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Borrowing Courage

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Nervous.

Draco could count on one hand the number of times he had been nervous in his life. The first time he broke something and knew he’d face the wrath of his father. The first night at Hogwarts when he knew he couldn’t sneak into his mother’s room and let her hold him. The first time he saw the Dark Lord in person and realised his entire life would be dictated by one moment—and the many mistakes that came from that. And the first time he realised what he wanted to do with his life and stepped back from his father’s expectations.

The underlying connection was firsts. He supposed change would fall into that, but perhaps it was the unknown that made him nervous. But as he stared at the Weasley residence, he knew that it wasn’t the unknown that affected him; it wasn’t his first house visit so there was no excuse there. Draco wasn’t entirely sure why his hands felt clammy, nor could he still the palpitations in his heart.

“I can’t do it,” he whispered to himself as the light from the half-opened curtains highlighted shadows around him.

“Oi!” The muffled yell caused a small smile to form and he hated that it calmed him already. “I didn’t waste months of my life in your stupid dungeon for you to back out now.”

Draco raised the packaged painting in his hands and wished he could see the scowl he knew would be there.

“It’s not a dungeon, you uncultured swine. It’s my studio.”

“Studio my arse,” came the aggravated tone that Draco had come to appreciate over the last six months. “You are lucky I’m dead or I would hex you and your stupid attractive face too.”

“Attractive, huh?” Draco asked, brows arched. Merlin, he wished the painting wasn’t covered.

“Draco.”

“Fred.”

“It’s going to be okay.”

He closed his eyes as he let the words reassure him despite the urge to turn around and flee. “What if they don’t like it?”

“Well, ‘it’ is me, and they better like it.”

A half-snort, half-sob left Draco as he tried to gain better control over his emotions. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I won’t miss you at all.”

The snort turned into a full laugh and he heard an echoing laugh in return.

“You’re the best at what you do,” Fred whispered, voice barely heard over the light breeze. “I’ve been dead 10 years and yet you were able to paint me. That’s mad. I don’t know what kind of records have been broken since I’ve been dead, but the last thing I remember, the longest time for an artist to paint someone deceased was 7 years.”

“Gunnar Pierce,” Draco said. “He was an amazing artist and also my mentor.” A pang of pain went through him at the thought of Gunnar. He would always cherish the moments he had with him. “I broke that record right after he died.” Gunnar had never gotten to see Draco’s proudest moment, never got to witness the moment the painting went active.

“Anyone I know?”

“Cedric Diggory.”

The sharp inhale wasn’t muffled, it wasn’t behind a package and it clearly wasn’t Fred. Draco spun around as he unsheathed his wand from his hip holster, only to lower it when he caught sight of a familiar but unwanted face.

Draco had known it was a possibility, but he just hadn’t expected to see him, not when no one did these days, not when the legend of the man was whispered far more than sightings.

“Potter.”

“Malfoy.”

Draco wasn’t sure what to make of the whole thing, wasn’t sure how to proceed. Potter had gone quiet after the war, only ever noticed sporadically in the papers, and never for long. He wasn’t sure what it was that Potter even did for a living, let alone if Potter had even stayed in the country.

Potter looked nothing like Draco remembered, didn’t look like the boy who had won a war, didn’t look like the teenager that walked away from everything, and he certainly didn’t look like the rumours people gossiped about. Potter was taller than Draco remembered, his hair was long and tied into a bun, his glasses had been replaced by ones that framed his face and weren’t too large. Potter held himself rigidly but that could’ve been the situation itself. The beard that shaped Potter’s jaw was prominent and it was probably the one thing Draco was shocked about the most.

As much as Potter had changed, Draco took comfort in the one thing that hadn’t—his eyes. Potter’s eyes were just as vibrant as they always had been.

“I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Likewise,” Draco said, eyes watching the way Potter watched him. It was almost nostalgic in a way, and his mind flashed to simpler times, when it was glances, glares and narrowed eyes across the Great Hall.

“Is that Harry? Oi! Harry! Are you as ugly as Malfoy? Or did you get better with age? Because teenage you needed some work.”

Draco closed his eyes briefly before he put away his wand and shook the painting firmly.

“Hey!”

“What happened to attractive?” Draco asked. “I distinctly remember something positive about my arse.”

“No,” Fred argued. “I never said anything about your arse, although now that you mention it—”

“Ah, so you did say I was attractive?”

The brief silence that followed was as much of a confirmation as it got.

“I hate Slytherins.”

“Fred?”

The breathy whisper tore at Draco’s heartstrings, the heart he swore he didn’t have.

“It is you,” Fred said, his tone far more pleasant than he usually spoke when it came to Draco. Figures.

“But,” Potter paused as his eyes looked to the package and then to Draco. “I—you did this?”

Draco nodded once, unsure if that was enough, he didn’t want to interrupt anything, not when it was clear that it meant something to Potter.

Before anything else was said, the front door opened and the light from inside nearly blinded them.

