondering if he should believe her. He found to his surprise that he did. “I didn’t know you could cook,” he said without thinking, and then immediately wanted to smack himself.
Narcissa smiled, seemingly unoffended. She set down the pan she’d been drying and joined him at the table, where she poured them both steaming cups of tea. “I’ve been cooking for my husband and son and myself for over a year,” she said, as if such a feat was nothing more extraordinary than pouring the tea.
He looked up from heaping sugar into his tea, startled. “But... You had house-elves.” He’d be the first to admit that he didn’t remember everything about the trials, but he did remember the Malfoys' trial. And he definitely remembered that their house arrest had included Ministry-assigned house-elves.
She shrugged, lifting her tea. “We did. The Ministry elves had a very limited set of things that they were allowed to do for us, however. In this case, they could purchase food but not cook it.”
Harry nodded, still trying to wrap his brain around the idea of Narcissa Malfoy cooking. He lifted the fork to his mouth, eyed the innocuous-looking scrambled eggs again, and then took a cautious bite. The simple flavors of eggs and cheese filled his senses and he breathed out through his nostrils, savoring them. The plain but hearty fare was the best thing he’d tasted in months. He dug in with an appetite he’d nearly forgotten existed, looking up eventually to say, “This is delicious. Thank you.”
Her mouth twisted into a wry smirk and Harry lifted his mug in a silent toast. “I’ll help with dinner,” he offered, again without thinking.
Narcissa’s eyebrows rose in surprise, then her face brightened as her wry smile morphed into a much friendlier one. “I’d like that.”
He stood and moved to clear his dishes away but before he could get more than a few steps toward the sink, Kreacher appeared and yanked the plate out of his hands.
“Kreacher will be doing the washing up, Master,” he said, holding out his hand pointedly. Harry sighed and handed over his fork. He didn’t want to get into a fight with his house-elf in front of Narcissa Malfoy — especially after she’d made him breakfast.
The last time he’d tried to insist on doing the dishes himself, Kreacher had served him lumpy porridge — and only lumpy porridge — for three days straight. That was back when he’d still deigned to cook for Harry at all.
“Thanks again, Mrs. Malfoy,” he said, sticking his hands awkwardly into the pockets of his worn jeans.
She graced him with another smile. “Call me Narcissa, Mr. Potter. I insist.”
“Er,” he said, feeling his cheeks flame. “Harry will do. Please. I, er, I’ll just be going then.” He fled into the hall, hoping his face wasn’t as red as it felt, wondering what other marvels the day had in store for him. On a day where Narcissa Malfoy had cooked his breakfast, it seemed like absolutely anything could happen.
He was headed back to his room, mind still trying to wrap itself around the puzzle encompassing Narcissa Malfoy, blue-checkered aprons, and scrambled eggs, when his eyes fell on the desk just inside the door of the sitting room. The planner Hermione had sent lay in full view on the desk, next to a pile of scattered papers.
He stuffed the papers into a drawer and spelled it closed, then picked up the planner. He didn’t want to leave it lying around where Malfoy could find it, and he didn’t trust a locked drawer to keep it safe from his prying. There was no sense leaving fuel for Malfoy’s scathing put-downs out in the open.
Once back in his room, he sat on his unmade bed and started flipping through the planner, stopping when he came to the journal section at the back. The inspirational quote jumped out at him, written in a fancy purple font and surrounded by cheerful pastel flowers. He snorted, not sure whether he was more amused or irritated at Hermione for sending the blasted planner to him. Surely she didn’t expect that he’d actually use it?
Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
He summoned a quill from the top of his dresser and scratched through it, scrawling below it: Today is the first day of my life with the Malfoys. He paused, then added: And it proves to be quite interesting. He snorted and dropped the planner and quill on top of his dresser.
After growing bored of sitting in his room, he headed back down the stairs, and out into the back garden.
Hermione had attempted to start a garden, but it had turned out that plants weren’t orderly enough for her, and she’d quickly grown frustrated. She was much happier planning out their time and assigning tasks to him and Ron.
Her brief foray into gardening had left the space languishing somewhere between a garden and a jungle but less than either, Harry thought, as he ventured outside to walk off some of his breakfast. The sun told him that it was early afternoon; as he moved through the garden, gathering up rusted gardening tools and winding his way to the small tool shed in the corner, his gaze roved over everything as if he’d never seen it before.
The white paint on the shed was faded and peeling, the paving stones along the garden path were cracked and the spaces between them colonised by weeds. Some ambitious ivy climbed up the back wall of the house; the shutters hung crookedly, and several shingles had come loose, dangling precariously over the edge of the roof. And that was just the outside, he thought, shading his eyes and looking back toward the French doors that led into the house.
Inside, the damage of neglect was far worse. He wound slowly through the rooms, really seeing them for the first time. The house hadn’t seen a proper cleaning in at least a decade; Kreacher had been too depressed and frail in all the time Harry had known him to do more than a token dusting.
Spiderwebs clung thick on the windows and in the corners and dust coated the furniture. Stuffing leaked from several of the cushions, their intricate floral patterns faded. Loose threads dangled forlornly.
The bannisters hung askew, the stairs and floorboards squeaked… it was a wreck of a house.
He hadn’t realised before now how shabby Grimmauld Place was. Sirius hadn’t cared to keep it up, and the members of the Order of the Phoenix had had other things to concern themselves with, doing little more than making it safe to live in. He felt a little guilty when he realised that he’d been living there for a year without bothering to clean it up. Hermione had done her best to cajole him and Ron into helping her, but she’d not had much success, and had given up most of her grand plans at cleaning. None of them had had the energy to do much, after the war.
Harry felt as if he’d been looking at the house without his glasses this entire time, seeing only the fuzzy outlines; now he could see the damage clearly and was horrified by it. He’d never noticed. How had he never noticed? He felt as if he’d failed the house. Failed Sirius, who’d left it to him.
Narcissa hadn’t said anything to him about it, but he’d seen the sadness in her eyes when she’d first laid eyes on what she probably remembered as a fine, proud house.
Lucius said nothing, but Harry noticed as he passed him on his way to the study that he wiped his hands on his handkerchief after touching the stair rail and door handle. Malfoy said nothing at all; Harry hadn’t seen him since their bizarre encounter outside his door that morning. He wondered if Malfoy had had breakfast, and then brushed the thought away. Malfoy could worry about his own breakfast; he didn’t need Harry to do it for him.
He wondered how difficult it would be to clean the place up, but grew overwhelmed at the thought of such a daunting task. He’d never been responsible for an entire house before. It had been hard enough keeping up with his chores at the Dursleys’ — how was he supposed to manage with a house?
His stomach grumbled some time later, reminding him that he’d offered to help with dinner. He groaned, wanting nothing less than having to think of something to prepare, but he didn’t want to go back on his word. His mind filled with images of being forced to cook for the Dursleys as he headed down the stairs to the kitchen, trying not to trudge too obviously in case Narcissa heard him. He sighed in relief when he arrived in the kitchen to find her already at work.
She smiled as he entered. “Thank you again for offering to help me. I thought we’d have something simple for dinner — how does pasta and a salad sound?”
“That sounds good to me,” he said, surprised at how much he meant it. He picked up the knife lying beside the wooden cutting board and began chopping vegetables, falling easily into the role of her assistant.
As he tossed the salad he asked, “Will Malfoy be joining us?”
She shook her head, eyes troubled. “No. I’ll take a plate up to him later.”
Harry felt a little guilty at the relief that flooded through him. He wasn’t ready to share a meal with Malfoy.
The next afternoon, Harry was on his way to the kitchen to grab a bite to eat when Ginny banged through the front door.
“Harry!” she shouted, sweeping in like a bright-eyed tornado in hot pink joggers. George’s enormous brown dog panted behind her, ears flopping merrily, attached to her wrist by a bright pink rhinestone-studded leash. Harry regretted ever keying his wards to let her in. He’d done it soon after the war, when they were still trying to make their relationship work.
The dog — Harry wondered, for the first time, what its name was —bounded around unchecked, sniffing at everything, as Ginny rounded on him, letting the leash fall to the floor.
“Don’t think I’m letting you off the hook for the other day’s betrayal,” she declared, eyes flashing and finger pointed accusatorially at him.
Harry stared at her for long moments, flummoxed. “Betrayal?” he asked, when nothing came to mind.
She pushed a strand of brilliant red hair from her face, then propped her hands on her hips. “You don’t remember? Let me recap. We were on our way to Luna’s brunch—”
“You were dragging me to Luna’s brunch, you mean,” Harry interrupted, wondering if he ought to chase down the dog. It probably wouldn’t cause too much damage, but…
She glared at him, straightening to her full height. “We were on our way to Luna’s brunch, and then you ditched me to dash off and save the Malfoys. The Malfoys, Harry! If anyone deserves your misguided heroism, it’s not them!”
“Ginny,” Harry started, hoping to calm her before things got out of hand, but a languid drawl washed over them, drowning his words. Ginny turned immediately toward the stairs. Harry followed a second later, wondering why the git had decided to show up now of all times.
“Well,” Malfoy said, as he paused on the landing above them, “at least I know how you feel about me, Weaselette. Oh, do go on. I can’t wait to hear how much you loathe me.”
Ginny stared, open-mouthed, for a long minute. Her body slumped forward slightly in her shock, and her hands fell to her sides.
Harry, transfixed by the sight of Malfoy in a t-shirt and jeans, his feet startlingly bare, was beginning to worry about her when she squeaked, “It’s Malfoy. Here.” Her voice rose until she was practically shouting. “Here, Harry. You. Brought. Malfoy. Here? Are you out of your mind?”
“He didn’t have anywhere else to go—” he started defensively, but Ginny didn’t let him finish the sentence.
“Surely there was somewhere else he could go. Harry! You can’t just go offering your house up to Death Eaters to live in!”
“What about Pansy?” Harry asked.
“She was never a Death Eater,” Ginny said, brushing it away. “She doesn’t count.”
“Then neither does Narcissa,” Harry said, wondering as he said it why he was so determined to defend her.
Ginny dismissed his words with a wave of her hand. “She hosted the freaking Dark Lord in her home, Harry. She counts.”
Harry thought that was unfair, but before he could say so, Malfoy broke in.
“How’s your brother doing, Weaselette? Enjoying being the only one for a change?”
Ginny’s face blanched, then turned a livid purple that clashed with her hair.
“Gin,” he said, trying to keep his voice even, “this really isn’t the best time. Maybe we can continue this later?”
“You’re dropping me for them again? I won’t wait for you forever, Harry!”
“I don’t want you to wait for me!” he exclaimed, completely exasperated.
She stared at him, the shock and pain registering on her face for the barest moment before being wiped away.
“I value your friendship, Gin, but that’s all. That’s all there will ever be. We were good together once, but things changed. We changed.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I see. You really should have told me this ages ago and not strung me along, you know.”
“I didn’t string you along!” he shouted, louder than he meant to. There was a warning rustle from the direction of Walburga’s portrait, and he suppressed a groan, hoping he hadn’t woken her.
From the sitting room, Narcissa called, “Harry?” sounding concerned. He let the groan out. This was not going to go well.
“You brought her here, too? You brought them all here?” Ginny’s voice rose again, and she started pacing in front of him. “Did you bring his father too, Harry? He’s been in Azkaban. He tried to kill me.”
“Yes, but,” he said weakly, shoving his hands in his pockets, not sure there was much to protest there. From the corner of his eye he saw Lucius standing in the doorway to the library, looking faintly alarmed.
“My father did not—”
“Shut up, Malfoy,” Harry said without looking at him, suddenly too tired to stand. He gave in to the exhaustion and slumped back against the wall.
“I can’t believe you, Harry. Just wait until Ron hears about this. And George. And everyone else at the next pub night. And—”
“Gin — wait.”
“This is... complicated. But I can’t go to pub nights — or out with you all — for a while.”
“You’re not going to like it,” he warned, grimacing as he anticipated her reaction. “The only way to save the Malfoys was to bond them to Grimmauld Place instead of the Manor.”
“So I gathered.”
“Yes, well. That only worked for Malfoy and his mum, because they have Black blood. But his dad doesn’t have enough for that to work.”
“Which means?” Her expression had turned dark and dangerous and he swallowed but soldiered on.
“So we bound him to, well, me. He has to go everywhere with me outside the wards.” He shrugged and offered her a sheepish smile.
“Merlin, Harry,” she said, rolling her eyes, “I hope Ron gets back soon. Not that he’d be able to stop you from being an idiot, but Hermione at least stands a chance.” She paced in front of him. “You bound yourself to Lucius Malfoy,” she said flatly, turning once again to look at him. “Lucius Malfoy!”
Her voice rose on the last word and Harry held out a hand to stop her— but it was too late. The curtains covering Walburga Black’s portrait flew open, and a shrill scream erupted. “Blood traitors! Mudbloods! Filth!”
Harry groaned. Then he noticed Narcissa Malfoy, who must have been drawn by the screaming. She marched straight up to the portrait, who broke off mid-insult.
“Narcissa!” Walburga said, sounding much friendlier. “It’s been ages since I’ve seen you. Welcome home.”
“Aunt Walburga,” Narcissa said firmly, “we need to talk, later. For now, Go to sleep.” She tugged the curtains closed, then turned to Ginny. “Hello, dear,” she said, offering a warm smile. “Don’t mind my aunt.”
Ginny didn’t say anything. Harry thought she was probably as surprised as he was that someone had managed to shut Walburga up.
He nodded his thanks to Narcissa, who moved back to the sitting room. He rubbed his face and slumped further, sliding down the wall, feeling the grooves and joins in the boards against his shoulder blades under his thin t-shirt and taking comfort from them. They seemed almost friendly as they held him up.
“Look, Gin,” he said. “You can’t tell them. Just keep this quiet for now, OK? We’ll figure out a long-term solution later, but for right now, this was the only way to keep them alive. Kingsley agreed. And we really don’t need this getting out.”
He pictured the crowds that would hound him if Rita Skeeter got wind of any of it and groaned. “I wasn’t going to let them die. That’s what would have happened— was already happening. Besides. If nothing else, I owe Narcissa. Just — just give me some time.” He looked up at her, letting his exhaustion show on his face.
“Fine.” She flared her nostrils, eyes glinting like steel. “I’ll make your excuses. But you owe me, Harry. And you can be sure I’ll collect.”
He swallowed, knowing for certain she would. He’d have hell to pay later, but for now he’d got what he wanted. He’d figure out how to deal with Ginny later.
She whistled for the dog, snagging its leash as it came bounding up to her. Then she stalked out the door, slamming it behind her.
Harry sighed and melted further into the wall.
“Well, that went well,” Malfoy drawled from the landing above him. “You’d think that you’d be able to keep a girl, Potter. What hope do the rest of us mere mortals have?”
Harry turned, looking up until he met Malfoy’s eyes from where he leaned heavily on the bannister above him. Not so long ago, that comment would have sent him snarling up the stairs, ready to attack with magic, or maybe with fists.
Now it only made him tired.
After several seconds, when it became clear that Harry wasn’t going to respond, Malfoy sneered at him and then turned and started limping back up the stairs.
If Harry hadn't known better, he’d almost have thought Malfoy was disappointed.
He caught a flash of pale hair as Lucius disappeared back into the library. Narcissa brushed past him, offering a comforting pat to his shoulder as she walked by, and pulled open the curtains to Walburga’s portrait.
He rubbed his eyes again, deciding the only sane thing to do with the rest of the day was to take a really long nap.
After breakfast the next morning, which was quickly becoming his favourite part of the day now that he was no longer reliant on Kreacher’s dubious meals, he downed his morning potions and pills. Then he spent a few hours sitting on his bed and staring at his bedroom wall. He felt certain that he ought to be doing something more productive, but he also couldn’t be bothered to think of anything. Finally, he grew frustrated and wandered downstairs in search of something more interesting to stare at.
He followed Narcissa’s voice into the sitting room, marvelling at how welcoming it was now that Narcissa had claimed it. He wasn’t sure he remembered what it had looked like before, but it seemed to have a warm glow about it. He looked around, puzzled, trying to figure out what was different about it.
“Yes, Mrs. Malfoy?” he said, turning his attention to her, “I mean, um, Narcissa?”
Narcissa smiled at him from her seat at a small table by the window and raised her teacup, beckoning him over. “Have a seat, Harry.”
He sat obediently, and then there was a moment of silence as he awkwardly stared at the teacup in front of him, at the pattern of delicate lace and tiny roses that twined around the handle, at the gold on the rim, avoiding her eyes. Fragrant steam wafted up from the deep purple liquid as she poured it, and he drew in a deep breath, trying to think of what it reminded him of. Something… fruity, he decided finally. Probably something Luna had given him once.
“Blackcurrant,” Narcissa said, smiling. “It’s been my favourite since I was a little girl.”
“Kreacher’s been to the store for you then,” he said, returning her smile. “Good.”
Harry raised the cup to his lips at her encouraging nod and took a hesitant sip. It wasn’t bad. It tasted like berries, hearty and sweet. He took another, larger sip.
Then he sighed. “And, er, sorry about yesterday. Ginny—”
Narcissa inhaled the steam from her own cup, piercing blue eyes watching him over the rim of her mug. “Ginevra Weasley is wary of us, as she should be. One day, perhaps, my husband will apologise to her — he didn’t mean to kill her, you see. He didn’t realise what that book was, nor what possessing it would do to her.”
“It possessed her, more like,” Harry muttered.
Narcissa nodded. “As you say. And for that you must believe that I, at least, am sorry.” She stared pensively into her tea for a moment before looking up to meet his eyes. “It takes a great heart to help those who have harmed you, Harry.”
He squirmed a little in his seat, uncomfortable with the praise. He’d done what needed doing, that was all.
Seeming to sense his discomfort, Narcissa let the subject drop. “But that is not why I called you in here.
“Wizarding houses have souls, Harry,” she said, setting her cup down silently in its matching saucer. “Like people, but also not. They carry the memories of generations. They’re shaped by them, by the good and the bad.” She smiled at him and he relaxed slightly. “It’s our job to help this house remember the good times.”
“Our job?” Harry asked blankly.
She nodded. “Yours, and mine. Yours, as legal owner of the house and my dear cousin’s heir, and mine, because the same blood that ran through his veins runs through mine — the same blood that runs through the heart and soul of this house.”
She picked her teacup back up and sipped her tea, then continued. “My cousin left the house in a sorry state, and you’ve done no differently, since you didn’t know. He did know, or should have, but we can’t change what he did — only what we do now.”
She gazed at him, eyes fierce. “Now that we are here, my son and I, with blood ties to the house, we can help it remember what it was. What it can be again.”
He was considering her offer, turning it over in his mind, when she asked, “May I see your hand, Harry?”
Bemused, he stretched his right hand out between them, palm flat on the table and fingers splayed across it.
She gently lifted it and turned it over, and then was quiet for a moment as she studied his palm. He looked too, wondering what it was that she saw.
Memories of Trelawney’s stuffy tower classroom flooded through him, thick with the remembered smell of lavender, as he gazed at his palm. A strong heartline. All the scars from old cuts and burns gained as a child in his aunt’s kitchen. A lifeline bisected by a jagged slash. He’d always assumed it, too, was a relic of his childhood misadventures, but now he wondered.
She reached out, gently traced the scar. “Do you know what I see?” she asked quietly. “Here, a strong resilient heart. Here, a life cut short. But here,” she tapped his palm with one pearly pink-lacquered fingernail, “here it goes on.”
She dismissed him then, letting his hand drop. “I believe you’ll find Lucius in the study today. You should go to him; he has something he wishes to say to you.”
“Harry Potter,” Lucius drawled, when Harry wandered into the study a short time later. He sat behind the solid oak desk, a pile of books stacked neatly before him and another book open in his hand, his long hair gone almost entirely silver. He was thinner and paler, and he had circles under his eyes, too, Harry noted, though not as dark as Malfoy’s.
Lucius closed his book, slipping a leather marker between the pages and setting it atop the teetering pile. Even though he had been relaxing, his posture was ramrod-straight under his plain grey robes. He looked Harry up and down silently for a moment and then said, “I wanted to thank you.”
Harry hadn’t been expecting that. He shuffled his feet awkwardly on the faded dark green carpet, eyes tracing the obscured lines of the knotted design, wondering what they were. Snakes, probably, he thought with a grimace, remembering whose house this had been.
“It’s not a big deal,” he said, raising his eyes to meet Lucius’ steady ones. It felt important, to make him see. He hadn’t done it for praise.
“Even so,” Lucius said firmly. “It was no small thing, even if it felt like it at the time.” He turned his hand over and slid his sleeve up, studying first his unmarked palm, and then his forearm with its faded scar where the Dark Mark had once branded him.
“I know you probably find the idea of being tied to me distasteful,” Lucius continued, “but I urge you not to confine yourself in this house on my account. I can be unobtrusive when I wish to be. You could probably even hide me under that invisibility cloak, if you felt I was drawing too much attention.”
Harry eyed him dubiously.
“Well,” Lucius conceded, “perhaps if I hunched over.”
Harry snorted despite himself as he imagined tall, proud Lucius hunched over and scurrying after him. Even if he were invisible, the knowledge that Lucius would be there, bent double beside him, was too bizarre to contemplate.
Then he realised that his invisibility cloak was still (mostly) a secret. “How did you know about…” he trailed off, realising that he’d just confirmed its existence. Brilliant, Harry, he thought. You’d make a rubbish spy.
Lucius’ mouth twisted wryly. “My son was incredibly jealous of that cloak. He talked about it — ranted about it, I should say — quite often.”
Harry found that difficult to believe. Surely he’d never had that much of an impact on Malfoy?
“I mean it Mr. Potter,” Lucius said, the humour fading from his face. “Don’t let me constrain your activities. I promise to be civil.”
Harry considered it, then sighed. “You’re not constraining me. I don’t— I don’t really go out. Since the war, everyone has been…” He trailed off, not sure how to explain it. Everyone wanted him to be their hero. All the time. He felt like he wasn’t allowed to have his own ideas and opinions when he was out — it was like he was constantly letting everyone down. Because he wasn’t a hero, not really.
He scratched the back of his neck, rocking back on his heels. “Anyway, I mostly just stay here. It was different when Ron and Hermione were living here, because they were always around to talk to if I wanted company, and to help shield me when we did go out. But now that they’re in Australia…” He held his hands up helplessly. “And you saw how Ginny is. Most people… Well, I only go out when she forces me to.”
“Ah.” Lucius nodded, and Harry was surprised to realise that he probably did understand.
“She won’t tell anyone,” he added quickly. “I mean, she knows you’re here, now, and she doesn’t like it, but she won’t tell.”
“Are you ashamed of us?” Lucius didn’t look surprised or hurt, merely curious.
“Er, no. Not really,” Harry said awkwardly. He wasn’t. But he also didn’t want to have to constantly defend his decisions to everyone, explaining over and over how he’d saved the Malfoys because they’d been in danger, no, they weren’t going to hurt him, no they didn’t have an evil plot… And he knew that no one would believe him, no matter how many times he explained it.
Lucius nodded, though Harry couldn’t tell whether he believed him, and picked up his book, signaling an end to the conversation.
Harry left the study bemused that Lucius Malfoy had sought him out to make sure he wasn’t keeping him from doing what he wanted. He decided that Narcissa had probably put him up to it, but still. It made him feel a little warmer toward Lucius.
As the days slowly passed, he wondered, though. Where was Malfoy? He’d seen him only the once since that first day — when Ginny had burst in. It had been over a week. What was he doing? Surely he didn’t think Harry hated him like he had at Hogwarts? Harry was too tired these days to hate anyone. Anyway, it wasn’t like Malfoy had ever been afraid of him before.
It was strange, knowing he was there and yet never seeing him. Malfoy had always been there, ready to jeer and taunt him at all times.
He’d missed some prime opportunities, Harry thought wryly. Where was he?
Chapter 4: Draco POV
Draco Malfoy seethed with impotent fury. He was beholden yet again to Saint Potter, who had gallantly stepped up to save him and his parents when, truth be told, things had looked quite dire. Surrounded by armed ruffians, held at wand-point, with nothing to defend himself, he’d held his head high, his chin up, his back ramrod straight… and he’d wished desperately for anything, anyone that could help them.
He laughed soundlessly, bitterly. He’d got his wish in the form of his most-hated rival. He didn’t hate him, though — hadn’t for a long time. Not since he'd felt that broad back against his chest as they raced through the air, felt the pounding of his heart as Potter had wrenched him from a fiery death of his own making.
He’d realised, after, stuck in his room at the Manor with his accursed useless leg, that his hatred of Potter had been eclipsed by something worse — by stupid, agonising, pointless want.
He knew how to deal with impossible dreams, though. He’d ruthlessly squashed the memory down, trying to forget.
His world at Malfoy Manor had narrowed to the walls of his room, occasionally with the walls of the dining room for variety. His leg didn’t allow him to navigate the stairs often, though — the Dark Lord had fried his nerves with too many Crucios.
The haughty Healer who’d checked him over while in Ministry custody had looked down his nose at him and told him he’d never walk without pain again, and it was no more than Death Eater filth like him deserved. He’d found it easier, as time went on, to not even bother.
He’d spent his days sitting on his unmade bed, on his familiar, luxurious thousand-count sheets, staring out his window and wishing he were out there, soaring through the sky.
That terrifying ride with Potter had been his last broom ride. He hadn’t been able even to look at one since. Not that his leg would let him fly, even if he could. That was in his past. His future was… nothing. Endless, excruciatingly painful nothing.
He’d read every book on his shelves, every book the Ministry had deigned to leave them. It hadn’t been much. With nothing but time, he’d thrown himself into studying. Without his wand, he couldn’t practice spells, and he certainly wasn’t allowed a potions kit, but he performed each experiment in his mind, anyway, determined to prove himself to someone, someday.
Not that any of that knowledge did him any good now, stuck in a new room — a bit dingy, lower-thread-count sheets a bit musty, everything stinking of disuse. Kreacher brought him his meals. His mother tried to talk with him but he’d sent her away. His father had gotten the same treatment.
He was just as trapped as before, only now his cage was unfamiliar, every part of it that little bit less luxurious than his old room. New house. Same everything else.
It was only the three of them— and Potter. Stupid, reckless, irresponsible Potter. Who had saved him. Again.
Draco didn’t know how to deal with that. Didn’t know how to deal with this new Potter who didn’t rise to the bait. Who acted like he was too tired to fight. Fighting would have made things more bearable, he thought bitterly. Fighting would have been familiar. He knew how to fight with Potter, what barbs to throw at him to best make him bleed. But even that was denied him.
Now he had to avoid this new Potter in his own house, lest he be taken up as his next pity project. He’d tried to get Potter to fight him to distract him from noticing. The irritating Gryffindor was more observant now, with a better hold on his temper, and he hadn’t fallen for Draco’s ruse. Now his only hope for sanity was to stay out of Potter’s way.
Which was apparently going to be impossible.
Harry soon found he’d grown used to having the Malfoys around. It was nice having others living with him again; Grimmauld Place had felt empty since Ron and Hermione had left. Narcissa was cheerful and friendly, Lucius was quiet, spending much of his time alone; Malfoy was who knows where. He didn’t seem to wish to make an appearance. Which, of course, made Harry wonder about him all the more.
It was distracting; he couldn’t seem to let it go. Where was Malfoy? The thought ran through his head, over and over, a ceaseless niggling irritation. Like a loose tooth, he thought, poking at it again.
Since his mind was busy wondering about Malfoy, he was caught unprepared when Narcissa asked him at breakfast the next day if she could “help the house shine brighter.”
He immediately thought of the way the sitting room seemed warmer and friendlier now that she’d claimed it, and, confused and distracted, mind still busy puzzling over Malfoy, said, “You already do.” The house did shine brighter around her. Then his words registered and he felt his cheeks heating.
She laughed, eyes twinkling. “I thank you for that, Harry, but what I have in mind will involve a bit more effort than merely existing.”
He stared at his plate, mortified, and was relieved when she took pity on him.
“Shall I show you what I mean?”
He nodded, grateful that she wasn’t prolonging his embarrassment, and followed her into the sitting room, abandoning his half-finished breakfast to Kreacher’s eager hands.
“Before we tackle the house itself,” Narcissa said, “I’m afraid we’ll have to start with a deep cleaning. The spiderwebs must go, as must the dust and mildew. You wouldn’t know it, as you’ve only ever seen it like this, but there’s a layer of grime over everything, including the portraits.”
He started as he guiltily remembered Walburga. “Ah,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck, “about that.”
“I noticed that you keep Walburga’s portrait covered,” she said, sounding amused. “I don’t blame you. I’ve chatted with her a few times since we arrived and she’s amenable to being moved into the attic with the other portraits. I suspect she’s missing her regular gossip sessions.”
Harry frowned. “But we can’t move her — the sticking charm—”
“I was thinking,” Narcissa said, eyes alight with a private amusement “What would you think of knocking down that wall she’s on? It’s not structural. In fact I don’t know why it’s there at all. It doesn’t make any sense.
“Not that Wizarding houses have to make sense, of course,” she added, “since they can expand in all sorts of directions, as you probably know. But I’m not convinced she didn’t have that wall put in just to hang her portrait on. Why, I’ve no idea.”
To scare anyone she doesn’t approve of out of the house seemed the obvious answer to Harry. Instead of saying as much, he said, “What did you need me for?”
“Well, it is your house,” she said, and then added, “But, leaving the issue of the wall aside, as that won’t come until much later, there’s actually quite a bit of physical labor involved, and I thought your younger body might take to some of it better than mine.”
Harry took a moment to really look at her, then. She was still lovely, but she’d aged since he’d seen her in the Forbidden Forest. It struck him then how frail she’d become.
“We’re doing it by hand?” he asked, startled and a bit daunted. The house was huge.
“Some of the cleaning can be done by magic,” she allowed, “but most of it will have to be done the Muggle way, I’m afraid. Magic will interfere with the process.”
“What about Kreacher? He’s pretty old and I’m not sure—”
“Oh, no,” Narcissa said. “No, Kreacher won’t be able to help with most of this because he uses magic to clean. House-elf magic is still magic, you know. This, I will do myself, and the house and I would be honoured if you’d consent to join us.” She lay a hand on the wall in what looked more like a fond gesture than a proprietary one.
“Right,” Harry said, feeling overwhelmed as he stared around at the room. The house wasn’t just huge — it was enormous. Cleaning it would take forever, he thought. Then again, as he'd told them that night in Diagon Alley, it wasn’t like he had anything better to do with his time.
“Right,” he said again, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Let’s get started.”
The work wasn’t difficult so much as tedious, and Harry and Narcissa quickly fell into a rhythm. They lugged buckets of soapy water from the kitchen — as even conjured soap and water would contaminate their efforts, according to Narcissa — and she sent Kreacher to fetch an endless array of cleaning supplies as they got to work, starting with Narcissa’s sitting room. They planned to follow with the dining room and foyer, giving Walburga’s portrait a wide berth.
At first they worked in silence. Harry let the repetitive motion soothe him into a meditative calm where he didn’t think — he just was.
After a few days of working in companionable silence, Narcissa quietly began to talk, and he let her, soaking in her words, accepting them. She didn’t talk about the war, but of the house and what she remembered of it from childhood visits.
“We used to come here all the time as children,” she said, “for dinner parties. Our parents would stay up and talk for hours while we children stayed in the playroom. Reggie was little, and my sisters older and uninterested in children, but Sirius was only four years younger than I. He was a ball of energy, always getting in trouble.”
She smiled, remembering. “He ran Kreacher ragged. And he loved creating things, instead of destroying them. He was forever bringing me flowers. One night, after eating far too much sugar at dinner, he spent an hour chasing Kreacher around the playroom, trying to put a conjured pair of underpants on his head, while Kreacher squawked “Little Heir must not give Kreacher clothing!”
Harry snorted. It was hard to picture Kreacher as a nanny, but from his experience with Dobby, and what he knew of Sirius, he could imagine it would have been a sight to behold.
And then one day Harry talked too, almost without realising it. He glossed over as much of his life with the Dursleys as he could, after glancing over and seeing Narcissa’s concern when he mentioned being locked in his cupboard, or being punished for what he now knew had been displays of accidental magic. His childhood hadn’t been anything to speak of anyway, before Hogwarts.
He had plenty of stories to tell about his years at Hogwarts, though, and this prompted her to share her own.
It was actually… sort of fun, he thought, amazed, as they shared a conspiratorial grin after a particularly ridiculous story about a teenaged Lucius and his prized peacocks.
The days flew by, spent pleasantly in Narcissa’s company. When Harry stopped to think about it, he was startled to realise that the first day of Hogwarts had come and gone without his even noticing. He thought he should feel sad or nostalgic, but he only felt relieved and also a bit… free. He was grateful to Narcissa for that. He’d been dreading it.
More than once he caught Malfoy lurking by the door, listening. He never added his own stories, never offered to help, just sneered when Harry met his eyes and then limped away.
The limp bothered Harry. It nagged at him, and after stewing over it for the better part of a week, he gave in and asked Narcissa about it. Lucius, too, walked with a bit of a limp sometimes, but Harry suspected he was better at hiding it.
She sighed and looked at her hands, fidgeting with her cloth, then slowly said, “You don’t know what it was like, living with the Dark Lord. He was...” she paused and met Harry’s eyes then looked away again. “He was fond of the Cruciatus curse,” she continued, “and used it on enemies and followers alike. More, I think, on his followers. I don’t think I’ll ever be rid of the stench of blood in my nostrils or the ringing of screams in my ears.” Her face and voice were devoid of expression, and Harry recognised the hollow numbness in her eyes.
“I think... I think we should stop for the day,” she said, rising and leaving Harry to gather their tools alone. As she hurried past him, he thought he saw the glimmer of tears waiting to fall.
The next time he saw her, the cheerful mask was back, but now he could see the cracks.
Harry felt sick. He tried to remind himself that this was the Malfoys, that they’d brought this on themselves, but he wasn’t sure any longer if that was true. After all, he’d done plenty of things he wasn’t proud of in the name of war.
Malfoy confronted him on the stairs that evening. “How dare you make my mother cry, Potter,” he snarled, and then he shoved Harry. Almost before Harry realised it they were tussling, pushing and shoving at one another like children. Then Malfoy stumbled and Harry snaked out an arm to steady him without thinking and for a long moment they just stared at each other.
