* * *
He had missed it so much during his year in Paris. He had missed her warm wooden kitchens as he toiled for hours in an industrial kitchen made of metal. He had missed the gentle lilt of Rosamund’s West Country accent as he was lectured in stern French. He had missed his Great Aunt Gwenna sitting with him by the fire every night that he returned to find his tiny Parisian flat as barren and lifeless as he had left it that morning.
It had been a long and difficult year. Difficult, but worth it. Vitta Hyacinthina was the best magical culinary institute in the world; it was so famous and well-respected that when a Squib had founded a Muggle equivalent, he had simply translated the Latin into French: Cordon Bleu. Draco had known he would need to go to Paris to get the quality of training he wanted, and he was grateful for all he had learned. He had enjoyed living in Paris and spending his rare days off wandering museums and dining in fine restaurants, but Manerji Kalmynsi was home. It was the home he thought he would never have again once Malfoy Manor and Hogwarts were both tainted by the war.
The circumstances of his arrival in Cornwall had not been pleasant. The moment his mother had woken in St Mungo’s, still covered in her husband’s blood, she had ordered her house-elf to find Draco and take him to his Great Aunt Gwenna. Draco hadn’t seen his mother until she was released from St Mungo’s weeks later, so it had fallen to Gwenna to tell him of his father’s murder and then hold him while he wept. Gwenna had never been close to her nephew—she and Lucius disagreed on almost everything—but she found words of comfort for the son who grieved him.
It was Gwenna who had tended to Draco over the following weeks and months, soothing the wounds no one could see. She had encouraged the interest in baking he had developed during the war, hiding in the kitchens with the house-elves. She saw the way it healed him and recognised his talent.
When he wondered what future he could ever make for himself in Britain, she'd offered her home to him. He could open a hotel to showcase his baking to the wizarding world, she'd said, even if he knew he could never admit his true identity.
He walked up the stone walkway to the large wooden door and ran his hand down its solid mass before knocking. Thundering footsteps came from within the house until a moment later when he was being hugged tightly around the middle by a familiar mess of dark hair that now reached almost to his shoulder. Here was what he had missed more than anything. He pulled back from her vice-like grip to take in her warm brown eyes and the scattering of freckles across her nose.
“You’ve grown, Merryn! How dare you change in my absence?”
She stepped back, beaming up at him. “You knocked, you daft fool. You live ‘ere. Now come in. Mum’s got supper ready and she won’t take the Statis off ‘til you’re at the table.” She pulled him into the warmth of the house and he greedily soaked up the familiar paintings on the walls and the smell of old stone and wood.
“Unhand me, you monster! What was your mother thinking, putting me between you and your food. Is she plotting my demise?” Despite his protests, Draco left his still-shrunken trunk by the main stairs and let himself be dragged down the hall to where Rosamund would be guarding dinner from her hungry daughter. It was rather nice being hurried, as if his presence were important.
“Mum and Miss Gwenna want to ‘ear all about the baking. I want to ‘ear about Paris!”
“If you’re so interested, you could have come visit me!”
Merryn’s gait faltered. “I wanted to…”
Draco wrapped her in a hug, berating himself silently. He knew Vitta Hyacinthina represented just another school she would never attend. Sure, she could go to Cordon Bleu someday, but they would teach her how to work with Muggle devices that would never function in her mother’s kitchen or Draco’s. Not for the first time, he contemplated converting one of the Manerji Kalmynsi’s—soon to be Hotel Kalmynsi’s—many outbuildings into a completely Muggle kitchen. Maybe someday it would be Merryn coming back from her own training, and she could show him all she learned.
For now, he would be her tutor, adapting recipes to not require magic.
As they approached the kitchen, Draco heard the warm sound of Rosamund’s voice as she sang Black and Gold. She always sang in the kitchen, whether making a roast or wiping down the counters when she was through, and they were usually songs about love or the sea. She had once told him quite seriously that sad songs would soak into the food, making it taste as bitter and salty as the music it was born in. He had also noticed that meat dishes were more likely to get songs of fighting and patriotism, but he didn’t ask about that. Instead, he had allowed her to teach him some Cornish folk songs to go with the traditional Cornish recipes she showed him. He doubted he could make a pasty without singing Fish and Tin and Copper.
Merryn called ahead of them down the hall. “Mum! ’e’s here! ’e knocked!”
Rosamund came dashing out of the kitchen and enveloped him in warmth, cloth, and the smell of saffron. A rush of longing came over him and he wondered how he had managed without this for so long. Strong, rough hands came up to cup his cheek.
“Look at you.” Rosamund’s bright eyes darted over him. “Didn’t they feed you? What did you do with all that food you were making if none of it made it to your bones?”
Great Aunt Gwenna appeared at the door, her silver hair piled elegantly on top of her head and her angular features softened by her smile. Her smile was so like Lucius’ that it hurt sometimes, but in that moment it filled him with warmth. Gwenna squeezed Rosamund’s shoulder as she walked forward. “Well now that he’s back, Rosie, you can fatten him up.” She turned to Draco and offered her warmest smile. “Welcome home, dear. Come sit and tell us how you’ve been.”
* * *
Harry looked to Hermione for a less emotional retelling of their trip to Cornwall.
“The food was really good.” Hermione agreed as she set down the parchment she’d been fussing with and came to join Harry on her couch. No doubt she was already throwing herself back into work after her long weekend away. “And ethical! You know the hens are free range when you can actually see them walking around the grounds. They have their own cows, geese, and pigs as well, and they are all well treated as far as I can tell. There was an extensive vegetable garden, too. I’ve told Neville to visit if he can get a reservation. I think they must be using cultivating charms that would interest him.”
Of course. If Ron used holidays as an excuse to binge eat, Hermione used them as a chance to ensure the ethical treatment of any living thing.
“And the rooms? I mean, was the hotel itself nice?” Harry was really trying to show interest, but he was exhausted from the double shifts he’d taken to help cover Ron’s absence. Dark wizards didn’t take time off when Aurors did, and someone had to pick up the slack.
Hermione handed him a brochure with the words Hotel Kalmynsi scrolled across the top.
“It’s Cornish,” Hermione explained. “It means peaceful hotel.”
The photograph on the front of the brochure showed grassy crags dropping down to a sandy beach and bright blue water. The photographs inside the brochure were all of food: full English fry up, a platter of fluffy scones with clotted cream and pots of jam, a meat pie with flaky pastry, a plate piled with shellfish, and a close-up of the chocolate cake Ron was probably still fantasising about. It was only on the back that Harry finally found an image of the hotel itself: a side view showing a large stone building that opened onto a patio and then a well-manicured lawn framed with flowering trees and shrubs. Beyond the garden, over a low stone wall that looked as old as Hogwarts, the sea shone in the sunshine.
“The vegetable garden and pastures are on the other side. It’s a shame you can’t see them.”
Harry smiled and nodded as Hermione went on about the layout of the grounds and architecture of the building that had probably been a grand private residence at some point but now made a charming hotel just a ten minute stroll from the beach.
“You should go, Harry.”
And this was where every discussion of Ron and Hermione’s holidays ended up. They would tell Harry how much fun they had and how much he would love it. Last time, it was the tropical island with amazingly soft sand and rare animals. The time before that, it was the charming old city with a library so impressive even Ron hadn’t wanted to leave. This time, Ron was rabbiting on about a chocolate cake that could lure Harry’s heart from treacle tart forever. His friends would do their best to sell him on a destination, and he would do his best to convince them he would consider it. But they all knew Harry didn’t holiday.
He took time off. Of course he did. He had taken days to help Ron and Hermione move house and again to help prepare for their wedding. He’d taken a week off when Mrs Tonks had gotten very ill and needed help with Teddy. And he’d been forced to take time off after a couple of raids had landed him in St Mungo’s. But Harry had never taken time off just for himself, just for fun. It just never seemed like the right time.
But when Hermione mentioned the views at the latest resort with a pleading look in her eye, Harry smiled and assured her he would look into it. Maybe someday he would.
* * *
Ron walked in, setting down the bag of takeaway before stripping out of his soggy travel cloak and gloves. He passed Harry his curry and dropped into the chair opposite Harry’s desk with a conflicted look in his eyes. It was the look he always got when he wanted to talk about anything more serious than Quidditch scores but didn’t know how to broach the subject.
“Spill,” Harry ordered. He set aside the report he was half done with and picked up his takeaway box instead. “My brain needs a break from listing every dirty sock we found in that flat on Knockturn Alley last week.”
Ron gave him a grateful smile. “Remember when Hermione and I went to Cornwall? The hotel with the chocolate cake?”
Harry nearly laughed. Of course it was about food.
“Well look at this.” Ron pulled out a newspaper and passed it over to Harry. The front page showed a grainy photograph of Draco Malfoy of all people under the headline: Death Eater Lures Unsuspecting Innocents to Remote Location. Further down the page was a dark photograph of a manor house on a stormy night briefly lit up by lightning before falling back into shadow. It looked nothing like the cheerful building in Hermione’s brochure, but Ron confirmed it was the same place. “The article says Hotel Kalmynsi is an old Fawley property, and the Fawleys married into the Malfoys. Anyway, Malfoy—Draco—turned it into the hotel.”
