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The Past is Just a Goodbye

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Harry loved Spring. It had been a long, dark, unnaturally snowy winter, and snow was just finally melting in late March, the days cold. As he got older, the winters were a reminder of aches that remained, even if the outward scars from the war were faded. He’d longed for the sun, and for the last week the sky was a clear and vivid blue without a cloud in sight, and temperatures were nearing the place where he’d be able to throw open windows and welcome the fresh breeze. He couldn’t wait.

He walked briskly along the path to the long, low building on the corner in Ottery St. Catchpole, glancing up at the painting of a grinning rabbit painted on the wall. As always, he was the first to arrive at the Babbity Rabbity Pre-school, and he let himself into the quiet, dim building. It was cool inside, and the hall that led to the offices smelled faintly of fruit juice, ginger biscuits and the lingering essence of sun warmed children. As he crossed over the honey toned hardwood floor of the entry hall, he saw a bright yellow satchel leaning against the wall outside of classroom two. Bending from the waist, he grimaced only faintly at the twinge in his lower back as he picked it up. ‘Willie Burberry’ was inked carefully into the sunny fabric and Harry shook his head with a small smile. Willie was a brilliant little boy, bright-eyed and pink-cheeked, and his mother would forget her own feet if they weren’t attached to her legs. Goldie Burberry was the most scatter-brained person Harry had ever met, and one of the biggest gossips in the school. He made a mental note to remind her, again, that the children’s satchels needed to be fetched daily, that all important communication from the school was in the bag. He doubted it would do any more good than the last dozen times he’d told her. She’d be too busy trying to find out what all the rest of the mum’s were doing to pay attention to her own child.

Harry flipped on the lights in the office, noting the flashing light on the phone on the receptionist’s desk. He bent over the neat surface, grabbing a note pad and pen and listening to the messages. As he’d expected, they were from parents calling to say their child would be absent, but for no earth-shattering reasons. Mostly it seemed to be the normal panoply of children’s ailments; runny noses and ear infections. There was nothing more serious, like dragon pox or mumblemumps, which was always a relief in a pre-school that catered to both magical and muggle born students. He scribbled notes for Clara, the blue-haired receptionist, and left them on her blotter. The grate in the fireplace on the far wall was dark and cold, and Harry slipped his wand from his sleeve, lighting the fire and opening the Floo network before he headed into his office at the back.

The moment he opened his door he could smell coffee, and he said a silent prayer of thanks for Clara, who set it up for him each night before she left. He was usually on the playground or subbing for one of the regular teachers, or in a meeting with new parents. He often didn’t make it back into his office after lunch, but Clara knew how desperate he was for caffeine first thing. He really needed to look over the books again and see if he couldn’t find the funds, somewhere, to give her a raise. If he couldn’t find it in the school coffers, he might just pull it out of his personal vault; a well brewed cup of coffee was beyond the price of rubies at six-forty-five on a Monday morning.

Harry removed his short jean jacket and scarf, hanging both on the coatrack in the corner of his small, cluttered office. He poured himself a cup of the hot coffee before he sat in the rolling desk chair he’d bought at a second hand shop in the village. It was mahogany and elegant, he thought, even if the wheels were occasionally wonky and it squeaked when he shifted on the seat. Leaning back, he lifted the heavy ceramic mug he favoured to his nose, inhaled the deep, dark aroma of the black coffee, and stared out of the large windows behind his desk. He hadn’t spelled his windows with an artificial view, so now they mostly showed bare winter trees and brown grass in the gardens of the picturesque village.

The lane out front was uncluttered with traffic, but that would change in the next hour or so. The village had grown quite a bit in the nearly thirty years since the end of the second war against Voldemort. There were three pubs now instead of just one, which was always important. Antique stores and curiosity shops dotted the main thoroughfare along with two restaurants and a post office.

About half of the students enrolled at Babbity were Muggle born, so their parents dropped them off in the attached lot. The other half arrived via an Apparition point behind the playground, or via the Floo in the main office. It was part of the reason Harry arrived early, aside from the fact he enjoyed the early morning quiet; he wanted to make sure the Floo was open to the network so staff and students could arrive. He expected Clara to come through almost any minute; some days she arrived before he did, but it wasn’t often.

To say wizarding Britain was stunned when their Head Auror resigned his position to open a pre-school was perhaps the understatement of the age. Harry entered Auror training at eighteen, immediately after completing his required eighth year at Hogwarts and passing his NEWT’s. He rose rapidly through the ranks to Deputy Head by twenty-five, Head Auror by thirty. He and his Hogwarts sweetheart Ginevra Weasley got married when he was twenty-one and she was twenty, and they started their family not long after, having James, then Albus, and then Lily. All over the UK in wizarding households, they were considered the ideal; successful parents, happy children, a hero and family to be honoured and revered. Harry did everything exactly the way everyone expected him to. Then he hit forty, and it all went straight to hell.

It truly hadn’t been a midlife crisis when Harry and Ginny ended their marriage, and least he hadn’t thought so at the time. He hadn’t cheated, which was what the Prophet said to sell papers. She hadn’t cheated, either. They’d just looked at each other one night after all three of their kids were at Hogwarts, and realized they no longer had anything to say to one another. Ginny was busy covering Quidditch for the Daily Oracle, a paper that had nearly eclipsed the Prophet in the last few years. Harry was at the Ministry more than he wasn’t. Aside from formal Ministry functions they occasionally attended together, they had nothing in common. They separated just after Harry turned forty.

He’d never imagined being a teacher, let alone starting a pre-school; not until Teddy Lupin and his wife were unable to get their firstborn, a precious little girl named Andi, (and just Andi; not Andromeda. Teddy flatly said he’d never hang a kid with any of the weird arsed names the Black’s had forced on their children) into any of the three wizarding pre-schools in the UK. No one would come right out and say it, particularly when Teddy’s parents were acknowledged war heroes, but Ted believed it was lingering prejudice as a result of Remus’s lycanthropy. Andromeda had home-schooled Ted until Hogwarts, so they’d never faced that hurdle but his wife Melanie was Muggle born, and she wanted Andi to have an integrated education before Hogwarts. Harry had been livid when even letters of recommendation from him, Hermione, who was one of the senior members of the Wizengamot, and Neville, who taught Herbology at Hogwarts, hadn’t helped. Harry sheepishly hoped it wasn’t that his ego was so huge he couldn’t imagine anyone ignoring his recommendation, but regardless, nothing helped; Melanie ended up teaching Andi at home.

Harry hadn’t been able to forget about it. He’d been so fixated that Lily told him if it bothered him so much he should open his own school. Her words echoed in his head for weeks. He recalled how much trouble he’d had when he’d been dropped into the wizarding world at eleven with no background in magic. Even Hermione, who excelled at everything, had trouble adjusting and making friends before he and Ron knocked a mountain troll unconscious in the girl’s loo, forging a friendship that would last forever. He could tell that students from magical homes had a much easier time settling in than those from Muggle homes. Given Andi Lupin’s experience, he was afraid that with the prejudices lingering in the wizarding world, she wasn’t the only child who’d been refused admittance to one of those very few, very exclusive magical pre-schools. He was still musing it over, not sure if he was serious or not when his assistant at the MLE, Joanna, came into work one morning, eyes red-rimmed.

“What’s wrong, Jo?” Harry asked. He’d just left a meeting in the Minister’s office, on his way to morning rollcall when he’d noticed her pallor, but for her very pink nose. “You feeling ill?”

“No, Mr Potter,” she said with a sniff. “I’m just frustrated. It’ll be okay.”

Harry gave her a level look, then beckoned to the young Auror who stood waiting for him near the office door. “Tell Auror Weasley to run rollcall and morning assignments, and I’ll catch up with him when I can.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you,” he squeezed Jo’s arm, gesturing toward his office. “You come with me.”

Once she was seated in front of his desk and Harry had ordered a tea tray from the cafeteria, he linked his hands on his desk blotter and gave her a level look. “Okay, Jo. What’s going on?”

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before lifting her head to look at him once again. “We’ve been trying to get Mitchell into one of the magical pre-schools, and apparently Bentley and I check out fine in terms of finances and our own magical backgrounds. Unfortunately,” she sighed and shook her head, “they do a pretty extensive study of family trees…”

“For admittance to pre-school?” Harry said, in disbelief. “Mitchell is still two and a half? I haven’t missed his attempt to enter Uni?”

Jo managed a weak smile. “It’s just that there are so few spots available,” she said with a sniffle. “Apparently somewhere back a generation, one of my grandmother’s sisters married a Carrow. My great, great aunt and her branch of the family never followed Voldemort, weren’t involved with the war at all, but it was enough that they share a name. We’ll never get Mitchell in now.”

Harry studied her pale face for several seconds. “And it’s that big a deal?”

Jo nodded slowly. “I’m afraid it is. We can’t afford for me to quit my job and home-school him.”

“I know it’s selfish of me, Jo, but thank Christ for that. I need you.”

“I know, Mr Potter.” She gave him a sad look. “It’s just that with so few spaces available, they can be very selective. It’s got to the point where if you aren’t part of the sacred twenty-eight, you can forget getting your child into one of these schools. And if they don’t get in there, they can’t get into the wizarding primary, and it just continues from there.”

Harry sat back in his chair, studying her thoughtfully. “I thought we were past this shit,” he said finally, sinking disappointment in his chest. The ‘sacred twenty-eight’ were wizarding families, pureblood’s back generations. The Weasley’s had been on that list, until Arthur and Molly’s two youngest married Hermione and Harry, respectively. Some of the old families still remained on the list; the Diggory’s had been on the list for centuries, only dropping off when Cedric’s father died five years after the war, still heartbroken by the loss of his son. The Parkinson’s maintained their place when Pansy married a pureblood from the states. And the Malfoy’s, Harry knew, retained their place when Draco married Astoria Greengrass, and she gave birth to Scorpius. Harry became very fond of Scorpius when he became friends with Al, but he exchanged little more than polite nods at Kings Cross with Draco once or twice a year.

After his conversation with Jo, that night Harry had been unable to settle. He’d had no answer for her, other than to tell her not to give up hope. Which was easy for him to say, he supposed. Molly had all but raised his kids, and they’d had a very liberal education between her and their Aunt Hermione. But now, just two generations removed from the war, they were back to this elitist crap and his blood boiled. He’d tossed and turned all night, but by the time he dozed off into a restless sleep near dawn, he’d made a decision.

He didn’t give his notice at the ministry right away. He searched out a location, and made sure his family understood what he was doing and why. He was somewhat surprised that Molly was his most boisterous supporter. For some reason he’d expected her to be a cheerleader for his security at the Ministry. She might’ve been, if he was still married to Ginny. But Ginny was successful in her own right, his kids were in their teens, and she said if anyone could fix a problem for everyone else, it was Harry. It humbled him quite a lot.

He stepped up his efforts, consulting with as many people as he could without tipping his hand to anyone who would tattle to the Prophet. Padma Patil, now Khatri, had spent several years as a teacher at the largest wizarding pre-school in England, the Armando Dippet School for Early Wizarding Education, or A.D.S. for those not interested in rattling off the full list of names. They scheduled to meet at a coffee shop not far from the Ministry, and when she swept in on a breeze that smelled of Patchouli and flowers, he smiled at her.

“It’s good to see you, Harry.” She gave him a brilliant smile, taking off her coat and hanging it on the chair across from his before settling into it. “How long has it been, anyway?”

“Too damned long.” He studied her face, virtually unlined, unchanged since their last year at Hogwarts. “How is it that I’ve got so bloody old, and you still look seventeen?”

Her cheeks coloured. “Flatterer. And you look wonderful.” She gestured toward his temples, where silver threaded through the black hair that still defied a comb. “I really like the highlights.”

He laughed. “Well, that’s one thing to call it I suppose.” He shook his head. “But I didn’t ask you here so we could exchange compliments.”

“I’m glad to hear there actually is an agenda,” she said wryly, tossing her long black hair over her shoulder. “I love my husband, and you’ve a bit of a reputation, Head Auror. Flirting is out.”

Now it was Harry’s turn to colour; he could feel his cheeks heating. He knew people talked, particularly if they took the Prophet on a regular basis. And since he and Gin split, he’d been linked to several people, both women and men. He refused to comment one way or the other; he wasn’t about to let the damned rag know how close they’d come to hitting on the truth once or twice. He held up his hands.

“Not flirting. I actually wanted to pick your brain a bit.”

She looked intrigued, and when he began to question her, she was a veritable font of information. He found the location in Ottery, bought the building where he now sat and hired as many experienced staff as he could, including Padma to teach the three-year olds and Molly as his lunch lady. When he gave his notice to Kingsley, he hadn’t regretted it for a moment. Now, he had the best staff, at least as far as he was concerned, in all of Britain.

The Floo sounded in the outer office but Harry didn’t turn in his seat. He figured it was Clara turning up for work and he took a sip of his coffee, knowing she’d check in with him shortly. He was startled when a bright voice sounded through the office.

“Dad?”

Harry turned quickly, setting his coffee on his cluttered desk before standing, heading toward his office door.

“Lily?” He rounded the corner, peering into the outer room.

“There you are.”

Nineteen-year-old Lily smiled at him, and as far as Harry was concerned she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. There was a lot of her mother in her; Ginny’s coltish figure and long legs, and her swath of straight auburn hair. But there was some of the first Lily Potter in her as well, particularly the bright green eyes Harry inherited, as well. She was wearing snug jeans and fashionable brown suede ankle boots, and a bulky tan jacket with a fake fur collar. No real fur for his animal rights enthusiast daughter; she was her Aunt Hermione’s niece from her toes to the top of her head. She wore a bright, rainbow hued knit hat and matching scarf that wrapped around her neck and hung nearly to her knees. With her pink cheeks and her freckled nose, everything about her made warmth fill Harry’s chest.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, opening his arms. She walked into them and the scent of night blooming jasmine drifted from her hair. She tucked her head beneath his chin.

“Hi.” She wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed.

She was on break from Uni for her Spring Hols, and he’d thought she planned to sleep the two weeks away. Her pre-healer studies were rigorous, and from what he’d heard from Ginny she was exhausted. Leaning back to look into her eyes, he thought she didn’t look tired at all.

“Actually, what are you doing out of bed at this ungodly hour?”

She poked him in the ribs and grinned when he flinched. Stepping back, she pulled her hat from her hair and smoothed down static lifted strands. “I’m meeting Gramma here. She’s going to show me how to make bread.”

Harry’s brows shot up. “Bread? What’s that got to do with Paediatrics study?”

“Not a thing.” She went to the hat rack against the wall and shoved her hat into her pocket, unwrapping her scarf. “I want to learn, and Gramma offered to teach me. She says it’s just a matter of getting the kneading and proving charms right.”

“I think your Gramma has a certain amount of innate talent in the area of baking, too, honey. Why this interest in that all of a sudden? Last time I heard you had the take-away menu’s for every curry joint in London attached to your fridge.”

Her eye-rolling skills hadn’t diminished a bit since she’d been fourteen. “Sometimes even Healers want to do something besides prescribe potions. And I do plan to get married at some point, you know. I think baking bread would be a useful skill when you have a family.”

“Christ on a raft,” Harry muttered darkly. “Isn’t it bad enough Jamie and Jeanette plan to make me a grandfather, again? I don’t need you to talk about getting married. It makes me feel old.”

She grinned at him. “Well, you aren’t getting any younger, Dad.”

“Stow it, you brat.” He tugged on a clump of her hair.

“And you know being a granddad hasn’t diminished your sex appeal,” she went on, easing the jacket from her shoulders. Harry groaned.

“Gods, Lily.” He ran his hand through his hair. “Truly, I could happily live to be a hundred and thirty without hearing the words sex appeal come out of your mouth.”

She snorted. “Oh, come off of it, Dad. I mean, how many of the mom’s here have a huge crush on you?”

Harry grimaced. “Whoever told you that was embellishing on the truth.”

“Clara?” Lily laughed. “Clara wouldn’t know an embellishment if it bit her.”

The Floo chose that moment to flare bright green on a whoosh of sound, and petite, blue-haired Clara entered the office, pale lavender eyes wide as she held onto the Peter Pan collar that sat primly over her rose coloured cardigan, green handbag clutched in her other hand.

“Clara wouldn’t know a what?” she asked, and Lily laughed. It was a bright, infectious sound, and Harry had never been immune to it.

“My youngest was just telling me about the poor deluded mothers of pre-schoolers who seem to have designs on me, even though I’m old enough to be their father.”

Clara’s cheeks turned pink even as she lifted her chin. “You’re still a very handsome man, Mr Potter,” she said primly. “And one or two of the dads wouldn’t mind a go, either, if you were of a mind.”

Harry leaned back against the wall separating his office from this one, rubbing his hand over his face while Lily giggled delightedly. His bi-sexuality wasn’t a secret from his children; the Prophet had seen to that. But he hadn’t expected Clara to discuss it quite so… openly. He sighed. “Clara, if I knew where all of the pertinent information was, I’d fire you.”

Clara snorted. “No, you wouldn’t. That would mean you’d have to keep track of your own appointments.”

“You’re right.” He agreed with a dramatic sigh. “You have to stay. Still, I’m not sure Lily needed to know some of the dads fancy me.”

“She’s a smart girl,” Clara said, winking at Lily. “And the dads in question are about as subtle as a Bludger to the head.”

“I’ll bet I’m the only person I know whose dad is a DILF to both men and women,” Lily said with a bright smile.

“A what, now?” Harry said, frowning.

“Oh, come, Mr Potter. Even I know what that means.” Clara sniffed.

“You know, Daddy. A Dad I’d like to f…”

He held up both hands as he remembered why the saying sounded familiar. “No, no. I remember. And hearing that come out of your mouth might take ten years off my life.”

She gave him a wry look. “I’ve heard both Al and James say the f-bomb around you. Why is it so different when I say it?”

“Because they’ve never said it in regards to who might be interested in…being with me.” He managed awkwardly. “Plus, you’re a young lady, and your brothers are hooligans.”

“Hooligans?” Lily laughed loudly. “Who even uses that word anymore?”

“I do. And I know a thing or two about what constitutes a hooligan.”

When Molly stepped out of the Floo, Harry breathed a silent sigh of relief, seeing a change of topic on the horizon. He couldn’t remember a time in his life when he’d been happier to see her.

“Hi, Gramma!” Lily cried, rushing to hug Molly. Her hair was now more grey than red, an untidy mass around her pink face held back with yellow hair clips. As per usual, she was wearing the oddest assortment of brilliant coloured clothing Harry had seen since Dobby and Winky. Her cardigan was knitted and rainbow striped, which gave Harry the notion she’d probably made it herself with the bits and bobs left over from Christmas jumpers. Her bright pink, ruffled collar brushed her chin, and her orange skirt brushed her ankles just above blue and grey patterned argyle socks. He could hear Ginny in his head; Gods, Mum. Did you get dressed in the dark? It was an eye jarring, head-achingly lurid combination.

“Hello, luv.” Molly wrapped one arm around Lily’s shoulders. Her other had a basket nestled into the curve of her elbow, and she held it out toward Harry. “Harry, will you take this, please?”

He stepped forward, relieving her of it. It was heavy.

“What’s in this, Molly? It weighs more than you do.”

She laughed. “Flatterer. It’s hot cross buns and a crock of whipped butter, prune Danish and four dozen chocolate and peanut butter chip biscuits.”

“What am I supposed to do with all of that?”

“Seriously, Gramma,” Lily said, lifting the corner of one of the tea towels covering the basket’s contents, “we don’t want him getting a paunch. He might lose his title as Dad most likely to have all the pre-school parents drooling after him.” She took out a large chocolate biscuit and took a bite. “And these are brill. You might need to teach me how to do these, too.”

Molly patted her cheek. “Of course, Ducky.” She gave Harry a stern look. “And don’t you listen to this child. If you ask me, you’re looking too thin.”

Harry knew he hadn’t lost an ounce since retiring from the Auror’s. It was distributed differently now; his exercise regime was less about lifting weights and sparring with men twenty years his junior. He carried less bulk, more long lean muscle. He’d gone to running five miles a day instead of bench pressing in the gym, and it made a difference in how he carried the weight on his nearly six-foot frame. Some of his Auror trousers were too big around the waist, but he didn’t have cause to wear them much unless he was mucking about in the garden. Besides, Molly’d thought he looked too thin since she’d met him. Of course, at eleven, he had been.

“Well, thank you for all of this,” he said, teasingly holding it over Lily’s head when she reached for another biscuit, taking one out for himself. “I’ll share it all with the staff here. That way they won’t expect a pay increase this year.”

She gave him a crooked smile. “I doubt one will take the place of the other, dearie. And you could join Lily and I for bread baking, you know. If you liked. I’ve never understood how you can make such brilliant pasta but not manage a bread recipe.”

“That’s just one of your gifts, Molly.” He took a large bite of the biscuit, humming appreciatively. “And it is a gift. These are delicious.”

“Well, don’t tell Arthur, but I had to give them away. He likes them a little bit too much, and now he’s the one getting a paunch.”

“Poor Grand dad,” Lily said, but her cheeky grin didn’t match her words.

The Floo flared bright green again, and they all turned to see who was coming through. When a distinctive shining bald head and a huge set of shoulders in a purple Wizengamot robe appeared, Clara gasped. Harry frowned in surprise and walked over to kneel on the rug in front of the hearth.

“Minister,” he greeted, propping his hands on his knees and leaning forward. He could count on one hand the number of times he’d received a Floo call from Kingsley since he resigned; he couldn’t help but think this didn’t bode well.

“Harry.” Kingsley’s smile flared white in his dark face. “How are you?”

“I’m fine, sir.”

“Oh, come now, you needn’t be so formal. Not with me. After all, you don’t work for me any longer.” His ingratiating smile made the hair on the back of Harry’s neck twitch. He liked Kingsley very much, but he never allowed himself to forget that he had become the ultimate politician.

“That’s true, I don’t. But I can’t help but think you turning up in my Floo at seven a.m. isn’t merely a social call.”

Kingsley’s smile faded slightly around the edges. “Well, I do have something I’d like to discuss with you, something rather important. Are you free for lunch today?”

Harry looked over his shoulder at Clara, who still looked gobsmacked. No help coming from that quarter, then. He turned back. “I’m sure there’s nothing that can’t be rescheduled.” And if there was, Clara would just have to reschedule it, anyway.

“Excellent. I hope you don’t mind coming to meet me here?”

Harry gave him a lopsided smile. “Yes, I imagine that would be better. I’m afraid there might be a riot if the Minister for Magic were to step out into a crowded pre-school.”

Kingsley chuckled. “I think you over state my effect on the three-year-old vote.”

Harry grinned. “Perhaps so. What time shall I meet you?”

“How’s noon sound?”

“Fine.”

“Good.” Kingsley glanced down, Harry thought to check his watch. “I’ve a meeting in ten.” He hesitated for just a moment, so briefly someone who didn’t know him might not notice it. But Harry did know him. “Thank you for coming, Harry. I know you don’t have to drop what you’re doing any longer, and I do appreciate it.”

“Of course.”

The green faded from the flames and they shrank to a normal size, and Harry pushed to his feet, his knees popping. He grimaced. “Why must all of the Floos be on the floor?” he grumbled. “Okay, Clara,” he said to the little woman, who was still staring at the fireplace in something like startled alarm, “if there’s anything on today’s schedule between noon and two, it’s going to have to be bumped to later in the week. Now, I need to go read over curriculums. Please let me know when it’s eleven forty-five, will you?”

“Oh.” She blinked and straightened. “Yes, of course.” Colour bloomed across her cheekbones and Harry gave Molly and Lily, who were staring at him in a combination of incredulity and amusement, a smile before he excused himself to his office.

“Well, that was mortifying,” he heard Clara say. “It just never occurred to me that the Minister for Magic would turn up in our Floo like that.”

“I know what you mean, dear,” Molly said softly. “Even though we’ve known Kingsley for nearly fifty years, it’s still a bit sobering to realize he’s Minister now. And I have to tell you, oddness seems to follow Harry; has since he was a child.”

“Oh, I know that. And I know his background. I know Harry was Head Auror,” Clara paused, “it’s just hard to remember that…” Her voice trailed off.

“To remember our Harry is HARRY POTTER?” Molly said with a knowing smile. “Don’t worry, at the end of the day it still matters more to him that he’s our Harry.”

Harry smiled faintly as he eased his office door closed. Molly wasn’t wrong.

hpdmhpdmhpdm

When he stepped out of the Floo in the Atrium at the Ministry, Harry was forcefully reminded why he no longer worked there. People surged around him like salmon swimming upstream, heads down, determinedly not making eye contact. Everyone was so busy, and he knew he’d been one of them once. Eyes averted, minds averted, thinking you were doing the right thing while being fucking miserable while you did it. He shook off the creeping reminders of melancholy and anxiety, shoving his hands into the pockets of his coat, and gave the first person who made eye contact a cheery smile. She was an attractive young woman, young enough to be his daughter, with pretty pale skin and hair nearly as dark as his own. She looked stunned, and Harry knew it was because he looked cheerful, not because he’d once been a war hero. He took the lift to the fifth floor, leaving it to weave his way down the hallway that was crammed with the offices of the MLE and the main Administrative spaces for Kingsley and his staff.

The closer he got to the upper echelon of the Auror Department, the more startled glances he got. He knew these people, and they knew him.

“Stimson,” he said to a young man who stopped dead when he saw him.

“Head Auror,” he responded. His face flooded with colour.

“Not any more, Will,” Harry said, grinning. “You can stand down.”

“Of course. I… how are you, sir?”

“Just fine. Here to have a bite with Kingsley.” Harry kept his voice casual, although he doubted this was anything like the spontaneous lunch he tried to paint it as. He knew how gossip ran through the halls of the Ministry; even though Stimson was a good junior Auror, Harry knew word of his presence back in the Auror Division would make its way through the halls like wildfire. Stimson gave him a polite smile and turned to stride away quickly opposite the direction he’d been going when Harry encountered him. Five minutes later, when Deputy Under Secretary to the Minister Hermione Granger-Weasley stuck her head out of he office, Harry didn’t even bother to hide a laugh.

“Gods, the gossip mill is even more efficient now than it was when I left.”

Hermione smiled at him, and he was struck by what a lovely woman she was. There were threads of silver through her honey brown hair, curls now tamed into a low twist at the nape of her neck. And there were a few fine lines around her cinnamon brown eyes and full mouth, but she looked happy, content. More than he’d ever been while still in this building.

“Not gossip this time,” she said, coming to him and threading her arm through his. He dropped a kiss onto her cheek, felt himself surrounded by the flowery fragrance she’d always worn; the very same that had nearly given their presence away to the Snatchers decades before. “I asked Will to keep an eye out for you. I’m sitting in with you and Kingsley.”

Harry’s eyebrows shot up and a nearly forgotten shudder went through his stomach. This couldn’t be a casual inclusion. “It’s important enough to require your presence, too?”

“Not here,” she murmured, propelling him gently down the hall.

Harry arched a brow at her but stopped talking and kept moving. She squeezed his forearm.

“How are the kids?” he asked, hoping it was a safe topic. She smiled.

“Good. Hugo is ready to be done with school.”

“I’m sure. And Rosie?”

“She’s been talking about trying to get home for the holidays.”

“I imagine that will make her parents happy.”

“Thrilled, more like.” Hermione reached out when they reached the end of the hall and pushed open one of a set of massive black doors. It swung easily at her light pressure. “She’s been a teaching assistant for Ancient Runes at Ilvermorny for over a year. I wish old Babbing would retire so she could come home and teach at Hogwarts. I know Neville would hire her in a second.”

“If he’s smart, which we know he is.”

They stepped into the sleek, somewhat understated outer office of the Minister, feet silenced by the thick dark purple carpet. Life sized portraits of the four previous Ministers, with the glaring exception of Pius Thicknesse, looked down on them from the nearly black teak panelled walls. Cornelius Fudge sniffed and glanced away, apparently still blaming Harry for his ouster even in death. Rufus Scrimgeour gave a regal nod of his leontine head, strange gold eyes shining, and Millicent Bagnold lifted her chin and gave Harry a small smile. Kinsley’s portrait wouldn’t be added until he was no longer Minister. “Thank fuck for that,” he’d told Harry once. “Last thing I need is to be forced to look at my own ugly mug every day.” No one in the MLE agreed with Kingsley in regards to his looks; he was a handsome man, and he knew it, but he wasn’t vain.

“Mr Potter,” Millicent Bagnold said, surprisingly deep voice smooth, one dark brow quirked.

“Minister,” he replied, pausing long enough to dip his head.

“Kingsley talk you out of retirement yet?”

“No, ma’am.” Harry grinned. “I like my little school.”

She sighed. “Pity.” Her black eyes shifted to Hermione. “Ms Granger-Weasley.”

Hermione smiled up at her. “Minister.” Hermione was particularly fond of the old gal. Wizarding Britain had been hundreds of years ahead of their Muggle counterparts in the election of women to positions of power. “Pardon us? The Minister is waiting.”

“But of course.” She turned back to the documents scattered across the top of her huge desk.

Kinsley’s assistant, Kyle Berryknot stood up from behind his desk. “Mr Potter.” He offered his hand, brilliant blue eyes bright. His honey blond hair was slicked back from his face, a style that reminded Harry briefly of Malfoy, for some odd reason.

“Kyle. Good to see you.” He shook his hand, and he could feel the other man’s trembling. Harry tried everything he could to get Kyle to relax around him, but it had never done any good.

“You too, sir.” Kyle managed. He turned to Hermione. “He’s waiting for you.”

“Thank you, Kyle.”

They pushed in through another set of the imposing double doors.