“Draco?”

He turned to the door and pushed the painting in Potter’s hands before he rushed forward when he saw who it was.

“I wasn’t sure you’d make it. Blaise said that you were on-call and got a bad one.”

Ron pulled Draco into a hug, and he selfishly wanted to hold on forever.

“I got Simmons to take over the operation. I wouldn’t miss this for the world, you know that.”

He did, but the relief of having at least one friend had overshadowed everything else.

“I’m nervous.”

Ron snorted, and Draco wasn’t sure if it was at his expense or if it was for show. “Are you confident in your abilities?”

“Yes.” He was honestly insulted. Of course his work was up to par.

“Are you confident in the final product?”

“Yes.”

“Then there’s nothing to worry about.”

Getting his mind to believe that wasn’t as easy as Ron made it seem, but Draco chose to listen to him anyway.

When Draco stepped back, and the light fell on Potter behind him, Ron’s face broke out into a wide smile, a smile Draco only saw when Blaise was nearby.

“Harry!”

Draco pulled the painting back from Potter, he ignored Fred’s grumbled complaints as Potter and Weasley hugged.

“You were supposed to be here last week for the annual get-together, you wanker.”

“I know,” Potter said, eyes closed as he buried his face in Weasley’s neck and hugged tighter. “I’m sorry, I got busy with a new idea and I couldn’t stop. I’ll make it up to you, promise.”

“New idea, huh?” Ron asked as he stepped back. “More history? What is it this time? Roman Empire? The downfall of Merlin?”

“Egypt. Cleopatra to be exact.”

The witch? Draco hummed, more confused than anything as Ron let out a low whistle. What would interest Potter about Ancient Egyptian wizards?

“Come in and you can tell us all about it. Dinner is almost ready.”

The way Potter’s eyes softened as he looked around the outside of the house had Draco even more nervous. This wasn’t where he belonged, and he wished Blaise could have come, wished that his best friend was with him.

“It’ll be alright,” Fred whispered, and Draco hugged the painting closer to his chest as he crossed the threshold.

As Draco looked around the room, he eyes widened at how the Weasleys had utilised the limited space they had. Pictures hung on the wall, nearly every available surface covered as well. The Manor had paintings, but never photos, that was too personal, that would have suggested they were a family. Small happy children waved in each photo and Draco could see a little Ron happily chasing an older sibling. It was easy to spot which ones were new additions as he could see Fleur holding a little boy while a girl who looked just like her ran around the room. From every surface, he could see the love they had for each other so clearly.

The odd knickknacks and flying objects gave the place character, and part of him wished he had known about it when he had been a kid. He would have still been quick to insult and easy to judge, but at least he would have been aware that some families actually cared.

“It’s not much,” Ron began as he gestured for Draco to take off his jacket. “But—”

“It’s perfect,” Draco said, eyes still roaming the room. He smiled when he caught sight of a garden chime hanging from the ceiling. The whole place had something to see and he was sure dozens of visits wouldn’t find them all.

The noise of several people talking could be heard, and he assumed they were in the dining room. He surprisingly didn’t hear any children, and that had been one of his worries of the night.

“Are the children not here?”

“No, that’s actually why Blaise isn’t here,” Ron explained as he led them both into the next room. “He said it would go smoother for your business if kids weren’t there for the first visit. So he’s watching them for the evening”

“Why?”

Draco looked back at Potter, unsure if he wanted to explain his methods, but before he could, several voices spoke at once.

“Harry!” Mrs Weasley yelled before she pulled Potter into a hug.

“Yeah Ron, stop hogging him,” Ginevra said with a small smile on her face.

“Welcome!” Mr Weasley opened his arms in a gesture of greeting, but Draco’s nerves were still high. He nodded to the rest of the room, unable to voice his gratitude.

“Draco, what a surprise.”

Draco looked to Hermione, the last one to have spoken. It was still a surprise to take in her rounded belly and new husband, Justin Finch-Fletchley. He greeted them both with a smile before he took in what she had said.

“Surprise? What do you mean a surprise?”

A nervous laugh behind him had Draco turning to Ron with narrowed eyes.

“The thing is, well you see—”

“You didn’t tell them?”

When Ron shook his head, Draco wanted to flee. Ron was his friend, and yet he blindsided him? It was always in his contracts that full knowledge was required. Surprising loved ones with a painting of a dead relative never worked out. That was a mess he wanted to avoid, and Ron knew that.

“Tell us what?” Draco wasn’t sure if it was Charlie or Bill who spoke, he hadn’t exactly worked out telling apart gingers.

“Ron,” Draco whispered, hands gripping the painting tighter. “Why would you do this?”

“I’m sorry,” Ron said as a hand rose to grip Draco’s shoulder, but he shook his head and took a step back. He knew his eyes were wide and probably showed his true feelings, but he didn’t know what to do. The panic began to set in and he just wanted to leave. Doing business with friends had been a horrible idea.

