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King Of Disaster

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February 2018.

Walking past the boarded up, graffiti-covered window of what must have been a thriving greengrocer’s once, Draco Malfoy pushes his hands deeper into the vast pockets of his thick, black overcoat. Swiftly crossing the dirty, badly lit street, he tightens his grip on his wand.

Two decades after the war, the demand for certain potion ingredients continues to outweigh the supply by a large margin. Which is why Draco currently finds himself in a seedy area of Muggle London. He just struck a deal with a Squib he only knows by the name of Razor.

The man had a suitcase filled to the brim with rare medicinal herbs to sell. He didn’t reveal how he obtained his wares—he never does—and Draco had the common sense not to ask either. He simply handed over the padded brown envelope containing £600 in ten pound notes, shrank the suitcase and put it in his inside pocket, determined to return home, to his lab, as quickly as possible. This isn’t the sort of neighbourhood where one should linger, particularly after dark.

Carefully avoiding a tipped over rubbish bin and the rancid items it once contained, Draco rounds a corner.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a large object launches itself at him. With a dull thud, it lands by his feet.

No. Hang on. It’s not an object. It’s a person.

Draco resists the urge to cringe. Oh bugger. He’d rather not hex a Muggle if he can help it.

For one, doing so would leave behind a magical signature through which he might be traced (and wouldn’t the Auror Department just love a fresh opportunity to take him in for questioning?) and for another, these things can get pretty messy. Even deep in the dark, in the middle of nowhere, there’s always that one pesky witness someone neglected to Obliviate.

Then again, Draco doesn’t fancy getting mugged either. He silently assesses the man on the pavement to determine what kind of hostile force he might be up against.

Soon Draco sighs in relief. Whoever that is appears in no shape to assault anyone. He’s barely conscious; probably just a drifter who’s had one too many drinks.

Draco is about to continue his journey home when a car drives by slowly. It's a dingy old Ford Escort of an undeterminable colour that should have been retired ages ago. For the briefest of moments, the screeching vehicle’s headlights illuminate the stranger’s face.

Draco’s eyes widen in shock. “P-Potter?” he blurts out before he can stop himself, his voice louder than it ought to be in his present surroundings. “What in Salazar’s name are you…?”

The man on the ground looks up warily. “M-Malfoy,” he stammers. “I-Is that you?” He struggles to get up, only to promptly sink back down again.

Clenching his fists, Draco curses under his breath; Well, isn’t this just bloody typical, how did he get to be so lucky?

He hunches down on the grotty pavement. “Yes, Potter, it’s me. What the hell happened to you? Were you attacked? And where are your glasses? Did you lose them somewhere around here?”

An unintelligible groan is the only response he gets.

“Never mind,” he continues, waving a dismissive hand. “None of that is important right now. You need medical attention. We’d best get you to a hospital straight away.”

“N-No,” Harry croaks out. “N-No hospital!”

“Excuse me?” Draco frowns. “Do you have any idea how wretched you look, Potter? I can’t very well leave you out here in the street. The condition you’re in, you wouldn’t live to see dawn.”

“No hospital!” Harry insists vehemently.

Draco doesn’t fail to notice the panic in his tone. “All right. Fine.” He sighs. “Have it your way, but if you don’t want to be taken to a hospital, you’ll be coming back to the Manor with me. As I said, I’m not leaving you here.”

“M-Malfoy Manor,” Harry mutters. He doesn’t sound apprehensive this time, but he’s definitely surprised.

Draco smirks. “Yes, that’s the one. How clever of you to remember the name of my ancestral home.” He rises to his feet. “If you lean on me, do you suppose you’ll be able to walk? My vehicle and driver are two blocks away.”

Harry nods.

“Come on, then.” Draco holds out his hand and helps Harry up.

Together, they walk the remaining distance, slowly, almost losing their balance twice as Harry struggles to remain upright or even conscious.

Draco lets out a relieved breath when the vintage black Jaguar comes into view. The shiny, luxurious car looks completely out of place in its lacklustre location, but fortunately a carefully cast ‘Notice Me Not’ spell has kept it safely hidden in plain sight.

Catching sight of Draco, the driver steps out of the vehicle. His name is Bernard Arkwright. At sixty-five, with his grey hair and dark, old-fashioned Muggle suit, he might easily be mistaken for a valet from a long gone era, or possibly a chauffeur on the eve of retirement.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Arkwright is a wizard of superior skill and intellect. He’s also fiercely loyal to his employers. When Draco and Scorpius were about to move back to Britain, he was the only person Lucius Malfoy deemed suitable to care for and protect his precious son and grandson.

“Master Draco,” Arkwright says, his wand at the ready as he approaches with hurried steps. “Is everything all right? Did you run into some kind of trouble?”

Draco shakes his head. “Everything’s fine, Bernard. Not to worry. The transaction went smoothly as usual. In a few days, L’Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur will have all the pain-relieving potions required.”

“Then what is the meaning of…?” the man asks, gesturing in Harry’s direction.

“Ah.” Draco gives him a small smile. “On my way back, I stumbled upon an old school acquaintance; almost literally. He needs our help.”

Bernard frowns. “Is that wretched fellow Harry Potter, Sir?”

Draco nods. “What’s left of him.”

“Good grief. He looks like death, Sir! I expect we’ll be dropping him off at a hospital on our way home?”

“No hospital!” Harry protests once more, feebly.

Draco rolls his eyes. “Kindly shut up, Potter. For heaven’s sake! You’re starting to sound like a broken record.” He turns to Bernard again. “Potter’s coming home with us. Help me get him in the car, would you? He can lie down on the back seat.”

“Of course, Sir,” Bernard replies. “However, I would like to propose I cast a Cleaning Spell on him first, given his, er, not to put too fine a point on it, filthy attire and appearance.”

Draco smiles. “Very well, Bernard. Be my guest.”

Harry barely hears, much less understands, that exchange, but he can sense a spell being cast on him before someone lays him down on a soft surface and places a fluffy pillow under his head.

“Are you all right to travel, Potter?” Draco asks him.

“Mmm,” Harry murmurs. He’s surprisingly comfortable like this. He can barely keep his eyes open.

“Good. Get some rest,” Draco adds. “You need it.” He lets his gaze linger on Harry for a moment longer before he moves to sit in the front passenger seat.

“Right, then,” Bernard says. “Back to the Manor, I gather?”

Draco nods. “Yes, and please do make haste.”

“Of course, Sir,” he replies dutifully and turns the key in the ignition.

 


*****

 


“Thanks again for coming right over. I expect you must be terribly busy, and I realise I haven’t exactly kept in touch…”

“That, Draco, might just be the understatement of the decade,” Theodore Nott retorts dryly. “I never imagined you, of all people, would end up a hermit. You really should drop Pansy a line one of these days, you know. She misses you.”

When Draco only smiles in response, Theodore continues, “So, are you finally going to tell me what it is you so urgently require a Healer for? If there’s nothing wrong with your son… What might be the big mystery?”

“All will become clear in a moment,” Draco says. “It’s easier to just show you than to try to explain. Frankly, I can barely comprehend myself what’s going on.”

Theodore follows Draco into one of the guest bedrooms. Squinting his eyes at the unexpected darkness, he looks around. The thick curtains are shut and the only light in the room comes from two flickering candles, one placed on each antique bedside table.

Finally, Theodore’s gaze rests on the motionless figure in the bed. The pallor of the man’s face rivals the colour of the soft white sheets covering the rest of him.

Theodore steps closer to get a better look. He blinks a few times and then gasps, convinced his eyes must be deceiving him. “Good Lord! Is that Harry Potter?”

“Indeed it is.”

“By Jove, man! What have you done to him?”

Draco smirks. “Really, Theo? You would blame me for his predicament?”

“That’s a logical enough assumption, wouldn’t you say?” Theodore shoots back. “All through school, the two of you hated each other’s guts!”

Draco shakes his head. “This is not my doing, Theo. I found him like that a few hours ago, on the street. He was practically lying in the gutter. When I offered to take him to a hospital, he refused, multiple times. So I brought him here instead. What else could I do?”

“Ah,” Theodore mutters. “I see.”

Draco continues: “As soon as we got here, the Elves gave him a warm bath, dressed him in a pair of pyjamas and put him to bed. I’ve already poured a strong Restoration Potion down his throat, the most potent kind I can brew. So far, it doesn’t seem to have had much effect, however. He keeps drifting in and out of consciousness.”

“Where exactly did you find him?”

Draco frowns, surprised and just a bit irritated—of all the possible questions to ask; don't they have more pressing matters to discuss?  “How is that relevant?” he snaps.

Theodore moves even closer to the bed. He waves his wand, casting one diagnostic spell after another. “I suppose it isn’t, really. I was just wondering, since he disappeared almost fifteen years ago, seemingly without a trace and now, out of the blue, he happens to show up for you to find him. Quite the coincidence.”

Draco’s eyes widen in surprise. “How do you mean, he disappeared?”

“I mean precisely that.” Theodore frowns. “Didn’t you know?”

Draco shakes his head.

“Exactly how long have you and Scorpius been back in Blighty anyway?”

“For about five years,” Draco replies. And during that whole time as well as in the years before, I made a point of avoiding any news or gossip relating to Harry Potter, he adds in his mind. He decides not to say those words out loud, however.

Theodore never knew the true nature of Draco’s feelings towards Harry Potter. None of Draco’s school friends did, not even Pansy.

Neither were they aware of Draco’s determination, right after the war, to banish Potter from his mind completely, to free himself of his infatuation, his obsession with his former rival, before his pointless, eternally unrequited longing plunged him into a pit of madness and despair.

These past two decades, Draco has done his utmost to keep that promise to himself, so he hasn’t a clue what Potter’s been up to since the Dark Lord’s defeat or even what Potter’s last year at Hogwarts was like.

Draco never did return to Scotland to finish his schooling. Instead, he accompanied his parents to France, where he was tutored privately. He took his NEWTs at the Malfoy Château as well, with two Ministry officials supervising to ensure there was no funny business.

Many years later, Draco would decide on a similar education for his son. When Scorpius’ Hogwarts letter arrived in Marseilles, they politely declined the invitation, but decided to return to England anyway. Around the same time, more and more British Healers were expressing an interest in the potions Draco had been brewing and selling. It seemed as though fate wanted him to return home.

“All right, then,” Theodore says. “In a nutshell: Potter walked out on his wife when she was heavily pregnant with their third child. He was never seen or heard from again. And people did look! For the better part of a year, the entire Auror department searched every nook and cranny for him. To no avail. In the end, the general conclusion was that he’d buggered off to the Muggle World and simply didn’t want to be found.”

“What?” Draco frowns. “I don’t believe it! That doesn’t sound at all like something Gryffindor’s noble, goody-two-shoes Golden Boy would do.”

“Indeed it does not,” Theodore agrees. “And yet… One day, he just up and left his precious Ginevra and vanished. Of course, the official story was that it had been an amicable separation, while the Ministry’s wild goose chase was kept neatly under wraps. No one needs that kind of press, after all, it makes everyone involved look bad, but you remember Millie, don’t you? From school? Millicent Bulstrode?”

Draco nods.

“At the time, she’d just started working at the Ministry of Magic, with Percy Weasley as her direct colleague. One night, at some office party, he got completely plastered and spilled the beans to her. So… It’s all true all right.”

“Good grief.”

“You really had no idea?”

Draco shakes his head. “I didn’t even know Potter used to be married. I haven’t kept up with the goings-on in Wizarding Britain at all, and we didn’t get any newspapers delivered in France anyway. Those rags never failed to upset Mother or infuriate Father, so we were better off not knowing about the rubbish they were filling their pages with.”

Theodore nods slowly. “I see.”

“So...” Draco changes the subject. “Have you figured out what’s wrong with Potter?”

“Yes.” Theodore sighs. “Quite a lot, it seems; some of it self-inflicted. I’m noticing signs of alcohol and substance abuse. He’s also malnourished, anaemic and at some point in the recent past, his left arm was broken and didn’t heal properly. I suspect it’s still causing him a lot of pain.”

“The Elves mentioned bruises as well,” Draco offers, a chill running down his spine.

“Indeed. Potter’s not a well man, Draco. He really would be better off in hospital.”

Draco sighs deeply. “He’s made it perfectly clear he doesn’t want to go there, so I’m afraid that’s out of the question.”

Theodore frowns. “Since when do you care what Potter wants? None of this is your problem, much less your responsibility.”

Draco declines to answer that. Instead, he ventures, “So, since taking him to a hospital isn’t an option, what do you suggest we do instead, a plan B, if you will?”

“All right.” Theodore considers the situation for a moment before he replies, “First and foremost, Potter needs rest, bed rest preferably, and plenty of it. He’ll also need to take assorted Potions, multiple times a day. I’ll give him another Restorative one now. He requires a dose of that one every two hours for at least three days.”