The ‘inner sanctum’, as Harry once teasingly called it, wasn’t nearly as pristine as the outer. The Minister’s desk was piled high with parchments of every shape and size, another two-dozen flapping around behind Kingsley’s shining dark head. There were chairs in the corners of the room with more files slipping and sliding, moments from spilling to the floor. Fortunately, the two chairs in front of the massive dark desk were vacant. Hermione took one while Harry stood and looked around the room, hands shoved in his pants pockets, rocking on his heels.

Kingsley finally scrawled his signature on the bottom of a document in front of him and touched it with his wand with a heavy sigh. It disappeared, going out to Kyle, Harry assumed. The broad-shouldered man ran his hands up over his bald head, then leaned back in his chair. It creaked beneath his weight.

“There’s a world of exhaustion in that sigh, Minister.” Harry gave him a wry smile.

Kingsley arched a brow with a sardonic smirk. “Oh, give it a rest, Potter. You think I don’t know you’re standing there congratulating yourself on getting the hell out of this rat race?”

“Me?” Harry affected wide-eyed innocence, his hand spread on his chest. “I’d never.”

“Gods, it’s getting deep in here. I’m going to need a shovel to get to the door.” Hermione rolled her eyes and crossed her long legs.

Harry laughed.

“Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up, funny guy,” Kingsley drawled, “but sit your arse in the chair.”

“Aye aye, sir.” Feeling he’d taken enough of a piss, Harry whipped off a snappy salute, but took a seat in the chair next to Hermione’s. Once again he looked around the room. “Christ, Kingsley, this place is a bloody fire hazard. Doesn’t Kyle file?”

Kingsley rubbed a hand over his chin, grimacing. “He does with the closed files.”

“These are all open?” Harry shuddered. “And to think some people thought I’d be a good Minister. My little office in Ottery is bad enough. Clearly, anyone thinking I’d be good at this was touched in the head.”

“Clearly,” Hermione agreed.

“Thank you, Under Secretary, for that vote of confidence.” Kingsley smiled, and his brilliant white teeth seemed to light up the room. “And now that the niceties are out of the way – “

“Those were the niceties?” Harry shot Hermione a dry look. She ignored him.

“There truly was a reason I called and asked you to come for lunch today, Harry.”

“Yeah, about that lunch…” Harry looked around expectantly.

“This is actually more of an – informational meeting. There are a few things I wish to discuss, and I’d rather do that where there’s no possibility of anyone – “

“Meaning the press,” Hermione provided softly.

“—overhearing. And yes, particularly the press.” Kingsley gave Harry a meaningful look. “And I must ask you in advance, Harry, that no matter the outcome of this discussion you won’t repeat any of what we talk about here.”

Harry’s jovial mood faded. “I remember the drill, Kingsley. And this sounds serious.”

“It is.” Kingsley’s heavy brow creased. “It could, quite literally, be a matter of life or death.”

Harry sat up straighter, his spine automatically stiffening. “I’d rather hoped I wouldn’t be involved in any more of these sorts of discussions when I retired.”

“Trust me, Harry, if I had been able to think of another single alternative, you’d have never heard from me. But your participation was… requested.”

“Requested by whom?” Harry looked between his two old friends, an uncomfortable uneasiness forming.

“That’s getting ahead of ourselves a bit.” Kingsley rubbed his big hands together, and if Harry didn’t know better, he’d think he was nervous. “Let’s start at the beginning. You know Scorpius Malfoy, of course.”

Harry frowned. “Of course I do. Scorpius is my youngest son’s best friend.” Scorpius was also close to Rose, and he looked over at Hermione. She looked worried, and alarm bloomed in his chest. “Hermione, what’s going on?”

“Let Kingsley talk, Harry,” she murmured. He turned back to the Minister.

“Sorry, Kingsley. Please, continue.”

Kingsley nodded. “You also know that Scorpius is an Auror.”

Harry nodded. Of course he knew; he’d tried to talk the young man out of it. He’d hoped Scorp would follow the examples of James and Al when they both went into careers outside of the Ministry. James was a curse breaker like his Uncle Bill and Al helped run the Diagon Alley branch of WWW. But Scorpius had been determined, and even though Al and both Harry and Scorpius’s own father, had tried to reason with him he wouldn’t hear them. He wanted to help resurrect the family name by ‘working for the right side’, and no one could talk him out of it.

“Yes, I know. He should just about be finishing his year of Academy training.”

Hermione crossed her arms and pointedly looked away, and Kingsley cleared his throat awkwardly. “Well, yes, if he was a normal recruit he’d be finishing up at the academy in a couple of months.”

The short hairs at the base of Harry’s nape twitched. “What does that mean, if he was a ‘normal’ recruit?”

Kingsley’s pause filled the office with uncomfortable silence. “Scorpius is very, very smart Harry,” he said finally, “you know this. He’s bordering on brilliant.”

Hermione still didn’t speak, and her uncharacteristic, clearly irritated lack of commentary was like a thorn in Harry’s side. “Yes, he’s very bright. Where is this going?”

“Because of his… vast intelligence, and because of his unique situation, he underwent an accelerated program and finished with the academy in nine months.” Harry’s mouth dropped open. He wondered if Al knew any of this. Somehow, he doubted his bright, talkative second born would have been able to keep this to himself. Kingsley held up one massive hand, palm out. “Now Harry, before you register an opinion, I’d remind you it won’t be the first time we’ve had an exceptional recruit undergo an accelerated program.”

Harry’s mouth snapped shut, and his face heated. He really couldn’t comment on that, not when he’d been the other recruit. He’d finished the program in six months and thought it was lousy of Kingsley to toss it in his face. Hermione made a sound of annoyance; she apparently agreed with him.

“That isn’t fair, Kingsley, and you know it,” she said darkly. “Harry had just defeated a Dark Lord. Scorpius merely had the misfortune of being born into the wrong family.”

Harry straightened, frown deepening. “Okay, what the hell is going on? Now, Minister, if you please.”

“Scorpius requested a meeting,” Kingsley said, leaning back in the big chair, “with me, soon after he entered the academy.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Why would the Minister for Magic take a meeting with a new Auror recruit?”

Kingsley shifted his big shoulders uncomfortably. “It was already clear he was going to be exceptional.”

“His name is Malfoy.” Hermione countered; her voice flat.

“That wasn’t the reason,” Kingsley said staunchly. Hermione stared at him until he fidgeted. “It wasn’t the only reason,” he amended finally. “He told me he knew we were struggling to put a stop to recruiting by the last of the high level Death Eaters who were still at large – “

“That’s been going on since the war ended,” Harry said. “Kids thinking being one of Riddle’s followers would make them ‘cool’, somehow. Apparently utter futility doesn’t register with them.”

“There’s been a recent acceleration,” Hermione said softly. “It’s actually quite alarming.”

Harry slipped seamlessly back into Head Auror mode. “So who, besides Thicknesse’s son and Yaxley’s family are involved in this?”

“You’ve been gone five years, Harry,” Kingsley said, his eyes level. “There are a number of former Death Eater’s families involved now. Somehow, someone has managed to convince them that Voldemort can be resurrected and brought back to power.”

“What utter crap,” Harry snapped. “It’s not possible.”

After Voldemort’s death, his body was cremated and his ashes sealed in an iron box and dropped into the deepest part of the Marianus Trench. Since he’d already been resurrected once before, Hermione made it her personal mission to prevent any lingering dark magic from bringing him back to life again. The horcruxes were all gone. They had insured in every way they could that Voldemort was gone for good. Harry couldn’t imagine what people thought could be brought back, even as he rubbed the place beneath his sleeve where a jagged scar marred his forearm, his permanent reminder of ‘The blood of the enemy’.

“Not everyone knows the lengths we went to, Harry.” Hermione’s voice was soft and weary. “The remaining Death Eaters certainly don’t. We made sure of it, as a way of ensuring they couldn’t get to any of his remains. The crematorium was even destroyed, the remnants bull dozed flat.”

Harry knew all that; Kingsley himself had over-seen it. There were some in the order who thought the lengths they’d gone to excessive, but Harry never agreed. In addition to the measures they’d taken with Voldemort’s ashes, Riddles’ parents had been disinterred and reburied in unmarked graves hundreds of miles from their home. Harry told himself the elder Riddles could at least rest in peace now, without the possibility of being disturbed. The crematorium ashes were sealed in another iron box, dropped from the same ship, separated from Voldemort’s remains by over a hundred miles. The Riddle house was burned to the ground, the earth then sown with salt. When magic as dark as Voldemort’s was involved, Harry was of the belief, along with Hermione and many others, that no measure was ‘too extreme’.

“But we made very certain none of the details were revealed,” Hermione went on, “thinking that would prevent his followers from ever finding him. The problem is by maintaining this level of secrecy we’ve given the Death Eaters the power of misinformation. They’re telling gullible youngsters if he was brought back once, he can be brought back again.”

“Fuck.” Harry ran his hand through his hair; he kept it short now, just a bit of length on the top because he still pulled it down over his scar. He could feel the old anger and anxiety creeping up his spine; the anger and anxiety that contributed to the end of his marriage and used to give him migraines and nightmares. They should have known, he thought glumly. They should have known the sick bastards would find a way to use the Ministry’s silence as proof they were afraid the psychopath could be resurrected. Again.

Harry exhaled heavily. “All right, can we give an exclusive to one of the papers, let them run a story as some sort of feature? Put the truth out there? It might reassure anyone who’s frightened and shut down speculation.”

“I don’t think we dare,” Hermione said. “I think it would just encourage them. At any rate it won’t address the reason you were summoned here.”

“Yeah, would someone care to tell me why that was, exactly?” Harry looked between them. “I already know it has something to do with Scorpius. And psychopaths.”

Kingsley pursed his lips. “It does.” He leaned forward, his arms crossed on top of the parchment that completely covered his blotter. “After Scorpius came to me, I began to consult with other members of my staff. We decided, once he was completely trained, that Scorpius could be a very valuable asset in our struggle to find Voldemort’s remaining followers and shutting down this new resurgence of interest.”

“I did not agree,” Hermione said, her foot bouncing in agitation.

“That’s been duly noted, Hermione,” Kingsley replied, sounding tired. “Every time the subject has come up, you’ve reminded me. Repeatedly. And ‘I told you so’ isn’t attractive coming out of anyone’s mouth.”

“It’s the first time Harry’s heard it,” she shot back. “I want him to know I wasn’t on board with this.”

At the end of his patience, Harry sat forward, glaring at Kingsley. “On board with what?”

There was another uncomfortable, heavy silence. Finally, Kingsley cleared his throat.

“Scorpius Malfoy went under-cover in one of the best known Death Eater cells, in an attempt to find out as much as he could about who’s behind this revival of interest in Voldemort.”

Harry stared at Kingsley. “Let me get this straight; you sent a twenty-one-year-old kid into a Death Eater cell. Alone?”

Kingsley shifted self-consciously. “A brilliant twenty-one-year-old, as we’ve previously established.”

“How could he get them to trust him? His presence in the Auror program hasn’t exactly been a secret. The Prophet did a whole expose’ on it when he was admitted.”

“He managed to convince them he only joined to infiltrate the Ministry, that he’d had a long-term plan to find out what was done with Voldemort’s remains, but became impatient. We decided…”

“You decided,” Hermione muttered. Kingsley glared at her.

“Fine. I decided if he approached the cell leader with the same reasoning he used when he approached me, that he wanted to redeem his family name, he could be very valuable to our efforts. Might I add he was very keen to do this; I didn’t coerce him.”

“Of course he was keen to do it, Kingsley,” Harry growled. “He wants to restore the Malfoy name to something resembling respectability. Scorpius saw what having a grandfather in Azkaban did to his grandmother, he saw how hard Draco had to work just to function in the wizarding world. And not a bit of it was fair. Narcissa Malfoy saved my life and made defeating the psychopathic asshole possible; if Draco had revealed who I was at the Manor, the war would have been over then. If keeping me alive couldn’t restore their name, I imagine he was eager to do about anything he was told could.”

“No one forced him, Harry,” Kingsley muttered. “I’d like to state that unequivocally.”

Harry stared at him. “I don’t like the direction this is going. Is Scorpius all right?”

Hermione pursed her lips, glaring at Kingsley. Kingsley glared back, his nostrils flaring as he inhaled noisily.

“Goddamnit!” Harry erupted their staring contest. “Enough. Tell me if Scorpius is all right!”

Kingsley looked at him in surprise, and it occurred to Harry there probably weren’t many people who spoke to him that way. He didn’t care.

Kingsley blinked. “We don’t know,” he said finally, his volume dropping. “We’ve lost contact with him.”

Harry let his head fall against the high back of the chair, still managing to maintain eye contact with Kingsley. His kids called his narrowed eyes and set mouth ‘the look of death’. He hoped Kingsley was feeling the same way.

“You’ve lost contact with him? How the fuck does that happen, exactly?”

Kingsley looked to Hermione, but it was abundantly clear she wasn’t going to help him. He linked his fingers, looking down at them. “He was in Dartmoor National Park last we heard, staying at a compound that was established by Karkaroff’s nephew. He’d been sending in regular reports, and was making excellent progress.”

“Sending in regular reports… how?” Harry asked.

“A version of the DA coins,” Hermione answered softly. “I couldn’t convince him not to do this. I thought the least I could do was provide him an untraceable way to stay in contact. He could dictate a report in a galleon I provided, and it would appear in a blank journal kept in my office.”

“Clever, Hermione.” He couldn’t keep the admiration from his tone.

She gave him a weak smile. “Not clever enough, apparently.”

She looked so sad, so disappointed. All Harry could do was reach over and take her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze.

“We have the names of many of the ring leaders,” Kingsley went on, “something we’d have never had without Scorpius’ input. Then, he went silent. We sent people in, as quietly as possible, but everything dried up. The compound was deserted, all evidence removed.” He shook his head. “And Scorpius Malfoy was gone. We can only assume his cover was blown.”

“Son of a bitch.” Harry lurched up out of the chair, pacing away. “Gods, Draco must be frantic.”

“He doesn’t know yet.”

Harry whirled around.

“What the fuck, Kingsley!” Harry was furious. Even if there was no love lost between him and Malfoy, there was no excuse for not notifying the family. Harry would have never allowed it when he’d been Head, and Kingsley knew it.

“This is a special case, Harry,” Kingsley answered, finally losing his composure. His voice rose. “And it’s bloody bollocks for you to come in here …”

“Can I remind you that you fucking asked me to come here? This would never have happened on my watch, Kingsley. I would never have sent a green trainee into a situation like this, no matter what his last name was.”

“Stop, and come sit down,” Hermione said firmly. “Calm down. You going off on a tirade will not help this situation.”

Harry looked down at her, his jaw working. Finally, he sat in the chair. Carefully, because the temptation was too great to just flop into it like a stroppy teenager. So some things had changed since he was fifteen.

Hermione turned to Kingsley. “And you may be Minister for Magic, but this situation is fucked up and you know it.”

Harry startled. Hermione almost never cursed; she considered it vulgar and wasn’t shy about saying so. “Just give him the letter,” she went on. “Think how much worse this can get if he won’t help.”

She and Kingsley stared at one another, and he finally huffed and looked away, opening the middle drawer in his massive desk. He reached in and withdrew an envelope. Harry could see a hunter green wax seal, could even make out the distinctive ‘M’ from across the desk. He recognized it instantly; he’d only seen it twice before, but he’d never forget it.

“Scorpius gave me this the night before he left.” Kingsley tapped the heavy parchment against the fingers of his other hand, studying Harry. “It’s for you.”

The words created a surge of unpleasant electricity that streaked down his spine. Harry’s mouth went dry, and he stared at the envelope in Kingsley’s large hand, the green monogram seeming to glow against the ecru background.

The first time he’d seen the Malfoy crest, he’d been 18 years old. The Death Eater trials were winding up, and the day after he testified for Mrs Malfoy and Draco, he’d Apparated to the Manor’s gates, startled to find them hanging, shattered and blown from their hinges. The walk up the crushed shell drive, broken through intermittently by weeds and bordered with the overgrown lawns, seemed to take forever. He was tired, still fighting lingering, painful reminders from the last hours of the Battle of Hogwarts; apparently dying and then coming back was a painful process. He was nervous; he tried to ignore it, but seeing Malfoy always made a flight of moths take wing in his stomach. By the time he climbed the broken, stained marble steps of the Manor to the massive front doors, his legs were screaming and he was questioning his act of altruism. He used the brass knocker, predictably in the shape of a snake, to bang against the doors and announce his presence. The sound echoed through the house, and when one of the doors finally slowly opened, it revealed Draco Malfoy’s pale, angular face.

“Potter.” He sounded hoarse and exhausted. What he didn’t sound was sneering, the superiority that marred nearly every encounter between them for seven years gone. He was also white as chalk, and terribly thin; so thin Harry felt a flicker of alarm. The robes he’d worn for his trial had effectively hid his body, but in what he wore now there was no escaping he’d lost at least a stone he didn’t have to lose to begin with. The collar of his shirt, buttoned all of the way up, looked enormous around his skinny neck, and the bones of his wrists, just visible beneath his cuffs, were so sharp they looked as if they could break through his skin. He dampened chapped lips, glancing behind him then stepping out onto the porch and pulling the door closed at his back. “I… what can I…” He stopped, one hand going up to push back his lank fringe, and Harry saw his fingers were trembling. “Why are you here?”

Harry reached into his sleeve, and he saw Draco’s silver grey eyes widen in momentary panic. He froze.

“No, it’s all right,” Harry said quickly. He held up his free hand, palm out. “I’m just…” He slowly withdrew the hawthorne wand from his sleeve. “I just want to give this back to you; it’s yours, after all.” Harry held it out.

Draco stared at it, straight white teeth worrying his lower lip. He blinked quickly, then reached out. Harry handed him the wand, and Draco’s knuckles whitened as he clutched the slender piece of Hawthorne wood with its dragon heart-string core, the one he’d got from Ollivander when he was eleven years old.

Draco stood staring down at it for what felt like a long time, then nodded brusquely, opened the door, and disappeared back into the house.

Harry stared at the spot where he’d been standing, feeling unaccountably let down. “Yeah, you’re welcome,” he muttered, wondering what he’d been expecting, then turning to stalk away. The next afternoon, a scrawny barn owl pecked at the window of the room he shared with Ron at The Burrow. That chiselled monogram was pressed into the green wax holding the flap of an envelope closed. He opened it quickly, wanting to see what it said while Ron was still in the shower.

Potter, he read, I hope you can forgive my rudeness yesterday. In honesty, I had no idea what to say to you. I’m afraid I still don’t, really. All I can offer is thank you. You of all people know how much a wizard counts on his wand being an extension of himself, and I’ve missed mine. Very much.
Sincerely,
Draco Malfoy

Harry stared at the words for a long time, those flutters starting up in his stomach again. They stopped only when he heard Ron’s heavy tread out in the hall. He’d shoved the note under his pillow, not even sure why he didn’t want Ron to know about it. He still hadn’t shown it to anyone, and the note was secreted in a drawer in his armoire. That had been almost thirty years before.

The next time he’d seen the monogram, it was the morning the end of his and Ginny’s marriage was announced in the Prophet. This time, the owl carrying the note pecked at the kitchen window of the flat he’d taken in London when he moved out of the family home in Ottery St. Catchpole. The bird was a handsome, arrogant eagle owl with large horns and icy gold eyes. It hadn’t tried to bite him, but Harry had been expecting it. This note was succinct.

Potter,

Scorpius pointed out the announcement in what passes for a newspaper in the wizarding world, and I just wanted to offer my commiseration at what I know is a miserable time. Your youngest son is a delightful young man, and a credit to his upbringing. If he brings you half the comfort Scorpius brings me, you’ll survive.

D. Mafloy

Harry knew what the fluttering sensation in his belly meant now. He’d been attracted to enough people, both men and women, to recognize the signs. He’d never cheated; he wasn’t that kind of a man, but he couldn’t ignore the unsettled feeling in his stomach, either. It was a bit lowering to realize that if he’d paid attention to those feelings when he’d been in school, he might have saved everyone a lot of grief. That wasn’t true, though, he thought; if he’d done that, he wouldn’t have his children, and that was unthinkable. He’d never regret his marriage; he’d loved Gin. He still did, but he’d also always been ashamed of his impulse to check out a fine male arse. He wasn’t ashamed any more.

He’d seen Malfoy a few times recently, and thought he’d aged very well. He looked better than that night at the Manor when they were eighteen, and the winged creatures took flight in his midsection when he saw he still had a very fine arse. Still, even if he could imagine the note as a sort of opening, he made what he thought the wisest choice and ignored it. It was still in the drawer alongside the first; Harry never could explain why he kept them. There was something about the parts of Malfoy’s character that were revealed in the words; the transparent unsteadiness of the first, script shaky, and the kindness and maturity exhibited in the second, the signature strong. Or maybe it was simply the little curlicue at the end of the ‘y’ in Malfoy. He honestly didn’t know.

Kingsley handed him the envelope and Harry stared down at the rich green wax seal for several seconds, rubbing the pad of his thumb over the deeply etched surface of the elaborate ‘M’. Finally, he slipped his thumb under the flap and popped the envelope open.

When he unfolded the heavy, expensive parchment, the careful script startled him so much he looked to the bottom of the page to check the signature. It said Scorpius A. Malfoy, but his handwriting resembled his father’s, right down to the distinctive ‘y’. Harry took a deep breath, and started at the top.

Dear Mr Potter,

I know you’ll be surprised to receive this; I’ve been lousy at staying in touch, and I apologize for that. I know it’s presumptuous, but I need to ask a personal favor of you. I’m going on a mission for the Auror Department and I’ll be gone from London, probably for several weeks. The case I’m working is dangerous, and I’m afraid the people I love might be at risk as a result. If my department contact should be unable to reach me for any reason, could you please go to the manor and get my father and my son?

Harry would never forget finding out that Scorpius and his girlfriend were expecting a baby. It was a huge scandal among the kids at Hogwarts; Scorpius and the girl were both seventeen, both from ‘pure blood’ families. Harry found out about it when Albus didn’t show up for his Friday afternoon classes and disappeared from the Hogwarts grounds. Apparently the Daily Prophet featured the story on its front page, and the owls delivering them arrived during lunch. McGonagall Floo’d Harry, clearly irritated but also a little frightened as well. Harry was relieved he could Floo her back four hours later, telling her Al was fine. He’d turned up in his father’s flat, stumbling out of the Floo tousled, inconsolable and more than just a little bit drunk.

Harry had known for years Al was in love with his best friend; he was just glad his son came to him when his dreams about the future came crashing down on him. Albus was pretty good at hiding his feelings for his Scorpius, but he’d never been able to hide anything from Harry. It was always a pipedream, those lovely little fantasies Al had about them sharing a flat, working at the Ministry together. Al never said he was in love with Scorpius, but Harry could tell just by the way he looked at him. He could tell Al was doomed to disappointment by the way Scorpius started to look at Lily about the time she turned fifteen.

When Harry picked his son up off his sitting room floor and looked into the bloodshot, devastated green eyes, his heart ached. Al collapsed into his arms and sobbed, and Harry couldn’t think of another thing in his life that hurt quite like that did. He’d whispered promises in his son’s ear, promises there would be another love, one who would return his feelings. He’d told Al life would get better, holding onto him by his hips so he didn’t end up head first in the toilet as he vomited up the booze. He eased him into the bed in the guest room, and held his hand until he fell asleep with the tracks of tears still tracing his face. Harry ran his hand gently through Al’s hair; gods, he was so bloody young. At that age, Harry had killed a Dark Lord. Gratitude that Al’s biggest problem was misplaced affections swamped him as he stared at Al’s pale face.

Harry was right, of course; Al met Austin the next spring and they now lived in the flat Harry had agreed to sub-let when he finally bought a cottage near the pre-school.

Dad won’t be agreeable, I know,” Harry read when he went back to Scorpius’s letter, but he’s looking after Adrian, and I can’t take any chances with their safety. The manor’s magic has been wonky ever since the war, and Dad is good with wards, but I’m afraid not even he can make the place truly safe.

Adrian, Harry remembered, was the child who’d been born just after Scorpius and Al finished their NEWT’s. The girl hadn’t wanted to be a mother, and her parents hadn’t wanted her to marry into the Malfoy family. Scorpius took the baby, and she went back to her life. Al and Scorpius stayed friends without Scorp being the wiser about Al’s feelings, and Harry heard all about the challenges Scorpius faced as a young, single father. It sounded to Harry as if Draco was nearly as hands on with Adrian as Scorpius.

The Ministry will want to send them to one of the Auror safe houses, but I’m afraid for them… Mr Potter, I’m almost positive there is a mole inside the Ministry, someone who secretly is part of this mad scheme to resurrect Voldemort, and you know what someone with those kinds of leanings would think of my father.

Harry rubbed the fingers of his free hand over his mouth absently. He glanced at Hermione, and their eyes caught and held briefly. Harry went back to the letter.

"If I suddenly disappear it will be because my cover has been blown. If that happens, Dad and Adrian could be in terrible danger.

It was true, Harry thought, his brow furrowing. Even given what little he’d been told about Scorpius’s under cover assignment, Harry knew the people he was watching and reporting on would be only too aware Draco testified against many of the remaining Death Eaters once the war was over. He and the little boy would be in terrible danger in that drafty old mausoleum in the middle of nowhere; Al had told him Scorpius, Draco and Adrian lived in only the ground floor of the East Wing. The rest of the house was closed and walled off, but Harry didn’t doubt for a moment someone determined could break through.

Please, Mr Potter. Please convince my stubborn father that the only way he can keep Adrian safe is if he comes to stay with you in Ottery St. Catchpole. Al told me about the wards around your home. I think it is probably the most securely warded house in all of the UK. I know I’m taking a lot for granted here, but you’ve always been so kind. And just so you know, Dad isn’t nearly as much of an arse about you as he used to be. Harry snorted softly. In fact, he’d hex me to know I’ve told you this, but I think he rather admires you. That’s the only reason I know he’ll agree to this. He won’t do it gracefully, and he’ll probably require persuasion, but for Adrian’s sake he will agree.

Thank you in advance, Mr Potter. If I should be betrayed, it will help to know the two people I love most in the world are safe.

Sincerely,

Scorpius A. Malfoy

Harry finished, then went back and read it again, hoping that perhaps he could see another option rather than bringing Malfoy and a three-year-old into his home, but if it was there he couldn’t find it. Once done with the second read thru he handed the letter off to Hermione, who was waiting with impressive patience, then leaned back in the chair with a muttered curse. He looked over at Kingsley, his eyes narrowed.

“You know what it says.”

“I can guess.”

Harry glared at him. “At some point, you and I are going to have a conversation about sending what amounts to a kid into a situation like that.”

Kingsley’s lips flattened into a hard line. “If you were still Head Auror, you’d have taken this opportunity in a heartbeat.”

“No, he wouldn’t,” Hermione snapped. She folded the parchment and handed it back to Harry. “Harry, unlike the rest of you, is under the impression I know what I’m talking about.”

Kingsley had the grace to look chastened.

“Of course I do.” Harry slipped the letter back into its envelope. “But unlike the current crop at the MLE, I had the advantage of you keeping me alive while we were on the run for almost a year. Not to mention dealing with those horcruxes. If it had been left to Ron and me, Voldemort would be sitting in that chair.” He arched an eyebrow at Kingsley, and was gratified when he glared back.

“I think that might be overstating my contribution a bit,” Hermione said wryly, but when Harry looked over at her he could see her cheeks were pink. “Now, the question is, what do we do about that?” She gestured to the letter Harry still held in his hand.

“That’s a good question.” Kingsley, obviously still stung by Harry’s comment, linked his hands on his desk.

“Well, if there’s a question, it’s easily answered. I go to Wiltshire and get them.”

Hermione gave him an incredulous look. “Just like that. And you don’t think Malfoy will have an opinion about it?”

Harry snorted. “Oh, I’m sure he will. But I don’t think he’ll be willing to endanger his grandson, and that’s what it comes down to.” He stood, folding the envelope and shoving it into the back pocket of his jeans. “I’ll show him Scorpius’s letter if necessary.” He looked at Kingsley, straightening. He was annoyed with his old friend; endangering Scorpius in order to find the rogue Death Eaters was infuriating, but he knew Kingsley wasn’t motivated by politics. At least, not completely. If the young man was hurt badly, or worse… Well, they’d cross that bridge if and when necessary. “I’ll let Hermione know when they’re safe,” he said, making an effort to sound respectful. “Once that part is sorted, we can decide where to go from there.”

Kingsley gave one of the slow nods that made him look regal, and Harry waited by the door for Hermione to speak to the Minister softly before she joined him. After they were through the outer office and into the hallway, she reached over and grabbed his hand. He looked at her, brow arched.

“You will be careful,” she said in a hushed tone, and Harry was thrown back thirty years to their days at Hogwarts, and to the months they’d spent alone in the wilds of the Forest of Dean, after Ron left them.

“Yes, love,” he said, linking their fingers and squeezing her hand. “I’ll be careful.”

“It’s just – Malfoy is no slouch, Harry, and if he doesn’t want to go with you…”

“If he doesn’t want to go with me, I’ll show him his son’s letter. That should do the trick.” She chewed her lower lip fretfully, and Harry squeezed her hand again. “What?”

“Don’t be angry.”

Harry frowned. “With you? Never.” She rolled her eyes, and he laughed. “All right,” he conceded. “Not recently. How’s that?”

“I’m serious, Harry.” She gave him a stern look. “Don’t let your – attraction to Malfoy – " she whispered the words, and Harry felt his face heat. She went on resolutely. " – dull your instincts. And don’t glare at me like that. This is just between you and me and a bottle of mulled wine.”