“I didn’t know what to tell them.”

“So you said nothing?” Draco eyed the front door and debated about his chances. When Potter stepped to the side, allowing him the room to leave, he had never wanted to hug someone so badly in gratitude before. But before he could go farther, another voice spoke up and the sound of it had him freezing. It was so familiar and so similar to the one he had gotten to know over the past months.

“What’s going on?”

“Georgie? Is that you?”

The glass in George’s hand shattered when it hit the floor. Angelina covered her mouth and Fleur gasped loudly.

“I—uh.” Draco paused when 12 pairs of eyes were on him. “Ron hired me, and I think you all know what I do for a living.”

He wasn’t really sure if they did; even after being friends with Ron for 4 years, he hadn’t ever actually met the Weasleys fully.

“You’re a painter, aren’t you?” Angelina said, eyes on the package in his hands.

“Yes, but I specialise in the restoration of deceased interpretations.” A few confused glances had him explaining further, “I specialise in painting those who have already died.”

“Is that—” George’s hand covered his mouth and he blinked rapidly.

“Ron hired me to paint Fred.”

The stunned gazes were exactly why he never did surprise showings. The way they stared at him had his stomach clenching. He was going to kill Ron.

“Don’t leave it all in suspense!” Fred yelled, the silence of the room making it sound far louder than it was. “I didn’t suffer for months with you to be left in this bloody wrapping.”

Draco sighed heavily as he unwrapped the painting and laid it down on the table. As much as he liked Fred, he would be happy to see him go.

“Oh Merlin.”

Someone sobbed in the background, but Draco only had eyes for George.

“Wow, Georgie you got old.”

An odd noise left George as he walked closer, eyes filled with tears and a hand still covering his mouth.

“Freddie.”

“Don’t cry,” Fred whispered, eyes soft and a tremor to his voice. “I’ve always been with you, you have to know that.”

George covered his whole face, shoulders trembling and breath a quick intake.

“I’ve missed you,” George said, the sound muffled. “So much. You left me all alone. I didn’t know how to be singular after always being a duo.”

“Oh, George.”

The tears of the families would never be easy to bear. That had always been his least favourite part. But as he watched the rest of the family break down, he knew it wasn’t fair. Ron shouldn’t have surprised them with the painting.

“You were the better twin, and I’ve been in shambles ever since.”

Draco blinked rapidly at the ceiling, unable to hear the sorrow in George’s voice without it hitting his own emotions.

“I am the better twin, but you were always my favourite.”

George’s head shook rapidly as he came closer to the table, a hand rose as if he wanted to touch Fred.

“Please don’t touch the painting,” Draco said, unable to remain silent. He ignored the way George glared at him. “The magical residue in your hands will not mix well with my own that has been infused inside the painting, nor will it mix well with the essence of Fred’s that I was able to get.”

“What will happen if someone touches it?” Hermione asked as she leaned forward to wipe her eyes.

“It can corrode,” Draco and Fred said in unison.

Draco glared at Fred and tried not to smile when Fred laughed loudly.

“Sorry, it’s just that I’ve been in Draco’s dungeon for six months and he’s always talking about his rules. Grates on your nerves after a while.”

“It’s not a dungeon. And you know what else grates on the nerves?” Draco asked, arms folded across his chest. “You.”

“I’d like to think that I’m an acquired taste.”

“Yeah,” Draco grumbled. At least they were in agreement there. “One that I don’t have.”

“How did you do it?” Mrs. Weasley asked as she wrapped an arm around George and held him close. “How were you able to do this?”

Draco rubbed the back of his neck when they all stared at him. “Sorry, I’m not used to my clients not knowing all the details. I thought Ron had explained things.” He glared at Ron, who was purposely looking elsewhere.

“That’s alright, son,” Mr Weasley said, eyes on his wife. “We’ll be patient with you.”

It was a small comfort, and he supposed that would be the best he’d get.

“Painting in general is easy, but when you add in magic, things tend to go awry,” he said as he glanced around the room, unsure where to look. “Painting someone alive is far easier. I can look at them in person, I can see what they are like. If I were to paint one of you, I’d invite you for many meetings until I felt comfortable enough in knowing that my final product would be just as lively as the original.”

He looked down at Fred, his shoulders relaxed at the easy acceptance so clearly there.

“But when someone has died, my work becomes significantly harder. I have to rely on testimonies from friends, relatives, enemies and even sometimes strangers. I tend to like to look at memories, letters or anything left behind.”

“And you didn’t need us?” Ginevra asked. He wasn’t sure what to make of her tone. It wasn’t quite accusatory, but it was close.

“I had the family side of who Fred was from Ron and even George.”

Several people began to talk at once, and it all seemed as if George hadn’t told any of them about the meetings.

“Since Fred had been a twin, it only made sense for me to seek out George. Ron admitted that he knew Fred just as well as you all, but only to an extent. He didn’t know him as well as George did. George gave me a few memories of Fred, and it helped immensely. I also reached out to friends and past teachers as well.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Fleur asked, accent coming through the more worked up she became. “We could have helped you, so you did not become burdened under the pressure.”