Then Malfoy pulled away with an enigmatic look. “Don’t make my mother cry again,” he said coldly, disappearing up the stairs and leaving Harry panting and confused.
Narcissa was quiet for a few days after that, but then, as they dusted the books in the library, she said softly, “As a child, Sirius loved to make me flowers. His favourites were petunias when we were little, but in his second year at Hogwarts he sent me a bouquet of shuixian, with a note explaining one of his friends couldn’t stand petunias.”
She paused and looked up at him. “The last time I received flowers from him when we were young was the week he ran away and was burnt off the tapestry. He sent me an identical bouquet after it was made public that he’d escaped Azkaban.” Her expression turned fierce. “I still supported him. I made sure he had access to the family fortune, as well as the House. I did what I could. It wasn’t enough.”
She looked down at her hands, taking a moment to compose her features.
Harry knew then that she’d forgiven him for making her cry.
He shared more stories after that, of what life had been like at school, with the constant threat of Voldemort hanging over him. With Dumbledore’s plotting and Snape’s derision. And Malfoy wasn’t always sneering as he listened.
There were still days when he couldn’t bring himself to talk, when a numbing fog descended on him and left him isolated inside his own head. There were even days where he had to beg off cleaning. But Narcissa understood, and gradually he came to have more good days than bad.
“My husband isn’t evil, you know,” Narcissa said abruptly one morning as they scrubbed the dining room floor, avoiding Harry’s dubious glance. “He has his bad points, but he’s not evil. He got in with the wrong crowd while at Hogwarts and he never got out.
“When the Dark Lord was killed the first time…” She shrugged helplessly. “We thought we’d narrowly escaped a bad situation.” She huffed a bitter laugh. “We were wrong. By the time we realised what he was truly like we were in too deep and there was no way out.” She paused, then said quietly. “You saved us when you killed him.”
Harry started. He’d never considered it that way.
“And again at the trials. My son also told me how you saved him from the fiendfyre.”
Harry rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “That wasn’t — I didn’t —”
“But you did. I know he hasn’t thanked you—”
Harry snorted. “As if he would.”
“Give him time. He’s not evil either, but the past few years have been hard on him. We did him no favours, raising him the way we did. If he does thank you... promise me you'll hear him out?”
Harry considered. Malfoy refusing to identify him. Malfoy in sixth year, drawn and pale and sickly. Malfoy lying on the floor, surrounded by his own blood. Malfoy being tortured by Voldemort. Malfoy unable to kill Dumbledore. Malfoy on the back of his broom, clutching tight to his waist. That last memory clung to him, dragging oddly at his thoughts. He nodded, still preoccupied.
The heat of the fiendfyre scorched him, sweat trickled down his brow and slicked his grip on the broom. A warm, solid body pressed against his back. Why had he turned back for Malfoy? He still didn’t know.
Hermione’s next letter arrived punctually, on the 17th of September.
Harry, he read, I do hope you’re studying for our exams. We don’t get out of them, you know, even if we’re not attending Hogwarts this term. I know you aren’t either, because you wouldn’t go without Ron or I. I don’t blame you, but... It’s frustrating, not being able to check on you. Are you using the planner I sent you? I marked your appointments on there. Please tell me you’re at least going to those.
Harry grimaced as he felt a twinge of guilt. He hadn’t been going, and he was pretty sure Hermione knew that.
We’re making slow progress here, and Ron is grumbling about my study schedule as we speak, but he’ll thank me once exams roll around. You’ll thank me too, you know. And for goodness sakes, fix the Floo! Do you know how early I had to write this letter to make sure it reached you on time? It’s ridiculous. And the man who runs the International Owl Post office here is so condescending it makes me want to scream.
My mother wants to chat so I must go, but please write back so I know you’re alive, all right Harry?
Below it was Ron’s nearly illegible scrawl.
Harry, mate, you better fix that Floo soon. Then Hermione can rant at you sometimes instead of just at me. She’s taking our exam schedules more seriously even than when we were at Hogwarts, if you can imagine. Write back, yeah? She’s driving me spare with her worrying.
He sighed and, with a glance at the haughty glare of the owl, turned the parchment over and, summoning a quill, scrawled a quick note.
I’m fine, Hermione. Stop worrying. Don’t study too hard.
“What about her,” Harry asked some days later, gesturing toward Walburga’s portrait as he and Narcissa lugged their cleaning supplies toward the stairs after finishing the ground floor rooms.
“Let’s let her sleep,” Narcissa said, after a pause to consider. “She doesn’t need much in the way of cleaning — only a dusting, most likely — and that would be better done when we move her. And that we should probably leave until later, since we haven’t figured out the details of how we’re going to do it yet.”
Harry nodded, then gestured toward the house-elf heads lining the stairs. “And those?” He hoped they could get rid of them. They were his least favourite thing about the house. Well, tied with Walburga, maybe.
“We’re only cleaning to start,” Narcissa reminded him, gazing up at the house-elf heads and grimacing. “We’ll have to figure out how to properly deal with those later.”
“Perhaps Kreacher could help,” Harry suggested.
Narcissa nodded, hefting her bucket and dust cloths. “And now, onward. To the study, I think. Lucius will have to content himself with the library today.”
Their stories ranged closer and closer to the war, until, finally, Harry fell silent as Narcissa filled him in on the details of her family's lives for the past year.
She stopped scrubbing, twisting the rag absently as she spoke.
“The Wizengamot confined us to Malfoy Manor, as you know. They stripped us of our other properties, emptied our vaults, and took many of the Manor’s furnishings to pay reparations. The only reason they left us the Manor was that it was the easiest place to bind us.”
“Bind you?” Harry interrupted. He was still a little fuzzy about the details of what Kingsley had done that night.
Narcissa nodded grimly. “As Lucius said, it’s an old spell. Modified by the Ministry, in this case. It’s Blood Magic, unused for centuries, resurrected to bond human and magical house; much stronger than the usual family-house bond of the wards. They paid us a visit some months ago to modify it.” She pursed her lips grimacing down at her rag. “It seems they’d been working on a stronger version, to more permanently bind us, no doubt hoping it would drain us enough to kill us off.”
Harry started, realising that Hermione had helped the Ministry develop that spell. She’d taken an unofficial consulting role in the year after the war, before she’d left for Australia to restore her parents’ memories. She wouldn’t have known what it would be used for, he thought with a pang of sadness. She’d be livid when she found out. He resolved to tell her as soon as she returned. She’d be able to help him convince Kingsley that things had to change.
“When the Manor was set on fire,” Narcissa continued, “we had no choice but to flee. But we knew that we would die with the house unless the bindings were removed. We fled to the Ministry for help, but were ambushed by those we believe had set fire to the Manor.” She paused and glanced up at him, eyes still troubled. “And you know the rest.”
Harry was horrified, and, remembering Pansy’s story from their last night out, determined then and there to figure out how to do something about the treatment the Death Eaters and their relatives and sympathisers had received since the war.
They uncovered several Dark objects as the weeks passed. Narcissa recognised some from time she'd spent in the house as a child, others from her knowledge of similar objects in the Manor. Mostly traps, set for unwary intruders. They made Harry shudder with revulsion.
“What do we do with them?” he asked, gesturing at the small pile they’d gathered in the centre of the desk in the study. There was a collection of Black Quills, like the one Umbridge had forced him to use. Some were the standard variety that wrote with the blood of the writer — others used the blood from someone else, usually the closest Mudblood, sometimes the one with the least Black blood.
They’d also found a selection of books in the library that would attack non-pure-bloods, others that would curse them. They even found one (that they levitated very carefully) that worked like a Portkey to transport the unlucky person who touched it to a distant dungeon. Harry didn’t want to know where the dungeon was — he just wanted to make sure no one was accidentally sent there.
Narcissa studied them thoughtfully. “We could destroy them, I suppose, but the spell is complex. Let’s put them in the attic for now; there’s a warded trunk up there that ought to do the trick.”
A routine took shape around him, almost without him noticing. He ate breakfast with Narcissa and Lucius, sometimes waking early enough to help Narcissa prepare the food. He and Narcissa spent the morning hours cleaning and talking, breaking in the early afternoon for lunch and a bit of reading.
Harry realised suddenly how much he’d missed having Hermione around the past few months. She still read voraciously, and tended to lecture at him and Ron when she was done. He hadn’t realised how much he'd been learning from her lectures.
After they’d rested and cleaned up, they met back in the kitchen to prepare dinner, where Lucius joined them again.
Harry wasn’t sure how Lucius spent his days, other than reading and organising the vast library; he didn’t see Malfoy at all. When he and Narcissa knocked on his door with their rags and buckets, they found him mysteriously absent. A note that had been balanced on his doorknob fluttered to the ground, and Harry bent to pick it up. Just get it over with. I can’t live in that filth any longer, anyway. Your house is atrocious, Potter.
He didn’t miss the pub nights and club nights. In fact, it was a relief not having to sit through them. He wondered why he’d even gone. He couldn’t drink, couldn’t dance (albeit for different reasons), and didn’t talk. He could sit and stare at home just as well as out at a club, and home was much more peaceful. He was definitely having fewer migraines, now that he wasn’t spending so much time surrounded by flashing lights and loud music.
It was also a relief having people around him. The Malfoys helped provide a sense of order, helped separate his days from his nights. He found it easier to remember to eat when they were there, and working with Narcissa helped tire him enough that sleep came easily.
Malfoy made a rare appearance on the stairs one afternoon in late September as Harry was trudging up them, exhausted after a long morning spent cleaning. He was covered in dust and suspected that at least one cobweb lingered in his hair.
“You look like shit, Potter,” Malfoy said, tilting his head to the side, birdlike, and regarding him with an odd expression.
“Thanks, Malfoy,” Harry replied, too tired to start a fight. He ducked his head self-consciously, then straightened again when he realised what he was doing. Then he looked at Malfoy — really looked at him.
Malfoy was… skinny. The git had always been thin, he supposed, but now he verged on skeletal. His hair was a little longer than he’d worn it at Hogwarts, hanging limply around his face. His pale skin was nearly translucent and there were dark circles under his eyes.
Harry was taken aback by his haggard appearance. After a moment he found his voice and said, “Then again, so do you.”
Malfoy nodded, and Harry nodded, and they went their separate ways, but Harry’s pleasant haze of exhaustion had been ruined. Now his mind was busy puzzling over what Malfoy had been doing with himself and why he looked so awful. Was he sick? Was that why he hadn’t been showing up to meals?
He shook himself when he realised what he was doing. He needed a shower, and then sleep. He did not need to think about Malfoy.
Malfoy was all he could think about, of course. He even dreamt about him, embroiled in some stupid fight that made no sense in the light of morning, and woke much less rested than he had the previous nights.
As they were preparing breakfast, Harry asked Narcissa about Malfoy because he was worried and because he was tired of wondering about him.
She sighed as she met his eyes, and he saw that hers held a deep sadness. “Give him time,” she said softly. “My son is… not well.”
Harry thought that those words really shouldn't worry him as much as they did.
“Excellent,” Narcissa said cheerfully some days later as they finished the last bedroom on the third floor, wiping her brow and leaving a streak of dust. “That’s all but the unused rooms upstairs and the kitchen. We should probably tackle the kitchen next, but I want to start that after a good rest, so let’s stop for the day. Why don’t we go and see how Lucius is getting on?”
“Where is he, anyway?” Harry asked, realising that he hadn’t seen him outside of mealtimes since they’d kicked him out of the study, and that had been a few weeks ago.
“He’s in the garden,” Narcissa said, as if that explained everything.
Harry thought of the garden, neglected and left to run wild for two decades, then hacked at by Hermione and abandoned again. He couldn’t imagine what Lucius could want with it.
“Er, why?” Harry asked after a moment.
“Probably best to see for yourself,” Narcissa said with a fond smile, leading the way down the stairs to the French doors that opened into the back garden.
Harry had never really looked at those doors before, but now he took a moment to appreciate them. Cleaned, they were beautiful; carved roses twined around the mahogany doorframe, and the wood gleamed now that the dust had been removed and it had been polished.
He’d never appreciated the house, he thought, patting the doorframe apologetically as he opened it. He winced at the screech of protest from the hinges, wondering what the magical equivalent of WD-40 was. He was about to voice the question when he caught sight of Lucius.
He was hunched over a sprawling flowerbed that ran along the walls of the garden, which was looking much better than it had the last time Harry had ventured out there. The overgrown shrubs and trees and vines had been cut back and there were raised beds in the centre of the garden with what Harry suspected would prove to be vegetables growing in neat lines.
“This is amazing,” he said, looking around in wonder. “Did you do all this?”
Lucius looked up at their approach and stood, dusting his hands off on his pants and dropping his trowel. Harry goggled. Lucius was wearing what looked like a Muggle gardening coverall. The sort Aunt Petunia had worn when she gardened to protect her clothing from dirt and grass stains. The fabric was worn and faded; the coverall looked much-used.
“What… Where…” Harry couldn’t find the words to convey his shock.
Lucius looked down at himself and then up again, amused. “I found this in the garden shed. I didn’t want to get my robes dirty, so…” He shrugged.
Narcissa’s eyes sparkled with mirth and Harry saw that she’d wrapped her arms around herself as if to hold in silent laughter; her shoulders were shaking.
“Those were Aunt Walburga’s” she said, after taking a moment to catch her breath. “She didn’t like getting her clothes dirty either, and was always grumbling about not being able to find good gardening robes. Sirius bought her these as a joke but she ended up loving them. We never had the heart to tell her they were Muggle.”
Lucius made a disgruntled face. “I’d have to agree with her. First time that’s ever happened. We never did get along.”
“No,” Narcissa said, still chuckling. “You definitely didn’t. Why don’t you show us around? We’re tired of looking at cobwebs and grime. Show us something pretty.”
“Then let me direct you to the nearest mirror,” he said, sketching a bow; she swatted at him playfully, a faint flush on her cheeks.
Lucius directed them with a smile to a bench he’d uncovered near the garden’s east wall, to the right of the vegetable patch. “Have a seat then, my dear, and I’ll give you the grand tour.” He swept an arm out as if performing on a stage.
Harry was startled. This wasn’t the Lucius he knew (though he’d be the first to admit he hardly knew the man). Perhaps there was more to Lucius that his younger self had never seen.
Lucius moved toward the northwest corner flower bed, gesturing to a rare variety of magical tulip he’d uncovered while removing the wild, tangling vines Harry remembered rioting over the wall. Its petals were a deep blue at the base fading to turquoise at the tips, and it was sprinkled with white dots in patterns that looked a lot like constellations. Lucius stumbled a little as he walked toward it; a small stumble, and he caught himself quickly, but then he teetered, seemingly unable to regain his balance.
“Narcissa,” he said quickly, but she was already there, scooping his cane up from where it leaned against the bench to her left and pressing it into his hand, then leading him back to the bench.
“Why don’t you sit with us for a moment, dear,” she said, helping him down beside her. “You can see the flowers from here just as well as we can.”
He smiled gratefully at her and they shared a look Harry couldn’t quite interpret. Then Lucius started talking about the tulip again, regaling them with some story about a famous Malfoy ancestor with a knack for herbology who had lost a bet to one of the Blacks, and been forced to create a tulip that reflected the stars and bloomed in October, for the man’s birthday, and the moment was over.
After a week spent cleaning out the kitchen and readying the Floo (though Harry still hadn’t gotten the permits renewed), Narcissa suggested they take a break from cleaning, since they’d covered the parts of the house that were in use, and instead tackle her sitting room again.
They went over every inch of it, painstakingly making note of anything loose, broken, or otherwise less than perfect. Then Narcissa sent Kreacher to fetch a bewildering array of tools for them, and she set to work mending, Harry beside her. She showed him how to make each repair so the wood and fabrics looked like new.
“Where did you learn to do all this?” he asked, mind struggling to come to terms with Narcissa Malfoy pounding in nails with a hammer. It was another strange image that he filed away next to the one of Lucius in Muggle gardening clothes.
“We all learn it, as pure-blood children,” she said, tucking a strand of hair back into her kerchief. “We take pride in our houses, you see, and it’s a matter of honour to keep them in perfect condition. It’s a little different in every pure-blood house; I learned much of it from Aunt Walburga. If Sirius were here, he’d be doing it, but…” She trailed off, smiling apologetically at him. “It must be hard, living here without him.”
Harry felt his grief stirring and he tamped it down. He wasn’t going to break down now.
Narcissa eyed him critically. “You shouldn’t bury it like that,” she chastised gently. “Hurt like that has to come out, or it festers. You need to heal.”
“Maybe later,” he said, surprised at how choked-up he felt. “I think… I think I need a break, now.”
He rose to his feet as soon as she nodded and fled to his room, desperate to keep the tears at bay until he’d shut the door. Then he collapsed onto his bed and let the grief smother him.
Sirius should be there. He should be helping Harry put the house to rights, laughing with Narcissa over shared jokes and playing pranks on Lucius. He should be helping Harry draw Malfoy out from wherever it was he was hiding. Sirius would never have stood for that.
But Sirius was gone, and Harry was left to handle it all himself. He was grateful for Narcissa’s help, but… He rolled over and pulled his pillow over his head. He should have known how to do all this. He should have been raised to care for a Wizarding house, not been thrust into ownership as a teenager with no clue how to care for it.
He didn’t deserve the house. But he was working to make it right, now. He’d prove himself worthy.
Another letter from Hermione arrived on the 17th and he was startled to realise another month had gone by, and they were well into October. He opened it warily, unsure what to expect. He was no longer sure he wanted her and Ron to come home immediately. He didn’t know how to tell them that the Malfoys were staying with him, and he couldn’t imagine any situation in which telling Ron would go well. He supposed he should write them and tell them, but… It felt wrong. He should tell them in person.
Or not at all, said a small voice that he thought he should probably listen to. They didn’t have to know. The Malfoys might be gone before they got back. They wouldn’t be back for ages, anyway, he realised as he read on — Hermione wrote that they’d had some setbacks and she didn’t foresee them being able to return for months.
Harry felt guilty but also lighter as relief flooded through him. He could put off telling them about the Malfoys. He didn’t even know what he’d tell them. The Malfoys were... Well, they weren’t what he’d expected at all.
Narcissa was sweet and almost aggressively cheerful, and her single-minded determination to restore the house was both awe-inspiring and a bit frightening. Lucius was quiet and… Civil. And he gardened in Muggle clothes, which was bizarre.
Malfoy was like a ghost. Sometimes Harry wondered if he was there at all — if maybe he’d imagined him standing next to his parents that day he’d rescued them in Diagon Alley.
But then he’d catch a glimpse of him, and sometimes he smelled a familiar smell wafting down the stairs and realised, after smiling and thinking back to Hogwarts, that it was Malfoy's hair potion he was smelling. The memories that flooded in then were harsh, but the feeling was almost fond, and he was so confused.
“What are you reading?” Narcissa asked, and he started guiltily. He supposed he’d better tell the Malfoys about Hermione and Ron, at least. Especially since they might return while the Malfoys were still staying with him. He had no idea, after all, how long they would be staying. In all the rush of transferring their house arrest to Grimmauld Place, he’d neglected to work that part out.
Narcissa wasn’t surprised to hear that it was a letter from Hermione. It wasn’t what he’d expected, nor were her words: "I'm glad you've not been alone all this time. It's good for you to have people around you."
Which was true, he supposed, but, well. It was still weird.
Halloween arrived suddenly, without the preparations and excitement of the castle to warn him. He woke with a sick feeling in his stomach and his heart sank. He rolled over and summoned the planner, unsurprised to see the date staring back at him. October 31st. The day he’d almost died the first time; the day his parents had died. The day that Sirius had lost his freedom. The day he’d been doomed to a childhood with the Dursleys.
He closed his eyes, fury washing through him, an impotent rage that the universe could be so unfair. He snapped his fingers, summoning Kreacher to send a message to Narcissa. There was no way he could face the Malfoys today. Ron and Hermione understood his need to be alone on Halloween — he didn’t think he could explain it. Not today. Perhaps if Narcissa asked later, he might try to tell her.
Once Kreacher had gone, he rolled over, burrowing into the blankets and pulling the covers over his head, and willed himself back into unconsciousness.
The next day, Kreacher brought him another letter from Ron and Hermione when he came downstairs for breakfast. This one was shorter than the monthly check-ins, simply hoping he was well and sending their love. He realised that Hermione must have remembered how hard Halloween always was for him and wanted him to know that she and Ron would always be there for him.
There was another parchment under their letter, and he turned it over, wondering who it was from. There was no name on the outside, which was odd, and the parchment was oddly speckled. It had got past all the wards he’d put on his mail, though, so it had to be from a friend.
He unrolled it and had to smile. It was from Luna.
Harry, it said, I do hope you’re well. I know today is especially difficult for you, so I’ve written this letter on a special parchment I designed myself. It’s infused with moonrise berries and wandering thistle to help bring you tranquility. Are you wearing the charm I made you to keep the Wrackspurts away? I’ll bring you another next time I visit, just in case.
Narcissa didn’t ask him about his absence the day before. He wondered if somehow she knew, but couldn’t imagine how. Malfoy might know — he’d certainly taken the opportunity to taunt him with his parents’ death, back at Hogwarts — but he’d have had no reason to tell his mother, surely. He toyed with the notion of asking her, but in the end decided it would open the conversation to too many dangers. He spent the day working quietly beside her instead.
A few days later, he was eating breakfast with Narcissa as usual when she said, “Why don’t we take a break from renovating today?”
He looked up at her, surprised. He’d just had a break a few days before. “Why?” he asked, curious. “What would we do instead?”
“I thought you might like to learn some more Black family history,” she said. “And I thought you might like to do something to mark the occasion.”
“Occasion?” He tried to think, but came up with nothing.
“November third,” she said. “Sirius’ birthday.”
Harry looked at her, stricken. “So soon after…” he trailed off, not wanting to open that particular topic. But she seemed to understand what he meant.
“Yes,” she said softly. “The timing was most unfortunate.” Then she cleared her throat. “In any case, I thought you might like to hear about how Sirius preferred to celebrate his birthday. His mother always insisted on throwing formal parties for her boys, but he hated them. He’d dream up the most ridiculous methods of escape, and I was the only one willing to go with him.” She smiled wistfully. “It was great fun. Sirius was always the one to go to if you wanted an adventure.”
Harry was startled by the depth of warm affection he saw in her eyes. He was also curious. There was so much about his godfather that he’d never had the chance to learn. “I’d like that,” he said.
They spent the afternoon ensconced in her sitting room, drinking tea, eating biscuits, and sharing memories of Sirius. It left Harry’s heart feeling overfull but warmer, somehow.
A few days later, Harry was bounding up the stairs, on his way to fetch his curtains for Narcissa to mend, when he almost collided with Malfoy. “Watch it!” Malfoy snarled as Harry rounded the corner onto the second floor landing and nearly rammed into him. He stepped quickly to the side, brushing the bannister as he took pains to avoid hitting Malfoy, who seemed to be favouring his left foot. Harry watched him waver for a moment, wondering if he ought to reach out to steady him — though he soon forgot that in the face of the glare Malfoy shot at him.
“Sorry,” he said, wishing he had some way to make it up to him.
Malfoy sneered and turned to continue down the stairs, holding the bannister and making his way slowly and gingerly down, which was when Harry remembered.
“Wait! I have — just, hang on a second, will you?”
Malfoy paused, glaring at him, but for the moment he seemed to be doing as Harry had asked. Harry hurried back into his room and dug through his trunk until he found it: the wand he’d taken from Malfoy the year before.
“Here,” he said, presenting it without ceremony. “I ought to have returned this ages ago, but, well. Here it is.”
Malfoy stared at him, eyes wide, emotions flickering over his face too quickly for Harry to catch. Then his face returned to its familiar sneer.
“What game are you playing, Potter?” he spat. “I can’t take that.”
Harry was genuinely confused by this. “I — what? No game. Just, I wanted to give it back is all. Why can’t you take it?” He shifted a bit closer, hesitating when Malfoy tensed and stepped abruptly away. He wanted Malfoy to take the wand. If he did, then maybe he’d talk to him and Harry could figure out what on earth he’d been up to and get this ridiculous obsession over with.
“As soon as I touch it,” Malfoy said bitterly, “an alarm will sound at the Ministry and Aurors will arrive in force to cart me, my father, and my mother off to Azkaban. Is that what you want, Potter? Want to get rid of us so you can have this mouldering old house to yourself again?”
He turned without waiting for an answer and limped back up the stairs, wordlessly passing Harry on the landing and continuing up the next flight toward his room.
Harry watched him go, shocked into silence. Then he stuffed the wand into his back pocket and hurtled down the stairs, leaping over the last few in a burst of energy he’d not felt in years. He didn’t notice, too intent on finding Narcissa and getting the truth out of her.
“Is it true?” he asked, bursting into the sitting room where she was mending the curtains from her room, a cup of tea at her elbow.
“Is what true, Harry, dear?” she asked, looking up at him from her favourite chair by the window in surprise. “I thought you were going to fetch me your curtains so I could mend them.”
“I got distracted,” he said, waving away the thought of curtains. “I ran into Malfoy.” He ignored her frown at his insistent use of her son’s surname and barrelled on, “I tried to give him back his wand. Only he said that if he touched it you’d all be carted off to Azkaban.”
She pursed her lips, but didn’t say anything. Her fingers toyed with the fabric, and she didn’t meet his eyes.
“Well?” he asked impatiently. “Is it true, what he said?”
She sighed and nodded.
He realised, all at once, that he’d not seen her or Lucius use magic in all the time they’d been there. He remembered her telling him that she learned to cook for them, but he’d not connected the dots. They couldn’t use magic. They couldn’t use magic. Hermione would kill whoever had made that decision. And even if she didn’t, he would.
Forbidding a wizard to use magic was... was... It was bad, was what it was, former Death Eater or not. He vowed, then and there, to fix it. He was the Saviour after all — if anyone could do something about it, it would be him.
“I’m sorry,” he said, looking back at Narcissa and not registering the way she flinched back from his expression. “I can’t work on the curtains with you right now. I have… something I need to do. Right now. Where’s Lucius?”
“I… believe he’s in the study,” Narcissa said reluctantly.
He stalked out of the room and hurried to the study. “We’re going out,” he said.
Lucius looked up from his reading, eyebrows raised. “What, now?”
“Yes. Now. I need to straighten some things out with Kingsley.”
“You’re going to walk into the Ministry and demand to see the Minister,” Lucius said doubtfully.
“…And I’m going with you,” Lucius finished, sounding defeated as he slipped a bookmark into the thick leather-bound book he’d been reading.
Harry nodded grimly. Oh yes. They were going to the Ministry, where they were going to demand to see the Minister… and Kingsley would have some explaining to do.
Lucius glanced up at the ornate key-wound clock on the study wall. “At least wait until morning. If you’re going to ask the Minister for a favour, you’ll have better luck catching him in a good mood in the morning. The Ministry tends to hold meetings most afternoons that can go on forever.” He grimaced, as if at an unpleasant memory. “And you’ll have much better luck if you go in dressed for the part.”
Harry looked down at his favourite jeans, with their multitude of stains and holes in the knees. He sighed, impatient at the delay, but nodded.
Lucius was right. It would be foolish to barge in on the Minister looking like he did, especially if he were interrupting a meeting.
“Tomorrow then,” he said, unwilling to delay any longer. He was determined to put it right.
Lucius nodded. “Tomorrow.”
As he was closing his eyes that night, he couldn’t help feeling that he was missing something important. He turned over, bunching his pillow under his neck and staring at the ceiling. What was it? He needed to get to sleep so he’d be alert in the morning when he dropped in to see Kingsley…
Kingsley. He sat up, suddenly realising what he’d been missing. He needed to look presentable tomorrow to make his demands, and he was reasonably certain that he didn’t have any clean clothes to wear. Even the clothes he’d worn earlier that day were on their second day of duty, at least. He groaned, but there was nothing for it.
“Kreacher,” he called softly.
“Yes, Master? What can Kreacher be doing for Master at this hour?” the house-elf asked grumpily as he materialised beside Harry’s bed with a somewhat-muffled crack.
Harry steeled himself. He and Kreacher had been fighting over who would do his laundry from the first day he’d moved into Grimmauld Place after the war. Now he was about to concede defeat, but he told himself it was better than showing up to the Ministry in yesterday’s clothes. Cleaning charms could only do so much.
“Kreacher,” he said, “I need clean clothes for my trip to the Ministry tomorrow, and— ”
“Master need say no more,” the house-elf crowed, eyes bright with greedy triumph. “Kreacher will clean Master’s clothes right now. All of Master’s clothes.” Harry pulled the covers up to his chin. “Just… not the ones I’m wearing, yeah? Those are fine. Really.”
The light in Kreacher’s eyes dimmed slightly, then returned as he surveyed the piles of clothes in the corners, the socks peeking forlornly out from under the bed. He snapped his fingers once, and the clothes zoomed into a pile before him. He snapped them again, and he and the pile of clothes vanished. Harry hoped Kreacher had only transported them to the laundry, and not relegated them to the trash. He still didn’t entirely trust Kreacher’s cleaning methods. And there was still the matter of their… He hesitated to call it a feud.
Their disagreement about who should take responsibility for the laundry, he decided sleepily. That’s what it was. Then he plumped his pillow a few times and turned on his side, leaving all thoughts of laundry for the morning.
Harry opened his eyes to shafts of early morning sunlight lancing through his dark green shutters, striping the floor with stark bars of light and dark. He sat up immediately, grabbing his glasses off the bedside table and shoving them onto his face before pulling open the shutters to let the morning light in. He opened the window and took a breath of clear morning air, feeling his lungs expand with it, feeling himself fill with resolve.
Today, he was going to the Ministry to get the Malfoys’ wands back.
He was too impatient for a shower and instead rifled through his wardrobe, making a mental note to thank Kreacher for cleaning everything. He settled on his favourite red t-shirt and a pair of worn blue jeans that didn’t have any holes in them.
He thought grudgingly that Hermione was right: he really ought to get some new clothes. Later, though. Today he had more important things to do.
He dressed quickly, jumping awkwardly up and down as he put on his socks. Socked feet would make the stairs difficult, but not as difficult as an extra trip up and down them would be when he inevitably forgot to grab the socks on his way down.
As he turned to leave the room, he snatched his and Malfoy’s wands from the bedside table and stuffed them into his back pocket. Then he hurried down the stairs, skating his hand over the railing to keep himself from tumbling down, and made his way to the kitchen to help Narcissa with breakfast.
Narcissa was standing at the stove, as she had been every morning she’d stayed at Harry’s house, already at work. She didn’t make a variety of fancy foods, as Harry had at first worried she might. Instead, she focused on a handful of hearty breakfasts and dinners that tasted as good as they looked. She left lunch and tea to Kreacher, who seemed more than happy to prepare sandwiches (with perfect competency, Harry discovered with relief).
Lucius was up, too, sitting at the table with that morning’s Prophet spread open before him, a cup of tea shoved aside to make room for the pages. He looked less than enthused about their approaching visit to the Ministry.
Harry, noting that today was a pancake day, set about preparing the toppings. As he grabbed the plate of strawberries sitting off to the side of the stove and set to slicing them, he startled himself by hoping Malfoy would venture down to breakfast that morning.
After he and Lucius had left for the Ministry, he amended quickly. Narcissa’s pancakes were, in Harry’s mind, not to be missed, but he was afraid that seeing Malfoy’s surly expression too early in the morning might ruin his appetite. And that would be a shame. Especially on a pancake day.
“Good morning, Mr. Potter,” Lucius said, looking up from his paper.
“Good morning,” Harry replied, as he set the platter of sliced strawberries and bananas on the table, next to the small pot of chilled whipped cream. Then he sighed. “You may as well call me Harry,” he said. “One person calling me ‘Potter’ is quite enough.”
The corner of Lucius’ mouth twitched upward. “Indeed. And you should call me Lucius, as one ‘Malfoy’ is also sufficient.”
Harry was just turning away to grab the pitcher of warmed maple syrup from its hot water bath when Lucius lifted the paper again and a headline on the back of the page caught his eye. He paused, taking it in, feeling his appetite wither away.
War Hero Ginevra Weasley Harbouring Death Eater Fugitive? the headline screamed. Beneath it was a photo of a livid Ginny standing in front of a cowering Pansy Parkinson, a crowd of jeering witches and wizards surrounding them.
Harry didn’t immediately recognise the place they were standing, but it vaguely reminded him of Hogsmeade and he wondered what on earth they were doing there. It wasn’t a place that had ever had much to tempt either Ginny or Pansy, as far as he knew.
A quote halfway down the page caught his attention, then: “Pansy was never a Death Eater you horrible woman! Why don’t you go investigate the so-called ‘Vengeance killings’ instead of harassing innocent people!”
Lucius cleared his throat and folded the paper so the article was no longer visible.
“Hey—” Harry started, but Lucius shook his head.
“The last thing anyone needs is to read Rita Skeeter’s blathering before breakfast — least of all when they’ve an important meeting with the Minister of Magic to prepare for.”
Harry sighed, but conceded the point. Nothing Skeeter had said would make him change his mind about her, Ginny, or Pansy, and she’d no doubt skewed half of Ginny’s words anyway. He’d get a better idea of what was going on from Ginny herself — maybe he’d see about getting the Floo fixed while they were out and then firecall her. He was surprised she hadn’t dropped in on him again, actually. Surely she couldn’t still be that angry about the Malfoys?
Then he remembered: both Ginny and Pansy would be back at Hogwarts, and not easily reachable. He’d have to send Ginny an owl, then, the next time he was in town.
Then Narcissa placed a steaming platter of pancakes in front of him, and he put all thoughts of Ginny and Skeeter and vengeance killings to the back of his mind. Narcissa’s pancakes deserved his full attention.
When they arrived at the Ministry, Lucius turned toward the reception desk, but Harry hurried him past it. “That’s a waste of time,” he said dismissively, ignoring the receptionist calling out to him. “I know where I’m going.”
Lucius heaved a put-upon sigh, but followed his lead. They wound their way through the Ministry to the wing where Kingsley’s office lay, bypassing the usual visitor checkpoints. Harry had decided that if he had to be celebrity then he was damn well going to use it to his advantage for once.