Harry knew his cheeks were the colour of a bright red Christmas stocking. That one fateful Christmas, the one he’d mostly slept through after a giant snake appeared out of the skin of an old woman and took a chunk out of his arm, still haunted him. It was the stuff of which nightmares were made. The next day he’d been sad and unsettled, unable to chase away the lingering grief of finding his parents graves and what was left of the little house he’d been born in. They’d been dead for most of his life, but that had been like losing them all over again. Hermione pulled the bloody bottle of wine from the inside of her bottomless bag, and they split it between them instead of scrounging for something for a Boxing Day meal. Neither of them, it seemed, could hold their alcohol, particularly not on empty stomachs. It was when she’d told him she was in love with Ron, and he’d admitted it wasn’t much of a surprise to him. Then he’d told her he thought he could like both women and men. She admitted that wasn’t much of a surprise, either, although she thought she was the only one who could see it. Except for perhaps Malfoy, and Harry almost choked on his tongue.

“I’m not eighteen anymore, Hermione,” he said sourly.

“No, you’re forty-six, and you’re alone.” She sighed. “Please. You’ve been out of the Auror’s for long enough now that your reflexes might be dulled. I just want you to be safe.”

“I’ll be careful, on my toes. I promise.”

“Good.” She gave him a stiff smile. “I’ll be waiting to hear from you.” He nodded and started to turn away, but she wouldn’t release his hand. He turned back, wondering what else there was to say. The skin on her cheekbones pinked. “Don’t be cross with me.”

Harry gave a small smile. “I’m not Hermione, honestly. Only, it’s disconcerting how you seem to remember everything, even the stuff I’d just as soon you’d forget.”

She gave him a wry grin. “It’s what best friends do.”

He nodded, then pressed a kiss to her cheek. Several of the people passing in the hall stared openly. “There, now someone will sell that to the Prophet and Ron will come after me with a beater’s bat.”

Her laughter was soft and lighter than she’d seemed all afternoon. “No, he won’t. He’ll know whatever they write is a lie. Mostly because I’m too bloody disgusted with this job and exhausted all of the time to cheat on him with anyone.”

“I’ll put you in a classroom full of three-year-old’s the minute you’re ready to dump this fucking place, Hermione.”

She made a face. “The Ministry, or twenty hyperactive three-year-olds. I’m not sure I can decide which sounds worse.” She released his hand reluctantly. “I want to hear from you, Harry, the moment you’re back home.”

He nodded. “You will.”

He gave her a slight wink before turning to walk away.

hpdmhpdmhpdm

After Apparating, walking to the gates of Malfoy Manor was like taking a time turner back to the day when the snatchers had hauled him, Ron and Hermione between them up the long drive. Harry had been all but unable to see thanks to Hermione’s Stinging Hex, but he could still tell the gates were imposing, the house beyond them even more so. Hermione’s arm pressed to his where she stood next to him, and even though she kept her expression unperturbed, he’d been able to feel her trembling.

Someone had done work on the old place since the day he’d returned Malfoy’s wand; the gates were restored to their pre-war condition, the grounds neatly manicured. It was mid-afternoon now, and Harry glanced around curiously. He saw the small box on a brick pillar to the left of the gates, and he pressed a round, red button. It took several minutes, but then a high, clear voice seemed to come from nowhere.

“Who is being there?”

Harry snorted softly. Leave it to Malfoy to still have a house-elf, when no one else he knew did. Of course, no one he knew was one of the ‘sacred twenty-eight’, either.

“Harry Potter for Draco Malfoy.” Harry heard the sharp intake of breath.

“Please to be waiting,” came the reply, and Harry settled his weight on braced legs and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. Finally, after a wait so long the sun slipped behind some tall sycamore trees and sent long shadows across the lawn, the gates opened on well-oiled hinges. Harry began the long walk up the crushed shell drive to the imposing house at the top of a small hill, in the midst of hundreds of acres of beautiful, rolling grounds.

As he neared the stately, Edwardian façade, Harry spotted a tall, thin man with white blond hair standing under the portico, and Harry felt a jolt that slipped the length of his spine. He eyed Harry dispassionately, his arms crossed over his chest, his long legs planted firmly in nicely cut black trousers. Harry let his arms drop to dangle at his sides. It was fucking freezing in Wiltshire, and his hands were cold, but he wasn’t going to arrive at Malfoy’s door with his hands shoved in his pockets like an insecure adolescent. He arrived at the base of the steps leading to the double front doors and stopped, staring up into Malfoy’s face.

“Where is my son?” Malfoy’s voice was stark, and even though his expression was aloof, Harry could see the concern on his handsome face. His very handsome face.

The years had been kind to Malfoy, Harry thought. Lines around his light eyes had added character, and he’d grown into the sharp, pointed features, the square chin and the pale widow’s peak. There was apprehension on his face now, though; Harry could read it in the tight line of his mouth, the pinched nostrils, and the furrow in his brow. He was trying to hide it, but Harry had spent too many years reading people to be fooled.

“We don’t know,” Harry answered finally, lifting his chin. God, he hated being the person to deliver any bad news to a parent, and this could not be considered good news by any stretch of the imagination. “The Ministry lost touch with him yesterday.”

Fear flitted briefly through Malfoy’s extraordinary eyes; there and gone in the space between one heartbeat and the next. He took a deep breath, then speared Harry with a glare.

“You aren’t with the Ministry anymore,” he said starkly. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

Harry wasn’t offended. If one of his boys was missing, he doubted he’d be polite, either. “Scorpius left a message, asking me to come in case…” Harry stopped.

“Scorpius left a message. For you.” Malfoy’s eyes narrowed. “And in case of… what?”

“Again, we aren’t sure. I’ll be happy to show you the letter, but I’d prefer not to do it out here.”

Malfoy snorted. “The only thing out here that could hurt you is an obnoxious fucking white peacock.”

Harry shifted his shoulders in his jacket, irritation overpowering sympathy. “I’m not afraid of your birds, Malfoy. I just imagine with the fucking Taj Mahal behind you, you have more comfortable places to do this. And I’m cold.”

Malfoy stared at him for another long moment. “You’re such an arse.”

“Yeah, well, right back at you, you pillock.”

The corner of Malfoy’s mouth twitched, not a smile but not a sneer, either. He opened the door at his back before stepping aside and gesturing Harry through with a sarcastic, abbreviated bow.

The interior of the house was dim, but in much better repair than the last time Harry had seen it. Floors gleamed and he could smell lemon wax, and a towering vase on a table at the centre of the entrance hall held several long stemmed white lilies. Harry was sure he’d never been in this part of the house before; on that long ago day when he, Ron and Hermione had been frightened kids, they’d been hauled up a staircase from a basement corridor, the servants entrance no doubt, and into a sitting room where Bellatrix, Draco’s parents and Draco were all waiting. Even with his eyes swollen, Harry was able to see Draco’s thin, drawn face. He also saw the recognition and fear in his eyes. In spite of it, he’d lied to his father and his aunt; he’d known who Harry was the moment their eyes met.

Now he led Harry down a long hallway and Harry followed, making an unsuccessful effort to keep his eyes from dropping to Draco’s arse. The trousers were beautifully tailored, clinging in all of the right places; his slacks always had, even the ones from the Hogwarts uniform. They looked like shit on everyone else, but on Malfoy? Harry should have known he could swing both ways from the fascination he’d had for that arse during sixth year. He shook his head; he shouldn’t allow his focus to wander right now. In his defence, it was an arse worth looking at. Malfoy had the build Harry had always favoured in the men he dated; long and lean, with broad shoulders and long legs. He was built like a swimmer, and every man Harry had ever been with was built along those lines. That was a nugget of information he’d never share with Hermione. Her knowing smirk would be more than he could stomach.

Finally, after walking for what felt like a very long time, Malfoy turned through a set of open doors into a small, comfortable sitting room.

A little boy sat in the middle of a thick area rug in front of a tapestry upholstered settee, an array of wooden blocks scattered around him and an action figure in his hand. It was the Seeker for the Chudley Cannons, his tiny bright orange jersey an aberration in the tasteful room. Harry arched a brow at Malfoy, but he ignored him. A female house-elf sat near a large window, watching the boy. She looked up when they entered the room, green eyes widening and large ears twitching.

“Whimsy, please take Adrian to the kitchen.” Malfoy smiled at the little boy, and the change in his face made Harry’s stomach flip. Gods, he was still beautiful, even for a man on the downhill slide toward fifty. “It’s time for his supper.”

The little boy’s lower lip pushed out dangerously. Harry recognized that look. The little elf offered the boy her hand, but he ignored her.

“Papa, you eat wif me.”

Draco crouched down in front of him, a gentle hand lifting to push his fringe back. He was a precious child, with full pink cheeks, bright blue eyes and golden blond curls.

“I’ll be there soon,” Malfoy promised softly. “I just need to speak with this man for a few minutes.” Adrian eyed Harry suspiciously, the fingers of his free hand drifting up to his mouth. Malfoy intercepted them, pushing them gently away. “We don’t eat our fingers, Adrian.” The boy looked guilty, and Harry was charmed.

Adrian leaned closer to his ‘Papa’. “Who he?”

Harry smiled at him.

“Hello, Adrian,” he said, pitching his voice lower and speaking softly. “My name is Harry. I’ve known your papa for a very long time.”

Clearly, young Adrian didn’t appreciate having his supper hour disturbed. And he didn’t much like Harry for doing it. “You old,” he said bluntly. Malfoy looked away, but he couldn’t hide his faint smile.

“I am,” Harry said, grinning. “I’m almost fifty years old. How old are you?”

Adrian struggled to hold up three chubby little fingers. When he finally managed, he gave his grandfather a wide smile. “Free, right papa? I’m free.”

“Yes, sweetheart,” Malfoy said, pulling a handkerchief from his trouser pocket and taking Adrian’s hand. He dried it carefully. “You are three years old, and now you need to go with Whimsy to the kitchen. If you eat all of your supper, I’m sure there’s dessert. I smelled shortbread baking not long ago.”

The little boy’s eyes widened and he jumped to his feet, reaching for Whimsy’s long fingers. The elf struggled to retain her grip on his hand. Adrian looked up at Harry.

“You know my Daddy?”

Malfoy grimaced, pushing to his feet slowly. Harry kept his expression calm and relaxed, but it wasn’t easy. “I do,” he said. “He and my son Albus are good friends.”

Adrian’s face screwed up in confusion. “Albus?” He looked to Malfoy.

“Albie,” he provided softly.

“Oh!” Adrian’s small features cleared. “Albie?”

Only Scorpius had ever called Al ‘Albie’, and Harry’s heart constricted. “Yes. I’m Albie’s Dad.”

He studied Harry for several seconds. “I like Albie,” he said finally.

“Me, too.” Harry said, a bit discomfited by the boy’s steady stare. After a moment Adrian reached down to pull at the crotch of his khaki trousers, and Malfoy touched his shoulder and shook his head. His hand dropped away instantly.

“I needa pee, papa,” he whispered loudly.

“So I gathered.” Malfoy’s tone was dry. He turned to the elf. “I believe a detour to the loo is in order, Whimsy.”

“Yes, Master Draco.” She gave her small charge a gentle smile. “Addy is coming with Whimsy now, or he is getting no biscuits.”

The boy looked so scandalized Harry was unable to bite back a grin. Finally she managed to herd Adrian from the room with a confidential whisper in his ear. The little boy nodded solemnly as they disappeared around a corner. Harry stared at the empty doorway, then turned back to Malfoy.

“He’s very cute.”

“So he is.” Malfoy dropped his hands defensively into his pockets. “I imagine the Potter sprogs are all very cute as well, freckles and ginger hair notwithstanding.”

Harry snorted softly. As a matter of fact, Jamie’s son Arthur was indeed red-headed, his dark brown eyes huge and bright. They were hoping for a girl this time around and then intended to be done procreating. None of the younger generation intended to try to match Molly and Arthur’s record.

“So, now that we’ve dispensed with the small talk, you said you had a letter from my son?”

Harry pulled the parchment from the interior pocket of his jacket and held it out. He’d already decided nothing he could say would work as well as Malfoy’s son’s words on paper. Malfoy snatched it from him, yanking the letter out of the envelope and quickly unfolding the parchment. He turned his back, but Harry could see his reactions as he scanned the words. He watched the shifting of the muscles in his shoulders, how they drew tighter and tighter as he read.

The silence in the small room was oppressive and Harry shoved his hands into his pockets, rocking back on his heels, staring into the fireplace. Malfoy made a couple of inarticulate sounds, and Harry grimaced. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if he had to read those words, written by one of his sons. He withdrew his right hand from his pocket, then had to fight the unexpected urge to walk forward and lay it between Malfoy’s shoulder blades. He rubbed his forehead instead, watching Malfoy through his fingers.

Malfoy turned, still holding the parchment between trembling fingers, his eyes a little wild.

“No.” It was spoken flatly, with no inflection.

Harry sighed. “Malfoy…”

“No. I will not uproot my grandson and take him from his home. He’s not stupid, Potter. I do that and he’s going to think there is something amiss with his father.”

Harry intentionally lowered his voice, glancing in the direction Whimsy had disappeared with the little boy. Distantly, he could still hear the piping sounds of Adrian’s bright voice, and Whimsy’s soft answers. They couldn’t be that far away. “Not to put too fine a point on it, Malfoy,” he said carefully, “but if everything was just another day at the office, I wouldn’t be here.”

Malfoy stared at him, his nostrils flared. “Clearly, it’s a good thing you didn’t go into Healing, Potter. Your bedside manner sucks.”

Harry couldn’t help the small smile that pulled at his lips. “No doubt.”

“Be that as it may, I repeat; I will not take Adrian from his home. If I cannot provide him a stable environment, I’m letting the child down. And I will not do that.”

Harry stared into the handsome, intractable face. He was going to have to use a different approach. “Is it true, about the Manor wards?”

Malfoy looked irritated as he sighed deeply, rubbing one pale, long fingered hand over his face. “Voldemort fucked up everything. The wards used to only recognize a Malfoy, then he changed them because he had so many of his minions,” he snarled the word, “wandering in and out. When I tried to reset them after the war, nothing would stick. They’d last for a few hours, then fade away. Perhaps,” he shot Harry a dark look, “I should get you to consult on the issue, giving that you live in the most heavily warded home in Britain.” He ran his hand up into his hair, pulling on it. “If you aren’t too busy teaching your building full of sprogs, that is.”

“I’d be happy to help.”

Malfoy gave him a narrow-eyed glare. “Oh, do fuck off.” The words didn’t hold nearly as much heat as they could have. Harry merely stared back at him until Malfoy’s eyes dropped away.

“Can’t do that,” Harry replied finally. “Draco,” the man opposite him stiffened but didn’t look back at him, “read the letter again. Do you honestly think I’d even be here if it weren’t for the fact Scorpius asked me?” Still holding the parchment and envelope, Malfoy crossed his arms.

“I can’t hope to divine why you do anything,” Malfoy snapped. Harry got the feeling it was more of a knee jerk reaction than actual anger, but apparently he still had knee jerk reactions of his own when it came to this man; Malfoy was irritating the shit out of him.

“I’ll tell you why I’m doing this,” Harry said firmly, hanging onto his patience by his fingernails. “I’m doing this because I love your son. He’s spent as much time at my house as Albus has in yours; I sometimes feel like he’s the third Potter boy.”

That had been the wrong thing to say. Malfoy straightened to his full height, his eyes sparkling with temper. It was a good look on him. The prat.

“I can assure you my son is all Malfoy,” he said stiffly. “And I don’t appreciate – “

“Oh, for Christ’s sake. All I meant was that I care for him the way I do my boys. He asked me for a favour, and I’m here to try to do that favour for him.” Harry raked his hand through his hair, frustration finally winning.

“That doesn’t help it look any better, you know.”

Harry glared at Malfoy. “Nothing makes it look any better,” he snapped.

“So I’d noticed.”

They stood staring at each other for several seconds, animosity thick between them. Finally, hearing Hermione’s voice in his head if he bollocks’d this up, Harry backed his temper down.

“Look, I know you hate this idea. I even understand why. But if the wards are as sketchy as you say, staying here is a very bad idea for Adrian. And for you.” Malfoy’s stubborn face remained intractable. “Dammit, Malfoy. Use your fucking head. If Scorpius has gone missing, it’s because he had to, or because someone made him disappear. And you, better than anyone, knows what the people your son is investigating are capable of.” Harry felt a bit bad when the colour drained from Malfoy’s cheeks. But only a bit. “You also know only too bloody well what those same people think of you.”

Draco swallowed thickly.

“Yes, I suppose I do,” he said, his voice muted. “But Potter, if I walk away from this house and those same people can break the wards, there won’t be anything left for him to come back to; they’ll level it.”

Harry frowned at him in disbelief. “He’ll come back to you and his son, safe and sound. I guarantee that’s more important to him than this fucking house.” Malfoy looked unmoved, and Harry sighed. “I can ask Kingsley to send an Auror crew out here to attempt to add a layer to your wards, but I’m not confident they’ll hold. Not well enough to protect that little boy.”

Malfoy stared at him for what felt like a long time, but was probably only seconds. “There are others who need protection, not just Adrian and myself.”

Harry knew what he meant. “You’re concerned about your elves.”

“Of course I am. Fuck’s sake, Potter, they’ve been members of this household my whole life. I can’t just… leave them unprotected.”

“How many are there?”

“Three.” Draco pursed his lips. “The Ministry tried to make them leave, too, but they wouldn’t go.”

Harry crossed his arms. He’d known this wouldn’t be easy, but he never imagined this sort of negotiation, either. Actually, he hadn’t imagined anything. He’d just barged in, like always. He shrugged. “We’ll take them with us.”

“They won’t go. Whimsy might, but the other two won’t.”

Harry blew out an exasperated breath. “I don’t know what the fuck you want me say.”

Malfoy looked almost amused. “There’s a first. The Golden Boy, lost for words.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “You are the most exasperating fucking arsehole I’ve ever met.”

Malfoy straightened, looking down his pointed nose at Harry, even though they were nearly the same height. “Thank you.”

“Scorpius is so going to owe me,” Harry muttered.

They stood in silence, facing one another. Finally, Malfoy exhaled heavily, slowly folding the parchment closed, inserting it back into the envelope. He turned it over and over in his hands, staring darkly into the fireplace.

“For the record,” he said, his voice soft, “I do not admire you.”

Harry understood deflection; he did it often enough himself. “Duly noted.”

“If Scorpius felt the need to send you this,” he held the envelope up, “he must’ve had a reason, much as I hate admitting that.” His jaw worked. “I’ll need to talk with the elves.”

“Do what you need to do.” Harry wasn’t sure why he was so relieved. If the conversation of the last few minutes was any indication, having this man in his home was going to be an enormous, unremitting pain in his arse.

Malfoy turned toward the door that led deeper into the house. “Blinky, Martin.”

“Martin?” Harry arched his brows.

“Shut it,” Malfoy growled. “It’s his bloody name, all right?”

He’d called for them at a normal volume, and within seconds, two elves popped into existence in front of him. Both of them were wearing an odd assortment of Muggle clothing, one a pristine blue t-shirt over baggy shorts and a beret, the other a pale orange jumper than hung well past his knees and a brown bowler. Harry blinked in surprise. Malfoy almost smiled.

“What were you expecting, Potter? Tea towels?”

“I don’t know,” Harry answered honestly. “Not that.”

“They choose what they wish to wear now.” He turned to his elves, then paused, as if unsure what to say.

“Master Draco,” the one in the orange jumper said. “Are you being all right?”

Harry recognized the voice as the one who’d answered the intercom from the gate.

“Yes, Martin, I’m all right. But – “ Malfoy glanced at Harry, “—a situation has arisen, and Adrian and I have to leave the Manor and go with Mr Potter.”

Both of the elves turned to look at him, their green eyes wide and disconcerting. He gave them a weak smile that felt more like a grimace.

“There could be… people who wish Adrian and myself harm.” Their eyes swivelled back to Malfoy, and the one in the blue t-shirt narrowed his eyes.

“No will be hurting Master Draco or Master Adrian,” he said fiercely, his voice surprisingly low. “And no one will be hurting Miss Cissy’s house.”

“Blinky, no,” Malfoy raised his hand, palm out. “I appreciate your defence more than you know, but if any of these people should attempt to enter the Manor, I need for you to hide, and do whatever necessary to make sure they do not find you.” The elves exchanged looks, and didn’t seem happy about their instructions. “Please, it is important to me that you all be safe.”

Martin and Blinky, after several more protestations that they would 'protect the ancestral home of the revered Malfoy’s', agreed not to try to fight. They bowed and popped out of the room, but their expressions reminded Harry of the way Kreacher had looked at him before he died; as if they were being forced to do something against their will. Constantly.

“I hate this, you know,” Malfoy finally said softly.

“I’d be astonished if you didn’t.”

He sighed just loud enough for Harry to hear. “And I’m honestly not sure what Scorpius was thinking.”

“He was thinking that he was worried about the two most important people in his life.”

Malfoy’s jaw tightened. “This isn’t going to be as easy as Scorpius seems to think. Adrian is a very sweet child, but he’s three. Because he’s a Malfoy, his interactions with other people have had to be rather… closely guarded.”

‘Read, infrequent and heavily supervised,’ Harry thought. He understood. When Jamie and Al were little, he and Ginny approached the wizarding world the same way. Everyone seemed to think the Potter family was public domain, and there had been a couple of scary incidents when they’d been out in public; people coming too close to the kids, taking pictures, wanting to touch them. An incident terrorized a heavily pregnant Ginny when she took the boys to buy their school uniforms for pre-school. A wild-eyed woman had tried to pick up two-and-a-half-year-old Al, who’d apparently screamed like a banshee. Harry was summoned from the Ministry, and he found her sitting in the back room at Flourish and Botts, crying into Al’s hair, a wide-eyed, uncharacteristically silent Jamie at her side. After that, they never went anywhere as a family unless the ratio of adults to Potter children was two to one.

“I do understand,” Harry said, trying to instil as much empathy as he could into his words.

“I imagine if anyone does, you do.” Malfoy closed his eyes on a heavy sigh, then looked back at Harry. “I’m only considering this because Scorpius has never been given to flights of imagination. If he thinks there might be reason for concern, it isn’t an idle inclination.”

“I know.” Harry’s gaze was level. After holding himself so rigid, Malfoy seemed to wilt before his eyes.

“Do you think he’s dead?” Malfoy’s voice and face were stark. Harry quickly shook his head.

“Absolutely not. He’s a brilliant young man. There could be a hundred reasons for his silence.”

“I will not thank you if you’re attempting to spare my feelings, Potter.”

“I’m not,” Harry said flatly, hoping it was the truth and not a kind lie.

Malfoy looked away and ran his hand through his hair, making the front look rumpled and windblown.

“That’s not helping it look any better,” Harry said wryly. Malfoy no longer wore it gelled to his head; it was short over his ears and collar, slightly longer over his forehead. It was a good look on him.

He flipped two fingers in Harry’s direction. “How I wish you’d go fuck yourself.”

Harry snorted in amusement.

“I’ll have to pack bags for Adrian and myself.”

“I know. You should probably also eat something before we go.”

Malfoy gave Harry an ironic look. “What, no food in Harry Potter’s heavily warded house?”

Harry wasn’t going to bite, no matter how much Malfoy tried to goad him. It was their default setting; Harry knew Malfoy was unsteady, and taking the piss out of Harry was what was comfortable.

“This has been rather sudden. I wasn’t expecting house guests.”

Malfoy had the grace to look faintly embarrassed. “Fine."

He straightened his shoulders and stalked from the room, and Harry watched him go, forcefully reminded of the young man who’d disappeared into his house without a word when Harry returned his wand.

At least this time, Harry didn’t expect to be thanked for his trouble.

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Harry stood at the farm style sink in his kitchen, staring out into the rear garden as a kettle heated on the hob. The window faced east, and the setting sun threw long shadows across the pavers of his patio. It turned the white wrought iron dining set under the low hanging branches of an ancient oak tree pale orange. Malfoy was upstairs putting Adrian to bed, and Harry could hear the old floorboards creaking as he moved around. It was a homey sound, reminding Harry of the nights when his kids were there, visiting.

When Harry bought the house just after finally deciding to let Al take the flat in town, it was a rotting eighteenth century pile with little to recommend it other than the location just blocks from the school. Even with the snow that fell in the winters and the icy walkways, there hadn’t been a morning so bad Harry couldn’t make the walk, and that was more important than physical beauty as far as Harry was concerned.

When Ginny, Hermione and Ron first saw it, they all thought he’d lost his mind.

“I never thought I’d say this, Mate,” Ron mused, wandering through the main floor with his hands in his pockets, “but this thing is in worse shape than the Burrow.”

“The Burrow is brilliant,” Harry protested.

“Oh, it is,” Ginny agreed. “Held together with spells and string, but brill.”

They’d all shared a chuckle at the truth of it.

Hermione kept her feelings to herself as they toured to first floor, but when they started up the rickety staircase and it protested loudly beneath their weight, apparently she had gone as far as she could in silence. “Harry, good Lord.” She batted at cobwebs hanging from the balustrade. “What were you thinking?”

“Hey,” he protested, faintly wounded. “It’s not that bad.”

“It’s worse.” Ron and Ginny spoke in unison, then laughed. They sounded like Fred and George in their heyday.

“I’ll bet any of you tossers I can make this place completely liveable by the time term starts in the fall,” Harry said stoutly.

They’d all taken the bet, and he’d won ten galleons off of each of them. What his friends hadn’t known, and frankly Harry hadn’t either, was if you took the cleaning and painting and patching his Aunt had forced him to do, then added magic, he was remarkably proficient at remodelling. He spent the entire summer working on the house, known locally as Mary’s Cottage after the old lady who’d spent the majority of her life there. Ron thought it was hilarious that his bi-sexual friend lived in a place called ‘Mary’s’; Harry told him he was a bloody arsehole and to shut it.

Harry supervised the remodelling of the school building while painting walls and refinishing floors in his house. This kitchen though, he thought as he looked around, was his pride and joy. He’d installed the slate floor, farm style sink and butcher block counters, charming the old stove and modern stainless fridge to work with spells. Open shelves on the walls to either side of the sink held mismatched ceramic dishes and mugs and bowls, and his pots and pans hung from a rack above a centre island. Herbs he’d grown out in the kitchen garden were tied together in bunches and hung upside down from a shelf next to the pantry to dry, and he had flour, sugar and loose tea in canisters on the counter. It was a homey room, with sconces aglow on the walls and a light with an amber glass shade shining above the sink, casting a golden blush on the thick plastered walls. Harry had spent the most time and effort on the large room, and it showed. He loved it.

The kettle began to sing on the hob, and Harry took down a plain white tea pot and filled an infuser with loose black tea leaves. Pouring the boiling water into the pot, he set the infuser inside the top and covered it with the lid, setting the timer on his microwave for three minutes. He went to the fridge and took out milk; if he was going to drink tea, he was going to drink it the way he liked it, with so much sugar and milk Ron said he ‘liked a little tea with his milk’. Harry actually preferred coffee, probably because his Aunt Petunia had forced him to make her tea from the time he’d been old enough to stand on a stool and pour. When Ron teased him, Harry casually flipped him two fingers, not the least disturbed by his friend taking the piss. He did think it was ridiculous when the bloody Prophet ran an article about how ‘Harry Potter takes massive amounts of milk and sugar in his tea’; Ron thought it was hilarious.

Harry tended to avoid coffee at this time of night, however. One of the effects of getting to be his age, he reckoned; caffeine kept him awake.

Harry heard a sound behind him and turned, the sugar bowl he’d just taken off a shelf in his hand. Malfoy stood in the doorway at the base of the stairs that led down to the kitchen from the first floor, looking uneasy.

“Tea?” Harry asked.

Malfoy looked at the pot and ran his fingers through his hair. “If you’re already brewing it…”

“I am.” Harry gestured toward one of the six high stools that ringed his centre island. “Have a seat.”

He tried to ignore the sound of Malfoy’s hesitant approach as he took down two mugs from the shelf next to the sink, one blue and one yellow with white polka dots that Lily had bought for him the weekend he moved in. He set them next to the pot and shot Malfoy a quick glance. He was perched on the stool like a large bird, ready to fly away if Harry made too much noise or moved in the wrong direction.

“How are Adrian and Whimsy settling in?” The timer went off, and Harry picked up the tea pot, carefully pouring it out into the two mugs.

“Adrian is asleep already.” Malfoy ran one of his pale, expressive hands through his hair. His fringe was waving over his brow, and Harry wondered if it curled when it got long enough.

“Is he?” Harry set the pot aside, offering Malfoy the blue mug. “Milk? Sugar?”

Malfoy nodded, and Harry handed over the sugar bowl and the small carton of milk. While Malfoy doctored his cup, Harry went to the pantry and retrieved a plate with Molly’s chocolate and peanut butter biscuits on it, held under a stasis charm. When he brought them back to the island, Malfoy hesitated only a moment before taking one. Whimsy never had convinced him to eat while they were still at the Manor.

“Would you like something more substantial?” Harry asked. “I reckon I can scare up the fixings for a decent sandwich.”

“No, this is fine.” Malfoy paused before speaking again. “Thank you.”