“I expect the same reason Ron didn’t tell anyone,” Fred said.

“I didn’t think it would happen, you know?” George whispered as he hugged his mother. “It seemed like a long shot. It’s been 10 years, that’s so unheard of. Fred was gone, and I accepted that a long time ago. Hoping would only make it worse if Draco couldn’t do it. So, I pushed it away and didn’t consider it a real possibility.”

The doubts of his abilities did hit Draco’s pride, but he understood. It wasn’t an easy thing to accomplish in his line of work.

“You said something about Fred’s magical essence?” Potter said, eyes on Draco instead of Fred.

“I was able to pull his magic out of his possessions that George still had.”

“But don’t twins have the same magical core?” Justin asked with furrowed brows and a small frown.

“No, they don’t,” Draco and Hermione said at the same time. She nodded once, as if telling him to answer for them.

“Their magical core is similar and can be very hard to differentiate, but there is a difference. I just had to separate George’s magic from the lingering traces of Fred.”

“And what does that do exactly? The essence?” By the burns on the hands, Draco assumed it was Charlie asking.

“It helps solidify the base of the painting. I can paint anyone, but unless their essence is captured, then it’s just a faceless image—might as well be anyone at that point.”

“Sounds like a lot of work,” Bill said quietly, an arm around Fleur’s shoulder. “Thank you for this. If Ron didn’t pay you enough, let me know.”

“Oi!” Ron yelled. “I paid him his asking price. Even though I’m his best friend and should have gotten a discount.”

“You aren’t my best friend.”

“That hurts,” Ron mumbled as his lips twitched. “I’m dating your best friend then.”

“Wait,” Fred interrupted before Draco could respond. “Hermione is Draco’s best friend?”

The silence that followed was stilted and it caused Draco to shift from foot to foot. He hated socializing.

“Well this is awkward,” Ginevra whispered, and Potter snorted.

“Blaise is my best friend.”

Fred blinked slowly, almost comically as his mouth parted.

“You’re gay?”

Fleur and Ginevra tried to muffle their laughter but not very well as it could be heard around the silent room.

“Bisexual, actually,” Ron said with a sniff. “So is Harry, and Ginny.”

“Thanks Ron,” Potter added dryly. “For saying it for me.”

“You tosser,” Ginevra murmured, but her lips were quirked upward, and he didn’t think she was upset at all.

“I already knew about Harry.” Fred’s hand waved that away. “His crush on Cedric was so obvious I was embarrassed for him.”

“Oh my God,” Potter whispered as he covered his face. “I shouldn’t have come here.”

“That’s not all,” Ginevra said with a cackle. “Tell Fred about your crush on him too.”

Fred gasped, eyes wide before he threw his head back and laughed.

“Ginny, I told you that in confidence.”

“Wait,” Ron yelled, arms folded angrily. “Why does Ginny know about this and I don’t?”

As they all argued with each other, Draco felt as if it was all surreal. He had never known a family quite like them. There were still a few tears, and he knew it would come back, but they were so open with each other.

“I could have sworn you would’ve ended up married to Hermione,” Fred said during the next lull in conversation. “I even bet George 50 Galleons.”

“Well we did get married,” Hermione said quietly, a pink hue staining her cheeks. “We realised after a year that we wanted different things. We married so young. We were 18 and thought we knew everything.”

“Hah!” Fred clapped his hands once. “Then I did win the bet.”

George rolled his eyes. “I’ll make sure to take Galleons with me to the afterlife.”

“Wait, is that why instead of giving us a wedding present you just handed me 50 Galleons?” Ron wondered, a small wrinkle to his forehead.

When George nodded, laughter broke out. “I wanted the bet to come full circle.”

“So, who are you then?” Fred asked as he pointed towards Justin.

“Justin Finch-Fletchley. I’m Hermione’s husband.”

Fred winced slightly as Ginevra coughed pointedly.

“The one Harry set that snake on back when the Chamber of Secrets was opened?”

“Oh my God,” Potter whispered. “I really shouldn’t have come here.”

“That would be me,” Justin laughed, hands coming up to cup his cheeks.

The sound of a gong clanged around the room and several people stood up to enter the kitchen.

“Dinner is done,” Potter explained when Draco looked around in confusion.

Draco picked up the painting by the frame and set it against an unused chair to make room for the dishes that would be brought out.

“What kind of cleaning care should we use for Fred?” George asked as he eyed the painting, a sad smile in place.

“All of my paintings are self-cleaning, for the most part,” Draco said as he sat down in the only available seat next to Potter. “With any artwork, there will always be some kind of ageing or decay. I can show you a few simple spells that will prolong that, and I can always come by for yearly checkups. Free of charge.”