Harry hadn’t even realized Draco was still in the country. Lucius had been killed a few years before, immediately following his release from Ministry custody. A vigilante had cast a Blasting Curse at him so strong it had exploded a large section of the Ministry Atrium around him, seriously injuring several people including Narcissa. When Draco never visited her in St Mungo’s, Harry had assumed Draco had fled the country before the attack.
The only good that had came from Lucius’ murder was that Gabby Yarn, the Prophet’s up and coming reporter, wrote a scathing article about vigilante magic and vilified the attacker for taking justice and public safety into his own hands. Photographs of an injured child were published alongside that of a Ministry employee who had been next to Lucius at the time and only barely kept his arm. The next day Gabby had run an interview with Head Auror Robards in which he said that Lucius had been their key witness in upcoming trials and suspected murderers might now walk free because “some idiot would rather blow up the Ministry than do any actual good.” He’d gone on to say that if any reader wanted to fight crime in a helpful way they should apply to the Aurors and get properly trained.
The Aurors saw fewer people trying to deal out their own justice after that, and they had even gotten two decent recruits out of the dozens of Prophet readers who applied.
Harry started to skim the most recent Prophet article and saw the tone was as savage as Gabby’s from a few years back, but far less likely to create any Malfoy sympathy. This article was written by Rita Skeeter and she was in her element, stretching any little fact to an outrageous conclusion. The mere mention that the hotel grounds homed pigs was followed by a list of Dark rituals requiring pigs' blood. There wasn’t a shred of evidence of any wrongdoing, but every sentence dripped with accusations. He looked up at Ron.
“Did you see anything suspicious while you were there?”
Ron shook his head. “No. Hermione neither, and she was all over the place checking up on how the animals were treated and whether there were house-elves. There are, by the way, but she said they had clothes.” He rolled his eyes at his wife’s continued obsession with house-elf rights. Then he fidgeted with the edge of Harry’s report. “I know Malfoy, Draco was a git to us in school, but I’m actually kind of worried about this bad press. Hermione really liked the place. I did, too. Not just the cake.” He glared at Harry. “I know what you think, but I’m serious! Hermione actually relaxed there after a day or two. It’s so beautiful and peaceful. She actually went to the beach without a book or a report or anything. She just enjoyed herself.”
Ron started out the enchanted window at the imaginary sunny beach. “I was going to take her back in the spring for our anniversary, but with press like this the place may be gone by then. The rest of the article is people expressing their outrage and saying they are cancelling their reservations.”
Harry couldn’t help but smile at his friend. Ron seemed like he only thought with his stomach, but Harry knew Hermione would always come first for Ron.
“If the place is that good, people will keep going. You know what these things are like: everyone makes a big fuss and two weeks later they’ve forgotten. Don’t seaside places quiet down for the winter anyway? By the time you go back in May, it will be booked solid again.”
* * *
There were one or two reservations which might hold, but they weren’t enough to keep a hotel running. It certainly didn’t justify two full-time chefs, but he couldn’t bear to let anyone go. The Angove-Bronstein wedding was still on the books for the end of April, so he wouldn’t consider losing staff until that was cancelled. Or until April ended with no one having shown up. He wouldn’t allow himself to consider that he might still be able to keep a booking for a major event, even if the bride was American and might not hate him as much as his own countrymen.
The Muggle telephone at the front desk rang. In the early days, Draco had enjoyed the thing. The little clanging noise had seemed cheerful, and the sight of it had always drawn happy comments from his Muggle-raised guests. Now the sound was jarring and invasive as it only meant one thing.
As he heard Merryn answer the phone, he looked down at the nearly blank page for April and wondered which of the few remaining reservations would be cancelled next.
* * *
Voices approached, two women. The voices seemed to settle at the next table and he could soon make out their words. One was American and the other was from the West Country—not as strong an accent as Hagrid’s, but still distinct. He could tell almost immediately that the conversation was heated.
“How can we change the location at the last minute?” The American asked in a pleading voice. “Kensa, please. I know it’s not a big society wedding, but it’s still a lot of people to try to book into a hotel on short notice. And my family already have their portkeys arranged. And...it’s such a pretty place for a wedding.”
“Leah! You have to!” The woman from the West Country, Kensa, sounded afraid. “The hotel is run by a Death Eater! I know you aren’t from here, but surely word of the Death Eaters made it to the States. I can’t believe Jowan hasn’t brought this up himself. I don’t know what my brother thinks of sometimes.”
“Jowan is the one who suggested Hotel Kalmynsi in the first the place.”
Harry recognised the name of Draco’s hotel, confirming what he already knew. Despite Harry’s assurances to Ron, the bad press about the hotel had not dried up and gone away in two weeks. While Rita Skeeter had only written two more stories directly about the hotel, she had managed to find little ways to reference Draco and his hotel in other stories. She had written that the new head of St Mungo’s was as fit to run a hospital as a Malfoy was to run a hotel. Every scathing attack at the Quibbler made sure to mention when Luna had been held captive in Malfoy Manor, once even suggesting that it was having captives which had inspired the idea of opening a hotel. No wonder people like this Kensa were worked up about it and didn’t feel it was a safe location for her brother’s wedding.
“He wants to get married in Cornwall,” Leah went on. “He’s stayed at the hotel before. He said he got to know a couple of the people who work there and he’s sure he’ll be—we’ll be safe.”
“Well he obviously didn’t meet the owner!” Kensa hissed. “I can’t believe that filth wasn’t thrown in Azkaban. The Ministry claim they cleaned up the Death Eaters, but at least one of them is still out there ruining your wedding!”
Harry knew he should have kept his mouth shut. His mouth was always getting him in trouble, flapping away with no input from his brain. But before his brain was any the wiser, he leaned around his protective plant and asked, “Are you discussing Draco Malfoy’s hotel?”
Kensa was facing him and showed only a moment of annoyance at his interruption before she recognised him and changed completely. “Oh, Mr Potter! Yes, can you believe it? How is it allowed? How can such a vile man be allowed to run a hotel? He’s ruining my brother’s wedding!”
Annoyance flooded Harry, making his cheeks hot, but he reminded himself that this woman didn’t know anything more than what the Prophet had led her to believe. If not for Rita Skeeter, she would likely not be in such a state. “How is he ruining it? It sounds like everything is set to have the wedding at his hotel.”
Kensa looked shocked, but rushed to correct him. “He’s a Death Eater! How could they go there? Sleep in his rooms...eat the food...my brother...no one would be safe!”
Harry forced himself to smile in a reassuring way. “I’ve known Draco since I was eleven years old, and I can assure you the guests of the hotel are in no danger from him. In fact, my friends Ron and Hermione are already planning their next trip there.”
Leah, who had been sitting with her back to him, turned to face him with wide eyes. “Hermione Granger? She goes there?”
Harry nodded. It pleased him to think Hermione’s reputation was making it across the Atlantic while Draco’s was not. “I think it’s her favourite hotel. Very restful.” Leah was definitely considering his words, but Kensa still looked suspicious. Harry’s mind raced with a way to convince her. He wasn’t sure why he cared, but suddenly he did. Maybe it was because he wanted to preserve Ron’s anniversary plans, or maybe it was the thought of a place which allowed Hermione to relax, or maybe he was remembering all the times the Daily Prophet had vilified him and he’d wished anyone would speak up for him. But in that moment, he wanted this bride to keep her wedding at Draco’s hotel.
And then it hit him.
“Actually, I am planning my first trip out there myself. Maybe I’ll see you there.”
At that, Leah’s eyes risked falling out. “You holiday there? Really? Ohmygod. We’re getting married the third weekend in April. The day before Easter! Oh please tell me you will be there!”
With no information from Harry’s brain or the hotel he would need a reservation at, Harry assured a complete stranger that he would be staying at Hotel Kalmynsi Easter weekend and would be happy to attend her wedding.
* * *
“Good afternoon, Hotel Kalmynsi.”
A man’s voice on the other end was rich and familiar. Draco was so distracted by it that he missed most of what was said. Not that he needed to hear more than the word “reservation.” Draco was honestly just grateful for the dignity of cancelling instead of just not showing up like the family who never arrived on Friday.
Well, Draco could still be polite. He still had his integrity. “Yes, of course. Thank you for calling. We do understand. What were the dates of your reservation?”
“Uh…” The caller sounded confused. Or was he recognising Draco’s voice. Hopefully not! “I, um, I haven’t made one yet. That’s why I’m calling.”
“Wait. What?” Draco played the words over in his mind, making sure he had the meaning right. “You want to make a reservation? Not cancel?”
Who on earth would want to make a reservation at a hotel run by a Death Eater—even a shit one like he’d been—when everyone else in Britain was running the other way? Wait a minute. That voice had been familiar... “Potter? Is that you?”
Draco could imagine Potter squirming on the other end of the phone. And he would use a phone. He was Muggle raised, wasn’t he?
“Yes. Does that affect my reservation?”
Draco resisted sighing and banging his head against the front desk. “It depends. Why are you doing this?”
“Ron and Hermione said!” He sounded like he was still a school boy trying to offer the right answer to a stern professor. “Also,” his voice dropped to a mumble “I promised a bride I would be there for her wedding.”