Harry fought the impulse to smirk. “Sure.” He added the milk and sugar to his own tea, anticipating Malfoy would have a snarky comment about the amount of both he poured into his cup, but when he glanced over, Malfoy was staring into his own tea, holding the biscuit as if he’d forgot it was in his hand. “Al sleeps like the dead,” Harry said easily, thinking he might get Malfoy to relax if he could keep him talking. It was an old Auror technique he even taught at the Academy, and it had been successful for him over the course of his career. “George puts on a display of his new fireworks at the Burrow every summer, and when Al was a sprog he slept through it more often than he didn’t. Jamie, on the other hand, when he was a tadpole would wake at the drop of a pin. I can’t tell you the number of days I sleep-walked through. I used to look forward to stake outs as an opportunity to grab a few winks.”

Harry hooked his ankle around one of the other stools and pulled it over, sinking onto it. He blew over the surface of his steaming mug, then took a careful sip. The tea coated his tongue and slipped down his throat, and the muscles in his shoulders relaxed for the first time since noon. He wasn’t overly fond of the taste of tea, but the warmth always made him think of home; Hogwarts, the Burrow. Grimmauld Place during the good years, before he and Gin were at one another’s throats all the time.

“Not that I don’t appreciate the family history,” Malfoy said wryly, “but it occurred to me once we were here that I have no idea how you plan for us to do this.” Malfoy gestured widely, then tortured his fringe once again, shoving his fingers into it, curling them around what looked to be baby soft strands and pulling before letting go. Harry had a sudden vivid memory, of wondering if Malfoy’s hair was as soft as it looked those few times at school it hadn’t been slicked back from his face with gel that had looked more like glue. The memory startled him, and he had to force himself to pay attention. “I’m not ordinarily so impulsive. I prefer to operate with a plan.”

“There is a plan.” Harry held the cup between both palms, his elbows on the laminated wooden top of the island, determined to look casual. “Did you think I’d bring you here without one?”

Malfoy’s glare would have been far more impressive if he didn’t look so tired. “I believe we’ve already established that the working of your mind is a mystery to me.”

Harry gave him a small smile. “So we did. All right, then. Here’s what is currently passing for ‘a plan’.” He made air quotes, knowing it would irritate Malfoy. He could tell he’d succeeded by the narrowing of his grey eyes. That delighted him. “The house is warded from the door off the street in front to the hedgerows at the back of the rear garden. Anyone looking over the fence or through the windows will see the room and yard exactly as it is, only unoccupied. It’s also warded for noise. There’s a swing set and playhouse in back, and you or Whimsy can take Adrian out to it whenever you wish.” He took another sip of his tea.

Malfoy peered at him, crumbling the biscuit absently between his fingers. Harry mourned the delicious sweets demise. The crumbs settled on the top of the island. “And you’re quite certain the wards are sufficient?”

Harry arched a brow at him. “My grandson plays out there when they visit, Malfoy,” he answered. “I’m really quite good with warding places. Hermione made sure of it when she, Ron and I were camping for a year, hiding from Voldemort. Yes, I’m sure they’re sufficient.”

Malfoy sniffed and looked away. Harry knew it was all of the acknowledgment he was going to get.

Harry took a deep breath, forcing himself to relax. “There is a potions laboratory in the basement. I believe you know Al flirted with the idea of being an apothecary.”

Malfoy nodded shortly. Albus and Scorpius had been fast friends all through their Hogwarts years, and Malfoy had helped Al a great deal. The ‘O’ he’d received on his potions NEWT certainly wasn’t the result of his own father’s tutoring.

“I don’t know if you’re still interested in brewing, but you’re welcome to use it, if you wish. There’s also a library down the hall here. I lean toward murder mysteries and police procedurals, but you’re welcome to whatever is there.”

Malfoy stared at him quizzically. “You’re being awfully decent about having your home invaded,” he said finally. “Particularly considering it’s… me.”

“I told you earlier,” Harry said without inflection. “I’m very fond of your son.”

“So you did.” He took another biscuit, dipping it into his tea this time and then popping a bite into his mouth. Harry watched his mouth work, then his neck as he swallowed. His throat was long and the skin unmarked by time. After staring for an uncomfortably long time, Harry forced himself to look away.

“Dear God, these are sensational,” Malfoy said, reaching for another of Molly’s biscuits. “Please tell me you didn’t make them.”

Harry chuckled. “What exactly would be wrong with me making the biscuits?”

Malfoy looked momentarily discomfited. “I just don’t believe I could tolerate yet another thing you’re better at than I am.”

Harry laughed. “Have you ever even tried to bake biscuits?” The disgruntled twist of Malfoy’s lips was the only answer Harry was going to get. “Well, you can relax. Molly Weasley made them. There’s prune danish and buns with whipped butter in the pantry too, if you’re interested.”

Malfoy looked longingly at the door for a moment, then shook his head. “No. I’ll never sleep if I load up on sweets.” He stared at the plate, then seemed to make up his mind and brushed the crumbs from his fingers. Harry briefly admired his self-control, then took another biscuit. “So,” Malfoy drew the word out, “as long as we stay on the grounds here, we should be undetectable.”

Harry was amused at hearing his garden and small yard described as ‘grounds’. “That’s correct. The Floo is also heavily warded. My immediate family may come through, as well as Ron and Hermione. No one else can without permission.”

“No one? Not even that enormous passel of Weasley’s?”

“They actually qualify as immediate family, you know. But no, they aren’t included.” Malfoy didn’t look as if he believed him. “Molly, Arthur and the others understand. They know the danger my children could have been in when I was Head Auror. I haven’t lifted the wards because the press is relentless.” He waited again for a snarky remark that didn’t come. “I’ll add Scorpius’s magical signature before I go to bed, so he can get through if he needs to.”

Malfoy looked down at his cup and swallowed, his prominent Adam’s apple bobbing. “I find myself rendered somewhat off balance by all of this, Potter. I will say I never expected to find myself sleeping in your guest room.”

“I imagine not.” Harry gave him what he hoped was a reassuring look. “Sometimes, we have to get over ourselves whether we planned to or not.”

Malfoy snorted softly. “So we do.” He drained his cup of tea and stood, taking it across the room. After setting it in the long, deep sink he turned back, his hands on either side of his hips as he leaned against the counter. He looked down at the floor for several seconds before he spoke. “I don’t like to be indebted to people, Potter.”

“I’ll bet it really chaffs that it’s me.” Harry took another slow sip of his tea as Malfoy squirmed. Harry didn’t think it made him wholly immature that he enjoyed his discomfort a bit. Maybe more than a bit.

“Not just that it’s you,” Malfoy said finally. “But… perhaps more than say… Goyle.”

The comment startled a laugh from Harry, and the first small, real smile pulled at Malfoy’s lips.

“I’m going to go up.” He pushed away from the sink and started for the door to the stairs.

“Malfoy.”

He stopped and turned back, back stiff and brows high. Harry hoped at some point while he was staying with him those square, boney shoulders would come down from around his ears.

“If you’ll make a shopping list of what you and Adrian like to eat and leave it for me, I’ll place an order with Tesco. They’ll deliver it to the school tomorrow.”

“I’ve no idea what ‘Tesco’ is, but I assume it must be some sort of—food procuring establishment?”

Harry couldn’t help it. He laughed at Malfoy’s clueless expression. “Yes, it’s called a grocers. They deliver to the school for me.” Harry angled his head, studying his house guest. “What do you do for food at the Manor?”

Malfoy shrugged. “Martin takes care of it. I merely pay the invoices when they arrive.”

Molly floo’d into Diagon for her groceries, but Harry didn’t like when people recognized him and stared, and at Tesco, no one even looked at him twice. He supposed he should have realized the elves took care of things like that for a wizard who had been raised as part of the magical world, but he couldn’t allow Whimsy to do the shopping while she lived under his roof. Hermione would have his bollocks, not to mention the load of crap his kids would give him.

Malfoy studied Harry, the most open expression Harry had ever seen on his striking face. “I’ll… leave a list on the island, here, then?”

“That would be perfect.”

Draco nodded, then turned and went up the stairs. Harry watched his arse and his graceful long legs until he disappeared, then took and released a deep breath. Fuck, the man was beautiful, and this was a horrible time for Harry to be reminded he’d always thought so, even when he’d hated him.

“You, Harry Potter, are a dirty old man,” he muttered, “at the end of a miserable dry spell.” Running his hand through his hair and setting his mug aside, he went to the kitchen Floo, shared a quick call with Hermione to let her know everything was fine and all involved were still alive, then altered the wards just enough to allow Scorpius to enter should he try.

He really hoped he did.

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Harry was standing at the kitchen sink the next morning, staring half-asleep through the window as the early morning sun lit the top of the hedgerows that edged his yard. The flower beds sported tiny, new spring blooms, and the lawn was deep, emerald green. His feet were bare, a worn blue Essex Premier League t-shirt stretched snug over his chest and flannel pyjama pants hung low on his hips. He’d thrown on a tatty black and grey plaid bathrobe one of the boys had given him, and considered pulling out the dark green pyjama set Hermione had gifted him for Christmas several years before. His initials, an artfully entwined HJP, were embroidered on the pocket, and he’d never tell her but that made them entirely too poncy for him. He’d never worn them.

He pulled his wand from the pocket of his robe, swinging it toward the fireplace across the room. Flames surged up from under the wood on the grate, and Harry took the chill off the slate floor under his feet with another swish of his wand and a simple warming charm. The automatic coffee machine on the counter made a burbling sound, and he reached up to take a mug down from the shelf, thinking he’d done the same thing mere hours ago. Stifling a yawn and rubbing absently across his head, he went to the refrigerator and opened the door when he noticed a sleepy-eyed little boy crouched on the bottom step of the stairs.

“Well, good morning.” Harry straightened, then looked down at the small, pale bare feet. “Aren’t your feet cold?”

Adrian pulled them in toward the steps and bit his lip. After a moment, he nodded.

“Did you bring slippers?”

Adrian nodded again. “I lef ‘em in the bafroom.”

“Sounds like something I’d do.” Harry took the candy bar flavoured creamer he favoured from the shelf in the fridge. Hermione said drinking it was like having chocolate milk for breakfast; Ron shrugged, saying he couldn’t see anything wrong with that. The resulting eye roll from his wife had been epic. “Where’s Whimsy?”

“Sleep. Like ‘dis.” He laid his head back to the side, closed his eyes and made a loud snoring noise. Harry bit down on a laugh.

“And your papa?”

“He sleeping, too.”

“He doesn’t snore?” Harry couldn’t help but ask. Adrian looked so horrified that this time, Harry did laugh. “I’ll take it that’s a no.” He walked over to the little boy and offered his hand. After staring at it for several seconds, his little mouth working as he chewed his lower lip, he took Harry’s hand. His little fingers were ice cold, and Harry upped the heat in the room with a wandless twitch of his fingers. “How would you like some hot chocolate?”

Adrian glanced up at him from beneath his fringe, his large, pale blue eyes sparkling. “Mar’mallows?”

“I think I can manage that.” Harry slipped his hands under the little boy’s arms and around his rib cage, lifting him easily to perch on one of the tall island stools. He walked to his pantry, Adrian carefully watching each step. “Do you like pancakes?” He found the marshmallows on the bottom shelf and took them to the counter, getting down a small saucepan and taking milk from the refrigerator. He glanced over at Adrian, who was nodding, his eyes wide.

“Wif choc’ate chips?”

“Hmm.” Harry glanced back at the pantry. “I might be able to do that; I’ll have to check.”

Adrian watched Harry as he went once again to the pantry, apparently fascinated by the food on the shelves.

“You make food?”

Harry looked at the little boy with a smile, finding half a bag of chocolate chips tucked in behind a bag of flour. “Ah ha!” He held it up. “Chocolate chips. And yes, I cook.”

Adrian looked confused. “No elf?”

“Not everyone has an elf. Or lives in a Manor House.”

“Your house is big.” His little face was scrunched up in confusion.

“Not as big as yours.”

Harry remembered most of the Manor was sealed off, and wondered how he could explain that.

“Master Adrian!!!”

The high voice was vibrating with panic, and Harry was almost ashamed of the relief he felt that he wouldn’t have to explain the disparate sizes of the houses. He saw Adrian look toward the ceiling, grimacing.

“She mad,” he whispered.

“Don’t worry; I’ve got it,” Harry promised, squeezing his bony little shoulder. “He’s down here, Whimsy,” he called from the bottom of the stairs. “And he’s fine.”

There was a pop and Whimsy was standing by the island, huge ears quivering and large green eyes unnaturally wide.

“Master Adrian.” Her hands were propped on her tiny hips. “You is scaring Whimsy to death!”

“Sorry.” Adrian’s fingers went immediately into his mouth. “You was sleeping.” He made the snoring noise again, and she blushed bright pink.

“He’s fine,” Harry said, resting his hands on the narrow shoulders, trying to sound reassuring. “We were just going to have some chocolate chip pancakes.” He grinned when she looked at him, horrified.

“I will be making the breakfast.” Her tone was extremely stern, her gaze no less so. Harry felt as if he should apologize but he couldn’t think what for. “And you,” she pointed at Adrian, “will be washing your hands and putting on your slippers before you is eating.”

“Okay,” Adrian muttered, sliding off of the stool. Harry caught him when the boy misjudged the distance to the floor and stiffened, squeaking.

“It’s okay,” Harry promised softly, holding on until Adrian’s feet were firmly on the floor. “Come on.” He took a small, damp hand in his, managing not to grimace when he recalled it had been in Adrian’s mouth, “I need slippers, too.”

Adrian looked down at Harry’s feet as if noticing they were bare for the first time. “You’s hair on you’s toes.”

Harry nodded, moderating his steps to match the little boy’s as they started up the stairs. He could hear Whimsy going through the pantry behind him and found it disquieting. Not many people came into his home and went through his cupboards.

“I do,” he replied in answer to Adrian’s observation about his feet, glancing down at the sparse dark hair on his toes.

“I don’t.” Adrian looked down at his own short, pale, chubby toes, frowning.

“I don’t imagine I did when I was three, either,” Harry said. “I think that only happens when you get big.”

The boy stared up into Harry’s face, looking thoughtful. He stopped climbing and Harry stopped too. “My Daddy has hair… here.” He rubbed his tiny hand over his chest. “You?”

“A bit, yeah.” Harry thought this was perhaps the oddest conversation he’d ever had, at least since Al had outgrown awkward observations about his father’s body.

”Your willie is bigger than mine, Daddy,” Al had said as Harry washed his hair in the shower.

“Well, Al, I’d look pretty odd if my willie was the same size as yours, now wouldn’t I?” In his mind Harry could hear the echo of Al’s laughter off of the bathroom tiles as Harry rinsed the suds from his cowlick tormented hair.

“My papa have no hair on his chest,” Adrian observed, his expression serious.

“I imagine that has something to do with the fact his hair is very light, and mine is black.” Of course, there was now a sprinkling of silver in the dark chest hair, but he doubted the little guy would understand that.

“Kay.” Adrian nodded thoughtfully, the fingers of his free hand slipping back into his mouth. Abruptly, the lashes around his pale eyes became damp and his eyes suspiciously shiny, and Harry felt a surge of concern. He had ninety daily reminders of how quickly a small child’s mood could change, and unless he was mistaken, something in their conversation triggered the tears. He bent down until his face was level with Adrian’s. “What’s the matter, love?”

“I wan my daddy,” he mumbled around his fingers.

Harry sighed softly, straightening, then reaching to lift Adrian onto his hip. “Of course you do.” He started up the stairs again, the sweet trusting weight of Adrian’s head lying on his shoulder. Harry rubbed his back. “How about we go wash up so Whimsy doesn’t feel the need to scold again? And let’s find those slippers, hmm?”

He glanced up and paused. Malfoy was standing at the top of the stairs, one hand on the bannister. He was watching Harry with a pensive expression on his face.

Harry blinked. “Ah, look who’s here.” The little boy lifted his head, and Harry hurried the last few steps as Adrian leaned out so far with chubby arms Harry was afraid he’d unbalance himself right onto the floor. Malfoy took him from Harry’s arms, his brow slightly furrowed. Adrian slipped his arms around his grandfather’s slender neck and buried his face in the collar of the white shirt he wore, mumbling something. Malfoy spoke gently in reply, voice too low for Harry to hear the words. Harry gave him a slight smile as they passed on the landing, and he went to his bedroom door.

“Potter.”

Harry paused and looked back, his hand on the doorknob.

Malfoy leaned his head against Adrian’s, his long-fingered hand caressing the child’s back. He looked torn, but finally he mouthed, “Thank you.”

“Of course,” Harry mouthed back.

Malfoy stared at him, then turned and went into the bathroom. Harry could hear him speaking to Adrian, his refined, smooth voice echoing against the tiles.

Harry listened for several seconds, then stirred himself to go on into his room. It was probably time to get dressed; at least it was if he wanted chocolate chip pancakes before he left for school. He could smell both the cakes and the coffee, the scents warm and enticing, drifting up the stairs.

He sighed as he closed the bedroom door behind him, heading for his wardrobe and wishing with everything in him he could wave his wand and give Adrian his daddy back.

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When Harry came down the stairs a quarter of an hour later, wearing his usual daily uniform of Levi’s and a light-weight jumper, Adrian was seated on a high stool at the island. He was dressed, very nicely for a little kid, Harry thought, in slacks and a long-sleeved button down, neatly tucked in and belted at the waist. His golden hair was neatly combed and his cheeks were scrubbed clean, plump and pink in the growing daylight.

Malfoy looked even more well-turned out; his slacks were creased and immaculate, his slender black loafers shiny. The collar of his white button down was brilliantly white beneath a light-weight charcoal jumper that matched the darker flecks in his silver eyes exactly. The fact he noticed the darker grey in Malfoy’s light eyes made Harry’s heart jolt against his ribs. That was wildly inappropriate, he thought. Even if he wasn’t Head Auror anymore. And Malfoy couldn’t be any less interested; he looked haunted, and the dark circles under his eyes couldn’t be ignored. He kept glancing at the fireplace, and Harry knew if wishing Scorpius into view was an option, his father would have already done it.

Adrian looked up as Harry stepped off of the stairs, smiling around a mouthful of pancakes. Thank God the three-year-old was oblivious to the strain on his grandfather’s face.

“Choc’chip pancakes!” he said gleefully, his words muffled by a mouth full of food.

“I see that.” Harry smiled at him. He very much wanted to tousle his hair, but didn’t think mussing him would be appreciated.

Malfoy was seated across from Adrian reading the Daily Prophet, long legs crossed and a cup of tea at his elbow. He cleared his throat without even looking up from the paper. Immediately, Adrian snapped his mouth shut, chewed and swallowed.

“Sorry, Papa.” The boy looked crest fallen.

“We don’t forget our manners, Adrian.” Malfoy turned a page. “Regardless of where we find ourselves.”

Harry gave him a sardonic look. “Gods, yes, Adrian. Don’t forget your manners here in the slums.”

“Don’t be facetious, Potter. This is a very nice home, and you know it.” Harry knew his surprise showed, and he could see Malfoy struggling to remain polite in front of his grandson. “I’m merely reminding him that a gentleman never forgets his manners.” He arched an eyebrow at the little boy, eyes narrowed over the top of reading glasses which Harry found inexplicably charming. “And we don’t speak with our mouth full.”

“Yes, sir,” Adrian murmured, and Malfoy took any sting out of the scolding with a small smile.

“Well done.”

Harry was so busy staring at Malfoy’s soft expression and the silver framed reading specs that he jerked a little when there was a tug on one of his belt loops. He looked down to find Whimsy staring up at him.

“Mr Harry Potter, sir,” she said politely. “Master Draco was making you a list, but you really has to let Whimsy be getting the food. It is being an elf’s job.”

Harry took a deep breath, trying to think how to phrase his response. “Whimsy, I know you’re a very good elf. You take very good care of Master Adrian and Master Draco,” he shot Malfoy an entertained look. The blush that spread up his pale cheeks made Harry want to smile. “But you have to remember I don’t have an elf, and everyone knows that. If you suddenly turn up to get food and charge it to my account, people are going to wonder why a Malfoy elf is buying food for Harry Potter’s house. It could reveal where they are and endanger both of them.” Whimsy opened her mouth, but Harry cut her off gently. “Whimsy, Master Draco cannot pay the bill; a good host simply would not allow his guest to pay for the food.”

She looked as if she wanted to argue with him, but couldn’t think how to counter his reasoning. Finally, she sighed and crossed her scrawny arms, but she nodded.

“Whimsy understands.”

“And honestly,” Harry assured her, “I’m not going to work that hard. The food will be delivered to my school, and I’ll shrink it and put it in my jacket pocket until I get home. Then I promise, I’ll leave you to it. May I have the list, please?”

Whimsy clearly didn’t like it, but pulled a piece of parchment from her bright red shorts pockets. They looked decidedly odd on her boney little frame, particularly when paired with a frilly lavender short-sleeved blouse and a large, orange bow attached to the few wispy hairs on the top of her head.

Harry took the list from her with what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “Thank you, Whimsy.”

“You is being welcome, Harry Potter. Is you wanting pancakes?”

“That would be very nice.”

Harry pulled out one of the stools and glanced over at Malfoy as he sat. Malfoy still held the paper, but he watched as Adrian very carefully cut his pancakes into small pieces. Harry didn’t think he’d ever seen a three-year-old so precise. His kids certainly hadn’t been; when they’d eaten pancakes, there’d been as much on them as in them. Harry smiled slightly at the memory, then glanced over in time to see Malfoy’s tender expression as he watched his grandson.

It made Harry’s chest ache.

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Harry was still reading Malfoy’s shopping list as he unlocked the door to the school and walked into the entry hall, smelling paste and tempera paints, a lingering whiff of Molly’s bread and children in the cool air. Willie Burberry’s satchel leaned against the wall, and Harry sighed softly. He’d miss Willie when he moved on to primary next year, and hoped his new school would be as tolerant of his forgetfulness as they were at Babbity Rabbity.

The shopping list he held was somewhat revealing. He’d always believed you could tell a great deal about a person from what they had in the pantry. Malfoy, unsurprisingly, ate mostly healthy. Eggs, vegetables, lean meats and fish. However, he also requested rather large quantities of sugar, flour and the other assorted ingredients for baked goods. Apparently Whimsy baked more than just brilliant chocolate chip pancakes, and Harry decided he was going to have to increase the distance of his run if he was going to eat like he had at breakfast. Of course, his over-riding hope was that Scorpius would return soon and all of the Malfoy’s could go home. With that hope in mind, he made for the hearth in the outer office.

The flames flared bright green as he called out the location, and moments later he could see his best friend’s kitchen. There was the usual morning clutter on the round oak table sitting in the middle of the space, and a low flame still burned under the bright green kettle on the hob.

“Hermione?” he said. Moments later Ron’s face appeared, his red hair tousled around his face.

“Hey, Mate. Hermione’s not here; she’s already at the office. You can probably catch her there.”

Harry frowned, looking over at the clock on the wall. It was barely seven. “Bit early, isn’t it?”

Ron shrugged. “Yeah, a bit.”

Harry grimaced. “The Minister must need her.”

Ron’s mouth twisted. “The Minister fucked up, and he knows it.” Ron shook his head. “He needs her to be there when the shite hits the wall, and the press gets wind of this. And they will.” Harry remembered the Prophet in Malfoy’s elegant hands. “But then, you know all about that, I hear.” A wicked twinkle appeared in his bright blue eyes. “You have a couple of house guests, I understand.”

“Am I supposed to talk about that with you?” Harry asked carefully. Ron gave him a wry look.

“Am I supposed to talk about it, don’t you mean?” Ron shrugged one shoulder slightly. “She told me, knowing I’d rather cut off a bollock than betray her trust. So yes, I know. And no, I can’t really discuss anything happening on the Ministry end.”

“Not even with me?”

Ron shook his head. “I love you, Harry. But I’m not an idiot. She’s got to have someone to talk to; it’s always been her way. You know our Hermione, Mate. She’s like a kettle, bubbling up until she boils over if she can’t take the heat off for a bit. One way or another.”

“And you’re the one helping her work the heat off, are you?” Harry grimaced, rubbing his hand over his face. “Oh, dear god; that sounds wrong on so many levels.”

Ron laughed brightly. “I can’t help if you aren’t getting laid, Mate. And not a bit of the heat is gone in our relationship, I’ll have you know.”

Harry shook his head, holding up one hand. “Please, stop. I couldn’t bear to think about it when we were younger. The idea of your freckled, baggy arse naked now is enough to bring up my breakfast.”

“Oy, shut it, you arsehole.” But Ron was laughing, and Harry appreciated that his oldest friend was always a bright spot, even on days when there wasn’t much bright to recommend it.

“So,” Harry said when Ron’s laughter subsided, “I take it I should try to scare up Hermione if I want any real information.”

“’Fraid so. And don’t think I didn’t notice how you deflected my reference to your house guests.”

Harry rubbed his eyes under his glasses, then let them fall back into place. “They’re…” He thought of Adrian’s tears, and of Malfoy’s drawn features. “About what you’d expect."

Ron’s usually merry face grew abruptly haunted. “It’s a right nightmare, isn’t it? Just the thought… of not knowing where one of my kids is, what might be happening.” He shuddered. “I hate the pointy bastard, but I wouldn’t wish that on a living soul.”

“Yeah.” Harry rubbed his hands up and back down absently over his thighs. He wasn’t sure he could say he still hated the pointy bastard, which was a very weird realization after only a few hours of forced co-habitation. “I’m going to try to find Hermione.”

“All right, then. Tell her I’ll pick up curry on the way home tonight. That way she won’t need to worry about scaring anything up for dinner.” The wicked twinkle was back in Ron’s eyes.

“Bastard.” Harry glared at him. Ron knew how much he loved a good curry, and he gave Harry a cheeky grin.

“You’re always welcome. Just, bring something to drink with a zip in it, and we’ll set you a place.”

Harry sighed. “I’d love to, but I’m not sure leaving company I’m not supposed to have, in a house they’re not supposed to be in, is such a great idea.”

“Up to you. I’ve got to get going. A bunch of George’s new inventions arrive today, and if I’m not there, he’ll start trying them out on the stock clerks. He calls it ‘quality control’.” Harry wasn’t sure if it was the sight of Ron making air quotes, or the idea of George sneaking up on his staff to try out his madness, but Harry laughed.

“Yes, for Gods sakes go save those unsuspecting people before George has them in St Mungo’s. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Curry will be on table at seven,” Ron teased standing up to move away.

“Oh, do fuck off.”

Harry closed off the connection to the sound of Ron’s merry laughter.

Immediately, he tossed on more Floo powder, saying “Undersecretary Weasley’s office, Ministry for Magic.”

When the view settled, followed only moments later by Harry’s stomach, Hermione’s neat as a pin office came into view. The contrast between her space and Kingsley’s couldn’t be starker, reinforcing Harry’s belief that Kingsley was a disorganized slob. He didn’t want to examine too closely how much Harry’s own office resembled Kingsley’s rather than Hermione’s.

He could see several people moving briskly through the space, just legs, feet and the bottom of Ministry robes. Harry’s attention was caught almost instantly by the dark red robe on one of the figures standing at one end of Hermione’s conference table, next to what looked to be a petite woman in the purple robes of the Wizengamot, wearing fetching dark blue kitten heels.

“Hermione,” Harry called. He had to do it again, and then again before someone noticed him.

A young man bent, his face appearing in the flames. “Can I help you?” he asked politely.

“Yes, I need to speak to Undersecretary Weasley.”

The young man glanced over his shoulder, clearly hesitant. He turned back to Harry. “I’m afraid she’s really quite busy at the moment, sir.”

Harry hated the impulse to ask the boy, ‘do you know who I am?’ Instead, he fought to keep his expression neutral.

“I’m sure she’d want to speak to me. If you’ll please tell her Harry is in the Floo?”

That did the trick. Almost too well, Harry thought. For a moment the boy stared, his jaw near the floor, then he looked a bit as if he might faint dead away. “You’re…” he stammered, “you’re…Oh, my God.”

“Move on, Phipps.” Hermione acerbic tone broke through the poor kid’s dumbstruck inability to move. “He knows who he is; he doesn’t need you babbling like a nitwit.”

Harry almost felt sorry for him as he scuttled away, his face bright red.

“That was a bit harsh, Hermione.”

“Oh, bollocks,” she responded with more bite to her voice than Harry thought he’d ever heard. She knelt on the hearth, heavy purple robes bunching beneath her knees. Her hair was pulled back to the nape of her neck, small tendrils curling around her face and down against her throat. She was lovely; he’d always thought so. But today she looked tired, too. “You do remember Old Alamander Phipps, Representative from Dorset?”

Harry made a face. “Remember him? ‘Took me two years not to have nightmares about the old bastard after I retired.”

Phipps had been a hundred and fifty if he’d been a day, and every conversation began with, “well, back in my day we did it” this way, or that way, and reminding the old fart there’d been two wars and hundreds of fatalities since did absolutely nothing. He was all about blood purity and squib discrimination, (‘In my day, we’d never admit there was a squib anywhere in the blood line’.) Harry detested him, and the feeling had been mutual.

“And that’s his… what? Grandson?”

“Great grandson,” Hermione said with a grimace. She leaned closer. “And a complete idiot, if you must know.”

“Is he in your office?” She nodded, clearly unhappy about it. “How’d you get hung with him?”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m the only one who’d take him, and Kingsley knows I’m a soft touch.”

“You?” Harry laughed. “If that was a soft touch, I’d hate to see you on a bad day, love.”

She grinned, then glanced down at her watch. “I have ten minutes before my next meeting,” she said briskly. “I know what you’re Flooing about.” She shook her head solemnly, and Harry felt his heart sinking.

“Nothing?”

“Not a peep. It’s like he’s just disappeared from the face of the earth. It’s disconcerting.”

“He’s a smart lad,” Harry said, trying to buck himself up as much as his friend. “If you’ll recall, the three of us disappeared from the face of the earth for nearly a year, once. Let’s not give up on him just yet.”

