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Away Childish Things

Chapter Text

June 2012
Harry Potter: 10 years
Draco Malfoy: 32 years

The last thing Harry remembered was talking to a snake. The snake had talked back—or sounded like it had—and then the glass had disappeared, and the snake had escaped. Dudley had blubbered like a baby, and Harry had got in trouble—or he thought he might have done, but that was when it started to get hazy, like grey swirls inside his own head.

The next thing he knew he was holding a stick inside a pile of clothes. Dropping the stick, he tried to get out, but the clothes were attached—well, not completely; the trousers, looped with a too-large belt, were falling off. The shirt was on over his head like a normal shirt, except three sizes too big, and a weird robe thing seemed to be clasped around his neck. His feet were in boots twice his size, and his hands were in large fingerless gloves. At least he still had his glasses, though they seemed too large as well, and Harry panicked for a second, thinking that he had shrunk. Once when Aunt Petunia had tried to put a jumper on him it had changed sizes, but it had never happened to his own body before .

The clothes definitely weren’t his, however, and when Harry looked around he saw he was in a room with a table that had strange equipment on it. Counters lined the walls, cabinets above them with glass doors. Broken glass was on the floor in front of him, not far from a tall man with pale hair staring down at him.

Uncle Vernon would definitely characterize this situation as “funny business.”

Meanwhile the blond man looked stricken.

“Er,” Harry said, holding up his belt and trying not to trip over the robe thing as he slowly backed away from the glass. “Where’s this?”

“Potter?” The man sounded stricken also.

Trying to decide whether he recognized the man, Harry backed up another step, the big boots almost falling off. He was fairly certain he would have remembered if any teachers at St Grogory’s looked like this bloke, for the man’s appearance was singular. He was tall and slender, like a straw, and pale too, as though the colour had been leaked out of his hair, eyes, and skin. His clothes were strange, like an outfit from one of Petunia’s costume dramas, but they seemed to be the right size. “Who are you meant to be?” Harry asked.

“Oh no,” said the man.

“Do you know where this is?” Harry asked, backing up another step. “Because I don’t remember getting here, and if you’ve kidnapped me . . .” Harry broke off because he didn’t quite know what would happen if he had, in fact, been nabbed. Vernon would probably thank the man for his efforts.

A door opened on the other side of the room.

“We’ve got to go,” the man said, his voice low. “Accio Potter’s wand!” The stick flew into the man’s hand, and then before Harry quite knew what was happening, the man was striding forward and grabbing Harry’s arm.

Then the world was swirling as Harry struggled.

The tables in the room swished away like a painting being mixed up. A loud pop filled the air, then a cold darkness. With a frigid squeeze that felt like thawing and expanding and being pushed very hard all at once, everything stopped.

Then the stars Harry saw before his eyes were dancing through a new room entirely. This room was much smaller, grey in the dim light.

“Fuck,” someone said. It was the blond man, and fire roared to life against one wall. Harry was busy jumping out of skin, while the blond man strode about saying, “Fuck, fuck, Merlin, fuck,” pointing a stick at various places in the room. Fire leapt up after him, burning on candles, and Harry realized the fire against the wall was in an old sturdy hearth.

Finite incantatem,” the blond man said, pointing the stick at Harry.

Harry jumped again, quite certain he would catch on fire too, but nothing happened.

The blond man swirled his stick at Harry and said, “Juvenis recanto,” but despite the fact that the situation was superbly terrifying there was still no effect, which made the man’s next stick-swish and words more moderately terrifying. “Libera temporo,” the man said. Then he made another swish—a downward slash, and said, “Potia evanesce.”

“Um.” The man was obviously mental, and somehow he had a remote control flamethrower , but Harry tried to be polite, particularly with adults who were scary. “Have you gone mental?” he asked politely.

“Fuck!” said the man.

“All right, then,” Harry said, slowly edging away.

“I’ll get a Cure-All. Stay here.” Turning on a heel, the man walked out of the room.

Harry wondered whether the man had knocked him out. He didn’t remember, but the fact remained that he didn’t know where he was, and he didn’t know the man. Harry wasn’t quite sure he had been kidnapped, as kidnapping on the telly was nothing like this at all. Whatever was happening, Uncle Vernon wouldn’t like it, which meant Harry was going to be in trouble. He had to get out. Fast.

As he tried to pull off the confining cloak, Harry quickly took stock of his surroundings. Books—old and new, leather-bound and gilt-edged—stuffed the bookshelves that lined almost every wall. A large wingback armchair with a flower pattern on its upholstery sat before the fire, and a soft-looking green rug was laid out on the floor in front of it. The wood floor shone in the firelight, which gave everything a warm, rosy glow. In the ceiling were two windows, which showed that it was night. At the far end of the room, near a wooden table with more books on it, was the door through which the man had gone. On the side near Harry was another door. There didn’t seem to be a telephone.

Ripping the cloak off, Harry kicked off the boots as well, shaking off the weird gloves. Once he could move a little better—despite the trousers—he headed toward the door opposite the one the man had exited, opening it to find a dark stairwell behind it. Harry didn’t remember having come upstairs, which probably meant the stairs led to a cellar, but the cellar was away from the man, and maybe there was a phone down there. Or a window. The man might come back any second, so Harry decided to risk it. Closing the door behind him, he took the stairs as fast as he could in the dark while holding his belt up high.

At the bottom of the stairs was a short hall, at the end of which there was a dim room with some cabinets and tables. It wasn’t a cellar, because the windows in the room looked out onto the street. A lone, flickering streetlight in the distance lit things up enough to see a door on the other side of the room that looked like it went outside. A muffled sound came from above, then another one, louder.

Harry hurried toward the door, trying to hold his trousers on, glasses beginning to slip down his nose.

“Potter!”

Steps sounded on the stairs.

“Potter!”

Harry got his hand on the knob.

“Potter!”

Harry opened the door.

A sharp crack filled the street, and the blond man stood directly in front of Harry, whose mouth dropped open. “But you were just . . .” Harry looked behind him, but there was no one coming in from the hall that led to the stairs.

“Just where do you think you’re going?” the man demanded. He was holding some kind of phial with an orange liquid in it.

“How did you get here?” Harry asked, looking around the man to see if he could find another exit.

“What?” the man said, sounding irritated. “Potter, I’m trying to help you!”

Harry looked up at the man. “Is that what we’re calling kidnapping these days?”

The man’s mouth opened, then closed. His face changed colour twice—first pink, then a sickish grey. “Kidnapping?” he croaked.

“That’s generally what people call it when a kid gets nabbed.” Harry pushed his glasses up.

“Nabbed?” the man said, still with that stricken look.

“Isn’t that what you did?”

They stood there, Harry on the stoop and the man just outside of it, the frown smoothing out of the man’s face almost in slow-motion, as though he was realizing something one thought at a time. When his face finally stopped its incremental fall, the man looked almost soft, his eyes somehow shining in the dim light of the street. Then he swallowed hard. “Oh,” he said, quietly.

Harry wondered if the man was finally realizing he was absolutely mental.

“Potter, you . . .” The man swallowed again. “I haven’t nabbed you. It was a de-ageing potion. You’re thirty-one years old. The potion fell on you.”

“A potion?” Harry asked. “You mean chemicals?”

The man nodded.

“Is that how you appeared out of thin air? And made the fire?”

“No.” The man shook his head slowly, seeming confused by the question. “Those were spells.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open. “Spells?”

“Yes?” the man said, seeming even more confused.

“Like a—a magic spell?”

“Yes,” the man said slowly, brow furrowing. “Like a magic . . . oh.” Before, the man had seemed stricken, but now he seemed horrified, if his aghast expression was anything to go by. “Potter, you . . .”

The man sounded so worried that Harry almost wanted to reassure him.

“Potter.” The man shoved the phial he’d been holding in his pocket. “You do know what magic is?”

Harry frowned. “Pulling rabbits and things out of hats, cutting women in half. I never knew you could actually appear in thin air.”

“Cutting women . . . in half?”

“Like on telly.”

“Ah,” the man said. “Yes. Television.” The man paused, seeming to hesitate.

The man had fine, patrician features, a thin-lipped, well-defined mouth, and shoulders that gave him an air of elegance. All of this in addition to his light-coloured hair made him rather striking, the sort of man who could be on television himself, only Harry felt certain he had never seen him before.

“Magic is nothing like television. It’s . . .” The man’s hand twitched, but it stayed by his side—almost as though he was willing himself to stay still and speak very, very gently. “Do you at least believe me about—about the de-ageing?”

Harry thought about that. “It doesn’t seem very likely,” he said after a moment—but magic was a different story. It explained a lot of things, actually.

“Right.” The man drew a breath, then expelled it, as if at a loss.

It almost made Harry want to help somehow. Instead, he said “My uncle will be wondering where I am.”

“Right,” the man said again, but didn’t move. His shoulders sagged, and the furrow in his brow made him seem very unhappy, but he did not look at all as though he would let Harry go.

Harry thought about trying to leave again anyway, but the man was standing right there, and Harry didn’t fancy getting grabbed again. The man hadn’t wrenched Harry’s arm or anything, but it seemed likely a grown man who was unhappy would end up hurting him somehow. Besides, the man had already proven himself a kidnapper. “What are you going to do with me?” Harry asked instead, holding his belt with one hand so he could push up his glasses.

The man stared down at him, so Harry stared back. In addition to his notable hair-colour and slim figure, the man’s clothes seemed rather posh, despite being strange. He had on grey trousers and a grey waistcoat with a blue shirt underneath it, a blue square in one of the pockets, and a silver chain at his hip.

As Harry looked at him, the unhappy expression faded from the man’s face—almost as though it had been folded up and put away, like a shirt. The man straightened his shoulders, squaring them up. He looked as though he had thought of something, or maybe decided something. When he spoke again his voice was firm. “You live with your uncle and aunt. Don’t you?”

“Yes. They’ve probably already called the police,” Harry added, even though he was fairly certain that neither Vernon nor Petunia would have done anything of the sort.

“And . . . a cousin?”

“What, are you spying on me in addition to kidnapping? Isn’t that called stalking?” Harry had heard of bad old men who did terrible things to kids. He didn’t know what kinds of things, but he wasn’t particularly interested in sticking around to find out.

Before Harry could decide what to do about that, the man backed up a step, twirled his stick and said something incomprehensible. “You might want to move aside,” he said.

Harry was wondering what the man could mean when he heard a rushing behind him—something coming—and he jumped to the left, just in time for a large owl to come swooping out of the doorway. The owl flew directly to the man and landed on his shoulder.

Harry could feel that his eyes were large, probably large enough to almost fit his too-big glasses. He couldn’t stop staring at the owl. It had magnificent eyebrows. And it had been inside the building! And it was sitting on the man’s shoulder, making the man look even more regal than before. Harry looked back into the doorway from which the owl had flown. “That was—where did it come from?”

The man had been drawing his stick out of his sleeve, but he stopped at Harry’s words, obviously taking in Harry’s stunned expression. “Ah,” the man said knowingly. “You haven’t seen one before.”

“I was just at the zoo, actually,” Harry said, shoving up his glasses. “Before I was kidnapped.”