The Angove-Bronstein wedding. They still hadn’t cancelled. Apparently they were just bringing in the Aurors. “What, like security?”
“No!” Potter squawked. “No. She was just being stupid—or really her future sister-in-law was—and I didn’t want to see her ruin her wedding over nothing.”
“So you agreed to come on holiday at my hotel to, what? Show her it isn’t dangerous?”
“Something like that.”
Draco couldn’t think of a reply to that. He just sat and started at the large wood desk with the reservation book spread across it.
“Yes, I’m an idiot. I know.” Potter’s self-deprecation suited him. Much better than his arrogance from school. “I was already planning to check out your hotel—as a guest! Not check out like an Auror. God, I can hear your suspicion from here. I need a holiday, and this was a good excuse, okay? You get good press, and my friends get to stop fussing over me and driving me mad, and this random bride gets to keep the wedding she originally wanted.”
“You don’t even know Leah Bronstein, do you?” Draco knew the bride had only just moved here from the States. Potter was rescuing strangers again.
“No. How did you know which wedding—”
“And Jowan?” Draco interrupted. He didn’t need to tell Potter his hotel was only booked for one event and thus there had been no need to guess which one.
Draco let his head shake in disbelief. Potter couldn’t see him. “Jowan Angove. The groom of the wedding you plan to attend. I will take your reply as evidence that you and he are not close.”
He tried not to let any amusement into his voice as he contemplated how to proceed. He could admit to having made plenty of mistakes in his young life, but he was wise enough to learn from them. One thing he had learned was no good came from fighting against Potter. If Leah Bronstein and Potter wanted Potter on site for the wedding, then Potter would be there no matter what Draco said or did.
Best to try out being on Potter’s side. “The wedding is the third Saturday in April. Most guests are arriving on the Friday and staying until Sunday.”
“Well then book me for arriving Wednesday night. I’d like some time to enjoy the place before the circus arrives.”
“You’re sure about this?”
“Of course I’m sure. You still do the chocolate cake, right? The one Ron was obsessed with?”
Draco couldn’t keep in the low chuckle. Merryn had told him all about Weasely’s eating habits in the autumn in a voice laced with awe. “That must be the flourless chocolate cake. Yes, we definitely still do that.”
“Well, then let’s see if it can rival the treacle tart at Hogwarts.”
“Oh, you’ll see, Potter. My cake is the best you’ve ever tasted.”
When Draco had hung up the phone, he found himself staring at it and wondering if he’d imagined the whole thing. It was only the chiming of the grandfather clock by the front door which brought him back to himself. It was dinner time, and his great aunt and mother would be expecting him. He walked down the hallway leading to Rosamund’s kitchen but also held the secret entrance to the North Wing, the part of Manerji Kalmynsi not converted into the hotel.
He reached the long stretch of stone wall and placed his hand flat against it. The magic only recognised a handful of people, and it was only for them that the wall would become a passageway leading to the north stairs. Draco had done the charmwork himself, inspired both by the gates at Malfoy Manor—which had been charmed to only admit the Malfoy family but were later changed by the Dark Lord to allowed those with his Mark—and the entrance to Slytherin—a flat wall which became a passage with a password.
Draco ascended the stairs past the landing for Great Aunt Gwenna’s rooms and the next landing for his own until he reached the top floor of the wing. The rooms were spacious with high ceilings, but they made Draco feel smothered. Every curtain was drawn as if his mother could keep out the world beyond. Every bit of wall space was covered in portraits and other art from Malfoy Manor, and the rooms were tightly furnished with every piece his mother had refused to leave behind in a home she refused to return to.
In the next room, Draco found his great aunt and mother seated at the large Elizabethan dining table that had once dominated Malfoy Manor’s second dining room and was now placed so closely to the sideboard Draco wouldn’t be able to fit into his seat if he were to gain two stone. He greeted what remained of his family as Bippy appeared and began serving dinner.
His mother wrinkled her nose, and Draco looked to see what Aida had made for the evening. It appeared to be rice and fish in a tomato sauce. Certainly nothing objectionable, but his mother had never been fond of trying new things and that trait had become much stronger in recent years.
“She’s been traveling again,” Mother said coolly.
Aida had grown up in the south of France near her father’s family and then moved to Paris to study cooking, so most of her culinary influences were French. But most of her mother’s family lived in Senegal, and Aida’s annual visits always inspired her to try new dishes. Mother made it quite clear which cuisine she preferred.
“Shouldn’t a witch visit her relatives?” Gwenna asked pointedly. She left it unsaid that a woman living with her dead husband’s aunt might not have grounds to criticize a woman visiting her own grandmother.
Mother ignored her as she pushed a piece of okra onto her fork to better examine. “What is this, even?” She sniffed it warily. “I smell peanuts.”
Draco remembered being told off as a child for similar behaviour at the dinner table, but he knew his mother wouldn’t appreciate the reminder. Gwenna looked like she might say something, so Draco sought a distraction.
“We have a new reservation.”
It worked. The food was forgotten as both women looked at him with keen curiosity.
“Really? Who is it?” Gwenna asked. Draco could see the glimmer of hope in her eyes. She didn’t need the hotel to survive. She didn’t need the money, and it meant her family home was constantly full of strangers, but she cared for Draco, Aida, Rosamund and Merryn, and she knew they all desperately wanted the hotel to be a success. Draco suddenly found himself wanting to fight for the hotel, too. He hadn’t realised he had given up until that moment. Until he saw a way to save it. Because if anyone could undo all the bad press Rita Skeeter had foisted on Hotel Kalmynsi, it was Potter. And he’d already volunteered for the job.
“Someone who could save the hotel if word gets out he likes it.” He let them stew just a moment more before telling them about Potter’s telephone call.
* * *
He was very glad for the semblance of protection the additional clothing offered when he recognised Gabby Yarn of the Prophet standing on his stoop. He knew all the reporters by sight from press conferences at the Ministry. He also knew how to recognise the sharp smile of a reporter with a lead on a story.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” She was twirling a strand of smooth black hair around her finger and looking up at him coyly, but he wasn’t having it.
He stepped onto the stoop himself and shut the door firmly behind himself. “I’d rather not have my decor subjected to the same…commentary as my hair and clothing usually are.”
Her red lips gave a twitch of amusement and she looked pointedly over his ratty T-shirt and track bottoms. When she met his eye again, her expression assured him she had plenty of commentary on his current outfit, but she changed the topic completely. “Is it true you are attending the Angove-Bornstein wedding at Hotel Kalmynsi?” All pretence of coyness gave way to her usual eager demeanor.
Harry was grateful Auror training had included a course on dealing with the press. His instructor had indoctrinated them with several tactics Harry called up to assist him. First was to never answer a yes or no question—or in this case a true or false question—directly. “Use your own words,” the instructor had told them time and again. “If you only use your own words, they might occasionally print them.”
“I’m holidaying at the Hotel Kalmynsi, and my stay will overlap with the Angove-Bronstein wedding, which I have kindly been invited to attend while there.”
A dark eyebrow rose. “Are you aware the Hotel Kalmynsi hotel is owned and managed by a Death Eater?”
Harry released a long but controlled breath. “I chose a hotel that came well reviewed by the friends who have stayed there. Your newspaper reported Draco Malfoy is the owner, and I suspect that’s accurate as he took my reservation for me. By Muggle telephone, actually. Not a usual favourite of Death Eaters.”
“But he has the Dark Mark!”
“Voldemort did mark Draco’s arm. That was confirmed by the Aurors when collecting information to decide whether to press charges against him. It was also confirmed Draco was a schoolboy and a legal minor and in no position to refuse.”
Harry thought back on his training once more. His instructor encouraged reference to a greater authority, and Harry was eager to turn attention away from himself. “The Wizengamot reviewed each member of the Malfoy family and met out the consequences they saw fit after reviewing all the evidence.” Go pester them, he added silently.
“Which included your testimony in Draco Malfoy’s favour.” She had that same look in her eye that Ron got during a chess game. She was enjoying this.
“I gave a lot of testimony after the war.” He was struggling to keep his tone light. She might be enjoying it, but he wanted to get back to his tea. It would probably be cold and he’d have to begin again. Warming Charms made tea taste like liquid rubber.
“Surely if Draco Malfoy has the Dark Mark, he is a Death Eater. You must allow that much.”
Harry shrugged. “You can put a mark on anyone. My godson has put on my Auror robes. It doesn’t make him an Auror.”
She gave him a devious little smile, but it was the closest to actual warmth he had ever seen in her features. “May we quote you, Mr Potter?”
He laughed. “It would be a refreshing change if you did.”
She stood watching him for a moment longer, almost as though she had never seen him before. Then her lips twitched up on one side and she gave him that little smile again before bidding him good day and departing.
He went back into his house to find his tea was indeed cold.
* * *
He found himself fidgeting with one of the Muggle things Merryn used at her school instead of a quill. A pen, he thought she called it. He looked at its clear sides and the line of blue ink inside it. He had to admit it was quite convenient the way it came with its own ink. It was probably nice not to have to worry about ruffled feathers. Quills were supposedly charmed not to break, but Draco had opened his school bag more than once at Hogwarts to find a quill with a bent or snapped end.