Theodore pulls a vial from his pocket, takes off the cap, and pours the contents between Harry’s lips. Harry swallows it all without ever waking up.

“I’ll write you a list of the Potions he requires. You should be able to brew them quite easily yourself, so that’s one advantage at least.”

Draco nods.

“And while we’re at it, make sure he eats properly, plenty of fruit and vegetables, and drinks enough water. Definitely keep him away from the booze. His liver isn’t too happy with him at the moment.”

“Will do,” Draco replies. There and then, it occurs to him that he just volunteered to take Harry Potter under his wing, to become the man’s carer for Salazar-knows how long. It also strikes him that this isn’t the wisest idea he’s ever had, keeping in mind how hopelessly besotted he still is with the blasted git. Draco clenches his fists. All those good intentions, the many Potter-related promises he made to himself, clearly they didn’t mean a damn thing.

“Here you go,” Theodore says as he hands Draco the list. It’s disturbingly long.

“Thanks,” Draco mutters.

“Not a problem,” Theodore says. “I have to say, though, I hope you know what you’re taking on. This won’t be a walk in the park, Draco. Not by a long shot.”

“No.” Draco smiles wryly. “It never is with Potter, is it?”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

August 2014.

Taking another long, leisurely drag from his cigarette, Harry allows his eyes to flutter shut for a moment. His hunting ground for the night, a gay club on the outskirts of Soho, is surprisingly quiet this Monday evening.

“I reckon they’re all watching the match,” the man behind the bar says as though he’s reading Harry’s mind.

“The match?” Harry parrots. Even after all these years, the word automatically makes him think of Quidditch, but how could this Muggle possibly know anything about that?

“Football, mate,” comes the amused response. “Manchester United versus Liverpool. I predict Liverpool are finally going to get slaughtered, and deservedly so! About time they got their comeuppance, yeah?”

Harry smiles politely. “I, um, wouldn’t know anything about that. Sorry.”

“Not a football fan, eh? Ah well, never mind, son.” The man chuckles and trots off to serve the customer who just came in.

Alone with his thoughts once again, Harry takes a swig from his Lager. He’s already on his fourth or possibly his fifth pint, but who’s counting?

The longer he sits here, the more he realises he’ll be leaving on his own for a change. He’ll have to spend the night at the dingy flat he’s called home ever since he left the Wizarding World. It belongs to his cousin Dudley, who somehow achieved a successful career in property development and real estate.

Harry only pays him a symbolic penny rent per month — “What’s family for?” Dudley said — but perhaps even that’s a rip-off considering the place is the tiny, draughty attic of a five-storied Victorian building that’s on the verge of falling apart. Harry has often wondered why the entire property wasn’t knocked down as a public safety hazard ages ago.

“Here all by yourself, are you?” A deep voice to his right attracts his attention.

Harry turns around to face the speaker, a tall and muscular man with short black hair who looks to be in his early forties. He’s far from Harry’s type, but since it’s slim pickings tonight, Harry figures beggars really can’t be choosers. At the end of the day, a shag is still a shag.

Smiling slightly, Harry nods.

“Fancy a refill? I’m buying.”

“Sure. Why not?”

The man orders him another beer as well as some exotically named cocktail for himself, and grabs the stool to Harry’s right. “Cheers, then.”

“Yeah. Cheers.” Harry takes a sip and studies his drinking companion a bit more closely. There’s something oddly familiar about him. Harry frowns. Have they met before?

“You’re Harry Potter, aren’t you?” the man states matter-of-factly, as he puts his glass back down.

Harry’s eyes widen. His gaze automatically darts towards the nearest exit. No one in the Muggle world knows him by his real name. He goes by Jim these days, Jim Evans.

This can only mean one thing: his drinking companion is a Wizard. Harry swallows hard. “I-I’m afraid you must be mistaking me for someone else,” he replies, his voice wavering. 

“Gryffindors…” The laughter that follows sounds harsh and mocking. “Did anyone ever tell you you’re a terrible liar?”

Harry flinches. He should run, get the hell out of there, move, right now!

“Hey,” the man speaks again, in a gentler tone this time. “No need to look so worried. I’m not from the press and I’m not here to pester you or anything like that, either. Us meeting again like this is just a coincidence. A rather pleasant one, I might add.”

“All right,” Harry snaps. “What do you want?

“Well.” The man looks down at his glass, back up at Harry, and grins. “The same thing you do, I’d wager, to find some exciting company for the night. Why else would I frequent a place like this? They don’t even mix a decent cocktail.”

“Oh. Right,” Harry mutters, still unsure what to think. This impromptu confrontation with his past is unsettling to say the least, but on the other hand, if the bloke approaching him had been a Muggle instead, they’d already be somewhere else right now, all over each other, eagerly taking their clothes off, no commitments, no promises, no questions asked.

“I suppose you don’t remember me at all, do you?”

Harry slowly shakes his head. “I think I may have seen you somewhere before, but no, I’m sorry, I can’t recall your name.”

“Adrian Pucey,” he replies. “I was a Chaser on the Slytherin Quidditch Team. I don’t think you and I ever spoke properly at school, although we probably yelled at each other a couple of times on the pitch.”

Harry manages a half-smile.

“So,” Adrian continues. “Once you’ve finished your drink, how about we go back to mine?”

Harry ponders on that proposition for a long moment. A niggling voice in his head warns him that this is a terrible idea. As a rule, he only beds strangers, never people he’s met before. Not to mention, this is a former Slytherin he’s dealing with. What role did Pucey play in he war? Whose side was he on? Harry has no idea and he can’t but wonder, is he about to sleep with the enemy in more ways than one?

“Er,” he finally says awkwardly. “I’m not really one for relationships. I mean, I’m not looking for anything beyond a good time tonight; I just thought I’d mention that upfront.”

Adrian’s smile has a dark, devious edge Harry would have certainly noticed five drinks ago. “Glad to hear it,” the man replies, possessively placing a hand on Harry’s knee. “Neither am I.”

Casting all prior reservations aside, Harry doesn’t think twice about following him out into the darkness.

 


****

 

February 2018.


Harry awakens with a start. Taking slow, deep breaths, he tries to collect himself.

Just like horrible nightmares, lucid dreams about what went before are a common occurrence even at this stage of his life. Past mistakes continue to haunt him in his sleep. They’re painfully persistent reminders of the many times he failed, proved himself unworthy and ultimately, worthless.

Swallowing a thick, dry lump in his throat, he glances around. His mouth is raspy like old sandpaper, his head feels woozy and he doesn’t recognise his surroundings. These comfortable pillows and impossibly soft sheets are unfamiliar to him, too.

He takes another deep, steadying breath. One thing he can be certain of, at least; this place doesn’t belong to Adrian.

Adrian wouldn’t be able to afford the antique furniture or those colourful oil paintings Harry can just about make out without his glasses. They appear to be original works and look nothing like the ugly, angular, red and black sketches Adrian, without even a hint of irony, dares to call ‘modern art’.

Adrian.

The thought of him makes Harry shudder violently. He left Adrian, managed to escape the bastard at last. A door accidentally left open, a dash down four flights of stairs, a chase over dirty streets (because it couldn’t be that easy; Adrian had seen him get out, of course he had), running past grotty buildings, never stopping, not even when his glasses dropped to the ground, not until he was sure he’d shaken off his pursuer. So Harry ran until he was almost out of oxygen, until he could no longer feel his legs, until he inevitably collapsed, almost crashing into someone as he smacked down, face first, onto the pavement.

Malfoy.

That wasn’t some kind of hallucination, was it? Draco Malfoy was actually there, wasn’t he?

Harry looks around again. This place certainly has all the features of belonging to an old, disgustingly wealthy Pureblood family. Harry curses under his breath. Of all the people in the world, why did it have to be bloody Malfoy who found him?

From the sizzling frying pan straight into the roaring inferno.

Or is it? Harry can’t be sure. After all, Malfoy unexpectedly saved his bacon twice before.

Harry sighs as he recalls the occasions where Malfoy helped him during the war. First he wouldn’t reveal Harry’s identity to Bellatrix, buying him enough time to escape the Manor relatively unscathed, and then, in the deciding moments of the Final Battle, when Harry found himself disarmed and forced to accept defeat as he stood in front of a sneering Voldemort, Malfoy came running, seemingly out of nowhere, and threw Harry his wand.

Through some bizarre twist of fate, it was Draco Malfoy’s wand Harry used to vanquish the Dark Lord and to this day, that whole scenario fills Harry with countless questions he’ll likely never know a single answer to.

Just as Harry’s thoughts threaten to wander more deeply into the past, the door to his room opens. Harry squints at the person who walks in. He’s the bloke who accompanied Malfoy before, isn’t he? An associate of some kind, perhaps?

“Ah, you’re awake, Sir.” The man’s tone is formal but not unkind. “Very good. I trust you slept well?”

Harry tries to sit up, but immediately sinks back against the pillows. His head was already hurting and the sudden movement only made it worse. Not being able to see properly doesn’t help, either. “I lost my glasses,” he says hoarsely, once again reminded of the events that brought him here, and mutters to himself, “Bugger.”

“That you did, Sir, but not to worry. A pair of new ones has been provided for you on the bedside table to your left.”

Harry blinks. He tries to focus until he finally spots the spectacles. He reaches out, puts them on, and is stunned to discover they’re just right, possibly even better than the ones that now lie discarded and probably broken on a dirty street somewhere. “H-How did you…?” he blurts out.

“They’re enchanted, Sir. A recent invention by Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. They detect how a person’s vision needs to be corrected and then proceed to do so automatically. Rather clever, wouldn’t you say?”

“Er, yeah,” Harry mumbles, looking the man over more closely. He reminds him of a butler, but since when does Malfoy have a butler, or employ human staff, full stop? Whatever happened to all those House Elves?

“Where am I?” Harry asks at last, because none of this makes even a morsel of sense.

“Malfoy Manor, Sir. And incidentally, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Bernard Arkwright. I work for Mr Malfoy. Draco Malfoy, that is.” He holds out his hand.

Harry shakes it. “Um, hello, I’m Harry Potter.”

“Of that I am aware, Sir,” Arkwright replies dryly, “but it’s nice to meet you, regardless. Can I interest you in some breakfast?”

Harry frowns. He never has breakfast, or eats much at all, really. “No thanks,” he says. “You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette on you, though?”

Arkwright’s face is a picture of disapproval and disgust. “I should think not, Sir.”

“That’s all right,” Harry mutters. “I, er, was thinking of giving them up anyway.”

“A wise decision, Sir,” Arkwright tells him, then continues, “I shall have one of the Elves bring you a large glass of orange juice, as well as your first Potion of the day.”

“Potion?” Harry repeats warily.

“It’s for restoring your strength and it will also help heal your arm, Mr Potter. Apparently it was broken at some point and you never received the correct treatment for it.”

“Er, yeah,” Harry mutters. He doesn’t tell Arkwright Adrian was the one who broke it during a heated argument.

Fights between them were frequent and usually ended with Harry having the living daylights beaten out of him. Physically, he was no match for his ex-lover and he couldn’t defend himself magically either because doing that would risk detection by the Ministry and having to face the shame that had landed him in his self-imposed exile in the first place. Adrian knew all about that dilemma and didn't hesitate to use it to his advantage whenever he saw fit. Harry shudders again.

“Please do take all the medicine we offer you,” Arkwright insists. “Or I’m afraid we’ll have no choice but to go against your wishes and take you to a hospital.”

Harry nods obediently. He has a strong feeling that arguing with this man would be pointless and besides, he seems to mean well. In a way, it’s nice, after so much time, to have someone actually care about his wellbeing again, even if that someone is Draco Malfoy, who may have ulterior motives, who most likely does... Harry sighs.

“Mr Arkwright, how long was I asleep for?”  

“Almost thirty-six hours, Sir. Clearly you needed the rest.”

Harry can only nod.

“Right, then. An Elf will be with you soon. I shall inform Mr Malfoy you’re awake, shall I?”

Harry nods again. He watches Arkwright sweep out into the corridor. Sighing deeply, he sinks deeper into the mattress. A strong sense of trepidation settles at the pit of his stomach. Whatever has he got himself into now?

 


****

 


Draco slowly opens the door. Careful not to make a sound, he steps into the guest room.

Fifteen minutes ago, Bernard informed him Potter was awake, but the man has since drifted off again. That strong Restoration Potion must have knocked him out.

Had it not been for an urgent Firecall from a hospital in Madrid, Draco would have been able to come up here earlier and then perhaps he would have found out how his former classmate ended up in such a horrible state.

Assuming, of course, Potter would have been prepared to tell him. It isn’t as though the two of them ever shared confidences, so perhaps Draco shouldn’t harbour too many expectations on that front.