When they finally got to Kingsley’s secretary’s desk, Lucius again turned toward it, and Harry again steered him away, toward the sturdy door leading into Kingsley’s office. A gold nameplate hung on the door, its ornate font spelling out: Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister for Magic. Underneath, it read: by appointment only.
Harry ignored the sign like he’d ignored the secretary, who had rushed over to them and was now trying to insinuate himself between their bodies and the door. Harry raised his fist and rapped smartly on the door.
“Yes, what is it, Bertrand?” Kingsley called.
Harry turned the knob and barged in, Lucius following a few steps behind him. Harry thought that Lucius being required to stay close to him was actually rather convenient: so long as he moved quickly, Lucius was too busy staying close to him to protest his actions.
Kingsley was sitting at his massive mahogany desk, dwarfed by three teetering piles of parchment. He was frowning at a file spread out over the small area of desk that remained clear enough to work on. He looked up, frown lines deepening at the intrusion.
“Now see here,” he began, just as his secretary darted in front of them again and stuttered out an apology. Harry ignored them both, shouldering past the secretary and into the room.
“Kingsley,” he said without preamble.
Kingsley rubbed his brow. “Harry,” he replied wearily, “what can I do for you? And why the blazes didn’t you make an appointment?”
“I didn’t have time to bother with making an appointment,” Harry said, marching up to Kingsley’s desk. “As for what you can do for me…“ He thumped Malfoy’s wand onto the opened file. “For starters, you can tell me why Malfoy said that if he touched his wand you’d chuck him in Azkaban. While you’re at it, you can tell me where Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy’s wands are.”
“Well,” Kingsley said, clearing his throat and eyeing the wand, and Harry’s hands that were still lying on the surface of his desk, “When you put it that way.” He turned his attention to the overly-pale secretary.
“I’ve got this Bertrand. Why don’t you see about getting me those files you were working on. Say, fifteen minutes?”
The man nodded mutely, expression still outraged, and went out, closing the door behind him.
As soon as it clicked shut, Kingsley rounded on Harry. “I don’t care if you’re the Saviour of the bloody Wizarding world! You cannot barge into my office like that!”
Harry didn’t budge. “I’m not sorry, and I won’t promise not to do it again, but I will attempt to make an appointment next time.”
Kingsley rolled his eyes heavenward. “What did I ever do to deserve this?” he muttered. Then he turned back to Harry. They both ignored Lucius, who stood quietly behind Harry, hands folded on the top of his cane.
“If I give you their wands, will you go away?” Kingsley asked, sounding harried. “I do have work to do, you know.” He looked pointedly at the open file and the stacks of parchment.
“If you give me their wands and also your guarantee that they can use them, then yes, I’ll go,” Harry said. He leaned forward against Kingsley’s desk; the stacks of parchment wobbled, threatening to tip.
“Merlin help us,” Kingsley muttered, turning to rummage in the bulging file cabinet behind his desk. “Give me a minute…”
He flipped through several folders before finding the one he wanted, then paged through it, frowning and muttering under his breath. “Right,” he said finally. “They’re in Evidence 7. It requires top security clearance, so I’ll have to take you myself. Come on, then, and be quick about it. I’ve a meeting in half an hour that I can’t miss.”
They hurried after him, the tip of Lucius’ cane clicking on the tile floors, as Kingsley led them deeper into the warren that was the Ministry. A cramped lift took them down several levels to Evidence 7, a windowless room behind two separate security checkpoints that was stuffed full of… stuff.
Harry marvelled at the boxes and bins filled to bursting with everything he could think of, all of it tagged and numbered. Kingsley led them down a winding path through cramped corridors to a small metal cabinet in the back of the room. He tapped it with his wand, muttered something Harry didn’t catch, and the doors sprang open.
The cabinet was full of wands.
Kingsley checked the printed index on the inside of the leftmost door and then, opening one of the narrow compartments, produced two wands.
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Lucius start forward and then freeze. He felt a pang of sympathy for him. Lucius had been without his wand for over a year. Now there it was, right in front of him, and he couldn’t risk touching it lest he send his wife and son straight to Azkaban.
Azkaban. Sirius had been in Azkaban. Did Kingsley have Sirius’ wand in that cabinet? Harry ducked under Kingsley’s arm, grabbing hold of his forearm before he had a chance to close it.
“Harry!” Kingsley exclaimed. “What the— ”
“Is Sirius’ wand here?” Harry asked, scanning the index.
“I’m not— ”
But Harry had already found it. Black, Sirius. 1981. He reached for the drawer, but a fist clamped around his hand in an iron grip.
“If you touch that,” Kingsley said, voice even, though a bit strained, “then I’ll have cause to send you to Azkaban. In fact, I won’t have a choice. I might even end up joining you there.”
Harry didn’t flinch. “Sirius’ wand is in there,” he said. “You don’t need it, not anymore. Sirius isn’t going to be able to claim it. He wouldn’t want his wand to be in here, trapped like this.”
Kingsley sighed. “Sirius Black was a good man. And you’re right; we don’t need it.” His forehead creased as he pondered, lips pursed.
“I can’t give it to you now,” he said finally. “Not the same day as the Malfoys’ wands. That would be sure to raise suspicions that I assure you we don’t want.”
Harry opened his mouth to protest, feeling his face heat and his eyes prickle — somehow, now that he knew it was there, leaving Sirius' wand locked up felt almost like leaving Sirius himself back in prison — but Kingsley held up a hand.
“I said I can’t give it to you now. Sirius had other things on him, when he was taken. I’ll gather them and get them to you as soon as I legally can.”
Harry took a deep breath and then nodded, deciding to trust Kingsley’s judgement. “All right,” he said, forcing his voice even, his mind back to the task at hand. “Now, the restrictions.”
Kingsley glared at him. “Not here,” he said, with a pointed glance around the room. They seemed to be the only people there, but Harry supposed there could be people hidden behind the towering stacks of boxes and bins. He nodded.
They retraced their steps down the halls to the lifts in a tense silence.
“I can’t lift the restrictions, Harry,” Kingsley said quietly, once they were back in his office, door once again firmly shut behind them. I’m not all-powerful, you know.”
“But you can do something.”
“But I can do something,” Kingsley echoed, sounding defeated. “It’s not much, but it will at least allow them to hold their wands and perform minor magic — extremely minor. Let me just…” He beckoned for Malfoy’s wand, and Harry handed it to him.
He frowned at the wands as he lay them on his desk, inside the circle inscribed there, and cast a series of spells at them. When he was done he cast a detection spell that Harry recognised from his time spent with the Order, face relaxing in relief at whatever it showed him.
“That’s done,” Kingsley said finally, pulling out a handkerchief and mopping his dark brow where a thin sheen of sweat glistened. “Now, Harry, you’d best keep these for the time being. You can give them back to their owners once you’re within your wards. They can use them within the wards only, and only with spells not on this list.”
Kingsley handed Harry a thick roll of parchment. Harry goggled at it. This is a list? It’s a bloody book.
“I’m holding you personally responsible for them,” Kingsley said, catching his gaze and holding it. His face was set in hard lines.
“That’s the best I can do for now,” Kingsley interrupted, forestalling his protest.
Harry frowned, opening his mouth to object anyway, even as he reached for the wands, but Lucius smoothly took the list from Kingsley and handed it to Harry before grabbing his elbow and leading him toward the door.
“Thank you, Minister,” Lucius said, shooting Kingsley an apologetic smile over his shoulder. To Harry he muttered, “Not now. We’ve got what we came for. Leave it for now.” He paused, then added, a touch uncertainly, “Trust me.”
Harry nodded and pocketed the list without looking at it, allowing Lucius to lead him down the hall. He wasn’t done with Kingsley, but he supposed he could accept a partial victory. For now.
Harry turned to Lucius the moment they stepped through the wards around Grimmauld Place and presented him with his wand. Lucius took it gingerly from his palm, straightening from where he was slumped a little to the side, leaning heavily on his cane. His face had gone a bit grey.
Guilt pricked at Harry. He’d been so fuelled by his righteous anger, he’d neglected to notice Lucius struggling to keep up on their journey through the Ministry.
“Let me just…” Harry trailed off, pulling the list of restrictions out of his pocket. He wrinkled up his nose in renewed disgust as he scanned it, then tapped it with his wand, creating three additional duplicates.
“There,” he said, handing one of them to Lucius. “One for you, one for me… Now I’d better go give these to the others.”
He went to Narcissa first, finding her reading in her sitting room.
“Here,” he said, presenting her wand. “This belongs to you.”
She clapped a hand over her suddenly trembling lips. “Oh!” Tears sprang to her eyes and she graced him with a watery smile as she reached tentatively toward it. “Thank you!”
“It’s not perfect,” he warned. “There’s a list of restrictions about a mile long.” He handed her one of the copies, grimacing. “Just… follow it for now. I’ll see what I can do to get some of them lifted later.”
She nodded, staring down at the wand, expression caught somewhere between shock and gratitude as she gave it an experimental twirl.
Harry left the room to give her some privacy. He needed to find Malfoy, anyway.
He found Malfoy in his room, after a quick search of the rest of the house. Not that Harry had expected to find him anywhere else — he’d only ever encountered him on the stairs.
“Malfoy,” he called, knocking on the door. “I have something for you.”
“Go away, Potter.” Malfoy shouted back.
Harry sighed, suddenly incredibly weary, and leaned against the wall by the door. “Malfoy, you want to come and see this, I promise. I wouldn’t bother you if it wasn’t important.”
The door flew open and Malfoy glared out at him, but his glare turned to confusion as his eyes lit on his wand, held out between them on Harry’s palm. Then the glare returned, more ferocious than before.
“You know I can’t take that—”
“You can, though,” Harry said, striving for patience. “I’ve already returned your mum and dad’s. Kingsley gave theirs back today, though there’s a load of restrictions on them. I assume they’re on yours, too.” He held out the list.
Malfoy snatched the list from his hand and scanned it. The parchment unwound as he read through it, scrolling on and on, seemingly unending. Harry wondered if there were actually any spells that weren’t on that list. The wand teetered on Harry’s outstretched palm and he closed his fingers around it so he wouldn't drop it, feeling soothed by its familiar cheerful warmth.
“I know,” Harry said, as Malfoy’s eyebrows rose, “it’s ridiculous. I’m working on it. This is all I’ve got for now, but I’ll do my best to get those restrictions lifted soon.”
Malfoy looked up at him, face devoid of malice; his brow creased in puzzlement. “You don’t have to apologise for getting our wands back, Potter, even with restrictions. That’s more than most people would do.”
Harry stared back at him, more than a little puzzled himself. “Er, you’re welcome. Here — take it.” As soon as the wand left his fingers he stuffed his hands into his pockets. “I’m just gonna… yeah.” He turned quickly and trotted back down the stairs, rattled by the brush of Malfoy’s fingers against his as he’d plucked the wand from Harry’s grip.
Seriously. What the hell was Malfoy up to? He shook his head as he reached the second floor landing, realising that, despite his unexpected reaction, Malfoy hadn’t actually thanked him. That, at least, was a reaction he’d expected from Malfoy.
He continued down the stairs, whistling cheerfully, feeling that all was once again right with the world.
Even though they were obviously grateful to have their wands, Harry could see how the restrictions chafed at the Malfoys.
Narcissa insisted on trying to use her magic for the repairs and small tasks Harry had previously been forced to shoulder alone, but she was often frustrated because her wand wasn’t up to the task. Even with the spells she was allowed to use, her wand stuttered and sparked occasionally, and the spells were weak if they worked at all.
Three weeks after they’d got their wands back, Narcissa was intent on on repairing a cracked section of plaster, pelting it with one spell after another as she glowered at it.
“Maybe if I…” she muttered, swishing her wand in complicated loops, grumbling under her breath. The wand jerked in her hand and seemed to cough, emitting a small puff of smoke. She sighed, defeated. “You’ll have to do it, Harry,” she said, looking down at her wand in disgust. “I’m afraid I don’t have it in me just now.”
Harry moved to her side and raised his wand to take her place. As he did, his gaze flicked past the doorway and he glimpsed a flash of pale hair. He frowned, waiting for the inevitable interruption, but there was nothing.
“Harry?” Narcissa asked after a moment.
He looked back at her, feeling his eyebrows pulling together into a puzzled frown. “Why isn’t he helping?” he asked, jerking his wand toward the now-empty doorway. “I’ve seen him skulking about out there at least a half-dozen times now.”
She sighed and put down her cloth, shoving wisps of hair behind her ears. “That’s my son’s story to tell, not mine. But try not to judge him too harshly for it.”
Harry felt his brow furrow as he looked again toward the doorway, wondering. What was Malfoy up to?
The next morning Harry woke with his head throbbing, the harsh glare from the window nearly blinding him.
“Kreach—,” he croaked as he pushed himself up groggily, clearing his throat and groaning before trying again. “Kreacher!”
He winced at the familiar crack, toppling back against his pillow.
“Yes, Master?” Kreacher asked, voice rasping unpleasantly against Harry’s ears. “What can Kreacher get for Master today?”
Harry cleared his throat again. “Water, please,” he said, “and some of my pain meds, and also please inform Narcissa that I won’t be coming down to breakfast or helping with the cleaning today.”
Kreacher nodded and disappeared with a slightly quieter crack.
Harry’s eyes drifted closed; he tried to ignore the pounding in his head.
A little while later — how much later, he wasn’t sure — a soft knock sounded at his door. He frowned, wincing as even that small movement made his head throb. Kreacher wouldn’t knock, and it would be entirely out of character for Malfoy to knock so softly.
“Enter,” he called hoarsely.
The door creaked open and Narcissa slipped inside, carrying a breakfast tray and a small vial.
“Headache Potion won’t work,” he said shortly, in too much pain to try and say it tactfully. It was nice of her to think of it, but he’d tried it enough to know that it was useless. The smell of cheese and eggs and yeasty bread wafting over from the tray was making his head swim; nausea roiled in his gut, threatening to escape. He focused all his willpower on not throwing up in front of Narcissa.
“I know,” she said quietly, setting the tray down and ignoring his tone. “This isn’t Headache Potion. Lucius gets them too, you know. Migraines, I think the Muggles call them. He has for years but they’ve been worse since...” Her voice trailed off, and she shook her head once as if to shake away things she didn’t wish to remember.
“This is one of my own creations,” she said, holding up the vial. “It’s based on the headache potion, but it’s quite different.”
Harry eyed it skeptically. It looked like a headache potion, which he’d learned to loathe for promising relief and then failing to deliver, but his head was pounding and he couldn’t think of any reason she’d have to lie to him.
“It won’t cure it,” Narcissa warned, “but it will ease the pain and nausea so you can eat and rest. You need to keep up your strength.”
“It might interact with the things I’m already taking,” he protested weakly. The thought of getting even a little relief was so tempting, eating away at his resolve.
“It shouldn’t,” she said, sounding completely self-assured. “I checked before bringing it.”
He tried to glare at her when he realised that meant she’d been snooping in his medicine cabinet, but her wary, hopeful look stopped him. And his head was throbbing. Surely it couldn’t hurt?
He took the vial from her outstretched fingers, stretching his right arm awkwardly across his body to do so, since his left was useless just then, and downed it, then sighed as the headache immediately ebbed. It felt as if the potion soothed all the way down his throat and into his stomach, where it settled the roiling and churning. As soon as the nausea faded away, he realised that he was ravenous.
“This first,” Narcissa said with a small, pleased smile, pressing a cool glass of water into his hand. He drained it then handed it back to her once she set his breakfast tray on his lap.
“Thank you,” he said, trying to put enough weight on the words to show how grateful he was.
“You’re welcome, Harry dear. I’ve plenty more. Send Kreacher to me when you get another one.”
He nodded, relieved. Then another thought struck him, and he frowned.
“Hang on, how are you making the potion with your wand so…” he trailed off, hesitant to say that her wand was unreliable, even though it was.
She laughed. “Surely Severus drilled into you that wands are unnecessary when making potions? Not to worry, though. I developed the formula some years ago, before our magic was restricted, and gave it to the apothecary once I was satisfied with it. Now all I have to do is send Kreacher to fetch it.”
“Ah. Good.” He paused, then cleared his throat. “I’m… working on it, you know. The wands. Er, restrictions.”
She patted his shoulder. “I know. And I appreciate it. Don’t worry about it right now, though. Concentrate on resting. Oh, I almost forgot.”
She retrieved an ice pack from the table, next to where the breakfast tray had rested. “I found this in your frozen pantry. I assume it’s for your head?”
He nodded, taking the ice pack gratefully. “Hermione got them for me.”
“I shall have to show them to Lucius. Muggle, aren’t they? They’re quite inventive. These are much better than cool cloths. Now, I’ll leave you to your rest.”
As she closed the door softly behind her, Harry marvelled that she’d carried the breakfast tray up herself instead of asking Kreacher to take it. Then he realised that she was probably trying to spare his aching head the noise of house-elf apparition.
He felt a wave of gratitude for her, for caring for him like… like a mother, he thought, caught off-guard as he realised how much he’d longed for her attention. How warm she’d been, like Molly Weasley, who’d been more of a mother to him than anyone except maybe McGonagall. He thought he knew why Malfoy had done so much to try and protect her.
Once he’d finished eating he drifted off, into a dream in which he was chasing Malfoy around Hogwarts on a broom, trying to figure out what he was up to…
After a week of watching the Malfoys struggling to find spells they could use for the simplest tasks, often giving up and doing them by hand, Harry had had enough. He fetched Lucius from his study, instructed him to leave his wand on the desk, since he still couldn’t use it outside the wards, and marched him off to the Ministry, ignoring his protests that they hadn’t made an appointment.
As before, Harry breezed by the secretary and walked into Kingsley’s office without waiting for an answer to his knock.
“I need those absurd restrictions lifted,” he said, by way of greeting.
Kingsley looked like it was taking everything in him to hold back a groan. “Harry, these things take time. And, as I told you last time, I’m a busy man.” He gestured to the stacks of paper which, if possible, were even taller. There was another stack growing on the floor by his desk.
“It wouldn’t take that long to lift them,” Harry said stubbornly.
“Speaking of things that wouldn’t take that long,” Kingsley replied, drawing out the words and folding his hands on his desk, “I don’t believe you’ve responded to any of the stack of Ministry job offers I know you’ve gotten.”
“I got an offer for your job, as it happens,” Harry shot back
For a moment, they glared at one another. Then Kingsley threw up his hands. “Do you know how overworked I am, Harry? I’ve hardly seen my wife for months. I’ve hardly seen my house for months. Most nights I end up sleeping here. And do you know how corrupt this Ministry is? There’s crooked officials in just about every department. I can’t prove any of it, but—”
Lucius broke in with a quiet, “I can.”
They both turned to stare at him in disbelief.
“You can what?” Kingsley asked suspiciously.
“I can prove it. I know every one of your employees who was working with the Death Eaters in the years leading up to the war. I have extensive records on all of them.”
“Didn’t it burn with your Manor?” Kingsley asked, disbelief warring with hope on his face.
“No. I didn’t keep it there. It’s safe in a — secret vault.” Lucius replied evenly. Behind the stacks of parchment, hidden from Kingsley’s view, his fingers twitched against the head of his cane.
Kingsley frowned. “Why would you help me?”
“Believe it or not, I’ve grown rather fond of Harry, here,” Lucius said, mouth twisting up into a wry smile as he leaned a little more heavily on his cane. “Regardless, my family is now completely dependent on him, and he seems to have our best interests at heart. It makes good sense to throw our lot in with him.”
Kingsley studied him for a long minute, and then, to Harry’s surprise, he nodded. “All right,” he said, rummaging through his desk and emerging with a list of Ministry employees. “Tell me who on this list is corrupt, and I’ll do what I can to lift the restrictions.”
He held up a hand to forestall any comment from Harry. “It will take time, but I’ll do what I can.”
Harry opened his mouth to protest anyway, but Lucius put a hand on his arm and squeezed a warning. “Watch and learn,” he said, as he bent to peer at the list Kingsley had laid out on the surface of his desk. “Watch and learn.”
Harry was helping to hang the newly-repaired curtains back up in Narcissa’s sitting room when it hit him. He’d assumed Narcissa had been insisting they clean and restore the house by hand because they needed to — because it was too delicate a job to entrust to magic. But what if it was just that she hadn’t had a wand? He’d enjoyed working beside her the Muggle way, and he felt a flood of embarrassment. He should have realised.
“Er. Narcissa,” he asked hesitantly. “We’ve been doing all this,” he swept his arm out, encompassing the room around them, “by hand because it was necessary, right? Not because you didn’t have a wand and didn’t want to make me do all of it?”
Narcissa paused and lowered her wand. “Ah,” she said, cheeks colouring slightly. “No, nothing like that. It’s more respectful to restore a house as old as this one by hand. With the line of succession interrupted and muddled, it’s so unsettled that it needs to be handled carefully. Cleaning by hand is also much more effective than cleaning spells. And, to be honest, I’ve always found doing things by hand soothing.”
She glanced toward him and away again and he realised all at once that she knew. That even though he hadn’t gone into detail about his life with the Dursleys, somehow she’d put it together. How after everything, he found repetitive manual labor — like scrubbing — strangely relaxing. How a blanket of calm seemed to fall over him as he worked.
Instead of feeling embarrassed, as he’d expected, he felt… relieved. Like a burden he’d not realised he was carrying had been lifted from his shoulders.
They worked side by side for a while longer, sometimes using their wands but more often not, in companionable silence. Then Narcissa turned to him and said, “I was thinking of cleaning out the extra bedrooms upstairs this afternoon. Would you like to help me?”
Harry froze, wand extended, then slowly let his arm drop. “Sirius’ room?” he asked quietly, without looking at her.
She waited for him to look up and meet her eyes, then nodded. “I was going to suggest splitting up the upper rooms, so you didn’t have to, but… He would like you to be the one to do it, I think.
“My cousin was rebellious and angry at his family, but family was still important to him, and you’re the last of those he truly considered family.”
Harry let her words sink in, reaching tentatively toward the memories with all their sharp edges. “Not yet,” he said. “I want to, but I can’t— I’m not ready.”
“All right,” Narcissa said, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder. “We’ll do it together then, but not now. There’s no hurry.”
Harry, looking anywhere but Narcissa’s face, willing his sudden rush of grief away, spied Malfoy’s pale hair outside the door again. And just like that the grief melted away, morphing into frustration. What the hell was Malfoy up to?
“Lucius? What are you doing in here?” Narcissa asked in surprise.
Harry thought it was a fair question. They’d been cleaning the dining room and had just opened a small door he’d never noticed before. Narcissa had said it led to a small storage room, and then a passage to the kitchen traditionally used by house-elves.
And Lucius, apparently. He was leaning against the wall when they stumbled across him, looking lost in thought. Or bored, Harry thought, staring at him suspiciously.
Lucius looked like he’d been in there awhile. Harry turned, taking in the cramped room, the dusty shelves, the stacks of dinnerware.
“Darling,” Lucius said, avoiding the question. “Look what I’ve found.” He took Narcissa’s hand, guiding her toward a small silver tea service in the corner.
Harry frowned and tried the door. It didn’t open. He was locked in a cupboard. Again.
His panic began to spiral, and he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t...
He wiggled the doorknob again, desperately, and stumbled out into the dining room in relief.
He turned, trying to hide his relief and the surge of adrenaline he was sure was writ large on his face.
She frowned at him. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” he said, wiggling the knob again. “It’s nothing.”
He turned away from her, regarding the pile of cleaning supplies, and then turned back, still dizzy. The blood was pounding in his ears, making it hard to hear. “Actually, I think I need to lie down for a bit. I don’t— I don’t feel so well. I’ll put these away and then— ”
“Nonsense,” Narcissa said. She looked as if she wanted to say more, but instead said only, “Lucius and I will put them away. You go rest.”
Harry nodded gratefully and trudged up the stairs, flopping onto his bed and taking a few calming breaths, trying to slow his racing heart. I’m here, he thought, willing the words to be true. Not in the cupboard. I’ll never be in that cupboard again. I’m here… Exhaustion crept up on him as he concentrated, and he slipped into oblivion.
Chapter 7: Draco POV
Draco paced around his room, irritated as he always was these days and feeling helpless to do anything about it. What was Potter up to? He’d gotten their wands back. He hadn’t had to do it — he’d gone out of his way with no expectation of reward. What was he playing at?
He frowned, kicking aside a stray article of clothing. And why was Mother cozying up to him? Why was she helping him win over the stupid old house? More importantly, why was Draco so jealous? It wasn’t like he wanted to be in there with them, dirtying his hands and cleaning the Muggle way. Was it?
It was no matter. It wasn’t like Potter would want him there if he tried to join them.
At least Kreacher had brought him a potions kit. He didn’t seem to be limited in the things he could bring Draco, unlike the useless Ministry house-elves. Perhaps he should go down and work with it now. It was probably late enough that Potter would have already gone to bed. Staying in his room wasn’t going to ease his agitation.
Yes. That would be best. He would go down the stairs and… He peeked down the hallway. It was dark. He started toward the stairs, then stopped. There was no way he was going to make it on his own; his leg was already protesting. He scowled down at his left foot, which had been dragging along the hall floor.
He tried to lift the front of his foot off the floor. It was no good. No matter how he strained his muscles, it remained stubbornly flat on the ground.
There was nothing for it. He’d have to get his cane.
He grimaced. He hated the cane. Using it made him feel like he was less than he’d been, and he hated that. His father could pull it off, make it look distinguished. In Draco’s hand, the cane looked like a stupid prop. Something he needed to walk. Which was true, but he didn’t want people to know that.
He fetched the cane, avoiding the mirror on his wall because he didn’t need a reminder of how he looked with it. How it advertised his weakness. He peered over the railing, trying to make sure that the floor below was empty. There was no light spilling out from under Potter’s door, so he was probably safe.
He took a deep breath and started his slow, ponderous way down the stairs. There were four flights of stairs between his room and the basement. Each had 23 steps and a landing. 92 steps. 4 landings.
It took quite a while for him to navigate them all. That was why he chose to work in the potions lab at night. There had been an empty room in the basement that had once been used as a potions lab. Kreacher had shown it to him, helped him set it up and test the fume hoods. He didn’t want anyone else to know about it. Not yet. It was his secret. The reason he felt like he still had any life at all.
When he finally made it to the lab, puffing with the effort of navigating stairs with his cane, he surveyed it with a smile. He’d practiced (and perfected) all of the the first-, second-, and third-year potions already. He pulled the fourth-year potions text from the shelf and turned to the first page. He was methodical, working his way through the textbooks from front to back, chopping and measuring and stirring with precise movements.
It soothed him, and the longer he worked, the more immersed and calm he became. He let go of his anger and frustration and lost himself in the work.
He wasn’t ready to share this part of himself yet. But he was determined to prove that he was still worth something. That even though he had trouble walking, even though his magic was restricted, he could still accomplish something.
The moment Harry woke, the soft light of dawn filtering through his blinds, he knew what he was going to do that day. He threw on his clothes, downed his pills and potions, and clattered down the stairs to the kitchen. Narcissa had yet to arrive that morning; the kitchen was empty. Kreacher poked his head around the door to his den as Harry entered.
“Master is needing something?” Kreacher asked hopefully, stepping fully into the kitchen. Harry noticed that he’d exchanged his ratty old tea towel for a new one — it was almost blindingly white. He looked as if he’d given himself a good scrubbing, too. Harry thought that he wouldn’t say Kreacher’s skin was pink, exactly — it was still grey, but it was definitely pinker.
He stood taller, too; Harry was surprised to see that he didn’t look as old when he wasn’t hunched over. His eyes caught on the necklace dangling around Kreacher’s neck and he realised that he, too, had worn a horcrux. He shuddered, remembering what that had felt like. How it had hung heavier around his neck each day. He’d felt the urge to hunch over too, by the time he’d been able to take it off.
Harry shook his head, shaking away the memories. “No thanks, Kreacher. I’m just going to get breakfast going.” He pulled open the cupboard and rifled through the pans, feeling the urge to make something different. He thought for a minute, then snapped his fingers. Omelettes. He would make omelettes. Which meant he would need…
He set the skillet on the counter and turned to gather ingredients from the pantry, but soon realised he had a problem.
“Kreacher?” he called.
Kreacher appeared beside him. The crack of Apparition startled Harry and he stumbled, catching himself on one of the shelves.
“Kreacher,” Harry said, staring down at him, “why did you Apparate? Weren’t you just over there?” He pointed across the room.
Kreacher shrugged his bony shoulders. “Master called. Apparition was faster.”
“But that’s…” Harry sighed in defeat. “Fine. Kreacher, can you get some tomatoes and mushrooms and…” he thought for a moment. “And cheese. Oh, and more eggs. Please?”
Kreacher snapped his fingers and disappeared. Before Harry even made it back to the counter, Kreacher was unloading the food there. Harry shook his head, wondering at the speed the house-elf could muster when he was inclined to.
Harry cracked the eggs into a large metal bowl and began to whisk them, absentmindedly whistling a cheerful tune. Then he turned to the vegetables Kreacher had lined neatly up on the cutting board and began to chop.
He was just preparing to flip the first omelette when Narcissa stepped into the kitchen.
“Good morning, Harry, dear,” Narcissa said. “You’re up early.”
He nodded, concentrating on the pan. It was almost time… Now! He flipped the omelet, browning the other side, then slid it onto a plate and offered it to her. “I hope omelettes are okay,” he said, suddenly self-conscious. “I thought we could have something different today.”
She took the plate with a smile. “It looks lovely. Thank you.”
Harry found himself smiling back and turned back to the stove, pouring more eggs into the pan. When that omelette was done, he plated it and slid it in front of Lucius, who had joined Narcissa at the table and was sipping his morning tea while reading the Prophet.
He made a third omelette and was about to sit down when he remembered Malfoy. You don’t have to make him one, he thought, but he found himself setting the plate aside and cracking another egg.
“Take this to Malfoy, once we’ve gone?” he asked Narcissa, not looking at her, focusing instead on whisking the eggs.
“Of course,” she said. “Thank you.”
Harry shrugged off her thanks and turned to Lucius, who was folding the paper and looking up at him warily.
“And where are we going this morning?” Lucius asked.
Harry smiled. “We’re going to pay a visit to Kingsley.”
“You do remember that he asked you to make an appointment?”
“And we will. But since the Floo’s not working, we’ll just have to go there to make it. May as well drop in and see him while we’re at it.”
This time, when Harry barged into Kingsley’s office, the Minister groaned theatrically. “What now, Harry?” he asked, completely exasperated.
Harry shrugged. “I’m making an appointment to go see about Lucius’ vault. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
Kingsley stared at him for a full minute, face curiously expressionless, before bursting out in a laugh that was less amusement and more frustration.
“Harry… this is the sort of thing you don’t make appointments for. And this isn’t how you go about making them, anyway. Just… do me a favour. Let Mr. Malfoy guide you. At least he knows the proper procedures.”
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but Lucius stepped smoothly in front of him. “Of course, Minister,” he said, voice oozing solicitousness. “Please, call me Lucius. We’re all friends here, after all.” He leaned forward over the desk and extended a graceful hand.
Harry noticed that his other hand gripped the head of his cane, knuckles gone white with the effort he was expending to move so smoothly. But Kingsley didn’t seem to notice, as the massive piles of parchment on his desk blocked Lucius’ shaking hand from his view.
Kingsley shook his head, looking like he didn’t believe what he was about to do. Then he clasped Lucius’ hand firmly. “Lucius,” he said. Then, after a pause, he added. “You may as well call me Kingsley, I suppose.”
“I think Minister should suffice, at least in public. It wouldn’t do you any political favours to appear too friendly with a former Death Eater, after all.”
Kingsley's face took on a green tinge for a moment, but he didn’t say anything.
After a moment, Lucius said, “I believe it would be best to do this when the Ministry is officially closed. How does Saturday work for you, Minister?”
Kingsley groaned and waved a hand helplessly. “Fine. Absolutely fine,” he said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “I didn’t want to see my wife this week, anyway. I’ve yet to come up with a sufficient apology for last week.”
Lucius’ mouth quirked up at one corner. “I believe we can help you there, as well. Very well. We shall see you Saturday morning. Say, around 9? There’s a lovely little tea shop not far from the Ministry. It would be perfect for a light breakfast.”
Kingsley nodded. “I know it. This vault,” he said hesitantly, “it wouldn’t be in London, would it? Because I’m not sure…” he trailed off, looking torn.
Lucius smiled thinly. “No, it is not. We’ll be arranging International Portkeys for the three of us. So that we can find an appropriate apology gift for your wife, of course. I’ll make arrangements for us to have lunch out as well. That way you and Harry can discuss his many career options.”
Lucius glanced significantly at Kingsley, and Harry frowned, realising there was something going on here that he wasn’t aware of, and not liking it at all.
Before he could say anything, Kingsley nodded and Lucius clapped a firm hand on Harry’s shoulder, steering him toward the door.
“Oh,” Lucius said, turning back before they reached the door. “The vault is in a Muggle area. It would be wise to dress accordingly. I assume you have something appropriate?”
“I’ll manage,” Kingsley said dryly, waving them out.
“Where are we—” Harry started, the moment they emerged into the hallway, but Lucius frowned and turned slightly toward him, moving his hand in a subtle chopping motion, careful to keep it hidden from the secretary’s view.
“Not here,” he whispered. Then he greeted Kingsley’s secretary with a smile. “We’d like to make an appointment to speak with the Minister,” he said pleasantly.
The secretary gaped at them for a moment in disbelief, flicking his eyes to Kingsley's office door — where they'd just emerged. Then he seemed to collect himself as his glance flicked to Harry. “Right. Of course. Let me grab his calendar.”
They waited while the annoyed secretary shuffled through stacks of parchment on the desk, finally pulling a large leather-bound book from one of his drawers. Lucius gave every indication of waiting patiently. Harry could hardly hold himself still. He ground his teeth at the delay.
“Bertrand, isn’t it?” Lucius said, with a quelling look at Harry.
The man looked up, startled, then nodded, selecting a quill from its stand. “And you’re here for…”
“Assisting Mister Potter,” Lucius said smoothly. “Mister Potter would like to speak with the Minister in, oh, about two weeks, I should think.”