When no one said anything and just stared openly, he wasn’t sure what went wrong. “Any artist can, if you’d prefer someone else. But I’m sure they’ll charge.”

“No!” George rushed to say. “No, that’s fine. Thank you. We’d love it if you did.”

He still wasn’t sure what had been the issue to begin with, but he took the explanation anyway.

As far as dinners went, it wasn’t the best, but it was by far the most interesting. The Weasley family was something else. The way they cared so openly was a change of pace and he envied it in a way.

By the time dinner was done and dessert had been eaten, Draco was positive he had been hugged by every member of the Weasley family twice.

“Will you consider coming back for dinner next month?” Arthur, who insisted they be on a first name basis, asked. “We try to get together once a month, and we would love to see you again.”

Draco had never been invited to anything past what was required for a client. Nor had anyone wanted to see him outside of his job either. He was touched.

“I think I’d like that,” he whispered before Arthur pulled him in for a third hug.

“Thank you for the lovely evening,” Draco told everyone as he put on his jacket. He waved at Fred. “I think you are my favourite piece. I might even miss you.”

“I won’t miss you at all.”

Draco couldn’t help but laugh despite the fact that his studio would be lonely again. That was always the saddest part when paintings were given to the families and the silence of his work room seemed louder than any conversation.

“I’ll walk you out,” Potter said, not giving Draco any choice in the matter.

As he stepped outside and began to walk down the path towards the Apparition zone, he eyed Potter discreetly.

“Ron mentions you sometimes,” Potter said before he bit his lip. “I just assumed it was because of Zabini, you know? But I never really considered he was your friend for you.

“What is that supposed to mean?” He didn’t like the way it was said, and his eyes narrowed on instinct.

“I didn’t mean to insult you.”

“Well you didn’t try very hard.”

Potter’s lips twitched, and Draco would’ve loved to know what was funny about being insulted.

“I just meant that I never stopped to consider you much. What you’d be like after the war. Never really paused to think of you at all.”

“Well, now you made it worse. How is that not insulting?”

When Potter laughed, Draco wanted to hex him. Potter hadn’t matured at all.

“You surprise me, you know?”

“Well, you surprise me with how little manners you have.”

The smile on Potter’s face confused him. He had never met someone that liked to be insulted. Potter was an odd one.

“I think your work is admirable.”

Draco looked down when they reached the Apparition point. He wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t want to talk about his reasons behind his choice of career. Especially to Potter.

“Thank you,” he settled on, eyes still on the ground. “It’s not easy, but I enjoy it.”

“It shows,” Potter whispered. “Your work was beautiful. Fred looks just like I remember.”

That was a compliment, and Draco unfortunately thrived on it. Getting accurate depictions for those that have died was hard, far harder than people think. So to know that he did well boosted his ego and soothed his worries at the same time.

“Thank you,” Draco repeated.

“I feel like I should be the one thanking you.”

He glanced up only to look away when he realised Potter was staring at him intently, eyes unreadable.

“Then what are you waiting for?”

Potter’s laugh rang out over the clearing and Draco marveled at how free it sounded.

“Thank you, Malfoy.”

He smiled slightly as he whispered, “You’re welcome.” He wasn’t sure why Potter had wanted to see him out, especially since most of it was insults, but he couldn’t say he was disappointed.

“Ron talks about you sometimes too.”

“Good things?”

“No.”

The now familiar laughter would stay in Draco’s head. As would the way Potter held his stomach and put everything he had into it.

“He just mentions the few times he sees you. I guess you are busy a lot.”

Potter’s smile dimmed as he looked around the clearing. “I need to make more of an effort to be around. You miss a lot that way.” His eyes glanced towards Draco and the message was clear.

“Then maybe I’ll see you at the next dinner? Or perhaps you can join Blaise, Ron and I for our weekly Exploding Snap night.”

Potter’s brows arched, and his lips pressed together in an attempt not to laugh.

“You know what, I take it back, you can’t join us.”

“I’m sorry,” Potter said, the snort right after making the statement completely unbelievable. “It’s just that, well, who gets together to play Exploding Snap?”

“We do.” He was honestly tired of Potter insulting him. “It’s competitive and we bet on it.”

“Oh really?”

“Mhm. Alcohol tends to be involved too.”

“Well maybe I will join.”

“Oh no,” Draco shook his head. “You aren’t invited anymore.”

Potter’s laughter rang in his ears long after he Apparated away. It wasn’t a sound easily forgotten, but he was going to try.

------------------------------------

Draco walked into work late, not that he cared about that when his eyes were still half closed. Sleep hadn’t come easy for him, not that it ever did.

“It’s about time you came in,” Blaise scolded, feet on Draco’s desk, because of course it wasn’t his own that he sullied. “I’ve been dodging the Floo for hours. Fudge insists that you take on his case immediately.”

“Fudge can go fuck himself.”

He shoved Blaise’s feet off his desk before he plopped down with little grace and placed his head on a stack of papers. The pull of sleep was strong, but he knew if he didn’t get started on something he’d be at his studio all night.