Letting his gaze rest on his guest once more, Draco is relieved to discover the man’s complexion is no longer as ghostly pale as it was yesterday; those gaunt cheeks even sport a hint of a healthy glow.

Draco carefully removes Potter’s new glasses and places them back on the bedside table. He suppresses a sigh. Ever since he took Potter in, he’s been trying — possibly against his better judgement — to gather more facts about the man’s life after Hogwarts.

This involved a trip to the local Wizarding Library to plow through two decades’ worth of press archives. As Draco did so, he was stunned to discover that any information about Potter was extremely scarce. After the war, the papers hardly mentioned him or his family anymore.

Draco cannot fathom the reasons for the lack of gossip—particularly from The Daily Prophet and their ilk—having anything to do with showing a war hero some respect; those vultures don’t even know the meaning of the word. He assumes instead someone must have threatened those rags with severe legal action if they stepped out of line, or Potter simply paid a whopping great wad of cash for their silence, just like Lucius did right after the war. Draco smiles wryly as the exact sum his father spent pops into his head, although in hindsight, it was a small price to pay for privacy and peace of mind.

What Draco did learn during his library visit was that Harry Potter and Ginevra Weasley divorced in 2004. The article didn’t disclose any details, merely stated that the marriage was over.

That tiny, easily overlooked snippet, barely eight lines on the Prophet’s tenth page, appeared to be the final mention of Potter’s name anywhere. After that, it was almost as though he had vanished into thin air.

Perhaps he did disappear from the Wizarding World, like Theodore claimed the other day. Perhaps he’d finally had enough of it all.

Perhaps…

Although when Draco considers that possibility, he still has a great deal of trouble believing the rest of what Theodore told him. Brave, noble Potter wouldn’t just go and abandon a pregnant wife and two young children. That doesn’t make any sense at all. If his aim had been to retreat to the Muggle world, wouldn’t he have just taken his family with him?

On the other hand, Potter is obviously a changed man. Lying there, he looks painfully vulnerable, broken and defeated, no more than an empty shell of the determined, defiant young man Draco was so fiercely obsessed with at school.

The last time Draco saw Potter was two weeks after the war. They’d agreed to meet in a small Muggle pub on the outskirts of London. Amidst a slightly awkward but not unpleasant conversation, Potter returned Draco’s wand.

Draco has fond, albeit bittersweet memories of that afternoon: the goofy grin on Potter’s face when they said hello, how they finally shook hands after all those years, and the fish and chips Potter devoured with all the enthusiasm and table manners of a bouncy five-year-old, getting tartar sauce all over his chin in the process.

Their meeting didn’t last long—Potter was up to his neck in Ministry business and Draco didn't want his mother to worry by being gone for hours —but when they parted ways, Draco got the feeling something between them had changed. They definitely weren't enemies anymore.

Had Draco returned to Hogwarts, perhaps they would have even become friends. Potter certainly didn’t appear opposed to that idea.

“I guess I’ll see you again in September, then,” he said, perhaps a little too casually, as they were about to go their separate ways.

Draco forced a smile. “I’m afraid not. You actually have a quiet, entirely peaceful final school year to look forward to. My days as a Hogwarts student are over.”

“Oh,” Potter mumbled in reply. The expression on his face looked a lot like disappointment.

“Goodbye, then.” Draco shook Potter’s hand one final time. For a moment he was rendered speechless by the brilliant green of the young man’s eyes. Those eyes were even more stunning when they weren’t glaring at him in hate.

“Bye, Draco.”

Smiling slightly, his heart leaping at Potter’s unexpected use of his first name, Draco turned around and walked away. He forced himself not to look back, not even once. He was sure he’d lose his composure, possibly even his mind, if he did.

Draco shakes his head and mentally kicks himself. What on earth does he think he’s doing, dredging up all these memories he struggled so hard to bury?

No. He has to stop this.

Last night he promised he’d help Scorpius with his Transfiguration paper this morning. So why is he still standing here gawking like a lovesick fool? Enough of this nonsense.

Nodding determinedly to himself, Draco turns on his heel. He exits the room, softly shutting the door behind him.

The man in the bed doesn’t stir.

 


****

 


“Dad?” Scorpius ventures carefully. “Are you all right?”

Draco looks up from the essay he can’t seem to concentrate on. “Yes,” he says quickly. “Yes, I’m fine. My mind just wandered for a moment there. I fear I’ve been a tad distracted today. Sorry.”

Scorpius regards him with a quizzical frown. “It’s because of Mr Potter, isn’t it?”

Unsure how to react, Draco studies his son for a moment. At sixteen, the boy is polite, charming, well-spoken and possibly just a little too smart for his own good. If he had gone to Hogwarts, Draco suspects he’d have been the first Malfoy ever to have been sorted into Ravenclaw. No doubt Astoria would have been very proud of him.

Draco smiles slightly as his thoughts drift to his late wife. Their marriage had been arranged by their respective families, but during the six months he courted her, with her travelling back and forth between England and France, they became great friends.

Draco may not have been in love with her—his heart already belonged to someone else—but he did grow to care for her deeply. When she died right after giving birth to their son, for the longest time, he was completely devastated.

Scorpius speaks again. “You’re worried about him, aren’t you, Dad?”

Draco hesitates a beat, then nods slowly. “Yes. He’s doing a bit better, but he’s not out of the woods yet.”

“You know,” Scorpius suggests. "We could always tackle this paper tomorrow instead. It isn’t due ‘till next week Friday, so there’s no rush.”

“It’s fine.” Draco smiles, forcing himself to focus on the matter at hand. “Let’s have a look at what you’ve already written, shall we?”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

September 1998.

Before climbing aboard the Hogwarts Express, Harry looks around the platform one more time, even though he realises doing so is pointless. Malfoy won’t be coming. He made that perfectly clear and there is not a single reason to assume he might have decided differently in the meantime. Why would he?

Harry wordlessly follows Ron and Hermione into a compartment and takes a seat on the bench across from them. Ginny sits down next to him. Harry blinks in surprise. He never noticed her trailing behind them. Damn! He definitely should be paying more attention to his surroundings, but somehow he can’t seem to get his mind off Malfoy.

Their last meeting—which was probably their final meeting too, although this is something Harry would rather not dwell on—keeps replaying in his mind: every word, every gesture, every surprisingly spontaneous smile, how bright Malfoy’s eyes were, how sincere and approachable he suddenly seemed, how devastatingly attractive he looked in Muggle-style clothing, and damn it, Harry truly shouldn’t allow his thoughts to wander down that dangerous path.

“Are you all right, mate?” Ron pipes up, a concerned frown on his face.

“Er, yeah,” Harry replies quickly. “I’m fine. It’s just a bit strange… you know… going back to school after… well, everything we went through this past year. It’s all a bit… unreal?”

Harry has never been a convincing liar, but his answer seems to satisfy Ron, who simply nods in response.

The four of them sit in silence for a while. Ginny reaches out and grabs Harry’s hand. His first impulse is to pull away, but he knows he shouldn’t. This is Ginny, beautiful, smart, feisty Ginny whom he loves dearly. Doesn’t he? Yes, of course he does. He’s just out of sorts at the moment, which is all Malfoy’s fault. Even from Merlin knows how many miles away, that smarmy git manages to bring about chaos and confusion.

“Say,” Ron speaks again. “Did any of you happen to see the Ferret just now? He didn’t seem to be prancing about the station like he usually does. D’you reckon Daddy arranged some other means of transportation for him or something?”

“Malfoy isn’t coming back for his eighth year,” Harry blurts out without thinking.

Ron’s eyes grow impossibly wide. “What?” he yells. His voice is inappropriately loud in the small compartment. Hermione looks up from her book and glares at him. “Sorry,” he mutters before addressing Harry again. “Are you sure about that?”

Harry nods. “Remember when I went to return his wand?”

“Yeah.”

“He told me about it then, that he wouldn’t be returning, so…” Harry shrugs. “Looks like he meant it.”

“What?” Ron yells again, even louder this time. “You’ve actually known about this for ages?”

“Yeah,” Harry replies in what he hopes is a casual manner. “So…?”

Ron shakes his head. “Circe’s tits, mate!” He chuckles. “And you never said anything? Why’d you keep that to yourself? This is easily the best news I’ve heard all week! Isn’t it brilliant, Hermione?”

Hermione looks up a second time. “What?” she snaps, displeased at being repeatedly interrupted while reading—and she was just about to find out who’d cursed the crown jewels, too!

“When we get to Hogwarts, the Ferret isn’t going to be there,” Rob tells her enthusiastically. “He’s decided not to come back! Just imagine: with any luck, we’ll never have to see his ugly mug or hear his snooty accent ever again!”

Hermione rolls her eyes and turns her attention back to the page in front of her.

“But Hermione!” Ron insists. “Did you even hear me? This is Malfoy I’m talking about here!”

“Yes, Ronald,” she says sternly. “There is nothing wrong with my hearing, thank you very much, but really, don’t you have far more important things to worry about than Draco Malfoy? Like passing your NEWTs this year and working towards a future career, for instance? Besides, even if Draco did come back, I doubt he’d still bother us now. Surely the war must have been a devastating experience for him, too. It’s profoundly affected all of us.”

“But Hermione…”

As his friends start to bicker, almost exactly like they used to do in the good old days, Harry is relieved to no longer be at the centre of Ron’s attention. Ron couldn’t possibly understand how Malfoy’s absence disappoints and even saddens him.

When Harry met up with Malfoy that sunny afternoon, he got the impression they might be becoming friends, and something about the way they interacted made him want to spend more time together so they could get to know each other better. The feeling was unexpected, irrational and possibly even insane after all those years of ardent mutual hostility, but it was there regardless, strong and almost overwhelming.

It’s still here now, and Harry has spent a lot—possibly too much—time these past few weeks thinking of ways to get back in touch with his former school nemesis.

His first plan involved writing a letter. Harry knew Draco wasn’t at the Manor; he’d overheard Arthur mention that a team of Aurors and Curse Breakers was still hard at work clearing that place of Dark Magic. That didn’t matter, though. An owl would have been able to locate Malfoy wherever he was.

One problem remained, however: whatever would Harry write? ‘I’m sorry we never got around to becoming friends, but I’d still like to give it a shot if you do as well’? No. That made him cringe, as did everything else he came up with.

So his second plan was to find out the Malfoys’ whereabouts himself so he could bump into Draco one day and pretend their meeting was a mere coincidence.

But how and where to even begin looking for them?

It wasn’t as though he could have involved the Ministry; they would have asked countless awkward questions Harry didn’t have the answers to, and still doesn’t.

He can barely comprehend himself why this is suddenly so important to him; he certainly isn’t keen to discuss it with nosy, suspicious strangers.

Harry sighs deeply. There’s nothing else for it. Circumstances being what they are, he has to accept it’s impossible to get a hold of Malfoy. In all likelihood, the two of them will never cross paths again, and really, realising this shouldn’t make Harry’s gut churn or his heart clench as badly as it does. Just what the hell is wrong with him anyway?

“Everything all right?” Ginny asks softly. She’s worried about him. He knows she is. Things haven’t been the same since they got back together. Nothing has been the same since the war.

Harry manages a smile. “Yeah”  

“Those two do go on a bit, don’t they? Seeing them like that, you’d never think they’re totally crazy about each other,” she remarks, laughing softly as she gestures at the still bickering pair sitting across from them.

Harry nods. “They are, though,” he mutters with a wan smile.

Ginny squeezes his hand. He takes a deep breath and squeezes back. He silently reassures himself everything will be all right once classes start up again. He’ll finish Hogwarts, enrol in the Auror programme, marry Ginny and eventually start a family. It’s what everyone expects. It’s what he wants, too; his big dream for the future.

Isn’t it?

Yes, of course it is, and everything will work out fine. He just has to find a way to stop thinking about bloody Malfoy.

 

****

 

February 2018.

Tentatively, with a heavy heart, Harry slowly descends the majestic staircase.

Malfoy Manor has certainly changed since the war. Gone are the heavy, dark draperies and daunting portraits of stern-faced ancestors. Instead, the walls are painted a soft green pastel and new French windows have been put in, bathing the once depressing entrance hall in bright, natural light. The sight is nothing short of stunning and the first thing to spring to Harry’s mind is that this decor would be well-suited for a feature in one of those posh lifestyle magazines his aunt Petunia used to love so much, a glimpse into the homes of the rich and famous, or the rich and infamous in this case.

Harry swallows thickly as he thinks of his aunt Petunia, one of the far too many people he failed to save, another innocent who died because all those years ago, he was the one who lived.