Bertrand nodded, flipping through the pages and frowning. “He’s completely booked for the next three weeks, I’m afraid, but the week after that I can squeeze you in on Wednesday if you can come in at 10.”
“That sounds perfect, thank you,” Lucius said, smiling pleasantly. “Come, Harry. We mustn’t take up too much of this man’s time. He looks as if he has important business to attend to.”
He took Harry’s arm and swept them both down the hallway before the secretary could object or ask them any more questions.
Harry was forced to stew in silence all through the long walk to the International Portkey office, and then all through the interminable exchange of pleasantries and the arranging of the Portkey. Lucius made the arrangements for “Harry Potter and guests,” with a significant nod in his direction, and the pretty girl at the counter became so flustered that she neglected to ask for any details. Harry couldn’t deny that Lucius was good at what he did, but he also didn’t have to like it, he thought stubbornly.
It was drizzling that Saturday when they met the Minister outside the tea shop. Kingsley slouched against a lamppost, cutting an imposing figure in what Harry assumed was an attempt to go incognito. His dark brown fedora was pulled low over his eyes and he had the collar of his charcoal trench coat turned up against the swirling grey mist. In the strip of dark skin visible between the hat and coat, his gold earring gleamed.
Harry frowned. “I thought we were having breakfast.”
Kingsley didn’t say anything, merely stretched out his hand. Harry sighed and pulled the chipped compact mirror from his pocket, holding it out. He’d eaten a light meal that morning, but he’d been looking forward to something different. Lucius and Kingsley extended their own hands, their fingers touching the compact seconds before it whisked them all away.
The world swirled and blinked out around them; Harry opened his eyes and immediately squinted against the bright sunlight. It was clear they were far from dreary London.
Kingsley shrugged off his coat and hat, shrinking them and stuffing them into his trouser pocket.
“Well,” he said after a moment. “The weather is better here. Wherever here is.”
Lucius gestured with his cane. “Welcome to Switzerland. If you’ll take my arm, I’ll Side-Along you to our destination.”
Kingsley frowned, but held out his arm. Harry didn’t immediately follow. “Can you do that?” He eyed Lucius’ raised wand skeptically. Even though Kingsley had cleared Lucius to use his wand discreetly outside Grimmauld Place's wards, he was still restricted to the same list of approved spells.
Lucius hesitated. “Ah. Perhaps it would be best if you did the actual Apparating, Harry. Excuse us for a moment, Minister, if you would…”
He guided Harry a few steps away and threw up a hasty silencing charm, which Harry strengthened with a wave of his own wand. Then Lucius whispered directions to him. “That should be enough to get us there,” he said as Harry canceled the silencing charm.
Harry frowned, still hesitant. Lucius hadn’t given him much to go on, but he seemed confident that Harry would get them there. Harry decided to go with it. After all, what could go wrong?
He really needed a better way to make decisions, he thought wryly, as he took their arms and raised his wand. Hermione would definitely not approve.
They reappeared behind some overgrown bushes at the edge of what seemed to be a Muggle warehouse. Harry turned to apologise for bringing them to the wrong place, but Lucius was already striding toward the entrance.
Inside the building, they passed through a shimmering voice-activated ward and into a warren of vaults that reminded Harry of Gringotts. A hunched goblin sitting behind a desk held out a smooth metal plate, which Lucius laid his right hand on. The device whirred and beeped.
The goblin then lifted and turned the device to scan first Lucius’ ring, bearing the Malfoy crest, and then his eye. Then the device gave a satisfied-sounding beep and spat out a small metal card that Harry thought looked rather like a Muggle credit card. The goblin grunted and waved them forward.
“Three hours,” the goblin said shortly. Lucius nodded, and they continued under an archway, down a long, branching hallway, to an iron door set into the stone.
Lucius inserted the metal card into a thin slot in the door, which whirred and beeped. Then the heavy door swung open with a soft click. Lucius held up a hand as they stepped through the door and into the vault.
“Don’t touch anything. There are protective wards, but I’m afraid they’re there to protect the artefacts from intruders, not the other way around. Touching any of them would bring about most… unpleasant results,” Lucius cautioned as he led them inside.
The vault was a large room lined with shelves of artefacts. The centre was divided into a series of aisles and packed with boxes upon boxes of files. Blackmail material, Harry realised. There was an entire section labeled “Ministry” that Kingsley stared at with obvious surprise.
Lucius turned his back to them and pressed his hand against a small panel on the wall. Then he punched in a string of numbers. A pale blue light lit the section of the room they were standing in.
“I’ve cleared you to touch anything in this section,” Lucius said as he turned back to them. “Take care to touch only the things illuminated by this light.”
Kingsley picked up a file at random. “These look as if they go back for decades,” he said in mixed wonder and horror.
“Centuries,” Lucius corrected. “Most of the boxes older than, say, 50 years won’t be of use to us now, but—”
“Hermione would kill for a look at these,” Harry breathed, flipping through one of the files in the box closest to him.
Kingsley cleared his throat. “I’m sure Miss Granger would never lower herself to—”
Harry snorted. “You forget I’ve known her since she was 11. She kept Rita Skeeter in a jar for a year — in her unregistered Animagus form — when she wouldn’t stop writing lies about me. Trust me. She would kill for this.”
Kingsley stared at Harry, aghast.
“I fear I may have underestimated Miss Granger,” Lucius said, raising one pale eyebrow.
“Oh, yes,” Harry said, smiling. “But don’t worry — everyone does.”
“Do you know how many high-clearance Ministry job offers Miss Granger has received?” Kingsley asked, looking horrified. “You can’t go around saying things like that.”
“Not off the top of my head,” Harry said cheerfully. “But I know she got one for your job, too.”
Kingsley dropped his head into his hands. “Let’s just get to those files,” he said wearily. Harry grinned.
Kingsley wouldn’t admit it, but Harry suspected he was enjoying a day out of his stuffy office.
Kingsley dug three copies of an employee roster from his breast pocket, handing Harry and Lucius each one. “Let’s get started,” he said.
They pulled the files of everyone on the employee roster and began flipping through them. They stacked anything that looked useful on the floor in the middle of the illuminated section. Some of the files only contained information that Kingsley either already knew or didn’t care about, but there was a steadily growing stack of files beside him containing damning evidence that he’d be able to use against his more troublesome employees.
“Do you have everything you need?” Lucius asked some time later, when they’d been through all the files he deemed relevant.
Kingsley nodded. “I can’t believe this is all here,” he said, looking awed. “The sheer amount of information you’ve got here is staggering.”
Lucius nodded, mouth quirking up into an amused smile. “It’s one of the Malfoy family’s most closely guarded secrets. I do not share it lightly.”
Kingsley nodded. “I know. Now,” he said, standing and dusting off his robes, “how do we get it out? Do we just walk out with it?”
Lucius shook his head. “Nothing leaves this room.”
He held up his hand. “Wait. I did not say you could not take it with you; only that it could not leave this room.”
Harry stared at him, perplexed. Kingsley mirrored his expression.
Lucius’ eyebrow quirked in obvious amusement. He took the folders they’d gathered and tapped the top of the stack with his wand, muttering something too quietly for Harry to hear. A second stack appeared beside the first. Lucius picked up the top folder from both stacks, flipped them open to show they were in fact identical, and then replaced them, taking care not to mix them up.
He tapped the stack of copies, shrinking it, and then produced a small hinged case that he stuck the tiny stack of folders into. He handed this to Harry.
“Insurance,” he said, by way of explanation. “It goes with us to Grimmauld Place, and with us to — and from — the Ministry.”
Kingsley groaned. “I knew you’d have a trick up your sleeve. Fine. But I expect you to bring it with you to my office regularly. I’ll have to come up with an excuse for us to meet.”
“We should discuss that over lunch,” Lucius said, guiding them out the door to the vault, spelling it closed behind them. "We're running low on time, and they take the limits very seriously here."
“Lunch?” Kingsley asked, brows lifted. “And where is it that we’ll be eating?”
“At the Rose and Lily.”
Kingsley looked skeptical. “You have to make reservations years in advance there.”
“Luckily, the Malfoys have long maintained a standing reservation. It should still be valid.” Then he paused.
“It might,” he said hesitantly, “be better if I appear to be in your custody, Minister. The restaurant employees are discreet, but some of the patrons might not be.”
Kingsley looked at Harry, who shrugged. He was feeling very much not in control of the situation, he thought, as they followed Lucius to the door.
“Those were reporters,” Kingsley said under his breath as the severe-looking attendant ushered them into the Rose and Lily. His eyebrows lowered. “If this is a trick, Lucius…”
Lucius chafed his bound wrists as if they itched. “No trick. There are always reporters there. As you said, it is a very exclusive restaurant. The chances of glimpsing a celebrity or two are high, so many reporters make it their business to be here.”
Harry had turned back to glance at the reporters gathered in a small knot across the street; now he turned back around, hoping none of them had got a good look at him. He hated publicity.
Trying to forget his unease, he glanced around the restaurant. Small tables were scattered about the room with far more space between them than he was used to. Each table was encased in a shimmering bubble, obscuring its occupants' faces. He could hear the clinking and scraping of utensils against china, but no conversation. It would have been eerie, if not for the faint strains of piano music filtering through the perfumed air.
The usher had shown a remarkable level of restraint, not even batting an eyelash when faced with a standing reservation being claimed by a former Death Eater in custody of the British Minister for Magic and Harry Potter, Savior of the Wizarding World. After checking Lucius’ credentials, he’d called the manager to show them personally to their table.
Harry wondered, as they followed the manager, if it would actually be possible to find a more unlikely group of such notoriety.
The manager was a small man with dark hair and a meticulously groomed moustache. He was thoroughly intimidating in an impeccable charcoal pin-striped suit with a red silk handkerchief peeking out of his breast pocket. He bowed obsequiously to each of them (Harry rather thought he couldn’t decide which of them was most important) and indicated that they should follow him.
As they were led through the front dining room, Harry gawked at the golden chandeliers glistening above them and the sumptuous velvet cushions on the small sofas scattered about the edges of the room. Most of the tables were filled, he saw, with elegantly dressed couples drinking and talking within their bubbles.
Harry looked down at his own outfit with a grimace. He’d considered it serviceable when they’d started the day, but the worn jeans, red jumper, and scuffed trainers stood out among the suits and gowns of the restaurant’s other patrons.
Of course, he was the only one of them that looked out of place. Lucius wore black Muggle dress pants and a grey button-up shirt. Kingsley had worn tan Muggle dress pants and a blue button-up shirt under his trench coat. They both blended in seamlessly with the other patrons. Harry scowled at the paintings lining the walls, their gilded frames sparkling in the light of the chandelier overhead.
He felt his trainers sinking into the plush carpet that ran between the tables, deadening their footsteps as they passed table after table, following the manager through a door marked private and into a smaller room containing a single square table.
“This is a private room, reserved for our most exclusive patrons,” the manager said as they seated themselves at the polished wooden table. “It is surrounded with the strongest silencing charms available, which will keep out the noise from the other diners and keep everything said in this room confidential.”
He indicated a small metal disk in the centre of the table. “Tap this with your wand and it will summon me; I am completely at your disposal.” He paused. “If you are ready to place your drink orders, I will take them now.”
Kingsley picked up the wine list, then glanced at the clock on the wall and set it down with a small sigh. “We should probably stick to water,” he said regretfully.
The manager nodded and tapped the disk with his wand; three glasses of water and a steaming basket of crusty bread appeared in front of them.
“I’ll leave you to select your meals,” he said. “Simply tap to summon me when you are ready to place your order.”
Lucius thanked him, and the manager bowed and departed, leaving the three of them staring at one another.
“I can’t say I’ve ever eaten anywhere quite like this,” Kingsley said, impressed despite himself.
Lucius smirked. “Wait until you taste the food.”
“What do you recommend, Lucius?” Kingsley asked after glancing at his menu. “I concede I’m rather out of my depth here.”
Lucius considered the question. “Emincé de veau zurichoise. It’s a wonderful veal dish served with a cream sauce. It isn’t the Rose and Lily’s most well-known dish, but it is my favourite.”
Harry wrinkled his nose. He wasn’t sure he liked veal, and he’d heard plenty of lectures from Hermione on how cruel it was. He stared at his menu, frustrated, willing himself to recognise something. But it was pointless — the menu remained incomprehensible. He let it flop to the table with a frustrated sigh.
“Harry?” Lucius asked.
Harry felt his face heat. “I, er, don’t know French. And I don’t want veal,” he added quickly.
Lucius tapped the corner of the menu, and the words converted into English. Harry’s face relaxed and he breathed a sigh of relief, slumping into his chair. He scanned it, settling on the least exotic-sounding dish: Lobster Alfredo with shrimp poppers.
Once they’d sent the manager off with their order, Kingsley frowned and said, “All those other diners who saw us enter — they’ll expect us to be discussing something important.”
“As we shall,” Lucius replied. “They’ll assume that you’re here to talk to Harry about one of the many Ministry job offers he’s received. Which you are. They don't need to know it's not all you’re here to talk about.”
“There will be questions,” Kingsley warned, “There are bound to be people who question your presence here with me and Harry.”
Lucius shrugged. “And you can tell them that I am indebted to Harry for saving myself and my family, and that I have agreed to act as his assistant in payment.”
“I don’t need an assistant—” Harry protested, thinking that the title ought to belong to Hermione, whenever she returned.
Kingsley snorted. “You will. You’ll have to actually do something if the three of us are to continue meeting.”
Lucius nodded in agreement.
“Hey, don’t I get a say?” Harry asked crossly, beginning to feel very much out of his depth.
“No,” Lucius and Kingsley said simultaneously. They considered one another for a moment, then Kingsley continued. “You’ll need to take more of a public role in speaking events and the like, if this is going to work.”
“But I can’t—”
“I’ll help you,” Lucius interrupted. “You can. You haven’t been taught how. Yet.”
Harry groaned, staring down at his hands as if they could get him out of this situation.
He was saved by the arrival of their food; the table was quiet for some time as they all focused on their meals. Harry was startled when his first bite of shrimp actually popped in his mouth, and both Kingsley and Lucius chuckled at his startled expression.
“You could have warned me,” he grumbled, but he couldn't hold on to his irritation. Once he’d gotten used to the popping, the shrimp were delicious.
They ate in silence, savoring their food. Eventually, Kingsley leaned back, patting his stomach. “Lucius, I have to say that was the most delicious meal I’ve eaten in quite some time. Granted much of that time has been eating sandwiches at my desk, but even so.
“Now, what shall I get my wife as an apology? Jewels?” He frowned. “Though I’m not sure she needs any.”
Lucius patted his mouth with his napkin. “Jewels are always a good apology, but no. I have a better idea. I propose we get you a vacation.” He paused, considering. “Well, we probably can’t manage a proper vacation, but we can at least get you the weekend, and occasional weeknight dinners with your wife. Possibly even breakfasts.”
Kingsley’s eyebrows shot up. “And how exactly do you propose to do that?”
Lucius smiled a razor-sharp smile. “By having Harry here help you with those towers of paperwork. Think about it. You can invite him to ‘shadow’ you, introduce him to what it would be like working in the Ministry. Then you can let him handle all the mundane little tasks that eat up your time, leaving you free to handle the important things. Since I have to be with him at all times, I can offer my assistance as well.”
Kingsley stared at him. “That’s why you wanted us to eat here. You wanted us to be seen.”
Lucius dipped one shoulder in acknowledgement. “Partially. I happen to like this restaurant, and it’s been far too long since I’ve been able to visit it. In fact, if you don’t mind the wait, I’d like to take a few things back for Narcissa and Draco.” He paused. “But, yes, I did consider the possibility of us being seen together, yes. If asked you can — quite truthfully — say that you took Harry out to discuss his options for his career, and invited him to shadow you to get some first-hand experience to help him in his decision. I will be there acting as his assistant.”
Kingsley shook his head, wordless, as he considered. Finally he nodded. “Fine. We’ll give it a shot. If you can get him to cooperate,” he said to Lucius, nodding to Harry “then this might work. Now, I need to get home to the Missus before she has the Aurors out looking for me.”
Lucius glanced at the clock on the wall and nodded. “Our return Portkey is scheduled for a little over an hour from now. Why don’t we order dessert, and then you can tell Harry about some of his career options. He needs to be seen considering them. That way none of us will have to lie when asked about it.”
Kingsley nodded. “I suppose that makes sense. I don’t think I have room for dessert though.”
Harry looked up hopefully. “Do they have treacle tart?” It had been ages since he’d had any, and he suddenly craved the sticky sweetness coating his tongue. He felt a sudden stab of regret that he'd not returned to Hogwarts for a final year. At Lucius’ amused nod, he grinned widely in anticipation.
He dug in happily when the tart arrived, and Kingsley leaned back, propping his hands on his stomach. “Did you get an offer from the Department of Mysteries?” he asked Harry.
Harry nodded, pausing to suck treacle from his spoon. “Hermione said we’d each got one from every major department. She’d never even heard of some of them.”
“Well,” Kingsley said, “The Unspeakables in the Department of Mysteries work on top secret projects, many of which even I am unaware of. The job would involve a great deal of secret keeping, which you have shown yourself to be adept at. And— ” Kingsley stopped talking abruptly when Harry shook his head.
“Having the Malfoys living at my house is the last secret I’m keeping, Kingsley. I’m done keeping secrets,” Harry said firmly.
Kingsley nodded in understanding. “All right. How about the British and Irish Quidditch League? The Head of, I should think. Not as a player.”
Harry tilted his head to the side, considering as Kingsley explained what his duties would be. He continued eating his tart.
“How does that sound?” Kingsley asked.
Harry shrugged. “It sounds okay, I guess.”
“What about the Apparition Test Centre?”
Harry grimaced. “Er, I never actually got my Apparition license.”
Kingsley snorted in amusement. “Yes, Harry, I know. Just about everyone in the Ministry knows.” He shook his head. “I’ve been asked to request that you take the test, since everyone else is afraid to.”
“Oh,” Harry said. “I suppose I’d better do that, then. What else is there?”
“Well, there’s the Department of Magical Creatures. The International Confederation of Wizards— ”
“Absolutely not,” Harry said grimly.
Kingsley sighed. “You’d be an excellent candidate. Really, you’re the only one who could possibly replace Dumbledore.”
“No,” Harry said. “What else?”
“Well, there’s Misuse of Muggle Artefacts.”
Harry looked up, properly interested for the first time. “That’s where Arthur works.”
Kingsley nodded. “Yes. It’s also one of the less-desired posts within the Ministry.”
“Do any of those sound like a good fit for you?” Lucius asked, head tilted as he considered Harry.
Harry shrugged. “A couple of them, yeah, I guess.”
“It would be prudent to accept one of the offers,” Lucius said. “Or at least express an interest. It would do much to explain our presence in the Ministry.”
Harry nodded. “I need to think about it.”
When they arrived back in front of the tea shop, Kingsley nodded at them. “Harry. Malfoy — I’m surprised to say that it’s been a pleasure.”
Lucius smiled and extended his hand. “Likewise, Minister.” They shook, and then Kingsley made his way down the street, shaking his head in bemusement.
“Oh good, you’re back,” Narcissa said, the moment Harry and Lucius returned from their outing. “I need assistance with something, if you’d be so kind.”
Harry groaned. He hadn’t realised it at the time, but the day had been longer than he was used to and now he felt exhaustion crashing down on him. He wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep for a week. His left leg twinged.
Narcissa looked at him then, and frowned at whatever she saw. “Perhaps you should rest, Harry, dear, you don’t look well at all. This can wait.”
“Thanks,” he said weakly as he dragged himself toward the stairs, wondering if he’d be able to make it to bed before his leg gave out. There was no way he’d be up for cleaning the next day. He downed his medication, making a mental note to ask Narcissa for more of her potion in the morning. He could feel the migraine sneaking up on him, ready to pounce.
In the days that followed, Harry was startled to find himself thinking of the house as if it had a personality.
When he’d first moved in — and, truthfully, until the Malfoys had arrived — the house had felt like an empty shell, devoid of life and falling to ruin. But since the Malfoys’ arrival, and since he and Narcissa had begun the task of cleaning the house, it had seemed almost as if it was waking up.
Harry could feel it, though it took him a while to realise it. As they got further into the cleaning, he found himself reaching out a hand to splay on the wall, tracing his finger along the walls and catching on the doorframes, running his hand lovingly down the bannister. A thousand tiny caresses.
Narcissa did it too, he’d noticed.When he asked her about it she smiled.
“I told you: the house is alive. We’re waking it up.”
Harry didn’t know what to think about that. It sounded sinister - but it didn’t feel sinister. He kept doing it, though, and soon noticed himself doing it even more.
And sometimes — sometimes he thought he felt a soft thrumming in response, though he wasn’t sure whether it was the house he was feeling or just the pulse of blood in his fingertips. Or both.
“Narcissa,” Harry said, as they made breakfast one morning, “Why did you say we couldn’t use magic to clean the House?” Something Lucius had said in passing was bothering him, now, just out of reach.
She looked away. “It’s not that you can’t use magic, exactly. I wasn’t entirely forthright with you. It’s that the house needed to get a sense of you — of Harry Potter, the person, without your magic.” She paused, furrowing her brows, as if searching for the best way to explain.
“Think of it like training a horse. Before a horse knows you, knows the saddle, it is skittish. You must first gain its trust, let it come to know you. Then you teach it first to bear a blanket, then to bear a saddle, then to bear a rider. Mastering a House is, in many ways, very much like mastering a horse.”
“Now the house knows you — you can feel it, can you not? — And so everything we do from now on can be done, for the most part, by magic.”
Harry frowned, confused. “Did Lucius have to do all this when he inherited the Manor? It sounded like he didn’t, from what he said.”
Narcissa shook her head. “When Lucius inherited Malfoy Manor, he’d been living there his whole life. The house knew him already, knew his magic and knew his essence. His bloodline had owned the Manor for centuries, and it hadn’t been left to fall to ruin, as this house was. So it didn’t need the intensive cleaning and repair work we’re doing here.” She reached out and patted the shelf next to her fondly.
“All Lucius had to do was travel the house from top to bottom and claim it as his own. The house knew him, and allowed itself to be claimed.” She smiled at Harry.
“The house knows you, now, but it does not yet know your magic. Nor is it ready to be claimed by its new master. So the next task that falls to us is to travel this house, every inch, and use your magic to repair it. Only then will you be able to truly claim it. And this house needs to be claimed. It yearns to have a master again, to be whole.”
As Harry saw the flash of Draco’s pale hair outside the room he and Narcissa were working in the next morning, his frustration bubbled over. He threw down his rag and turned on Narcissa.
“Why is he not helping? Even Lucius is working, doing wonders with the garden. And helping me, with Kingsley. And it’s not like he doesn’t limp sometimes, too. Surely Malfoy could do something!”
Narcissa sighed. “Again, it’s not my story to tell.”
“Well he’s certainly not telling it,” Harry grumbled. But he picked up his rag and went back to scrubbing.
As he trudged up the stairs to his room that afternoon, worn out from a day spent cleaning and polishing, he ran right into another body.
“Malfoy!” he yelped, startled, as he windmilled his arms for balance. Then he glared. “What are you doing here? And for Merlin’s sake, why haven’t you been helping your mother and I clean the house? What are you doing up there that’s so damn important?”
Malfoy sneered at him. “It’s not my house, Potter. Why should I force myself to work through the pain?”
“Your father is in pain and he helps!” Harry said, gritting his teeth as all the weeks of pent-up frustration bubbled to the surface. “I’m in pain — Hell, your mother is in pain, and you don’t see her complaining. So what gives you a free pass?”
Malfoy snarled and startled Harry by lashing out with Legilimency. Harry couldn’t shield, having learned nothing from Snape, but his stubborn incompetence combined with the basic knowledge of Occlumency that had stuck in his brain and created a sort of half-shield. Malfoy’s attack partially rebounded off of it, throwing them into one another’s heads.
Harry was shuffled rapidly from one bad memory to another as he tried to stay afloat in the frothing sea of Malfoy’s mind, struggling to shove Malfoy out of his head and return himself to it.
Finally, they managed to come back to themselves, gasping for breath, each reeling from what he’d seen.
“Bloody hell Potter,” Malfoy whispered, “You died? You lived in a fucking cupboard? And you’re in that much pain?” He stared at Harry, eyes wide and horrified, cheeks flushed.
“You’re one to talk.” Harry shot back. “I knew you’d been through most of that with Voldemort but… Merlin, Malfoy. I had no idea he was that fond of Crucio. He tortured you. And you blame fucking magic?”
Malfoy paled, then snarled; Harry laughed.
“Your mind is like a bloody inkpot, Malfoy. Could your thoughts be any darker?”
“Yes, well. I didn’t see very much light in your memories either, Potter. I don’t see how you ever learned to cast a Patronus.”
They looked away from one another, scowling, as their energy ebbed. The silence stretched between them, tense and awkward.
Harry sighed, turned back, and held out his hand. “Truce?”
Malfoy eyed his hand with suspicion for a moment before saying, “Yeah, OK,” like it was an inconvenient concession. He reached out and hesitantly shook Harry’s hand, the barest press of fingers.
“Stay out of my head, Potter,” he added, turning away. His fists were clenched, his back held rigid in the tense silence.
Harry shook his head in disbelief. “You stay out of mine, then, and I shouldn’t react instinctively like that. I don’t even know what the hell I did.”
Malfoy whirled. “Are you saying this is my fault?”
Harry held out his hands, palms up. “Stay out of my head, Malfoy, and I’ll stay out of yours.”
He backed away, hand grasping behind him for his doorknob. They stared at one another as he opened it and backed through, shutting it against Malfoy’s scowl. He leaned against it for a moment, willing the trembling in his hands to stop and for his feet to remember how to move.
He could feel a headache lurking at the back of his mind, pulsing threateningly behind his right eye. He looked longingly at his bed, wondering what Narcissa would say if he didn’t turn up for dinner. There was nothing that he had to do the rest of the day, after all. He was an adult now; he could go to sleep in the middle of the afternoon if he wanted.
So he did.
Harry and Narcissa were restoring the threadbare floral tapestries on the east wall of her sitting room when he noticed Malfoy’s pale face peeking around the door. He bit his lip to hide his smile as an idea occurred to him.
“Hey Malfoy,” he called, “Why don’t you stop skulking about over there and make yourself useful?”
Malfoy poked his head farther into the room and sneered at him, then vanished back around the corner.
Narcissa lowered her wand and sighed. “I do wish you wouldn’t bait my son like that.”
“But it’s so much fun,” Harry replied, grinning.
Narcissa shook her head and returned to the painstaking process of restoring the colours of the tapestry she was working on.
“Are you going to help us, Malfoy?” Harry called a few days later, as they repaired the intricately patterned rug in the dining room.
“I doubt you’re being helpful, either, Potter,” Malfoy sneered. “In fact—”
Narcissa cleared her throat. “Draco, darling, will you please bring me that book on textile restoration from the library? You might check the study if you don’t find it there — there’s a chance Lucius may have borrowed it.”
Malfoy sneered at Harry once more, then headed down the hall toward the library.
Harry turned his attention back to the restoration, but he soon grew restless.
“Malfoy should have been back by now, shouldn’t he?” he said, turning to peer toward the door.
“Hmm,” Narcissa replied, biting her lip as she concentrated.
A few minutes later, Harry tried again. “I’m sure he should be back by now. He’s probably skived off and—”
Narcissa heaved a sigh. “Why don’t you go and fetch him, then. You’ll be no use to me until you’ve found out where he is.”
Harry stuffed his wand in his back pocket and headed toward the library, seizing the excuse gratefully.
It was empty, as he’d expected, and, after running upstairs and poking his head into the study and finding it also empty, he started wandering around, opening doors at random.
After a fruitless search of the other rooms, he tried the storage room next to the study, where he and Narcissa had been putting the non-dangerous and less-than-useful things they’d found while cleaning. Malfoy was inside, pacing and limping.
Harry marched inside, letting go of the door just as Malfoy shouted “No! Don’t—”
“You idiot,” Malfoy sneered as the door swung shut behind Harry. The unmistakable snick of the lock was loud in the sudden silence.
Harry struggled with the door, puzzled, until Draco sighed. “It’s no use, Potter. We’re stuck here until she decides to let us out.”
“She? You don’t mean to say that your mother locked us in here?”
“No, Potter,” Malfoy said, rolling his eyes. “I mean the house. Though, Mother did send us up here so she’s probably in on it. Interfering old biddies!” he shouted, turning to look at a painting leaning against the wall behind him.
Harry blinked as a figure slid out of view behind the frame, tittering.
“Now what?” he asked, shoving his hands into his pockets.
“Now? Now we wait for either the house or my mother to let us out. Who knows which of them will cave first. Why don’t you go wait over there so I don’t have to look at you?”
Harry heaved a deep sigh, deciding he was far too tired to fight with Malfoy, and wandered over to the bookshelf crammed full of oddments to poke around. He supposed he ought to be panicking at being locked in what was essentially a (very large) closet. He braced himself for the panic swelling within him, but it didn’t come.
“Don’t touch anything,” Malfoy snapped, interrupting his musing. “Those are antiques, you know. You’ll only break them, clumsy Gryffindor that you are.”
“This is my house!” Harry protested, affronted.
Malfoy sniffed. “Yes, well.” He didn’t seem to have a response, though, so Harry decided to ignore him and went back to inspecting the assortment of trinkets. It was probably being locked in with Malfoy that was holding back his panic, he decided. His irritatingly compelling presence took all of Harry’s attention.
The silence stretched on until Harry decided to break it.
“I’m sorry for…” he gestured awkwardly with the small statuette he’d been studying. “You know.”
“Merlin, Potter,” Draco said with a groan. “Are we really going to sit here and apologise for everything we’ve ever done to one another? We’ll be here all night!”
“You have somewhere else to be?” Harry asked, waving a hand at the locked door.
“Well, no,” Malfoy said slowly, “but are you sure you want to rehash all that shit?”
“Not really,” Harry said, finding it to be true as he said it. It was all in the past and seemed so… not frivolous, exactly. But it was too much trouble to try and hold on to all the anger he used to feel around Malfoy.
“Good,” Malfoy said. “Me either.”
They stood in awkward silence for several moments. Harry fidgeted with the statuette, put it down and picked up another, rocked back on his heels and leaned back against the wall. He shoved his hands into his pockets, then took them out again.
Malfoy rolled his eyes and remained perfectly still, nose in the air, leaning against the opposite wall.
“Hey, Malfoy,” Harry said finally, looking over at him.
“Shut up, Potter,” Malfoy said
At the same moment, Harry said “you’re an ass.”
They stared at one another and then burst into startled giggles.
“I am sorry, you know,” Malfoy said, once they’d calmed down. “For everything.” He didn’t look at Harry as he spoke, instead examining his fingernails.
“Yeah,” Harry said, smiling a little, “Me too.”
The door creaked open, and they both lunged for it, knocking into one another and cracking heads in the process.
“Ow! Potter, you clumsy oaf!” Malfoy shouted, clutching his forehead.
The door creaked a warning.
“After you,” Malfoy said quickly, catching hold of the door and waving Harry through with exaggerated chivalry.
Harry rolled his eyes, but he wasn’t in any hurry to get locked in again, so he didn’t respond.
A few days later, Harry was taking a small painting that Narcissa had decided she didn’t want after all back to the storage room. He threw open the door and stepped back, startled to find himself once again facing a caged and pacing Malfoy.
“What are you doing?” he asked as he set the painting down against the wall. He made sure his foot was securely wedged in the doorway as he bent over, not willing to take any chances that he’d get locked in with Malfoy again.
“Nothing, Potter, what does it look like?” Malfoy said defensively.
Harry looked up at him, at the way his cheeks had reddened, and grinned. “It looks like you’ve been hanging out in a cupboard long enough to get bored.”
“Well,” Malfoy spluttered. “Obviously it’s not what it looks like.”
“Obviously,” Harry said, grinning wider. He reached out, snagging Malfoy’s arm, and hauled him out into the corridor.
“Come with me, Malfoy. I think I know how to get the house to stop locking you in cupboards.”
“What? How did you — I never—”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Just come with me.”
He kept a firm grip on Malfoy’s arm as he dragged him down the hall to the study.
“Lucius,” he said cheerfully, “come to the sitting room with us. I have a theory.”
“You can’t just order my father—” Malfoy started, bristling.
“Shut up, Malfoy,” Harry said, glancing pleadingly at Lucius.
“Very well,” Lucius drawled as he marked his page and put down his book. He eyed Harry’s grip on Malfoy’s arm. “This promises to be interesting, at the very least.”
Narcissa looked up, amused, as Malfoy and Lucius trailed Harry into her sitting room. “And what is this?” she asked, smiling at them.
Harry gestured Lucius toward the sofa and prodded Malfoy onto it, dropping down beside them, steepling his fingers, and adopting a thoughtful expression.
“I have a theory,” he said, launching without realising it into a lecturing voice he'd modeled after Hermione’s. “I think these two have been getting locked up by the house because they haven’t been helping us to restore it.”
“What?” Draco said, affronted, “we haven’t—”
Simultaneously Lucius said, “Nonsense.”
Narcissa sipped her tea and smiled, the corners of her eyes crinkling in amusement.
“Do you know,” she said, winking at Harry, “I do believe Harry’s right. Perhaps we can remedy that.” She set her cup down and leaned forward. “Boys, how do feel about knocking down a wall?”
They stared at her, open-mouthed, and Harry couldn’t help the laugh that burbled out of him.
“Come on,” he said, grinning, enjoying the shock on their faces. “It’ll be fun.”
“I think,” Narcissa said thoughtfully, regarding her husband and son, “that if we all work together, this should be fairly straightforward. The only difficulty is that we can’t use any cutting spells, but I think I have a solution. Harry, if you would transfigure us each a sledgehammer, please.”
Harry raised his eyebrows but did as she asked.
“Excellent. I think we should be able to use Wingardium Leviosa on these,” she hefted one of the hammers. “That should get around the restrictions on harmful magic. Now,” she clapped her hands. “Everyone grab a hammer, please.”
They followed her curiously out into the hall. When she stopped in front of Walburga’s covered portrait, her son and husband stared at her.
“Surely you don’t mean—” Lucius started, but Narcissa cut him off with a shake of her head, placing a finger to her lips.