“Of course,” the man said, sounding amused. Harry knew what the man saw: a boy too small and thin for ten-years-old, with over-sized clothes, no shoes, messy hair, a lightning scar, and glasses—though now that Harry thought about it, he didn’t know what the glasses looked like. Maybe they weren’t broken, for once, which changed the picture somewhat, but even though these clothes were bigger than most, Harry still knew what he probably looked like in them. Dudley’s hand-me-downs were always way too big as well. Before he had to start going to St Grogory’s, Harry often hadn’t owned shoes.

“Her name is Heloise,” the man said, as though having an owl on his shoulder was a perfectly normal thing. “Would you like to pet her?”

Harry’s eyes jerked back to the owl—Heloise.

Still seeming amused, the man held out his arm, and Heloise hopped onto it. Bending down, the man said, “Come and try.”

Harry had never really got to pet anything before, except for Mrs. Figg’s cats, and they weren’t very nice. Tentatively, he took a step forward, reaching out a hand. Touching Heloise’s head was like touching a pillow, only much softer than any pillows he’d ever had. Lately he’d been using an old pillow of Dudley’s, but before that he’d had a sofa cushion. Before that he’d had a pile of old towels.

“I used to pet her all the time,” the man said.

Something in his tone made Harry glance up. Looking wistfully at the owl, the man didn’t look like he could be a bad old man. He looked . . . nice, and interesting, and still striking enough to be an actor. Or a magician. Harry guessed he shouldn’t be surprised the man could summon owls.

The man was still looking at Heloise with that strangely rueful expression. “She probably misses being petted.”

Harry tried petting Heloise’s wing. She fluffed up again, but otherwise seemed content, her eyes falling closed.

“I’m going to move her to my shoulder,” the man said. “She’s rather heavy. Back up a step.”

Harry backed up, only afterwards realizing it put him back in the doorway of the building. It could be a trick, but all the man did was move his arm, and the owl hopped back up onto his shoulder. The stick slid out of his sleeve—Harry hadn’t seen him put it away—and then he waved it. “Accio quill, ink, and parchment.”

Harry looked around for more magic, but had to duck when a small pot, a roll of paper, and a feather came sailing out of the room behind him. The items stopped in the air in front of the man, floating there at a wave of the man’s stick, which he again slipped into his sleeve. Opening the pot, the man dipped the tip of the feather in it, then took it out, closed the pot, and slipped the pot in his pocket. The feather and roll of paper he plucked out of the air, and then held out to Harry. “Write down the name of your cousin.”

Harry felt like his eyes were popping out of his skull, and yet he somehow had it in him to look up from the proffered quill and paper to say, “Why?”

“It’s a trick I learned from you, actually,” said the man. “Owls are terrific finders. If Heloise has your cousin’s name, she can probably locate him even without an address—unless he happens to be hiding.”

Harry scowled. “He’s probably just at home. Where I should be,” he added.

“Excellent,” the man said. “If your cousin is at home, then I will take you home.”

“If he’s not at home?” Harry said suspiciously.

“Then we can visit him.”

Harry eyed the owl, then the man, then the owl again. “I don’t particularly want to see my cousin,” Harry confessed.

The man raised a brow, but not in a mean way. He was in fact being very polite. “You said your uncle would be worried.”

“Er,” said Harry, because there was no way Uncle Vernon was actually worried. “He will be. But my cousin won’t.”

“This will work better with someone of your own age. Perhaps when we visit your cousin, if you’re still concerned about it, he can tell your uncle where you are.”

“But where am I?”

“Knockturn Alley. It’s in London.” The man looked over the shoulder that didn’t have Heloise perched on it. “It’s not the best alley to be in at night, so if you wouldn’t mind—”

“We’re in London?” Harry looked around. The street was lined with buildings without spaces in-between—tall ones, short ones, most of them built of wood. Some of them looked quite crooked-y, like they shouldn’t be standing. Most had windows. Turning, Harry looked at the building they had been in—the one with the hearth and all the books upstairs. Actually, now that he thought about it, he wasn’t sure about having a hearth upstairs. Didn’t they have to be on the ground level? This wasn’t like any street in London he’d seen before.

The building they had come from was two storeys, with a big window on the front. The window had dozens of tiny diamond panes, like an old-fashioned shop.

“Potter.” The man was still holding out the paper and quill. “I know that you’ve disliked me from the beginning, and apparently that will never change, but I really do think it would be better if you listened to me for once. That way, I can prove to you what happened to you, so if you would please just write the name of your cousin, we’ll be well on our way.”

The man seemed annoyed. “Is this about the de-ageing potion?” Harry guessed.

Dropping his arms to his sides with the quill and paper, the man sounded testy. “Yes, of course, Potter. What did you think?”

“You really think I’m thirty-one?” Harry looked at him curiously as the man grew even more testy.

“I’ve already told you.”

“Do we know each other?”

“Yes, though that’s hardly relevant to—”

“What’s your name?”

“Draco Malfoy. Now what’s your cousin’s name?”

“That’s a funny name,” Harry pointed out.

“Hilarious,” the man—Mister Malfoy—said.

Shrugging, Harry held out his hand. “Give me the paper. I’ll write it.”

Rolling his eyes, Mister Malfoy handed over the quill and paper. “Heavens, you’re a trial, even at—how old are you?”

“Ten,” Harry said, bending so he could hold the paper against his thighs as he wrote Dudley’s name on it. His handwriting was appalling, but he supposed it didn’t matter. Either the owl was somehow magical and would find Dudley, or the man was making the whole thing up. Either way Harry didn’t see the harm, and secretly he rather wished he was thirty-one after all.

“Ten,” said Mister Malfoy. “Yes, that fits.”

Rolling the paper back up, Harry handed it to Mister Malfoy.

“Dudley Dursley,” Mister Malfoy murmured, reading the paper. “I feel as though I should have known. Maybe it was in one of those countless Witch Weekly articles.” Sliding out the stick, Mister Malfoy tapped the paper, then said something in another language. He held out the paper to Heloise, who took it in her beak. “Apologies for the lack of address,” Mister Malfoy said to the owl as she hove up off his shoulder, then took off into the night.

“How does she know where to go?” Harry asked.

“Owl post delivery system,” said Mister Malfoy. “It’s how wizards deliver mail.”

“Wizards?” Harry said.

“Wouldn’t you rather be indoors?” Mister Malfoy asked. “And I can fix your clothes.”

“Er.” That sounded a little bit like Mister Malfoy might ask Harry to undress, and he wasn’t certain, but he sort of felt like some of the bad things that could happen with bad old men had to do with taking off your clothes. He couldn’t quite keep the alarm out of his voice when he said, “I’m fine, thanks!”

Mister Malfoy looked annoyed again. “Heavens, Potter, I’m not going to . . .” The stick slid out and pointed at Harry. “Reducio clothes.”

Harry tried to get out of the way, but the clothes were already shrinking.

Reducio glasses,” Mister Malfoy added, and everything fit perfectly, more perfectly than any clothes or glasses Harry had ever had before.

The pants were some kind of breeches, made of something smooth and fine-threaded. The belt that had been doing such a poor job of holding them up had a gold-coloured buckle, done up over the soft tunic he was wearing. They were very nice clothes, Harry was realizing, not scratchy or falling apart at the seams at all, except for maybe the socks. Those were orange wool, rather knobbly, as though someone had knit them. Despite the fact that they were ugly, however, they were doing an excellent job of keeping his feet warm, even though he was standing on cobbles in the middle of the night.

“You shouldn’t be out here without shoes,” Mister Malfoy said, as though noticing the socks at the same time. “Really, Potter, haven’t we stood outside long enough?”

Harry hesitated. The clothes were rather nice, but perhaps they were a temptation—like sweets. At school they sometimes told you that you shouldn’t take sweets from strangers, though plenty of the teachers were strangers, and they wanted you to do whatever they said, or else you got in trouble. And Harry had noticed that strangers came up to him on the street more often than what seemed to happen to other people, only those strangers rarely offered him sweets, usually just tipping their hats and congratulating him for no reason.

None of those strangers had had owls, however—or at least, not owls that he knew of. None of them had appeared out of thin air, or made paper float, or said things about magic, or told him he was thirty-one.

“Right,” Mister Malfoy said in response to Harry’s silence. “Accio boots.”

Expecting it this time, Harry stepped aside for the boots that came floating out the door. “Reducio boots.”

Harry looked at the boots, then looked up at Mister Malfoy. If Harry was wearing boots he’d be more successful if he tried to escape. Even though he wasn’t sure he wanted to escape any longer, he supposed he might as well put them on, seeing as how they were now his size. Also, they were utterly fantastic boots, and Harry had never had shoes that fit before.

Sitting on the stoop, Harry began pulling them on.

“When Heloise returns, we’ll visit your cousin,” Mister Malfoy said. “If you still insist on going home after that, I’ll take you.”

Harry glanced up from lacing the boots. “You think I won’t want to go home because you think I’m thirty-one?” he asked, wondering whether he wore boots like this when he was thirty-one. He must be a cool grown-up, one with a cool job that paid rather well.

Mister Malfoy’s voice was light. “You’ve never really cared what I thought.”

“Am I a builder?”

“Pardon?”

“If I’m grown up,” Harry said. “What do I turn out to be? Do I build things?”

Mister Malfoy frowned.

Done with the boots, Harry stood. “I always wanted to build things.”

Mister Malfoy’s mouth fell open, and then his face did that thing where it changed, going soft all over. “Oh,” he said softly, sounding rather breathless.

“I’m not, then,” Harry said, trying not to sound disappointed.

“What . . .” Pity wasn’t quite right for what shone in Mister Malfoy’s eyes. Maybe he thought it was funny. “What did you want to build?”

“Er,” Harry said, because he’d never thought that far ahead. “Buildings? Mostly I wanted to drive a JCB.”

“A JCB?”

“You know,” Harry said. “They’re mainly yellow, and they’ve got a big shovel attached.”

“A shovel?”

“For digging things out. I always thought a crane would be cool as well. Those are for moving big things. They have a big tower, with a line and a hook at the end, and you can use the hook to move steel beams and things.”

“And . . .” Mister Malfoy swallowed hard. “Would you also drive a—a helicopter ?”

Harry frowned. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Mister Malfoy stared down at him, something strangely helpless in his expression.

“What do I do, then?” Harry asked. “If I’m really thirty-one.”

“You’re an Auror.”

“An Auror? What’s that?”

“But your parents were Aurors. You—”

“You knew my parents?” Harry asked quickly.

“How could you not know they. . . ?” Mister Malfoy shut his mouth.

Harry moved closer, demanding, “Know what? What about my parents? What’s an Auror?”

“It’s not important right now, Potter.”

“But what did you—”

Just then, an owl came swooping down out of the sky.

“Heloise,” Mister Malfoy said, sounding relieved.

“What about my parents?” Harry said, louder, as the owl landed on Mister Malfoy’s shoulder once more.

“Thank you, Heloise. Go on.” Mister Malfoy said, shrugging his shoulder. Heloise hopped off of it and flapped back into the building, practically bowling Harry over in the process. “We’re going on a little trip,” Mister Malfoy said, turning back to Harry.