It happened during a surprise attack at the safe house the Ministry had provided for his aunt, uncle and cousin. The identity of the perpetrator was never uncovered, but without a doubt, it was someone they knew and trusted, a traitor in their midst, because no one outside the Auror Department had been told the exact address.

Vernon and Dudley were fortunate enough to survive the raging Fiendfyre, they got out in the nick of time through a side window, but Petunia was trapped in the attic and had nowhere to run to. Harry shudders as he imagines how awful her final moments must have been.

Dudley never blamed Harry for the dreadful events of that fateful April night, but Vernon did. Of course, Vernon blamed Harry for everything else, too, and eventually, the more Harry thought about it in the years that followed, the more he had to concede his hateful uncle was right about entirely too many things. Perhaps the Wizarding World would be a far better place today if the boy hadn’t lived at all.

As Harry reaches the bottom of the stairs, he’s unsure of where to head to next. He isn’t even looking for anything in particular. He was just curious, bored witless and perhaps hoping to find an easy exit, assuming he actually wants one.

At this point, he has his doubts about that. Most likely, Adrian is still looking for him and Adrian must have other people trying to track him down as well, and if any of them do find him, the consequences are bound to be dire.

Malfoy Manor should provide him with a safe hideout, even if there are a million reasons why leaving would be wiser.

A shuffling noise makes Harry look up. It’s coming from a door to his left. Right, he decides, he might as well go and face his unlikely rescuer. Much as he dreads the awkwardness and embarrassment interacting with Malfoy will undoubtedly involve, it couldn’t possibly compare to the merciless malice Adrian would subject him to if he ever set eyes on him again.

Harry walks through the open door, further in the direction of the noise. It turns out he’s entered some kind of library. From wall to wall, its many shelves are well stacked.

Spotting the tall, slim, blond man standing in front of a bookcase, his back turned to the door, Harry clears his throat and ventures carefully, “Malfoy?”

The man turns around. Harry bites back a gasp. That's not Draco, but he looks like he might be… his teenage son? Is that possible?

Yes, Harry decides, he must be; he’s the spitting image of his father at sixteen, except for the bright blue eyes that must be like his mother’s.

His mother

Harry gets an odd clenching feeling in his stomach he’d rather not analyse. Malfoy must be married, then. Does that mean his wife is around here somewhere, too?

Out of nowhere, Harry feels a surge of anger.

“Hello, Mr Potter,” the young man says pleasantly, smiling warmly as he steps closer. “Good to see you awake. Are you looking for my dad?”

“Er,” Harry stammers. “Y-Yeah. Yes, I am.”

“I’m afraid he’s out riding. I’m not sure when he’ll be back exactly. My name is Scorpius, by the way.”

“Riding?” Harry parrots, confused, as he shakes the boy’s outstretched hand.

“On a horse, Mr Potter,” Scorpius replies with a good-natured grin. “Do you ride by any chance?”

Harry slowly shakes his head.

“Ah, well, maybe Dad can teach you while you’re staying with us,” Scorpius says, sounding entirely serious.

“Maybe,” Harry mutters reluctantly and blurts out, “If your dad’s not here, maybe your mother…?”

Harry’s unsure why he’s actively seeking a confrontation with Malfoy’s wife, but then again, what could possibly be gained by putting off the inevitable? With any luck, seeing her will shock some sense and sanity into him, and then he can stop pondering on things that might have been, in another time, in another life and in a universe where Malfoy wasn’t so infuriatingly straight.

“My mother passed away many years ago,” Scorpius replies matter-of-factly, not a hint of emotion in his voice or expression. “But perhaps I can be of assistance? What is it you need?”

Harry feels as though someone just poured a bucket of ice water over him. Damn. “I’m sorry,” he says quickly, and he is, very much so. “I-I had no idea she died.”

Scorpius shrugs. “It’s fine, Mr Potter. I never had the chance to get to know her, so it isn’t as painful as it could have been.”

“Oh,” Harry mutters dumbly. He opens his mouth again, but approaching footsteps halt him from speaking.

“Ah, Potter,” a familiar drawl sounds behind him. “Nice to see you up and about at last.”

Harry turns around. This time it is Draco standing there, all windswept hair and wearing an outfit that could almost pass for Muggle. The man has a genuine smile on his face, and aside from looking slightly older, he hasn’t changed much since their Hogwarts days. If anything, the added maturity and sophistication make him even more attractive.

Harry cringes inwardly as he considers his own appearance. At least he shaved before he came downstairs so he doesn’t look a complete ruffian.

“How are you feeling?” Draco asks. His concern appears genuine.

“Um, okay, yeah,” Harry replies.

“I see you’ve met my son.”

Harry nods.

“Right,” Draco continues. “I’ll go freshen up first. Why don’t you join me for lunch after, Potter? I’ll only be a few minutes.”

Harry blinks. Lunch? Is it noon already? It only now occurs to him that he never thought to look at the clock before coming downstairs. “All right. Yeah,” he replies awkwardly.

Draco beams him another smile, then turns to Scorpius. “Will you be coming, too?”

Scorpius shakes his head. “I just found that book I need for my Ancient Runes assignment. I’d like to get started on that straight away, then hopefully I’ll have it done before dinner.”

“Very well,” Draco replies. “But do make sure you eat something as well, won’t you? I don’t want you skipping meals. It’s not healthy.”

“All right, Dad,” Scorpius says with a playful roll of his eyes. “I’ll stop by the kitchen first.”

“Very good.”

Frowning, Harry observes the exchange between the two Malfoys. Clearly, Draco is a very different father than Lucius. It’s both heart-warming and unsettling at the same time, especially when Harry considers how lousy a dad he was himself.

Draco speaks again. “Potter, the dining room is behind the second door to your left. I’ll see you there in a moment.”

“All right,” Harry mutters as Draco sweeps out of sight.

 

****

 

‘Calm down. It’s only PotterThe two of you shared classes for years,’ Draco quietly tells himself. His silent attempt at reassurance does nothing to soothe his nerves, however, or to render this scenario any less surreal.

He sees Potter already seated at the table, intently studying his napkin as though it holds all the secrets of the universe.

Potter looks up. Their gazes meet. Once more, Draco finds himself mesmerised by the striking green of Potter’s eyes. The man may be damaged, possibly permanently broken, but he’s as captivating as he ever was.

“Potter.” Draco clears his throat and forces a smile. “I hope I didn’t keep you waiting for too long?”

“No,” Harry says quickly. “It’s fine.”

Draco takes the chair across from him. “I hope you like poached salmon.”

“Er, yeah, sure,” Harry stammers. “Great.” He can’t remember when he last had salmon, or a decent home cooked meal, full stop. For the longest time, he lived on baked beans on toast and Indian takeaway, if he ate at all. At some point during his second month with Adrian, his once hearty appetite all but vanished.

An Elf scurries in to serve lunch. The creature also places a large canister of sparkling water and two tall glasses on the table. There’s no alcohol anywhere to be seen. Harry cringes inwardly. This must mean Malfoy knows about his drinking problem. Brilliant!

“The food looks delicious,” he remarks, breaking the silence before it becomes awkward. “I suppose I should go and thank the kitchen Elves later.”

Draco smiles. “Actually, it’s Bernard you should thank. He cooked all this.”

Harry blinks. “Really?”

Draco shrugs. “He enjoys cooking, he’s very good at it, and the kitchen Elves don’t mind getting the day off now and again, so...”

Harry nods.

“Right, then,” Draco says pleasantly. “Bon appétit.”

“Yeah,” Harry mutters. He tucks in and soon discovers the food is even more delicious than it looks. Come to think of it, he hasn’t had a meal this scrumptious since… the last Christmas he spent at The Burrow, wasn’t it? Molly’s Christmas dinners were always a true feast.

As Harry recalls that evening and the many conflicting emotions its memory conjures up, something occurs to him.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what happened?” he enquires bluntly.

“Happened?” Draco regards him with a confused frown. “With what?”

“Er, why you found me when and where you did…”

Draco meets his gaze head-on. “Ah,” he replies offhandedly. “I was rather hoping you’d spontaneously divulge that information instead.”

“Oh,” Harry mumbles.

“Mmm?”

“Um...” Harry bites his lip, not a clue what to say. He should have thought of a plausible explanation, come up with some believable excuse before he trotted downstairs to face Malfoy, and what’s more, he probably shouldn’t have broached this topic in the first place. Why does he always have to put his foot in it?

“Apparently, I was mistaken,” Draco says, his tone carefully neutral. “Very well, then, Potter, suit yourself. In the meantime, is there someone you’d like me to get in touch with? Or is there someone you’d like to Firecall yourself?”

“What? Why?” Harry is baffled at how easily Malfoy is letting this go. He expected a barrage of questions, all of which Malfoy would have been more than entitled to ask after leaping to his aid.

Draco takes a sip of water. “To inform them of your whereabouts, obviously. I expect someone out there must be quite worried about you after not hearing from you for days.”

Harry shakes his head. “No, there’s no one, but thanks.”

“What about Weasley and Granger?”

“We’re no longer in touch,” Harry says simply, his expression blank.

Draco stares at him in shock. “What?”

“They moved to Australia not long after we finished Hogwarts,” Harry offers. “The reason for that is a long story, but basically Hermione’s parents were staying there at the time, and they were just starting to build a new life, so Hermione went to join them and took Ron with her. After they left, we exchanged letters and cards for a short while, but we were all so busy, pretty soon we kind of…”

“Lost contact with each other?”

“Yeah. And it wasn't as easy for them to come back to visit regularly as they'd hoped either, so...”

“I see.”

Draco remains silent for a while, mulling things over. So not only did Potter abandon his precious Ginevra and their children, somewhere along the line, his close friendship with Weasley and Granger turned to dust, too. Apparently Theodore was right after all. Potter did leave everything behind.

For Harry, the delicious, succulent salmon no longer goes down as smoothly as it did a few moments ago. There are too many things left unsaid, hanging heavily in the air between them.

“Why are you doing this, Malfoy?” he asks, because he feels he must.

Again, Draco’s confusion is obvious. “I beg your pardon?”

“Why are you helping me like this?”

Draco shrugs. “You were practically at death’s door when I found you.”

“That’s no kind of answer,” Harry snaps. He knows he’s pushing his luck, but he can’t imagine Malfoy doing good deeds out of the kindness of his heart. There must be some hidden agenda involved.

Draco sighs. “Fine,” he says, putting his fork down. “After the war, you spoke up in my family’s defence, ensured none of us would be persecuted, not even Father.”

“You saved my life when you threw me your wand to defeat Voldemort with,” Harry interrupts him. He sounds frantic, even to his own ears. “Merlin, I’d never have been able to kill that bastard if it hadn’t been for you! What else was I supposed to have done after you risked your neck for me? There you were at the battle of Hogwarts, right in the thick of it, unarmed and defenceless. Someone could have easily killed you. I know for a fact plenty wanted to.”

“But in actual fact, no one did,” Draco states firmly, “and my point stands. Besides, what I did then didn’t make up for all the atrocities I committed before. I cursed students. I let Death Eaters into the castle. I even poisoned your best friend!”

“What happened with Ron was an accident, though, wasn’t it? I know you never meant to…”

Draco takes a deep breath. “Regardless of my intentions, Potter, if Weasley really had died that day, it wouldn’t have made a bloody difference whether I’d wanted to kill him or not, the outcome would have been the same. I would still be guilty of murder.”

Harry swallows hard. This is fast turning into an argument, something he’d prefer to avoid. These past few months, he’s done enough arguing to last him several lifetimes.

“Look, Potter,” Draco ventures in a softer tone, forcing himself to calm down and not allow the atmosphere to turn hostile. “I couldn’t just leave you to rot in the gutter, not after everything you’ve been through, everything you fought for, everyone you saved... That wouldn’t have been right, much less fair.”

Harry frowns, still suspicious. “Is that the only reason you did it?”

Draco smirks. “Please. What other reason could there possibly be?”

Harry shrugs. What other reason indeed? It isn’t as though his infatuation with Malfoy was ever reciprocated. The man probably hasn’t given him a second thought these past twenty years. Why should he?

“Would you tell me one thing, though, Potter?”

“What?” Harry asks, hesitantly.

“There is no one after you, is there?”

Harry swallows thickly. Malfoy couldn’t possibly have a clue about Adrian, could he? Their liaison was hardly common knowledge. In so far as Harry’s aware, the only people who knew about it were the members of Adrian’s inner circle, or not to put too fine a point on it: Adrian’s gang of drug dealers and up-for-anything thugs.

“After me?” he parrots, feigning ignorance and doing a pretty good job of it.

Malfoy gives him an odd smile. “It wouldn’t be the first time a Dark Wizard was out for your blood,” he says dryly. “So if your being here might put my family in danger, I’d prefer to be informed so I may take the necessary precautions.”

“There is no Dark Wizard after me,” Harry replies.