The front door opened with the roar of loud rain beyond, and Draco was jolted back to the moment. There in front of him, in the entry to Draco’s hotel, was Harry Potter. Draco hadn’t seen him in years, other than a newspaper photo or two, but there was no mistaking him. He looked as awkward as he had as a child, seemingly unsure what to do with his wet cloak and bag as he closed the door against the rain outside. Not that he was unchanged by the passing years. He was possibly taller, and his jumper and jeans under his traveling cloak clung to a form more developed than the half-starved looking Potter who had defeated the Dark Lord. His face, too, looked matured in a way Draco had to admit was flattering.
But that was all beside the point. However Potter looked, Draco’s priority was to ensure he had a pleasant stay at the hotel and would bring good publicity to counteract some of Skeeter’s damage. He ignored the twisting in his gut and put on a friendly but professional demeanour. “Welcome to Hotel Kalmynsi, Mr Potter.”
Potter looked at him as if he had grown another head or two. “Please don’t call me Mr Potter. It’s just weird. Harry is good.”
Draco wasn’t sure he could call Potter that, but the soggy wizard and his bag were a more pressing matter. “May I?” He held his wand aloft. Whether Potter understood what he was offering, Draco didn’t know or care. Potter nodded and Draco shot off several Drying Charms. Yes, the thousand-year-old Persian rug had protective charms on it, but that was no reason to drip all over it.
“I have you down as staying until Sunday, is that correct?” Draco waited for Potter to nod. “You are the only guest for the next two nights, but then our best rooms are reserved for the wedding couple and their families. I can put you in one of those rooms for now, but I’d have to move you. Or I can put you in a standard room you can have the whole stay.”
Potter smiled a sweet, awkward smile that made him look like a child again. “I don’t need anything much. Just a bed and a place to put my things. It seems silly to have me use two rooms and have twice the linen to clean and all that.”
He was still ridiculously noble, but Draco resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “You do realise you are paying to be here. The house-elves would probably enjoy some extra laundry.” Especially for the great Harry Potter, was not said out loud.
Potter just shrugged it off. “I’ll take a standard room. Maybe away from all the wedding people when they arrive? I’m not really...I don’t actually know any of them.”
Of course you don’t. Draco bit back any commentary about Potter acting as chaperone to adults who were afraid to have their wedding in the home of a Death Eater. As much as he hated having Potter save him once again, he knew not to turn away help when it was desperately needed. And it wasn’t like Draco wasn’t already completely indebted to Potter. What harm could more debt do?
“The only other matter is dining. We usually have two different dining rooms open for each meal, but as you are our only guest…” Draco wasn’t sure how to end that sentence. He couldn’t say they didn’t want to bother with both. Luckily Potter just smiled—a smile that lit his whole face and did not make him look boyish at all—and said for Draco to just tell him where to be and when. Draco had a brief thought about how fun it would be to boss Potter around and have Potter actually obey, but that was quickly shut down. Not helpful.
With a flick of his wand, Draco sent Potter’s bag up to his room. The sooner Draco was free of Potter, the sooner he could go hide in his kitchen where everything made sense.
His saviour popped her head out from the drawing room and eagerly took Potter off his hands. Draco fled.
* * *
He hadn’t seen anyone since the girl—Merryn—had shown him his room last night, as he’d been so exhausted he’d gone straight to bed. When he’d awoken, he’d found a full English breakfast laid out under a Statis Charm on a little table by a window. After a few cups of tea and a bigger breakfast than he ever ate away from the Burrow, his body was eager to burn off some energy, but he found himself equally eager to see Draco.
He started down another hallway until he heard distant voices which he followed to a door. He cracked the door open, freezing to observe the scene before him. Draco was stirring a bowl, the sleeves of his soft-looking pale blue jumper rolled up to show sinewy forearms dusted with flour. He wore a pinny over his wool Muggle trousers and the most open and relaxed smile Harry had ever seen on his face. Beside him, the girl from the night before was staring at something on a baking sheet. She looked to be Hogwarts age—maybe about sixth-year—so she must be home for Easter holidays.
“It’s not big enough, I tell you,” she scolded, although she sounded more amused than angry. Her voice was too loud as if her joy wouldn’t be tamped down.
“You’re ridiculous, Merryn.” Draco’s voice was fond despite his words. “They are already far too big for polite society.”
“You’re just a snob, Draco. These aren’t your posh French things. These are proper Cornish saffron buns, or they would be if you’d make them bigger. They’re meant to be the size of my ‘ead, right Mum?”
A plump woman who instantly put Harry in mind of Mrs Weasley came into view. “She’s got you there, Draco. That’s what I was always told as a girl. ‘Find one the size of your ‘ead.’ And that’s ‘ow I bake ‘em.”
Merryn crossed her arms across her chest in complement to her smug grin. She reminded Harry of a young Hermione being praised by a professor. Her hair was just as wild, although darker, more like Harry’s own hair. The plump woman had lighter hair than Merryn, but stood side by side, Harry could see a family resemblance.
Draco continued his defence of the size of what they were baking, but he did a poor job hiding he was enjoying the argument. Harry would have been happy to stay there watching the three person scene play out, but he suddenly realised he could be caught eavesdropping. He knocked on the door and pushed it open more. “Hello? Sorry to interrupt.”
Merryn leapt forward with a smile. “Mr Potter! Did you need something?”
Harry met Draco’s eye over Merryn’s head. “I was hoping for a tour maybe?” He hadn’t meant to ask. He hadn’t known he wanted Draco to show him around until that moment. But having said it, he found himself desperately hoping Draco would agree.
So it was that he found himself minutes later strolling through a rose garden as Draco rattled off technical names for the various flowers. Harry wasn’t listening to the Latin words, but rather to the way each sound was formed by Draco’s mouth: clear and crisp as the sea air blowing up and across the hotel’s grounds.
“You aren’t even listening are you.” Draco sounded more teasing than annoyed, so Harry smiled at him.
Harry didn’t want to talk about flowers. He was very curious about his former schoolmate who had vanished for years only to pop up as a hotel owner on the very tip of England. He’d grown into a man who bickered with schoolgirls about the size of pastries while baking the Muggle way with the Cornish version of Mrs Weasley. It wasn’t at all what Harry would have expected and it made him all the more curious.
“Why a hotel?”
Draco was silent for a moment, looking Harry in the eye as if assessing his motives. Then he gave a nod so small it might not have been intentional before gazing out at the sea beyond them. He led them out of the rose garden and into a grassy field as he spoke. “It was really an excuse to cook. Well, bake really. Rosamund and Aida do most of the cooking.”
“Why not a pastry shop?”
Draco wrinkled his nose. “No. Then I would have to make the same things every day. People would expect to have their usuals, and they would want a broad range. Even worse, I would have to be in London, or at least a large town. This way, with the hotel, I get to be at home and create a relaxing retreat for others to come into. I can make what’s seasonal or what fits my mood, and I can match the menu to the guests.” He smirked and glanced over at Harry. “Like when Weasley came. I knew the boy who devoured Chocolate Frogs like that would grow into a man who would adore my version of a flourless chocolate cake.”
“Oh, he did. He actually swears by it.” Harry allowed himself a private smile as he prepared to relay the story. “The other day, he was helping his niece build a model dragon, but the pieces wouldn’t go together right. He was getting really frustrated, and I could tell Hermione was worried he was going to start swearing in front of delicate ears. Anyway, he’s just adding the tail when his hand slips and he knocks the legs off, and he shouts ‘Draco’s chocolate cake!’”
Draco barked out a laugh, his whole face radiant and relaxed before his brows drew close again. “Wait, Weasley called me ‘Draco’?”
Of course that was what he took from the story. “Well, it was easy to call you Malfoy when it was just you at school, but when the news about the attack…” Harry realised perhaps bringing up the gruesome murder of Draco’s father was not the right choice for a walk in the country. They had crossed the field to where it tumbled down to the sea. Best not to upset Draco when there was a convenient cliff to be shoved off.
“I see.” Draco looked much smaller suddenly. “Yes, I imagine my family was in the news a fair bit at that time.”
Harry had to change the topic. Draco had lost all his warmth, and the connection they had been slowly building had all but vanished. “How did you get into cook—baking?”
“Believe it or not, it was the Dark Lord.”
Harry felt his mouth fall open in horror. He had tried to improve the conversation and had inadvertently made it much worse.
Draco glanced over at him and laughed. “Don’t worry. It’s not as bad as it sounds. He sent me to the kitchens as punishment once. To embarrass me by making me out like a house-elf. Nothing lower than that, right? But it was wonderful. No Dark Lord flicking curses about. No werewolves. No snakes. Not even other Death Eaters trying to look good by taking me down a notch. It was just me and the elves.
“They didn’t want me to do anything at first, but when I told them who had ordered it...they were as afraid of him as anyone. So they let me help with the most basic things and I found I liked it. Not that I told anyone else that. I made sure to have a right fit about it so I’d be punished that way again. Eventually, I stopped waiting to be sent to the kitchens and started sneaking in on my own.”