“But what about my—”

“Come along, Potter,” Mister Malfoy said, tone dismissive. “In good time.” Before Harry could scramble away, Mister Malfoy was grabbing his arm again and waving his stick. The street began to melt, greys and browns swirling together like a painting, like that other room with the broken glass.

Then there was black and that same cold, squeezing-freezing sensation, the feeling of being pushed through something too small, a sudden thaw directly afterwards. A swish of lights settled into a row of streetlamps, casting sallow light into another street. This street was nothing like the last—mostly because it looked like a normal street, with regular pavement and straggly bushes by a littered kerb on one side and a carpark on the other. On the side with the bushes was a large council estate, all concrete and windows.

Mister Malfoy was still holding Harry’s arm. “Finders Keepers,” he said, and the stick rotated in his other hand. “Stay by me,” he said, beginning to march in the direction the wand pointed and pulling Harry along.

Heloise was meant to find Dudley, and Mister Malfoy had said once she found Dudley they would visit him, but Dudley wasn’t in an estate. He was at Number Four Privet Drive, and even if Mister Malfoy had let Harry pet an owl, nothing about this seemed right.

Then again, if Harry was thirty-one, perhaps Dudley wasn’t at Privet Drive any more. If Harry was thirty-one, then Dudley was thirty-one as well. If the month was still June, then the year would be . . . 2012. Even though John Major had just become Prime Minister, he was probably out. The Mitchell brothers on EastEnders were probably dead from stroke and poisoning. Piers Polkiss might have joined Take That, like he’d said he was going to do, and Harry didn’t know whether he had gone to Stonewall High, or what an Auror was, or what Mister Malfoy knew about his parents.

So, Harry followed Mister Malfoy, who seemed to be following his stick up a set of concrete stairs attached to the estate. They went up two storeys, then down a covered concrete hall open to the air on one side but filled with numbered doors and potted plants on the other. They stopped at door 127. “Probably best to stay out of sight,” Mister Malfoy said, leading Harry to stand behind the plant, then pointing his stick at him.

“What are you doing?” Harry asked, but Mister Malfoy had already muttered something at him, and was then knocking on the door.

Someone opened it. Afraid for a reason he couldn’t quite name, Harry did as he was told and stayed behind the plant.

“Are you Dudley Dursley?” Mister Malfoy asked politely.

The plant was some kind of bush. Peeking through its leaves, Harry could make out the person who had opened the door. He didn’t look like Dudley at all, for he was old like a grown-up, and his hair wasn’t nearly as blond as Dudley’s. He was quite large, however—sort of like how Uncle Vernon would look, if Uncle Vernon looked a bit more like Aunt Petunia.

“Who’s asking?” said the man. “Are you a friend of Harry’s?”

He didn’t sound like Dudley either, his voice much deeper, and yet something about the way he said “Harry” felt familiar, somehow. Almost like Uncle Vernon. Harry began to step out, but Mister Malfoy waved a hand, turning his back to Harry.

“Harry?” Mister Malfoy said, still waving behind his back.

“Harry Potter. Is he okay?” The man reached for his back pocket, and Harry saw that Mister Malfoy tensed, but the man only brought out a piece of paper and unfolded it. “I got this by owl, see,” the man said, “but there was nothing else on it.”

“Oh yes,” Mister Malfoy said. “I’m very sorry. That was a mistake.”

“See here,” the man said. “You’re a wizard, aren’t you? I can tell by those . . . clothes.” He waved a hand. “Is Harry all right? Are things—happening again?”

“Everything is splendid,” Mister Malfoy said, his tone smooth. “That owl was sent by mistake, and I’ve just come to apologize.”

“But it had my name on it. Who are you, anyway?”

The man sounded so much like Dudley in that moment that Harry started to come out, but Mister Malfoy waved at him again. “Just a representative for the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes,” Mister Malfoy said. “No one important.”

“Look here,” Dudley said roughly. “What’s going on?”

“Duds!” someone called from inside the flat.

“It’s nothing!” Dudley called back.

“Is it something about that owl?” A woman holding a baby came to the door, and Harry knew who she was.

He’d never seen her in his life, and he didn’t know her name, but Harry knew who she was. She was Dudley’s wife. She was holding Dudley’s child, and standing there beside her—that was Dudley. He didn’t look or sound like Dudley, and yet the cadence of his speech was the same, the flavour of his movements. The scowl on his face was heart-stoppingly familiar, and Harry couldn’t get over the fact that the man—the old man, with a wife, with a child, with thinning hair—he was Dudley.

“Well, I should be going, then,” Mister Malfoy said, gesturing at Harry behind his back. “Thank you for your time, Mister Dursley.”

“Yeah, uh.” Dudley looked down at the woman, then back at Mister Malfoy. “Thanks. Don’t come back.” Then he shut the door.

Mister Malfoy whirled around. “We should leave.”

“But—” Harry glanced at the door.

“Immediately, Potter.” Mister Malfoy grabbed his arm. Before Harry could further protest, Mister Malfoy was swishing his stick and they were squeezing through blackness, the sensation almost familiar by now.

When they squeezed out again they were back in the room with the flower-print chair and the books everywhere, the fire still crackling merrily in the hearth.

Harry struggled for air but couldn’t think why. They’d been pinched through that cold black three times already. It had never hurt him before, but now he felt like his lungs were burning, because Dudley—

Dudley—

John Major wouldn’t be Prime Minister any more, and EastEnders might even have been cancelled, and Piers Polkiss might be in Take That. Take That might not even be a band any more. It was 2012, and Harry—

Harry was thirty-one.

Across the room, the books began to fly off the shelf.

“What—?” said Mister Malfoy, letting go of Harry’s arm.

The books were all flying everywhere, and Harry didn’t understand why.

“Oh,” Mister Malfoy said. “Potter, calm down.”

Harry still couldn’t breathe.

“Potter,” Mister Malfoy said, sounding a bit frantic. “Drink this!”

“What?” Harry tried to say, turning to look up at Mister Malfoy, who was holding out a phial. Harry couldn’t see it too well. When he reached out, he seemed to be shaking.

The walls were also shaking.

“Potter, it’s okay,” Mister Malfoy said. “It’s okay. Shhh—you’re okay.” Then Mister Malfoy was touching him, a warm hand on his shoulder, and Harry wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was so he could stop shaking enough to drink the orange liquid in the phial, so Harry drank it. The shaking stopped, and Harry could breathe again, the pressure on his lungs easing. The hand stayed on him anyway, touching his hair, smoothing down against his neck, over his shoulder, then starting up in his hair again. It felt very nice.

Harry wondered if that’s how Heloise had felt when he’d pet her.

“Shh,” said Mister Malfoy. “Harry, it’s okay. Please, you’re okay. It’s all right. You’re all right.”

Books littered the floor everywhere, and Harry realized it was a funny thing that had happened, and that somehow, that funny thing was him. “S-sorry,” he stuttered.

“It’s okay,” Mister Malfoy said, taking his hand away and standing up straight. Then his arm was moving, and Harry stumbled back, putting up an arm to protect his glasses.

Uncle Vernon never remembered to be careful of Harry’s glasses when there was too much funny business.

But, “Accio glass of milk,” was all Mister Malfoy said, and then, “It’s okay. Potter, the books have stopped.”

Slowly, Harry put his arm down, looking around the room. “What was it?” he asked, a little apprehensively.

The glass of milk floated into Mister Malfoy’s hand and he tapped it with his stick. “Accidental magic,” he said, holding out the glass for Harry. “Have some of this.”

“What was that other thing you gave me?” Harry didn’t particularly want to take the milk, but Mister Malfoy didn’t seem angry. Warily, Harry took the milk, still holding the phial in his other hand. He looked down into it. “Was it poison?”

“Why are you always . . .” Mister Malfoy stopped, then sighed. “It was that Cure-All I went to get for you earlier. I suppose it didn’t work.”

“I do feel better.”

“Right.” Pointing his stick at the books, Mister Malfoy began restoring them to the shelves by floating them over. “It’s meant to cancel the effects of minor potions or charms. It didn’t cancel the de-ageing potion, which means the potion is powerful. But it has to have been, to have lasted this long. The Cure-All doesn’t do anything for panic, so it must have just given you something else to focus on.” He wasn’t even saying anything to the books, just pointing at them.

“I wasn’t panicking,” Harry said, moving to set the milk and phial on the table so he could help pick up the books.

“Potter,” Mister Malfoy began, then stopped.

Harry looked over at him, picking up a book near the table. It was quite big and heavy, with brass metal bindings.

“Don’t bother about the books,” Mister Malfoy said abruptly, coming closer and taking the book. “Have a sit.” He crossed the room to pull out a chair at the table. “My mum always gave me warm milk went I went off.”

“But I didn’t.” Harry crossed the room to the table, partly because he still sort of thought he might get in trouble, but mostly because he hadn’t got in trouble at all, yet.

“My mum said it would make me feel better regardless,” Mister Malfoy said, his tone firm.

Harry didn’t really think about grown-ups having mums, but of course they did. He supposed Mister Malfoy’s mum must be very beautiful.

“What’s accidental magic?” Harry asked, sitting down but not drinking the milk.

“We can talk about it later.” Mister Malfoy waved his stick toward the door that didn’t lead downstairs—where he’d got the Cure-All from earlier, Harry realized. “Accio coffee.”

Harry looked around, but coffee didn’t materialize. “Where is it?”

“It has to brew first.” Mister Malfoy sat across from him. “Your cousin might be worried about you,” he said. “You could write to him by owl to let him know you’re okay, though with the way you write at this age, he might not feel satisfied. I could brew a potion to simulate your adult voice, so you could call him on a mobile.”

“What’s a mobile?” Harry asked, since he didn’t particularly care about Dudley being worried.

Mister Malfoy smiled faintly—the first time Harry had seen him smile. It was nice. “A Muggle communication device,” Mister Malfoy said. He didn’t seem to have any problem at all with Harry asking questions, not like Uncle Vernon. “It’s a kind of telephone.”

“What’s a Muggle?”

The smile faded a bit. “Someone who isn’t magical.”

“Oh.” Harry thought about that. “Am I a Muggle?”

The smile went away completely. “Merlin’s toadstools.” Mister Malfoy’s expression was now deepening into a scowl. Perhaps he didn’t like questions after all. “Obviously, you’re not a Muggle. You should know this already. Your aunt and uncle should have told you. Dumbledore should have told you. Heavens. What did your aunt and uncle tell you happened to your parents?”

If someone had told him about wizards and magic and everything all at once, Harry might have answered that question in the most straightforward way possible, by simply telling Mister Malfoy the truth. However, Harry had had some time to think about it, so instead he said, “Did you know them?”

Mister Malfoy reared back. “Potter—just how old do you think I am?”

“Fifty?” Harry guessed, because all grownups were old to him. At the man’s incredulous look, Harry said, “Forty-nine?” Then he started thinking. The year was 2012. His parents had been dead nearly thirty years by now. “You’re thirty-one as well, aren’t you,” Harry asked.

“Thirty-two, but only just.”