“I agree but saying that is bad for business.”

“What’s he want this time?”

“He wants you to do a painting on his sixth-great-grandfather.”

Draco’s head snapped up and so did the parchment stuck to his face. “What? Is he insane? I can’t do a piece that far back. There is no one left alive to tell the story.”

“I explained that to him, but he is of the belief that family stories passed down should be enough.”

The paper fell off his cheek and landed on the table, and he wished he could drop Fudge out of his life just as easily.

“That’s stupid. I can’t do that, and he’s mental for thinking otherwise.”

“Exactly,” Blaise agreed with a harrumph. “Which is why the next time he Floos, I need you to say that.”

“Why me?” Draco was suspicious. Blaise wasn’t shy and loved telling people no.

“Because it’s not my area of expertise.”

The suspicion grew as Blaise shifted uneasily.

“You are the office manager. You run the finances, handle the first run-through of customer meetings and you screen potential clients. This is exactly your expertise.”

Blaise’s shoulders slumped.

“He’s dating my mum, alright?”

A low whistle escaped Draco and he sat up straighter.

“Why am I only hearing about this now?”

“Because I only found out last night.”

“And you didn’t Floo me immediately?”

“What are you, three? The gossip can wait.”

“Pansy wouldn’t have waited.”

“Well Pansy is the cow that left us to travel around the world.”

Alright, Blaise had him there.

“You want little contact with him, so the authorities don’t suspect anything when she kills him?”

“Do you have to be so crass? We could pretend she won’t.”

Draco levelled Blaise with an unimpressed stare. “This is your mother we are talking about. She has a new husband every year. A new husband that mysteriously vanishes and leaves her significantly richer than before.”

“Please, Draco,” Blaise begged. For what, he wasn’t entirely sure. “I didn’t want to talk to him let alone see him. He’s despicable, annoying, entitled and rich.”

“So your mother’s type.”

Draco yelled when Blaise hit him with a Stinging Hex to the shoulder.

“Ow, you brute. Alright, I’m sorry. I’ll handle him.”

“Thank you.” Draco’s shoulder envied the relief on Blaise’s face.

“But you owe me.”

Blaise placed his chin on his palm as he leaned forward. “I’m listening.”

Indecision caused Draco to bite his lip. He looked away to stare at the wall, unsure if he wanted to say it.

“I want six months off.”

“What?”

When Draco looked at Blaise, not letting the nerves show on his face, Blaise shook his head.

“You already took a vacation last year. We aren’t needing the money, but your reputation needs another painting under your belt to ensure you get the certification from the Magical Art District this year. We were going to shoot for double certification.”

“I know,” Draco said, and he did. He wanted that certification more than anything. It went to prestige artists that promoted the quality body of work that the Art District prided itself on. Not only could he charge more for his services with the award, but it was an honour to be included at all.

“And I might still be able to do that.”

“Not if you take off six months.”

Draco rubbed his temples, a headache already forming. “I want to work on a piece for myself.”

“Oh.”

The inflection in Blaise’s tone wasn’t welcome, he already knew where the assumption had been made.

“Is it for—”

“No,” Draco said, tone hard and unforgiving. “It’s not.”

“It’s okay to miss—”

“Blaise.”

“Sorry, I just worry about you.”

“You don’t need to.”

The silence was uncomfortable, but Draco didn’t want to change it, as petty as that was.

“Alright,” Blaise said after the silence had stretched into several minutes. “I’ll give you six months.”

Draco glanced up, not feeling in the mood to remind Blaise that he didn’t need permission, it was his business to begin with.

“But if it cuts too close, then I’m entering one of your reject pieces for the certification.”

“What, but that’s not—”

An arched brow made him pause. Blaise was right. If he couldn’t finish the piece in time then he’d have to submit something else.

“Alright.”

Being friends for so long, he could tell that Blaise wanted to ask but didn’t, and that mattered to Draco. He reached out a hand and gripped Blaise’s. The answering squeeze was enough.

They’d be alright.

The sound of an incoming Floo had them both rigid in their seats. Fudge.

Or maybe they wouldn’t.

--

Visiting the Manor never put Draco in a good mood, but he knew that to get answers he’d need to. The ostentatious build and gaudy design screamed wealth but never home. There was no warmth in the foundation, no love in the structures and nothing but emptiness in the construction.

The Manor may have been where he was raised, but it held no good memories.

As the gates to the property opened immediately, he knew his access to the wards was still in place, a surprise honestly.

The door opened before he could knock and a house-elf he didn’t recognise ushered him inside.

“Mistress Narcissa will be down soon.”

“Thank you.”

He knew she’d keep him waiting. It was a game of sorts, something she learned from his father. The minutes ticked by, but he refused to sit, that would play into her hands. If he was going to be here, it would be by his own standards.

The sound of her heels on the marble floor could be heard long before he saw her. Draco waited impatiently for her to walk down the stairs and he knew her slow gait was calculated—everything she did was calculated.