“Good.” Malfoy says, satisfied. “Now why don’t you finish your lunch, Potter? It would be a shame to let it get cold.”

Harry nods and takes another bite. No, he thinks, there’s no Dark Wizard after him, not as such, but a possessive ex-lover with a violent streak might be, though. Still, Adrian would never think to come looking for him here. There is nothing to tie Harry to the Malfoys or to this place; quite the opposite, in fact.

Yes, Harry decides, all things considered, Malfoy Manor might just be the safest place for him right now, if he can get past the turmoil raging in his heart.

 

 

Chapter Text

July 1998

Staring off into space, out over the endless blue sea with the white cliffs of Dover fading in the horizon, Draco emits a deep, solemn sigh. 

So this is it, then. 

A bitter feeling of defeat invades the pit of his stomach as he considers all he’s leaving behind: his home, his friends, his school, Potter…

Draco shakes his head and smiles wryly. No. He really shouldn't be thinking about Potter. 

He’ll never see that speccy git again, and this is probably for the best. It’s high time to move on. He has to let go of the past and of all those dreams that were never going to come true anyway.

Harry Potter doesn’t give a damn about him and furthermore, he’s as straight as they come and completely besotted with that Weasley girl—of course it has to be a Weasley who wins out at the end; isn’t that always the case where Potter's concerned?

Draco rests his elbows on the railing and looks down at the water. It’s a beautiful day. The sea is calm. The sun warms his face while a light breeze plays with his hair. It’s his first longer journey by ship and if it weren’t for his present circumstances, he’d be enjoying it a great deal.

As things currently stand, however, everything is tainted by melancholy, guilt and regret. Draco expects it’ll be quite a while yet before he’ll manage to find some joy in life again.

“Is everything all right, darling?” a kind voice behind him enquires. “You’re not feeling sea sick, are you? We’ve brought along a very effective potion should you need it.”

Draco turns around to face his mother. Despite the harrowing months that lie behind them, Narcissa looks relaxed and much younger than her forty-three years. Standing there in her green Laura Ashley dress, she emanates beauty, elegance and class.

Just before they left, the Malfoys went shopping for Muggle clothes. This way they can travel outside the Wizarding World without attracting too much attention.

Draco himself is wearing dark trousers and a smart beige shirt. He’s kept his sleeves rolled down so no one will see his Dark Mark. The Muggles on board may not be able to identify it, but they’re still an inquisitive lot and Draco doesn’t fancy explaining to some nosy stranger what that ugly, unusual tattoo is all about. 

“No, Mother, I’m fine,” he replies with a small smile. “Don’t worry. I was just thinking things over.”

Narcissa nods. “It’s a perfect day for sailing,” she tells him. “Your father and I did a lot of that on our honeymoon, all around the Greek Islands. I suspect he misses it.” She hesitates a beat and then adds, “Perhaps we can take it up again once we're settled in France. Would you like that, darling?”

Draco forces another smile. “Certainly. Why not?”

“Your father and I were just about to have some refreshments. Would you like to join us?”

“I’d rather stay here,” Draco says honestly. “I’m really enjoying the fresh sea air and the sunshine.”

Narcissa nods. “Yes, you’ve been cooped up inside for far too long, haven’t you? I’ll see you later, then.”

Smiling, she saunters off. Draco can’t but wonder how much of her demeanour is down to genuine optimism, or if, for the most part, she’s merely putting on a brave face. He knows she’ll miss their old life, too: the Manor she’s so fond of, her precious rose garden, all the restaurants and theatres she used to frequent, perhaps even the gossipy old ladies in the nearby village...  

Draco shakes his head—willing himself to stop all this pointless pondering—and focuses his gaze back on the horizon. Like this, it’s almost easy to forget everything and to pretend he’s all alone in the whole wide world, drifting off to nowhere in particular and nothing else, be it past, present or future truly matters anymore. Perhaps he should ask his parents about acquiring a boat. 

“Say, is that actually your real hair colour—really, really real?”

Draco whips around in the direction of the voice. Standing behind him is a freckled little girl in a pink dress. She has brown pigtails, a chocolate ice cream cone in one hand and a rag doll in another, and she’s looking at him as though he just beamed down from another planet. In different circumstances, Draco might be annoyed, but now all he can do is grin.

“Goodness,” a woman speaks up as she hurries towards them. “I’m sorry about this, young man. She’s not usually this rude. I think all the travelling has her a tad too excited.”

Draco chuckles, then, at the sheer absurdity of the situation. He could be dead right now, and so could his parents, or they could all be locked away in Azkaban. They’re neither. They’re free. They’ve been given a second chance. Life can go on.

And it does. On a boat, with a little girl who seems fascinated by his hair.

“It’s fine, madam,” Draco says. “And yes, young lady, this is in fact my natural hair colour.”

“Oh! Wow!” the little girl exclaims. For a full minute, she looks genuinely impressed, until her attention shifts elsewhere. “This is my first time at sea, you know,” she informs Draco matter-of-factly. “But, it’s the strangest thing, I haven’t seen any ‘fishies’ yet; don’t you agree there should be ‘fishies’ around here somewhere?”

“I’ve explained this to you before, sweetheart,” the girl’s mother says gently. “The fish are too deep in the water for us to see, and they won’t show themselves to us because our boat is simply too noisy. It frightens them.”

The little girl pouts at that, but says nothing. 

Draco has an idea. He places his hand on his left trouser pocket—where his wand is concealed—and mutters a spell. 

Out of nowhere, a shiny silver fish, glittering in the sunlight, leaps up out of the water, right in front of the little girl’s eyes, and then dives back into the ocean with an impressive splash, even sending some water splattering onto the deck.

The little girl squeals in excitement. “Did you see that, Mummy? Hey, Mummy! Did you see that?”

Slightly stunned, the woman smiles. “Yes, sweetheart, I did.”

“Oh, wasn’t that so, so brilliant, Mummy? Can we go and tell Daddy about it now, please? He’ll want to know everything! He was the one who said we might get to see the ‘fishies’, didn't he? And he was right.” She nods to herself, her face a picture of determination. “You know, Daddy is always right, Mummy!”

The woman gives Draco a parting smile—the little girl has clearly forgotten all about him and his hair already—and mother and daughter walk off together.

As the little girl’s excited chatter disappears into the background, Draco finds himself grinning. It’s been a while since he enjoyed having magic and it’s been even longer since he was able and allowed to use it for fun. 

During the war and in the months leading up to it, although he would have never dared admit as much out loud, in his darkest moments, Draco sometimes wished he’d been born a Muggle instead, blissfully ignorant of that parallel world where an evil wizard came, killed and almost conquered. 

After everything Draco went through, he almost forgot that magic can be a force of good, too. 

Perhaps his mother is right. There is life after the Dark Lord, and a change of scenery might just be what they all need.

 

****

 

February 2018

Standing on a balcony overlooking only a tiny part of Malfoy Manor’s impressive Grounds, Harry once again realises this place is nothing like he remembers. Over a picturesque meadow covered by red poppies in full bloom, the sun slowly rises. Somewhere in the distance, a stable hand leads a grey horse out into a soft, green pasture.

Harry doesn’t know the first thing about horses, but he assumes the ones the Malfoys keep must be purebreds, or somehow magical. He’ll have to ask Draco about it someday.

Draco…

Two slender arms sneak themselves around Harry’s waist. He lets out a happy sigh.

“I thought I might find you here, Potter,” a voice next to his left ear says huskily. “It’s just gone seven o’clock. What are you already doing out of bed?”

Harry grins. “Good morning, Draco,” he mutters, briefly leaning back against his lover before turning around to greet him with a thorough kiss.

In that one moment, everything changes.

The sky turns pitch black. Temperatures drop below freezing. Harry’s blood runs cold. The face he sees in front of him, its expression full of rage and loathing, doesn’t belong to Draco.

Instead, Adrian is standing there, fists clenched, a malicious sneer marring his features. “So you thought you’d get away from me, did you, Harry? Whore yourself out to a Malfoy of all possible people instead, huh? Oh, how the mighty hero has fallen!” He roughly grabs Harry by the arms. “But it’s over now, pet. It’s all over. You’ve had your fun. Time to come home.”

“I-I wasn’t wh-whoring,” Harry protests, feeling weak, ridiculous and rooted to the spot, as though his arms are too heavy to lift and his feet stuck to the stone floor beneath him. Why is he unable to move a muscle? What wordless, wandless magic is this? Harry hasn’t a clue, but it’s certainly dark and likely illegal. Most of the things Adrian dabbles in are.

“Let me go!” he yells, more forcefully this time, relieved his voice still works at least. “This whole… whatever we had… it was a mistake. I don’t want it anymore. It’s over. We’re done, Adrian!”

Chilling laughter fills the air around them. “No, Harry. You and I will never be done. Not even death could tear us apart. Haven’t I told you this countless times before? You’re mine now, mine alone, and you always will be.”

Harry shakes his head and blinks in surprise. Relieved by his sudden ability to move again, he starts to struggle. He has to get his arms free somehow. “Let me go!”

“I’ll never let you go, Harry.”

“Let me go! I’m not coming with you, Adrian! Never again!”

“But of course you are, love. Stop fighting. You know very well you’re no match for me. Without your magic, you’re worth nothing, a lightweight, a mere weakling. Of course if you were able to cast a spell or two, that might even the odds a bit…” He laughs again. “But you can’t exactly do that, can you? Imagine if they found you. Worse still, imagine if they found you out!”

Harry continues to struggle, kicking his arms and legs in all directions. He’s angry, desperate, and not before long, he’s exhausted too, but he still isn't getting anywhere. “Let me go!” he yells again. “I hate you! I hate you, you bastard! Let me go!”

“Potter!” another voice calls out. It comes from far, far away and it barely registers.

Harry at last manages to pull an arm free. With all the strength he can still muster, he propels himself forward and slaps his assailant across the face, hard.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake! Thanks a lot, Potter,” a man says sternly. He sounds nothing like Adrian.

Harry’s eyes fly open wide. He wasn’t aware they were closed. He’s shocked to realise he’s sitting up in bed. There are thin hands on his shoulders. A pale face with blond hair and grey eyes is just inches removed from his own.

Harry gulps. Oh shit. “M-Malfoy,” he stammers. “I-I’m…”

“Finally,” comes the irritated response. “Merlin, I thought you’d never snap out of it! I could hear you screaming all the way in my room. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you woke the entire county.”

“Oh.” Harry blinks, feeling more foolish with each passing second. “I-I slapped you, didn’t I?” he blurts out.

Malfoy smirks. “You know what they say, Potter: no good deed goes unpunished.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry mutters, overcome with guilt. Adrian never bothered to wake him from a nightmare, but when Ginny or one of his old dorm mates did, they knew to keep a safe distance so they wouldn’t get kicked or punched. Malfoy, of course, had no idea what might happen. How could he?

“I’m sorry,” Harry says again. “I had a nightmare. It got a little violent.”

Malfoy gives him a half-smile. “As did you, it would appear.”

Harry notices the red patch on Malfoy’s cheek and cringes. Without thinking, he reaches out and gently runs two fingers across it. The skin feels warm and surprisingly soft. It will probably be a sporting a large bruise tomorrow.

“Um, Potter?”

Harry looks into astonished eyes. Shocked at his own actions, he abruptly pulls his hand away. That gesture was far too personal, verging on intimate. Bloody hell, what did he think he was doing? Malfoy doesn’t feel any affection towards him, not on this side of reality. They’re not even friends. Bugger, could he be any more of an idiot?

Draco frowns, stands all the way up, and awkwardly clears his throat. “Perhaps we should add Dreamless Sleep to your daily potions regime?” he suggests in a tone that’s almost business-like. “It’s only five in the morning. You really should get some more rest.”

Harry’s glad there are no painful questions or mocking comments about what he just did. Instead, Malfoy seems just as keen to ignore that little faux pas as he is. Harry supposes the man must have really changed, then. The Malfoy he knew in school would have never passed up this perfect an opportunity to make him squirm.

Dreamless Sleep no longer works for me,” Harry replies in what he hopes is a neutral fashion. “I guess I took too much of it over the years and built up some kind of resistance.”

“Mm. Then I’ll just have to brew you a different concoction with a similar effect.” Draco nods to himself. “Yes, I believe I have all the ingredients I need to do just that. It shouldn’t take more than about thirty minutes. Do you suppose you could manage to stay awake for half an hour?”

“Er, yeah,” Harry says, and gestures towards the novel on the bedside table. “I’ll just read a bit.”

“Ah.” Draco smiles. “I see you’ve found one of Sherlock Holmes’ many adventures.”

Harry nods. “I didn’t know you read Muggle literature, though,” he remarks, trying to lighten the mood. “I never thought that would be your kind of thing.”