She did look buoyed by his comment. “Too true. I just wish he’d check in. How is Draco holding up?”

Harry angled his head to one side. ”Draco,” is it?” She blushed.

“If we can’t all act like adults and be on a first name basis after this, then I despair of it ever happening. And you might take a lesson, you know. With Adrian there, can you really be calling him Malfoy?”

“Have so far. And he’s still calling me Potter, so there you are.”

She sighed. “Idiots, all of you. And you didn’t answer my question.”

Harry inhaled softly, his amusement fading. “He’s bearing up best he can, I think. The strain is showing, but not when he’s around Adrian. He’s a … well, he’s quite wonderful with Adrian, actually.” Harry shifted a bit uncomfortably when Hermione got a keen look in her eyes. “Oh, and before you can tear a strip off of me, there is a house elf who has installed herself in my kitchen.” He held up his hand when she opened her mouth, a mutinous expression on her face. “She simply would not be left behind, Hermione. She’s very attached to all of them, but particularly Adrian. And,” he went on before she could break in, “Malfoy pays his elves. You should see the interesting array of wardrobe choices going on there. It’s quite an eye burning mish mash. So -- it’s not my fault.” Harry had no idea if Malfoy paid his elves or not, but he certainly assumed so and that was enough for Hermione to be going with at this point.

She nodded finally, and Harry breathed a silent sigh of relief. “Oh, and there is a bit of an annoying wrinkle on this end.” She grimaced. “We can’t keep this story from coming out for too much longer. Skeeter’s got whiff something is going on, and has been haunting the Floos in the Atrium daily. I’ve managed to duck her so far, but you know I’m a miserable liar.”

“The one thing you aren’t very good at, that’s true. Wonder how it got out?” Harry narrowed his eyes. “Think you have someone talking to the media?”

“There have always been people more interested in money than ethics, you of all people know that.” It was true; it was also why his home, Ginny’s and Ron and Hermione’s were so heavily warded. It seemed someone was always selling out personal information about Harry, and Skeeter was willing to pay. Hermione crossed her arms, her mouth tight. “I hate that woman.”

“Believe me, I share the feeling. I’ll tell you what Kingsley told me; you’ll just have to avoid her. Maybe use the telephone box entrance for a few days.”

She looked much as she had when Harry and Ron irritated her back at Hogwarts. “What I’d like to do is force her into her Animagus form, and then squish her.”

“I get it, Hermione, but I think I’m pretty safe in saying you’d hate Azkaban. And black and white stripes wouldn’t be a good look on you.”

She huffed, checking her watch again. “I’ve got to go. Oh, and for future reference, you should probably wait until evening and Floo me at home. I did throw a muffliato before we began talking, but there are people who can break through those, and if someone is slipping tips to Skeeter…” She glanced meaningfully over her shoulder.

“Yeah, okay. Oh, and by the way, your husband is a right tit.”

“Of course he is,” she agreed easily. “You’re his best friend; if he can’t take the piss with you, who can he take it from?”

“Perhaps one of his extended group of siblings?”

“Oh, he does that too, you know that. Do I need to hex him?”

“He told me he’s picking up curry, knowing damned well I’m stuck at home for the duration.”

Hermione feigned offense. “The cheeky bastard. Clearly, a capital offense.” She took out her wand and tidied her hair with a quick spell, then pointed it at her robes, the wrinkles of the morning and evening before falling away. She really had been tired if she’d thrown on a set of wrinkled robes. “Now I really do have to go.” She leaned forward, her brown eyes alight with humour. “You could always stop and pick up curry for you and your house guests, you know.”

Harry pretended to be horrified. “What? And insult Whimsy?”

“That must be the elf.”

Harry nodded, forcing his eyes wide. “She’s terrifying, Hermione. You don’t know.”

“Yes, all three feet of her.” She rolled her expressive eyes. “Idiots, all of you.”

Harry was grinning as the Floo went dark.

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It was a busy day. One of the infant teachers (although he privately thought of them as handlers; the little ones en masse were a bit much for anyone) was out sick, so Harry stepped in to help with the babies. Three of them were teething, so he spent much of his day rocking or walking a little person who was miserable and had no way of telling anyone why. For some reason, the babies loved Harry, but he could only rock one of them at a time. He saw the Tesco delivery guy come in at two thirty, but he didn’t have a chance to look at the order before Clara took it down to the refrigerators in the basement kitchen. It was their usual routine when he ordered groceries and it never crossed his mind again until Clara came to the nursery door.

“Harry?”

He looked up from where he was handing off an infant to her already exhausted looking Mum.

“Let dad do some of this tonight, yeah?” Harry said to her, squeezing her upper arm as tears lined her lower lids. “Aw, come on now.” He put his arm around her shoulders. “He can manage the bath. I promise you, he won’t drown her. My kids lived.”

She laughed, sniffing and cuddling the little girl to her chest.

“Thank you, Harry.”

“Sure.” He escorted her to the nursery door and gave her a reassuring smile as she lifted the baby’s bag over her shoulder and went out into the late afternoon sun. He turned to Clara. “What’s up?”

She was eyeing him thoughtfully. “You know, I thought you were crazy to take in a nursery level. After all, most babies, even from the most magical of families, don’t exhibit much magic before they’re two. But I’ve found you out.”

They walked slowly side by side toward the office. “You have?” Harry was fascinated to see what she’d say.

“You just like the cuddle time.” She pointed at him. “You, Harry Potter, are a baby whisperer.”

He laughed. “Ah, and there’s my deep, dark secret.”

“I’ll bet you can’t wait for that new grandbaby.”

“Being a grandparent beats all; the best part is you can wind them up and send them home with Mum and Dad. It’s great revenge.” Clara giggled, and she sounded much younger than her age. “So what did you come down to tell me?”

“Oh! I didn’t want you to forget your groceries. And I guess Molly’s visit must’ve really inspired you.”

Harry gave her a quizzical look.

“I’ve never seen you order so many baking supplies. And it’s February! If it was November maybe, but Spring?” She looked confused. He thought quickly, forcing a grin while mentally wishing Whimsy to the devil. Not that groceries he didn’t ordinarily buy was a dead giveaway that he had houseguests, but any anomaly was enough for the wizarding press to speculate.

“It’s almost Easter. I’ve decided to try to get the whole family to mine, and I’ll do the baking for brunch this year. They’ve never all come here for a holiday.”

Clara gave him a tolerant look. “Well, no wonder you ordered so much flour! Good heavens, that’s a huge brood!” She laughed. “If you can talk Molly into it, I’ll be happy to help you.”

Harry gave the little woman a quick hug. The scent of gardenias rose from her candy floss soft hair. “Thank you, Clara. I may just take you up on that.”

She walked into the Floo with a little wave, and Harry went downstairs to collect the groceries before he went home.

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When he walked down the narrow cobblestone street that bordered his garden, Harry could hear a child’s high-pitched squeals floating on the late afternoon air, mingling with the scents of blooming flowers on the other side of his neatly trimmed hedge. No one else could see into his garden or hear the happy sounds, but because he’d set the wards, he was immune to their affects. He could see Adrian Malfoy’s shining gold hair and hear him giggling as he slid down the slide attached to the two-story playhouse. He’d put it in right after he’d separated from Ginny. James had been ‘far too mature’ for something like the playhouse, but both Lily and Albus had loved to spend time in it with their friends. Now his grandson Artie loved to swing on the attached swing set and slide down the curved slide.

“Chase me, Papa!”

Harry couldn’t help the grin that curved his lips as he watched Adrian jet across his lush, green lawn, followed moments later by his tall, willowy grandfather.

If someone had told him before the fateful last year of the war that he’d not only live to see his own grandchildren, but he’d live to see Draco Malfoy become an indulgent grandfather, he’d have told them they were off their nut. But there Malfoy was, wearing jeans and a white, grey and red patterned Canterbury Rugby jersey, and for a man as thin as Malfoy, the stretched fabric fit snug against some lovely long, lean muscle. He was running close to Adrian, clearly pacing himself right behind him. When he caught up to him, he picked his grandson up around the waist, rolling to the sod and laughing along with the little boy. Harry didn’t think he’d ever heard Malfoy actually laugh before; it was a delightful sound.

“I’ve got you,” he crowed, tickling the boy’s ribs. Adrian squealed and then flopped bonelessly to his back.

“Papa, you’s smooshed me.”

Malfoy laughed, releasing Adrian and flopping onto his back beside him. “Well, never let it be said I’d smooshed you.”

Adrian looked over at him with a blinding, brilliant smile, and something shifted almost painfully in Harry’s chest as he watched the two of them sunning themselves in the late Spring sunshine. He’d never expected to see anyone look at Malfoy with the open adoration this little boy did. Scorpius loved his Dad; they had a good relationship. But there was something in Adrian’s open little face that Harry hadn’t expected; something warm and wonderful, and he smiled.

Harry turned and thoughtfully made his way to the front door of his rambling cottage. The roof was old, heavy wooden shingles covering six wonky dormers, sticking out of the roof at different levels. He’d built the curved trellis on each side of the front door the first spring he’d been in the house, and the white climbing roses he’d planted were mature plants now that had outgrown the white lattice supports. They were weaving through his roof, heavy with bright green buds just waiting to bloom. Given another two weeks, they’d be stunning.

He laid his hand on the door, just long enough to enter the house, then paused inside and pressed his palm to the inside of the door, resetting the wards. It was cool and dim in the house, and he could smell beeswax and floor polish. A glimpse into his uncharacteristically spotless sitting room told him that Whimsy had spent a busy day making his home so immaculate it was unrecognizable. Throw pillows were neatly placed on the leather sofa, perfect indentations in the tops of each one; Molly’s knitted afghans were neatly draped over chairs. The wooden floors and the heavy, intricately carved staircase to the next floor shone.

He’d never had a house elf, other than poor old Kreacher when he’d first been out of Hogwarts and living at Grimmauld. To say Kreacher’s heart hadn’t been in taking care of the house for Harry was the understatement of the century. He didn’t like Harry, he hated Ginny, and Harry had done more housework than the old elf. Fortunately, Harry learned about keeping a home clean from his Aunt Petunia. He’d been a better cook than Gin; after living her first twenty years with her Mum, Ginny wanted nothing to do with cooking, baking, keeping a house. She was a Quidditch player, and she once told Harry if he was so particular about his house and his kitchen, he could keep them clean himself. Instead of annoying him, Harry rather admired her independence. No one else really understood their relationship, but Harry didn’t mind taking care of the house on nights and weekends at all. Then he began to climb the ranks at the DMLE, and the kids came along, and Ginny retired to be their full time Mum. They’d never had a house elf; had they tried, Hermione would have had a fit.

It was very weird to walk into a kitchen he thought he was particular about and see every surface gleaming in a way he’d never managed. Even the windows were so clean it looked as if there was no glass in them at all. Something wonderful and savoury was obviously cooking in the oven, filling the room with the rich scent of roasting meat. He glanced over and straightened, staring as he realized his stove/oven combination had been replaced with one he didn’t recognize. It was a huge black enamelled appliance with silver trim, two ovens below and a six burner hob. It was extremely high end, too large for the available space. Apparently that hadn’t given Whimsy pause; she’d just enlarged his kitchen. For her sake, he hoped she was able to reverse the spell. He liked his kitchen the way it was, thanks much, but he grinned wryly. Maybe he’d just make Malfoy buy him a new one and fix the kitchen walls; the thought of that conversation had merit on a purely entertaining level.

He took the shrunken groceries from his jacket pocket and set them on the island, restoring them to their original size. He’d no more than put the milk in his refrigerator, now located on another wall, when Whimsy appeared before him with a soft pop, shooing him away with long, bony fingers.

“I will be doing this, Harry Potter. You can be relaxing after working all day.”

“Whimsy, it’s abundantly clear that you’ve been working all day, too. You really didn’t need to clean my house, you know.”

She looked scandalized. “Of course Whimsy is cleaning house. It is what she does.”

“Whimsy also had time to remodel my kitchen, apparently.” Harry’s tone was sardonic, and the small elf fidgeted under his regard.

She looked away and turned pink to the tips of her ears. “Whimsy wasn’t knowing how to use Harry Potter’s oven.”

“And Whimsy couldn’t have askedHarry Potter before she moved walls?” Harry arched a brow and waited while she squirmed uncomfortably.

“Harry Potter wasn’t here.” She avoided his face for as long as she could, but when their eyes finally met she sighed in resignation. “Whimsy will be putting it back when Malfoy’s is going home.”

“Thank you. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a very nice stove. I just don’t need anything that size.”

The elf looked reflective as she levitated the heavy bags of flour and sugar into his panty, which Harry noticed had been scrubbed until the shelves shone and the food was rearranged in a pattern that was unfathomable, at least to him. “Whimsy is remembering when we had barrels of flour and sugar delivered every week. Mistress Narcissa was the perfect hostess, and there was being hundreds of elves to take care of Malfoy’s. Now, there is three. It is being a hard adjustment.”

“I imagine so.” Harry pulled out one of the stools and sat, giving her his full attention.

“Now, Whimsy is only doing what I can for my Malfoy’s.”

Harry’s mouth twitched. “Your Malfoy’s?”

She nodded solemnly. “Mistress Narcissa, before she passed, asked Whimsy to be taking care of Master Scorpius. Whimsy promised, and she cleans, cooks, watches Mistress Narcissa’s grandson. She was never meeting Adrian, but Whimsy promised her. Her grandson, and her great grandson, are Whimsy’s job.”

“What about her son?”

“I is doing what I can.” Whimsy glanced a bit nervously toward the back door, her voice lowered and Harry leaned closer. “I is promising Mistress Narcissa I would take care of him, too. But Master Draco is a stubborn man, Harry Potter. A very good, but very stubborn man. Whimsy should stop; she is not fond of ironing her hands.” Her huge green eyes came to rest on Harry, and her unblinking regard was unsettling.

“Was there something else, Whimsy?”

She continued to stare long enough that Harry shifted uncomfortably.

Finally she took a deep breath and turned away, putting the rest of the groceries away; butter and meat in the pantry under a strong stasis spell, which Harry could only assume was the way things were done at the Manor. An old wizarding home wouldn’t have an electric refrigerator, even one spelled the way his was. The Burrow didn’t have electric appliances, either, and it had taken Ginny a long time to grow accustomed to them.

Harry watched the elf, still quite sure there was something else she wanted to say, but hadn’t.

“Whimsy…”

Laughter suddenly sounded right outside of the back door, and it swung open inwards. Malfoy held the door wide and Adrian paused while his grandfather removed all traces of grass and mud from his shoes with a swift pass of his wand. He looked up and saw Harry, and his little face split in a wide grin.

“Harry!”

He launched himself at Harry, his arms curling around his thighs. Harry gave the boy a fond smile, his fingers passing gently over the windblown honey hued hair. Harry heard a long-suffering sigh.

“Adrian, what did we discuss earlier?”

The boy looked chagrined. “Oh.” He let go of Harry’s knees. “It is nice to see you, Mr Potter.”

Harry shot Malfoy an irritated look, and intercepted the exasperation on the patrician features. ”Control freak,” he muttered, and Malfoy sneered. God forbid his grandson hug Harry Potter, of all people. For some reason, the impulse to poke the man where he was raw was there, under the surface of Harry’s skin, right where it lived since he was eleven years old. And then he heard Hermione’s voice, as clear as if she was standing in front of him.

“If we can’t all act like adults and be on a first name basis after this, then I despair of it ever happening."

Harry took a deep breath and released it slowly. His conversation with Hermione that afternoon came back to him in its entirety, and he knew he needed to speak to Malfoy. Alone.

“Whimsy, how soon do you think dinner will be ready?”

“Another few minutes, Harry Potter.” She looked between Harry and Malfoy, green eyes watchful and ears twitching slightly.

“Can you watch Adrian, please?”

The little boy looked up at his grandfather, his eyes very wide, but he didn’t say a word.

Malfoy’s mouth was pinched, but he reached out and gently touched Adrian’s head. “Everything is all right,” he promised, his voice soft. He bent and brushed a kiss to the top of Adrian’s head, then turned to Harry, who gestured toward the back door.

“I thought you might like to see the kitchen garden,” Harry improvised.

Malfoy stopped just short of rolling his eyes. “Oh, certainly.” His tone was mocking. “I can think of nothing I’d rather do than wander through the courgette plants.”

Harry bit his lower lip to keep from making a snarky comment, and opened the back door, holding it wide. Malfoy preceded him out onto the lawn, and almost immediately Harry regretted not taking a detour to fetch his jacket. The breeze was brisk.

“It’s this way.” He gestured, then turned and walked toward the corner of the blocky, two story house. “We get sun nearly all day on this side. They don’t look like much yet, but by July we’ll have the best tomato and courgette plants in Ottery. Just don’t tell Molly Weasley I said that.”

The small green house Harry built his first spring in the house sat between the hedge and six raised flower beds. The earth had been tilled and there were a few tiny green shoots breaking the surface of the dark soil, but they’d have only been recognizable to a gardener. Harry opened the door and led the way into the green house, and Malfoy followed him hesitantly inside.

“Nothing to be afraid of in here. Not even any obnoxious fucking white peacocks.”

Malfoy gave him a wry look, then turned to study the trays of small green plants.

Harry took a deep breath, loving the scents of dark earth and fertilizer. Malfoy wrinkled his nose, but unlike some people, he didn’t look completely put off by the odour.

“My mother used to garden,” Malfoy said, studying the shelves of seedlings. “She was actually quite accomplished. Tomato plants, yes?”

He gestured toward several rows of small plants, and Harry nodded. “Cherry tomatoes and beef steak.”

Malfoy leaned close to them, his hands clasped at his lower back. “They look healthy.”

“Thank you.”

“Somehow, I never imagined you as a gardener.”

“I imagine I’m any number of things you never imagined.”

Malfoy looked back at him with an ironically raised brow and a saucy smirk, and Harry realized how that must’ve sounded. He felt his face heat.

Still amused, Malfoy walked down the row of vegetable seedlings, then turned back. “Mother grew everything we ate, at least before…well…” Malfoy sighed and shook himself, straightening. He was perhaps two inches taller than Harry, and Harry straightened instinctively, trying to make up some of the difference, even while recognizing it was silly. “Obviously, you wanted to speak with me somewhere we wouldn’t be overheard,” Malfoy said. “Fine; I’m here. Talk.”

Harry sank his hands into his pockets. It was warmer in the green house than outside; the clear walls cut the cold breeze in half, but even with the late afternoon sun it couldn’t be considered warm. Harry hunched his shoulders.

“I spoke with Hermione today.” He’d decided the direct approach was best with Malfoy, and the grey eyes sharpened. “There is no news.”

Malfoy inhaled deeply, turning his back on Harry and running one hand up into his hair. It was shorter than Harry had ever seen it, and he liked the casual tousled fringe, mangled during his play with his grandson. His raking fingers didn’t help. After a couple of minutes, he squared his shoulders and turned back. The thick hair looked lighter to Harry than it had when they were young, and he wondered if there was more white in it than blond. Harry certainly had an abundance of curly silver hair at his own temples.

“I assumed if there was news, you’d have let me know earlier.” Malfoy’s voice sounded strained, and too polite.

“Yes,” Harry assured him. “I would have.” He studied the pale, drawn face in front of him.

“I thought I was prepared.” Malfoy sighed. “Apparently not.”

“I’m not sure how you prepare for a situation like this with your kids.”

“True.” Malfoy crossed his arms tight across his chest, his eyes distant.

“Listen,” Harry said, desperately wanting to reassure him, “I truly believe Scorpius is all right.”

“Why? Why do you believe that?” He sounded quietly desperate.

“Because I know him.” He stopped, then added an addendum intentionally. “Draco.”

Malfoy’s brows shot up. “Draco, is it? Since when are we on a first name basis. Potter?”

“Since we’re cohabitating with your four-year-old grandson, perhaps? Don’t you think he’d feel better if we weren’t ‘Potter’ and ‘Malfoy’ing and snarking at each other all of the time?” Harry huffed. “I have a grandson, too, Draco. He’s quite a bit younger than Adrian…”

“Of course he is.” Malfoy’s lip curled. “No out of wedlock children for the perfect Potter boys.”

Harry stared at him with his mouth agape for several seconds. “Have you lost your fucking mind? What perfect Potter boys are you talking about?”

“I notice neither of them knocked up their Hogwarts girlfriend.”

Harry knew he looked as gobsmacked as he felt. “Listen, my boys are far from perfect. There was a very good reason Albus didn’t ‘knock up’ anyone, and you damned well know it.” Malfoy had the grace to look a bit chagrined. “As for Jamie, his mother and I spent three years absolutely positive the next owl we got was going to be telling us we were about to be grandparents. But for the grace of Merlin, there go I, you fucking pillock. I taught him contraceptive spells over his mother’s objections. The fact he didn’t become a dad until after he got married is completely due to the fact he fell in love with Jeanette, and she told him if he wanted to sleep with her, he had to marry her first.”

Malfoy’s lips twisted satirically. “Well, there’s me told. I wish the bint my son slept with had had the same sort of self-control.”

Harry crossed his arms, unconsciously mirroring Malfoy’s stance. “Is Forsythia still… out of the picture?”

Forsythia Mulciber was the niece of Theo Nott, the result of his sister’s marriage to Marcellus Mulciber the third. Her family was pure bloods for generations. According to Albus, Narcissa had been so profoundly disappointed in Scorpius for getting involved with the girl they hadn’t spoken for months, but Draco had been steadfastly supportive of his son being able to make his own choices. Then Forsythia turned up pregnant toward the end of their seventh year, and a decent amount of shit hit the fan. Scorpius was shell-shocked, and Forsythia hadn’t wanted to be a mother. The only reason she’d carried Adrian to term was that her mother threatened to disinherit her if she didn’t. She’d signed all parental rights over to Scorpius minutes after Adrian’s birth, on the condition her parents could see the baby if they wanted. So far, they hadn’t wanted to other than Christmas and birthdays, but Scorpius had told Albus Draco’s goal in life was to make sure Adrian didn’t feel the Mulciber’s absence.

“Thankfully, yes,” Malfoy said in answer to Harry’s question. “Last we heard she was living in a commune somewhere outside of Galashiels. Adrian doesn’t miss her because he’s never known her. When he eventually asks about her, I will endeavour to tell him the truth; that she didn’t deserve him. And so far, you and I haven’t done much ‘snarking’. You work a long day, Potter.”

“Goes with the territory.” Harry forced himself to relax back against a potting bench, his hands on either side of his hips. He caught and held Draco’s gaze. “I had a thought about Adrian today.”

“What about him?”

There was a touch of defensiveness in Malfoy’s tone, but Harry couldn’t blame him. Malfoy had no real reason to trust him, but Harry’d had a thought about the little boy that, once it had come to him, had stayed with him.

“I was thinking –“ Harry paused, giving Malfoy the obvious opening. He was surprised when he didn’t take it. “—if this goes on for a few days, it is rapidly going to become very dull for Adrian around here, even with the playhouse and the undivided attention of his grandfather.”

Malfoy snorted. “I think I’m insulted.”

“No you aren’t.”

Malfoy’s lips twisted. “No, I’m not. So what were you thinking would be a good counter measure for Adrian’s boredom?”

Harry paused briefly. “What if you enroll Adrian at Babbity Rabbity? Maybe for just the morning session.”

Malfoy looked at him in consternation. “How do I go about that, Potter? He’s a Malfoy, we’re supposed to be… invisible. And he’s far too young to be expected to keep that kind of secret.”

“I thought about that. His hair is dark enough he doesn’t instantly make people think, ‘that’s a Malfoy’, at least not like you and Scorpius. And I know a spell Order of Phoenix members used during the war, especially for families of Muggle borns with young children. If they were stopped by Snatchers and were using a pseudonym, no matter what children said their name was, people outside of the family would hear the alias. It’s complicated, but I know someone who can cast it without harm to Adrian.”

Malfoy looked away. “Granger, I’m guessing.”

“Granger-Weasley, and yes.” Harry leaned closer to him. “Draco, he’s a smart lad, and some interaction with other children would be good for him. It might be good for you, too.”

“Good for me? So I can sit around by myself, staring at the fireplace, willing Scorpius to walk out of it?”

“I was actually thinking you might be able to get some rest. Not to be insulting,” Harry raised a brow, “but you look like you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a while.”

“I won’t have a good night’s sleep again until my son comes home.” Malfoy crossed his arms even tighter, gripping his elbows, and he looked so tied up and cut off that Harry ached for him.

“I understand,” Harry murmured.

“You don’t,” Malfoy countered, looking at him with bleak eyes. “And I hope you never do.” The fingers of his right hand moved absently on his left elbow, squeezing tight then releasing, over and over again. “Should I agree to this plan of yours, to take Adrian to school, how would you go about enrolling him without my assistance?”

“I’ve thought about that. I’ll say his parents are friends of Hermione and Ron’s daughter, Rose, who are out of country on business. He’s living nearby with his gran.”

Malfoy didn’t look even remotely convinced. “And your staff won’t question that? In a village this size, aren’t they going to want to know who his gran is?”

Harry didn’t even blink. “My staff will believe what I tell them. Draco.”

Malfoy sneered. “How lovely it must be to be you. People just believe what you say, no matter what tripe you’re selling.”

Harry wasn’t going to jump back into the previous animosity. “It has its perks.”

Malfoy stared at him for several long, drawn out seconds before the corner of his mouth twitched. “At least you don’t deny it.”

“Would it make any difference if I did?”

“No.”

“Well, no point wasting the time then. And at least you know that if he’s with me, he’ll be safe.”

“You’d step between him and a hex, would you?” Malfoy challenged.

Harry met his eyes with a level stare of his own. “Without a second thought.”

Malfoy finally exhaled heavily. “I believe you. You apparently haven’t outgrown the impulse to be heroic.”

Harry felt like it was the greatest compliment he’d ever received.

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Harry Floo’d Hermione about the spell for Adrian’s name, and she arrived just after they’d finished Whimsy’s excellent roast dinner, still wearing her Ministry robes. Draco (for Harry was determined to think of the man by his given name from now on) sat stiffly in the corner of Harry’s leather sofa, his face impassive but his hands gripped white-knuckled in his lap. When she offered him her hand, he stared at it for several long seconds.

“Draco,” Harry said softly. There was no mistaking the admittedly gentle warning in his tone.

“Well, give a man a mo, will you?” Draco shot back. He looked up at Hermione and took her hand. “Thank you for your assistance,” he said curtly, as if the words had been hauled out of him kicking and screaming. Hermione ignored the near slight.

“I’ll do anything I can, Draco.”

He sighed, one hand lifting to rub over his face before his fingers dragged through his hair. “And here’s yet another Gryffindor who feels the need to be on a first name basis. We might as well all be Hufflepuffs.”

Hermione gave him a small smile, then looked down at Adrian, who had watched all of the exchange with wide eyes and keen interest. Hermione drew off her imposing robes with the embroidered Ministry insignia and tossed them over the back of the sofa next to Draco, then sat on the floor in front of Adrian in her long-sleeved blouse and slender cut black trousers.

“Hello,” she offered.

“Hi,” Adrian replied, his hand going toward his mouth nervously.

“Adrian.” Draco didn’t have to raise his voice, and the boy’s hand dropped immediately back into his lap.

“Sorry, Papa,” he whispered. Draco smiled at him, and Harry could see that Hermione was already completely charmed by the little boy.

“I’m going to cast a small spell on you, Adrian,” she said, and the child’s eyes widened in alarm.

“It’s all right,” Draco said softly. “Ms…Hermione wouldn’t do anything to harm you.”

Harry could see Hermione was pleased by that. Harry gave Draco a level look, but he doubted he kept the approval out of his eyes. Malfoy quickly looked away, his cheeks flushing a very pale pink. He crossed his long legs and tried to look supremely unaffected. It didn’t really work.

“What last name?” Hermione pulled her wand from a holster under her long sleeve. Adrian stared in wonder at the carving of leaves and vines that covered it from her hand to the tip.

“Harold.”

Harry looked startled.

“Oh, not for you, you great egotistical prat. Last I heard, your name wasn’t Harold.” Draco crossed his arms tight again, which seemed to be his default posture when he was uncomfortable.

“For whom, then?” Harry crossed his arms, too.

“Does it matter?” Draco challenged.

“No, actually. It doesn’t,” Hermione said, lifting her wand. “Just ignore them,” she whispered to the wide-eyed little boy, who was watching his grandfather and Harry with a worried frown between his eyes. “They’ve been squabbling like this since they weren’t much older than you. One would have thought they’d have outgrown it by now.”

She smiled, brown eyes dancing, and Adrian tentatively smiled back.

“This won’t hurt; I promise.”

He nodded, eyeing her wand as it neared his face. Harry bit back a snort when his eyes crossed as Hermione’s wand touched his forehead. He looked over at Draco, and was charmed to see his small smile.

Hermione whispered the incantation, then pulled the wand back from Adrian’s face. “See?” Adrian nodded. “All right, then,” she said. “Hello. My name is Hermione Granger-Weasley. What’s yours?”

“Adrian,” the boy whispered. “Adrian – Harold.”

The adults heaved a soft sigh of relief, and even Adrian looked startled by what had come out of his mouth.

“Well done.” Harry came around the back of the couch and patted Hermione on the shoulder. “Thank you.” He offered her his hand, and Hermione touched Adrian gently on the knee before she allowed Harry to pull her to her feet.