“Why do you keep asking about my parents, then?”

Just then, the mug of coffee floated in. “Accio milk and sugar,” Mister Malfoy said, pointing through the door again. “Did you want to contact your cousin?” he asked.

Mister Malfoy shouldn’t get to avoid the subject. After all, he had brought it up, so Harry just shrugged. “Not really.”

“I think he’ll be worried,” Mister Malfoy said, catching the milk and sugar.

“I doubt it.”

Mister Malfoy looked up at him over his little white pitcher of milk. “Why not?”

“Dudley never much cared for me.”

“Of course, he does.”

“No. I’m fairly sure he doesn’t.”

“He’s your family,” Mister Malfoy said dismissively.

“If that’s meant to make him like me, I don’t think anyone told him.”

Picking up a spoon for the sugar, Mister Malfoy made a disbelieving sound. “What makes you think he doesn’t like you? Sometimes he doesn’t want to play games your way?”

“He beats me up a lot, for starters.”

The spoon clattered in the little sugar bowl. “He . . . roughhouses?”

“Him and his friends.” Harry finally tried a sip of his milk. It wasn’t that bad. “They beat me up all the time.”

“Ah.” Picking up the spoon, Mister Malfoy added sugar to his coffee, then slowly stirred. “What do you and your little friends do to retaliate? You’re very creative, I’m sure.”

“Er. We don’t do anything,” Harry said, neglecting to mention that he didn’t have friends at all. The fact that the Dursleys couldn’t tell Mister Malfoy anything about him was dawning on Harry, which meant that if he was careful, Mister Malfoy—who seemed so pleasant—might not even realize he was bad.

“Of course not,” Mister Malfoy said, looking amused. “You’re a perfect angel.”

That sounded sort of sarcastic, so Harry didn’t say anything in response. Instead he asked, “Who’s Dumbledore?”

“Heavens.” Mister Malfoy looked like he was swallowing a sigh. “You ask so many questions.”

“Sorry,” Harry said, even though he wasn’t really sorry. Uncle Vernon always said, don’t ask questions, but it had never made any sense to Harry. How would you ever find things out if you didn’t ask questions? Sometimes Harry thought Uncle Vernon was just afraid of answers. “Who is he?” Harry asked again.

“The headmaster of the school we went to.” Mechanically, Mister Malfoy took a sip of coffee. “Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

“We went to school together?” Harry said, thinking for a second Mister Malfoy must have been a teacher there. But no, of course, they were meant to be the same age, which meant they had been in the same year.

“Yes, Potter. We went to school together.” Mister Malfoy’s mug made a harsh clack on the table. Standing up, he said, “If you’re feeling quite better, I can run some diagnostics on you, and we can see about reversing that potion.”

“I don’t want to reverse it.”

Mister Malfoy stared. “Pardon?”

“I don’t want to go back.”

“Potter,” Mister Malfoy said irritably. “You don’t even remember being thirty-one.”

“If you make me old, then ten-year-old me has to go back to Privet Drive, and to Uncle Vernon, and Aunt Petunia, and the cupboard under the stairs, and I don’t want to.”

“What are you . . . ” Mister Malfoy frowned. “Look, Potter. You’re not switching places. Ten-year-old-you is already there. In the past.”

“How do you know?”

Looking impatient, Mister Malfoy evidently decided to switch tacks. “Even if you did switch places, do you really want to leave thirty-year-old you in the past?”

Harry shrugged. “He’d probably handle it better than I could. And anyway, he’d get to go to school with you.”

“You already went to school with me.”

Harry just shrugged again. “I’d rather be here.”

“Merlin,” Mister Malfoy murmured. “I thought my memory had exaggerated how obtuse you were. No wonder we never got on.”

“We . . . weren’t friends?” Supposing he should have expected it, with how nice Mister Malfoy looked and how kind he was, Harry tried not to let his disappointment show.

Mister Malfoy just sighed. “I was used to getting my way. You obviously are too. There was no possibility, in retrospect, that we would work well together.”

“I’m not obtuse,” Harry said, obtusely. “I can clean. And I can cook very well. I’m not very messy or very loud. I can do the washing up, and sweep, and—and anything you want, really.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re very talented.” Mister Malfoy didn’t seem at all impressed.

“And I don’t take up very much space,” Harry added. “I can—I’d only need a cupboard.”

“Potter, what are you talking about?”

“We can get on,” Harry said. “We can get on very well, and you don’t have to undo the potion, and I don’t have to go back.”

“You want to . . . live here?”

Harry nodded vigorously.

“But . . . why?”

Trying to think quickly, Harry said, “Well . . . Heloise is very nice.”

“You want to live here because of my owl?”

Harry nodded even more vigorously.

“Potter,” Mister Malfoy began, then stopped. “You,” he started again. “What do you mean you only need a cupboard?”

“To sleep in,” Harry said. “You can store other things in there. I’ll keep it very clean.”

“Potter,” Mister Malfoy said again, still seeming at a loss. His lips quirked, almost a smile, but then he swallowed it. “Potter, I would—I would never put you in a cupboard.”

“But I promise,” Harry begged. “I wouldn’t bother you.”

“Yes.” Mister Malfoy’s lips quirked again. “And if I kept you in a cupboard—tell me, Potter. Where would you put your bed?”

“Oh, I don’t need a bed. I can use a shelf. Do you have a cupboard under the stairs? Those are good ones.”

“You mentioned that before.” The smile was growing now, but it wasn’t mean. Just—amused. “Do your aunt and uncle have a cupboard under the stairs?”

Harry nodded—not so vigorously now.

“And you like to play in it?”

“Er.” Harry hesitated. “Sometimes.”

“And what about all your toys?” Mister Malfoy asked, his voice amused as well. “Would they fit in there?”

Harry thought about the little plastic soldier he had. “I don’t need any toys,” he said quickly. He was sad to give up the soldier, but he’d much prefer to live with Mister Malfoy.

“Of course.” Mister Malfoy’s smile was even bigger—because he didn’t believe him, Harry realized.

For some reason, Mister Malfoy didn’t believe he could live in a cupboard under the stairs. Perhaps he thought Harry would be too noisy. “I could—I could stay out on the roof,” Harry suggested next.

“Yes,” Mister Malfoy said, but he was humouring him now. Harry could tell. “Up there with Heloise?”

Harry had had a teacher or two like this—very nice teachers, who didn’t believe the things he said. In those cases, Harry had always assumed Uncle Vernon or Aunt Petunia had told them what a liar he was, but for the first time it occurred to Harry that maybe he just looked like a liar. He also always looked like he wasn’t tidy, because of his hair. Disappointment surged over Harry as he realized he didn’t have any way to make Mister Malfoy want to keep him.

“I’ll tell you what.” Mister Malfoy sounded more amused than ever. “If I can’t fix the de-ageing potion, you can stay in the cupboard all you like. How does that sound?”

“Yeah. Okay.” Mister Malfoy was talking down to him. Harry felt stupid, but it didn’t change the fact that Mister Malfoy was really cool, and could do magic, and hadn’t even punished him yet for the books.

“Excellent,” Mister Malfoy said. “Would you like to come with me into the lab?”

“You have a lab?” Harry perked up a little. “Like on the telly?”

“I don’t know,” Mister Malfoy said, heading toward the door that went downstairs. “What are labs like on television?”

Harry hurried to catch up, following Mister Malfoy, who lit up sconces on the wall as they went down the stairs. “They have big machines,” Harry said, hopping down the steps. Though he was downcast he hadn’t been able to convince Mister Malfoy to let him stay, he was very interested in the prospects of a magic lab. “And they have lots of glass things with things bubbling and test tubes. And they have a bed with straps and a way to get lightening.”

“I am afraid there aren’t big machines,” Mister Malfoy said. “Nor beds with straps.”

“That’s for Frankenstein,” Harry said. “Can you make a Frankenstein?”

“That depends,” Mister Malfoy said. They went through the short hall to the room at the bottom, and Mister Malfoy used his stick to light the lantern hanging from the ceiling. “What’s a Frankenstein?”

“It’s a monster,” Harry said, proud he knew something Mister Malfoy didn’t. “It’s got screws coming out of its neck, and a flat head, and it walks like this.” Mister Malfoy looked over, and Harry demonstrated with his arms, holding them out in front of him. Mister Malfoy smiled, and Harry’s arms dropped. “Or maybe that’s mummy arms. I forget.”

“It sounds rather like a ghoul.”

“What’s a ghoul?”

“Can you sit here, please?” Mister Malfoy said, and Harry realized he’d forgot to look around.

Harry had passed through the room earlier, but he hadn’t really paused for inspection. Several tables surrounded them, with cabinets and three hearths along the walls. The hearths all had pots in them—big round black pots, like the kind witches used, and the tables had the glass equipment Harry had imagined. Some of the glass spheres and tubes even had liquid bubbling in them, though nothing looked about to explode. Other things were on the tables as well—plants, powders, small bags and large containers full of what seemed to be beetles, feathers, and eyes. A stone dish with beautiful writing carved into it sat right next to a jar with a brain in it. Cutting boards, knives, spoons, feather quills and parchment were scattered between all the materials, and Harry knew his mouth was hanging open.

“Potter,” Mister Malfoy said, sounding amused. He was standing by a stool that was next to a table, so Harry went to sit on the stool.

“Why do you call me Potter?” Harry said, sitting down.

“What would you prefer I call you?” Mister Malfoy asked, turning away to clear a spot on the table.

“Er.” Harry pushed up his glasses. “My first name is Harry.”

“All right then.”

Mister Malfoy was still clearing the table, so Harry couldn’t see the expression on his face. Once all the jars were out of the way, he’d laid out a parchment with a quill beside it. Finally turning back, he said, “I’m going to do a little magic on you, Harry. It might tingle, but it shouldn’t hurt.”

Harry waited for Mister Malfoy to use his stick, but just as Mister Malfoy was lifting it, Harry grabbed his glasses. Taking them off, he put them on the table. Mister Malfoy was just a blur, now, but Harry could feel his inquiry. “So they don’t break,” Harry explained.

“Why on earth would I break them?” Mister Malfoy asked, sounding a trifle impatient. Though he was now mostly just a blob, Harry could tell Mister Malfoy was pointing his stick. “Sanguinem egritudo,” he said, and Harry felt his heart race.

“What’s it doing?” Harry asked.

“Checking your blood.” Mister Malfoy wrote something down on the parchment, then turned back to Harry, making another movement with his stick. “Lympha egritudo,” he said, and Harry’s heart stopped racing, but he felt a tingle on weird spots on his body.

“That tickles,” Harry said, shifting.

“That means it’s working. Stop squirming.” Mister Malfoy did a little swirl with the stick. The tingling stopped, and Mister Malfoy turned to make another note.

He cast some other spells, usually by waving his stick and saying weird words. Some were ticklish; a few made Harry go hot or cold. Several made different parts of Harry light up, which was really cool. None of them hurt. After each one, Mister Malfoy made little notes on his parchment, but after a while Harry began to get bored.

“What’s a ghoul?” he asked, when Mister Malfoy turned to write a note after the fourth or fifth spell.