“On three,” she said quietly, raising her wand. “One… two… three!”
Four wands slashed out, four voices rang out. Four sledgehammers battered the wall around the portrait. Walburga wailed and her curtains flew open.
“Again,” Narcissa shouted over Walburga’s piercing shrieks. Again the sledgehammers rammed into the wall. And again.
The section of wall shuddered and fell. Narcissa cast a quick levitation charm at the section of wall with Walburga’s portrait, at the same moment that Lucius cast a lightening charm and Harry and Malfoy cast cushioning charms.
The combined force of their spells hit the freed section of wall, freezing it in place in midair.
Walburga continued wailing.
Narcissa walked forward and waved to catch the portrait’s attention. “Aunt Walburga,” she said firmly. “You’ve been a bit of a nuisance to poor Harry, scaring away his guests. That wall needed to go —why on earth did you put it there in the first place? And don’t you think you’d be happier with the other portraits for company? It must get lonely all by yourself over here. Perhaps we could turn the attic into a gallery?”
“That’s better,” Narcissa said, smiling. “Now. Go back to sleep. We’re going to move you up there where you’ll be more comfortable.” She swished the curtains shut, still attached to the portion of wall they had knocked down, and nodded to the others. “Let’s get her upstairs before she wakes again.”
The next day, Malfoy joined them at breakfast.
Harry stared, completely discomfited. Malfoy had never joined them for breakfast before. He didn’t know how to act. He wasn’t even sure he could eat at the same table as Malfoy. There should be some rule about that, shouldn’t there? Gryffindors and Slytherins weren’t supposed to mingle.
Narcissa smiled sweetly at Malfoy as she handed him a plate of eggs. “Were you locked in any rooms yesterday evening?”
“No,” he mumbled. Then he glared at Harry.
Harry was about to respond, but he caught Narcissa’s warning glance and, sighing, tucked into his own plate of eggs and bacon. See? I can be the bigger person, he thought, stabbing at his eggs.
Lucius, sitting next to him, cleared his throat. “So, what are we restoring today?”
They were working in the library, checking the books for damage and removing those that needed more than cursory cleaning charms, when Malfoy pulled the book that opened the hidden library. He started. “I didn’t know this was here,” he said accusatorially in Harry’s direction.
Harry snorted. “If you’d bothered to clean the house with us, then you would have.
Narcissa shook her head, exasperated. “Boys,” she admonished, “Do try and behave.”
“That’s odd,” Lucius said from the next row of shelves. “It almost looks like there’s something behind this book…” He reached toward it.
Narcissa whipped around to face him. “Don’t touch that!” she shouted, as she saw what he was reaching for.
Lucius froze, but it was too late — the tip of his finger had already touched whatever it was.
They all stood frozen for a moment, but when nothing happened, they looked at one another, shrugging. Lucius moved his hand away from the shelf.
The moment his fingers broke contact with the object, his eyes widened. He clutched at his throat, mouth forming words without sound.
Draco bent over, coughing. Harry and Narcissa looked at one another, puzzled. Her hand crept up to her throat and started rubbing, and then her eyes widened.
Lucius had sunk to his knees and was gasping for breath.
Narcissa looked up at Harry, eyes alarmed. “Quick — what was he touching?” she asked urgently. Harry scanned the shelf, trying to remember where Lucius’ hand had been. Then he spied the glint of something metallic between the books.
“Here—” he started, but Narcissa cut him off.
“Touch it!” she said.
So he did. Immediately, Lucius gasped in a deep breath and Draco stopped coughing.
“I thought we got all of those,” Narcissa said guiltily, as Lucius’s ragged breathing calmed. “I didn’t know about that one — perhaps we should be on our guard as we continue.”
“What was that?” Draco rasped as he straightened.
Harry was wondering the same thing. Why hadn’t he been affected? He hadn’t felt anything.
Narcissa sighed. “It was a safeguard to prevent intruders from escaping this library, in the event that they found it. It targets everyone without Black blood in the vicinity and suffocates them.
Lucius looked affronted. “But I have Black blood. A few generations removed, certainly, but there.”
Narcissa nodded. “Apparently not enough to count, in this instance.”
Malfoy frowned. “What about Potter? Surely he doesn’t have more Black blood than Father?”
Narcissa contemplated Harry for a moment. “Since he didn’t seem affected at all, and since his touch nullified the effects, it seems likely that the house recognises him now as Head of House. As such, he should be immune to any further safeguards.”
“Oh,” Harry said, startled and relieved. “Well. Good.”
“Indeed,” Lucius said, rubbing his throat. “Perhaps I’ll have you touch everything before I do from now on. Just in case.”
“Hey Potter,” Draco called, as they worked on restoring the paneling in the study. “Remember when I stole Longbottom’s Remembrall back in first year? You caught that one — think you can catch this one?” His hand shot out, reaching for the ball sitting on one of the upper shelves. It swirled in a way that didn’t look quite right to Harry, but before he could say anything, Narcissa interrupted.
“Draco!” she said sharply, “Don’t touch that!”
He paused, startled, hand outstretched. “Why-ever not, Mother?”
“Because,” she said, voice tight, “it’s not a remembrall. Look closer. But be careful not to touch it. Harry, do you know that extra-strength revealing spell? I’m not sure they teach it at Hogwarts anymore, but— ”
“Yeah,” he said, watching Malfoy’s face as he peered at the glass ball. “Moody taught it to me when I was with the Order.”
She nodded. “Good. Would you mind casting it on that please? I’m not certain the restrictions will allow me to cast it.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He frowned in thought for a moment, then drew his wand and slashed it down in and into a spiral, muttering, "Revelio Maxima."
The glass ball glowed an ominous dark red.
Malfoy snatched his fingers away.
“What’s it do?” he demanded.
Narcissa smiled grimly. “It would take your memories. All of them. Permanently.”
Malfoy shuddered, withdrawing his arm and backing up a few paces.
Harry didn’t blame him. Even if Narcissa thought he was now immune to the Dark traps, he gave the ball a wide berth. No sense risking his memories.
After breakfast the following morning, the four of them met in the foyer and stared up at the row of house-elf heads that hung on the wall over the stairs.
Lucius shuddered. “Horrible things. We had them on display in Malfoy Manor too, growing up. When father died, moving them was the first thing I did.”
Harry turned to him, surprised and also very eager. He’d had quite enough of the gruesome visages staring down at him on the dark stairway.
“Can we move them, then? I’d assumed they were stuck on permanently like Walburga. That wall would be a lot trickier to knock down.”
“No,” Narcissa answered thoughtfully, “I don’t think they’d be stuck on permanently. Hanging on that wall is considered an honour among the house-elves, but I can’t imagine they’d condone permanent sticking charms.”
“What if we,” Harry started, but was interrupted by a rapid rat-a-tat knocking on the front door.
“Hello?” he asked, pulling it open in surprise. Not many people could find his front door.
“Hullo, Harry,” Luna said cheerfully as she breezed past him. “Oh, and hello, Draco, Lucius, Narcissa. It’s so nice to see you.”
She paused, a slight crease in her forehead. “I’m terribly sorry to hear about your home. It was lovely, and I’d hoped to be able to visit it properly one day.”
The four of them stared at her for a moment in shock; Harry found his voice first.
“Hi, Luna. Er. Aren’t you supposed to be at Hogwarts?”
“Of course not,” Luna said, blinking at him as if puzzled by his failure to understand, “it’s a Hogsmeade weekend.”
“Er,” Harry said again, still very confused. “This isn’t Hogsmeade.”
She turned and looked at him like he was daft. “I know this isn’t Hogsmeade, Harry. I asked Minerva if I could come visit you instead of going there this weekend. She’s worried about you, you know.”
He wasn’t sure how he felt about that — either her calling their headmistress Minerva or the fact that she was worried about him.
His eyes were drawn to Luna’s hair, floating about her head in a frizzy blonde cloud.
“Your hair—” he started, not sure how he planned to finish the sentence, but she saved him.
“Isn’t it grand? It’s a new spell father and I have been working on. Keeps the Nargles away, you know. He published it in the last edition of the Quibbler — soon, I imagine everyone will be wearing their hair like this.”
As Harry stared at her, letting that particular image sink in, Narcissa swept forward and took Luna’s hand.
“It’s lovely to see you dear. Thank you for the compliment. We’ve been cleaning and restoring this house — would you like to see?”
Luna clapped her hands. “Oh, yes. That would be marvellous. The house desperately needed someone to help it reach its potential.”
Then she looked up at the house-elf heads on the stairs above them.
“Are you going to take those down?” she asked. “They’re sure to be crawling with Wrackspurts.”
“Indeed,” Lucius said dryly. “That is in fact what we were discussing when you dropped by.”
“Can I help?” she asked. “I don’t have to be back at school for ages.”
Harry shrugged. “Sure. Do you have any ideas about what to do with them?”
She tilted her head to the side, studying them.
Lucius moved to the nearest house-elf head, studying it intently, then reached up toward it. The moment his finger touched it, there was a flash of purple light.
He backed into the railing, clutching his hand, which had erupted in angry red boils.
He groaned as he stared down at it. “Why is it always me?”
Narcissa hid a grin behind her hand. “Let me see, dear,” she said, moving to stand beside him. She studied his hand for a moment, then whispered a quick counter-spell.
“What did you do?” Lucius asked, as the boils faded back into his skin.
She shrugged. “Sirius used to try to take these things down all the time. I became quite skilled at removing boils while the adults were busy socialising after boring dinner parties.”
Lucius stared at her. “Why didn’t you say something before I touched it?”
She shook her head, suppressing a smile.
“I wonder,” Luna said slowly, still staring at them with her head tilted, “if Kreacher might know how to remove them.”
“Kreacher,” Harry called, snapping his fingers.
The house-elf materialised before them. “What can Kreacher do for Master?”
“Can you remove those?” Harry asked, pointing at the row of mounted heads.
Kreacher reared back as if struck. “Remove them? From their place of honour?”
Harry held a hand out placatingly. “We’re not going to throw them out or anything; we just don’t want them, y’know, so prominently displayed.”
“But that is where they must be displayed,” the elf said, wringing his wrinkled hands. “It’s where Kreacher’s head will be displayed one day.”
Harry grimaced, but before he could say anything, Luna cut in.
“Kreacher,” she said, “Is there another place we could put them that is out of the way?” She glanced at his mutinous expression and changed tactics. “Or, perhaps there is another way to honour them? What do house-elves do with their dead, when they aren’t going to be displayed like this?”
Kreacher’s eyes widened. “Kreacher must not tell! Kreacher cannot tell one of our most secret things, not even to Master and his friends.”
He wrung his hands, looking as if he would decide to punish himself any minute, reminding Harry painfully of Dobby.
“We don’t want you to tell us what you would do with them,” Harry said quickly. “We were only wondering if you would be able to… to take them down and perform the proper rites for them.”
Kreacher stared at him. His hands stilled. “Kreacher could do that,” he said slowly. “If Master truly wishes them removed, then he could instruct Kreacher to care for them properly.”
Harry nodded eagerly. “Yes. That’s exactly what I want.” Then his expression turned guilty.
“Kreacher…” he said, “During the war, when Dobby died… I buried his body. I didn’t know there were special rites. Should I — Do we need to perform these rites for him?”
He felt a wave of panic pressing in on him. He had been able to visit Dobby’s grave only once since the war. He didn’t think he could handle digging him back up.
But Kreacher was shaking his head. “Master did the right thing,” he croaked, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye. “When there is not being other elves to take care of them, it is allowed for humans to send them to the afterlife. And…” he hesitated. “Dobby was not like many of our kind. He would have considered it an honour to be treated as Harry Potter’s equal.”
Harry nodded, blinking away the mist that had formed in his eyes. “Thank you. So can you — are you willing to —”
Kreacher nodded gravely. “Kreacher will send them off properly, Master.” He snapped his fingers and both he and the mounted house-elf heads disappeared.
“That was lovely,” Luna said, clasping her hands, eyes alight. “Daddy will be thrilled!”
Harry shook his head, smiling. “Come on, Luna. You can help us with the restorations if you like.”
She grinned and nodded, and they both turned to Narcissa. “We may as well finish the stairs and paneling here,” Narcissa said. “Then perhaps we can start on the living room.”
“Can I stay the night, Harry?” Luna asked, as she restored the moulding around the ceiling to its original colour. “Minerva said I had to be back before curfew, and if I wasn’t going to make it, then I needed to stay the night and come back before curfew the following day.”
Harry shrugged. “Sure. There’s an extra bedroom on the third floor. We’ve just cleaned it.”
“Oh, good,” she said happily. Then she turned back to him. “Will you tell me how you came to be living with the Malfoys? I’m very curious.”
“It’s simple,” he said with a shrug. “They needed a place to stay. I had room.”
She shook her head. “We both know there was more to it than that. The Wizengamot placed them under house arrest. There were even rumours of them using Blood Magic to do it.”
Harry scowled. “They did. They used that spell Hermione was working on. She’s going to be furious when she finds out what they did with it.”
Luna looked troubled. “Are you sure? Blood Magic is nasty stuff — Daddy has always warned me to stay far away from it. It can’t have been legal.”
“Apparently the Wizengamot doesn’t have to worry about that,” he said. “The way they — and the public — have been treating the former Death Eaters is wrong.”
“What if we could get an article out, in the Quibbler, about that? I could talk to Pansy too, get her account of her parents’ murders. I’m sure Daddy would agree to it.”
Harry looked at her skeptically. “Does anyone actually read the Quibbler, Luna?”
She smacked his shoulder, laughing. “I’ll have you know that we have a very large readership. You did that interview right after the war, remember? A lot of people started reading it after that.”
Harry had almost forgotten that interview. It was true that people had stopped pestering him for details after it was published. He’d been avoiding the public for so long he’d hardly noticed.
“You’d have to get Hermione’s permission too,” he said slowly. “But she’d probably agree. Especially once she found out.” He winced. “I haven’t, um, told her yet, though. About the Malfoys.”
Luna sighed and patted his shoulder. “It’s okay to be embarrassed, Harry. No one expected you to take in the Malfoys. You should tell her, though.”
He groaned. “I know, I know. I was hoping I could wait until they get back, though. They’re thinking it will be in February.”
“Well,” Luna said, frowning thoughtfully, “I could go ahead and write the rest of the article, and then add her parts in after. I’d have to get all the details from you and the Malfoys, and then from Pansy… so it wouldn’t be ready until then anyway.”
“Okay,” Harry said, wondering as he said it if he was making the right decision. “Let’s do it.”
“Hey Malfoy,” Harry said a few days later, knocking insistently on his door. “Open up, I know you’re in there.” He set the wheelchair he’d been hauling against the wall, pressing his leg against it to hold it up, and knocked again. He was beginning to think that the brilliant idea he’d had upon waking — to offer the modified Muggle wheelchair to Malfoy so he could get around more easily — wasn’t actually as brilliant as he’d thought.
Before he could change his mind and lug the wheelchair back downstairs, the door swung open to reveal Malfoy, hands on hips, looking annoyed. “What Potter?”
“Here,” Harry said, hefting the wheelchair and thrusting it at him.
Malfoy held it at arm's length, studying it, lip curled in disdain. “What is it?”
“It’s a wheelchair.”
Malfoy peered closer. “It doesn’t have any wheels,” he said suspiciously.
“Well, no, not anymore,” Harry said, rubbing the back of his neck. He was beginning to regret ever thinking to offer the chair to Malfoy. “Hermione modified it, when she was staying here. It’s like a wheelchair, only it levitates instead. So it can go up and down stairs,” he added gesturing at the staircase winding down behind him. “Turns out a standard wheelchair isn’t very useful in this house.”
Malfoy was still frowning at it. “Why would I want a levitating wheelchair-without-wheels?”
“Well, I noticed you’ve been limping. And I know you’re in a lot of pain. So I thought this might help you get around more easily.”
“You’re just trying to con me into working on the house more.”
“No. Not entirely.” He rocked back on his heels. “You don’t have to use, it, okay? But keep it, just in case.” He turned and headed back down the stairs without waiting for a response, shaking his head in exasperation.
Once he was back in his room, he slumped back against the door, groaning in frustration. He’d hoped to finally get his obsession with Malfoy over with, but the stupid git wouldn’t get out of his head! He always had half an eye out, waiting to see if he’d show up and help them. He went to bed thinking about him, he woke up thinking about him… He even dreamed about him! He didn’t know what to do. All he knew was that he was most definitely obsessed with Draco Malfoy, and it was driving him insane.
Hermione would not be pleased.
Chapter 10: Draco POV
Draco limped out into the corridor and listened; all was quiet. Good. He turned back to his room, feeling his left leg ache and lag a bit more than usual. He gritted his teeth. Just a few more steps.
He sighed in relief when he’d closed the door behind himself, lowering his body into the modified wheelchair and tapping it, levitating himself with ease.
He’d not trusted the thing at first, and had ignored it for a few days and then spent a few more running it through every test he could think of. But now he was confident that Potter hadn’t been trying to trick him. The chair worked as it should.
He’d rather not have to use it at all, but he needed to check on one of his potions, and there was no way his leg was up to the task of traversing all those stairs.
He navigated cautiously through his door and down the stairs, smiling in relief at the ease and speed with which he covered each flight. They would have each taken him long, painful minutes on his leg alone, even with his cane. On a good night.
Once he’d settled himself behind his bench, he realised just how much energy he’d been expending each night, labouring up and down those stairs. Even though he was in pain, and every movement was more difficult than usual, he felt brimming with energy.
It was enough to make him consider using the chair openly, but he quickly discarded the thought. He’d never allow Potter to see him using it. His dignity couldn’t handle it. And, anyway, he wouldn’t allow him the satisfaction of knowing his offering was being put to use.
But he would definitely be using it in secret.
He frowned, wondering what strange impulse had driven Potter to offer the chair to him in the first place.
Their bickering had developed an odd undertone too — sometimes, he even though Potter might be amused by it. Fond, even. And some of his insults felt more like teasing, without the barbed sting behind them. But, no. That could never be.
He paused in his chopping, dismayed at the realisation that he was starting to enjoy his regular arguments with Potter. He was even going out of his way to provoke him. In fact, he was horrified to realise that he had been doing it for some time without realising.
He shook his head, trying to shake away the warmer feelings Potter evoked in him now. He could never let himself become fond of Potter. It would break him. The safest thing to do would be to forget any of it had happened. But try as he might, he couldn’t force the thoughts of Potter out of his mind.
As he was winding his way back up the stairs to his rooms he took a detour, almost without meaning to. He found himself in the attic, staring at the trunk where they’d locked the dangerous artefacts. He reached out, as if his hand were no longer obeying his brain, and opened it.
He stared down at the glowing Remembrall look-alike. The one that would make him forget…
He watched his finger come up, reach out hesitantly, as if this were someone else’s body. He didn’t want to touch it, did he? Didn’t want to forget everything. But even as he thought it, he found he wasn’t sure. There were so many painful memories locked inside his head. It would almost be a relief to be rid of them all. And it would mean forgetting this strange and dangerous attraction to Potter. He would be free.
He stared into the swirls of red, seeing how there were more colours there than he’d first thought. Streaks of orange and gold twisted through the red. Fiery. Tempting.
He leaned closer. What could it hurt?
Then he jerked back and slammed the lid closed, breathing heavily. He locked the lid with shaking fingers, wrenched himself away from it, pushing the chair so fast it felt for a moment like he was flying.
But he could still feel it as he settled into his bed. Pulsing, up there at the top of the house. Calling him.
As Harry and Lucius headed toward the front door on their way to apparate to the Ministry, Harry paused. There was something he really ought to do. He frowned, considering. Something that Hermione kept nagging him about in her letters. But what was it?
He snapped his fingers. The Floo! He had the paperwork on his desk. He detoured to Narcissa’s sitting room, intending to grab it. Only, he’d moved it. But where? He opened a few of the drawers at random, then hit the one he’d spelled shut. Of course.
He opened it and shuffled through the stack of parchment, looking for Ministry letterhead. That didn’t help, since almost all the letters were on Ministry letterhead. Job offers, for the most part. He didn’t want to think about those. Finally, he spotted it.
He grabbed the parchment, stuffed it into his back pocket beside his wand, and hurried back to where Lucius was still waiting.
“Sorry,” he said. “Thought it might be easier to make appointments if we could use the Floo. We can stop there on the way.”
Harry left the Floo Certification Department completely exhausted. He’d had no idea how much paperwork was going to be involved in getting the Floo repaired. He’d thought it was just a simple form, but no. Now all he wanted to do was go home and sleep — but they hadn't even made it to their appointment with Kingsley yet. He groaned.
Lucius raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. Harry trailed miserably after him down the hall to the lift and then up to Kingsley’s office.
“Where on earth have you been?” Kingsley asked the moment they entered his office, glancing at the clock. “I do have other things to do today, you know.” His brows were drawn down in irritation, his mouth pressed into a thin line as he drummed his fingers on the surface of his desk.
Harry dropped into one of the low chairs in front of Kingsley’s desk with a groan. “Made the mistake of trying to get the Floo re-opened on the way here. Do you know how much paperwork that took? The Order left things horribly tangled, using it illegally. You all worked in the Ministry — surely one of you could have sorted it out.”
“Ah,” Kingsley said, leaning back in his chair. “No wonder you’re so late. And if you recall we had other things on our plate at the time.” He turned to Lucius. “Did you bring the… you know?”
Lucius raised his eyebrows again. “Surely we’ve moved beyond being afraid to call things by their name.”
Kingsley grimaced. “Sorry. The files, then.”
Lucius pulled the miniaturised bundle from his shirt pocket, handing it to Harry. “If you would be so kind as to enlarge these…”
They still weren’t entirely sure if Lucius would be allowed to use his magic within the Ministry, but neither of them were willing to risk it.
Harry tapped the bundle with his wand, muttered a quick Engorgio, and jumped as a huge stack of papers materialised on his lap. He only just caught them in time.
“I didn’t realise there were so many,” he said sheepishly, wishing he’d thought to put them on the desk before enlarging them.
Kingsley slid the file on the top of the stack in front of him. “Merriweather. You know, I’d rather hoped he’d turn out to be one of the good ones. I had my eye on him as a potential candidate for Head Auror once Robards retires.”
Lucius cleared his throat. “Merriweather was also, I’m certain, one of the men who attacked us that night in Diagon Alley.”
Kingsley lowered the folder to the desktop. “Do you have proof?”
“No,” Lucius said, a hint of annoyance creeping into his voice, “but he has a most… unusual accent. And I had occasion to become very familiar with it. He’d been passing information to the Death Eaters for years before the war.”
Kingsley looked troubled. “I’ll need more than your word, you know. Is there anything you can offer as proof?”
Lucius spread his hands. “We escaped the Manor with nothing but the clothes on our backs. The men wore masks. I can give you nothing definitive. There are my memories of his voice, but that would never hold up in front of the Wizengamot.”
Kingsley tapped his fingers on the edge of the folder, frowning. “We’ll have to concentrate on things in these files for now, since we don’t have any way to prove anything about your attackers. Unless you remember something?” he asked hopefully, turning to Harry.
Harry shook his head. “No. I wasn’t… in a good place, when it happened. And I don’t remember anything except desperately needing to get their wands.”
Kingsley’s gaze sharpened. “That’s right. You got their wands. What did you do with them?”
Harry felt his brow wrinkle as he tried to remember. “I had them in my hand. One of the men went down and I brought him in, and I had to grab Narcissa because she almost fainted…”
He shrugged. “I don’t know what happened to them. I don’t remember dropping them, but I suppose I must have. Unless I turned them in with the one man we caught.”
Kingsley looked thoughtful. “If you did, then they would have been locked up for the duration of the investigation. Perhaps…” He made a note on a pad that he pulled from the pocket of his robes. “I’ll ask around after you leave. If they’re here, we’ll have a much better chance at bringing the Malfoys' attackers to justice.”
There was a tapping at the door and Kingsley glanced at the clock again. “Blast, we’ll have to continue this later. I’ve a meeting in ten minutes.” He moved to replace Merriweather’s file on the stack and then stopped. “If you'll allow me to keep this one, I can go over it and see if we can get anything in here to stick.”
Harry glanced at Lucius, who nodded. “Don’t let it out of your sight,” he warned, voice hard.
Harry shrunk the other folders and handed them back to Lucius, who tucked them away in the pocket of his robes. Kingsley stood, walking with them to the door, then stopped. “Harry,” he asked, “do you happen to know which job offer Miss Granger is planning to accept?”
Harry grinned. “I don’t think you have to worry, Kingsley,” he said. “I don’t think she’s quite ready to be Minister.”
Kingsley looked like he was trying to suppress a smile. “That’s not what I meant. The Ministry would be delighted to have her in any capacity of course, but there are a number of roles particularly well suited to her talents. And of course, Mr. Weasley would be an excellent addition to the Aurors—”
Harry cut him off. “I have no idea what Hermione or Ron’s plans are,” he said firmly. “I don’t even know when they’ll be back from Australia. You’ll just have to wait like the rest of us.”
Harry saw the open Prophet in Lucius’ hands the next morning and froze. His plate tipped alarmingly, eggs sliding precariously close to the edge. He set it down on the table without registering how close he’d been to spilling it.
They were on the front page. In full colour. Walking into the Rose and Lily. Accompanying the photo was the headline “Collusion between Minister for Magic, reclusive war hero Harry Potter, and notorious former Death Eater Lucius Malfoy?”
“What are we going to do?” Harry asked, sinking into his seat. His eyes flicked of their own accord to the byline. Rita Skeeter. Of course it would be her.
Lucius looked unconcerned. “Kingsley already flooed,” he said. “We’re meeting him in a little over an hour, so you’d best eat.” He glanced at Harry’s face and must have seen how sick he looked because he gave him an encouraging smile.
“Don’t worry," he said. "This will all work out. In fact, I suspect we may be able to twist it to our advantage.”
Harry couldn’t see how, but he decided to give Lucius a chance to work his political magic before panicking. Much.
“The wands were a no-go,” Kingsley said the moment they walked into his office. He was pacing back and forth in front of his desk. Rita Skeeter’s article lay open on the desktop. “They were discharged from Evidence. No name was on the form — highly irregular — but it would have had to have been someone with the necessary clearance. It was almost certainly Merriweather. But I can’t prove it.”
He slammed his fist down on the file spread open on his desk. “Not only that, but I’ve been over that file with a fine-tooth comb a dozen times since you were last here. Nothing in there will stick if we use it to accuse him. He’s far too slippery for that. We need more proof.”
Harry slumped dejectedly into the chair. He’d been hoping that rooting out the corrupt Ministry officials was going to be easy. Clearly, it wasn’t.
“What can we do?” he asked.
Kingsley frowned. “We need more proof. More concrete proof. Something that can’t be dismissed as circumstantial.”
“I suppose you could look at my memories?” Lucius asked. He didn’t sound hopeful. Kingsley was already shaking his head.
“No good. You’re hardly what the Wizengamot would consider a credible witness. If Harry had been there, then his memories would almost certainly be considered proof. As it is…
Lucius looked thoughtful. “What if we arranged a meeting with Merriweather? Use me as bait. Make it seem like I’m trying to buy his silence.”
“Your memories still wouldn’t be considered proof. Now, if Harry were there…” Kingsley trailed off.
“Ah,” Lucius said, “but he would be. You forget that I cannot go anywhere without Harry’s company.”
“There’s no way Merriweather would believe you if Harry was involved.”
“Ah, but Harry possesses an invisibility cloak.”
Kingsley looked up, surprised. “He does?”
Harry sighed in relief that that wasn’t common knowledge. Yet. “He does,” he said, a bit sarcastically. “But you wouldn’t be able to use my memories if no one knew I was there. Once you admit that I’m there, the whole thing falls apart. Besides. The cloak is supposed to be a secret.” He glared at Lucius.
Kingsley was pacing again. “We need another observer, then,” he said. “One that Merriweather wouldn’t question, but whose testimony the Wizengamot would accept as proof.”
Lucius smiled slowly and gestured at Kingsley’s desk. “I know just the person for the job.”
“Skeeter?” Harry said incredulously as he stumbled out of the now-working Floo and into the kitchen at Grimmauld Place. “Why would we want to work with her?”
“Because,” Lucius explained patiently, “As I told the Minister, she’s exactly what we need. We already know she’s an unregistered Animagus; we can hold that over her head. She’ll hardly want to be sent to Azkaban for it. She’s a reporter, so she knows which details are important. She’s a reliable enough witness that the Wizengamot will accept her testimony. She can use her Animagus abilities to hide from Merriweather during the meeting. She’s ideal for this job.”
Harry scowled. He hated Skeeter — for good reason, he thought mutinously. Why should he have to work with her?
“Besides,” Lucius added offhand. “We have something she wants.”
“Oh?” Harry asked, not really caring what the answer was. “And what’s that?”
“An exclusive interview with the reclusive Harry Potter.”
Harry gaped at him. “A what?”
Malfoy, who was sitting at the kitchen table and eating lunch, echoed him a few seconds later. “A what?”
Lucius sighed. “If we hold that over her head, she’ll do just about anything. You know it’s true.”
Harry groaned. “Yeah, but I’m really sick of having Malfoys give information about me to Rita Skeeter!”
“You deserved that,” Malfoy said, around a bite of sandwich.
Harry whipped around to glare at him. “I did not.”
Lucius leaned heavily on his cane and sighed. “I shall let you boys continue this conversation without me,” he said after a moment. “Harry, if you want to talk more about this later, you can find me in the study. Perhaps after you’ve calmed down a bit,” he said, eyeing Harry’s clenched fists.
Harry turned to glare at him, then went back to glaring at Malfoy.
“I can’t believe you’re still upset about that!” Malfoy exclaimed.
“And I can’t believe you’d stoop so low!” Harry retorted. “You had to know what Skeeter was like!”
They were interrupted by a cough from the fireplace behind them. Harry jumped, startled. They’d only just got the Floo working again, and he hadn’t told anyone. Had he? Then he saw Kingsley’s head peering about and understood. He hurried over to the fireplace.
“Er, Hello, Kingsley,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
Kingsley’s face relaxed. “Ah, Harry. Good. I was wondering if there’d been a mix-up with your Floo. If you’d be so kind as to call Lucius down here, I have something I forgot to ask the both of you.”
“I’ll just be a moment,” he said, turning toward the stairs. Then he grinned. “You can talk to Malfoy if you get bored.”
He ignored Malfoy’s glare as he hurried up the steps to find Lucius.
Once they were both back in the kitchen, Lucius leaned heavily on his cane and said, “Now, Minister, what’s all this about?”
Kingsley cleared his throat. “It seems there’s a gala coming up to raise money for the War Orphans fund. Their guest speaker has had to pull out at the last minute, and they need someone to take her place.” He looked expectantly at Harry.
“Oh, no— ” Harry started.
Lucius stepped in front of him. “Oh, yes,” he said drily. “But first you will have to look the part, which means— ”
“Yes. A trip to Twilfit and Tattings is in order. Though, I’m afraid we’ll need my son’s assistance. Can the two of you get along for long enough to get you outfitted with some decent clothing?”
“I suppose,” Harry said grudgingly, “but— ”
Lucius ignored him. “We’ll need Draco to accompany us, Minister,” he said to Kingsley.
Kingsley eyed Harry again and shook his head. “Unfortunately, I can’t alter the terms of the house arrest any further without arousing suspicion. We’d have to go before the Wizengamot and with the way they’ve been deciding things lately…”
He tapped his quill against his lip. “What if I can get someone to come to you? The fellow who runs Twilfit and Tattings now is a decent sort, and has done home visits before. I should be able to draw up a contract binding him to silence. Not that I think he’d tell anyone you’re living with Harry, but we can’t be too careful.”
“Thank you, Minister,” Lucius said. “That would do nicely.”
Kingsley nodded again and his face disappeared.
“I do hope you’re planning to get me new robes as well, Potter,” Malfoy said with a sniff as he shoved Harry aside to stand beside his father.
Harry sighed and threw his arms up. “Why not. New robes for everyone. I’ve got the money, why not use it?”
Malfoy looked startled. “I didn’t mean you should actually—”
“Nope. Too late now,” Harry said. “You’ll spend the day up here next to me, getting poked and prodded.
“But I, unlike you, have my measurements on file.” Malfoy looked triumphant for a moment.
But Lucius was shaking his head. “No, I’m afraid you’ll have to have your measurements taken as well. They'll have changed since we last bought you robes, and the Muggle fashions that are in style now require different measurements than the dress robes we’re used to.”
Draco made a face. “Fine.”
He didn’t look too upset though. Harry suspected he was secretly pleased to be getting a new wardrobe, especially since he’d lost his own in the fire. He wondered briefly where the Malfoys had got the clothes they’d been wearing, but then decided Kreacher had probably either gone shopping or dug up things that had belonged to the Black family. Either way, he was glad he hadn’t had to deal with it. He hated shopping for clothes.
After they'd been fitted and had selected the styles of their new clothes — which Harry suspected would take up an entire room when they'd arrived — the owner of Twilfit and Tattings bowed and departed with assurances that their new robes would be ready shortly. “Oh!” Draco exclaimed. “I’m out of hair potion!” He snapped his fingers. “Kreacher,” he said, "can you fetch me some more hair potion? I’m almost out.”
Kreacher bowed and disappeared, reappearing a few seconds later with a large lime-green tub which he placed in Malfoy’s hand.
Harry stared at the tub for a second and then burst out laughing.
“What?” he gasped out between laughs, “You use Sleekeazy’s? You do know my grandfather invented that, right? How long has your money been going into my bank account?”
Malfoy stared at him, face a mask of confusion morphing to horror. He whirled to face his parents.
Lucius shrugged, the corners of his mouth twitching with amusement. Narcissa was smiling at him, eyes creased with merriment. “You didn’t know, dear?” she asked. “It says ‘invented by Fleamont Potter’ right on the tub. You certainly used enough of it when you were at Hogwarts. I thought that’s part of why you ranted about him so much.”
Malfoy turned and stalked toward the stairs. “I hate you, Potter!” he tossed back at them. But his cheeks were flushed bright red and the words didn’t have the bite to them that they would have had in school.
Harry, still snickering, called after him, “I hate you too, Malfoy.” He was a little surprised to find that the words were fond, and that he didn’t really mean them at all.