Harry had the sudden and rather disturbing thought that the war had been good to Draco. It wasn’t a thought he could ever say out loud. It sounded too horrible. How could a war be good for someone? But the spoiled, selfish boy Draco had once been had become willing to learn from house-elves, creatures he once viewed as completely beneath him. He had grown up to be a far better man than Harry would have thought possible.
Draco shot him a condescending look. “I’m not saying I joined Granger’s elf club or anything. I can see you looking all self-righteous. I still don’t agree with freeing house-elves. Bippy sobbed for a month when I freed her, and the others just moped around. Aunt Gwenna hasn’t been able to free her elf Totty because he refuses to take anything from her hand anymore. We only freed the poor things to keep the Ministry away once Granger started passing legislation. We knew the Ministry would still love to lock me up for something.”
Harry schooled his face as blank as he could, but he couldn’t help noticing Draco’s argument against freeing elves had rested on his elf’s feelings. Draco could act as callous as he liked, but Harry could tell he cared.
They stood at the crag looking out over the sea until Draco broke the silence and said he needed to return to the hotel to prepare for dinner. Harry wondered how much there could be to do to required Draco starting midday. Wasn’t Harry the only guest? He suddenly imagined himself sitting alone in a large dining room with portraits staring at him as he ate in silence. This was why he never took holidays. He had no one to enjoy them with.
“Will you join me for dinner?” Harry’s mouth had gotten ahead of him again. He wasn’t sure it was wise to ask Draco to dinner while they were still on a walk Harry had dragged him on. Draco was going to think Harry had some fear of being alone. Or had no friends. Or was lonely.
Draco didn’t look gloating as he considered his reply. “I suppose I could. Aida is cooking, and Merryn was going to help me serve anyway. She’d like getting to do it on her own, and you are as good a guinea pig as any. She usually only serves in the sunroom, which is more casual.”
Harry wanted to ask that they eat in the sunroom—casual sounded more his style—but he’d told Draco he would eat where he was told and he didn’t want to suddenly become difficult.
“I still have to get back to my kitchen to make your cake.” He narrowed his eyes in a haughty manner. “I suppose I should simply invite you along for that, too.”
Harry felt his cheeks warm, and he turned his head back toward the cool air of the water. He could refuse the invitation on principle, but where would that get him? Back to his room looking at the reports he’d brought along to reduce his guilt over taking time off even though he was only using a fraction of the time he was owed according to the human resources wizard.
He faced Draco again with an attempt at haughtiness of his own. “Well if I’m with you, you won’t have to wonder what I’m getting up to.” He was delighted to see Draco’s cheeks pinken. He didn’t deny it!
“Well given your talent for finding trouble, I suppose it’s best to keep an eye on you. You never made it through a year of school without nearly dying, and a dead Harry Potter is the last thing Hotel Kalmynsi needs right now. Rita Skeeter might actually die of happiness.”
With their excuses established, Harry happily followed Draco back to the hotel. When they entered the front door, Draco didn’t turn down the hall toward the kitchen Harry had found him in, but instead began to ascend the grand staircase. Draco noticed his gaze and explained the hotel had three kitchens.
“The one you saw was Rosamund’s, Merryn’s mother. She cooks for the sunroom, mainly traditional Cornish food. That was one of my great-aunt Gwenna’s conditions for using her home. She didn’t want everything to be French and the guests to forget where they are. Rosamund makes sure of that.”
He began climbing the stairs again. “We are going upstairs to the kitchens off the main dining room.” He reached the first landing and led Harry down a hallway lined with portraits and paintings in golden frames. They walked by a large doorway which showed what must be the main dining room. It was a large room with walls the color of red wine and ornate chandeliers of twisted metal. Draco bypassed a small door and led Harry to the end of the hallway where Harry was met by gleaming stone countertops, shiny pots, and baskets of brightly colored vegetables.
“This kitchen is Aida’s domain. I lured her back from Paris with the promise of carte blanche. She cooks what she wants and I just pay for the ingredients. She’s usually quite traditionally French, offering things like mussels, baked Camembert, duck breast, or the best soufflé you’ve ever had. But then she’ll visit her grandmother in Senegal and Chicken Yassa will pop up on the menu. But no matter what she makes, you can be sure it will be delicious. Since it’s just us tonight, I was going to let her set the menu. Is there anything you don’t eat?” Harry shook his head and Draco smiled. “Perfect. She loves free reign.”
Draco turned away from the kitchen just as a woman appeared in the doorway. Harry’s first thought was she had high cheekbones like Draco, which was an odd comparison as the two otherwise looked nothing alike. Harry had always thought of Draco as pointy and pale, while this woman’s features were rounded and her complexion dark. Her eyes were soft and warm, while Harry had always thought of Draco as having his father’s cold, unfeeling grey eyes. Although...when he thought about Draco laughing as they walked along the crag that morning, his eyes hadn’t seemed cold at all. More like the surface of the ocean, promising great depths beneath.
“Are you talking about me, Draco?” The woman asked, confirming Harry’s suspicion that this must be Aida.
Draco turned back with a smile and assured her it was all good things. “Aida, this is Harry. He’s the Auror meant to prove we aren’t torturing Muggles in the basement. Harry, Aida.”
Harry felt his cheeks flush as he walked forward to shake Aida’s hand. He tried to say he was really just there as a guest, but Aida waved him off.
“I’ve known Draco long enough to not believe a word out of his mouth.” Draco clutched at his chest dramatically with mumbles about her wounding him. “And I know who you are, Mr Potter.” He tried to say to call him Harry, but she wasn’t through. “I also know it’s past lunch time.” She gave Draco a stern look. “Don’t starve our only guest.”
Draco looked sheepish, and he and Harry allowed themselves to be led to a little table in the back of Aida’s kitchen where she set out plates and cutlery for them. Cheeses and fruits flew onto a platter from different parts of the room as Aida brought over a flaky golden baguette, sweet-smelling sliced ham, and two types of pâté.
While they ate, Harry watched Aida returned to her work. She pulled baskets of fruits and vegetables, carefully inspecting and sorting them into different places.
“What happens to the food that isn’t good enough,” Harry asked as Aida sorted grapes, putting misshapen, squashed, or moldy ones into a bucket.
“Nothing goes to waste,” Draco assured him. “If it’s not attractive enough to serve to the guests, we eat it.” He gestured toward the fruit between them on the table. Each apple was perfectly round and richly colored. The grapes were flawless orbs of shiny skin and the raspberries were dark red and looked as soft as velvet despite being out of season. This must be the guest quality fruit. “If it’s not good enough for us,” Draco continued, “it goes to the animals.” He nodded toward the bucket of grapes. “There will be happy chickens tonight.”
When Draco and Harry had eaten their fill, they thanked Aida and went back into the hallway. Draco stopped them at the small doorway between Aida’s kitchen and the dining room. “This is my kitchen.” He opened the door to a narrow room with warm wood counters and cheerfully colored ceramic bowls. There were glass jars filled with flours and sugars, and little pots of jam and spices. Draco marched to one end of the room and pulled out a stool. “You will sit here, where you will be out of the way.”
Harry followed orders and sat quietly on the stool. No sooner had he settled himself then Draco became a flurry of motion. He flicked his wand and the stove came to life just as a pan came sailing into place. A silent Aguamenti had water pouring into it and then another few flicks set a second pan on top that chunks of chocolate dove into. Harry could barely follow everything that was going on as pans and bowls flew onto counters and butter and whisks soared around. Draco stood calmly in the center of the room, waving his wand like a conductor, making the music of his kitchen fly around him.
When a cake pan went into the oven, Harry thought there might be a pause, but chocolate flew into a pan again and Draco was still clearly focused on his task. Harry felt certain he had been forgotten completely and he was seeing Draco as he would be if alone. It felt rather intimate.
Harry’s assumption was proved correct when his foot slipped from where it had been perched on a rung of the stool and thumped to the floor. Draco startled like a cat, glaring at Harry from over his pan.
“You should go get ready for dinner. I’ll meet you at the dining room at seven.”
Harry tried to protest he wouldn’t be able to find his way back to his room, but Draco called for the elf Bippy who cheerfully led Harry away.
Having seen how grand the dining room was, Harry didn’t feel his jeans and T-shirt were going to cut it. The wool trousers and jumper Draco had been baking in were already far nicer than anything Harry had packed. Well, other than the morning suit for the wedding, but he wasn’t wearing that to dinner. Surely it being called a “morning” suit meant it wouldn’t be right.
He had a sudden terrible thought that Draco might expect him to wear a dinner jacket or dress robes. He imagined showing up in his scruffy trainers and finding Draco dressed to the nines and sneering at him.
It didn’t help that Draco looked amazing in his clothing. Harry had seen plenty of men wear jumpers and trousers before, and none of them looked as if their clothing wanted to be there. The way the fabric of Draco’s clothing stretching across his lean muscle and clung to him, it was as if adorning his body were its reason to exist.
Draco would probably look better in Harry’s jeans and T-shirt than Harry did in his dress robes. Harry could just imagine the soft material of his well-worn shirt draped over Draco’s broad shoulders and clinging to his chest and flat stomach. The jeans would probably ride low on Draco’s hips, teasing Harry that they might slip lower at any moment.
Not helpful, Harry thought as his jeans grew tighter. That wasn’t going to make any of this clothing fit better.