“A magical creature.”

“There are magic creatures?” Harry was beginning to feel much better, despite the fact that Mister Malfoy was going to reverse the potion. He certainly wasn’t bored any more.

“Oh, yes,” Mister Malfoy said. “Lots. Invenire infection,” he added, waving the stick.

Something like energy raced through Harry’s body, sort of like the time he’d got his hands on one of Dudley’s sodas and drank the whole can all in one go. “What are ghouls like?”

“They have grabby hands.” Mister Malfoy seemed to find the question droll, which made Harry feel a little silly, but Mister Malfoy was indulging him with answers, so that was okay. “They dribble flesh,” Mister Malfoy added.

“Dribble? Like—like a bouncy ball?”

“No, flesh is always rotting off them. They’re always leaving bits of themselves places.”

Harry’s eyes went round. “Wicked! Did you ever touch one?”

“No.” Mister Malfoy waved his stick and the racing feeling ended. “Gross,” he added, turning to his notes.

“Why do you have a stick?” Harry asked.

“A stick? Morbi inveniet.” Turning back, Mister Malfoy waved his stick.

The rush of energy raced through Harry again. “This one feels the same,” Harry said.

“That’s probably a good thing,” Mister Malfoy said, ending the spell and making a note.

“That stick you keep waving,” Harry said.

“I keep forgetting you don’t know anything about magic. Aetatis inspicere.”

A hum started low in Harry’s toes and moved slowly up through him. It felt kind of nice. “What am I meant to know?” he asked.

“It’s a wand,” Mister Malfoy said, still moving the stick. “It helps direct magic.”

“Am I really a wizard?”

“Yes.” Mister Malfoy sounded amused.

“Then can I do magic?”

Finite incantatem. Yes.” Mister Malfoy turned back to his notes, sounding even more amused. “You can do magic.”

“How?”

“You have, in fact, already done magic. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to touch your hair.”

Harry reached up to try to push his hair into some semblance of order. “I did try to comb it.”

“Did you,” Mister Malfoy said, his voice dry.

“It just does this,” Harry said, still trying to tame it with his fingers. “I swear.”

“I don’t care if you always wanted to seem fashionable,” Mister Malfoy said. “I was going to look for potion residue.”

“Oh.” Harry stopped trying to comb his hair, but he kept his hands on his head. Covering his face seemed like a good idea for his next question. “Was it the books?”

“What?”

“You said I did magic. Was it the books?”

“Yes.”

Harry went tense, but Mister Malfoy didn’t sound angry. Confused, Harry stayed like he was—arms protecting his face, just in case.

“Magical children don’t get wands until later. It’s so they don’t get up to anything dangerous—or mischievous—but it means their natural magic is difficult to control.”

Harry, realizing his eyes had been closed this whole time, decided to crack an eye open to check what Mister Malfoy was doing.

“Harry,” Mister Malfoy said. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Harry said, realizing he must look like an idiot. His muscles were stiff as he forced his arms down, but inside he felt shaky.

“All right,” Mister Malfoy said. He reached out and touched Harry’s hair.

Harry jumped, landing half back on the stool and almost falling off. “Sorry,” he said quickly, straightening himself. “You can—I forgot; you can check for potion stuff. I forgot you were going to, sorry.”

“Harry,” Mister Malfoy said, then stopped.

Harry was beginning to realize Mister Malfoy paused like that when he was disturbed by something. It was very different to what Aunt Petunia did, which was to screech and shout and lock him in cupboards, and to what Uncle Vernon did, which was to grab him and shove him about. Once when he’d got very, very angry, Vernon had knocked over a plant and broken the pot, sending dirt flying in a streak across the floor. The way Mister Malfoy reacted made it rather hard to notice what things he didn’t like, but Harry was fairly certain Mister Malfoy hadn’t liked him falling off the stool. Harry didn’t even know why he’d flinched. Uncle Vernon had never hit him, so he didn’t have anything to be afraid of.

“Harry.” Mister Malfoy’s voice was low. “Has anyone ever punished you for doing magic?”

“No,” Harry said, because he didn’t want Mister Malfoy to get the idea to punish him. “I’ve never done it before,” he added quickly.

“What happened with the books—that’s accidental magic.” Mister Malfoy’s voice sounded gentler now. “It happens when a magical child is scared, stressed, or hurt. You’re saying that’s never happened to you before?”

“No.” Harry shook his head vehemently. “Never.”

“Harry.” There was a pause, and Harry realized he’d closed his eyes again. “You know lying is bad, don’t you?”

Harry could feel tears behind his eyes, but he didn’t know why they were even there, so he didn’t let them out. He was very good at not crying. No one liked a crier—except for how Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia seemed to like Dudley. But that was different. Harry nodded.

“Most children your age have learned a bit more control.” Mister Malfoy’s voice was still kind, even though he was saying Harry was bad. Harry had heard that before, too. You’re under-developed, Harry, one of his nicest teachers had told him, her voice quite gentle. Harry hadn’t known what the teacher meant by ‘under-developed,’ but he had known that it was bad. “Usually only toddlers have magical accidents like that,” Mister Malfoy went on, “but I suppose you don’t have anyone to help you learn how to control it.”

“Sorry,” Harry said.

“Let me ask you again,” Mister Malfoy said in that low, gentle voice. “Has anyone ever hurt you when something—odd happened around you? Something that might have been you doing magic accidentally?”

“No,” Harry said, because it was true. He’d had to stay in the cupboard for days at a time, and he’d had to miss meals; Uncle Vernon had shouted, and Aunt Petunia had screeched; Uncle Vernon had grabbed him and shoved him around, but they had never punched him or used knives or anything like that. So Harry had never been hurt because of it.

“Harry.” Mister Malfoy’s voice went even lower. “Are you lying?”

The tears behind Harry’s eyes felt like pin-pricks. He guessed it hurt that Mister Malfoy didn’t believe him, but Uncle Vernon never believed him and that had stopped bothering Harry long ago.

“Harry.” Mister Malfoy’s voice was so quiet.

Harry shook his head no. He wasn’t sure he remembered the question.

Mister Malfoy stood there for what seemed like a long time. “All right,” he said, at last turning away. Picking up Harry’s glasses—his new glasses, which Mister Malfoy had magically shrunk—he held them out. “Put these on.”

Harry looked at the glasses, then up at Mister Malfoy, trying to decide whether it was some kind of trick. Unable to see Mister Malfoy’s expression to determine whether it was one or not, Harry snatched the glasses and shoved them on. Mister Malfoy was already turning away again. “Would you like some hot chocolate?”

His voice was light and normal, as though nothing had happened. Harry didn’t understand.

“Come along,” Mister Malfoy said in that normal way, sweeping off toward the stairs.

“What about the testing?” Harry said, sliding off the stool.

“We don’t have to do that now. It’s hot chocolate time.”

“I’ve never had hot chocolate,” Harry said, following Mister Malfoy up the stairs.

“What?” Mister Malfoy stopped so suddenly in front of him that Harry bumped into him.

“Sorry,” Harry said.

“How can you not have had hot chocolate?” Mister Malfoy said, starting up the stairs again.

“I snuck a marshmallow once, while Dudley was having it.” Harry followed along behind, keeping a larger distance this time, in case Mister Malfoy stopped again.

“You didn’t want any of the chocolate?”

“Aunt Petunia made it,” Harry said.

They got to the top of the stairs, but Mister Malfoy just stopped and looked down at him, his brow furrowed.

“I’m not her kid,” Harry explained, deciding Mister Malfoy looked confused. “I’ve got to earn my keep, so I had to do the washing up before I got any. But by the time I got them done, it was all gone.”

Mister Malfoy didn’t move, but Harry suddenly had the impression that he was getting angry.

Really angry.

His face wasn’t going red like Uncle Vernon’s—not like Uncle Vernon’s at all. If anything, it was getting paler. Paler and paler, his mouth going hard and flat, instead of open and yelling. His hand, though—Mister Malfoy’s hand was closing into a fist, tighter and tighter, and the knuckles were white. It wasn’t moving, but Harry started backing up. He backed up until he was against the wall, wanting to block his glasses again—and yet, somehow, he knew that that would make Mister Malfoy madder still.

“Granger,” Mister Malfoy said. His voice was low just like it had been earlier, but also nothing like it. Then it had been warm. Now it was arctic.

What’s a Granger? Harry thought wildly, but he didn’t want to risk saying it.

Mister Malfoy strode over toward the hearth.

Though he was sort of afraid Mister Malfoy would do something to the fire burning there, Harry was relieved Mister Malfoy hadn’t come for him.

Over by the hearth, Mister Malfoy reached for something on the chimney piece, but stopped suddenly. “Fuck,” he said, low enough that had Harry not been listening closely to everything Mister Malfoy was saying and doing, he might not have heard it. Turning away, Mister Malfoy just stood there by the chimney piece for a long moment. When he turned around, he looked awful. Like Aunt Petunia in the morning before coffee, when she said the neighbours had kept her up all night.

Harry stayed up against the wall. Curse words were never a good sign.

“Harry,” Mister Malfoy said, and Harry flinched. Mister Malfoy came toward him. “Harry, don’t . . . it’s all right.”

Pressed up against the wall, Harry stayed very, very still.

Mister Malfoy stopped, staring down at him. The fire lit up his hair into a fantastic gold colour, and his eyes shown in the light. Even if he did look a bit like Aunt Petunia, he still looked sort of a like a famous actor. “Come into the kitchen,” Mister Malfoy finally said, his voice soft. “I’ll make you that hot-chocolate.”

But you’re so angry, Harry wanted to say but knew better than to say it. Slowly, he followed Mister Malfoy to the door on the other side of the room—trying to keep a safe distance, but not so far that Mister Malfoy would get angry again.

Behind the door was a little kitchen with white cabinets and yellow tile. Inset into one of the counters was a white sink, but Harry didn’t see any fridge or microwave. In one corner was an old-fashioned cooker, and in the other corner was a little table with chairs and a window open beside it with cheerful-looking curtains. Beyond that was another door—to the washroom, Harry supposed, or perhaps a bedroom. In all it was a quaint little place, and Harry liked it immediately. He’d still much rather stay here than Privet Drive, and Mister Malfoy was still much, much nicer. Even if he did get angry.

“Have a sit at the table,” Mister Malfoy said.

His voice was still soft, but Harry figured he’d better do what Mister Malfoy said, so he went and sat at the table.

Using the stick—his wand, Harry guessed—Mister Malfoy opened cabinets, pointed at things in them, and made them float around the kitchen. He got sugar, cocoa, and water into a pot and then the pot on the cooker, then started the cooker, only murmuring words now and then to make things go where he wanted. Then he got milk out of a cabinet and a little bottle of something that looked like vanilla.

Harry watched the whole thing with wide eyes, jumping a little when Mister Malfoy made a blue mug and a white one with flowers painted on it float toward him. After adding the milk and vanilla-looking stuff and stirring the pot a bit more, Mister Malfoy danced a trivet onto the table, then spelled the pot on top of it. Using his wand some more, Mister Malfoy made the hot chocolate pour in an arcing stream from the pot into each of the mugs, then gave the blue one to Harry. “I apologize for the lack of marshmallows,” Mister Malfoy said. “They’re a bit of a trick to transfigure safely.”