Chapter 12: Draco POV
Draco hunched over the cauldron, ignoring the lock of hair hanging in front of his left eye as he stirred precisely once every three seconds.
Wisps of steam escaped the spells he’d had Kreacher place around the small room to wick it away; they coiled around him, plastering his shirt to his ribs and curling his hair at the ends. He allowed himself a small smile as the potion changed colour, exactly as it was supposed to.
He turned, reaching for the finely chopped Sopophorous bean with his left hand as his right continued stirring. He carefully tipped the dish, sending the pieces into the shimmering orange liquid. This time, he knew he’d got it exactly right. Now he just had to wait for the final colour change and…
The potion sucked inward and turned a sickly yellow, emitting a foul-smelling gas.
Draco threw the dish to the ground in frustration, watching it shatter with satisfaction and then waved his wand to banish the pieces. That was the third time the potion had failed at the final step. He’d done it all exactly right! His mind cast about, seeking something to blame. Could the directions have a mistake? But, no. Surely it would have been caught. This was a common sixth-year potion. He even remembered making it, through the fog that obscured his memories of that year. He’d not struggled with it then, though. What had changed?
He turned again to his book. This time, a bit of text at the end caught his attention. The Sopophorous beans must be chopped precisely or the potion will fail, turning a sickly, foul-smelling yellow.
So he hadn’t chopped it precisely enough. But he had. He always did. He turned back to the table, determined. He slapped down another bean, raised the knife… and stopped.
His hand was shaking. Not much, but enough to be noticeable. Enough to throw off the measurements?
He gritted his teeth, determined to compensate. If he could just cut slowly enough… But he quickly realised it was no use. He couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. And when he inspected the pieces he’d chopped, they were irregular. Not precise. He couldn’t do it.
He cast away the knife in disgust. It wasn’t just his leg that had betrayed him — now his hands had, as well.
He flipped through the book, scanning the directions. Most of the sixth-year potions called for precise chopping. He’d reached his limit — and he hadn’t even gotten to the potions most likely to be on the N.E.W.T.s exam!
He whirled, pulled the seventh-year text from the bookshelf by the door, flipping the pages quickly. They, too, would be beyond him. He’d hoped he could finish his N.E.W.T.s, maybe pursue a career in potions.
He threw the book on the floor and stalked out into the empty kitchen. That was it. He had nothing left.
He eyed the modified wheelchair with disgust, but knew without taking another step that he’d never reach his rooms without it. He was too exhausted. Was there nothing he could do? He didn’t want to admit it. Maybe he’d just stay in the potions room until breakfast. It couldn’t be long until dawn. He’d let himself get consumed in trying to get that potion right. All for nothing.
He leaned against the wall, suddenly exhausted. Just for a minute… He'd rest for a minute and then go back to his room. Or he'd rest for a minute, then clean up and dispose of the remains of his potion, and then go back to his room...
Harry woke as the first light of dawn crept through his shutters. He rolled over and closed his eyes again, hoping to fall back asleep. Several minutes later he admitted to himself that it wasn’t happening, and with a sigh rose to see about starting breakfast.
It was still dark in the house, as no one else seemed to be up, and he crept down the stairs as quietly as he could. Just because he couldn’t go back to sleep didn’t mean everyone else had to wake up early. He’d just get pancakes started. It would be a nice surprise for Narcissa, to have everything ready when she awoke.
He slipped into the kitchen and waved his hand, lighting the lamps. He’d grown used to using wandless magic in the past year, as he rarely remembered to grab his wand in the mornings. As he turned toward the stove, he stopped short. There was a figure slumped against the wall in the corner. He started forward, at first thinking it was Kreacher and that he’d succumbed to some illness, but then the figure’s height registered. As he took in the disastrously curled blond hair he whispered, “Malfoy?”
Malfoy jerked awake. “What?” he said, fumbling at his side, presumably for his wand. Harry stared at him.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
Malfoy squinted at him, horror dawning on his features. “I—”
“Because it looks an awfully lot like you fell asleep against the kitchen wall. Were you up all night? What in Merlin’s name were you doing down here?”
“I—” Malfoy started again.
Harry interrupted him, pushing past him into what he’d assumed was a storage room. “Is that a Potions kit? What have you been up to hiding out in here at night, Malfoy?” Suspicion crept into him with every word that he spoke. All his instincts told him that Malfoy was up to something.
Then he caught sight of the book on the floor and picked it up, surprised. “Hang on. This is the book for sixth-year Potions. And is that the Elixir to Induce Euphoria?” He leaned over the cauldron, sniffing cautiously, then made a face. “It is. I remember this potion. You’ve mucked it up, though. It’s not supposed to look like that... Or smell like that,” he added, wrinkling his nose.
“It’s nothing,” Malfoy said, finally finding his voice. “I was about to get rid of everything, anyway.”
Harry frowned. “Why would you do that? There’s nothing wrong with having a potions kit, Malfoy. Well, the Ministry might not agree with me, but you have to do something with your time. And you’ve got to take your N.E.W.T.s,” he added with a grimace. He wasn’t looking forward to that.
Malfoy shrugged. “I’ve decided not to bother,” he said, with what Harry thought was supposed to be nonchalance, but rather missed the mark.
“Wait a minute,” Harry said slowly. “I remember this potion. I also remember something the Prince said—”
“The Prince?” Malfoy asked, confusion colouring his tone.
Harry shrugged the question off. “Later,” he said, “that’s not important. But what did he say?” He flipped the book open, flicking through the pages until he came to the potion in question. “Aha. You didn’t chop the Sopophorous beans precisely enough.” He frowned, glancing at Malfoy. “Well that’s not like you at all.”
Malfoy grimaced. “I can’t. It’s why I was getting rid of it.”
“Can’t what?” Harry asked, still puzzled.
“Can’t chop precisely enough. My hands shake.” Malfoy looked away, red splotches on his cheeks. “Nerve damage. I won’t be able to complete my N.E.W.T.s,” he said, bitterness creeping into his voice. “So go ahead and gloat.”
Harry frowned. “I wasn’t going to gloat. I was going to help. The Prince said powdering them instead would make up for not chopping precisely enough.”
Malfoy stared at him. “So this random person suggested a change to a well-known potion, one that’s not in the book, and—”
“Snape,” Harry said softly.
“What about him?” Malfoy asked, looking lost.
“No— Snape. He was the Half-blood Prince.” Harry sighed, raking his hand through his hair, causing it to stand on end — completely undoing his attempt at taming his bedhead. “Bloody hell, do we have to go through this? Fine. I found Snape’s old Potions book, only I didn’t know it was his at the time. I used it most of sixth year. It’s why I did so well in Potions that year.”
Malfoy stared at him. “I knew you didn’t magically become a good Potions student. So you’re telling me Severus says I can get around the chopping in this potion. Fine. But does it work in all the rest? Most advanced potions require precise chopping — believe me, I’ve checked.”
Harry looked thoughtful. “No,” he said with a shake of his head. “I doubt it. But I have another idea.”
“You’re full of ideas today,” Malfoy said sarcastically.
Harry raked his hand through his hair again. “Malfoy. Do you want my help or not?”
“Fine, Saint Potter to the rescue again. What do you suggest?”
“I’ll chop for you.”
“What, that’s it? And you think they’ll let you do part of my potion for me in our N.E.W.T.s exam?”
“If you can’t chop them because of nerve damage from the war, then yes, McGonagall will have to allow you an assistant. We can sic Hermione on her if she protests.” He grinned a little. “Believe me. Since the war, Hermione has become a big champion of disability rights.”
“And what do you get out of it?” Malfoy asked suspiciously.
Harry grinned. “I get personal Potions help from the best Potions student in our year and might just pass my N.E.W.T.s.”
Malfoy snorted and Harry caught the sliver of a smile. “Fine. I will allow you to assist me,” he said, nose in the air.
“Right,” Harry said, rubbing his hands together. “Let’s get started. No, wait. Let’s have breakfast first. Pancakes sound good to you?”
December crept past without Harry really noticing. The house was finally warm enough that he didn’t have to layer several jumpers, and without Ron or Hermione or the bustle of Hogwarts celebrations to remind him, he didn’t notice the approach of Christmas, immersed as he was in working his way through the potions texts with Malfoy. He was shocked one day to see Christmas trees in the Ministry on one of his now semi-regular visits to Kingsley’s office.
With the reminder of the season came a pang of wistfulness, that Ron and Hermione wouldn’t be with him to celebrate that year. Right on its heels came the realisation that he would get his yearly invitation to the Burrow any day, and that he would have to refuse. How could he even consider taking Lucius Malfoy into the Weasley’s home? He couldn’t. But that meant coming up with a convincing reason as to why he couldn’t attend.
He spent the next few days turning it over in his mind, trying to find a solution. He couldn’t take the Malfoys with him. Therefore, he couldn’t go. That was easy. Not so easy was coming up with a reason. He couldn’t just tell the Weasleys that the Malfoys were living with him and had to go where he went. That wouldn’t go over well at all, he thought with a grimace. But he didn’t have staying at Hogwarts as an excuse, and no one would believe that he’d chosen to spend the holiday with one of his other friends.
Ginny arrived before he’d come to a solution, blowing through the door in a gust of icy wind.
“Brr,” she said, shaking snow from her coat and stripping off her gloves, striding to the fireplace in the library to warm her frozen fingers. “I’m so glad you’ve got the house warmed properly, Harry. It’s freezing out there.”
He followed her, still staring at the snowflakes melting on her red hair. He hadn’t known it was snowing. But then, he never really went out anymore, since the Floo had been fixed. And even then he only ever went to the Ministry. More interesting than the snow was her hair. Her hair fascinated him. She’d had it cut since he’d seen her last, and now it fell in soft layers against her right cheek and was shorn close on the left. She looked fierce. It suited her.
He shook his head to clear it. Ginny hadn’t been by to visit since she’d discovered the Malfoys were there, and he knew she wouldn’t have come by to chat. She’d have been sent by her mother with the Christmas invitation. The one he still didn’t know how to decline without hurting everyone’s feelings. He drew breath to speak, to cut her off before she could extend the invitation, though he had no idea what he intended to say, but she started speaking before he could.
“So, Harry,” she said, still staring into the fire and pointedly not meeting his gaze. “I’m supposed to invite you over to the Burrow for Christmas.”
“Yeah, about that,” he said, but she just talked over him, as usual.
“But since you’d have to bring… him…” She trailed off, brows creasing into a frown as she seemed to search for the words. “Anyway I just don’t think it’s a good idea for you to come over this year.” She wrinkled her nose, mouth twisting in a grimace as she ruffled the longer strands of hair. “It’ll just be George and me, since Ron and Hermione are still in Australia, and Charlie couldn’t get off this year so he’s staying in Romania, and Bill and Fleur are going to her family’s in France this year, and Percy is going to Audrey’s, and… well, it’s going to be fucking weird, even without adding Malfoys into the mix. So, I’m sorry, Harry,” she continued, words rushing over one another in her hurry to get them out, “but I think I’ll have to tell Mum you can’t make it this year.”
At the same time he said, “Yeah, it’s probably best if I don’t go.”
She glanced up, surprised, eyes focusing a little over his shoulder. “Oh, well,” she said. “Thanks.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, stuffing his hands into his pockets and rocking back on his heels. “Tell your mum thanks for the invite and all.”
She nodded, flaming red hair sliding forward to hide her face. She brushed it aside, pursing her lips in the way he knew meant she was annoyed, and turned back to the fire. “I’ll bring you leftovers after. You know Mum’ll cook for everyone, even though hardly anyone will be there. And George doesn’t eat much anymore.”
He nodded. “Thanks, Gin,” he said, trying to catch her eye, wishing he could ask if they were okay, if she’d forgiven him. But she was still looking into the flames.
She nodded curtly then turned away, sliding her gloves back and on and striding out the door.
Christmas with the Malfoys at Grimmauld Place was a quiet affair. Harry hadn’t wanted to bother with a tree or other decorations, and none of the Malfoys had seemed inclined to want them either. Harry had spent the afternoon whipping up the Christmas dishes he’d learnt to make to Petunia’s exacting standards, and Narcissa had acted as his assistant, merely raising her eyebrows at the pans of sauces and glazes.
“I didn’t know you knew how to cook like this,” Malfoy said, staring in surprise at the feast laid out before him.
Harry shrugged self-consciously as he served himself some roast goose. “It’s not as hard as it looks. I made it every year at the Dursleys.”
Malfoy looked up at him, confusion written across his face. “I thought you spent the holidays at Hogwarts.”
“I did,” Harry said shortly, not wishing to dredge up old memories. The Dursleys were in the past, and he meant for them to stay there.
Malfoy still looked confused, but Harry caught the concern in Narcissa’s eyes and her pursed lips. He’d been expecting that. Lucius’ frown surprised him. It was almost as if he understood, and wished he could do something about it.
He shrugged. “It’s in the past. Pass the potatoes?”
He was embarrassed when Kreacher brought him his gifts, materialising them before him with a snap of his fingers at the same moment that he whisked away their dishes. He’d hoped to open them in secret, since he knew the Malfoys wouldn’t be getting anything. He wondered suddenly, guiltily, if he ought to have got them something. But what did you get for your former enemies serving house arrest in your home?
“Where are your gifts?” Malfoy asked, looking up and down the table as if expecting packages to appear out of thin air.
Harry frowned. “Right here,” he said, waving a hand at the small pile of parcels in front of him.
Malfoy stared. “What, that’s it?”
Harry, bemused now as well as perplexed said, “Yes? They’re all here.” He pointed to each wrapped package in turn. “Molly’s sweater. Ron’s quidditch thing — well, probably.” He poked dubiously at the lumpy package. “At least, I hope that’s what it is. Hermione’s book. There’s even something from Luna — not sure I dare open that one, actually — and something from Ginny. What else were you expecting?”
Malfoy was staring at him in shock. “Gifts from your adoring fans?”
Harry snorted. “Right. I learned a long time ago to bin those as soon as they came in. Invariably drenched in love potions and whatnot. No one’s bothered to send any in a while.”
“Your relatives?” Malfoy tried, not sounding sure of himself.
Harry snorted. “The only thing I ever got from them was a list of chores and an extra stay in my cupboard.” He froze, realising what he’d just revealed, not daring to look into any of their faces. “I’ll just… take these upstairs, then.”
Turning, gathering the packages up in shaking hands, he fled.
The next morning when he awoke he lay in bed, wondering if he could get away with just not leaving his room. He heard the others going down the stairs, imagined Narcissa getting breakfast ready alone. He felt a little guilty about that, but not enough to make himself go out there and face them. What had come over him the night before? He hadn’t meant to reveal all of that — and especially not to Malfoy.
He groaned and turned over, kicking the covers down and throwing an arm across his eyes.
Just then, a quiet knock sounded at his door.
He froze. There went his plan of not getting up. Maybe he could pretend to be asleep?
“I know you’re awake, Harry.” Narcissa’s muffled voice floated to him through the door.
He groaned again and got up, padding to the door to open it. “Can I help you?” he asked.
Narcissa smiled softly. “Perhaps. May I come in?”
He stepped back, wordlessly inviting her into his room. She sat on the edge of his bed, patting the mattress beside her. “Come and sit with me,” she said.
He moved reluctantly to her side, sinking down onto the mattress, wincing at the dirty socks on the floor and trying surreptitiously to kick them under the bed. He waited for her to mention the night before, but she didn’t.
“This came for you this morning,” she said, handing him a small package.
He frowned, staring at the lumpy package. He wasn’t expecting anything else. Then he noticed the Ministry seal and felt a lump in his throat.
He opened it gingerly, peeling back the wrapping to reveal a small bundle of things. A wand. A wallet. A slightly-frayed leather cord meant to be worn around a wrist.
These were his things. Kingsley had sent them to him.
He sat rigidly, staring numbly down at the things in his hands. The silence stretched for several long minutes.
Slowly, with shaking fingers, he opened the wallet. Inside were assorted coins, wizarding and Muggle, a few Muggle credit cards that made him smile, imagining the lengths Sirius had to have gone through to get them, and two photos. The one on the left showed the Marauders, grinning and laughing, arms wrapped around one another’s shoulders, legs kicked high in the air like a group of Rockettes.
His mother was there, one arm wrapped around Sirius’ shoulders and one around his father’s. Their clothing made him smile; they’d obviously embraced the Muggle style for this photo. His mother wore a flowered sundress and white go-go boots, while Sirius and James sported bell-bottom jeans and paisley-printed shirts. Sirius even wore a headband to tame his long hair. Remus and Peter wore more subdued clothing, but their smiles were as bright as the others.’
He traced the tip of his finger along their faces, smiling wistfully, wishing he could have known them.
On the other side, facing the Marauders, was a baby photo. He stared at the wild black hair, the green eyes. The smooth, unmarked skin of his forehead. It was him.
“Harry,” Narcissa said slowly, pulling his attention from the photographs, “I was thinking. Perhaps you’d like to clean out Sirius’ room today?”
Harry froze. He hadn’t been expecting that. But… He considered. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea. “Just us?” he asked. He wasn’t sure he wanted Malfoy there for what would almost certainly be emotionally draining.
She nodded. “Just us.”
He took a deep breath, gulping in air, then let it out in a whoosh. “Yeah, okay. I think I can do it today.”
“Excellent,” Narcissa said, straightening and smoothing her gown. “I’ll leave you to get dressed. There’s breakfast waiting for you in the kitchen. We can start once you’ve eaten.” With that, she swept from the room.
Harry dallied over his breakfast as long as he could, thankful that Malfoy and Lucius weren’t in the kitchen, but finally he couldn’t stretch it out any longer and he went in search of Narcissa.
He found her reading in her sitting room. She set the book aside as soon as he entered, smiling gently at him. “Ready?”
He nodded, turning wordlessly toward the stairs. She followed silently.
They were making their way through the front hall when Ginny staggered through the front door.
At least, Harry thought it was Ginny buried somewhere behind the pile of boxes and containers.
“What’s all this?” he asked, laughing as he reached out to take them from her.
“Here,” she wheezed, depositing the pile in Harry’s outstretched arms. He staggered a bit, widening his stance to try and hold up the astonishing weight of the pile.
She wiped her brow, then turned for the door. “There’s more. I’ll just run and grab it. George has it outside, but…” She trailed off, biting her lip as she glanced between Malfoy and Lucius, who had come into the hall at the commotion, more hesitant than Harry had seen her in a long time.
He offered her a small smile. “It’s fine.”
She returned his smile gratefully and whirled, heading back out into the snow. Soon she was back, stomping the snow from her boots and heaving another enormous pile at Harry. He quickly set the boxes he was still holding on the floor as he reached for it.
“There,” she said. “That ought to hold you over until mid-February at least.”
Harry snorted as he surveyed the vast array of containers. “At least. What possessed her, do you think?”
She waved a hand airily. “Well, since you didn’t show up for dinner, I think she panicked a little. Also she doesn’t know what to do, with only the five of us to cook for this year.”
Harry raised an eyebrow, unconsciously imitating Lucius. “Five?”
Ginny’s cheeks turned pink and he stared, wondering if he’d ever seen her blush before. “Er,” she said, cheeks darkening. “Pansy didn’t have anywhere to go, since her parents… Anyway, I invited her to stay with us for the holiday.”
Harry smiled. “Good.”
Ginny looked up at him, startled. “Good?”
He nodded. “Everyone should have somewhere to go for Christmas.” He offered her a hesitant smile. To his surprise, she returned it.
Malfoy frowned, glancing between them and then at the pile of containers. “You mean to tell me this is all food?” he asked.
Harry noticed with a private smile that he’d forgotten to insult Ginny, though his smile faded as Malfoy continued.
“What did she expect — that you’d starve without her to feed you?”
Ginny froze, looking at Harry with wide eyes. He knew she hadn’t meant to reveal his past to the Malfoys, but he’d told them enough the night before it didn’t seem worth bothering about trying to hide it.
“Yeah,” he said, voice emotionless. “Well, it’s not like there’s not a precedent.”
Malfoy still looked confused, but Narcissa reached out and put a quelling hand on his shoulder before he could voice his next question.
“Your Aunt and Uncle withheld food as punishment,” she said softly, eyes gentle as she gazed at Harry.
Harry nodded, grateful that he didn’t have to say it himself. “Yeah. It’s why I was always so skinny when I returned to Hogwarts after summers,” he said, gaze fixed on the wall behind Malfoy’s shoulder.
Then he shrugged, as if pushing off thoughts of the past, ignoring Malfoy, who was opening and closing his mouth like a fish. “C’mon. Let’s get this stuff to the kitchen.”
He levitated one of the piles and turned toward the stairs. “Thanks,” he said, turning back and offering a genuine smile to Ginny. “Tell your mum thanks too, please.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, smiling back, “and I will.” Then she turned and breezed back out the door.
Once they’d finished storing the food Molly Weasley had sent over, Harry followed Narcissa up the stairs to the fourth floor — to Sirius’ room.
He paused at the door, hand hovering over the knob, as memories of Sirius flooded through him.
The moment his fingers touched the handle, a Gryffindor lion he’d not noticed woven into the carpet reared up and roared at him. He stumbled back in surprise, and the lion sank back into the carpet at his feet.
“More effective than a sign reading ‘keep out,’ but not very subtle,” Narcissa remarked dryly.
Harry grinned. “I may not have known him well, but even I know that subtle wasn’t really Sirius’ strong point.”
Narcissa leaned past him and touched the handle. This time, when the lion roared to life, Harry remained where he was. Narcissa didn’t move either. Instead, she said something so quietly that Harry didn’t catch it. Immediately, the lion subsided, allowing her to open the door. She held it open, wordlessly inviting him to go first.
He stared bemusedly down at where the lion had faded into the carpet. “What did you say?” he asked curiously.
“I saw boys, toys, electric irons and T.V.’s” she repeated. “It’s from— ”
“David Bowie,” Harry said, before she could finish. “It’s on the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Dean had a copy of the record, and Seamus used to play it all the time to tease Ron. He’s terrified of spiders,” he explained at her confused look.
Narcissa smiled. “Sirius was quite fond of David Bowie. He loved just about everything about Muggle rock music.”
Harry felt a bloom of warmth at the realisation that the music was something he shared with Sirius.
He looked around the room, taking in the Muggle posters on the walls, the motorcycles and bikini-clad girls. The dark, looming furniture was covered defiantly in Gryffindor banners and there were books and papers scattered over every surface. It looked the same as he remembered. He stared around, feeling closer to Sirius than he had in years. This room had belonged to Sirius the way nothing else in this house ever had. It felt warm, friendly. Like home. Harry reached out a hand and trailed his fingers over some of the posters, feeling the house thrum a greeting back to him.
“I thought we’d leave it like it is,” Narcissa said from behind him, interrupting his thoughts. “Just give it a good cleaning, mend the things that are worn. We can do Reggie’s that way too, if you want. Unless you wanted to make it another guest room.”
Harry considered. He didn’t have any strong connection to Regulus’ old room like he did to Sirius’, but he suspected that Kreacher might. And there were enough spare bedrooms as it was. “We should leave it,” he decided. “Just clean it.”
She nodded and rolled up her sleeves. “Shall we?”
They’d almost finished when Malfoy wandered in. “There you are,” he said, looking relieved. “Father cornered me to talk about ‘my future at the Ministry.’” He shuddered. “Wanted me to help with a stack of paperwork.”
Harry looked up guiltily. “I was supposed to help him with that.”
“This is important too,” Narcissa said. “You can help him when we’re done.”
“What are you doing up here, anyway?” Malfoy asked, picking up a notebook and flipping through it. “Hey, there’s some cool stuff in here.”
Harry put down his rag and pulled the book from Malfoy’s hands. “This must have been where he worked out the pranks he pulled,” he said, flipping the pages slowly, working to tamp down the fury he’d felt when Malfoy had touched it. He didn’t want to get in a fight right now, but he also didn’t want Malfoy touching Sirius’ things. His things.
“Ooh, that’s a good one!” Malfoy said, leaning over his shoulder and reading further down the page. “I’ve never seen that variant on a tickling spell. It looks like it would last hours, and I can’t think of anything that would counter it.”
Under the spell were penned the words Long lasting tickling spell. Pros: makes you look obnoxious and ridiculous, no one would take you seriously, lasts long enough to hurt. Cons: can’t think of any. Good for use on Death Eaters and obnoxious little brothers.
Harry traced over the words with the tip of his finger, imagining Sirius writing them.
“We’re pretty much done in here, right?” he asked, shaking himself and making a mental note to retrieve the book later for further study.
He looked over at Narcissa, who nodded. “Why don’t you go wash up and see what Lucius wants. I’ll gather up our supplies. We can do Reggie’s room later.”
Harry grinned and slung an arm around Malfoy’s shoulders. “Come on, Malfoy. Let’s go see about that paperwork. Your father is right — you probably should help us with it.”
Malfoy groaned but followed him willingly enough. “So long as you’re doing it too,” he allowed. “Otherwise it would be dreadfully dull.”
“Aww, Malfoy. Didn’t know you enjoyed my company so much.”
He flushed and shrugged Harry’s arm off. “I don’t. I just like making fun of you.”
Laughing, Harry pressed a dusty rag into his hands, which Malfoy promptly threw down in disgust, and prodded him from the room.
A few days into the new year, Harry woke to a knock on his door. After dragging himself out of bed to open it, he was surprised to find Lucius on the other side instead of Narcissa.
“Is something wrong?” Harry asked, rubbing his eyes blearily. He felt more tired than he had for weeks.
“No,” Lucius said, “but we do need to leave soon.”
Harry frowned. “What, now?”
Lucius smiled wryly. “It’s been a busy morning.”
Harry turned to the window; the sun was considerably higher in the sky than he’d expected. He’d slept in much later than usual.
“What’s happened?” he asked, blinking hard in an effort to focus.
“Rita Skeeter finally replied to my message, as did Merriweather. Then Kingsley checked in to see how things were progressing.” Lucius cleared his throat. “We’re meeting Rita Skeeter in an hour at a Muggle cafe near Diagon Alley. We’re meeting Merriweather in Knockturn Alley an hour after that.”
Harry stared at him, all tiredness forgotten. “You have been busy.” He looked down at himself, still in pyjamas, and grimaced. “I’ll be right down.” He started to turn away, then paused and turned back. “Er, do you suppose there’s time for me to grab a quick breakfast?”
Lucius smiled slightly. “I’ve had Narcissa prepare a plate for you — if you hurry, you’ll have time to eat it before you leave. Oh, and bring your cloak.”
Harry turned and rummaged through his trunk, scooping out the cloak and tucking it under his arm. He pulled on a t-shirt and jeans, shoved his glasses onto his nose, grabbed his wand, and hurried down the stairs in search of breakfast.
He found Malfoy at the kitchen table, hunched over a plate of eggs and bacon. Malfoy often joined them for meals now, and Harry had quickly discovered he was not a morning person. He glowered in Harry’s general direction as he sipped his customary cup of extra-strong, extra-sugared black tea, and Harry fought the urge to bait him. He and Malfoy were finally getting along, and he didn’t want to jeopardize that… but it was still tempting.
He settled for digging into the plate of food Narcissa had set aside for him, gulping his tea as soon as it was cool enough.
Malfoy’s frown eased as he drank his tea; by the time he’d finished his cup, he looked nearly pleasant.
“Good morning, Potter,” he said. “Father said you were going on quite the adventure.” He sighed, staring off over Harry’s shoulder pensively. “I wish I could go. You don’t think you could smuggle me under your cloak?”
Harry looked up at him in surprise. “We wouldn’t both fit under it, Malfoy,” he returned, smiling at the thought. “And anyway, you’re not allowed to leave the house.”
Malfoy sighed again. “Fine. At least tell me about it when you get back? It’s been so dull lately. I’m bored.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “So read one of the five million books we have in the library.”
“There’s not five million, Potter. Did you not learn how to count at that Muggle school?”
“I’m not going to count every book— ”
“Estimating. Didn’t you learn to estimate?”
“Tell you what, Malfoy,” Harry said, sopping up the last of the egg yolk with his toast, “why don’t you estimate the number of books while I’m gone. Better yet, you could count them. Then you can tell me just how many there are when I get back. You wouldn’t have to worry about being bored.”
Malfoy scowled into his teacup. “Why are you still here, Potter? Aren’t you supposed to be out catching bad guys?”
Harry lifted his cup in a mock salute and drained the dregs of his tea. “Indeed. See you later, Malfoy.”
“Try not to disarm anyone,” Malfoy returned drily. “We all know how much you love Expelliarmus.”
Harry rolled his eyes as he grabbed his coat and headed for the door.
Rita Skeeter’s eyes lit up as they entered the Muggle cafe.
“Lucius Malfoy,” she said, striding forward and shaking his hand vigorously, the bangles on her arm jingling. “I’m surprised you actually showed up. I’m glad you did, of course, but I am surprised. Your… messenger said you had an exclusive for me.” She lowered her voice and looked over the top of her glasses at him expectantly. “You’ll understand, of course, that I require proof before we go any further.”
“Of course,” Lucius drawled. “Harry?”
Skeeter jumped satisfyingly as Harry materialised next to her, stuffing the cloak under his arm and looking around furtively.
“Extraordinary,” she breathed, adjusting her glasses and holding out her hand. “I’d heard rumors that you had an invisibility cloak, of course, but I’ll admit I didn’t give much credence to them. But forgive me. I’m Rita Skeeter.”
Harry gritted his teeth on a biting retort. “I know,” he said, keeping the rest of what he wanted to say to himself with some effort.
Skeeter smiled, though it looked forced. “Of course you do.” She held her hand out for a few seconds more, but Harry couldn’t bring himself to take it.
“Do you know what we want you to do?” he asked, slipping his hands in his pockets.
She let her hand drop, then folded her arms across the front of her lime-green blazer. “The message was extremely vague. I know that you need a reliable witness — though one would think your memory would hold more weight with the Wizengamot than mine.”
Harry scowled. “I’m not officially there.”
“Oh. The cloak. I see. But, I’ll still get my exclusive?”
Harry nodded shortly. “Yes.”
“In your house?” Skeeter pressed, eyes gleaming with avarice.
Harry grimaced. But there was nothing for it. They needed Skeeter’s help or the whole thing would fall apart.
“In my house,” he said reluctantly.
Rita opened her mouth and Harry glared. “That’s more than fair and you know it.”
Her eyes narrowed in annoyance.
“And,” Harry said quickly, “nothing about the cloak gets out.”
She pursed her lips and tapped a glossy pink fingernail on the edge of her black cat-eye glasses. The rhinestones dotting the corners glittered in the cafe lights.
“I suppose,” she said at last, “it would throw suspicion on our meeting, if everyone knew you could have been there.”
“Exactly. And then you wouldn’t get your exclusive.” He spread his arms as if there was nothing he could do about it.
She tapped on her glasses some more, frowning. Then she seemed to come to a decision.
“Very well,” she said, holding her hand out again. “The exclusive is worth more to me. The public are dying to know what their dashing hero has been up to this past year.”
“And who knows,” she added, as he reluctantly clasped her hand. “That cloak may come in handy one day.”
Harry groaned as he shook her small, dry hand. He knew she’d hold it over him forever, but there was nothing for it. They were already cutting it close if they wanted to arrive at the meeting point before Merriweather, which they did. He and Skeeter needed to case the room to find the best spots to covertly observe from.
Lucius cleared his throat, glancing pointedly at the clock on the cinnamon-coloured wall above them. “If you would, Miss Skeeter…”
She nodded. “I’ll just be a moment.” She walked briskly to the ladies’ room and slipped inside, leaving the door open a crack. A moment later, a small beetle flew through the opening and landed on the back of Lucius’ hand as it rested atop the head of his cane.
“Is that…?” he asked.
Harry nodded. “Let’s go,” he said, shaking out his cloak. After a quick glance around the room, he slipped into the men’s room. A few seconds later the door creaked open, seemingly on its own.
Lucius carefully transferred Skeeter to his shirt pocket with his other hand, then turned and left the cafe. No one looked at him, or seemed to notice the strange disappearance of both his companions.
Lucius walked down the street and around the corner, glancing in shop windows and generally behaving as if he were out on a morning stroll. Once they were out of sight of the main road, Harry reached out from under the cloak and took his arm. Rita flew from Lucius’ pocket and landed on Harry’s exposed arm. He frowned, thinking for a second, then disillusioned his exposed arm and reached out his other arm and transferred Skeeter onto his palm, closing his hand into a fist around her so she couldn’t escape. He drew his still-visible arm back under the cover of his cloak, resisting the urge to squeeze, reminding himself that they still needed her. Then he Apparated them all to the mouth of Knockturn Alley. From there it was a short walk to the place they’d arranged to meet.
Lucius led Harry toward a seedy pub on the outskirts of Knockturn Alley. Harry, concealed under the cloak, eyed the grime-darkened windows and muttered quietly, “Are you sure this is the right place?” He couldn’t see anyone around; the place looked deserted.
Lucius gave a barely perceptible nod but otherwise didn’t respond. He seemed familiar with the place, so Harry decided to just follow his lead.
Lucius mounted the rickety steps and knocked on the door in a quick staccato pattern that Harry couldn’t quite follow. Then he stepped back, spreading his arms as if to show that he was unarmed. He twitched his fingers on his cane, subtly beckoning Harry closer.
After a long moment, the door creaked open, and Lucius leaned in to confer with whoever was concealed behind the door. After what looked to be a tense exchange, the door creaked open just wide enough to admit Lucius. Harry hurried to squeeze in first as Lucius pretended to stumble at the threshold.
Inside, the room was wreathed in shadow, the only light provided by dim lanterns along the edges of the room. Harry sidled closer to Lucius, not trusting the deep pools of shadow. Anything could be hiding in those shadows, waiting to jump out at them.
The small, hunched figure of the proprietor waved Lucius forward on a winding path through the tables and into the back room. Harry bumped his shin on one of the closely crowded tables and swore under his breath. The man halted, peering into the shadows as if he’d heard. Harry clamped his lips together on an intake of breath and willed himself silent. He did not want to reveal himself here.
Eventually satisfied that they were alone, the man started forward again, leading them quickly to a grimy wall hanging which he pushed aside, revealing a worm-eaten door leading into inky blackness. Harry shuddered.