“It isn’t,” Draco replies. “That book belonged to Astoria.”

Harry frowns.

“My late wife,” Draco clarifies.

“Ah. Right,” Harry mutters. “Scorpius told me she died. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” Draco replies softly. “It happened a long time ago.” Before an awkward silence can set in, he continues, “I take it you’re not married, Potter?”

Draco already knows the answer, of course, but this seems like a suitable opportunity to tackle that sticky topic, so he does.

Unsurprisingly, Harry isn’t eager to share. “Not anymore,” he replies sourly. “Don’t you read the papers?”

“Not if I can help it,” Draco says dryly. He wonders whether Potter is even aware of how little attention the press actually paid to his divorce, but he decides not to ask any further. He likely won’t get a straight answer anyway. Potter may be rubbish at deception, he’s astonishingly proficient at avoidance, a true master at the none too subtle art of beating around the bush. Not that it matters. Sooner or later, the truth is bound to surface regardless.

“Right, then,” Draco says. “I shan’t be long.” Without another word, he exits the room and heads down to his potions lab.

 

****

 

It’s a lovely sunny day. The strawberry and cream scones are delicious. The sweet tea is just hot enough. The setting is perfect as well, ideal for what was intended to be a romantic picnic for two. Yet an almost tangible tension hangs thick in the air. It makes the gorgeous lavender field behind them seem like an ominous presence looming and waiting for just the right opportunity to strike.

“Is something the matter?” Draco asks at last, unable to ignore the strange atmosphere any longer. “You’re unusually quiet today. If you’re not feeling well, we could always go back and do this some other time? Summer has barely begun. There’ll be a lot more nice days like this.”

“No.” The pretty girl sitting next to him shakes her head, her long dark curls dancing around her shoulders. “It’s just… Mother…”

“Yes, Astoria? What about your mother?”

She takes a deep breath. “Last night she told me or rather, she asked whether you and I have already discussed our impending engagement.”

Draco smiles. “Ah.”

“You…” She hesitates, but soon soldiers on: “You know our families expect us to be married by the end of the year, don’t you?”

“I am aware of that, yes,” he replies simply.

She looks at him, all wide blue eyes, bites her lip, and takes a deep breath before blurting out, “But you’re already in love with someone else, aren’t you?”

It’s a question, not an accusation, and it hits Draco like an off-course Bludger to the face. He knew she was smart and a lot more observant than most, but he had no idea he’d been quite this easy to read. Whatever happened to Slytherin subtlety and discretion?

Regardless, he can’t bring himself to lie to her, certainly not about something this important. She’s a good, kind person and she’s a dear friend. She might even end up the best, most loyal friend he’ll ever have.

“Yes,” he admits. “I am, but I’m afraid those feelings are entirely pointless. They were never reciprocated and will forever remain unrequited.”

“I see,” she says and asks carefully, “Are you still in touch with her at all?”

Draco shakes his head. “No,” he replies, and since they might be spending the rest of their lives together and she deserves better than to be deceived or misled, he adds, “and it’s not a girl I’m in love with, Astoria, but he and I… We’re not speaking anymore. We never really did talk much to begin with, come to mention it. We weren’t even friends. Rather the opposite. When we last parted ways, we were acquaintances at best. So...” He gives her a slight smile. “As I said: the feelings I have for him will lead nowhere and I’m sure, with time, they’ll wither away as they’re supposed to.”

Astoria nods and allows herself a few minutes to quietly mull things over. When she speaks again, it’s in a matter-of-fact tone: “You know, Draco, I’ve always wanted to be a mother and as I’m certain you know, your father wishes us to have a child as well, that all important ‘Malfoy Heir’ he keeps rabbiting on about. But if you… I mean, if your preferences lie with men instead…”

She gives him a questioning look. She’s not sure how to put the rest of it into words, at least not in a way that isn’t impolite or plain vulgar.

It turns out she doesn’t have to. “They don’t,” Draco says with a smile. “That is, not entirely. I’ve only ever had feelings for one man, and I think you’re lovely and very attractive. I doubt you and I would have any problems consummating our marriage, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Blushing slightly, taken aback by both the compliment and the unexpected directness, Astoria averts her eyes.

“And I’ve always wanted a family myself,” Draco adds. “A son or a daughter, or both. So if you’re still prepared to go through with this engagement, in spite of knowing what you do now…?”

Astoria smiles. “Yes,” she says, looking at him again. “I’ve grown quite fond of you, Draco, and as long as we always stay honest with one another, I believe we can make this union work.”

Draco takes her hands in his. Sincere and determined, he replies, “Yes, so do I.” 

Draco sighs. They did have a happy marriage, based on a deep friendship and unconditional trust. Astoria never enquired after the identity of the man who’d stolen his heart, either, and for this, Draco will always be extremely grateful. Not only did it save him a lot of embarrassment, it also made it easier to focus on his future with her while he tried to forget all about Potter.

And try he did, desperately, using every trick in the book, to the point where he even considered Obliviating himself, but in the end, he failed spectacularly. Even after all these years, his infatuation with his former school nemesis remains as painfully strong as it ever was.

Draco sighs again. When he concentrates hard enough, he can still feel Potter’s fingers on his face and he can still see those gorgeous green eyes gazing at him with something dangerously close to adoration. It took all of Draco’s self control not to pull Potter into his arms and kiss him senseless.

Draco shakes his head. He silently thanks Merlin. Rationality prevailed just in the nick of time and he didn’t make a complete fool of himself.

He’s a grown man, damn it! He really ought to know better than to confuse wishful thinking with reality. Potter isn’t in love with him. The man was confused, disoriented and totally out of sorts after suffering through a horrible nightmare, probably some atrocity involving the Dark Lord. Night terrors will make anyone behave strangely, and no doubt Potter has had decades’ worth of them already.

Yes, an extreme state of bewilderment, that’s all it was on Potter’s behalf.

Draco shouldn’t allow his loneliness to warp his mind or cloud his senses. He has to keep his wits about him, and he also has to uphold his distance from Potter. Anything else will only lead to heartbreak and misery.

To Draco’s left, a small copper bell rings. The first part of the brewing process is finished.

He takes a deep breath and gets back to work.

Chapter Text

February 2004.

‘Tap. Tap. Tap.’

Squinting one weary eye open, Harry curses under his breath. Of course it has to be smack in the middle of the night when the water finally comes back on and it comes as no surprise that, yet again, the bloody kitchen tap is leaking.

A Silencing Charm would be just the ticket. If only it were safe for him to cast one...

Harry sighs. He climbs out of bed, switches on the light, steps into his slippers and wraps his tatty old bathrobe tightly around himself. Last night, the central heating system broke down for the third time in as many weeks, so the tiny bedroom is freezing. Harry shivers.

He makes his way to the kitchen, only to find the tap silent and the sink dry. There’s no leak after all, so where is that strange noise coming from? It’s getting louder, more persistent and increasingly annoying by the second.

‘Tap. Tap. Tap.’

Harry looks around until he spots a large brown owl impatiently knocking its beak against the window. The bird carries a large scroll in its talons.

Harry grumbles. He supposes he should have anticipated this happening at some point. Getting away had been a breeze, probably far too easy in hindsight. Some people still expect things from him, after all, and there’s always one more score left to settle.

Harry grits his teeth, well aware the owl will carry on relentlessly unless he lets it in.

He walks to the window and for the first time since he moved into the flat, pulls it open. It’s heavier than he expected. The corroded hinges creak menacingly.

The owl flies in and lands on the kitchen table.

“I know you’re only doing your job,” Harry says, approaching the bird, “but…” He stops dead in his tracks. There’s something tied to the owl’s right leg. It’s a tracking device Harry recognises immediately; Muggles use this type of thing to aid in wildlife conservation. It can record a migrating bird’s route so that when the animal returns the following spring, researchers will know where and how far it has travelled. Arthur told Harry all about this two Christmases ago. The Auror Department had begun using such devices to locate Death Eaters on the run by sending them Owl Post, a seemingly simple method which in many cases proved surprisingly effective.

Harry shakes his head. So someone is actively looking for him.

Well, whoever it is won’t find him. How much of an idiot do they reckon he is anyway?

“Listen,” he tells the owl. “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you’ll have to fly that delivery back to the sender.”

The bird hoots loudly in protest.

“Yes, I’m sorry,” Harry says again, and continues, “I am going to take that from you, though.” He reaches out and carefully removes the tracking device, resolving to smash it to pieces later, just to be safe.

The owl regards him expectantly.

Harry trots to the fridge and examines its contents. Aside from cheap beer, there’s nothing there except for two slices of bacon that have turned a disturbing shade of green.

Harry checks the supply closet next. He spots one tin of corned beef still within its expiry date.

The owl doesn’t seem too excited by that offering, but gobbles it all up anyway, before flying off again, scroll and all.

Harry shuts the window with an angry bang and rakes a trembling hand through his hair.

Part of him can’t but wonder what the letter was all about, assuming it wasn’t just a blank piece of parchment. A reprimand, perhaps? Someone itching to condemn what he’s done?

Or worse, maybe they’ve decided to forgive him.

Harry sneers. Yes, that’s probably it, isn’t it?

In his head, he can already hear their words, kind and well meaning, but patronising as hell.

“We know what you’ve been through, Harry. We know how you’ve been struggling since the war, but we’ve already made it through so much together, conquered so many obstacles. It would be silly and such a waste if we couldn’t move past this too, if we just threw away our hopes and dreams after everything…”

Yes, they’d be so bloody understanding on the surface. They’d give him the briefest of lectures before offering him a second chance, to make his marriage work, to play happy families, to finally begin his Auror training, to have the life they wish for him.

Harry shakes his head and clenches his fists.

No.

The future they have in mind for him is not the one he desires for himself at all. It never was.

Furthermore, they deserve better than his half-hearted attempts at living a lie. “Fake it ‘till you make it” may be a catchy phrase in the Muggle world, but it doesn’t work in practice, not in his case. He could never keep up this great a deception for Merlin only knows how many more years. He wouldn’t even manage it for another day, frankly. Not anymore.

Harry opens a kitchen drawer and pulls out a hammer.

Without hesitation, he slams it down on the tracking device. Satisfied at a job well done, he exhales in relief.

Now if only he could obliterate the past couple of years just as easily, too...

 

*****

 

February 2018.

Feeling peckish, Harry walks down to the kitchen. He’s slept away most of the morning as well as a large part of the afternoon, and there were no strange or scary dreams to keep him awake this time. Whatever that Potion was Malfoy brewed for him, it did a great job.

“Are you absolutely certain of that, darling?”

The sound of a woman’s vaguely familiar voice stops him in his stride, two steps away from the door of a downstairs sitting room. Does Draco have female company? Harry’s stomach clenches unpleasantly at that thought, but nonetheless he decides to stay where he is and listen in on the rest of the conversation.

“I think it would do you the world of good to be out amongst people again. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll even meet someone special!”

“I’m already ‘out amongst people’ a lot more than I’d prefer, Mother.” The clearly amused response is followed by a dry chuckle.

A strong and entirely irrational feeling of relief washes over Harry when he realises whom Draco is talking to, most likely through a fire-call.

“But it’s not yet too late to start over, darling, while you’re still young. Your father and I won’t be around forever, you know, and in a few years’ time, your son is bound to embark on a life of his own as well. You wouldn’t want to end up lonely, stuck in that big mansion all by yourself.”

Draco remains unfazed. “We both know I like my own company, and besides, my work keeps me quite busy. I haven’t the time to be lonely.”

“Yes.” She sighs deeply. “That’s another thing. You work far too hard. When did you last allow yourself a day off, never mind take a real holiday, do a spot of travelling? There is so much more to life than Potion-making.” She pauses a beat, then adds, “I hope you’re at least eating well. You look awfully pale.”

From where he’s standing, Harry can’t see Malfoy’s smirk, but he can practically hear it when the man speaks next.

“I’m doing just fine, Mother; eating right and getting plenty of fresh air and exercise. You know as well as I do that Bernard would have already notified you if this weren’t the case.”

Narcissa sighs again. “But are you absolutely certain I can’t convince you to join us at the Beauxbatons Charity Gala, Draco? Won’t you at least take some time and think it over? It could be a brilliant opportunity for you on so many levels. Lots of very important people of Wizarding France will be in attendance. You might even forge some new and extremely worthwhile business connections.”

“I’m afraid I’m not interested in the slightest, Mother, but thank you for the invitation.”

An odd silence sets in. It lingers for a seemingly endless moment, until Narcissa says resignedly: “Oh very well. At least I tried. I suppose I shall just have to get used to my only son turning into a complete recluse.”

“Oh dear. Always so dramatic, Mother!”

Malfoy laughs softly. Narcissa laughs along, after which they say their goodbyes.