“It’s time for Adrian’s bath.” Draco stood and gestured for Adrian to get up from the floor, then leaned over gracefully, his long body bent at the waist, and whispered in Adrian’s ear. Harry’s eyes were caught by the lovely, lengthy line of back and thighs, and couldn’t prevent his gaze from moving over Draco’s high, round arse. Some men in their mid-forties lost the supple roundness, muscle going stringy and flat. Not Draco; if memory served, his backside hadn’t changed a bit since they were sixteen. Harry had to drag his eyes away.

Adrian held out his hand, looking like quite the little man.

“Thank you, Ms Grain…er…” He looked up at Draco, panic clear.

“Hermione is fine, Adrian,” she said.

“Thank you, Her-my-o-ni,” he said, dividing her name up into four distinct syllables. She smiled gently and took his little hand by the pudgy fingers and shook it.

“Lovely to meet you.” She turned to Draco. “And good to see you again.”

He straightened and nodded. “You as well.”

Her mouth quirked in a very Malfoyesque smirk. “Bet that was painful.”

Draco huffed softly. “You’ve no idea.” He took Adrian’s hand and started for the stairs, walking around Harry where he sat on the arm of the couch. He quirked an eyebrow as he passed, not in challenge but not…unfriendly, and Hermione caught Harry’s arm once Draco and the little boy were out of sight.

“A word with you…perhaps outside?”

Harry shrugged. “Sure.”

Whimsy was nowhere in sight as they walked through the kitchen, and Harry was grateful for that. But the gleaming surfaces and lingering smell of a beautifully cooked dinner announced her presence as clearly as if she’d been standing at the sink. Hermione shot Harry a dark look, but kept walking toward the door to the garden.

It was dusk, and long shadows fell across the lawn. It was also freezing, and Harry cursed once again his forgetfulness in leaving his jacket on the coat rack. If he caught pneumonia, he had no one to blame but himself.

An icy breeze slipped around them, and Hermione shuddered. “Balls!”

Harry laughed. “Well mine are currently attempting to climb up into my stomach,” he quipped, wrapping his arms over his torso. Hermione laughed.

“Perhaps this wasn’t my best thought out plan.”

Harry couldn’t help but agree. “What did you need to talk to me about?” He knew it couldn’t be information about Scorpius, or she’d have already said.

She crossed her arms against the cold as well, and her expression was stern, her amusement fading. “What are you doing?”

He frowned. “What?”

“Don’t ‘what’, me, Harry Potter. I’ve known you too long.”

He was lost. “Honestly, Hermione. I’ve no idea what you’re on about.”

She pressed her lips together and her expression was very prim, and scolding. “Really? You’re going to stand there and tell that you weren’t—“ she paused, dropping her voice to whisper, “—checking out his arse as he started for the stairs?”

He felt his face go hot, and he knew he’d been caught out. “Hermione!” He looked toward the kitchen door, relieved when there was no one to be seen beyond the windows. “For gods sakes.”

“Well, you were. And you weren’t terribly subtle.”

Harry exhaled loudly. “Look, I would never in a million years ‘do’ anything about it. I don’t let myself forget for a second that it’s Malfoy connected to that arse. But I’m not dead, and he’s very fit. And it’s—“ gods, he thought, this was embarrassing, “—it’s been a while, all right?”

She subsided slightly. “As long as you remember why he’s here.”

“As if I could forget for a second.”

They stared, and finally she took a step back. “Just remember what’s happening here.”

Her felt his jaw go hard. “And you lot find the man’s son so I can get him the fuck out of my house.”

“We’re trying.”

“Right now, you certainly are.”

He turned to stomp back into the house, well and truly offended. She caught his arm. “Harry.”

He stopped, his hands dropped to his hips and his head falling forward.

“I just meant…”

“I know what you meant, Hermione.” He turned back. “And you aren’t wrong. It’s hard to ignore.”

“Trust me; I noticed, too. It’s just…you and Malfoy have always had an explosive quality to your interactions. And right now he’s very vulnerable, and he might come to you, just for something to take his mind off things. And you don’t do that, Harry.” She paused, shivering a bit but her eyes were intense. “I’m actually more concerned about you than I am about him. You’ve always had a bit of a thing for him.”

He gave her a dirty look. “Low blow, Hermione.” He told her about his year’s long attraction to Malfoy after he’d finished off the better part of a bottle of red wine. A lot of painful secrets were shared that night, on both sides.

“Trust me, nothing’s going to happen. All we do is snipe at one another. I’d say anything else is pretty much out of the question. And I love you, but I don’t appreciate having something you learned when I was too drunk to stand up tossed in my face.” She was a bit sheepish, but only a bit. He hoped he looked more determined than he felt. “Now let’s go back inside before what I have freezes off, and it’s a moot point.”

He held the door open for her, hoping Draco didn’t come to him to avoid thinking about his missing son. Despite his words to Hermione, Harry wasn’t sure he actually had the resolve to deny Draco, or himself.

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The weekend crawled. Hermione checked in each day from her office at the Ministry, which Harry was sure thrilled Ron. He hated her long hours even as he was proud of how high she’d climbed. It was pretty much a given that she’d be the next Minister, something which Ron grudgingly supported. But he vocally hated the long hours, and the weekends stolen from him and his wife. Remembering his own long hours, Harry couldn’t blame him. How Hermione became the contact between the Ministry and Draco, Harry didn’t know, but he thought it was probably a good idea; if he’d been in Draco’s position and it was his twenty-one-year-old son missing, Harry couldn’t imagine a face to face with the Minister going very well.

It was heartbreaking, watching Draco sag each day when there wasn’t any news of Scorpius. Harry didn’t say anything, but his Auror background told him the ongoing radio silence wasn’t a good thing. In his experience, there were only two reasons an Auror dropped off of the map; they were being held hostage, or they were dead. Neither option was something he wanted to consider, or would say out loud.

Ever mindful of what Hermione had accused him of (not without reason, he was loathe to admit), Harry spent the long weekend days in his greenhouse keeping his distance from Draco. He planted beans and pumpkins in the small segmented trays, then cleaned out flower beds that needed vines cut back and fledgling weeds removed. He tilled the soil and added in fertilizer by hand, getting his hands and the front of his sweatshirt filthy, then trimmed two of the fruit trees he’d planted the spring before. It was hot work, and he ended up stripping down to a t-shirt and jeans, sweat slicking his face, back and arms. He kept pushing his fringe back, and he knew that the moisture was making his hair curl. Every time he slid his fingers through the thick strands they coiled around his fingers.

Draco brought Adrian out for a few hours each late morning and again in the afternoon. The child still went down for a nap just after lunch, confirming having him in the morning session at school was the right choice. Draco would run him around the yard, pushing him on the swings and encouraging him down the slide, standing at the bottom with his arms open. Harry loved the sound of the little boy’s laughter, and he turned at one point when he heard his shout, “Papa, watch me!” Adrian was hanging out of one of the playhouse windows, and his grandfather was standing at the base of the slide, but he wasn’t watching Adrian; his eyes were fixed firmly on Harry. Feeling a breeze, Harry reached back and found a strip of skin between his shirt and his Levi’s where his ancient Weird Sister’s shirt had ridden up when he’d been turning over the soil. When he touched the sweaty skin, his eyes widened slightly on Draco’s, and he registered the blush that spread across pale cheeks. Looking chagrined, Draco turned back and waved the little boy down the slide, swinging him up onto his hip and striding quickly toward the house. Harry yanked his shirt down and watched him go, his heart tripping quickly in his chest.

They avoided one another all day Sunday but for the depressing Floo call with Hermione in the morning. Harry knew Draco stayed downstairs longer than he did after dinner; Harry had a telly in his bedroom, and crawled onto his bed to watch a couple of hours of ‘Big Dreams, Small Spaces’ with Monty Don on Netflix. Each night, he took out a notebook and pencil from his night stand. He made notes about what the Master Gardner suggested in people’s small spaces, admiring the finished gardens. The hall floor creaked when Draco finally came upstairs, and Harry would look down at his watch, see it was after midnight, and reproach himself for lying there awake and waiting for the sound.

On Monday morning he’d already been out for his run, showered, and was sitting at the island with a cup of coffee in his hands when Draco came downstairs. He looked exhausted, which didn’t surprise Harry, but he was immaculately dressed with his hair neatly brushed. Harry studied him over the rim of the cup he held between his hands.

“Coffee?” Harry offered. “Or tea?”

Draco looked at him, blinking owlishly, apparently too tired to be discomfited by Harry’s presence. He swallowed, putting his hand against the wall as if to stabilize himself and Harry frowned slightly.

“Are you all right?”

Draco grimaced, looking irritated. “I’m fine. And I’d kill for a cup of coffee.”

“Blood shed won’t be necessary.” Harry pushed his stool back and stood, crossing to the coffee maker. “How do you take it?”

“If you’ll pour it, I’ll make it palatable.”

“That’ll work.”

Harry poured the coffee then handed the over heavy mug, watching as Draco liberally doctored it with both milk and sugar before taking a sip. His eyebrows arched and he glanced at Harry.

“This actually is much better than the tar Whimsy makes.” His eyes shifted. “If you tell her I said that, I will cheerfully hex you.”

Harry’s lips quirked. “Again, won’t be necessary. And I’m not surprised a house elf would be more versed in making tea than coffee.”

“I got hooked on it by my mother.” Draco walked to the island and sank wearily onto one of the stools. “Father thought it was vile, but mother started drinking it at Hogwarts.”

“But, you didn’t…” Harry cut himself off, knowing he’d been about to reveal more than he’d meant to. Draco smirked.

“Payed attention to what I drank, hmm?”

“No.” Harry was not now, and never had been, a good liar. Draco’s smirk widened.

“To be fair, I noticed you drank coffee at breakfast starting fifth year, too.”

Harry felt his cheeks colour. “I wasn’t sleeping well that year, and tea didn’t give me the jolt I needed in the morning.”

Draco stared into the cup he held between his palms. “Understandable. I stopped sleeping at about the same time.” They shared along look. Draco was probably one of the only people who had not only believed him when he’d said the Dark Lord was back, but knew for a fact he was. His father was one of the first to see him in his resurrected form.

Silence stretched out between them for several minutes, and it occurred to Harry that he and Draco were members of a pretty exclusive club; people who’d been forced to live in the immediate orbit of a murderous madman. Harry was fairly certain Draco had been even more anxious to get out of the club than he’d been. Harry’d had the son of a bitch in his head, but Draco had him in his home; there’d been nowhere he could go, not even Hogwarts, to get away from his influence. Harry remembered clearly how bad he’d felt for Draco when he’d seen images of him in Voldemort’s head, even while wishing him to the devil.

Whimsy brought Adrian downstairs a few minutes later, nattily turned out in dark blue slacks and a cashmere jumper that looked like a miniature version of the ones his grandfather wore. The only acknowledgment he was three and a half were the little red trainers on his feet, and his Paddington Bear back pack. He climbed up on one of the stools- with a bit of a boost from Harry- and looked hopefully at Whimsy.

“Pancakes, p’ease Whimsy?”

She looked up at the little boy, her expression firm. “No chocolate. You is already wound up enough, and teacher doesn’t be needing Master Adrian after sugar.”

He looked disappointed. “That’s okay, Whimsy. Your reg’lar pancakes wif’out chips is good enough.” He smiled, dimples creasing his round cheeks on either side of his mouth, and Harry could see the precise moment she caved.
Harry and Adrian set out for Babbity Rabbity once they’d all eaten enough pancakes to feed a regiment. Draco walked with them as they went to the front door, and Harry’s soft suggestion that he try to get some rest was met with the trademark Malfoy glower. Harry just hoped he didn’t spend the four hours Adrian was gone sitting in front of the Floo, willing Scorpius to step out of it. When the little boy reached over and took Harry’s hand, skipping along at his side, he smiled down at him.

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He installed Adrian, all but vibrating with excitement, in one of the two three-year-old classes, then lingered for a bit to make sure he settled in. Considering he was a child who’d been raised by his father, grandfather and a house elf, with relatively little outside contact with other children, he fit in remarkably well. He didn’t pull a ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ like several of the kids from wealthier families did, expecting the world to revolve around them. He was polite, and quick with his colours and numbers, and sat politely while the teacher, Miss Penny, read aloud from ‘Millie Midrich the Mini Mage Makes a Mistake’. There were a few instances of forgetting to raise his hand before he blurted something out, but even the kids who’d been in pre-school since they were six months old forgot to do that. Miss ‘Penny’, whose name was actually Clarice Pennywhistle, was as charmed within the first hour as Whimsy was. Harry finally left and went to get some paper work done, secure in the knowledge that Adrian Harold was having a good time on his first day of pre-school.

He had fixed himself a cup of coffee in his office and was about a third of the way through the pile of correspondence in his ‘in’ box when a very recognizable small grey barn owl tapped on his office window. He stood and crossed the room, admitting the little bird into the room.

“Hello, Pig.”

This was Pigwidgen number five or six, Harry could never remember which. The first had made it until they were all out of training for their different chosen professions, and the second until the kids had all been born. More of the birds than that, Harry couldn’t recall. He did know that this little guy looked more like the first Pig than many of the others had; he was cute and round and had huge golden eyes, and he liked to land on Harry’s desk and bounce around like a pinball. Lily thought it was hilarious, and frankly so did Harry most days. But now there was an official looking parchment attached to his leg, the Ministry emblem inset into the purple wax over the flap, and that was rarely good news. Harry’s stomach, still full of excellent pancakes, rolled and it was a singularly unpleasant sensation.

“Here you go, buddy,” he said, offering Pig a treat from a bowl on the corner of his office cabinets. “Have a snack and wait for a few, yeah?” The huge golden eyes gazed up at him in adoration, and the bird rubbed his tiny beak against Harry’s hand before he helped himself to a mouse flavoured treat. Harry popped the wax seal, unfolding the parchment. He and Hermione and Draco had decided to check in at lunch time instead of first thing in the morning, and his name on the front of the parchment was unmistakably in her handwriting; he could only think this pre-emptive note didn’t bode well.

Harry she’d written, “There has been activity detected from Scorpius Malfoy’s wand. We cannot ascertain what spells were used, and there is no way to determine it was actually Scorpius casting. We’re still not picking up anything from his magical signature, and no direction can be detected. If you could let Draco know this latest information, I’d appreciate it. I will be in an emergency meeting at the time we were planning to Floo, but I’ll contact you this evening. Please tell him we consider this only the first clue, and nothing we’ve seen so far makes us believe Scorpius has come to any harm. I hope he doesn’t allow this to unsettle him. At this point, it doesn’t mean ANYTHING. Hermione.

Harry rubbed his hand over his face. Right. It didn’t mean anything. But he was a father, and he knew precisely how he would feel about that news. Upset wouldn’t come close to describing his reaction.

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…”and Miss Penny read a story ‘bout a Mini Mage…what is dat, anyways Papa? But when I’s leaving she told me I been very good and she ‘looked forward to seein’ me t’morrow. ‘N I like the odher kids, they’s nice.”

“Breathe, Adrian,” Draco said, but he was smiling indulgently. “I’m delighted you had a good first day.”

“I did. But I is starving.”

“You do look to be wasting away.”

Adrian gave him a quizzical look, but Draco patted his hand before turning to his house elf. “Whimsy, please feed this child before he expires of hunger.”

“Right away, Master Draco.” She looked over to Harry, where he was hovering near the door to the stairs. “Can Whimsy be making you some lunch, Harry Potter?”

Harry shook his head. “No, thank you, Whimsy. I actually need to speak with Draco.”

Draco turned and Harry caught his eye, gesturing subtly with his head toward his home office down the hall. Harry regretted the alarm that shuttered his light eyes, but he couldn’t think how to avoid it. He sighed, mentally considering any number of hexes for his best friend for dumping this bit of business at his door. He walked down the long, narrow hall, hearing Draco’s soft footfalls behind him, and walked into his book lined office, closing the door softly once they were both in the room.

Harry’d picked this room as his office during his first walk through with his realtor. It was too small for a bedroom, and the book cases on three of the four walls made it the most obvious choice. He brought the desk he’d been given on his twenty-year anniversary in the Auror Department, and the large oxblood leather swivel chair. All of his books from his years of Dark Arts investigations were packed onto the shelves. There were also several green plants that thrived in the bright West facing light, and a thick oriental carpet on the floor. Lily said the room reeked of testosterone, which Harry found uniquely amusing. All he smelled was Whimsy’s furniture polish, dust from several of the ancient books and leather from the enormous, comfortable chair.

Once he had a good look at Draco’s face, he could see instantly that he hadn’t rested. The lines around his eyes, which had been all but invisible the first day at the Manor, had deepened and there were dark circles marring the fair skin beneath his eyes. Harry had noticed long ago that Draco’s eyes changed colour with his mood, and right now they were storm cloud grey. He was fidgeting from foot to foot nervously, and Harry hated what he was about to do, but could see no way around it.

“I’ve had a note from Hermione,” he said starkly. Draco’s brow furrowed. “The Auror’s have picked up activity from Scorpius’ wand.”

There was no outward reaction on Draco’s face, but his hand curled white-knuckled around the crystal doorknob next to his hip. “Where?”

“They’ve been unable to get a magical signature from the caster, so there’s no way for them to determine where it’s coming from, or who is actually using the wand. All Auror’s wands are registered, and all spells recorded, but tracing a magical signature is much more difficult.”

Draco’s eyes moved quickly around the room, then fixed on Harry’s again. “So they don’t know if it’s him.”

“Correct,” Harry responded. “They don’t know if it’s him.”

Draco closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then rubbed his hand over his mouth. His fingers were trembling, and Harry hurt for him.

Draco took a deep breath. “You were Head Auror for how long?”

Harry’s heart sank; he knew where this was going. “Fifteen years.”

“If your son was the Auror in question and you were receiving this news, what would you think?”

“Nothing.” Harry held his gaze, speaking softly but firmly. “As Hermione took great pains to remind me, this means absolutely nothing other than the wand is still active. That isn’t necessarily bad news, Draco. Don’t automatically make that connection.”

Draco looked over Harry’s shoulder toward the windows with a view out over the rear garden. Harry knew what Draco was seeing; the greenhouse was visible off to the far right, the playhouse near the far hedge. Harry wished Draco would look back at him, wanting to reassure him as much as he could, but he didn’t. He just stared through the windows, looking haunted. After several silent minutes, his lips curled in a small, bittersweet smile.

“There’s one thing I’ve always known about you, Potter,” he said. “Even back at Hogwarts, when we were little more than babies, really.” His eyes came back to Harry’s, and the desolation in them broke Harry’s heart. “You’ve always been a fucking terrible liar.”

He opened the door at his back and went through it silently, closing it so softly it barely made a sound.

Harry collapsed into his desk chair, leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees, dropping his face into his hands.

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Draco was nowhere to be seen when Harry finally left his office to head back to the pre-school, even though Adrian was seated at the island and eating a sandwich and crisps. He smiled around a huge bite of tuna on white and waved as Harry walked through, and Harry found himself glad the little boy was busy eating, and he wouldn’t have to answer any uncomfortable questions about where his Papa got off to.

Harry worked late that afternoon, diving into his paper work and clearing a lot of the clutter that had been lingering for weeks. He told himself he was giving Draco his space by not going home early and not actually avoiding him, but Draco was right; he was a lousy liar, especially to himself.

Hermione was due to Floo at seven, and Harry waited until it was six forty-five before walking through the door. He took his time removing his coat and scarf and hanging them on the coat rack, then sank his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, glancing at the ceiling. He could hear the bath running upstairs, and the faint sound of Adrian’s high voice echoing down the stairwell. He walked through into the sitting room and stopped in surprise when he found Draco seated on the overstuffed sofa. He didn’t turn when Harry entered the room, and his shoulders were rounded, hands linked between his bony knees.

“Oh. Uhm, hello.” Harry sounded almost as uncomfortable as he felt.

“’Uhm, hello’ to you too, Potter.”

“I heard Adrian in the bath upstairs and just assumed…”

“Whimsy is bathing Adrian tonight.” Draco answered the unspoken question. “I didn’t know if I could be finished with him before Granger came through. Plus, I rather thought having him otherwise occupied tonight was probably a good idea.”

“Yeah. Probably.” Harry rocked back on his heels. The silence in the room was stifling after that, and Harry had about decided to go get himself a drink when the flames flared brilliant green. Harry looked toward the grandfather clock on the far wall; Hermione was five minutes early. She was always precisely on time, but rarely early. When her face appeared and Harry saw the serious, hard line of her jaw, his throat felt thick. Harry saw Draco’s shoulders stiffen, and he dropped down into a crouch on the hearth, trying to block her serious expression from Draco’s view.

“Hermione…” he said, trying to warn her of Draco’s presence without saying his name. He might just as well have not bothered; Draco came and dropped down beside him, thrusting himself right into Harry’s personal space and none too gently pushing him to the side.

“Just tell me,” Draco said harshly. “Don’t attempt to hide information from me; I’ll know if you’re lying.”

One of Hermione’s gracefully arched brows quirked upwards. “What in the world makes you think I’d lie to you? Oh, and hello to you, too.”

Harry glanced over and saw the thinning of Draco’s generous lips. “Good evening, Grang…”

“Hermione,” she interrupted. “We decided we’re all past the last name thing, didn’t we?”

“Forgive me, but I’m really not in the mood for niceties this evening,” Draco snapped, and without thinking Harry reached out and put his hand on the small of his back, attempting to calm and reassure him. Draco jerked at the touch and stared at Harry in surprise or shock, Harry couldn’t be sure which. He dropped his hand away, startled by his own unconscious gesture.

“I know today’s news was probably…unsettling,” Hermione went on, unaware of the small drama unfolding in front of her.

A small, strangled noise that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a sob came from Draco’s chest. “Oh, yes. Unsettling. That’s clearly the right word.”

Harry wanted desperately to touch him again, but he held himself back. He was startled by the impulsive need, and the sudden painful ache at the base of his throat. “Draco,” he said gently, wanting nothing more than to comfort him but feeling the need to defend Hermione, too. After all, she was the only one communicating with them from the bloody Ministry; irritation flared as he wondered where Head Auror Shipley was in all of this. “None of this is Hermione’s doing.”

“It’s all right, Harry.” Hermione’s eyes were filled with sympathy and understanding.

He heard Draco take and release a deep breath and some of the rigid anger seeped from his long, slender frame. When he spoke, he sounded tired. “No, he’s right. Without you, Hermione, I’d be sitting at the Manor with no earthly idea if there was any information at all. Please accept my apology.”

“Of course.” She was so kind, Harry thought. She’d always been kind. “I wish there was something else to add this evening, but there is no new information. I want to tell you though, Draco, that we do not consider this bad news. Just… confusing.”

“Confusing?” Draco frowned. “I don’t understand. It sounds to me as if Scorpius and his wand have been separated, and someone else is using it.”

“We don’t know that.” She was insistent.

“Hermione, forgive me, but the Auror’s have been unable to attach his magical signature, correct?” She hesitated, then nodded. “If my son was in possession of his wand and able to cast, he’d have been in contact with me before now.”

She held up one of her hands, palm out. “If he was able to cast, yes.”

“What does that mean?” Some of the angry concern slipped back into Draco’s voice, his posh accent sharpening like cut glass.

“Only that he might be in a situation that makes connecting with either his Auror contact, or with you, dangerous. I really hope you won’t jump to any conclusions. All we know for certain is that his wand is active. That isn’t bad news.”

Harry was watching Draco’s profile, and he could see he wasn’t buying into Hermione’s well-meaning explanation, but held his tongue.

“I also want you to know the second we can definitively pinpoint a location, we have a team ready to go. There will be no delay, and we’ll spare no expense. He’s one of ours, Draco. We won’t leave him hanging out there without back-up.” She was so very earnest, but even Harry could hear how hollow the promises sounded.

“Forgive me, Granger,” Draco replied stiffly. “But I believe he went into this … assignment without back-up, did he not?”

Her uncomfortable silence was her only answer. Draco sighed and looked away. “If you’ll excuse me.” He started to stand.

“Draco.” Urgency made Hermione’s voice tremble. Draco paused. “Please don’t give up. It’s only been four days.”

“I know precisely how long it’s been, to the minute. And I will never give up on my son. Never.”

With that he did stand, and Harry saw the bright wetness of his eyes as he pushed around him. Draco left the room, crossed to the stairs, and took them at a quick pace. Adrian’s little voice floated down from the open bathroom door. He sounded confused.

“Papa?”

Draco said something in response, but he barely paused and moments later the guest bedroom door closed firmly.

Harry heard Hermione sigh, and he looked back into her face.

“That didn’t go very well.” She bit her lower lip and rubbed at her temples, something she’d done for all the years he’d known her when she was anxious or upset. He could see she hadn’t slept any better than Draco had.

“He’s holding on by his fingernails, Hermione. I can’t even imagine how he must feel.”

“I can.” Her large brown eyes looked damp. “And it’s horrible.”

Harry could only agree.

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When Adrian came downstairs, pink cheeked from the heat of his bath and wearing a pair of red pyjama’s with a Hungarian Horntail on the front, he was very subdued. His hair was neatly combed and Harry could smell the sweetly evocative scent of soap and shampoo and little boy, but the sadness in his wide blue eyes tugged hard at Harry’s heart.

“Papa sad,” he said around the three middle fingers of his left hand, which were back in his mouth. Harry gestured him over to where he was sitting on one of the high kitchen stools and pulled them gently from between his lips.

“How about some ice cream,” he offered, trying to instill some enthusiasm into his voice. He didn’t think he succeeded. Adrian shook his head.

“No, fank you,” he replied. “Tired.” He looked up, then lifted his arms in the universal request of children everywhere to be picked up. Harry leaned over and put his hands beneath little arms, lifting him easily. He was going to settle him on his hip but Adrian wrapped his arms around Harry’s neck, pressing his face against Harry’s cheek. “Papa sad,” he repeated. Harry grimaced and rubbed his narrow back in soothing circles.

“I know, baby,” he murmured. “But he’ll be all right, I promise. He’s just feeling upset tonight, but he’ll be better tomorrow. You’ll see.”

There was a weighted silence.

“Master Adrian,” Whimsy said, voice gentle, “it is being your bedtime.”

He gave a watery sigh. “’kay.”

Harry’s chest ached as he settled Adrian back down on his slippered feet, then watched the boy and the elf go up the stairs until they disappeared. He thought he heard Draco come out of his room and go into the room Adrian was sharing with Whimsy, but none of them ever came back downstairs.

Harry tried reading a new Ministry guideline on Early Childhood Education, but couldn’t concentrate worth a damn. He sat in front of the fire until it burned down to ash, then went up to his bedroom. He turned on Monty Don’s show again, but two episodes were over before he realized they’d passed and he couldn’t remember what they were about, so he changed over to the Great British Bake Off. He had a bit of a thing for Paul Hollywood, which delighted Lily, but even that couldn’t keep his attention. He listened for the sounds of Draco moving around, perhaps going back down the stairs, but they never came and Harry drifted off while he was waiting.

He jerked awake some time later, heart racing as he sat up in bed. He ran his hand roughly through his hair, listening to try to ascertain what had pulled him so roughly from sleep, but the house was completely silent. He saw he’d fallen asleep wearing his clothes and his trainers, and rubbed his hands briskly over his face, trying to remember why he was still wearing them. Leaning down to tug at the laces, he saw Netflix had automatically shut off and wondered if that was what waked him, then remembered he’d been listening for sounds of Draco moving around the second floor. He quickly shoved off his shoes and stood as quietly as he could.

There was no sound when he opened the door, just the soft creaks and groans of an old house settling after the activities of the day. Faintly he thought he could hear the sound of Whimsy’s snores through the door down the hall from his, and he smiled slightly, thinking only an exhausted little kid could sleep in the same room with that. Then he noticed that the door to the room Draco was using was ajar, a black gap in the pale grey plastered wall. Harry started for the stairs, instinctively avoiding any creaking floorboards. He was halfway down when he saw the revealing flickering light of a fire in the sitting room fireplace, and he hugged the wall, slowing his descent.

The back of Draco’s head and rounded shoulders came into view, outlined by the flames in the fireplace, desolation in each line. Harry quietly crept down another stair, and then another, stopping abruptly when he realized that his quiet house wasn’t actually… quiet. There was a sound like a cross between someone choking and gasping for air, and Harry realized he’d heard it before. Long ago, in a bathroom at Hogwarts, just before everything in his life was exploding and then awash in blood.

He backed up until Draco wouldn’t see him if he turned, lowering himself onto one of the thick wooden treads, leaning his head against the cool wall and closing his eyes. He listened to the sound of Draco’s fear and anguish, sympathy rooting him to the spot, his heart aching. He had no delusions about how Draco would respond to Harry seeing him crying; he wouldn’t thank him for it. But the tormented sounds made Harry’s heart hurt, and he clasped his hands in front of him hard as Draco’s sobs went on, and on. In his mind Harry could picture Albus, or Jamie, and just thinking of them lost somewhere made his eyes burn. What would he do if one of them went missing, had been for nearly four days without a word? Harry bit his lower lip and swallowed heavily. It would kill him, he thought, bracing his elbows on his knees and pressing his linked hands against his lips until he felt his teeth and tasted the coppery tang of blood; he knew it would kill him.

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Harry didn’t know how long the tortured sounds came from the sitting room, but eventually they faded away and Harry’s eyes drifted open. He leaned forward until he could see the back of the couch, but he didn’t see Draco. He knew no one passed him going up the stairs, and he hadn’t heard Draco go into the kitchen, either. Standing, he took one step, then another, until he was standing at the base of the stairs. Just barely, he could see a pale, long fingered hand curled over the arm of the couch. It was resting palm up, long fingers curled vulnerably toward the palm. He stepped up against the back of the huge piece of furniture and looked down, and his heart bumped painfully against his ribs.