Taking the mug because he knew he was meant to, Harry watched to see what Mister Malfoy did.

Mister Malfoy took the white cup with the flowers and then watched Harry. “I promise it’s not poison,” Mister Malfoy said, making a big, exaggerated smile.

Harry couldn’t figure out why Mister Malfoy was talking to him like that—like he was talking to a baby or one of Mrs. Figg’s scared cats.

“Suit yourself.” Hitching an elegant shoulder, Mister Malfoy took a sip of chocolate. He didn’t look like there was a problem with it, and he didn’t do anything stupid or condescending after that like smack his lips.

Tentatively, Harry tried the chocolate.

It was very, very good. Hot, but not quite hot enough to burn—just hot enough to make the chocolate feel silky on his tongue. Hardly ever getting to have sweets to begin with, much less in a drink, Harry hadn’t really tasted anything like it before.

He took another, bigger sip. And another.

Though Harry was waiting for Mister Malfoy to tell him to slow down, Mister Malfoy just said, “Would you like to try some magic?”

Harry almost choked on chocolate. Struggling to keep it down, he coughed.

When he was done wheezing, Mister Malfoy said, “I’ll teach you.” He set something on the table with a small clack.

It was a wand—not the same light colour as Mister Malfoy’s wand. This one was darker and a little longer, and suddenly Harry realized it was the stick he’d been holding when he’d first ended up in these clothes. Harry looked from it back up to Mister Malfoy, then back down at the wand.

“It belongs to you,” Mister Malfoy said.

Harry swallowed hard. “It does?” Mister Malfoy nodded, and Harry tentatively reached out to take the wand on the table. When he touched it, the room brightened, a rush of warmth and energy rushing through Harry. “Wow,” he breathed.

“That means it’s yours,” said Mister Malfoy.

“What can I do with it?” Harry said, swishing the wand around as he had seen Mister Malfoy do.

“Probably not that.” Mister Malfoy grabbed their mugs, still full of hot chocolate—well, Mister Malfoy’s was almost full; Harry’s was half—and moved them to the side of the table near the window. “Try . . .” Mister Malfoy looked around. “Accio parchment,” he said, holding out his hand.

Harry opened his mouth, but he closed it when a piece of paper floated in from the other room and then into Malfoy’s hand. “You did it without a wand!”

“I—well, yes.” Mister Malfoy looked startled, then started to look pleased. “It takes a bit of practice, but I can do a number of small spells without it.”

“What else can you do?” Harry asked, feeling pretty excited about this. Maybe when Mister Malfoy took Harry’s wand away, he could still do some things—not things like knocking books around, just small things. Nice things that no one would see.

“Well . . .” Mister Malfoy slowly looked about the kitchen. “Alohomora,” he said, waving at a cabinet.

The door of the cabinet slowly creaked open.

Alohomora,” Harry said, waving the wand at a cabinet that was closed.

It remained closed.

“You have to tap it,” Mister Malfoy said.

“Oh.” Tapping the cabinet with the wand, Harry said, “Alohomora.”

The cabinet didn’t open.

Aloho-mohr-a,” Mister Malfoy murmured.

Alohomora.” Harry tapped again, but the cabinet still didn’t open.

“Try to feel the magic inside you,” Mister Malfoy said. “What you felt with the books. That was good.”

Harry glanced up at him quickly, but Mister Malfoy didn’t look like he was tricking him, even though Harry was still pretty sure the books had been a bad thing. But Mister Malfoy didn’t look angry, still wearing that gentle expression. Turning away, Mister Malfoy waved at a different cabinet. “Alohomora.

Harry thought about the books. He didn’t remember making them move at all. He didn’t remember anything about it. He remembered thinking that it was 2012, and he was thirty-one, and he didn’t know who the Prime Minister was, or anything that had happened since—

“Now, Harry,” said Mister Malfoy.

Alohomora,” Harry yelled, poking the cabinet with his wand.

All the cabinets in the kitchen came open, slamming against their casings with a loud crack. Dishes inside jiggled with little tinkling sounds.

“I didn’t mean to,” Harry said, lowering his wand.

“That was fine,” Mister Malfoy said, going to close the cabinets. “You just need a little bit more control.”

“Oh.” Harry swallowed.

Turning away from the cabinets, Mister Malfoy looked down at him. “That spell was first rate, actually,” he added, after a moment. “Powerful. Most first years can’t do a spell that affects so many targets at once.”

“First years?”

“At Hogwarts,” Mister Malfoy said. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You . . .” Trailing off, he wet his lips. “You always had strong magic.”

Harry wasn’t ashamed, but he had been a bit afraid Mister Malfoy might get angry. He supposed at Hogwarts people were meant to be doing magic, as it was a school for witchcraft and wizardry. That there could be a whole school full of people doing funny business without getting in trouble for it seemed strange. If Uncle Vernon knew about it, he wouldn’t like it at all.

“Do you want to try something else?” Mister Malfoy asked.

Harry hesitated. “If it’s okay.”

“How about the parchment? You give the wand a little flick, like you would beckon with your finger. Then you say, ‘Accio parchment’.” Mister Malfoy flicked his finger as he said it, and the paper floated toward him. “Now, you try.” Setting the paper on the table, Mister Malfoy backed up.

After several tries, Harry got it. Then they did a spell to pour more cocoa, turn on the sink, make the trivet float, and stop the other spells. Mister Malfoy had to take out his wand to show Harry how to make the chair dance, and Harry tried it himself on the other chair. After twenty minutes both the chairs were dancing, the curtains were floating, and the hot chocolate was pouring itself into itself over and over. Harry pointed at the table with the wand, shouting, “Tarantellegra!”

The table began to dance. Hot chocolate proceeded to spray everywhere.

Finite incantatem,” Mister Malfoy said, raising his voice over the ruckus of the dancing table.

Eyes glued in horror to the chocolate splattering around the kitchen, Harry had thought Mister Malfoy was casting the spell, but the table didn’t stop dancing. Chocolate continued to spray everywhere.

“You remember it, Harry,” Mister Malfoy said, sounding as though something was wrong with him. “Do the stopping spell!”

Finally ripping his eyes away from the hot chocolate sprinkler, Harry looked up at Mister Malfoy.

He had chocolate on his face. He was laughing.

Harry’s jaw dropped open.

“Do it, Harry.” Mister Malfoy laughed some more, and it was such a nice sound, nicer than anything Harry had ever heard before. Way better than Take That.

Lifting the wand, Harry pointed at the table, then the chairs, then the curtains. “Finite incantatem,” he said. “Finite incantatem! Finite incantatem!” The tables and chairs and curtains stopped dancing. The hot chocolate also stopped pouring, but that was mostly because it was all over the kitchen now. Harry looked up at Mister Malfoy. “Why aren’t you mad?” he heard himself say, even though he definitely hadn’t planned on it.

Mister Malfoy’s laughter faded, and for a second, he almost looked sad. “Oh, Harry,” he said, and stopped.

Harry knew he shouldn’t have said it.

Mister Malfoy looked down at him but didn’t say anything about it. Instead he turned away, and when he talked his voice was normal. “Let’s try a cleaning charm,” he said. “Like this.” Mister Malfoy swished his wand, saying, “Scourgify!” A little puddle of chocolate sucked up into his wand.

Harry wondered whether he should tell Mister Malfoy about the chocolate streaked on his face. Probably he could feel it. Pointing his wand at a puddle of hot chocolate, Harry tried the cleaning spell. The chocolate sucked into his wand too, but when Harry checked it, it didn’t drip or anything. “Scourgify!” he said, turning to another puddle.

“Excellent,” Mister Malfoy said.

Scourgify!” Harry said, aiming at some chocolate that had spattered on the wall. It was much more fun than scrubbing or mopping, and Harry went on cleaning. Even though Mister Malfoy hadn’t been mad, Harry wanted to fix his mistake, figuring it was only right. Mister Malfoy had such a nice kitchen.

As Harry finished up, he realized Mister Malfoy had just been standing there, not doing anything. When Harry turned he found Mister Malfoy watching him, something that seemed unhappy filling his silver eyes. Harry checked to make sure all the chocolate was cleaned up, but the kitchen looked quite clean once again. By the time Harry looked back, Mister Malfoy was turning away, sliding his wand into his sleeve. “Harry,” he said decisively, sweeping off toward the cabinets. “Do you like cake?”

“Cake?” For the first time, Harry became aware of the profound emptiness in his stomach. It chose that moment to growl.

“Indeed.” Mister Malfoy took something out of one of the cabinets, but it looked much more like bread than cake, and Harry tried not to feel disappointed. “I’ve realized it’s our in-between birthday.”

“In-between birthday?” Harry asked, distracted as Mister Malfoy pointed at the cake and said something. An incantation, Mister Malfoy had said, when he’d taught Harry the spells. The bread went wobbly; then Mister Malfoy said another incantation.

“Yes,” Mister Malfoy said, moving his wand over the wobbling bread. “My mum’s and my birthdays were three days apart. Every day in-between was both of our in-between birthdays. Your and my birthdays are almost two months apart. Do you know what that means?”

You’re old? Harry wanted to guess, but it seemed rude.

“Cake, Harry!” Mister Malfoy announced. “It means cake.”

“Oh,” Harry said. He hoped it meant eating cake as well, but Harry could never be sure. Usually he didn’t get to have cake, unless it was the fruit cake Aunt Marge brought on holiday. No one else wanted to eat that cake, so Harry always got a little—even though he didn’t want to eat it either.

Mister Malfoy was still casting spells at the wobbly bread. It was looking more like a cake, in fact, with two round layers and something jam-like in-between. A soft white paste was coming from the tip of Mister Malfoy’s wand, and he was spreading it over the cake. Harry very much hoped it was icing.

Even if it didn’t taste like a cake, Harry sort of wanted some. He was pretty hungry, and he’d only had half of his hot chocolate.

Mister Malfoy must have seen the look on Harry’s face, because he hurried up with his incantations. Still, he took the time to add large flowers on the top in pink icing, making the bread-cake one of the most beautiful foods Harry had ever seen. Everything looked nice when Mister Malfoy was concerned, Harry supposed. Then Mister Malfoy used his wand to get out forks and plates and carry the cake over to the table. “Go ahead,” he said, handing Harry a slender knife without a point. “Cut yourself a slice.”

“I—I get to have some?”

“No, I made it all for myself.”

But Harry could tell Mister Malfoy was joking, so he took the knife and started cutting himself a slice about a fourth of the size of the cake.

“Um,” Mister Malfoy said, a little faintly. “Are you sure you want all of that?”

Uncertain what to do, Harry stopped slicing. He should have known he couldn’t get away with it—the few times he had ever got to have cake, it had only been the thinnest, most meagre slice. But Mister Malfoy had said . . . Harry took his knife out of the cake and began to cut himself a much more modest piece.

“I didn’t mean,” Mister Malfoy began, but stopped when Harry hesitated again. “Go on,” Mister Malfoy said. “You can have more later if you want some.”