Harry’s surprised at how close they seem, but perhaps he shouldn’t be. The Malfoys were always a tight-knit family, and in spite of anything else that was going on, through Voldemort’s return and the horrors of the devastating war that followed, they were always fiercely loyal to one another first.

The fire-call over with, Harry is about to discreetly continue on his way when he hears unfamiliar footsteps swiftly approaching.

He dives behind a colourful tapestry, feeling like a complete coward as he does.

Next he hears someone knocking at the sitting room door. He assumes it must be one of Scorpius’ tutors.

Harry has managed to avoid bumping into any of them thus far, and although Malfoy has assured him they’ve all taken an Unbreakable Vow to never discuss anything they’ve heard or seen at the Manor with outsiders, he’d really prefer not to be noticed at all.

“Professor Darwish,” Malfoy says in a formal but friendly tone. “How may I help you today?”

“I wonder if I might have a word, Sir? About Scorpius?”

“Certainly. Please, come in and have a seat. Shall I ask the Elves to serve us some tea?”

“No. No, it’s fine,” Darwish replies quickly, following Malfoy into the room. “This won’t take up much of your time, I assure you; I merely have a question.”

“All right. Please, sit. Is there some kind of problem?”

“No.” Harry can hear the smile in the man’s tone. “Rather the opposite, in fact. Scorpius is doing extremely well in his lessons; exceptionally well, one might say. Your son possesses a rare talent at Astronomy.”

“Ah,” Malfoy replies, something melancholic to his voice. “He must take after his mother, then.”

“I was wondering, Sir,” Darwish continues, “whether you would object to my teaching him a more advanced curriculum? I fear the current material doesn’t particularly challenge him, and I would hate to see him eventually lose all interest because of this. He shows so much potential and I’m certain he’s capable of a lot more.”

“I have no objections at all,” Draco says simply.

Darwish lets out a relieved breath. Harry assumes he must be intimidated by Draco, or by the notoriety and wealth of the Malfoy family in general. “In that case, Sir, Scorpius will require some new books, and I realise this may be somewhat… ‘out of the box’, as Muggles say, but perhaps, the purchase of one of those new, state-of-the-art Muggle telescopes might be worth considering…?”

“Yes, of course; just write me a list of whatever you feel is needed and my staff will take care of it.”

“Thank you, Sir. I must say your son is one of the brightest, most promising students I’ve encountered in a very long time and I know Professor Sherwood shares my opinion. Only last week, she mentioned how…”

Harry’s stomach drops as the two men continue to discuss Scorpius’ academic achievements, of which there are apparently plenty.

It’s obvious how proud Malfoy is of his son and how much the boy means to him.

This realisation fills Harry with a deep and bitter sense of self-loathing. He never stuck around to find out what became of his own sons, or of the baby Ginny was carrying. He couldn’t stay. Not after….

Besides, he was a lousy father to begin with. A deadbeat. A failure. A fraud. No doubt they’re all better off without him.

But still…

Malfoy and Darwish are still chatting animatedly, and Harry decides to leave them to it. He’s heard more than enough.  

With a gnawing feeling in his gut that he’s sure has nothing to do with hunger pangs, he quietly walks away.

 

*****

 

Popping the cork into the tenth and final bottle, Draco nods to himself and smiles. Another batch of Hinkypunk Fever remedies is ready to be shipped to assorted hospitals in Britain and beyond.

He’ll have to brew fewer of these once he’s perfected the formula of the vaccine, but he suspects that won’t be for a while yet. It’s a tricky, treacherous condition that comes in many different guises.

A crash in the nearby distance yanks him from his thoughts. Instinctively he reaches for the wand he always keeps in his right trouser pocket. He whips around to see two Elves bursting into the room. Their movements are frantic, their expressions grim.

“M-Master Draco,” one of them begins, struggling not to stammer. “Sorry to be disturbing S-Sir, but Mister Harry Potter… Him not well.”

“Not well?” Draco frowns. “What’s wrong?”

“Sir, Mopsy knows not,” the creature replies. “Mister Harry Potter lies in kitchen.  Face on floor. Will not move.”

Draco’s eyes widen. Both Elves look terrified and truth be told, he’s not faring much better himself. He takes a deep, steadying breath.

“Mitsy,” he addresses the other Elf. “Go and fetch Bernard right away, would you?”

The creature nods dutifully and disappears with a ‘pop’.

Draco hurries to the kitchen, Mopsy on his heels.

When he gets there, the door is wide open. In the middle of the floor, lies an unconscious Harry Potter, two bottles of cooking wine next to him, one entirely empty, the other half full, its sticky sweet contents steadily dripping onto the shiny blue tiles.

Draco shakes his head. “You blundering, blithering idiot,” he hisses under his breath as he hunches down next to him. “What in the seven hells were you thinking, Potter? Are you that determined to kill yourself?”

Predictably, there is no response.

“Potter?” he tries again, gently shaking the man by the shoulders. “You’ve had way too much to drink. We need to get you up off the floor and into bed so you can sleep this off. Come on now! Up you get!”

Green eyes flutter open and squint at him. “Are you taking me to bed, Draco?” The words are slurred and followed by a laugh that sounds suspiciously like a giggle.

Draco blinks. “Excuse me?”

“You look so angry with me but you still have such pretty bright eyes,” Potter blurts out matter-of-factly.

Draco struggles to ignore the way that remark makes his stomach flip—really, it means less than nothing coming from such an intoxicated source—and retorts dryly, “You’re sloshed, Potter, pissed out of your damned mind. You have no idea what you’re even saying.”

Harry chuckles. “I suppose I did have one too many just now. Whoops! You won’t tell on me, will you?”

Draco sighs. “Tell whom exactly?”

Potter shrugs. He tries to sit up, but instantly slumps back down again.

“You do realise you’re not supposed to drink, don’t you?” Draco puts to him. “Alcohol is very bad for you.”

“S-So?” Harry answers feebly, bearing a strong resemblance to a petulant child. Draco wouldn’t be surprised to see him sticking out his tongue next. “I do shitloads of stuff I’m not s-s-supposed to. Yeah! Abs-solute s-shitloads of it!”

Draco smirks. “That much I did notice during our Hogwarts years.”

Harry knits his eyebrows together, as though deep in concentration, then says: “Your mum’s wrong, if you ask me. It’s not a good idea to start dating again. I mean you… You really shouldn’t. You’re good like this… like… the way you are.”

“What?” Draco snaps, his earlier confusion instantly replaced by irritation. “Did you eavesdrop on that call I had with my mother earlier? Care to tell me why you’d even do such a thing?”

Harry shrugs. “I was there. And I heard.”

Draco rolls his eyes. “And I suppose some invisible force kept you glued to the door, so leaving quietly to allow me my privacy wasn’t an option?”

The sarcasm goes right over Harry’s inebriated head. “No,” he replies, slurring his words even more as he rambles: “But I still think… I… Don’t do anything you don’t want to do just because they want you to do it. You see, they can’t know, cannot possibly, and you don’t want to...” He shakes his head and sighs deeply in what seems to be frustration. “It’ll all go to hell if it’s not what you’d have chosen for yourself… everything just...” He makes a wild gesture with his hands. “One step wrong, and then another, and you can’t stop yourself because you don’t want to be trapped, but then you are, all the bloody time, like you can’t even breathe and it’s not even you, and one day everything falls apart, your whole life just explodes in your face. Like… Boom!”

“Good grief! ‘Boom’ indeed. You should hear yourself, Potter! Rabbiting on like a loon. You’re not making one bit of sense.”

“Of course I’m not.” Harry’s laugh sounds both manic and desperate. “Haven’t you noticed, Malfoy? I’m drunk! Hah!”

Draco wants to offer a clever reply to that, to say something scathing that’ll shock Potter out of his stupor, but a warm hand on his face stops him, along with a sudden, unsettling intensity in Potter’s gaze.

“You know, Draco…” the man begins softly.

Draco swallows thickly. “What?” he replies, his voice weaker than he intended. Potter really shouldn’t be coming this close to him, and he certainly shouldn’t look at him like that. Everything about this spells impending disaster.

“When I…” Harry clears his throat. “When we… Well, when the two of us, I mean…”

He never gets to finish that sentence.

Bernard bursts into the kitchen, three House Elves following closely behind. “Oh dearie, dearie me!” He emits a deep sigh. “The cooking wine… Blast! We’d all completely forgotten about the cooking wine.”

Snapped back to reality, Draco abruptly pulls away, putting plenty of space between Potter and himself, and rises from the floor.

“We’ve had those bottles for Salazar knows how many years,” Bernard continues. “They may have already been in the cupboard when we returned from France.” He shakes his head. “I’ve intended numerous times to throw them out, but somehow it always slipped my mind to actually do so. A terrible, terrible oversight on my behalf, no doubt about it. My apologies, Sir.”

Draco waves a dismissive hand. “It’s fine, Bernard. It’s not as though you forced him to drink the stuff and it’s unlikely to kill him.”

Bernard sighs again. “Even so, I’m afraid Mr Potter will be feeling quite wretched come tomorrow morning.”

“Which would serve him right for being such an idiot,” Draco replies, feeling more like himself again. He glances at the floor. Potter looks vulnerable and tragic, half sitting, half lying there, staring off into space. He seems on the verge of passing out again, too. Just how did one of the most powerful Wizards to ever walk the earth end up like this?

More and more, Draco realises he doesn’t want Potter to suffer. To witness him in this sorry state is like a stab to the heart—damn it!

“I suppose I could brew Potter a Potion,” he finally offers, as casually as possible, “one that will prevent most of the wretchedness.”

Bernard nods. “An industrial strength Hangover Remedy would be most advisable, Sir.”

“Perhaps, in the meantime, you can see to it that Potter gets back to his room safely?” Draco suggests. “He really ought to be in bed.”

“Certainly, Sir.”

“Thank you, Bernard.” Draco nods one more time, mostly to himself, and swiftly exits the room, not sparing Potter a backwards glance.

Opening the heavy door to his Potions Lab, he looks down at his hands. He notices they’re trembling.

 

Chapter Text

April 1999.

“Merlin’s beard, Harry! How could you and Ginny have been so stupid?!”  

They should be in Hogsmeade with their friends, enjoying the spring sunshine. Instead, Ron’s irate voice booms through the eighth year boys’ dorm: “Haven’t you ever heard of Contraceptive Potions? Spells? A plain old condom even? Bloody hell! Mum’s going to murder the both of you! If our Charlie doesn’t get there first…”

Harry cringes inwardly, wishing the floor beneath him would open up and swallow him whole. He’s been walking a thin line ever since they returned to school: skipping classes in favour of flying around the castle all afternoon, ditching the Quidditch team without as much as a “sorry” after two disastrous performances, sneaking up to the Astronomy Tower late at night with all the booze he could carry before downing the lot and passing out on the cold, hard floor. He’s been careless, reckless and uncharacteristically selfish for months, but no one batted an eye. The Wizarding World’s greatest hero, as it turned out, could get away with anything he pleased.

Well, anything except this… There will be no worming his way out of this. 

What was he thinking anyway? Did he honestly believe finally having sex with Ginny would fix their struggling relationship, or that it would magically cure him of his persistent infatuation with Malfoy? Stop that pointless obsession? Quash the endless, exasperating longing for someone who’d never in a million years be his?

Harry hasn’t a clue. As he stands there, letting his best friend’s furious tirade roll over him like a tidal wave, all he knows is his fate is sealed once more, his destiny set in stone, and this time around, there are no Dark Wizards, meddling Ministry officials or ominous prophecies to be held responsible. He only has himself to blame.

“You’ll do the right thing by my sister, though, won’t you, Harry?” Ron asks then, his anger subsiding as vast concern takes its place. “I mean, you do love her; you’ve loved her for ages, right?”

Harry takes a deep breath. “Yeah,” he says, and awkwardly clears his throat. “Yeah, of course I do, mate, and yeah, I will. We’ll be all right. We’ll make it work. You’ll see.”

Ron nods slowly and forces an unconvincing smile. The suffocating silence that sets in is somehow louder than the rage and ruckus that came before.

 

*****

 

February 2018.

Leaning his elbows on the balcony railing, Harry gazes out over the vast Manor Grounds. Mopsy brought his breakfast in about ten minutes ago, but he can’t muster up an appetite. What he can remember of last night’s events keeps playing on his mind, mocking him and filling him with the worst kind of shame.

He got drunk off his head on questionable wine that might as well have been rancid vinegar. The odd, awful taste didn’t bother him, though. It never does. It’s all about the buzz, the temporary bliss of not having to feel a bloody thing: glorious, boundless oblivion.

Except it isn’t. Nothing truly goes away, not anymore, not even for a moment. Come to think of it, it barely even fades these days.