Draco was lying on his back, one arm above his head on the arm to the couch. The other was laying across his stomach, fingers curled in his jumper. His pallid face, all planes and angles in the flickering golden flames burning in the fireplace, still bore troubled evidence of his recent emotional upheaval; slender silver streaks remained on his face and his pale eyelashes lay clumped together, star-like on his cheeks.

Harry exhaled softly then stiffened when Draco’s frown deepened and he flopped onto his side, pulling his arms down and crossing them defensively across his chest. He was shivering, Harry saw, his fingers digging into his bi-ceps in his sleep. Moving cautiously, Harry lifted one of Molly’s thick knitted throws from the foot of the sofa, spreading it gently over Draco, beginning with his feet then covering the long, lean frame. Harry scarcely breathed as he laid it over Draco’s shoulders, watching as some of the wretched tension seeped from his body as he tucked the soft wool beneath his pointed chin.

Harry lifted his hands away, straightening slowly. Draco sighed softly, and everything in him told Harry to go back upstairs and go to bed, and let Draco think Whimsy had come down in the night to cover him, but he couldn’t do it. He just… couldn’t leave him there alone.

Knowing he was an idiot, Harry walked around the sofa and cautiously lowered himself to the floor next to it, cursing his knees when they popped but the noise didn’t seem to disturb Draco. A silent wave of his hand increased the flames in the fireplace and he leaned a shoulder into the frame of the couch, stretching out his long legs and crossing them at the ankle.

Slowly, the room warmed, and Harry relaxed. Listening to the soft, regular sound of Draco’s breathing, it wasn’t long before he slipped seamlessly into sleep.

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It was a crick in Harry’s neck that woke him, sending a zinger of pain down his arm and making him gasp aloud. He sat upright and groaned when the pain didn’t fade but intensified.

“Son of a bitch,” he moaned, reaching up and grabbing the throbbing trapezius muscle on the left side, where his neck turned out to his shoulder.

“You’re getting too old to sleep on the floor,” a smooth voice said with an ironic lilt. “Particularly with your neck in that position.”

Harry jerked his head around, and the throbbing shot up into the back of his skull. He stiffened, and that didn’t help anything at all.

“Oh, fuck.” Tears stung Harry’s eyes, and he heard a muttered curse behind him.

“Oh, do sit still. You great baby.”

A warm hand settled immediately over the source of his pain, and Harry went still. Through the roaring in his ears he heard a murmured incantation, and soothing warmth spread from the base of his skull, down his neck and then down his arm to his fingers. Harry’s relieved sigh was shaky.

“Oh, Merlin,” Harry breathed. “What was that?” He rolled his head carefully. There was a lingering muscle memory of pain, but it was mostly gone. Flexing his fingers, even the last of the pain faded.

“Simple muscle relaxation spell.” Harry turned at the sudden wariness in Draco’s voice, and saw him plucking at the afghan that was pooled in his lap, staring at his knees. “Muscle relaxing spells and potions were very popular for people exposed to Crucio for an extended period of time.”

“I imagine so,” Harry said. “Muscle aches last for days after that one.”

Draco’s eyes lifted. “You’ve experienced it?” Colour infused his face.

“Yes. Probably from the same source as you.”

“Old snake face did enjoy holding that one for a protracted period of time.”

Harry nodded slowly, amazed at the turn the conversation had taken. “He did at that.”

The stared at on another. Harry expected the prolonged silence to grow uncomfortable, and was surprised when it didn’t. Draco’s eyes were wide, and he didn’t even blink.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” He tugged one of the loops of the afghan, lifting it slightly.

Harry nodded slowly. “You were shivering.”

Draco crossed his arms but his usual defensive quip wasn’t forthcoming. “Why were you down here?”

The question shouldn’t have been unexpected, but it caught Harry off guard. Now what did he say?

“I tend to wander in the middle of the night sometimes.” It wasn’t entirely a lie. “It depends on how far I’ve run that day, or how busy the school is. I have… left over body aches from the war, and sometimes I get cramps.” Harry was amazed he was being so honest; he didn’t include that stress made all of the lingering aches and pains worse.

Draco’s beautiful silver eyes were level. “I have left over pains, too. Of course, some of it is just getting old.”

Harry laughed softly. That admission stunned him.

“Never that.” Harry flexed his legs experimentally, turning slightly. “Dumbledore was much older than either of us, and he…”

“Had a grey beard that went to his waist.” Draco’s lips quirked in an almost smile.

“Well, I hate to tell you, Mr Malfoy, but if you grew a beard, it would most likely be grey.”

Draco gave him an exasperated look. “It would be white, thank you very much. White, straight and silky.”

Harry couldn’t bite back a smile. “I stand corrected.”

He was startled when Draco reached out and touched the greying hair at his temples. “Unlike you, who would probably have a great, busy salt and pepper mess like Hagrid’s.” Harry felt the wayward strands curl around Draco’s fingers, and he went very still. So did Draco, his fingers touching Harry’s hair, eyes so wide a slender band of white showed all around the quick-silver iris. Finally Draco seemed to come to his senses, and he snatched his hand back as if he were burned, turning his face away as colour flooded his cheeks.

Harry felt almost as stunned as Malfoy looked.

“Is Mr Harry Potter planning to be taking Master Adrian to school today?”

They both jerked their heads around, finding Whimsy standing in front of the fireplace, her eyes wide, watchful. Harry looked up at the elf, finding himself at her feet to be a very strange experience, indeed. Particularly when he took into account the bright red pinafore and chartreuse blouse, a blue silk peony dipping over one twitching ear.

Harry looked down at his watch, and made a startled sound. If he was going to be on time, he had exactly fourteen minutes to shower and get dressed and get out the door.

He pushed to his feet. “I’m assuming Adrian is ready to go?”

“He is eating his cereal, Harry Potter. And if you are going to be taking him…”

How had both he and Draco managed to miss Adrian and Whimsy coming downstairs, and Adrian eating his breakfast at the island in the next room? Had they truly been that engrossed in each other? He was afraid they had.

“Yeah, I got it, Whimsy.” He looked at Draco again, only to find he was standing and was folding the blanket, carefully avoiding Harry’s eyes. If he hadn’t felt so off centre, the fact the blush remained on Draco’s pale cheeks would’ve entertained him. Harry pushed to his feet. “I’ll be ready, I promise Whimsy.”

“Then Harry Potter better be getting to it.”

It was amazing, how she could order him to do something like a little general, without it sounding as if she ordering him at all. Harry gave her a jaunty salute then turned and jogged up the stairs. He’d have to do his daily run that night, he thought. Behind him, he heard Whimsy scolding Draco and ordering him into the kitchen. The most surprising part was Draco’s silence in response.

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The morning passed quickly, as did most Wednesday’s at Babbity Rabbity. They were always open to parental presence, but Wednesday’s were Harry’s declared in-office hours and there was a steady stream of mums and dads with questions about everything from the curriculum integrating Muggle studies with magical, to the new equipment being ordered for the outdoor play areas. Lunch time came and before he knew it Miss Penny was standing in his office doorway with Adrian held by the hand.

He looked at Goldie Burberry, who had been sitting in front of his desk for nearly thirty minutes, whining about Willie’s refusal to adhere to a scheduled bedtime, and shrugged.

“I’m sorry, Goldie, but it’s time for me to take young Adrian here home for lunch.”

She turned and looked at the little boy, and Harry sighed inwardly as he saw the light of interest flare in her pale eyes.

“Do you walk him home every day?” She asked. “Where are his Mum and Dad?”

“My daddy is ‘n oar,” Adrian said brightly.

Goldie’s eyes gleamed keenly, reminding Harry uncomfortably of Rita Skeeter. He pressed a button on the intercom on his desk.

“Clara, I was wondering if you could pull a copy of the pamphlet on getting toddlers to bed from the file for Ms Burberry? I need to get young Adrian home for lunch.”

“Of course, Harry.” Seconds later Clara was there in the doorway beside Miss Penny, and her look was so imperious that Goldie had little choice but to follow her. Harry rolled his eyes at Penny, who grinned at him and handed his charge over.

“Come on, Buddy,” he said, swinging Adrian up onto his hip to the child’s delight. “Let’s get out of here before someone else wants to share their latest potty-training successes with me.”

Adrian made a face. “Potties? That’s for babies.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Harry grinned and hustled out the door before any of the lingering mums or dads could waylay him. Yet again.

Whimsy was already standing inside the entryway with her skinny arms crossed, waiting when Harry and Adrian came through the door. Harry sent the little boy on into the kitchen ahead of him when he saw Draco seated on the sofa in front of the large river rock fireplace. He looked as if he was trying to read a book, but Harry wasn’t fooled.

“Tell me you haven’t been sitting right in that spot since I left.”

Draco jerked his head around and stared at him, a furrow between his eyes. “I don’t believe I need to tell you anything.”

Harry sighed softly. So they were back to prickly Draco, then.

“He is getting dressed, then he is sitting right there, even to be eating his breakfast.” Harry turned to find Whimsy standing behind him again. It was disconcerting how she could Apparate and Disapparate without a sound.

“Shut it, Whimsy,” Draco snarled, glaring at her.

To Harry’s utter surprise, Whimsy didn’t look in the least cowed. But then she hadn’t, even once, during all of the days the Malfoy’s had been his houseguests. She propped her hands on her narrow little hips, one brow arched in such a Malfoy-esque expression that Harry nearly laughed.

“Begging Master Draco’s pardon?” Her little voice was icy. Draco turned away and glared into the fire.

“Oh, buggar off.”

Whimsy shook her head slowly. “You plan to be kissing your grandson with that mouth, Master Draco?” She gave him another pointed glare, then turned on her heel and stormed from the room.

Harry wasn’t sure exactly what he should do at that point. He looked after Whimsy, then turned and studied Draco’s stony profile. “Do you plan to eat lunch?”

Draco didn’t reply, just shook his head mutely. Harry shoved his hands into his pockets, rocked back on his heels, then followed Whimsy.

He was halfway through his roast beef sandwich on white when an idea occurred to him, much as it had once before with Adrian, and it wouldn’t let go. It was such a simple answer. He stared over at Adrian, who smiled at him around a mouth full of crisps, and Whimsy tutted loudly. Instead of seeming intimidated, he giggled.

“She go ‘phut phut’.” Adrian snorted. “You’s funny, Whimsy.”

“You’s got no manners, Master Adrian,” she shot back, picking up his napkin and wiping his mouth. “Finish you’s lunch before Master Draco is giving you a talking to.”

Harry heard the Floo whoosh in the living room, and he stood abruptly, wiping his mouth. “Whimsy?” He gestured toward Adrian and then his ear.

She nodded solemnly, and even before Harry was striding into the sitting room the sound from the Floo had vanished. When he stepped through Whimsy’s Silencio, his ears popped.

Draco had dropped from the couch to the hearth. “Is there any news? Any at all?”

Harry heard Hermione’s sigh even before he was crouching beside him. Hermione shook her head regretfully.

“Not at this juncture. However, I don’t want you to think we’ve given up hope. We haven’t.”

Draco sat back, looking away. “Yes, I know, Granger,” he said wearily. “The Auror Department doesn’t leave one of their own. Silence doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I believe I’ve heard your song and dance for several days in a row now. What I don’t have is any reliable information about my son. Just… don’t contact me again until there actually is something. Anything.” His eyes came back to Hermione’s, and they looked painfully lost. “Hearing nothing, day in and day out is… I simply can’t…” He grabbed at his hair, yanking on it, then he shoved to his feet on an inarticulate noise and rushed from the room.

Harry watched Draco as he rushed up the stairs, then sat heavily on the hearth, turning his eyes to Hermione.

She looked miserable.

“Don’t,” he said. “This isn’t your fault, Hermione.”

“I should have tried to talk them out of it; I should have made them bring Scorpius home while he was still in touch, before he disappeared.” She bit her lip, then shook her head. “Harry, this whole thing is such a nightmare.” She lowered her voice. “There is some news, but not that I planned to share with Draco.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“It isn’t.” She grimaced. “I got an owl from Skeeter this morning.”

Harry sighed. “Fuck. What does she know?”

“Not much, other than something is wrong inside the Auror department, and that I’m somehow involved. We’re playing it very tight to the vest, even inside the Ministry. There are only a handful of people who actually know what’s going on. But you know her; she’ll run with it even if there isn’t anything to run with.”

“Yeah, I’m familiar with her technique, after years of being on the receiving end of it.” He laid his arms over his knees.

She leaned closer in the flames. “Harry, I feel so badly for Draco. He’s sitting there in front of the Floo, waiting for news of his son, and I haven’t been able to give him anything.”

Harry chewed his lower lip thoughtfully. “He needs something else to think about, at least for a few hours a day. And I have an idea. I don’t know if he’ll even be interested…”

“Well, you work on that, and I’ll keep working at this end.”

He took in her hair, tendrils of which were brushing her cheeks, and the dark circles beneath her eyes.

“When is the last time you went home, Hermione?”

“I was home last night.” She evaded his eyes.

“Yeah? What time?”

She didn’t answer for what felt like a long time. “It doesn’t matter.”

“The fuck it doesn’t,” he snapped. “I bet it matters to Ron. This isn’t your fault, and it isn’t your responsibility to fix it.”

She gave him an irritated, narrow-eyed look. “And that argument always worked so well with you.”

He couldn’t really retaliate to that.

She huffed. “I’m sorry. This certainly isn’t your fault, either. I’m just worried about him.”

“Actually,” Harry looked toward the stairs, frowning, “so am I.” He leaned closer to her and lowered his voice. “From here on out, send Pig with any info unless they actually manage to find Scorpius.”

“Agreed. I’ll be in touch.”

Harry nodded. “Take care of yourself Hermione. Please.”

She gave him a weak smile. “Back at you, my friend.”

The Floo went dark, and Harry sat back, starring into the darkened fireplace for several minutes, his mind racing. Finally, he pushed to his feet and went up the stairs.

Harry stopped in front of Draco’s door, leaning forward to see if there was any sound coming from within the room. There wasn’t, and he reached up and rapped smartly on the door with his knuckles. There was a lengthy pause. Finally, he heard the box springs creak. There were halting steps, and the door slowly opened.

“I know, I know.” Draco appeared in the gap between door and frame. He’d pulled his jumper off over his head and he stood there in jeans and a wrinkled white t-shirt, his pale, fine fringe falling over his forehead. He held up his hand palm out. “I owe Granger an apology, and I’ll give it. None of this is her fault.” He pressed the heels of both hands against his eyes, then sighed. “I also need to go downstairs and try to be a decent human being for my grandson.”

“He’s all right,” Harry assured him. “Inhaling a sandwich and crisps and giving Whimsy a hard time.”

Draco shook his head with a weak grin. “Truly, the child is fearless. Whimsy has terrified me since I was a toddler.”

“I think she’d have scared me, too.” Harry took a half step closer to him, lowering his voice. “I have a thought, if I could talk to you for a moment.”

“You have a thought?” One of the elegantly arched frows quirked. “Does it hurt?”

Harry leaned his hand against the doorframe, his hip cocked to the side. “You’re hilarious. Open the door and let me in, you wanker.”

The door swung open and Draco took a step back, letting Harry pass. Once he was inside the room, Draco sat on the edge of the bed, pale eyes weary and watchful. The room smelled like Draco; something mossy and soft that made him think of spring and cut flowers and the woods after a soaking rain. He’d noticed it ever since Draco had been in the house; it seemed to follow Harry around corners, lingering in the bathroom and in the hall. It smelled clean, and fresh, and went straight to Harry’s groin. He tried to ignore it. With limited success.

“So, you had a thought,” Draco said starkly. “What?”

Harry shoved his hands into the rear pockets of his jeans. “I stand by the idea that Adrian needed a distraction while he was here, and I believe it was the right decision.”

“As do I. He’s much happier being busy.”

“Yeah, he is. And I don’t think the apple fell very far from the tree.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“I think Adrian isn’t the only one who needs to be distracted.”

“Well, I’m a bit long in the tooth for your reception class.”

Harry shook his head even as his lips pulled slightly to the side. The man was a prickly arsehole, but he was also resilient as hell.

“You manage your family estate, right?”

Draco blinked at the complete change of subject.

“Family estate? The Ministry made sure there wasn’t much of one left.”

“You know what I mean. What holdings you still have, you manage them. Do the bookwork. Whatever.”

“Yes. Have done since Father went back to Azkaban the second time. I was, what… seventeen? Eighteen? Only to find out even then he’d near run it into the ground and let Riddle raid the vaults. And why the fuck am I telling you this?” He scrubbed his hand over his face. “In answer to your question; yes. I’ve been in charge of the Malfoy estate for a very long time.”

“So, book keeping and paperwork is no hardship for you.”

“No, it isn’t. Under most conditions, I actually enjoy it. Why?”

Harry pulled the chair from under a small desk against the wall and perched on the edge. “I want to make you an offer.”

The corner of Draco’s full lips quirked. “What, an offer I can’t refuse?” When Harry looked surprised, Draco snorted. “I’ve read The Godfather, Potter. I’ve even seen the film, believe it or not. But given that you aren’t Sicilian, at least as far as I know, or involved with the Mafia, I find myself mystified.”

Harry forced a small smile. “Maybe I can sort that out for you.”

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It was just after ten the next morning, and Harry sat on a large round rug surrounded by a group of three-year-olds. The teacher for this level went home with a migraine, and he was leading the fifteen bright-eyed toddlers in song time. He’d donned an ancient beaver top hat and a fuchsia and chartreuse scarf with sequins, and blue fingerless gloves. The kids were wearing an eye-bleeding assortment of hats and scarves and gloves, and once the initial squabbles over who got to wear what were settled, they were happily following along as he waved his arms and sang one of their favourite nursery songs. Adrian had a huge floppy hat on his head with an assortment of silk flowers decorating the brim, elbow length grey gloves that actually went nearly to his armpits over the top of the sleeves of his jumper, and giant clip on earrings that looked like gardenias on his ears. Harry’d had to bite back a laugh when he’d seen him, and Adrian’s wasn’t the most elaborate get up in the room. He grinned around the circle, and directed the class as they sang joyfully out of tune.

“Three little speckled frogs sat on a speckled log, eating some most delicious bugs, Yum, yum!”

The high voices overlapped his, with a good deal more enthusiasm than skill, and he made his eyes very wide as he performed exaggerated arm movements of little frogs diving and doing the back stroke.

“One jumped into the pool, where it was nice and cool, now there are two speckled frogs. Glug, glug!”

He was matching movements to the lyrics , ”two little speckled frogs”, flicking out his tongue to eat ‘most delicious bugs’ when he caught movement in his peripheral vision and looked over at the open classroom door. There was a man standing there, a very handsome man with dark brown hair and light skin, wearing a dark jumper and black slacks under a well cut grey blazer. He caught Harry looking and gave him a knowing smirk. Harry turned back to the children, heading enthusiastically into the last verse, when something about the smirk and the cashmere jumper registered. He jerked his head back around, and straight white teeth appeared in a sardonic smile.

There had been no definitive decision about Draco coming to work at Babbity as a bookkeeper when the conversation ended the night before; Harry didn’t want to push, so he’d left the offer with Draco and walked away. Draco hadn’t said anything at breakfast that morning, so Harry assumed he wasn’t interested. Seeing him standing in the doorway, artlessly elegant even glamoured as someone else, made Harry’s heart begin to race. It was the clothes, Harry thought, then dismissed it. No, it was just Draco.

They finished the song with a flourish, hands in the air, and gave themselves an enthusiastic round of applause. Harry stood, sweeping the hat from his head in a deep bow, and the children giggled in delight.

“Be alert, tad pols,” he called out. “Dress up clothes go in the dress up box, neatly and quietly”, he added louder when they began a small stampede toward the trunk in the corner. Immediately they slowed, cutting back on the volume. Gods, he wished his Aurors had been as anxious to please as these little kids were, at least with him. With the children it had nothing to do with the fact he was Harry Potter, chosen one. He was Harry, their headmaster, and they loved him and wanted to please him. At least, most of them did. “Willie Burberry, I can see you.” The little blond-haired boy in question was wadding up his scarf with a ferocity that could only be managed by a three-year-old. He stopped and looked guiltily over his shoulder. Harry mimed the motions of folding carefully, and Willie nodded, sighing dramatically. That one was either going to be an actor or a politician, and Harry wasn’t sure which.

“All right, now,” Harry rubbed his hands together. “If you will all take your seats on the rug, I’ll step out to see if it might be snack time.” The toddlers cheered, quickly returning to seats on the carpet. Nothing got their undivided attention like snack time.

Harry gestured to the parent helper who sat in the corner. “Can you watch this lot for a few?”

“Of course.” She smiled at him. He’d noticed her eyeing the man who was now leaning negligently against the doorframe, and he didn’t want to examine too closely why that bothered him. “I don’t look nearly as fetching in the beaver hat as you do, however,” she went on.

Harry felt himself colouring. “Snacks should be right in, and the substitute should be here shortly, too.”

He stepped out into the hallway, gesturing for the disguised Malfoy to follow him, then walked toward an open area just at the top of the stairs up from the basement. There were three rolling carts sitting in a row, plastic plates with cut up apples and cheese in neat lines, and boxes of milk on the bottom shelf in carts. There were parent volunteers setting up each neat plate, gathering the little paper straws that went into each carton, visiting softly. They looked up when Harry and his companion approached, and there were admiring looks on more than one face as they watched the dark-haired man standing next to Harry.

“Well, this looks great,” he said, hands clasped at his back and eyeing each neat plate. “The sprogs will be thrilled. The only thing that would be better would be half a dozen of Molly’s biscuits and Cherry Coke.” The parents laughed appreciatively. “And as you can all guess I’m sure, they’re currently about ready to eat the carpets.”

A tall young woman with shoulder length strawberry blonde hair and bright hazel eyes swept in through the school's double doors, whipping a scarf from around her throat. Harry smiled at her gratefully.

“Aww, Dorianne, bless you. I don’t believe I’ve ever been so glad to see anyone.”

She laughed brightly. “I’m sure you did just fine.” She hung her things on the crowded coatrack just inside the door, rubbing long, slender hands together. “Lord, its cold. February can’t be over soon enough for me.”

The other adults milling around agreed softly.

“So, which room, Harry?” she asked brightly.

“Four.” She gave him an amused grimace. “Hey, at least you’re going in armed with food.”

“There is that.” She took one of the loaded carts and one of the volunteers, and wheeled it off down the long hallway.

“If one of you could please go tell the teachers those are ready,” Harry told the group left, then turned, gesturing for Draco to come with him. “So, is that a glamour or Polyjuice?” he asked under his breath as Draco fell into step beside him.

“Glamour,” Draco answered. “My mother was very good with them, and she was an excellent coach.”

“Impressive.” Harry studied his profile as they walked. It truly was amazing; he didn’t see a trace of Draco in the handsome face. At least, not until he began to speak. His facial expressions and the posh, swotty voice were unmistakable. Harry also noticed that the change of appearance seemed to end at his neck; the skin on his throat and hands was the same as that on his face, but the long fingers and neat nails were distinctive. They were unmistakably Draco’s. For some reason, Harry was glad. He might not find Draco in the handsome face, but his hands were all Malfoy.

“So, I’m assuming Adrian isn’t going to know anything about this.” He glanced over in time to see Draco shake his head.

“No. There’s no need. And expecting a three-year-old to keep a secret is unreasonable.”

“I agree. It’s better this way. And as you’ll be here during the same hours, there’s no need. I would say ‘hopefully you’ll be here long enough to unravel my bookkeeping mess’, but that isn’t true.”

A shadow passed over the handsome face. “I can’t help but agree.” It looked to Harry as if he forced the small smile. “And given you’ve been doing all of the bookkeeping yourself, I can only assume it would take just this side of a miracle.”

Harry gave him a sardonic look and opened the door to the office. He gestured Draco in ahead, then followed on his heels.

Clara was seated at her desk and looked up, her eyes going straight to Draco before she looked at Harry, one eyebrow raised.

“Clara, this is Thomas Culpepper.” They’d decided to use the name of one of Draco’s long-lost uncles on his mother’s side back at least two generations. Harry was surprised that Walburga Black’s relatives were anything as mundane as a Culpepper, and he told Draco he didn’t remember seeing any Culpepper’s on the tapestry of the Black family tree.

“There was only the one son, and he died in infancy.” Draco smirked. “She thought the name too common to add. I think she was embarrassed they were related on her side instead of the Blacks. ‘Wouldn’t surprise me if a wayward Prentice married a Muggle born.”

“God forbid.” Harry gave him a dry look. Draco had merely looked away, but Harry saw amusement in his eyes.

“I’ve asked Thomas to come on temporarily to audit our books,” Harry told an obviously very curious Clara.

She blinked, startled. “Oh.” She looked so nonplussed Harry nearly laughed.

“I want to make sure they’re up to snuff by tax time, in case the Ministry tax auditors come sniffing around.”

“Of course. Welcome, Thomas.” She gave Draco a sweet smile.

Harry nearly laughed at his startled expression.

“I… thank you, uhm…”

“Clara,” She provided. Draco’s cheeks coloured and Harry found it extremely entertaining.

“Clara.” Draco spoke softly, his eyes darting toward Harry. When he caught his wry grin, he glared. For some reason, that only increased Harry’s desire to laugh.

“Can I make you tea, gents?” Clara offered brightly. “I’m making some for myself, so it wouldn’t be any bother.”

“I’m going to put on another pot of coffee,” Harry answered. “But thank you for the offer.”

She looked to Draco, her faded eyes bright. “Tea, Thomas?”

He gave her what Harry could only think of as a shy nod, biting his lower lip. The expression was so unlike anything he’d seen on Draco’s face before that Harry had to force himself to look away; the impulse to drag him close and kiss him was becoming harder to ignore.

And where had that thought come from?

If he was honest, the whole cohabitation experiment reminded Harry that Draco was the first man he’d ever been attracted to, and it had been an unwelcome note of confusion added to his already complicated teenage life. Now, it was… well, basically the same thing. He was trying to remember why being attracted to Draco Malfoy wasn’t a good idea, and that was confusing. Living with him, watching him interact with Adrian, and seeing how worried he was about his son, was dismantling everything Harry thought he knew about Draco as a person. It was extremely disconcerting.

There wasn’t any place where Harry could install him in his office as it existed, so he did an enlarging charm, adding an alcove off to one side, then put in several rows of book shelves. He waved his wand and sent everything in the office that had anything to do with bookkeeping and receipts to rest on those shelves, and Draco gave him an exasperated look.

“Show off.”

Harry snorted. “Well, I could have carried them all over but…I don’t want to.” He gave Draco a saucy grin, then went to set up his coffee maker for a freshly brewed pot. Draco made a huffing noise behind him, and Harry heard the chair pulled out and a soft creak when he was settling in the seat.

Harry knew concentrating on his own paper work with Draco sitting there was going to be just this side of impossible.

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The next few days were a special kind of hell.

They didn’t hear anything from Hermione or the Auror Department, and more than once Harry found Draco sitting in front of the Floo in the evening, his hands linked between his knees as one knee jittered up and down. Harry didn’t nag, but he listened to make sure Draco didn’t get up in the middle of the night, either. Adrian seemed most unaffected by the tension around them, and Draco did a good job of keeping his worries from disturbing the fragile peace of their temporary home life, but he looked pale and haunted, even in the transient role of Thomas Culpepper.

Harry was hyper-aware of every move he made in their shared office space at Babbity Rabbity; Draco was beautifully dressed and he smelled like heaven, and every time he moved the hair on the back of Harry’s neck twitched. But Draco muttered under his breath, drummed his fingers on the desk top, and occasionally he’d shoot a barbed comment in Harry’s direction.

“Honest to Merlin, Potter. Get a calculator if you can’t do simple arithmetic. This is absurd.”

Harry rolled his eyes but didn’t engage, and within moments Draco was onto another page, and another murmured barb.

Draco went through ledger after ledger, the ones for tuition, and food supplies, payroll and teaching materials. Harry knew they were a mess; he’d never been much good with the maths, but he didn’t think they were that bad, either. He knew Draco was trying to deal with the silence from the Ministry. Harry’s effort to ignore him was the best he could do to keep from snapping back every time Draco drawled one of his snotty comments. He both hated and looked forward to eleven a.m. every day, when Draco left to go to the house to drop his glamour and change his clothes before Adrian came through the door just after noon with Harry.

The weekend brought a bit of a break from the daily tension; Harry continued to work in his garden, and Draco spent his days with Adrian. It became abundantly clear by Saturday afternoon that, but for meal times, they were completely avoiding each other.

The strain eased for Harry somewhat with every weed he pulled and every vine he yanked from the ground. On Sunday, after eating another of Whimsy’s enormous breakfasts Harry walked over to the school to use the Floo to call Hermione, but she still had nothing to tell him; for all practical purposes, Scorpius had dropped off the face of the earth. Imagining what must be going on in Draco’s head helped Harry to ratchet back his own anxiety somewhat, and by Sunday he managed a full night’s sleep.

By Tuesday, he was back to regretting moving Draco into his house, regretting asking him to work on the books, regretting the fact he’d ever met the bloody wanker. Draco made his way through all of the ledgers and was doing the corrections, but his pokes and nags were driving Harry ‘round the twist. Just before he was due to leave for the house on Tuesday morning, Draco brought one of the ledgers to Harry’s desk and threw it down on top of the grant Harry had been slaving over since Monday afternoon.

“Look at this,” Draco snarled, leaning over Harry’s shoulder and jamming his finger into the page. “Look at this!”