Harry finished cutting himself the skinny slice. Mister Malfoy cut his own slice after that, and Harry finally took a bite. It was delicious, and it definitely did not taste like bread.

“In-between birthdays are the best,” Mister Malfoy said. “There’s cake every day. And presents. We can go wherever we like and do anything we please. Father always . . .”

Harry stopped chewing, wanting to hear what Mister Malfoy’s dad had done. Grown-ups had dads too, he realized. Mister Malfoy’s dad was probably the best.

“Well, we never had to be discreet on in-between birthdays, for one thing,” Mister Malfoy went on. “Harry, are you done?”

Harry quickly stabbed the remaining three bits of cake with his fork, shoved it into his mouth, and nodded.

“You must have been starving,” Mister Malfoy said. “Perhaps you should have real food. Let’s see what I have.” Going back over to the cabinet, he pulled out some chicken—which seemed disgusting, keeping chicken in a cabinet. But Mister Malfoy was magic, so maybe the cabinet was magically cold. Then from another cabinet he took out some vegetables, and Harry tried to rally, pretending vegetables weren’t the worst ever.

Looking over at him, Mister Malfoy laughed. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I used to hate vegetables. I’m sure I can make something good out of this.”

Harry had his doubts, but Mister Malfoy made a chicken pie out of it, and it was delicious.

In fact, Harry had never had food this good. Aunt Petunia mostly made him eat vegetables, and when he got to have meat it was usually the burned parts, or bits that were too dry. Not sure when he would get to eat again—and certainly not sure when he’d get to eat this well—Harry checked to see whether Mister Malfoy looked mad when Harry reached for another slice of pie.

“Are you sure you’re hungry enough?” Mister Malfoy said, surprised.

Harry paused, waiting to see if that meant no.

“By all means, have more.” Mister Malfoy nudged the plate closer, and Harry helped himself to another thick slice.

And another.

“I suppose you’re still young,” Mister Malfoy said, sounding uncertain.

His mouth full of chicken and broccoli, Harry stopped the fork with another load of potato and gravy on the way to his mouth. He finished chewing, then swallowed. “Er. Yes?” he guessed, then shoved the four remaining bites of pie in his mouth. “Does that mean I can have . . .” Harry gestured at the cake.

“What?” Mister Malfoy said, surprised. “You still want—” Breaking off at the look on Harry’s face, Mister Malfoy stopped, then cut a big slice. “Of course,” he said, floating the slice over to Harry’s cake plate.

Harry had two whole plates. And at some point, Mister Malfoy had got him another glass of milk.

“You can have anything you want,” Mister Malfoy added.

Harry ate the second slice of cake, then reached for a third. The pause between eating lasted long enough for Harry to realize that his stomach ached, it was so full. Trying to finish the third slice anyway, Harry really struggled to get the last bites in. “Can I have more cake?” Harry asked, directly after he had finished.

“Of course,” Mister Malfoy said again, then cut him another slice.

Harry managed about two bites, then dropped his fork onto his plate. It landed with a clatter.

Mister Malfoy smiled. “Had enough at last?”

“No,” Harry said stubbornly. “I’m still . . .” Picking up his fork, he loaded it up and tried to eat the bite. He honestly tried, but when it got to his lips, he just couldn’t do it.

“Don’t eat if you’re not hungry, Harry.” Mister Malfoy’s voice had changed from amusement to something like concern, but Harry didn’t want to look at Mister Malfoy’s face. He didn’t want to look at anything.

He felt so, so sick, his stomach tight over all the food, so tight it felt like bursting. His throat was beginning to dry up even as his mouth was watering. He didn’t understand why his mouth was watering; he couldn’t stand the thought of eating more. Even the smell of it was beginning to make him nauseated and then he realized—he was nauseated. His stomach was turning over in his body. He was going to sick up. Harry dropped the fork again.

“We’ll just clean this up,” Mister Malfoy said, but Harry could barely hear him, his stomach already heaving. “Do you want to—”

“Er,” Harry heard himself say, though even speech made him feel even more ill. His mouth already tasted like bile. “Can I—where’s the loo?”

“Just through there,” said Mister Malfoy, gesturing to the door behind them.

Harry lunged toward it, only just making it to the toilet before he began to sick up.

“Harry?” Mister Malfoy’s voice floated through the door. No doubt he could hear the horrible retching sounds.

Harry tried to say something, only he felt so miserable he couldn’t form any words. His throat ached, his mouth tasting awful. The cool porcelain of the toilet felt nice against his cheek, which he assumed was probably disgusting, but he rested his cheek against it anyway.

“Harry,” Mister Malfoy said, sounding urgent. “Can I—are you all right?”

“Fine,” Harry managed.

“Can I come in?”

“No,” Harry said, clutching the toilet. “I’ve just—I’ve just got to use the toilet!”

“Harry.”

Harry didn’t know what to say, so he sicked up again into the toilet bowl.

The door opened, and someone came in. Harry knew it was Mister Malfoy, but he felt too ill to look up, not to mentioned embarrassed. Even if Mister Malfoy wasn’t angry at him for sicking up, he was going to think Harry was an idiot for having made himself ill, and he’d be right. Harry didn’t even know why he’d done it, only the food had been so good, and no one had taken it away.

Mister Malfoy said something, and the vomit in the toilet disappeared. The smell was gone too, which already made Harry feel a little better. “Accio flannel,” Mister Malfoy said, coming over to sit on the ground by Harry. Harry tried to flinch away, but Mister Malfoy said, “Shh,” then took off Harry’s glasses. “You’ve made yourself sick. You ate too much. Aguamenti,” he added, as the flannel floated into his hand. “Here.” Then a wet cloth was on Harry’s forehead, and Mister Malfoy was pushing Harry’s hair back as he wiped up the cold sweat.

“What,” Harry managed to say. “What are you doing?”

“Here,” Mister Malfoy said, giving him the flannel. “Wipe your face. Accio another flannel.” His hand stayed in Harry’s hair—Harry didn’t know what it was doing—as the second flannel floated into his other hand. “Aguamenti,” Mister Malfoy said, which Harry guessed made it wet, and then the wet cloth was wiping his neck, his stupidly sweaty hair.

Harry’s stomach felt much better after having dumped a portion of its contents into the toilet, but he felt all the wrong temperatures—cold but sweaty, a little light-headed. His mouth tasted terrible, and yet he couldn’t really think about it, because Mister Malfoy wasn’t angry. He wasn’t annoyed or telling him to hurry up, and for once, getting sick had been entirely Harry’s fault. Harry didn’t understand, and the worst part was the way Mister Malfoy kept running his fingers through Harry’s hair, because it felt nice.

Mister Malfoy murmured another incantation, and after a moment or two a glass floated in from the kitchen. “Drink this,” Mister Malfoy said, giving him the glass.

Harry took it and did what Mister Malfoy said, even though the thought of putting something else in his stomach sort of made him want to cry. The drink tasted mostly like water, except it took away the taste in his mouth too, making everything feel fresh again and clean.

After that, Mister Malfoy stopped touching him, and Harry became intensely aware that they were kneeling on the floor of the loo. “Sorry,” Harry said, for lack of anything better to say.

“I should have stopped you,” Mister Malfoy said, but he still didn’t sound angry. “I didn’t—I wasn’t thinking. Would you like to have a lie down?”

That was exactly what Harry wanted to do, and so he said immediately, “I’m not tired.”

“All right,” Mister Malfoy said.

Harry’s eyes slid to the toilet. “Er, sorry,” he said again. “About . . .” He waved a vague hand toward the toilet.

“Why don’t you put on your glasses,” Mister Malfoy said, handing them over. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to lie down?”

“I’m feeling much better, really.” Putting his glasses on, Harry made himself stand up.

Mister Malfoy stared up at him, his look sceptical. After a few moments he stood as well, heading toward the door of the loo. “Come along, then.”

Harry followed Mister Malfoy out, suddenly feeling tired, like more had been expelled from him than just chewed-up food. Being in the kitchen made him strangely guilty, as though returning to the site of a horrible crime. Just the sight of the half-eaten cake on the table was making his stomach turn all over again.

“How about the sitting room,” Mister Malfoy suggested. “Would you like to sit by the fire?”

Harry perked up. They did not have fires very often at the house on Privet Drive. Aunt Petunia said they were a waste—of what, Harry wasn’t certain. Whenever they did have fires, Uncle Vernon fell asleep in front of them while Harry cleaned, and then there was never anywhere to sit by it.

In the sitting room, only one chair sat by the fire—the floral, wingback one, but Mister Malfoy pointed his wand at it and it stretched, becoming wide enough for them both to sit. Harry waited until Mister Malfoy sat down, then tentatively sat on the edge, still confused. Aunt Petunia used to tell Dudley he would “ruin his dinner,” when he ate too many sweets, but Harry had never understood it. Now he understood, not only having ruined his dinner but having ruined afters as well and having got sick on top of that, which was always a bad thing to do. He didn’t understand why Mister Malfoy wasn’t angry with him.

“How are you feeling?” Mister Malfoy asked.

Harry quickly checked Mister Malfoy’s face, but he didn’t even look a tiny bit mad. Shadows licked up the side of his cheekbones, making his skin gold. “I’m fine,” Harry said, realizing Mister Malfoy was waiting.

Mister Malfoy looked a little sad about that answer. “Harry.” His voice was so slow and measured that Harry immediately tensed up. “When you’re with your aunt and uncle, do you get enough to eat?”

“Yes,” Harry said immediately.

Mister Malfoy just looked at him.

Harry had been asked these questions before. “I never get sick,” he added. “I—it was an accident.”

Mister Malfoy’s jaw went tight, like he was clenching it.

Mister Malfoy was displeased, and Harry very much wanted to please him. He liked Mister Malfoy a lot. He liked him a whole lot, and he didn’t know why some things he said seemed to make Mister Malfoy frustrated, especially when the other thing Harry had said was about hot chocolate. It was confusing, and Harry wished it could be clear like it was with Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, only he didn’t wish it was like that at all. That was confusing too.

“You do realize you’re . . . allowed to be ill. Getting sick isn’t your fault.”

“But I don’t get sick,” Harry said.

“Right,” Mister Malfoy said. “And you realize that if you did get sick, you sometimes need someone to—to help you?”

“But I don’t—”

“It isn’t a burden, Harry,” Mister Malfoy said abruptly. “No one should act like it’s a burden, taking care of you. Do they . . . ?”

Harry cut in before Mister Malfoy could decide what to ask. “But I don’t need anyone to take care of me.”

“Harry,” Mister Malfoy said again, even more softly. He paused for a long time. “I’m going to fix this potion as soon as I possibly can. But until then . . .” Taking a deep breath, he leaned forward. “Until then, you’ll stay with me. Do you understand?”

Harry nodded quickly, just in case Mister Malfoy changed his mind.

“I’ll do my best, but as you’ve probably gathered by now, I am a novice when it comes to children.”

Harry nodded to show he knew what the word “novice” meant, even though he didn’t. He hoped it meant someone who loved children.