Harry sighs. Malfoy was right. Alcohol is a major problem for him. If he’s entirely honest with himself, it has been an unhealthy crutch for the longest time, ever since his final year at Hogwarts. Back then, it seemed like a quick fix to drown out the grief, anger and anxiety that horrible war left in its wake, but in the long run, it only made everything far worse, and somewhere along the way, he also managed to lose himself completely.

Harry was never willing to face that fact before, but after that embarrassing scene in the kitchen, he’s forced to accept things for what they are: an utter mess.

Merlin, he almost kissed Malfoy last night! He really needs to control his emotions and keep his wits about him if he’s to remain here at the Manor. Imagine if Awkwright hadn’t shown up in time…

The outcome would have been disastrous!

Harry would no doubt be back on the street by now, heartbroken and destitute, and then what would he do next? Keep running? Resign himself to his fate, return to his grotty flat and patiently wait there for Adrian to show up, drag him away and finish him off?

But Awkwright did appear, and so Harry was taken upstairs. Two Elves whose faces barely registered with him in his inebriated state changed him into a pair of pyjamas and put him to bed, all the while muttering complaints about icky, sticky clothes. Some of the wine had spilled all over Harry’s shirt and trousers. In that moment, he was too far gone to care, but looking back, he’s sure he must have been a pathetic, pitiful wreck.

The next thing he can recall is, minutes later, swallowing a bright red liquid someone poured down his throat. Soon thereafter, he sank into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Half an hour ago, he finally woke up again, stunned to find himself without the headache and nausea that usually followed a bout of heavy drinking. No doubt Malfoy’s potion skills were to thank for that. Harry smiles wryly. Why is he even surprised? Malfoy was brilliant at Potions back in school, too. One small certainty in a cesspool of confusion.

A loud knock at the door interrupts his thoughts. “Yeah?” Harry calls out with some hesitation. “Er… Come in?”

Malfoy enters the room and approaches him with a guarded smile. “Ah. You’re back amongst the living, I see.”

Harry nods, unsure how to respond otherwise. Malfoy doesn’t seem angry with him at least, so that’s a relief.

“How are you feeling this morning, Potter?”

“Fine.” Harry forces a smile. “I guess I owe you my thanks for that.”

“Mmm. The stuff I had the Elves give you was pretty potent.”

“Yeah,” Harry replies in a nervous ramble. “It must‘ve been. Usually when I’ve been drinking, the next morning I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck, multiple times. I-I suppose you know what that’s like, right?”

“No.” Malfoy grins. “I can’t say I’ve ever found myself underneath a Muggle vehicle, nor am I particularly keen to indulge in that experience.”

Harry frowns. “All right. Fair enough. So, er, how would you describe the morning after a night of heavy drinking, then?”

“I’m afraid I couldn’t do that either.”

Harry blinks. “What? Wow! Are you actually telling me you’ve never been drunk?’

Malfoy nods. “That would be correct. My upbringing didn’t encourage excessive consumption of alcohol, you see, and I can’t say I ever really had a desire for the stuff, either, save for the occasional glass of rich red wine with a festive meal.”

“Right. Okay.” Despite himself, Harry has to chuckle. “So let me get this straight: torture, casting Unforgivables and other Dark spells, locking people up because you didn’t like their family or politics, letting a homicidal maniac and his minions take over your household… all perfectly acceptable goings-on to your parents, but getting shitfaced like a regular person would get you told off?”

Malfoy furrows his brows, making Harry wonder whether he went too far—perhaps, he did overstep the boundaries of this strange, fragile sort-of-friendship they’re starting to build by trying to be funny and light-hearted when he should’ve just kept his big mouth shut—but then to Harry’s amazement, Malfoy bursts out laughing. It’s unusual to hear the man laugh, actually laugh in humour without the undercurrent of mockery and malice from so long ago. It’s a pleasant, melodious sound that makes Harry’s stomach flip in unexpected ways that have nothing to do with the vast quantities of dreadful wine he consumed last night.

“Odd and illogical though it may be,” Malfoy says, “you’re spot on for once, Potter.”

“Oh,” Harry mumbles. “Right, then.” He looks at Malfoy, who’s still standing there, smiling warmly. Awkwardly, Harry smiles back, feeling clumsy and out of place all of a sudden. He hasn’t a clue what to say or do next. He’s never been good at small talk, or at conversation, full stop.

“Aren’t you hungry this morning?” Malfoy asks, gesturing towards the large plate of fried bacon, tomatoes, eggs and fresh toast on the table. A steaming mug of sweet tea has been provided as well, all of it kept warm by one of the Elves’ magic. “You should eat something, you know. You still have a lot of recovering to do.”

Harry resists the urge to roll his eyes or snap at the man in front of him, tell him to stop meddling and mind his own business. It’s unsettling to realise Malfoy seems to genuinely care about his wellbeing. It also feeds what he’s sure is false hope, the kind he shouldn’t hold onto, no matter how tempting.

“No.” Harry hesitates. “I was just thinking about last night… I’m sorry I—well…”

“There’s no need for any of that,” Malfoy says simply, waving a dismissive hand in the air. “You relapsed. I’ve been told it happens in your condition. ‘Fell off the wagon,’ I believe the Muggle expression is? And truth be told, that wine shouldn’t have been there for you to find in the first place. A very unfortunate oversight on Bernard’s and my behalf. I mustn’t let anything like that happen again.”

Harry frowns. When and how exactly did Slytherin’s most spoiled and entitled brat become this reasonable and responsible? He has no idea, but stunned into silence, he goes to sit down at the table anyway. The food does look and smell delicious. He realises he’s quite hungry after all.

“Go on, dig in,” Malfoy urges and adds, “Incidentally, in case you were wondering, the clothes you wore yesterday are being laundered.”

“Okay,” Harry replies, casting a sideways glance at the well-stocked wardrobe that was provided for him when he first arrived. “Thanks.”

“Right, then.” Malfoy speaks again after a few moments of odd silence. “I believe duty calls. Bon appétit; enjoy your breakfast.” With that, he walks out of the room.

Harry stares after him. They’re actually becoming friends, aren’t they? And if Malfoy’s intentions are sincere, which seems more and more likely with each passing day, how is Harry supposed to feel about that? Could he even handle being the man’s friend, considering the depth of his true feelings for him?

Harry sighs deeply. He shakes his head and turns his attention to his breakfast. Maybe with some food in his stomach, the world will start making a bit of sense.

 

*****

 

Sat at his desk, Draco opens the first of that morning’s many letters. It’s a missive from a Polish Wizarding hospital, requesting a new shipment of Dragon Cough vaccines. It’ll be the last of his current supply and for the next batch, he’ll need to change the formula again. More migrating species as well as an increase in illegally kept dragons means more aggressive strains of the virus surface every year. Staying up to date is a never-ending challenge.

Draco jots down a few lines in his notebook, relieved to have something other than Potter to focus on, something important. Many people are counting on him and his potion skills, and he, for one, is glad for the ability and opportunity to help, to finally make a positive difference in the world, do some actual good. Salazar knows his family has a lot to make up for; far more than he’ll likely be able to achieve in this lifetime, but that won’t stop him from trying his utmost.

Draco frowns as his thoughts inadvertently drift to Potter once more. They really can’t afford a repeat of last night’s slip-up. Potter’s fragile health wouldn’t be able to handle it. To make matters worse, Draco would also have to call on Theodore if anything like that ever happened again. Potter certainly wouldn’t thank him for that.

The more he thinks about it, the more Draco is convinced there’s still something here that he’s missing, or rather, something that’s being deliberately kept from him. If he were a betting man, he’d put good money on the fact that Potter’s hiding something sinister. Potter may claim there’s no one after him, but Draco recognises the skittishness in his movements, the hesitation in his speech, and most importantly, the hunted look in his eyes. Draco has seen that type of look countless times before. Between his fifteenth and his eighteenth birthday, it stared him right in the face every time he looked in a mirror.

Draco also realises, however, that confronting Potter with these suspicions isn’t an option, not if he wants Potter to stay, and despite his better judgement, against all rhyme and reason, Draco desperately wants Potter to stay.

He inhales sharply and forces himself to focus on the next letter on the pile. It’s from Pansy Parkinson, gushing about her current adventures in Monaco. The two of them haven’t spoken or seen each other in person since their Hogwarts days, but she’s kept in touch, regularly sending him letters and postcards on her many travels.

Like Draco, she was privately educated after the war, though her family opted for Portugal rather than France. She has since married a wealthy Muggle, writes a beauty and lifestyle column for an Australian women’s magazine, and appears to have done very well for herself overall.

A few times, Draco considered meeting up with her again, but always decided against it in the end. She was a good, loyal friend to him once, but he’d rather not revisit his Hogwarts days or the associations he kept back then, not unless circumstances truly demand it as they did in Theodore’s case. Some things are better left in the past.

Draco chuckles when he spots the next envelope, all blue ribbons, white lace and fancy crests; an invitation to the Beauxbatons Charity Ball, hand signed by Madame Maxime herself.

“You’re like a dog with a bone, aren’t you, Mother?” he remarks, amused. He knows Narcissa means well, that she’s genuinely concerned about his future, frightened he’ll end up lonely and depressed, but he simply isn’t interested in going out and meeting women, much less dating them or settling down with one. His life may be far from ideal, but at least it’s fully his own now, and he has his work to devote his time to, as well as the wonderful son Astoria gave him. Draco couldn’t possibly be more proud of Scorpius.

“Right,” he mutters, and returns to his notebook. According to the latest research, there might be two new Dragon Cough strains—one from Hungary, the other from Alaska— making their way here. Draco frowns. Alaska, of all places. Magical Creatures aren’t unaffected by climate change either, it seems. He carefully opens another thick tome on exotic healing herbs and starts to read.

An hour of intense work flies by to be interrupted by a firm knock at the door.

Startled out of deep concentration, Draco looks up. “Yes? Enter.”

Bernard walks in with an odd, unreadable look on his face.

Immediately worried about Potter, Draco asks urgently: “Is there something wrong?”

“Not at all, Sir,” Bernard replies with an enigmatic smile as he places something on Draco’s desk. It’s a small plastic card Draco recognises as a Muggle driving license. It sports Potter’s picture but not his name. “Quite the opposite, I believe.”

“Jim Evans?” Draco frowns, as he picks up and studies the card more closely. “What’s this? Where did you get it?”

“Mopsy gave it to me, Sir. Whilst laundering the shirt Mr Potter was wearing last night, a loose thread was discovered, revealing a hidden pocket. You’re presently holding that pocket’s contents.”

“Mmm,” Draco muses. “Are we to understand from this that Potter’s been living in the Muggle world under an assumed name?”

“So it would indeed appear, Sir.”

Draco places the license back on his desk, rises from his chair and starts pacing the room. On the one hand, he knows the right and honourable thing to do would be to respect Potter’s privacy, to pretend he never found this out and wait patiently for the man to tell him the story himself, assuming he ever plans to do so, but on the other hand…

Draco can’t shake the nagging feeling of dread that’s been getting stronger by the day, a clear sense of impending danger. He’s convinced Potter is hiding something essential, and whatever it is might prove to be a threat not only to Potter but also to everyone else at Malfoy Manor, including Scorpius. No matter how besotted Draco may be with Potter, he cannot and will not allow any harm to befall his son.

His mind made up, Draco turns around. Bernard is still standing in the exact same spot as before, an expectant look on his face.

“Perhaps,” Draco suggests, “we might be able to find out more about Potter’s Muggle alias? Discover a home residence or place of employment for instance?”

With a triumphant smirk, Bernard replies, “Already one step ahead of you, Sir,” and hands Draco a piece of parchment. It has an address written on it.

“Nearly two years ago,” Bernard goes on to explain, “Mr Potter—or as the case may be: Mr Evans—called upon the services of an NHS Walk-In Centre.”

Draco blinks. “Sorry? A what?”

“A free-for-all Muggle medical centre, if you will.”

“I see. Do we know why he needed their help?”

“Alas, my contact was unable to access those records through their computer network at this time; it will take a little longer to get past the additional password protection.”

“Ah.”

“However, they did find that address in the patient database; supposedly it’s where Mr Potter was staying in the spring of 2016.”

“2016.” Draco hesitates, but only a beat. “Do you suppose we should go and have a look around?”

“If you wish, I shall instruct the Elves to watch Mr Potter, and then proceed to ready the car, Sir.”

“All right. Yes. Please do so.”

Bernard nods and swiftly exits the room.

Draco rakes a hand through his hair and sighs. He has the feeling that whatever he’s about to discover these next few hours will turn his world upside down for the umpteenth time, but he doesn’t feel as though he has a choice in the matter. If he wants to truly help Potter as well as protect his nearest and dearest, he needs to see this through.