They descended a flight of stairs into the darkness, Harry trying not to look too hard at where he was treading. The stairs looked as if they would fall apart in a light breeze.
The man left them in a tiny, stone-walled room with a lone table in the centre. Lucius sank into one of the splintery chairs as Harry studied the room, taking in the mould in the corners and the overabundance of cobwebs. It was almost enough to make him suspect that all the decay was for show.
A slight noise echoed down from above and Lucius raised a hand to his pocket, motioning Harry to get into position as Rita Skeeter, in her Animagus form, scuttled up his hand and out of sight under the edge of his collar. Harry quickly backed up to lean against the wall, checked that his shoes were hidden from view, and settled in to wait.
A heavy tread echoed down the stair, and then the heavily muscled figure of Merriweather came into view. He looked smug and haughty, and he grinned through his wiry red beard at Lucius as he pulled out the other chair and seated himself.
“Lucius Malfoy,” he said, drawing out the name. “So good of you to join me. Such a shame to hear about your Manor.”
His teeth gleamed white in the darkness, and Harry fumed silently. How was Lucius maintaining his calm mask?
“Now,” Merriweather said, leaning forward over the small table and folding his hands in front of him. “What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
“That man is vile,” Harry fumed, once he and Lucius had bade Rita Skeeter farewell and started back to Grimmauld Place. “How did he ever get to be in the Aurors anyway?”
Lucius smiled grimly. “The Ministry was desperate for Aurors in the years leading up to the Dark Lord’s return. A man like Merriweather knows just who to bribe and how to do it. He’ll be hard to pin down, you know.”
Harry nodded. “I know. Rita’s memory will help though, won’t it?”
Lucius sighed wearily, listing slightly to the side as he shifted his weight to lean more heavily on his cane. “Yes, it will help. But we’ll need more than that to put him away for good.”
“That’s the last of the cleaning,” Narcissa said several days later, wiping her brow and surveying Regulus’ room with a gleam of pride. “It’s a job well done, Harry.”
He smiled, wiping his hands on his rag and studying the room with her. “So what’s next, then?”
“Well,” she said, gathering up their cleaning supplies, “the next step is renovating and remodeling and will be a bit different. We can use magic, for one thing, since the House is familiar with you now. You also don’t necessarily have to be heavily involved, for the same reason. I won’t do anything without your permission, of course, but you don’t have to concern yourself with the details if you don’t want to.”
Harry nodded. “You have my permission to do whatever you like, of course. You really don’t need to come to me with everything.”
Narcissa smiled, looking surprised but pleased. “You trust my judgement?”
“For decorating? Absolutely. What I saw of the Manor was lovely, as Luna said. Er. Sorry for making such a mess of it.”
She brushed away his concern. “What’s done is done. Let’s concern ourselves with making this house shine. Come on — we can start with my sitting room and I’ll give you a better idea of what we’ll be dealing with.”
“Where’s that gurdyroot, Potter,” Malfoy asked, holding his left hand outstretched behind him while the right stirred the potion vigorously with a glass rod.
Harry wordlessly slapped the bowl of chopped gurdyroot onto Malfoy’s palm and watched as he slid it into the potion piece by piece. The potion’s colour gradually shifted from brown to orange, just as it was supposed to, and Harry allowed himself a small smile.
After a moment Malfoy stopped stirring and doused the flame with a wave of his wand, turning to smile at him. “Well, Potter,” he said, “that’s the third one that’s worked out perfectly. You might pass your N.E.W.T.s after all.”
“One more,” Harry said, flipping through the battered Potions book. “I’m still not confident we can get the Illusion-reversal potion to congeal properly.
Malfoy looked affronted. “Maybe you can’t get it to congeal properly, Potter. I assure you that I can.”
“Since we’re going to be working on it together, Malfoy, I suggest we practice. Unless you intend to take your N.E.W.T.s without my help. ”
Malfoy’s haughty expression fell. “Oh. Right. I suppose it couldn’t hurt to practice that one again…”
January drifted past in a blur of practicing Potions with Malfoy and long meetings with Lucius and Kingsley. Narcissa had taken Harry at his word and was overseeing most of the renovations to the house, though she occasionally asked his input on design. Sometimes she asked him to help with the trickier spells, but as she regained familiarity with her wand she needed him for that less and less.
Harry quickly discovered that Narcissa viewed the limitations placed on the spells she was allowed to use as a challenge, rather than a hindrance, and was constantly repurposing seemingly weak spells to do what she needed. He found the occasions when she did ask for his help a welcome break from Potions and political scheming. There was something about repainting the dark walls bright cheery colours that drove the lingering chill of winter from his bones.
February slipped past in much the same way, with the dreary chill and damp of winter holding steady outdoors, while inside Grimmauld Place, it grew warmer and cheerier by the day. Harry soon found himself wondering how he’d stood living there before Narcissa had come to work her magic.
When they needed a break from Potions, Harry and Malfoy spent long hours in the library poring over Sirius’ notebooks. Harry had at first been reluctant to share the precious notebooks with Malfoy, but was won over by Malfoy’s unrelenting curiosity. Now he found he enjoyed the time they spent testing Sirius’ inventions even more with Malfoy’s help recreating his experiments and debating how he might have resolved them when they failed.
Harry felt his eyelids droop with exhaustion and he stifled a yawn as he flipped through one of Sirius’ notebooks, the words blurring before his eyes. He and Malfoy were sprawled on the floor of the library, as usual. Harry had transfigured one of his socks into a plump cushion some time before, and now he lay on his stomach, pillow supporting his chest, his chin propped in his hands as he studied the notebook laid out in front of him. They’d been working for hours to replicate one of Sirius’ more complicated charms, and neither wanted to give up and admit defeat. Surely the two of them could manage anything Sirius had done, Harry thought blearily, even if Sirius had had the help of the other Marauders. He felt his eyes drifting shut, but startled awake when a weight landed on on his back.
“Oof,” he said. “Malfoy, what are you doing?”
“You make a decent pillow, surprisingly enough,” Malfoy returned.
Harry opened his mouth to complain, then closed it again with a shrug. The unfamiliar pressure wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it wasn’t exactly uncomfortable either. He wriggled a bit, settling Malfoy’s head a little lower, so it wasn’t digging into his rib, and then went back to reading.
“Hey, Malfoy,” Harry said a few days later, as they sprawled next to one another on the library floor flicking through the notebooks, “have you tried that extra-strength tickling spell Sirius was working on?”
Malfoy lifted his head from where it was pillowed on Harry’s stretched out calves to look at him.The levitating quill he’d been attempting to direct into writing things in the air fell silently to the floor. “My wand has thus far refused to let me cast any extra-strength spell, Potter. Why should this one be any different? Besides, who would I practice on?”
“Me?” Harry shrugged. “I don’t mind. It’s not like it’s going to hurt.” He paused, reconsidering. “Much. Anyway you can stop it before it really starts to hurt.”
Malfoy chewed his lip thoughtfully. “If you’re sure…” he said doubtfully. He raised his wand, as he flipped to the page with Sirius’ notes on the spell, and slowly arced his wand as he muttered the incantation.
The result was instantaneous. Harry gasped, convulsing on the floor as tears leaked out of his scrunched eyes. “Stop,” he pleaded breathlessly. “Malfoy— ”
Malfoy quickly halted the spell, staring at Harry. “It worked,” he said in awe. “I didn’t think it would, but it worked.”
Harry wiped his eyes and drew in a deep breath. “Well,” he said, once he’d caught his breath, “at least there’s one spell you can use to defend yourself if need be. You should teach it to your parents.”
He knew Malfoy and Narcissa couldn’t leave the house, and were therefore unlikely to need to defend themselves, but Lucius went where Harry did. He would feel much better knowing Lucius wasn’t completely helpless if they were attacked by those damned vigilantes again. And after what had happened to the Manor, he didn’t entirely trust the wards to keep them safe.
He and Malfoy spent the rest of the afternoon combing the notebooks with a renewed interest, looking for any other spells the wands might not register as dangerous.
Drawn, perhaps, by their raised voices as they experimented, Narcissa poked her head into the library where they were working some time later.
“I don’t want to disturb you boys from whatever you’re up to,” she said, “but I just wanted to say that your father and I have talked about it, Draco, and we just wanted you to know that we approve of your relationship. Harry has the potential to be a wonderful partner.”
“What?” Harry asked, staring at her and then down at Malfoy, whose head was now pillowed on his thigh, in confusion. “What are you talking ab— ” he started, then his eyes widened. “Oh. Oh. No! We aren’t— I mean — we can’t be in a relationship. We don’t even like each other. And, anyway Draco’s not gay.”
There was silence for a moment, as they all let that sink in, and then Malfoy sat up, bristling, hands on his hips.
“Excuse me? Did you fail to notice in all your stalking that I was a gay icon at Hogwarts?”
Harry blinked, thinking he must have heard wrong. “I’m sorry. What?”
“You, on the other hand,” Malfoy continued, pointing an accusatory finger at him, “were with the She-Weasel.”
“And you were with Pansy!” Harry exclaimed, still reeling.
Malfoy snorted. “I might be gay, but Pansy's as queer as they come. Surely you noticed that.”
Harry felt like the ground had been yanked out from under him. He gaped as his mind flashed back to the photo in the Prophet, the one of Ginny standing protectively in front of Pansy. Standing very close to her. It suddenly took on an entirely new meaning.
“But just because we’re both gay,” Malfoy went on, turning to his mother “doesn’t mean we’re in a relationship. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, finding his voice and grasping for this bit of sense in the confusion surrounding him. “I mean, we hate each other.”
“Speak for yourself, Potter,” Malfoy said, flapping a hand at him as if to quiet him.
Harry frowned at him, forgetting that Narcissa was watching. “Wait. You don’t hate me?”
“Of course not, you dolt.” Malfoy rolled his eyes. Then he paused, looking strangely vulnerable. “Do you hate me?” he asked quietly.
Harry felt the weight of that question, of their shared past, and surprised himself with how quickly the answer came to him. “No!” he said firmly. Then, more quietly, “No. Not for a long time.”
Narcissa cleared her throat, drawing their attention back to her. “So, you are in a relationship?”
Malfoy opened his mouth to answer, then paused, waiting for Harry, who felt very much put on the spot.
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” He scrubbed his hands through his hair, tempted to grab a handful and pull it out by the roots.
Narcissa drew his attention back to her with a light laugh; her smile was warm. “Well, do let us know when you figure it out. But I wanted you both to know that we approve.”
Harry felt himself colouring and stared down at his toes, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt as she walked away.
“Merlin,” Malfoy said, after they’d sat in an embarrassed silence for several minutes. “That was…”
Harry snorted. “Yeah.” He laughed awkwardly, climbing to his feet. “I’m just gonna…” he said, not knowing at all what he was going to do, except maybe to run far away.
“Yeah,” Malfoy said, still not looking at him as he stood as well. “Yeah, me too.” He paused. Harry started toward the door. “Hey Potter?” Malfoy called after him.
“Yeah,” he said, stopping against his will.
“Are you really gay?”
“Yes?” he said, kicking himself when it came out more of a question. “I’m pretty sure. Well, bi, maybe. Um. I think it took me a long time to realise it.”
“I always knew you were an oblivious idiot,” Malfoy said. He sounded almost fond.
Harry felt himself flushing crimson. His ears grew hot; he wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d been steaming. “I. Er. Yeah,” he managed. He ducked his head lower and hurried from the room, his emotions in a turmoil. He just needed to get away. Away from Malfoy, with his sharp edges and sudden smiles. Away from a door he hadn’t realised was there. He knew that if he opened it, there was no going back, and he wasn’t sure what he wanted. He hadn’t known there was anything to want.
He collapsed into bed and pulled his pillow over his head, trying to shut out the swirling emotions that he really didn’t want to examine more closely.
The next day he found himself avoiding Malfoy. He’d feigned a headache the night before, to get out of dinner, and felt only mildly guilty about it. Narcissa’s sudden pronouncement had shaken him up enough to deserve it, in his mind. But what was he going to do about Malfoy?
The question seemed vast. Unapproachable. Malfoy suddenly loomed larger than life and Harry didn’t know what to do. Malfoy had always been that way, he supposed: larger than life and taking up more of Harry’s energy and focus than anyone else around him. But a relationship? With Malfoy? Did he… did he fancy Malfoy?
He didn’t really want to know the answer.
But he was sharing a house with Malfoy. It wasn’t like he could avoid him forever.
He couldn’t even avoid him for an entire day, it turned out. Guilt chased him out of his room to help Narcissa with dinner, and Malfoy was there, sitting at the table and being generally irresistible. Harry carefully avoided looking at him all through dinner, but the awareness of him burned at the edge of his consciousness.
He hurried from the room as soon as the meal was finished, hoping to make it back to his room before Malfoy caught him, but he knew it was futile when he heard the clumping of Malfoy’s cane on the stairs.
“Potter — wait!” he puffed, laboring up the rest of the stairs and coming to a stop beside Harry in the front hall.
Harry glanced at him out of the side of his eye, trying not to look at him full-on. He looked unsure of himself, and he had a very peculiar expression on his face. It wasn’t one Harry was used to seeing there, and he turned to look at him without realising it as he tried to figure out what it meant.
“I don’t want anything to change between us,” Malfoy said, not looking at him. Harry frowned, but before he could ask, Malfoy continued. “I can’t believe my mother said that to you — to us. She could at least have waited until I was alone.” He huffed in annoyance. “But I wanted you to know that it doesn’t change anything. We can still work on Potions, still try your godfather’s experiments… nothing has to change.”
Harry found his focus dropping to Malfoy’s lips, watching them as they moved, forming the words that slipped past his ears without registering. Malfoy had very nice lips, he was surprised to find. Not chapped at all, like his perpetually were.
“Potter,” Malfoy said, exasperated, and Harry looked up.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “I said…” he trailed off, staring into Harry’s eyes. Harry wondered briefly what it was that he saw there.
Malfoy’s eyes were even more interesting than his lips. They were wide open, pools of grey with flecks of blue in them. Harry stared, mesmerised. Vaguely he was aware of his centre of gravity shifting, of his body leaning ever so slightly closer to Malfoy’s.
Malfoy’s eyes widened even further and he licked his lips. Harry’s attention was drawn to the movement of his tongue, poking out between his lips. It was fascinating, really. He felt the urge to touch those lips, glistening from where Malfoy’s tongue had wet them.
He felt himself licking his own lips, hardly knowing what he was doing, as he drifted imperceptibly closer, the golden moment of possibility stretching between them, and—
The front door banged open behind him and a cold smoke-scented breeze swirled around him.
Hermione’s shout echoed off the walls of the front hall, startling Harry out of his daze. He jumped back, and Malfoy did as well, lounging against the doorway to Narcissa’s sitting room in an attempt to recover his poise. Lucius and Narcissa came running up the stairs from where they’d been loitering in the kitchen.
Hermione dropped into a fighting stance, planting her feet, her wand appearing magically in her hand. Harry hadn’t seen her draw it from her holster.
Ron gaped open-mouthed next to her, hand scrabbling for his wand.
“Harry! They have wands!” Hermione shouted, pointing her wand at Narcissa’s head. Ron was only a second behind her; he pointed his at Lucius.
Harry stepped quickly in front of them, waving his arms. “Hermione! Ron! Stop!” he said hastily. “I know they have wands. I gave them to them.”
Ron kept his wand trained on Lucius. “They’ve got him imperiused,” he muttered out of the side of his mouth to Hermione.
Harry threw up his hands. “Ron. I am not imperiused. I can break Imperius, remember? It doesn’t work on me.”
Ron frowned dubiously, clearly unconvinced. “Yeah, but that’s just what you’d say if you were imperiused,” he said slowly.
Harry rolled his eyes. “How am I supposed to convince you if you don’t believe a word I say?” he asked, exasperated.
Ron frowned, but before he could answer, Lucius spoke.
“We could put our wands away, if that would help. Or give them to you, if you prefer.” He turned his wand so the tip pointed at himself and held it out toward Harry.
Ron and Hermione’s wands were still trained unwaveringly on the Malfoys, ready to send curses flying, but Lucius and Narcissa looked as if they were struggling to appear calm and nonthreatening. They had their wands in hand, looking as if perhaps they’d drawn them on instinct, but they weren’t raised threateningly. Narcissa’s wand was held loosely at her side, pointed at the ground. Lucius still held his out to Harry
Malfoy’s mouth was twisted into an ugly sneer as he leaned insolently against the doorframe, his cane hastily shoved behind him. Harry could just see the edge of it poking around the corner. He was using one hand to prop himself against the doorframe, Harry saw, noting the strain on the arm muscles he was fighting to hide. His other hand was clenched in a fist at his side. He hadn’t drawn his wand.
“You alright, mate?” Ron asked dubiously, glancing at him without lowering his wand. “They haven’t hurt you?”
“I’m fine,” he said, holding his hands out to his sides. “See? All in one piece.”
Ron grunted doubtfully. “What are they doing here, then.”
Harry sighed and rubbed his forehead. “They needed someplace to stay. I had a place available. Look, it’s a long story. Can we at least sit down while we talk about it?”
Ron didn’t move. “What about when we came in just now? Malfoy looked like he was about to attack you.”
Harry’s stomach flipped uncomfortably, but he shoved the reaction away. “That was nothing,” he said, trying for a smile and failing to find one. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Malfoy stiffen.
“Granger. Weasel. So nice to see you,” Malfoy said, voice dripping scorn. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve developed a sudden headache and need to lie down.” He pivoted and started up the stairs, expression stony. He clutched his cane against his side, trying to hide it from their view.
Harry moved to go after him, but Hermione stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Harry,” she said quietly, “Why didn’t you tell us they were here?”
He could feel that golden moment of potential that had existed mere moments before snapping irrevocably, and he whirled on her in frustration, raking his hands through his hair and tugging hard on the strands.
“Because I couldn’t think of a way to tell you that wouldn’t have you rushing back to tell me what an idiot I was,” he said, trying (and failing) to force himself to stay calm.
“How would you have phrased it? ‘I ran into an old schoolmate the other day, as he was being attacked by masked thugs, found out his house had been burned to the ground and he was going to die without being tied to a new one. I know he was a prat in school but I couldn’t stand around and watch him die when I could easily help.’ Would that have convinced you?”
Hermione frowned but didn’t answer. After a moment she said, “I think you need to start at the beginning.”
Harry sighed heavily as the adrenaline left him in a rush, leaving him feeling several stone heavier. “Can we at least sit down first?”
Hermione shook her head. “I don’t trust them.”
“You don’t have to trust them,” Harry said, striving for calm, “but I do. So the question is: do you trust me?”
They were quiet for a long moment. Then Hermione said softly, “They did so many terrible things in the war, Harry. How can you forgive them? How can you stand to live with them?”
He shrugged helplessly. “I did some pretty terrible things too — we all did. It was war, Hermione. But they’re not like that. Or, that’s not all they are. They’re bound to the house, now. Just… Give them a chance. Please?”
“Harry…” Hermione began, lowering her wand and raking her fingers through her thick curls. She paused, biting her lip as she studied him.
Harry noticed that her hair had been bleached lighter by the sun as she twisted it into a tight bun and absently secured it with her wand. Stray curls immediately sprang free around her sun-darkened face and she smoothed them back with sharp, irritated motions. She huffed in frustration as they sprang free again and chewed more intently on her lip, eyes moving from Harry to the Malfoys and back again.
It was clear to Harry that she had more she wanted to say but was holding back, and he loved her for it, even as he felt his annoyance at her reluctance to trust him grow. No. Not reluctance to trust him. He knew she trusted him. Their year on the run had taught him that. It was the Malfoys she didn’t trust.
He understood her reluctance. He’d had time to get to know the Malfoys. Now Hermione needed time to know them. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t hurry her. He was reasonably confident she’d come around eventually. Ron, though…
Ron had more to overcome. On top of his experience of Malfoy during their years at school was Ginny’s experience with the diary as well as the Weasleys’ long-standing feud with the Malfoys.
Harry hoped Ron would eventually come around, but he wasn’t sure he would. Sharing a house with him and the Malfoys was going to be… interesting, he thought, suppressing a sigh.
“We’ll try,” Hermione said finally, cutting into his train of thought. “Won’t we,” she added firmly, giving Ron what Harry and Ginny had privately dubbed “the look.” It was uncomfortably similar to the one Molly Weasley used on her children and it had a similar effect on Ron.
Ron dragged the toe of his trainer across the floor, lips pursed and eyebrows furrowed obstinately, but another fierce look from Hermione cowed him. He dropped his shoulders in defeat, lowering his wand as he looked up to meet Harry’s gaze.
“Yeah, mate,” he said slowly, as if the words were being dragged out of him. “We’ll try. For you. But if Malfoy tries anything…” he added darkly.
Hermione looked troubled, but nodded. “We trust you, Harry.”
Harry’s shoulders sagged in relief as some of the tension bled out of him. “Thanks,” he said, slapping Ron on the back and offering Hermione a smile. “They’re not so bad now. You’ll see.”
“Hmm,” Hermione replied, lips pursed and expression dubious.
Ron nodded stonily, but didn’t say anything.
Harry thought it was probably as much as he could hope for. “C’mon,” he said, turning toward the stairs and nodding to Lucius and Narcissa. They offered him faint smiles as they moved to enter Narcissa’s sitting room. “Let’s get you settled and then see about getting you some dinner. I’m pretty sure there’s some left over. I’ll answer all your questions then.”
Ron perked up at the mention of food, as Harry had known he would. He hoped Ron’s love of food would win out over his horror at learning that Narcissa Malfoy had helped cook his dinner.
Chapter 15: Draco POV
Draco held his regal posture until he was out of sight, then he sped up, stumbling up the stairs, cane clutched uselessly at his side, his vision blurred with tears he refused to shed. Now Harry’s friends were back and what Draco had thought was friendship-maybe-more was reduced once more to “nothing” in his mind. So much for what Harry’d said about hating him. Or maybe he really didn’t hate him anymore. Maybe meaning nothing to Harry was worse than being hated by him. It wasn’t nothing to Draco.
He passed his room almost without realising it, feeling the pulsing pull of the false Remembrall in his mind. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, forgetting. Maybe without his memories he could start over, could live within his limits because he didn’t know anything else. He wouldn’t remember the things he’d once done that he could do no longer.
Once he reached the attic, he stumbled to the far corner and stared down at the heavy wooden chest, watching his hand reach out again as if it belonged to someone else. It would be so easy. All he had to do was lift the lid, reach inside…
In the end he couldn’t do it. His memories of Potter, of the past several weeks of growing closer to him, were too precious; he couldn’t give them up. He collapsed in a heap beside the chest, fingers splayed helplessly on the floor. He wanted to cry, to release some of the pent up emotions thundering through him, but his eyes remained stubbornly dry. It felt like a storm was raging inside him, threatening to rip him apart. The storm passed as quickly as it had come on, leaving him feeling wrung out and numb. He didn’t have the energy to move as he felt sleep rushing up to claim him.
In the end, Hermione and Ron had been so jet-lagged that they’d opted to skip eating and go straight to bed, even though it was still only the afternoon. Harry had known that Ron must be truly exhausted to pass up food, and had agreed without protest. But it left him at loose ends. Narcissa and Lucius both seemed busy and Malfoy was nowhere to be found. Harry wondered where he was. He stood outside Malfoy’s door for several moments, debating knocking. When he finally did, he waited several long minutes before finally turning back to the stairs, dragging his feet in disappointment. With nothing else to do, he went to bed early, hoping that the next day would be better.
The next day he woke early, hopping out of bed with more enthusiasm than usual. Ron and Hermione were finally home! He couldn’t wait to tell them everything. Well, maybe not everything. He thought of Malfoy, of their tentative friendship-maybe-more, and bit his lip. He couldn’t tell them. Not yet. Not until they’d had a chance to get to know him.
Still, he thought, hopping on one foot as he pulled on his jeans, there was plenty he could tell them. It would be such a relief to get some of it out in the open.
He discovered, once he reached the kitchen, that he was the first one up. He shrugged, trying to bury his disappointment, and began preparing breakfast. At first he thought he would make pancakes, but then he remembered seeing a waffle iron in the back of one of the cupboards while digging for a muffin tin. He unearthed it with a grin, deciding that waffles were just the thing to make the morning extra-special.
He hummed as he mixed the batter and poured it into the iron, butchering one of Molly Weasley’s favourite Celestina Warbeck songs. He turned with a grin when he heard footsteps behind him, but his smile faltered when he found it was only Narcissa and not Ron or Hermione. He quickly pasted the smile back on and continued making breakfast, directing her to the cutting board and the fruit he’d laid out for toppings.
Lucius joined them after a while, and Harry urged him and Narcissa to go ahead and eat. He would wait for Hermione and Ron, he decided. It seemed the good host thing to do.
After twenty minutes of sitting in silence at the table, eyeing the platters of strawberries and blueberries and fluffy waffles hungrily, he realised that they wouldn’t be down anytime soon and decided he may as well eat.
Twenty minutes of sitting in silence once he’d finished eating, and he gave up the idea of breakfasting with them. They were clearly jet-lagged, so he didn’t really begrudge them the extra sleep, but he was impatient to hear about Australia and tell them about how he’d been cleaning the Manor with Narcissa and rooting out corruption in the Ministry with Lucius. If Hermione pressed him for details of how he’d been studying, he’d tell her about his Potions experiments with Malfoy, he decided, but otherwise he’d keep them to himself. There was something delicious about the thought of keeping such a secret from his best friends.
Harry put the remaining waffles under a warming charm and headed up the stairs in search of Malfoy. If he couldn’t spend the morning chatting with Ron and Hermione, he’d spend it working on Potions with Malfoy.
But Malfoy didn’t seem to be anywhere. Harry searched everywhere he could think of, even braving his wrath by searching his room. It was as if Malfoy had disappeared into thin air. Harry couldn’t understand where he’d gone. More importantly, he couldn’t understand why he’d gone. He still wasn’t sure what he’d done wrong the night before that had sent Malfoy off in such a snit. Really though, he thought in annoyance, how was he supposed to correct whatever it was if Malfoy just up and vanished?
Eventually Harry gave up searching and went to work on one of the potions he’d been having trouble with, hoping Malfoy would find him. It was past lunchtime, and Harry’s stomach was growling insistently, when he realised that he wasn’t going to.
He heard an unfamiliar tread on the stairs — too heavy to be Narcissa, too fast to be Lucius or Malfoy — with another close behind, and hurriedly put the troublesome potion under a stasis charm and went into the kitchen, closing the potions lab door behind himself. He wasn’t ready to give that particular secret up just yet.
“Is that… do I smell waffles?” Ron asked, making a beeline for the table and promptly stuffing half a waffle into his mouth. Harry felt a wave of nostalgia for hurried breakfasts at Hogwarts as Ron spoke around his mouthful of waffle. “Thethe a fantathtic!”
Hermione swatted at him fondly as she reached for her own waffle. She sighed after the first bite, closing her eyes as she sagged into a chair. “Harry did you make these?” she asked, opening her eyes in amazement. “Ron’s right — they really are fantastic. Your cooking has really improved this summer.”
He nodded, flushing faintly at the praise. “Or you’re just so hungry you’d eat anything.”
“Isn’t that the truth,” Ron said, grabbing another waffle with one hand as he downed a glass of milk with the other. “I could eat the whole house!”
Harry reached out and patted the wall fondly. “He doesn’t mean it,” he said quietly.
Hermione eyed him strangely. “Um… Harry… did you just talk to the wall?”
“Er. Yes?” Harry said. He’d forgotten that they didn’t know about his work to bring the house back to life, or the habit he’d picked up from Narcissa of talking to it and patting it fondly. He added it to the list of things he had to tell them. It was getting awfully long.
“Leave the man alone,” Ron said around another mouthful of waffle. “He’s made us food; we can forgive a few quirks.”
Hermione sighed but nodded. “All right,” she said uncertainly. “But, Harry, I wanted to ask you—”
“Not now, ‘Mione!” Ron exclaimed, looking hurt. “You promised, remember? No questions until after we eat.”
Hermione sighed. “Fine.” She tore the waffle she was eating into a dozen tiny pieces, arranging them into a neat mound. She caught Harry watching and made a wry face. “I have Questions, Harry,” she said, levelling her fork at him. “And whenever Ron gets through stuffing his face, I want answers.”
Harry nodded. “We can go to the library when you’re done. There shouldn’t be anyone in there, and you can ask me all the questions you like. If you’re awake enough, that is.”
Ron rolled his eyes as he took another bite. “We’ve been up for hours. I was about to pass out from lack of food.”
Hermione sniffed. “You were not.”
“Wait,” Harry said, “What do you mean you’ve been up for hours? I thought you were still asleep.” He couldn’t keep the accusatory tone out of his voice.
Hermione flushed and Ron scratched his ear, looking sheepish. “We, uh, lost track of time,” he said. Then he stuffed half a waffle into his mouth, presumably to avoid answering any questions.
Harry frowned, puzzled, then felt his face heat as realisation dawned. “Oh. Oh.” he said. “Well, as I was saying we can, er, go to the library when you’ve finished eating.”
When Ron had finally decided he’d had enough to eat, Harry led them back up the stairs toward the library. Hermione stopped in the entrance hall, staring around and frowning.
“Harry,” she said slowly, turning in a complete circle as she surveyed the front hall with critical eyes, “where’s Walburga’s portrait?”
Ron shook his head as he stared down the new hallway. “Forget Walburga. Where’s the wall?”
Harry opened his mouth, then closed it again. “Narcissa knocked it down” he offered, after a moment. “We moved the section with Walburga’s portrait into the attic. She’s much happier there.”
Hermione stared at him. “Oh. Well, that’s good then, I suppose.”
Ron just shook his head again and followed Harry toward the library.
“Now, Harry,” Hermione said, as she transfigured a set of uncomfortable-looking chairs into big fluffy cushions and arranged them into a circle on the rug, “I want to know everything.” She plopped down on one of the cushions, sinking into it with a happy sigh, and then turned a stern gaze on him. Ron belly-flopped onto his own cushion, grunting appreciatively.
Harry sprawled across the last cushion, trying to put his thoughts in order. Did he really want to tell them everything, he wondered? Most of it, yes. But some things — namely, what he had dubbed ‘the Malfoy problem’ — he wasn’t sure he was ready to share.
He cleared his throat, deciding to stall for time. “All right. But why don’t you tell me about Australia first?”
Hermione considered this, then nodded. “It was exhausting,” she admitted. “There were days where everything went perfectly as planned, but there were so many days where I’d wake up to find my parents had forgotten all about me, and we’d have to start over. I was working with the trauma ward of the local hospital there, and they arranged for me to work with one of the memory experts at St. Mungos.” She sighed, snuggling into her cushion and propping her head on her folded hands. “That’s pretty much all there was to it. I was working to help them remember me nearly every day. Like I said — exhausting.”
“Ron?” Harry asked, looking over at his friend. Ron was fidgeting on his cushion, and Harry knew if he didn’t get a chance to speak soon he’d butt into the conversation, annoying Hermione. He wanted to avoid that — everything went better if Hermione wasn’t annoyed.
Ron lit up. “It was great,” he gushed. He darted a sideways look at Hermione’s frown. “I mean. The memory loss was bad. And ‘Mione was pretty busy. But we quickly found out I was worse than useless, so I spent my days exploring. The beaches are great. I learned to surf. Well, sort of. And the girls…” He cleared his throat.
“The wildlife was cool too. There were all sorts of weird birds and animals.” He leaned closer to Harry, lowering his voice. “I even heard about this one called the drop bear that—”
Hermione snorted. “That’s not real Ronald,” she said, giggling. Whoever told you that was playing a joke on you.
“Oh.” Ron frowned. “Well, anyway. It was loads of fun.”
“I’m glad one of us had fun,” Hermione said, looking a bit put out. Harry decided he’d better steer the conversation in another direction.
“So, where would you like me to start?” he asked.
“I think the part where you invited the Malfoys into your home would probably be a good place to start,” Ron said. “I mean, you must have had a good reason.”
“I did,” Harry said.
Ron didn’t look convinced.
“Maybe the part where you first encountered the Malfoys,” Hermione suggested. “Just so we don’t miss anything.”
Harry considered this, then nodded. “Well, Ginny was dragging me to one of Luna’s Tuesday Brunches….”
When he got to the part where Kingsley had been forced to modify the house bond, Hermione paled. “That wasn’t supposed to be permanent,” she whispered. Her eyes were wide with horror and guilt. “They told me it was a temporary solution. They had something else in the works but just needed more time…” Her voice trailed off and her eyes narrowed. “They lied,” she said flatly.
Harry nodded. From what Lucius had told him, and Kingsley had corroborated, the Wizengamot had never intended to modify the house arrest. The Malfoys and other convicted Death Eaters were supposed to remain in their homes forever. Or, as Harry now suspected, until they’d been picked off by the Auror-sanctioned vigilantes responsible for the vengeance killings.
Ron looked stricken when Harry voiced his thoughts. “Surely not the Aurors…” he began, but he trailed off when Harry shook his head. “Merriweather, at the very least, has been involved. Lucius, Kingsley, and I are working on a way to trap him, but…” He shrugged and then filled them in on the status of the case he, Lucius, and Kingsley were building against Merriweather.
“But Harry,” Hermione exclaimed, expression troubled, “how can you trust Lucius’ word over that of a Ministry official?”
Harry felt his lip curl as he thought of Merriweather. “It’s not just his word, ‘Mione. I was there too.”
“You what? Harry that was a terrible risk! You had no idea what you were going into! And what if—”
“Hermione,” he said firmly. “I did know. I was under the cloak and I had Lucius there as backup.” He felt his brow furrowing as he tried to decide if he could claim Rita Skeeter as any sort of backup and quickly decided the easiest thing was not to mention her at all.
“Kingsley sanctioned it, remember,” he said, trying to soothe her ruffled feathers. Then he switched tactics, aiming to distract her. “Anyway, it was worth the risk. Merriweather is vile and has no business in any sort of power. I can show you,” he added, smiling to himself as he saw the moment her curiosity won out. “I know there’s a Pensieve around here somewhere.”
He looked around, wondering if that was something that would be kept in the library. He still didn’t have a very good grasp of what should go where in a Wizarding house.
Ron jumped to his feet. “We could try the study,” he suggested. “That’s where I’d keep it, if I had one.”