“Therefore, you have to help me,” Mister Malfoy said. “You have to tell me if you want or need anything. Anything you want or need, I’ll give it to you. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Harry said, even though he didn’t, really. He was pretty excited about getting to stay with Mister Malfoy, though. Maybe Mister Malfoy would never figure out the potion, and he could stay with him forever.

“That means you have to communicate,” Mister Malfoy went on. “You have to tell me if you don’t feel good. If you’re hungry or afraid or sleepy. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Harry said immediately. “I don’t get afraid. And I’m hardly ever sick,” he added.

Mister Malfoy’s five-p eyes shone brighter in the firelight. “And Harry,” he added softly, “you don’t have to hide things from me. You don’t have to pretend to feel differently than you do.”

“I don’t,” Harry said.

Mister Malfoy looked tired. He looked really, really tired, and Harry wondered whether that was because Mister Malfoy thought Harry was pretending.

“Hardly ever,” Harry added, feeling guilty.

Mister Malfoy smiled a bit without looking like he wanted to smile at all, and Harry guessed he probably shouldn’t have said that. “You always told the truth in school,” Mister Malfoy said. “Even when no one believed you. Even when—when people hurt you for it. You always told the truth.”

“Oh. Why did people . . .?” Harry swallowed. “Was it Dudley?”

“Pardon?”

“Was Dudley—did Dudley and Piers go to Hogwarts too? I thought they were—they were ‘Muggle.’ ”

“No, Harry,” Mister Malfoy said. “Your cousin didn’t go to Hogwarts.”

“I’m glad,” Harry said.

“I should imagine so.” Mister Malfoy smiled faintly again. He still didn’t look happy about it, but it was a better smile than before. “I always admired how honest you were. I . . . never told you that before.”

“You admired me?” Harry said, shocked.

“Harry. Everyone admired you.”

“Why?” Harry said, because he couldn’t really believe it.

Mister Malfoy’s smile was almost a real one. “Would you like to try some more magic?” he said, instead of answering Harry’s question.

Few things could have distracted Harry from the subject at hand, but the offer of magic did.

Accio Harry’s wand,” Mister Malfoy said, and Harry’s wand came floating in. Harry had forgot; he had left it in the kitchen. “A wizard should keep his wand on him at all times,” Mister Malfoy said, handing him the wand.

“Yes, sir,” Harry said, taking the wand.

“Harry.” Mister Malfoy hesitated again, and Harry tried to figure out what he had done wrong this time. Whatever it was, Mister Malfoy seemed to forget about it, because he leaned in toward the fire to cast a spell on it that made some of the orange flames blue, and when he spoke to Harry his voice was much lighter. “You needn’t call me sir,” he said.

“Oh,” Harry said, but then didn’t know what to call him.

“Just Draco is fine,” Mister Malfoy went on, still waving his wand at the fire. “Ignis verd,” he murmured, and some of the blue flames turned green.

“But.” Harry couldn’t help feeling a little bewildered. “Is that your first name?”

“First names are much nicer; don’t you think? Ignis rose,” Mister Malfoy—Draco added, and some of the green flames went pink.

“I guess,” Harry said.

Ignis lavande,” Draco said, then finally pulled away from the fire. “Would you like to learn the colour spells?”

Attention caught by the rainbow flames now arranged in the hearth, Harry took a moment to realize he was being asked a question. “Er,” he said, turning back to Mister Malfoy—Draco. “Yes, please.”

Draco walked Harry through each colour, each spell having a slightly different flick of the wand at the end of them. The words were hard to remember, but Draco didn’t make fun of him for forgetting. Instead, he repeated the words over and over, his voice becoming hypnotic in the warm glow of the fire. He demonstrated each of the movements again and again, at one point covering Harry’s hand with his larger one and gently moving with him to show Harry the flick to turn the chair orange.

They changed the floor green, and the ceiling blue, the bookcases purple with yellow polka dots. Draco made his own shirt yellow with orange stripes, then his hands blue, his hair pink. Harry smiled, and Draco looked so, so pleased. Then Draco did Finite incantatem, and everything went back to its normal colour, lit by the burnished gold of the fire and candles still lit around the room.

Draco looked like a painting, warm and kind and gold like a prince from a fairy tale, like something from a dream. A dream where Harry didn’t live in a cupboard and got to eat whenever he wanted, and no one told him he was a freak.

“Can you do more magic?” Harry asked impulsively.

Draco looked surprised. “Of course,” he said. “Is there anything in particular you’d like to see?”

“No, I just—I like it. When you do it.”

Draco just stared at him for a moment. “Why, of course you do,” he said, after a moment. “You’ll find I’m a very talented wizard. Expecto patronum!” A silver thread streamed out of Draco’s wand, puffing up into a shimmering cloud.

“Wow,” Harry breathed. “What does it do?”

“That’s not . . .” Draco began, then waved away the cloud. “It’s a very difficult spell,” he said. “You have to be feeling just right for it to come out correctly.”

Harry realized Draco must be a very powerful wizard. Other people probably couldn’t even do it.

“Never mind about that one,” Draco said. “This one is always a crowd pleaser. Ignis draco.” He pointed his wand at the fire, which seemed to stream toward Draco’s wand. Soon the flames were weaving into the shape of a large lizard. Or dinosaur. Or—dragon, it was a dragon, like Harry had seen on a kite at the park, once, walking on the way home from school. The flames shimmered into sparks; then the sparks popped out, fading in the air.

Next Draco made the shadows dance into the shapes of big spindly-legged birds that kept falling over, which made Harry smile again.

“You think that’s funny, do you?” Draco said, feigning offence but in such a preposterously high voice that Harry smiled even more. Pointing his wand at his nose, Draco said an incantation that made his nose hairs begin growing out in ringlets. “No laughing!” Draco said, his high voice making the ringlets jiggle.

Harry laughed.

Draco beamed. “I said, no ‘laughing!’ From now on, only serious spells!” Then he pointed his wand at himself again. “Finite incantatem,” he said, but he missed on purpose, moving his wand at the last moment. “Finite incantatem,” he repeated, missing again. “Ructo papillon,” he said, and burped out a butterfly.

“Oh, no!” Harry laughed harder.

Finite incantatem,” Draco said, and his nose hairs finally started ungrowing back into his nose. “I must find a way to stop all this nonsense. Expecto patronum!”

Harry recognized the incantation, but the spell was nothing like before. The whole room seemed to fill with the shimmering cloud this time, and from the tip of Draco’s wand the unspooling silver spun and spun until forming the shape of a glowing fox. “Say hello to Harry,” Draco told the fox, tapping on the butterfly to make it disappear. All of Draco’s nose hairs were back in his nose as well.

Meanwhile, the fox walked over to Harry’s side of the couch and sat down, looking up. The fox seemed quite thin, something wilder and savage about it than the foxes at the zoo. It looked like a fox who’d gone through the winter, cold, with barely anything to eat. Harry couldn’t take his eyes from it. “It can understand you?”

“She’s a Patronus,” Draco said. “She can help protect me if there’s trouble.”

“She?” Harry said, startled. “Does she have a name?”

“No. The spell changes form according to who you are or what’s most important to you at the time. Mine hasn’t always been a fox.”

Harry glanced at Draco. “What was it before?”

“A peacock.” For some reason, Draco looked a little sad about that.

Harry was going to ask him why, but the fox put its translucent silver paws up on the couch, then hopped up between them. Harry budged over to make room for it, which put a small smile back on Draco’s face.

“It’s okay,” he said. “A Patronus is incorporeal. She can’t feel you.”

Harry didn’t know what incorporeal meant, but he thought it sounded nice. “So, she can’t . . . I can’t, um.” Harry sort of wanted to pet it, but he already knew that was stupid. Draco had just said she couldn’t feel it.

“You can pet her,” Draco said gently. “She may be incorporeal, but I’m sure she would appreciate it nevertheless.”

When Harry tried to pet the fox, however, his hand went straight through her. He glanced up quickly to see whether Draco was laughing at him, but he wasn’t. Instead he had that strange look on his face—like he had with Heloise—something almost rueful in his expression. Harry tried petting the fox again, keeping his hand where the glowing lines of her fur was. Even though she looked so wild and hungry, he didn’t get the feeling she’d hurt him. Draco had said she was a protector, and something about her hunted look made Harry believe that she could fight.

The fox stood up, stepped into Harry’s lap, and curled into a ball.

“She likes you,” Draco said softly, and Harry’s chest went tight. Pointing his wand about the room, Draco extinguished the candles one by one. At last the room was lit only by the fire in front of them and the soft glow of the Patronus, and then Draco pointed his wand at the ceiling. “Celeste revelo,” he murmured.

Harry looked up and had to swallow a small gasp. The ceiling looked as though it was gone, full instead with stars.

Draco waved his wand again, extinguishing the fire. “Mum used to do this spell for me at night,” Draco said, looking up at the stars. Their light made his face look pale in the dark room. “Her side of the family all has celestial names.”

“Draco—is the name of a star?” Harry said, guessing what ‘celestial’ meant.

“A constellation. I forgot—most Muggles don’t pay attention to stars the way wizards do.” Pointing his wand upward again, Draco made silver sparks come out of it. They drifted upward, tracing lines between the stars. “This is Ursa Major,” he said, moving closer to Harry and pointing. “Do you see? It looks like a bear.”

Harry followed the line of Draco’s arm to the silver line connecting dots in the air. It looked more like a stick-figure dog than a bear, but Harry guessed maybe Draco wasn’t a good artist. “Sort of,” he said.

“She points up to Polaris.” Draco pointed his wand, making one of the stars glow larger for a moment. “That’s the north star.”

“I know that one,” Harry said. “We learned about it in school.”

“Very good,” Draco murmured, and Harry felt his chest expand. He’d never been a good student, but then, he’d never had a teacher like Mister Malfoy. He was sitting close now, and Harry could feel the warmth of Draco’s arm through his sleeve. He smelled nice, like cake and fire. “Polaris is part of Ursa Minor,” Draco went on. “Draco’s tail is between the two bears.”

“Tail?” Harry was interested. He really was, but he also wanted Draco to keep talking because it sounded so nice, and the room was warm and dark, and Harry was really very tired.

“Oh, yes, Harry,” Draco said softly. “Draco is a dragon.” He moved his wand over the sky, connecting dots to draw a long worm-like shape with a box for a head.

Harry wanted to tell him it didn’t look like a dragon at all, but it looked so pretty up there, and Mister Malfoy vibrated a bit when he talked, like a low hum.

“Minerva threw him up there,” Draco said. “Twisted and injured, he tried to find his way out of the northern sky, but he froze instead.”

“That was mean,” Harry said, then realized his eyes had drifted closed. Making himself open them, he looked at Draco. “What else happened?”

Draco looked down at him, a smile turning softly on the side of his nice-looking mouth in the glowing starlight. “Well, there was a very vain queen named Cassiopeia,” he said, then told the story of the queen who was punished for her vanity.

“Yeah,” Harry said, feeling warmth settle across his back, then press up against his side. He was warm all around, and Mister Malfoy kept telling stories Harry could no longer hear but could feel in the rumble against him. Everything was dark, and a magic fox slept curled in his lap.

All in all, it was a very good day. Harry never wanted it to end.