As soon as Harry was back in his room, he opened his bag and sifted through it. He’d brought a couple of jumpers just for warmth, and the green one was rather smart. He’d also brought some corduroys—again just for the warmth—that would look alright. He supposed he could wear the shoes he’d brought for the wedding. They weren’t called “morning shoes” afterall. They were called...he actually had no idea what they were called. He just knew the shop clerk had said they went with a morning suit, and a morning suit was what to wear to a morning wedding. Harry hadn’t asked further questions.
Once dressed in what he hoped was a respectable outfit, he looked at the clock ticking merrily on the wall. Four hours to go. He stripped out of his clothes again and stomped off to the bathroom. He could do with a long soak.
* * *
He walked over to the table set for two and adjusted the napkins. Again. Was that a smudge on the crystal? No, just a trick of the light. Everything was perfect. He ran his hands down his jumper to make sure it was smooth, again wondering if he should have kept the tweed jacket and tie. He’d looked quite smart, his mirror assured him, but he’d worried he’d be overdressed compared to Potter. He needed Potter to feel comfortable. To like his time here. It was the only chance of creating good press and saving the hotel from ruin.
When Potter arrived, Draco was glad he opted for more casual attire. They weren’t coordinated by any stretch of the imagination, but they at least looked like they’d dressed for the same occasion. Potter hesitated at the door, looking around at the walls and ceiling before his eyes fell on Draco and he smiled. A big warm grin that made Draco feel weak when it should have been reassuring.
They exchanged awkward greetings and sat together at the one set table Draco had been fuss—preparing. Draco’s trouser’s had barely touched the velvet seat before Merryn came gliding in with two champagne flutes. Potter stared at the pink bubbly liquid with a childlike curiosity. Draco was glad he’d told Aida to keep it simple if Potter was looking at a Kir Royale as if it were new and amazing.
“It’s Cassis and champagne.”
Potter still looked confused.
“It’s blackberry flavoured champagne.” If Potter didn’t know what champagne was, Draco was going to Floo McGonagall that instant and demand culinary arts be added to the Hogwarts curriculum.
Potter must have understood Draco’s explanation because his face cleared into a smile. “Oh, like Ribena!”
Draco didn’t know what Ribena was, but he was pretty sure it was not crème de cassis. It was probably English, Muggle, and cheap. Instead of arguing, he simply raised his own apéritif in toast and took pride in the sounds of delight Potter made as he drank. Clearly not “like Ribena”.
The evening continued well. Conversation came easily, only interrupted as Draco explained each course and Potter made noises of pleasure that made Draco feel equal parts pleased and awkward. But it was all going smoothly, which is why Draco should have known something was about to go wrong.
Aunt Gwenna appeared in the doorway and beckoned for Merryn. A few minutes later, Bippy appeared and began to set up another table. Before Draco could ask what was happening, Merryn returned, followed by a woman Draco didn’t know. But Potter certainly did, given the way his eyes went wide. Draco asked him who it was and noticed Potter seemed to relax slightly.
“You don’t know her?”
“No. And no one else booked a room or a table for tonight, so I’m quite at sea.”
Potter gave him a smile. “For a moment I worried you’d called her here. You know, for the publicity of me being here.”
Draco looked back at the woman as Merryn helped her into a chair. For a terrible moment he had wondered if it were Rita Skeeter in disguise, but he doubted she was that good at her charms. The woman saw him looking and waved. He waved back, which she must have taken as an invitation as she was suddenly beside him. His manners forced him to stand and introduce himself.
“Oh, I know who you are, Mr Malfoy. And you, Mr Potter.” She winked at Potter, who had only stood for a moment when Draco had and then immediately sat again.
“Hello, Gabby. What are you doing here?” Potter sounded annoyed but not angry. This Gabby must not be the Prophet’s worst.
The reporter ignored Potter, introducing herself to Draco as Gabby Yarn and saying she had decided to see the hotel for herself. “See what all the fuss is about.” Her comment that she knew there would be room didn’t sound like an insult, just a statement of what they all knew: the hotel had no customers.
That would change tomorrow, Draco reminded himself. This weekend, Hotel Kalmynsi would feel like herself again.
“Well I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself,” Potter cut in. “But you’ll have to excuse us.” He nodded at Merryn walking in with their main courses. Gabby took the hint and returned to her own table where Merryn had her apéritif already waiting for her.
“Sole meunière,” Merryn announced as she placed the buttery fish in front of them. “Aida really outdid herself.” As she topped up their glasses of muscadet, she turned to Potter. “She is amazing with fish. My mum makes nice fish, but Aida...just smell it! The butter is just lightly browned and then the lemon just cuts through the heaviness of the butter and add a lightness that—”
“Merryn,” Draco interrupted. “We would like to eat the fabulous sole while it is still warm.” Merryn turned her head so Gabby Yarn wouldn’t be able to see her sticking her tongue out at him. Draco had to be the adult as Gabby had a clear view of his face. He smiled benignly and said, “please tell Aida it has all been fantastic.” More quietly he added, “and you don’t need to tell her she’s too old for you because she already knows.”
Merryn’s eyes flashed at him referencing her less-than-subtle obsession, but she walked away without conveying her irritation to Gabby.
As soon she left, Potter pulled the tip of his wand from his sleeve and cast a silent spell. “For privacy,” he said, flicking his eyes to Gabby.
Draco was grateful Potter valued privacy as much as he did. He didn’t want to spend the rest of the meal watching his tone and carefully considering his every word in case it showed up out of context in an article. Not that the Prophet needed his own words to write about him. Draco supposed Potter could relate to that, too. He met Potter’s eye and raised his glass of wine. Potter seemed to understand the silent toast and clinked their glasses with a wry smile.
Despite Potter’s privacy charm, Draco still found the meal less enjoyable than it should have been. Aida’s cooking was as fine as ever, and yet Draco felt he could hardly taste it as he tried to ignore Gabby’s eyes on him. He only barely controlled his startle when Potter covered his hand with his own.
“Hey, is there somewhere else we can have dessert?” Potter’s cheeks were pink as he looked at him with those intense green eyes of his. “I really want to try the chocolate cake, but I was having more fun before we had an audience.”
It was obvious, really. Why hadn’t Draco thought of it himself?
They had a huge manor house and only one hotel guest to avoid. Draco gestured Merryn over and instructed her to set up dessert in the library. She looked surprised at first, probably since the library was part of his rooms in the North Wing and not technically part of the hotel. It was also rarely used by anyone but Draco—Gwenna preferred to send Totty to collect books for her and Draco’s mother rarely left her own floor—so they were guaranteed privacy.
Draco led Potter away from the dining room and down the stairs to the main entrance hall. From there they walked toward Rosamund’s kitchen until they reached the stretch of bare wall leading to the North Wing. Draco was excited to see Potter’s reaction as he placed his hand on the wall to make the passageway appeared. Potter didn’t disappoint: his eyes widened and he let out a small gasp.
“That’s great,” Potter said. “It’s like the entrance to Slytherin, but without the password.”
Draco felt the smile slide off his face. Why the fuck did Potter know everything? And how had he learned about getting into Slytherin? His expression must have been intense as Potter flinched back.
“I...uh...I might have snuck in one time. But it’s still a great trick—uh—charm.” His smile was so forced and nervous that Draco felt his irritation bleeding away.
“Tell me Potter, is there any part of Hogwarts you didn’t nose your way into?”
Potter had the decency to blush a little. Unfortunately for Draco, it was an immensely flattering look on him. “I never saw Hufflepuff’s Common Room.”
Draco waved that off. Who would want to?
“Uh...I never saw any professor’s private rooms.”
Draco briefly imagined Potter being brought back to McGonagall’s bedroom and grimaced. At least it was more evidence that Rita Skeeter’s bullshit about Potter and Dumbledore having an affair was total rot. Not that Draco had believed it. Potter had all but walked around Hogwarts with a badge on his chest flashing “fumbling virgin.” At least until the Weasley girl took him up. Draco found himself scowling again, and realised Potter was watching him nervously.
“You two didn’t make it far,” Merryn said from behind them where she stood holding two slices of Draco’s flourless chocolate cake.
Draco made an excuse about giving Potter a tour and then led them to the library where Merryn set down the cake at a little table by the window. The room was stuffy, so Draco pushed open the window to the cool night air. Once Merryn went back to Gabby, Draco called Bippy for coffee and used his wand to flick open a few more windows.
“You don’t use magic around her,” Potter commented.
Draco felt his defenses go up. He hadn’t expected Potter to be so observant, which was a mistake given the man was an Auror. “Oh?”
“Yeah,” Potter pushed on. “When you were cooking in her mother’s kitchen with her, you were doing everything by hand. But when we were in your kitchen, you used magic for everything. And just now with the window. You opened this one by hand, but once she left you used your wand.”
Draco mental cursed himself. How could he have been so careless? He should have opened the other windows by hand. He shouldn’t have let Potter into his kitchen. He shouldn’t have—
“Hey, I’m not going to tell anyone.”
Draco met Potter’s eye. Potter was clearly trying to calm him, his hands raised in placation. Draco wondered how much he knew.
“She’s a Squib, right?”