“How lovely to see you, Draco.”

His lips twisted into what he hoped was a smile as he turned to see his mother walk towards him. She had no smile, but that was to be expected.

“Likewise, Mother.”

“Do sit, we have much to catch up on.”

“Actually, I don’t have long. I came to ask you a few questions.”

When his mother’s eyes narrowed, he knew she read between the lines, knew she understood that he wasn’t going to cave.

“What kind of questions?”

“Character questions.”

Her mouth parted, and he knew she mistook his intentions, she always did.

“You mean you’ll redo it? You’ll fix—”

“No, that’s not what I am here about. I’m doing a different piece.”

Her lips thinned, and her eyes grew cold.

“Draco, we’ve talked about this. If only you’d just listen to reason. It’s okay to make mistakes.”

“I didn’t make a mistake,” Draco whispered, unable to keep the anger out of his voice. “I won’t redo it and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone that will.”

The familiar scoff that never failed to make Draco’s shoulders tense was heard, but he refused to look to the corner it came from. Refused to give any satisfaction.

“Then why are you here?”

The question didn’t come from his mother, but he was going to pretend it did.

“I’ve come to ask you, Mother, what you know about Sirius Black.”

“Sirius?” Her head tilted back in surprise as her forehead wrinkled. “Your next piece will be Sirius?”

“What a joke.”

Draco clenched his jaw as he ignored the input that once again didn’t come from his mother.

“Yes, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while now.”

“You aren’t being commissioned?” His mother asked as she sat down, the first positive part of the whole meeting. With her making the first move, it made it easier for him to sit down as well.

“No,” he shook his head. “I want to do the piece for me.”

“Why? Why him?”

He wasn’t sure he wanted to tell her, at least fully. It wasn’t her business, but he knew that she wouldn’t answer him without something.

“Because he walked away. He walked away from everything we stand for and he did it at a young age. The same age I was when I did the opposite. The same age I was when I made the biggest mistake of my life.”

“Mistake?” The same scoff caused his shoulders to tense and he hated it, hated that it still got to him. “It wasn’t—”

“I didn’t ask you,” Draco snarled as he closed his eyes, unwilling to turn and look, unwilling to give in.

“Alright,” his mother whispered, and his heart beat faster in response.

“Narcissa, you can’t possibly humour this—”

“What would you like to know?”

Draco’s shoulders slumped in relief, grateful for his mother for the first time in years. He pulled out a notebook he kept for research and prepared to take notes.

“What was he like? Did you know him well? You’ve never talked about him much other than to say he was disowned.”

“He wasn’t disowned in the traditional sense,” his mother began as she sat more comfortably in the chair. “Aunt Walburga burned him off the tapestry, but that didn’t affect his status at all. It was more for show, a thing of pride. She wanted him to know that he could retain the Black name, but he wouldn’t be welcome in her home.”

“She didn’t care that he was only 16?”

“Walburga felt that if he could make the choice to leave at 16 then he could live with the fallout. She assumed he’d come back one day.”

“And did he?”

His mother laughed, the sound amused and a touch fond.

“Sirius? No. He wasn’t the type to go back on his fundamentals, and denouncing Dark Magic was one of his core fundamentals. Even as a child he was like that. Refused to play with Regulus unless the games held Light Magic.”

“Did you know him well?”

“Not as well as I would have liked. I was only 5 years his senior, but my father tended to keep our families separate. Competition, really. There were rumours that Grandfather Pollux would choose one of us to take over after he died. My father chose to cut Walburga out of his life when her side was chosen.”

Draco paused, quill dripping ink on the parchment as he stared at his mother.

“But Regulus died before Sirius was imprisoned, right?”

A small amused smile quirked the corner of her lips.

“Yes. Considering Regulus’ death and Sirius’ imprisonment, it would seem that Pollux’s decision was unwise.”

“So then the decision went to your side of the family?”

“Not exactly. Bellatrix was imprisoned, and Andromeda was disowned. With the premarital contract my parents signed, nothing from my paternal side could come forward in the marriage. I was discounted to inherit the title of Lord of the Black family.”

“That’s barbaric,” Draco said, unable to fathom why anyone would agree to give up their titles for a marriage.

“It’s how it was back then. Be glad things have changed.”

“Did Sirius’ titles dissolve? Who was made the Lord of the Black family?”

When his mother leaned forward, there was a light in her eyes that he hadn’t seen since he was a child. It made him miss her, miss what they used to have.

“That’s the thing, titles and laws rarely go hand in hand. By law, technically the titles should have dissolved. But since when do we purebloods abide by the law?”

“Never,” they answered in unison and Draco felt a small smile tug at his lips.

“The Wizard Goblin Alliance Act of 1710 made it possible for inheritances, finances and titles to exist outside of governing law. Due to the Act, the Ministry could not legally take Sirius’ titles, property or money, otherwise they would have to face the Goblins and they never tolerate the Ministry’s demands.”