Hermione nodded. “You’re probably right, Ron,” she said.
Ron trailed slightly behind Harry and Hermione, expression troubled. Harry felt a little guilty for rubbing some of the shine from the Aurors before Ron even applied, but maybe it would be good for Ron to see it. That way he’d know what he’d be up against. What Harry and Lucius and Kingsley — and Malfoy, if he ever forgave Harry — were up against.
They found Lucius in the study, as Harry had known they would. Secretly he’d been counting on it, because if anyone knew where a Pensieve would be kept, it would be Lucius.
“Do you know if there’s a Pensieve around here?” he asked.
Lucius nodded, gesturing to a chest of drawers to one side that Harry hadn’t noticed before.
Ron carefully pulled out the Pensieve and set it on the desk.
“Do you mind if we view a memory in here?” Harry asked Lucius. “We won’t be long.”
“Go right ahead,” Lucius said, stepping away from the desk and leaning against the wall.
Harry held his wand to his head, concentrating as he drew out the silvery strand of memory. He directed it into the bowl of the Pensieve, marvelling as the strand rippled and expanded into a silver pool that stretched across the surface of the bowl. With a nod to Hermione and Ron, who were viewing the memory with him, he dipped his face into the silvery pool, shuddering as the cool liquid touched his skin.
They emerged into the small, cramped room that stunk of rot. They were beneath the grimy pub on Knockturn Alley, secure in a basement room. He could hear a faint dripping sound off to his left, and the walls were streaked with slime.
He could see Lucius seated across from Merriweather at a small table, his cane propped against the side of his chair. Harry had positioned himself so that he could see both of them, close enough to hear the conversation but far enough that he could shift position without worrying that Merriweather would overhear.
Merriweather was gloating over the loss of the Manor. It was clear he’d had a hand in it; he wasn’t bothering to hide his involvement. He probably didn’t think it mattered if Lucius knew, since no one would believe his word over that of an Auror. Harry felt his lip curl in disgust.
Lucius endured the man’s taunting stoically, allowing him a moment to gloat. Then he turned the conversation, pretending he was concerned that some of his actions during the war might come to light, feigning anxiety at the thought that Merriweather might turn him over to the Aurors. Merriweather continued to gloat, relishing the power he held.
“What about the children,” Lucius asked suddenly, and Harry was as confused as he’d been at the time. What children could Lucius possibly be talking about?
Merriweather laughed harshly. “I don’t know what you were planning to do with them, but don’t worry. I intercepted them and had them taken care of.”
Harry watched Lucius’ face carefully, and noticed a flicker of … something in his eyes as Merriweather spoke. In an instant the Malfoy mask slammed back into place, wiping all trace of emotion from his face. Lucius nodded and the conversation moved on.
The moment Hermione surfaced from the Pensieve she turned to Harry, her eyes were flashing dangerously. “I’ll kill him,” she snarled, lips curled in disgust. “No one should be able to do what he’s done and get away with it.”
Harry took an involuntary step back.
“That won’t be necessary,” Lucius drawled from behind him, “though it’s a commendable reaction. Merriweather will pay. Death, however, is far too good for him.”
Hermione pressed her lips into a thin line and crossed her arms, but after a moment she nodded. “You’re right, of course,” she said. “And he will definitely pay. I’ll make sure of it.”
Harry had no doubt that she would. She had contacts with the Wizengamot, after her brief stint helping them.
He suddenly remembered that curious moment, when Lucius had asked about the children, and turned to him.
“What children were you talking about back there? With Merriweather?”
Lucius’s eyes sparked again. This time, Harry recognised it: pain. Lucius drew a deep breath, as if to steady himself. “The Death Eaters searched out and killed a number of Muggle and Muggle-born families as the Dark Lord was gathering power. With Narcissa’s help, I smuggled out as many of the children as I could manage, intending to send them away where they would be safe.” He sighed deeply. “It would appear that my efforts were in vain.”
Hermione growled, clenching her wand tightly in her fist. “He will pay,” she said fiercely. “It will take time, because we’ll have to build a case that he can’t slither his way out of, but I’ll make sure he pays.”
Harry was suddenly very glad she was on his side.
“Harry,” Hermione said later that day, as they finished lunch. “Ron and I were thinking we could go to Hogsmeade tonight and meet up with some of our friends. Would you like to join us?”
“I can’t,” he said reluctantly. “I can’t go anywhere without Lucius.”
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said exasperatedly once he’d finished explaining his bond to Lucius, which he’d left out of the explanation that morning.
Ron just shook his head.
Hermione bit her lip, considering. “We really do need to go, though,” she said. “I’ve got a theory about why my parents’ memory loss is so stubborn that I need to discuss with Professor McGonagall and Madame Pomfrey.”
“Yeah,” Ron said, “and I promised Seamus I’d tell him all about the beaches.”
“Well, there’s no reason you can’t go,” Harry said. “I don’t mind staying here.”
He felt a twinge of jealousy, but he tamped it down. He’d be fine. They’d only be gone a few hours.
“Are you sure?” Hermione asked. She gazed at him worriedly. “You seem a bit off, Harry. Are you sure you’re ok?”
“I’m fine, Hermione,” he said, exasperated. “Go. Enjoy your evening.”
Reluctantly, she nodded. “Thank Merlin you got the Floo fixed,” she remarked. “I’ll just go firecall McGonagall and set up a meeting.”
They left soon after she got back, and Harry found himself once again at loose ends with no sign of Malfoy.
He was surprised how much that thought bothered him. He’d grown used to Malfoy just being there, and the house felt too large and too empty without him.
He wandered into the study to see if Lucius needed help with anything — maybe he’d got some more paperwork from Kingsley while Harry had been talking to Ron and Hermione — but he appeared to have dozed off while reading a book. Harry backed out quickly when he heard the quiet snores, trying not to disturb him.
He wandered around, picking things up and putting them down again and feeling generally useless. Finally, he wandered into Narcissa’s sitting room.
She smiled sympathetically, but shook her head when he tentatively asked if she knew where Malfoy was. “We can work on the Master bedroom if you like,” she offered. “It still needs a lot of work, after housing that hippogriff. Especially if you want to eventually move in there.
Harry, with nothing better to do, shrugged and agreed. But he had trouble concentrating as they redecorated, which resulted in some very odd decorating choices that had to be redone — checkered curtains don’t look good anywhere, especially in that shade of green and against paisley-print wallpaper. He just couldn’t stop wondering where Malfoy could be.
He knew Malfoy hadn’t left the property, as he wasn’t permitted to go beyond the wards, but Harry hadn’t thought there were that many places to hide in the house. And why was Malfoy hiding anyway?
By the next day he was starting to worry. Was Malfoy eating? He’d just put on some weight so he was no longer unhealthily skinny, but he didn’t have a lot to lose.
Harry couldn’t move forward with the potion he’d been working on because he needed to ask Malfoy a question about it. He started another and ran into the same problem. He couldn’t start another, though, because both their cauldrons were in use.
He considered going to Hermione — she’d probably know immediately what he was doing wrong — but he couldn’t bring himself to reveal the potions lab. It was their secret, his and Malfoy’s, and he didn’t want to share it. Not even with his best friends.
When Malfoy did finally reappear, he ignored Harry so thoroughly Harry began to worry he’d become invisible. He tried over and over to draw Malfoy out, but he would have nothing to do with him.
Whenever Harry entered the room, Malfoy found an excuse to leave. He didn’t eat with the rest of them. Harry never managed to catch him alone, no matter how he dawdled after meals or went to the kitchen at odd times for a glass of water. It was infuriating.
Narcissa watched sadly but didn’t interfere. Harry was glad of that, and even though he would have welcomed her assistance, he knew she couldn’t choose sides.
He felt bereft at the loss of the pleasant warmth he’d taken for granted, the simple pleasure of Malfoy’s company. Not even the familiar presence of Ron and Hermione could ease the chill Harry felt.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione were sitting on the floor of the library a few weeks later, surrounded by books and parchment. Hermione was making the three of them study schedules. Ron was staring morosely into the distance over her shoulder, pretending to listen as Hermione rattled off the things they “needed to know” for their N.E.W.T.s.
Harry was enjoying the pleasant familiarity of the three of them in roles they’d occupied a million times before. He wasn’t really taking in any of the facts Hermione was spouting, but he liked listening to the rise and fall of her voice as it washed over him. He felt himself settling into a daze, surrounded by a warm golden haze. These were his best friends, who had stood by him through everything. His family.
Only, now that word brought to mind three more faces. The Malfoys were his family now, too.
He lost track of the thread of Hermione’s argument entirely as the realisation clobbered him.
Narcissa was family. Lucius was family. Against all odds, even Malfoy was family.
Before the thought had a chance to really sink in, Narcissa peered around the doorframe, interrupting his thoughts.
“Harry,” Narcissa said apologetically, poking her head into the library where Hermione had them all surrounded with books, “I apologise for interrupting, but my wand is having trouble with Scourgify today. It’s not powerful enough for what I need. Would you be willing to help me?”
Harry moved to stand up, reaching hastily to grab the stack of parchment cascading down beside him that he’d knocked with his knee.
“Ron is good at cleaning charms,” Hermione said absently, scratching the side of her nose with the tip of her quill.
Ron jumped to his feet while Harry was still trying to figure out how to extricate himself. “I am,” he said enthusiastically. “Mum even invented her own variation on Scourgify. I could show you, if you want.”
“That would be lovely Mr. Weasley, thank you,” Narcissa said warmly.
Ron followed her from the room, looking relieved to have got out of studying for the moment.
Hermione scowled after him, muttering “I didn’t mean he should go now.” Then she turned back to Harry, rolling her eyes as she righted the parchment stack with a quick flick of her wand.
Before Ron and Narcissa’s steps had faded, Harry found his thoughts snapping back to Malfoy.
“Harry!” Hermione exclaimed, in the tone she reserved especially for him, for when he’d wandered off in his mind and she’d already called his name several times.
“Yeah, ‘Mione?” he said, trying, with minimal success, to shove his thoughts of Malfoy to the back of his mind.
She breathed out heavily through her nose. “What’s gotten into you? You’ve been preoccupied since we got back.”
He hesitated. He wasn’t sure he was ready to get into that beyond what he’d already told her.
“When you’re ready, Harry, I’m here,” she said, voice softer. “You know you can trust us, right?”
“Of course,” he said automatically. It wasn’t a matter of trust, exactly. He just wasn’t sure yet what it was. He had to get it straight in his own mind before trying to explain it to anyone. And before that he needed to talk to Malfoy. He just had to find him first.
Hermione looked searchingly into his eyes for a few seconds, then nodded, turning businesslike once more.
“Now. Why don’t you tell me how much revision you’ve done for History of Magic?”
“I thought as much,” she said briskly, jotting something in her planner. “I have no idea what you were doing while we were gone, but you certainly haven’t been studying.”
Harry opened his mouth to protest that that was entirely unfair; he’d done rather a lot of Potions. Then he closed it again, remembering that he hadn’t decided how to tell her about that.
Sighing, he took the revision schedule she held out to him and cracked open the History of Magic text beside him. No time like the present, he thought glumly, especially since Malfoy was still avoiding him.
He felt a momentary flare of jealousy toward Ron, who’d temporarily escaped Hermione’s revision fever.
Then he remembered that Ron had been with Hermione all summer and probably deserved the break. With a sigh, he settled in to read.
The next morning at breakfast, Harry was amused to hear Ron and Narcissa deep in discussion about cleaning and redecorating charms. He turned to Hermione to point it out, but found her staring down at her scrambled eggs, eyes distant. She looked like she was debating something with herself. He was about to ask what she was thinking about so intensely when she looked up and caught Lucius’ eye.
“Mr. Malfoy,” she said briskly, “I’d like to get some details of the bonding spell, if you don’t mind. Both the one binding Narcissa and, um, Draco…” She paused, making a face, as if the word tasted odd, then soldiered on. “The one binding them to this house and the one binding you to Harry.”
Lucius paused, fork frozen halfway to his mouth. For a moment, his eyes darted to Harry, then he seemed to relax. “Of course Miss Granger. If you’d like to join me in the study after breakfast, I’ll do my best to answer any questions you have.”
She nodded, shoulders relaxing. Harry smiled to himself, pleased his friends were getting along with his new family. Still, his worry about Malfoy teased the back of his mind, keeping him from being able to concentrate on anything.
Kingsley firecalled a few days later as they were finishing breakfast, and Harry invited him to step through.
“Well, our work is finally paying off,” Kingsley said as he stepped from the fireplace, brushing ash off his robes. “The Wizengamot has agreed to hold a hearing for Merriweather — they’ve scheduled it for next Thursday at four. You’ll both need to be there, of course — they’ll no doubt have questions for you.
Lucius nodded. “We’ll be there,” he said.
Kingsley cleared his throat. “You’ll also need to try and look respectable,” he said, looking pointedly at Harry.
Harry looked down at his patched jeans and faded red t-shirt and made a face. “Luckily, my new dress robes and stuff has come in.”
Kingsley’s eyes twinkled in amusement. “Luckily,” he agreed.
They met Rita Skeeter outside the courtroom. She wore an eye-wateringly bright lime green skirt and blazer, which made her stand out from the witches and wizards surrounding her, all of whom wore varying shades of black, grey, and navy blue. She had her Quick Quotes Quill in hand and her eyes practically lit up when she spotted Harry. She waved her quill enthusiastically. Harry pretended he hadn’t seen her until she turned away in disappointment as an official-looking witch with a clipboard called her name.
She gave her testimony, presenting her memory as evidence. Several members of the Wizengamot looked shocked at what they saw and heard.
Unsurprisingly, Lucius was the first of them called forward to answer questions.
An elderly woman in charcoal dress robes was the first of the Wizengamot to step forward. “And why should we believe you?” she asked, sneering at Lucius. The massive purple feather on her hat bobbed threateningly at him.
He smiled pleasantly. “Since Harry Potter rescued myself and my family, I’ve been acting as his assistant in order to repay him.”
Another member of the Wizengamot stepped forward, this one a middle-aged man with a long hooked nose and a receding hairline. “And why should we trust what you say?”
Lucius spread his hands. “You don’t have to trust what I say. Harry Potter and Minister Shacklebolt will corroborate my story.”
The man snorted in disbelief. “We’ll see about that.”
“Dismissed,” the Chief Warlock called, when there were no more questions. “We now call Rita Skeeter to the stand.”
Skeeter stepped forward.
“Will you take a dose of Veritaserum to validate your testimony?” the Chief Warlock asked, a gleam in his eye.
She didn’t flinch. “I will.”
An aide brought him a vial of clear liquid and a tray of half-filled water glasses. He dispensed three drops into one of the glasses and handed it to her; she downed it like a shot. “Now,” she said, clearing her throat. “What would you like to know?”
Harry fidgeted as unobtrusively as he could. They hadn’t discussed Veritaserum, though it made sense that the Wizengamot would want to use it. Skeeter knew he had been there, though, knew about his cloak. She might inadvertently let something slip. He really didn’t want that getting out. But there was nothing he could do. He hated that more than anything. He watched nervously as the questioning continued.
Skeeter skilfully answered the questions, subtly steering them away from any indication of Harry’s involvement, except as a behind-the-scenes adviser.
Harry was impressed. He’d never seen anyone exert that much control when questioned with Veritaserum before. It helped that the Wizengamot didn’t realise that he’d been there, but still. He wondered if she was somehow immune to it, or if she’d purposely built up an immunity over time. Was that possible? He’d have to ask Hermione later.
When Harry’s turn in the witness stand came, he refused to take the Veritaserum, citing too many War secrets. No one was prepared to oppose him, so he answered their questions without exposing himself, falling back on the cover they’d all prepared and practiced.
Finally, they questioned Kingsley. They didn’t even ask him to take the Veritaserum — Harry suspected no one was brave enough to try and give it to the Minister.
Kingsley vouched for Lucius just as Harry had, doing his best to ease the Wizengamot’s suspicion. He even called Lucius invaluable to the Ministry’s interest.
Lucius’s house arrest was brought up, and someone tactlessly asked how he escaped burning with the Manor. Kingsley said mildly that the Malfoys were found by Harry before the effects of leaving the Manor could take effect, and he’d offered them his protection. He’d offered up his house for them to stay in, and they had accepted. He stressed that it had all been done legally.
Someone else asked why Lucius could leave Harry’s wards, if his house arrest had truly been transferred to Harry’s house as they said, and Kingsley replied that he’d personally granted him permission to leave the wards so he could be more use to Harry as an assistant.
After they’d exhausted their questions, the Chief Warlock announced that the Wizengamot would adjourn to discuss what had been said.
Several long minutes later, they returned with a verdict. They couldn’t argue with Merriweather’s indictment of himself in Skeeter’s memory and removed him from his position as Auror, sentencing him to 5 years in Azkaban.
Harry shuddered as it was announced. Even though he knew the Dementors were gone, he still couldn’t imagine being locked away there. Or anywhere, really. It brought to mind images of his cupboard that he shoved hurriedly back.
Kingsley clapped Harry on the shoulder as they left the courtroom. “How’s it feel to put away a criminal? Are you keen to join the Aurors, now? I hear there’s an opening.”
Harry shrugged. “I dunno. It was OK, I guess.” It had been like a shot of adrenaline, the rush of satisfaction as Merriweather’s fate was pronounced, but Harry wasn’t sure it was what he wanted to do all the time.
“So, what’s next?” he asked.
Kingsley smiled. “First, we celebrate. I know you don’t drink, but we could get lunch. Then… on to the next one, I suppose. The corruption in the Ministry runs deep. Deeper than I thought. It will take a long time to ferret it all out.”
Harry nodded, but his attention had caught on the word ‘ferret’. He wondered what Malfoy was doing.
Someone came up beside him then and stuck a Quick Quotes Quill in his face.
Skeeter. He sighed.
“So, Harry,” she said brightly. “What would you like to tell the world? Your hard work behind the scenes has paid off. Can we assume that a job at the Ministry is in your future? Will we see you in Auror red one of these days?”
Harry reached out with one finger, nudging the quill away. “Not now,” he said.
Skeeter opened her mouth and he raised his hand. “No. You’ll get your exclusive, but not right now. I’ve got things to do.”
The lie sat heavy on his tongue. Without Malfoy around, he really didn’t have anything to do. He’d had enough of subtly changing paint colours and re-upholstering furniture.
Maybe he could convince Ron to play a few rounds of exploding snap before Hermione whisked him away for revisions. He groaned. He really didn’t want to do revisions. It was no fun without Malfoy to… well, to make fun of him, he supposed, but he was sure it was fond. He puzzled over that as they made their way through the Ministry and out to a hole-in-the-wall sandwich place Harry had never been to.
It was excellent, but he ate most of his tuna melt without tasting it. He knew he was slipping back into his old obsessive ways, but didn’t know what to do about it.
He caught a glimpse of Malfoy disappearing up the stairs as they stepped through the door, and called out to him, but Malfoy ignored him.
As he sat staring glumly down at his pancakes a few days later, lingering long after the others had left the kitchen in the hopes of catching Malfoy alone, he was surprised to hear footsteps coming hesitantly down the stairs.
He felt his whole body tense as he focused on listening, trying to guess if it was Malfoy. It didn’t sound quite right, though…
His shoulders slumped as Hermione came into view, Ron only a few steps behind her. They pulled up chairs next to him and sat down. Harry waited for the lecture that was sure to come, but Hermione chewed on her lip, not saying anything.
It was Ron who finally spoke. “Mate,” he said, dropping a heavy arm around Harry’s shoulder, “you can’t go on like this.”
Ron sighed heavily. “It pains me to say this, mate, but you need to talk to Malfoy.”
Hermione nodded emphatically, her bushy hair bouncing with the movement. “Yes, Harry. You definitely need to talk to Malfoy. But first… Maybe you can talk to us?”
He shoved his plate aside and dropped his forehead to the table with a quiet thunk.
“He hates me, ‘Mione,” he said, voice muffled against the wood of the table. “I don’t know what I did exactly, but he hates me.”
“I hate to break it to you, mate, but Malfoy’s always hated you,” Ron said.
Harry whimpered pitifully.
“Ronald!” Hermione admonished. “That’s not helpful.”
Harry peeked up at them from beneath the tangle of his hair. He hoped he hadn’t got syrup in it.
“He didn’t hate me,” he said quietly. “For a little while. It was nice. Then you came back and I fucked everything up and— and I just want things to go back to the way they were.”
Hermione pursed her lips. “Maybe we can help?” she offered. “Not that Malfoy is particularly likely to want to listen to us, but he knows we’re important to you. Maybe we can convince him that you don’t hate him?”
Ron grimaced, but nodded. “If it’ll get you to stop moping, I’ll do it,” he said, with the air of one making a great concession.
Harry didn’t think it was likely to work, but he appreciated that they were trying.
He was walking back from the kitchen with Ron and Hermione, half-heartedly listening to their scheming, when he saw Malfoy on the stairs above them.
“Malfoy!” Harry called, hurrying up after him.
Malfoy’s face blanched and he quickly turned and started making his way back up the stairs. He was leaning heavily on his cane, and Harry knew that his leg must be hurting him badly if he’d resorted to using it in the daylight.
“Hey, ‘Mione,” Ron said loudly. “Isn’t there some Muggle thing we could do to make it easier to get up and down all these stairs? Harry has trouble with his leg sometimes, and Lucius has always got that cane.”
Malfoy’s shoulders stiffened, and he slowed to a stop, clearly listening. He didn’t turn around.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “We could try to put in an escalator?” she suggested doubtfully, pitching her voice to easily reach Malfoy as well.
Harry appreciated that they were trying, he really did, but he wasn’t sure this was the way to go about it. He was about to hurry them away when Ron spoke again.
“Nah, that probably wouldn’t work well with the magic.” He snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it. You need a slide.”
“A slide?” Now Hermione stared at him, looking as confused as Harry felt.
“Yeah,” Ron said enthusiastically. “Like those big slides they have at Muggle parks. The tube ones?”
“Ron…” Hermione said, but Ron talked over her.
“Obviously it wouldn’t work for going up, and it would be dangerous besides, but I bet you could rig up a cushion. Then you could control the speed of your descent and it could take you back up afterward.”
Hermione stared at him. “That is the most absurd thing I have ever heard. But I think it might work.” She furrowed her brow, and Harry knew she was running through lists and calculations in her head. “It’s doable,” she finally said. “I don’t know how comfortable it would be, but it’s doable.”
“Great!” Ron said, rubbing his hands together. “Let’s get started.”
“What, Now?” Harry asked.
“No time like the present.”
Malfoy still stood rigidly on the stairs, his back to them. Harry suspected his expression would be a combination of horrified and intrigued. He didn’t think Malfoy would deign to actually use a slide to get around, but he was willing to give Ron’s ridiculous idea a shot if there was any chance it would bring Malfoy around.
Ron took charge of the slide construction, consulting with Hermione and Narcissa. They shooed Harry away whenever he tried to help.
A few weeks later, Ron declared it finished and presented it proudly for Harry and Hermione’s inspection.
Harry studied it dubiously. At first glance, it did look rather like a standard Muggle slide. Instead of being one long tube slide, as Ron had first suggested, it was a series of slides with openings at each floor. Harry, who had found the idea of a tube slide uncomfortably claustrophobic, was relieved to see that the final design was open at the top with deep sides to minimise the risk of falling out.
“Go on,” Ron urged. “Try it!”
Harry hesitated. It seemed wrong, somehow, to try it for fun.
Hermione had no such qualms. At Ron’s urging, she stepped forward and seated herself gingerly on the chair-like structure at the base of the slide. She squeaked in surprise as the cushion abruptly flattened in front, lifting her legs, and spun so she was facing up the slide, her back to them. The back of the cushion had risen at the same time to support her back.
Ron leaned forward and whispered something, and Hermione went flying up the slide with a screech.
“C’mon!” Ron said, eyes dancing with suppressed mirth. “Race you to the top!”
He beat Harry easily, since his leg didn’t randomly decide to slow him down.
Hermione was waiting for them, hands on her hips. “Ronald!” she said, biting her lip to keep from laughing as he hauled her off the cushion.
“Care to demonstrate going down?” he asked her, gesturing to the cushion, which had rearranged itself into a chair.
Obligingly, she sat on the chair-like apparatus that was a twin to the one at the bottom of the slide. This time she was ready for the cushion to flatten and spin her, and she whooped in delight as she went flying away down the slide.
“You can control the speed, too,” Ron confided to Harry in a whisper. “Didn’t want to tell her that, though. She’s far too cautious.”
Harry suppressed a smile as they hurried back down the stairs to find Hermione.
“Now it’s your turn, Harry,” she said, attempting to pat her flyaway curls back into place.
Harry considered it, but then he saw Malfoy at the top of the stairs, frowning disapprovingly. He shook his head. “Maybe later.”
The three of them watched Malfoy make his way slowly down the stairs and then disappear down into the kitchen, passing them without a word.
Chapter 18: Draco POV
Draco slumped on his bed, staring at the book he was attempting to read without seeing it at all.
The weasel had made him a slide. A slide. It was preposterous, and undignified, and Draco was disgusted with himself for thinking that it might be… Well, fun. He’d secretly watched the construction with a blend of horrified disbelief and interest, and each day found it harder to resist the temptation to just throw dignity to the wind and try it.
He wouldn’t, of course. Probably.
He did wonder, though, why the weasel had done it. He’d thought at first he was mocking him, but that didn’t make sense. Why put so much effort into it? And why act so damned cheerful about it? It wasn’t like him to turn that cheer toward Draco. It was unnerving.
It almost seemed like an overture of friendship. But, no. Surely not. Except…
Draco sighed and tried to focus on the book. He’d been staring at the same page for half an hour now, and still had no idea what it was about. He slammed it shut in disgust.
He tried stubbornly not to think of the slide, or the weasel — Weasley, he supposed he should call him — but that just made him think of Potter. Stupid, annoying Potter, who had dumped him for his friends.
Except, he did keep trying to get Draco’s attention. And he looked terrible. Draco hadn’t seen him looking so pale and unhappy since… well, since before they’d started getting along. He was almost tempted to think that Potter missed him. But that didn’t make sense. Did it?
Did he have it all wrong? He chewed his lip, thinking back over the past weeks. He’d expected Potter’s friends to be disgusted that he was there, to mock him and call him names. But they’d not done that at all. They’d been almost nice.
Maybe Potter really hadn’t wanted him to disappear.
Maybe he should apologise.
He groaned and flopped back on his bed, dreading it. Merlin, it would be embarrassing. But overshadowing the embarrassment was a hope he couldn’t quite squash.
“He’ll never use it,” Harry said, feeling sorry for himself. Malfoy had been ignoring him for a few weeks now — long enough that Harry was beginning to doubt he’d ever relent.
“He will,” Ron said confidently. “Just wait.” He took a deep breath, then shouted, “Hey Malfoy!”
Harry caught the familiar flash of pale hair on the stairs.
“The slide is ready now,” Ron called. “You’re welcome to try it out.”
Malfoy sniffed and continued down the stairs and past them, pointedly not making eye contact with Harry.
Harry slumped dejectedly against the wall.
Ron whacked him affectionately on the shoulder. “Just wait,” he repeated.
Harry tried to suppress a sigh. He knew he was moping, but he was having a hard time caring.
“Meanwhile,” Ron said, shoving him toward the slide, “we may as well test it.”
Later that week, Ron dragged him to the kitchen for a late-night snack. They made giant sandwiches and toasted one another with butterbeer. It was the most fun Harry had had since Ron and Hermione had returned.
As they were making their way back to their rooms, Harry caught a flash of movement from the corner of his eye. Turning, he was shocked to find Malfoy sliding down the slide. He looked ridiculous. And he was smiling.
Malfoy froze, the smile dropping instantly from his face as soon as he saw them. Ron opened his mouth, and Harry braced himself for the taunting that was sure to follow.
Instead, Ron grinned at Malfoy. “It’s fun, yeah? Have you tried going up yet?”
Malfoy stared at him for a second, then slowly shook his head. Ron grinned enthusiastically.
“It’s even better than going down. Go on — try it.”
Malfoy hesitated, then whispered the password. The cushion whisked him back up the slide and out of sight.
Harry sighed and started toward the stairs, assuming that was that, but Ron held out a hand, stopping him.
“Wait,” he said quietly.
After several long seconds, Malfoy came whooshing back down the slide, the smile back on his face.
“Have you tried it yet, Potter?” he asked.
It was the first time he’d spoken to Harry since Ron and Hermione had interrupted their moment of… whatever it had been.
Harry stared, then felt a smile tugging at his lips. “No,” he admitted. “Not yet.”
Malfoy scooted off the cushion and held his arm out, beckoning Harry over. “You should.”
Harry seated himself gingerly on the cushion and met Malfoy’s eyes questioningly. Malfoy grinned mischievously and whispered the password, sending Harry ricocheting back up the slide. He screeched in surprise, and he heard Malfoy’s laughter receding behind him.
When he reached the top, he turned around and whooshed back down, relishing the feeling of flying.
He hopped off the cushion at the bottom, feeling the smile stretch across his face. “That was great!” he said.
Malfoy grinned at him, then turned to Ron. “Sometimes, Weasley, your ideas aren’t half bad.”
Ron shook his head. “Right. I’m off to bed. ‘Night Harry. Malfoy.”
Harry watched him go, feeling a rush of anxiety that made him wish Ron would stay. He moved toward the stairs, but Malfoy held out a hand, stopping him.
“We need to talk,” he said quietly. “I… need to apologise.”
Harry looked up at him incredulously. “Why?” he asked.
“I’ve been avoiding you. I assumed you wouldn’t want to spend time with me, now that your friends are back. I was only ever a poor replacement.”
“You were not!” Harry exclaimed, far louder than was polite, this time of night. “I’ve missed spending time with you. I’ve missed you.”
Malfoys cheeks flushed pink. “I was also… scared,” he admitted. “Things were suddenly moving so fast — I didn’t know what to do.” He looked up through his lashes at Harry, biting his lip. “I’ve missed you too.”
Harry felt a slow smile spreading across his face. “Come with me,” he said. “There’s still plenty of sandwich stuff in the kitchen. And Ron and I didn’t drink all the butterbeer.”
He held out his hand, just a little. So he could take it back and pretend he’d never offered it, if necessary.
Malfoy shyly slipped his hand into Harry’s, interlocking their fingers.
“All right,” he said softly.
Much later, as they leaned against one another sleepily, watching the sun come up, Harry turned abruptly to stare at Malfoy.
“Hey, Malfoy,” he said.
Malfoy blinked his eyes open from where they’d drifted shut. “Yeah, Potter?”
“Why do you still call me Potter instead of Harry?”
A lazy smile spread across Malfoy’s face. “I could ask you the same question.”
Harry frowned and poked him in the ribs. “Seriously, though. I want to know.”
Malfoy shrugged. “I could call you Harry, I suppose.” He made a face. “It just feels weird. Everyone and their mother calls you Harry. My mother calls you Harry.”
Harry snorted. “Well, Draco…” He paused. “You’re right. That does feel weird.”
Malfoy turned to bury his face in Harry’s shoulder. “I call you Potter because I’m the only one who calls you that.”
Harry nodded, leaning to the side and resting his head on Malfoy’s as he yawned. “S’alright. I don’t mind. I’ll just keep calling you Malfoy.”
Chapter 20: Epilogue
Two years later, the Malfoys were still living at Grimmauld Place with Harry.
To Harry’s delight, the issue of the Quibbler with Luna’s article vastly outsold the corresponding Prophet with Skeeter’s exclusive. He felt a stab of satisfaction at the thought that maybe Skeeter didn’t know what the public wanted as much as she thought she did.
The article kicked off a wave of public condemnation of the vigilante killings and a rising tide of sympathy for reformed Death Eaters and their relatives.
Hermione, encouraged by Harry and Lucius’ success with Merriweather, had thrown herself tirelessly into the fight to take down the others like him in the Ministry. She’d also thrown herself headlong into researching the bond spell she’d helped design and petitioning the Wizengamot to get it banned from use.
Eventually she’d succeeded in convincing the Wizengamot. She’d also successfully had the Malfoys’ punishment downgraded to ordinary house-arrest. Kingsley had then removed the bond linking Lucius and Harry, adding express permission for Lucius to accompany Harry outside the wards whenever Harry asked. He thought they could convince the Wizengamot to relent and allow the others the same privilege once a bit more time had passed.
Kingsley had offered the Malfoys another place to stay, but they’d asked to remain at Grimmauld Place, as it had become home to them.
Harry had agreed. He’d known he didn’t like living alone, and he’d quickly become unable to imagine living in a house without the Malfoys.
Hermione and Ron had grumbled at first, but they had been pleased, too. They’d all been much more comfortable in the house since Narcissa had begun improving it. They’d soon be moving into their own home, and Harry knew they felt much better about the decision since they knew he would be in good company.
Ginny had, with Pansy’s urging, finally taken the time to get to know the Malfoys; the two of them were now regular dinner guests at Grimmauld Place. They were working to bring the rest of her family around to the idea that the Malfoys were in Harry’s life to stay.
Ron transfigured a Muggle lawn flamingo into a peacock and presented it to Lucius on the first anniversary of their moving in with Harry as a gesture of goodwill. Malfoy groaned and buried his face in Harry’s shoulder. “Oh, god,” he said, “no peacocks!”
Everyone laughed. It quickly became a tradition among their circle of friends to give Lucius peacock-themed yard decor for every holiday. Neville even took it upon himself to breed a plant variety especially for him that mimicked a peacock tail, with variegated blue flowers and long, draping vines.
Lucius loved it. Malfoy insisted vehemently that he did not, and that the plant mortally offended him. Narcissa refused to choose a side, though her mouth curved up in a suppressed smile and her eyes twinkled with mirth.
The plant was installed in a place of pride in the centre of the garden.
Harry loved it all, he thought later, sprawled on a picnic blanket with Malfoy: the laughter, the arguments, the family. Narcissa and Lucius sat close together on the garden bench, Lucius’ cane propped beside them. Hermione sat on her own picnic blanket, reading a book; Ron lay beside her, tossing grapes in the air and attempting to catch them in his mouth. Harry’s hand found Malfoy’s and he squeezed it warmly, elated to finally feel like he had a future.