Too much. He knew too much. But what could Draco do?
“Please stop looking so panicked,” Potter pleaded. “I get that you don’t want people to know, but I’m not going to say anything. No one will hear it from me. I’m not sure why it has to be a secret, but if it needs to be I’ll keep it.”
That’s right. Potter grew up with Muggles. And he grew up surrounded by bright-eyed idealists who saw only how the world could be and not how it actually was. Granger would probably campaign for Squib rights if Potter asked, but Draco knew it would take decades to bring any significant change and he didn’t want Merryn living her life with people making her feel unwelcome in her own world. Because even if Merryn couldn’t cast a single spell, this was still her world. Draco knew how it felt to be a pariah. He’d be damned if Merryn ever found out.
When the coffee appeared before them, Draco took the opportunity to busy himself with preparing two cups and ignoring the topic at hand. Potter just sat watching him.
“Try the cake.” It had sounded too much like an order, so Draco softened his voice. “Please. I hope you like it.”
Potter seemed to accept that the topic of Merryn was closed and took a bite of cake. His eyes fell shut, his lips closed around the tines of his fork, and he made a small moan of pleasure. It was rude and indecent and one of the hottest things Draco had ever seen. He stared hard at his coffee until Potter had finished eating and making inappropriate noises.
“Ron was right! That was amazing.” Potter looked a little sleepy and more relaxed than he had a few minutes before. “It might lure me away from treacle tart forever.”
Draco gave him the smug smile he was expecting, even if it was a little forced. “Of course, Potter. Nothing beats my chocolate cake.”
* * *
Merryn shrugged and pushed her hair from her face with her arm. Her hands were covered in soapy water as she washed up. “So? Maybe it’s time I stop hiding it.”
Spoken like a daft child who didn’t realise her decisions would haunt her for the rest of her life. Draco knew damn well how the bad choices made at sixteen could alter everything. “Merryn, you don’t understand. People will try to drive you away. They will try to—”
“Maybe you don’t understand,” Merryn snapped back, abandoning the dishes and drying her hands on her pinny. “I’ve seen people try to drive you away, and you stayed. They tried to ruin everything we are trying to build here. If people knew about me they would know you’re different. It could save the hotel!”
“No. You don’t get to make my decisions. I’m almost seventeen. I’m almost of age.” She took a deep breath and then met his eyes with a seriousness Draco hadn’t seen in someone her age since the war. She suddenly looked just like her mother, and Draco felt compelled to listen the way he always did to Rosamund, even when he disagreed. “You don’t get to be the only one to suffer. We are a family ‘ere and we protect each other, but we also suffer together. You can’t take every ‘ex for me. You ‘ave to let me take one for you.”
Draco opened his mouth to argue, but he couldn’t find any words in the face of her bright brown eyes. She was as stubborn as the rash lunatic upstairs with the scar on his forehead. He closed his mouth and gave her a small nod.
“You’ll respect my decision. Whatever it is?”
He wanted to argue. He wanted to make her choose better than he had, but maybe it wasn’t the same. At sixteen, Draco hadn’t really felt like he was choosing; the Dark Lord had given orders and Draco had followed out of fear. Maybe Merryn deserved to make her own mistakes. If she made a horrible mess of her life the way he had, at least it would be her own doing.
As painful as it was, Draco found himself nodding his acceptance. It hurt a little less when she wrapped her arms around him and let her wild hair tickle his cheek.
When she let him go, it was with an order to find Potter and make nice. Draco may have forgotten that Potter could make or break the hotel, but Merryn had not.
* * *
But saying he wanted to be Draco’s friend felt disingenuous. Harry wasn’t usually so curious about every element of his friend’s interests and lives. He didn’t stare into their eyes or wonder what their hair felt like. He certainly didn’t blush when he touched their hands. Nope. He had managed to start fancying Draco.
A knock sounded on the door to his room, and Harry soon found himself faced with the object of his interest. More importantly, Draco didn’t look angry as he asked to come in.
“I spoke to Merryn, and she doesn’t mind that you know,” Draco began. “In fact...she thinks I’m being overprotective.”
Harry suspected this was as close to an apology as he was going to get. “It’s good to be protective of the people we care about. And you know better than most what dangers are out there...because you’ve seen them, not because you are one, because you’re not.”
Draco interrupted his rambling with a hand on his arm. It was strong and warm, even through the sleeve of Harry’s shirt. “Thank you.”
Harry looked into those fierce grey eyes and knew he was well and truly in for it. He wasn’t going to be able to go back to London in a few days and put Draco out of his mind.
“The guests will start to arrive today. I imagine the bride and groom at least will be here by lunch.”
Harry heard Draco’s unspoken, so you won’t need me for company, but Draco was completely mistaken. Harry was starting to suspect he could definitely come to need Draco.
“You know,” Harry cleared his throat. “Um, people usually bring dates to weddings, right? I’m sure my invitation said plus one.”
Draco’s face was suddenly unreadable. Damn it. Harry was just going to have to be brave and see what could come of it. Or deal with the fall out.
“I was wondering if...I’m hoping...will you be my date?”
Draco blinked at him a few times, leaving Harry with the odd thought that he would make a handsome owl, and then he was wondering what Draco’s patronus might be. The silence seemed to stretch out for ages with Harry listening to the clock on the wall ticking away.
“You want me to escort you to the wedding?” It wasn’t a no. It sounded like Draco just needed clarification.
“And the other stuff. Like meals and whatnots. It seems like a whole weekend of stuff.”
“Why? You could get anyone to go with you? I’m sure there will be lots of single people who—”
Harry pushed down his annoyance. He wasn’t asking Draco because he was worried about showing up without a date. This wasn’t the Yule Ball and Harry certainly wasn’t fourteen anymore. In fact, if the Yule Ball had taught him anything, it was that no date was much better than the wrong one.
“Because I want to date you,” Harry said, “and since we are in the same place this weekend it seemed the wedding was a good place to start. Although maybe a wedding is a bit intense for a first date. If you’d rather, we can wait until next weekend and I can take you to the cinema or the theatre or whatever else interests you.”
They were back to staring at each other. Harry was growing to hate the noisy clock and all its ticking.
“Are you saying you are asking me out because you want to date me, not because you need a date for the wedding?”
He had literally just said that. Draco was usually much faster on the uptake. “Yes.”
“But…” It was like he was trying to think of a reason to say no. Harry hoped he didn’t find one. “I’m using you to improve the hotel’s reputation!”
Harry wanted to laugh. It sounded more like an excuse than a confession. “Did you tell the press I’d be here?” Draco shook his head. “I am the one who chose to come here. And you haven’t even asked me to do an interview or anything. I think you’re a bit shit at using people these days.”
Harry stepped forward and risked putting a hand on Draco’s shoulder. Draco leant toward him just slightly, but enough to embolden him. He put his other hand on Draco’s cheek. The grey eyes which met his were wary but interested, so Harry leant forward until their lips brushed together lightly.
“It’s not using me if I want to help you. And Ron was actually the first person to ask me to help this place.”
Draco placed one hand on Harry’s hip and ran the other through his hair. “Don’t talk about Weasley right now,” he murmured before pulling Harry into a much more heated kiss.
* * *
While the bride and groom went to unpack, Harry wandered out onto the patio next to the rose garden. He had hoped to find privacy, but found Kensa instead. She wasn’t alone. She and Merryn were talking, and it was clearly not small talk. The gestures were too big and they were holding eye contact. Whatever they were discussing, Harry felt they didn’t want to be interrupted. He walked back through the hotel until he reached Rosamund’s kitchen where she was standing with Draco. Her hands were on his shoulders in a comforting gesture, and Harry wondered how much Kensa’s hostility had hurt him.
Draco turned to him with a smile Harry didn’t believe.
“I’m sorry about that,” Harry offered. “More guests are coming this afternoon, right? So we won’t have to sit with her again.”
Draco didn’t smile. “If not her, then someone else. There is no shortage of people who feel the way she does.”
Harry was going to say they could all go to hell, but Draco pressed on.
“You said you wanted to save Leah and Jowan’s wedding. Aggravating Jowan’s sister probably isn’t the way to do it. And reminding everyone I’m here isn’t helping the hotel. It’s probably best if I do what we did before: I hide in the kitchen and let the more palatable members of the hotel interact with the guests.”
Harry was getting ready to argue when a woman’s voice spoke up. “You shouldn’t have to hide.”
Kensa was standing in the doorway with Merryn at her side. It looked like they’d both been crying, but they now wore matching expressions of calm determination.
Kensa stepped forward. “I owe you an apology. I acted horribly, but please understand, I was just trying to protect Jowan.”
“Jowan’s a Squib,” Merryn explained.
And it did explain. Kensa had acted like there was a real threat to the wedding, and now Harry understood why. Even the Death Eaters who had felt Squibs should be sent away from the magical world instead of killed would have been outraged by a Squib marrying a witch. Kensa probably felt that taking Jowan to a Death Eater was like taking a lamb to a lion.
Kensa’s eyes were brimming with tears. “But Merryn just told me all you have done for her. How you’ve tried to protect her just as I’ve tried to protect Jowan. I’m so sorry.”