“So Sirius was able to keep his titles even while imprisoned?”

His mother nodded once, eyes on her entwined fingers. “Since Regulus died and the titles went to Sirius, and that was before he was imprisoned, it made it possible for him to retain everything.”

“Why didn’t it go to Bellatrix?”

“I suppose it could have if she made a petition to Gringotts, but she was imprisoned herself shortly after and by the time she escaped, she wasn’t in a position to request anything as an escaped convict.”

“With Sirius dead, who retains the titles?”

“Potter.”

The quill nearly slipped from Draco’s grasp as he stared at his mother, unsure if he had heard correctly.

“Sirius made him his heir before he died. I suspect Dumbledore had some involvement in that considering he was still classified as a criminal at the time. Either way, Gringotts accepted and Potter holds the title as Lord of Black.”

That made things significantly harder for Draco, and he knew he’d have to talk to Potter at some point, but he didn’t want to.

“Did you ever talk to Sirius?” Draco wondered, hoping to gain more than just family facts. It would help overall, but he needed Sirius’ character, needed more than what he was given.

“Insults, polite conversations in public, but no, I never talked to him in the ways you are wanting.”

Draco sighed, more disappointed than anything, but he was still grateful for her time.

“Is there anything you can tell me about him that you observed?”

His mother’s head tilted slightly, and she appeared uncomfortable.

“I was a fifth year by the time he came to Hogwarts. I only spent three years observing his youth, so I can’t offer much as I wasn’t around for his adulthood.”

“That’s okay,” he reassured. “Anything you can offer is enough.”

“Sirius was rarely seen without his friends. I don’t know if that was a flaw or done by design. His dependency on them was always obvious, even in the later years his duels were predominantly in defence of his friends.”

It was clear that his mother considered friendship as a weakness and that spoke volumes to his own childhood.

“I often saw him smiling, and I can’t offer any knowledge as to whether it was real or for show. Those who never frown tend to be doing it on the inside. Sirius was wild, rambunctious and definitely the Gryffindor that he was sorted as. He was outgoing, and people tended to like him. He was not the family he came from, and that showed when Regulus came to Hogwarts.”

“They were that different?”

A laugh left her as she covered her mouth briefly. “Oh yes, the only thing they had in common was their surname. Regulus was the one who knew Sirius in ways that not even Potter or Lupin did. I thought they would fight, but they never did, at least not in public. They avoided each other, and I think it was because neither wanted to be influenced by the other. They wanted different things and that couldn’t be with each other.”

It sounded sad. Draco had always wanted a sibling, always wanted someone else around who could keep him company, someone he could love in a familial bond, someone who would be there for him. He couldn’t imagine having that and not getting along.

“I only know about him on the surface,” his mother continued, a slight frown on her face. “If you want to know more you’ll have to talk to those who knew him.”

“Most people who knew him are dead.”

“Potter’s not.”

“No,” Draco agreed. “He certainly isn’t.”

There were other avenues to check first. Potter was his final stop, and he was self-aware enough to know it was because he was procrastinating.

“Will you show me the final piece?” His mother asked as she leaned forward, eyes vulnerable in a way he had never seen. “I’d like to get to know my cousin, even if it’s only a painting.”

“Yes,” he whispered. “I’ll show you.” He couldn’t begrudge her that, not when he wanted to know Sirius as well.

Draco put away his things and stood up, nodding once when she looked at him curiously.

“Thank you for your time. It will help a lot.”

As he walked towards the door, he sidestepped the area that irked him the most, ignored the centre of his hatred.

“Draco.”

He paused with a hand on the doorknob. The tone was obvious, he knew what she would ask, it never changed.

“Please repaint him, please.”

“You want me to purposefully give you a false painting?”

“It wouldn’t be—”

Mother,” Draco begged, not bothering to turn around. He couldn’t look into her eyes, not now. “We both know that what I painted is exactly who he was while alive. Anything else will be false.”

“Please,” she continued, and it broke his heart to hear her beg, something a Malfoy never did. “I don’t want to remember him how he was. I want something else, even if it’s a lie.”

Draco looked sideways, looked at the painting he regretted ever doing. The near permanent sneer had always made his stomach churn, the pinched expression still lingered in his memories and the eyes so like his own stared back at him.

What his mother wanted was a sense of delusion. She wanted a husband who had never existed. She wanted someone who was made up of lies. Because no matter what she said, the painting of Lucius Malfoy was as rude, cruel and as bitter as the man who had once lived.

“Alright,” he said, regret already taking root. “I’ll repaint him.”

His mother’s choked gratitude was the only reason he was going to do it. He ignored his own delusions as his mind imagined what it would be like to have a father who actually cared. He supposed he’d find out, whenever he finished painting the lies she so desperately wanted.

Could a lie fix the cracks in his heart? Could a lie change the nightmares of his memories? Could a lie change anything?

 

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