Harry turned to see Draco standing with blank shock as his eyes traveled between Kensa and Merryn. He blinked and seemed to come back to himself. He looked at Kensa and his face softened. “You don’t need to apologise. I made my own reputation and I have to deal with the consequences of that.” He glanced at Harry before returning to Kensa. “And I can relate to becoming a bit,” he shot another glance at Harry, “hostile when I think someone will expose Merryn to danger.”
Merryn stepped forward. “Which is why the hiding had to stop.” She looked from Draco to her mother. “I gave an interview to Gabby Yarn before she left this morning. I’ve told her I’m a Squib and how Draco’s helped me work here. If people want to come out here to off me for having no magic, they had better book a room and dinner first. At least then we get the business.”
Draco made a choked sound which might have been a laugh or a sob, and then he buried his face in her hair as he hugged her.
Harry looked at Rosamund to see how she was taking her daughter’s announcement to court animosity. There was definitely a tightness around her lips that spoke of worry, but her eyes shone with pride.
Merryn pulled back and smiled up at Draco. “No more hiding.”
Draco smiled from her to Kensa and then let his eyes rest on Harry’s. “No more hiding.”
“Finally.” Aida had joined them and she walked up to Draco. “I told you from the beginning, Draco. You can’t hide forever.” She embraced him and he rested his head on her shoulder. Harry had never imagined Draco as the huggy type, but today he seemed to be hugging everyone. Harry hoped he would get a turn as well. Maybe without the audience. He forced his mind to stop before he could continue imagining what he would do if he could get Draco alone and in his arms.
“You are always right, Aida,” Draco murmured into her shoulder.
“That’s right.” She smiled at him as she pulled back. “Except about macaroons.” The two laughed and Harry watched them enjoy the private joke. It was good to think Draco had made a history for himself that had nothing to do with Voldemort,
Aida patted Draco firmly on the arm. “Now, if we are done with the hugs and feelings, can I please get some help with preparing for tea. We are expecting another dozen people by then and nothing is made. I don’t mind doing the sandwiches, but I’m not making the petit fours.” She turned to leave before throwing a smile back at Draco. “Unless you want chili macaroons!”
“Don’t you dare!” Draco called after her. “Stay out of my kitchen.”
Everyone seemed to take the cue to disperse: Merryn rushed after Aida as Kensa said she owed her brother an apology as well. Harry found himself almost alone with Draco as Rosamund worked quietly on the other side of the kitchen as though pretending not to exist.
“I have to go work,” Draco said reluctantly, like maybe he’d rather stay with Harry. “But I’ll see you at tea?”
Harry smiled at him. “As my date or as the hotel owner?”
Draco stood up to his full height looking almost like the swaggering boy he’d once been. “Both.”
Harry kissed him. It was too brief and too chaste, but it was a promise of more to come. “Good.”
* * *
But if Merryn had thought her interview would help the hotel, she was right. Hotel Kalmynsi wasn’t fully booked for the summer, but it was far from empty and both the dining room and the sunroom were regularly filled with happy diners.
“The place is good,” Ron had said with a shrug when Harry told him about the newest bookings. “Most people wanted to holiday there and were just waiting for an excuse. Can’t go to the Death Eater place because it looks bad, but once you can call it the Squib place, you can go again.”
Harry suspected he was right. People didn’t really care one way or another about Draco or Squibs. They just wanted a nice hotel with great food that didn’t require an international Portkey.
More than anyone else, Merryn had helped other Squibs. Jowan was the next to be interviewed by Gabby, telling how his family had sent him to America to explain away his absence from Hogwarts. He went to a Muggle boarding school, but when he started dating Leah he let people back home assume he went to Ilvermorny with her. He did spend his summers at Ilvermorny, but his education was entirely informal as he did odd jobs for the teachers there.
As the weeks ticked by, more people came out of the woodwork. There was a woman who had been working at Flourish and Blotts for two decades, always hoping her vast knowledge of magical fiction and history would disguise her lack of magical ability. There was the witch who wrote about her worry for her ten-year-old son who had shown no sign of magic and probably wouldn’t get a letter from Hogwarts the next year. She told Gabby the interviews with Merryn and Jowan had given her hope for her son’s future for the first time.
Draco tried to keep his name out of the paper after Merryn’s interview, but he no longer hid in his own hotel. He also read Gabby’s Squib Series, as the interviews and articles were being called, and helped where he could. When Draco heard Jowan was struggling to find work in the magical world despite his knowledge of herbology and horticulture, Draco hired him as groundskeeper for the hotel. He wrote to the witch who worried for her son and invited them to enjoy a free week at his hotel to see Squibs incorporated into the magical world.
Harry teased Draco that he was becoming like Dumbledore, taking in those the Ministry deemed unemployable or undesirable. Draco threw a tomato at him for the comment and then made him scrape the pulpy mass from his face into the chicken bucket so it didn’t go to waste. Harry didn’t minded too much.
It was worth it to see Draco’s laugh.
Harry’s own concerns centred around how his friends would react to him dating someone who had tormented them so much at school. Ron and Hermione seemed accepting, but Harry still found himself nervous as their anniversary trip to Hotel Kalmynsi approached. He was spending more and more time at the hotel with Draco, sleeping there as often as at home, so Ron and Hermione planned to have him and Draco join them for meals during their holiday.
Before the first dinner, Harry tried to hide his nerves from Draco, who looked even worse than Harry felt. The first part of the meal was awkward, but then Hermione began peppering Draco with questions about the hotel. Once Draco realised that she was genuinely curious—and not looking for fault—he relaxed into a lengthy conversation with her that left Harry free to discuss an Auror case with Ron without being told off for bringing work home.
It was refreshing to spend so much time with his best friends without feeling like a third wheel. He knew it was time to leave them alone as a couple whenever he found himself eager to have Draco to himself, but he also enjoyed time together as two couples. It was refreshing to see his best friends without nagging or worried looks. Ron didn’t comment about him needing a holiday and Hermione didn’t ask about his eating. They all just enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the delicious food. Harry could get very used to it.
* * *
The magical food festival in Paris had been inspiring and well worth the trip. Draco and Aida had stayed for all four days of cooking demonstrations, lectures, and tastings while they met and caught up with various chefs and food critics. Aida had even met a promising sous chef she was trying to recruit to the hotel. After the festival ended, Draco and Aida had travelled to the south of France to visit Aida’s family and enjoy the way the local cuisine made use of seafood. Aida would be there for two more weeks seeing loved ones and collecting new recipes and ideas, but Draco was eager to get home.
The air back in Cornwall was definitely colder, but it felt more welcoming than any Mediterranean breeze. The harsh saltiness of it was familiar and entwined with memory. This was where Draco had found himself, where he had built a future for himself, and this was where Harry had come back into his life. A year later, Draco couldn’t smell sea air without being reminded of the smell of Harry’s skin after he went swimming.
Draco let his eyes drift off to the side of the building where the rose garden was visible through a wrought iron gate. He remembered the first time he and Harry had walked through the garden when Harry had asked for a tour of the grounds. More recently, he remembered having tea at a small garden table as the smell of velvety petals accented the rosewater in the scones Draco had baked.
Draco walked up to the large wooden door of the old manor house. Either side of it, warm lights glowed from the windows promising loved ones waiting within. He knew it was silly, but Draco couldn’t resist. He rapped his knuckles smartly on the solid wood. Soon the silent evening was interrupted by quick footsteps and muffled talking.
The door swung open to reveal two heads of wild black hair. Harry and Merryn jostled each other as they both pressed forward to embrace him. Merryn mumbled something about “daft” and “knocking” into his shoulder, and Draco just smiled and held her tighter. Harry pulled back just enough to kiss Draco firmly on the lips, which led to Merryn pulling away with a sound of disgust.
“Save it for your room,” she scolded.
Your room. The reminder that Harry now lived with him just made Draco smile more. It must have been a soppy smile because Merryn rolled her eyes and headed back into the house. “You’re letting the heat out,” she shouted back at them.
Harry gave him another quick kiss before pulling Draco into the warmth of the entryway and shutting the door behind them. Draco dropped his leather case by the stairs and let his fingers twine with Harry’s as they walked down the hallway to Rosamund’s kitchen. Smells of beef, onion and buttery pastry filled the hallway, and Draco felt his stomach rumble in anticipation. He really hoped Rosamund was making pasties.
Draco could hear his mother’s voice and smiled at her growing bravery. She still avoided crowds and strangers, but she now frequented much more of the manor in the cooler months when the hotel wasn’t bustling with strangers. On quiet mornings, she would even brave the rose garden or walk up to the sea.
What made Draco happiest was the way Harry had slotted so easily into Draco’s life at the hotel. He bickered with Merryn like a sibling, attended to Draco’s mother and Rosamund like a dutiful son, and listened to Gwenna as if she were a font of great wisdom. He was a willing test subject for Draco and Aida, tasting any new creation and providing honest feedback. His palate wasn’t as unrefined as Draco had always assumed.
In the evenings, Harry set up his Auror files on an unused desk in the library and worked quietly as Draco researched recipes or simply read for pleasure. Harry was always there, a reassuring presence as stable and warm of the stone walls of Manerji Kalmynsi herself. He was part of what made it Draco’s home.