Harry’s jaw went so tight he thought Draco must be able to hear his teeth grinding. The scent of Draco hit him then, and his heart rate picked up and his jeans tightened. It was damned frustrating. “What am I supposed to see?”

Draco made a loud sound of aggravation. “For Christ’s sakes, Potter. You added here instead of subtracted. It made the whole column wrong.”

“Then fix it.” Harry couldn’t help it; he knew he snarled through his teeth, and could only be glad the door to the outer office was closed.

“Fix it? Is that what you tell your other staff when you bollocks something up? You expect other people to fix your mistakes for you?”

Raw anger flowed through Harry, just like it had toward this man when they’d both been kids back at school. He turned slowly in his chair and looked up, ready to tear a strip off of Draco, only to find the unfamiliar face inches from his. The features were different, but the expression was all Malfoy, and as he watched the blue leached from Thomas Culpepper’s eyes and they faded to silver with a pewter ring. They looked huge, and the pupils contracted down and down and…

Harry stiffened when Draco’s hand shot out and curled around his nape, and he yanked Harry up into a half standing position, covering his mouth with demanding lips. Draco kissed him, hard, so hard Harry’s lips were crushed against his teeth.

Harry was stunned. Here he’d been fighting his attraction to Draco, trying to keep in mind the other man’s anxiety, and now Draco was thrusting his slick, strong tongue between Harry’s teeth and halfway down his throat. It felt like a very long time before he had both the presence of mind and the resolve to reach out and push Draco back.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Harry gasped out, dropping back into his chair with a thump.

“Kissing you, you git. Is it the concept you object to, or me?”

Draco’s breath was as short as if he’d run a mile, and the strange face was flushed across the high cheekbones.

“I don’t…wait…what?” Harry gasped out, knowing he sounded incoherent. Draco shoved him away and stepped out of reach.

“Oh, for fuck’s sakes, if you don’t want to kiss me just say so. I don’t ordinarily have to work this hard – “

Harry was out of his seat between one heartbeat and the next, grabbing Draco’s slender biceps and shoving him back into the wall hard enough his head bounced on the plaster. Draco opened his mouth, but Harry wanted him to just shut up. He pushed one of his knees between Draco’s long, lean thighs and attacked his mouth with exactly the same aggression Draco used when kissing him.

For a first, (well second) kiss, it was neither tentative nor careful. Harry’s fingers bit remorselessly into the tensile strength of Draco’s slender arms, and he pushed his tongue between Draco’s teeth, frankly relieved he didn’t bite him. Instead, strong fingers curled into the hair on the back of Harry’s head and pulled, his tongue pushed against Harry’s in a slippery, sinuous dance, and when Harry lifted his knee and pressed into Draco’s balls, he whimpered into Harry’s mouth.

Harry forgot to think. His reactions were purely instinctual, and he snapped his hips forward, his prick filling until it was hard and aching. He rotated his hips, gasping at the resultant friction, and he muttered a filthy curse into Draco mouth. One of Draco’s arms came around Harry’s shoulders, and Harry shoved his hands between Draco’s arse and the wall, finally filling his palms with the round group of muscles that had lost him sleep several nights in a row.

There was a sound trying to interrupt him, coming from what seemed very far away. Harry wanted it to bugger off and let him get on with things. Instead, Draco pulled his hair hard enough that it brought tears to Harry’s eyes, and he jerked back, staring into the blown black pupils.

“The door,” Draco gasped.

“What?” Harry’s head felt fuzzy and his pants were distended by the most insistent boner he’d had in years, leaving an insufficient amount of blood in the rest of his body to run his brain.

“There is someone pounding on the door. Thank Merlin you thought to lock it.”

“It isn’t locked.”

“Oh, Jesus H. Christ.” Draco elbowed Harry to get him to back away, turning and adjusting his trousers. It did Harry’s ego some small amount of good when he caught a glimpse of the clear outline of Draco’s hard cock behind his zipper, but even he could acknowledge that his timing sucked. The knock came again, and Harry turned his back, bracing his hands on his hips.

“Harry?” It was Clara, and she sounded out of breath, her voice trembling. He turned, subsiding erection forgotten.

“What is it, Clara?”

“There’s an owl out here. It’s a Ministry bird, and it’s…very insistent that its parcel can go only to you.”

“Oh, for fuck’s – “ Harry gave himself another moment for his hard-on to soften enough that he could adjust it in his pants, then strode briskly to the door, flinging it open.

It wasn’t Pig, but one of the large horned owls used by the Minister’s office. It flew in through the door and dropped a folded parchment on top of the ledger Draco’d left on his desk. Without even slowing, it turned and flew back out again. Harry glared after it, then looked for Clara. She was standing behind her desk, cradling one of her hands to her chest, a nasty gash on the back that was bleeding heavily.

“Oh, shit, Clara.” Harry crossed to her in three long strides and pulled several tissues from the box on the corner of her desk. He reached for her hand, but Draco beat him to her, grabbing the tissues and shoving Harry out of the way. Harry gave him an incredulous look.

“May I see?” Draco asked Clara gently, and he didn’t even sound winded. The fucking bastard, Harry thought.

“It bit me.” Clara held out her shaking hand, biting her lower lip. Tears of pain rimmed her eyelids.

“This may sting a little,” Draco murmured, dabbing at the blood and looking up into her eyes. “But I can heal it, if you’ll trust me.”

She hesitated less than a second before she was nodding. Harry didn’t hear the incantation, but he watched as Draco ran his wand the length of the divot in her skin, and the muscle and flesh knitted closed before his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she said, running her fingers over the faint scar. “I don’t usually get so emotional. It just startled me…”

“No need to apologize, Clara,” Harry said gently. He glanced behind him at the missive on his desk. “I do plan to have a discussion with the Minister about that bird.”

“No, Harry. I’m all right.”

She offered him a weak smile. She caught ‘Thomas’s’ arm before he turned away. “Thank you.”

He nodded his dark head, and turned to precede Harry back into his office. Harry put his hand on Clara’s shoulder. “You’re sure you’re okay?”

She waved him away. “Of course I am.” She sounded better, but she was still pale and shaky, and Harry decided to give her exactly five minutes. If she still looked as pale, he wasn’t giving her a choice and was sending her home, if he had to take her through the Floo himself.

Draco stood next to Harry’s desk when he returned, his hands on his hips and his head lowered, but he hadn’t picked up the parchment. Harry scooped it off of the ledger and popped the wax seal. A thick card fell out of the envelope into Harry’s hand.

”Harry,” it said. “I need you and your house guest to be available at the Floo in your residence at ten forty-five. Sincerely, Kingsley Shacklebolt.

Harry’s heart was thumping hard when he finished reading, and he looked at the clock on the wall, then handed Draco the card. It was ten thirty; they were going to have to hurry in order to be in the house before the Floo call came through. He’d decided Apparating made the most sense when Draco caught his arm.

“Harry,” he dug his long fingers into Harry’s forearm. “Would you…? I don’t trust my Apparition spell right now.”

“We’ll be back as soon as we can, Clara,” Harry called out.

“That’s fine, Harry.” She sounded less shaken. Harry reached out and took the card from Draco’s free hand, vanishing it with a quick wandless spell. He trusted his staff implicitly, but he also believed caution was necessary in this situation, and he wouldn’t put them at risk; the less they knew, the safer they were. “On my three. One, two – “

Harry hated Apparating. He was relieved when his sitting room came into view around them and they both seemed to have made it one piece. Draco took a staggering step back, running his hands up into the dark hair, leaving it dishevelled and falling into his eyes. He took his wand from his sleeve with a sharp curse, cancelling the glamour. Harry watched it slip away, dark hair fading to white blond, blandly handsome features shifting to the sharp, pointed ones he knew so well and preferred. Draco took several steps away, then whirled back.

“I’m not sorry,” he ground out between clenched teeth. “I’m not.”

It took Harry a moment, but then he knew what Draco was talking about. His heart slammed into the base of his throat.

“Neither am I.”

Draco’s eyes gleamed fiercely bright for a moment, then they both stiffened at the sound of soft footsteps behind them.

“Master Draco? Harry Potter, sir? Has something happened to Master Scorpius?” Whimsy sounded frightened, and Harry turned.

“We don’t know anything yet,” he said as gently as he could. “We’re just waiting for a Floo call from the Ministry.”

“Oh.” She took a step back. “Whimsy will go upstairs until…”

“No, it’s all right, Whimsy. You have as much invested in this as we do. Please,” Draco gave her an encouraging look, “stay.”

She looked surprised to be included, but crossed her arms over her skinny little chest, gripping her elbows. “Thank you, Master Draco,” she whispered, and he gave her a slight nod in response.

The flames flared bright green behind them, and Harry and Draco immediately crouched side by side on the hearth. Harry felt Draco stiffen at his side when Kingsley Shacklebolt’s gleaming bald head and intense dark eyes came in to view.

“Gentlemen,” he said, deep voice rolling out from the flames.

“Kingsley,” Harry said. He heard Draco murmur ‘Minister’ respectfully from his side.

“I won’t mince words. At approximately seven forty-three this morning, the Auror Division was able to pick up and identify Auror Malfoy’s magical signature in an area not far from the northern Scottish border. We have zeroed in on the coordinates, and a special weapons unit is being deployed as we speak.” Harry heard Draco inhale sharply at his side. He reached over, unseen by the Minister, and gripped Draco’s hand. Draco squeezed back, almost painfully hard. “As soon as we have any further information, you will be the first to know.”

Harry leaned forward. “Please send your Patronus next time.”

The Minister frowned and opened his mouth.

“We’ll discuss why at a later date,” Harry went on, and Draco made a disbelieving sound at his side. “Just know if you send that bird into my pre-school again, I’ll send its feathers back to you in a box.”

Understanding dawned over Kingsley’s tight, harried features. “Yes, all right. He isn’t friendly, just fast.” He turned to Draco. “We’ll let you know what’s happening just as soon as we can, Mr Malfoy. I want you to know that your son’s service is greatly appreciated by all of us.”

Harry thought that sounded a bit too much like a eulogy and he watched Draco, saw the muscles in his throat working, and his jaw clenched tight. He gave the Minister a curt nod, which Kingsley returned as the flames flared and faded.

They both sat staring into the darkened fireplace for a long time, then Harry linked his fingers with Draco’s and held on. “He’s going to be fine,” Harry said quickly. “He’s too bloody smart to be anything else.”

Draco collapsed back onto his arse, his free arm across his drawn-up knees and his face buried in his elbow. Harry didn’t offer any more useless platitudes; he knew he wouldn’t appreciate them if their positions were reversed. He looked over at Whimsy. She was still standing where she’d been, elbows gripped in her long, spidery-fingered hands. She was staring at Draco with tears filling her large eyes, and Harry had to look away, fearful he’d join her if he didn’t.

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Harry was reclining against his headboard, long legs clad in thin plaid sleep pants and crossed at the ankles. The television on the wall was on but he wouldn’t be able to identify what he was watching if he had to. His mind was racing as the tension in his house grew to almost unbearable levels.

He’d gone back to the school to get Adrian at the noon dismissal time, leaving a silent, anxiety-ridden Draco sitting on one of the tall stools at the kitchen island. He brought the little boy home and stayed long enough to force down a sandwich, then forced himself to go back to Babbity Rabbity. His first instinct was to stay at home with Draco and Adrian, but he knew it wouldn’t do anyone any good. Still, he was all but useless at the pre-school, staring at the wall, startling every time anyone tried to talk to him. He finally sent Clara home at three, even though the tough little lady seemed to be absolutely fine, and he remained in the front office, supervising Floo travel until the last of his staff wandered out at 5:45. Harry closed the Floo and locked up the office and the school, then walked around the back of the building and Apparated into the entry way of his home. After Apparating twice in one day, his stomach felt like it was about to climb up his throat.

Draco avoided Harry’s eyes all evening, taking Adrian out back to play, giving the boy a long bath and helping him with a worksheet about identifying colours and things like the Knight bus, and a wand. Harry didn’t try to pull Draco into conversation, just left him to handle the stress however best suited him. He managed to get Hermione on the Floo while Draco had the little boy upstairs, but she had no new information; the squad had been gone for eleven hours, and Harry could tell from the harsh lines around her mouth that the anxiety at the Ministry matched what was thickening the air in his home. Harry went to his room after Draco took Adrian up to bed, choosing to do the bedtime routine with his grandson rather than have Whimsy do it. Harry understood; anything to occupy his mind so he wouldn’t dwell on what was happening in northern Scotland.

It was late and Harry was dozing fitfully when his bedroom door opened and Draco slipped in. He closed the door silently and leaned back against it, staring at Harry, his eyes very wide.

“Draco, what…?” Harry rubbed his hands over his face.

Draco held his finger in front of his lips. He was wearing black silk pyjama pants and a thin black jumper, and he climbed onto the bed, crawling toward Harry. When Harry opened his mouth, he shook his head, his pale, luminous fringe falling into his eyes.

“What…?” Harry tried again, and Draco reached out and pressed his hand over Harry’s mouth.

“Do you have an alarm on your Floo?”

Harry blinked. “Yeah; the bell…” He gestured toward a small silver bell on his bedside table, and Draco nodded before pulling back his hand.

“I don’t want to talk,” he said, his voice raw. “I don’t want to think. Just…help me not think.” He leaned close, and Harry tasted minty toothpaste on his breath. “Please. Harry. Help me to not think.”

He leaned in and closed the distance between them, sealing his lips over Harry’s and curling his fingers into the thin t-shirt Harry wore.

Harry had a fleeting moment to think it probably wasn’t a great idea, but then Draco’s tongue was sliding into his mouth and his hand was smoothing over Harry’s pectoral muscles, finding a nipple and giving it a sharp pinch through the cotton. Harry gasped. It was like a fire licked its way south, right into his prick. Draco murmured in soft appreciation, hand cupping the muscle and rubbing. His lips clung as Draco threw his leg over Harry’s hips and lowered his pelvis until he was seated on Harry’s cock, trapped against his thigh in the thin sleep pants.

There was only so much a man could take, and Harry reached up, cupping Draco’s face between his hands and pushing the tips of his fingers into the soft blond hair above his ears. He changed the angle of his head to deepen the kiss, nibbling on Draco’s lips. The weight on his cock made his hips shift involuntarily, and his hands slid down Draco’s neck, out along the square shoulders, enjoying the hard line of bone and sinew. He loved the way Draco felt; the surprising muscle in his arms, the v-shape of him, down his slender body to his narrow hips.

“I want skin,” Draco said against his mouth, leaning back to tug on Harry’s t-shirt. Harry complied, and Draco leaned back far enough to allow Harry to cross his arms between them and pull his shirt off over his head. Draco made a sound of pleasure in his throat, both long hands spreading on Harry’s chest, fingertips pressing into the sparse salt and pepper hair on his chest.

“Of course, you’re a fucking wet dream.” Draco sounded so disgruntled Harry could only laugh.

“Is that a bad thing?” Harry worked hard at keeping his body taut and thin, and this was the first time anyone he shared his bed with sounded unhappy about it.

“No, not bad. Just,” Draco bit his lower lip, and the show of insecurity was so out of character that Harry ran his fingers down Draco’s arm. Draco took a deep breath. “Just remember, I haven’t spent my life chasing down criminals and being Head Auror, all right?”

Harry’s hands shifted to the soft cashmere covering Draco’s chest. “That doesn’t matter to me,” he murmured with all of the sincerity he felt. “I just want to feel your skin on mine.”

Draco stared into Harry’s eyes, then silently reached for the bottom of his jumper. When he pulled it off over his head, Harry felt his breath leave him in a rush.

“Oh,” he whispered, desire spiralling up. His hands immediately mapped the subtle musculature of Draco’s chest, fingers sliding over scars so old they were even paler than the smooth skin covering his body. He looked like he’d been carved from an ancient piece of marble, white with lighter veining, his nipples held just a touch of pink, hard in the cool night air. There was perhaps a pinch of extra skin on his belly, but it humanized him in a way Harry couldn’t even describe, and his cock jerked under Draco’s arse.

“You’re beautiful,” Harry breathed.

“You’re insane,” Draco countered, rolling his eyes. Harry could see he wanted to cross his arms and wouldn’t let him, gripping one wrist and holding it by his side.

Harry ran his hand up Draco’s side, his thumb tracing one of the long thin scars. “Draco,” he whispered. Of all of the things he’d done in his life that he wasn’t proud of, and there was a list, this was the worst. Seeing them took him back thirty years.

“Don’t,” Draco said coarsely, apparently reading Harry’s intentions on his face. “Don’t you dare; it doesn’t matter anymore and you will not suddenly go all repentant, humble hero on me.”

Harry glared at him. “How about if I just want to apologize, you git?”

Draco smacked Harry’s shoulder in time with his words. “Not – while- I’m- hard. You wanker.”

Harry rubbed his upper arm, because those had not been little love pats, but he also felt a confusing roil of arousal and the untimely desire to laugh. “You’re such an arse.”

Draco must’ve read the amusement on Harry’s face, because he leaned forward on stiffened arms, bracing himself on Harry’s leather padded headboard and trapping his head between his arms.

“But I’m an arse you want, Potter.” He leaned closer still, until their lips were only millimetres apart. “You,” he licked Harry’s upper lip, “are hard, too.”

Unable to stop himself, Harry rolled his hips up, sliding his cock against the weight of Draco’s balls, and a shudder ran the length of the beautiful body on top of him. Draco’s head dropped back, the lovely line of his throat interrupted only by the subtle bulge of his Adam’s apple. Unable to resist, Harry lifted into the bracket of Draco’s arms and licked it, then covered it with his lips and sucked softly. Draco shivered, lifting to grip Harry’s biceps in strong hands. He pressed his hips forward, brushing his erection against Harry’s stomach.

Harry moved his lips along Draco’s throat, then dropped his head and sealed his lips over one tight little nipple. He curled his tongue around the nub, flicking lightly, and Draco’s hips jittered forward again. Moving his hands to grab Draco’s arms, Harry rolled them until Draco was on his back on Harry’s dark blue duvet, staring up at him with eyes wide and more vulnerable than Harry had ever seen them. Holding his gaze, Harry cupped Draco’s hard cock through the silky fabric, flattening his palm over it. Draco’s eyes fluttered, and he pushed up, reaching down to curl Harry’s fingers around his hardness and directing several emphatic tugs through Harry’s fist, up to the tip and then down to the base. A small wet spot appeared on the front of the expensive pyjama pants.

The scent of his arousal was like catnip, invading Harry’s senses. His cock was jerking with the steady pounding of his heart, and he pulled his hand away from Draco long enough to shove it under the waistband of the silken black fabric. With one smooth motion, Harry pushed the pants down Draco’s long legs, pulling them off over his feet and throwing them to the floor. He stared at the beautiful, pink tipped cock that lay flat against Draco’s belly.

“Now this,” Harry bent until his mouth was level with the tip of the gracefully arched prick, taking it in his hand, “this is beautiful.” He flicked his tongue out and collected some of the slickness from the head of Draco’s hardness, curling his tongue under the collar of his foreskin and swirling it around the tip. Draco’s fingers sank into Harry’s hair and he arched up, long body stretching on the bed. Harry ran one hand up over Draco’s stomach then to a sharp hipbone, holding him pressed to the bed when Draco would have thrust into his mouth. The hand around the elegant prick moved up and down, pulling his foreskin back and pressing his tongue into the dripping slit.

“Fuck, Harry.” The hand not tangled in Harry’s hair curled in the bedding, white- knuckled with strain. “If you don’t stop that, I’m going to embarrass myself completely.”

Harry grinned up at him and drew back, and Draco curled his fist around the base of his cock. Harry could see he was squeezing tight, and after a few ragged breaths the tautness on his face relaxed slightly.

“Better?”

Draco’s eyes burned. “Temporarily.”

Harry’s eyes moved over Draco’s long legs and curved hipbones, settling on the thatch of blond hair at the base of the lovely cock Draco gripped in his hand, and the heavy pink balls beneath. Harry reached down and cupped them in his hand, then looked up into Draco’s face.

“Is this okay?”

“As long as you stop if I tell you to.”

Harry gave him a lopsided grin. “Pushy.”

“If you’re insinuating I’m a bossy bottom,” Draco said sharply, “I’ll have you know…”

“Not insinuating anything, Draco,” Harry murmured, curling his fingers under the heavy balls and lifting. Draco caught his breath. “God, you’re prickly. I just want everyone involved to have a good time.”

“How democratic of you.” The words were snide, but his head dropped back as Harry rolled the round globes slowly. When he lifted them into his palm, Harry could see the small pink pucker beneath, and his heart beat faster.

“You’re so fucking hot,” Harry murmured, his lips going back to Draco’s nipples. One of them was already bright pink with a rush of circulation, so Harry concentrated on the other, taking it between his teeth and biting down none too gently. Harry could see Draco’s hand tightening punishingly around the base of his prick, and he had a sudden, devilish impulse to test that self-control. Without taking his hand away from Draco’s balls, he leaned over and took a small, clear bottle of lube from his nightstand. He extended one finger and touched the furled, dusky skin, and Draco shuddered and whined.

“Fuck,” he gasped, his legs falling open wider.

“You don’t care if I play?” Harry asked, pressing in slightly against the resistant flesh. Draco lifted onto his elbows with what looked like Herculean effort and stared down his long body, then up into Harry’s eyes.

“Fingers are fine,” he said. “Fingers are…” He closed his eyes and clenched when Harry slid the tip of his index finger over the sensitive skin again. “Fingers are good. I just don’t…” He seemed almost desperate for Harry to understand. “I just…don’t.”

“No worries,” Harry said with a gentle smile. “There are lots of things we can do that don’t include a cock going up someone’s arse.”

Draco’s whole body sagged with relief. “You’d be amazed how many men think the only sex is anal.”

“Then they aren’t very damned creative.”

Draco chuckled, shaking his head. “I’m betting that isn’t a problem you have, is it, Potter?”

Harry flipped the cap open on the lube and poured some of the clear, slick liquid into his palm. “Back to Potter, is it?”

Draco’s eyeroll was almost audible. “Fine, then. Harr – “ he gasped when Harry spread the lube over Draco’s balls, then his fingers, then the shaft of his prick. “Cold?”

“A bit.” He raised his knees. “Feels good.”

“Hmm.” Another pump of the top of the bottle, and Harry had another hand full of lube.

“So, lubrication spells don’t work for you?” Draco asked breathlessly.

Harry pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the skin just above Draco’s pale pubes, taking a nip with his teeth. Draco gasped. “Muggle raised, remember? I never even think of it.” Harry made sure his index finger was liberally coated. “But the few times I’ve used the spell, I find I like this better.”

“Okay, fine.” Draco said. Harry rubbed his finger around the tight hole, and Draco whimpered. After a few minutes of stimulation, he was flushed and impatient. “Whatever, just – “

Harry pressed the tip of his finger against the tight ring of muscle and pushed, and Draco’s body clenched and then relaxed, accepting the gentle, consistent pressure. Harry went in to the first knuckle and stopped; his hands weren’t small, and he went carefully. The heat inside of Draco surrounded his finger, and Harry closed his eyes.

“Christ, you’re tight.”

Draco snorted inelegantly. “Not letting anyone shove their cock up my arse will do that.”

Harry paused, frowning slightly, a thought occurring. “Did someone hurt you?”

Draco closed his eyes, turning his face away. “Just more than one person who didn’t know what he was doing. I’ve found it’s better to refuse than risk it.”

“Mmmm. Well, like I said, that is a minor thing as far as I’m concerned.” Harry pressed in and Draco’s body gripped then relaxed, allowing him in to the second knuckle. Draco’s mouth dropped open and he made a visible effort to regulate his breathing. “Fortunately, I know my way around a man’s arse.”

“Brag, brag, brag,” Draco muttered. Harry grinned, then slid his finger in the rest of the way and curved it up toward Draco’s pelvis, pressing, searching. When he found what he was looking for, Draco’s whole body jerked. “Success,” he said, his voice breathy. “Apparently you weren’t just boasting.”

Harry looked up to find large grey eyes studying his face. “Do you always talk this much when a man has his finger up you?”

“I don’t know.” Draco licked his lower lip. “It depends on if he…” Harry circled his finger, and Draco squeaked. Harry bit back a laugh.

“So that’s the off button.”

“Oh, my God.” Draco squeezed his muscles down around Harry’s finger. “Did you study to be a proctologic healer?”

“Nag, nag, nag.” Harry couldn’t resist, and Draco gave a soft, ragged laugh.

“You bastard.”

“Tell me you don’t like it.”

Draco’s hips jerked when Harry pressed in against the spongy knot.

“I didn’t say that.”

“No, you didn’t.”

Harry rotated his finger, maintaining pressure on the gland, and Draco rolled his hips, his head back and his eyes closed.

“Like that?” Harry said.

Draco’s eyes snapped open and he glared. “Am I complaining?”

Harry grinned. “Not so much, no.”

Draco slapped Harry’s chest. “So stop messing about!” Harry stilled his hand.

“Do you have to hit?”

Draco glared at him. “So help me Potter, I will kill you.”

Harry began the internal massage again, grinning. The teasing and nagging was turning him on almost as much as the heat of Draco around his finger, and he couldn’t help but wonder what that said about him. “Tell you what,” he said conversationally, “If you can call me Harry instead of Potter for as long as we’re in this bed, at least as long as I’m up your arse, I’ll promise not to mess about anymore.”

“Fine,” Draco huffed. “Harry. Harry.” Harry pressed harder. “Oh, God, Harry please.”

After that, Harry couldn’t torture him any longer. He set up a steady rhythm, curling his finger forward in a steady, come hither motion, watching as precome leaked from the head of Draco’s cock, no matter how hard he gripped his base. His muscles began to clench around the invasion of Harry’s finger, his head moving restlessly on the pillow, and his cock bobbed with each massage. Harry caught Draco’s wrist, squeezing.

He leaned forward and kissed Draco gently on his open mouth. “Draco,” he whispered, “let go.”

Draco released his prick, and almost immediately he arched and came with an inarticulate cry, slender ropes of thick white semen shooting up onto his stomach and chest. Harry rode it out with him, whispering encouragement, feeling the internal muscles tighten as Draco attempted to push Harry’s finger out of his arse. Harry didn’t let him; not until the last of Draco’s orgasm had wracked him and he fell, limp, against the bed.

“Oh, dear God,” he muttered, one arm thrown up over his eyes. “Shit.”

Harry pushed his pyjama pants off, his hard cock springing up to slap against his abdomen. Draco opened his eyes and gave Harry a sleepy, sultry look. He looked down at Harry’s hard cock.

“Such a barbarian,” he whispered, running his fingers through the thick dark curls at the base, then following the thick vein up the side of Harry’s prick. “What do you plan to do with this?”

“I planned to jerk off onto your stomach,” he answered. “Unless you have a better idea?”

Draco smiled slowly, and it was so beautiful it caught Harry’s breath. “Much, much better. Give me the lube.”

Bemused, Harry handed Draco the bottle. He pumped his hand full of the shiny slickness, then reached down and rubbed it on the inside of his thighs and along his perineum and balls. He tossed the bottle onto the bed and stretched out his legs, then reached for Harry’s hand. “Come here.” He pulled Harry toward him, reaching between them to curl his hand around Harry’s aching prick, pulling it down from his belly to position it between his slick thighs. He licked the side of Harry’s throat as he pulled him down onto his slender, warm body, and Harry shivered at the first feeling of all of the smooth, warm skin against his. “Ever heard of ‘Oxford style’?” Draco whispered, biting softly on Harry’s earlobe.

“I’ve heard it called a lot of things,” Harry said, breathless, his heart hammering against his breast bone.

“Well, whatever you call it, it comes down to one thing –“ Draco tightened his thighs around Harry’s cock, his mouth against Harry’s ear “—fuck me, Harry.”

Harry didn’t need to be told twice. He pressed his prick into the slick heat, and Draco wrapped his arms around his back, holding him tight.

It didn’t take long; already so revved up he’d nearly come when Draco did, and with Draco whispering encouragement and filth against his ear, his thrusts grew harder and more erratic, his breath shorter. Draco sank his nails into Harry’s skin, breathing ‘yes’, and his teeth into the side of Harry’s throat. Harry came with a muffled shout, his body jerking in a head to toe spasm. When he finally collapsed on top of him, Draco ran his hands up and down over his sweat slicked back, and Harry turned his face into the long, pale neck.

“Merlin,” he muttered when he’d reclaimed enough breath to speak.

“He wasn’t invited to this party.” Harry could hear the smile in Draco’s voice. “Cleansing spell? I left my wand in the other room.”

“Yeah, okay.” Harry performed the spell without moving anything but his index finger, and Draco jerked, startled when the magic moved over their skin.

“Oh, you bloody poser.”

Harry lifted his head to look down at him. “What? You asked me to do it.”

“What, the man says.” Draco’s mouth pulled down at the corners. “The man’s post-coital shudders haven’t even stopped, and he’s performing wandless magic.”

“Post-coital?” Harry fought against the grin that was pulling at his lips. “Who says that?”

“I do, you idiot.” He smacked Harry’s arse, rather harder than Harry thought was necessary.

“Hey!” he complained. “Why do you hit?”

“Oh, shut up.” He wrapped one of his long arms around Harry’s neck and pulled him back down, one leg lifting around his thighs. “You’re killing my glow.”

“Your ‘post-coital’ glow?”

Draco pinched Harry’s arse.

hpdmhpdmhpdm

Harry woke slowly, stretching and feeling a twinge in his lower back from muscles that hadn’t been given a good work out in a while, smiling faintly. The sense of well-being that swamped him as he idly scratched his stomach lingered until he remembered why he felt so relaxed. Then the night before returned in a rush and he sat up and opened his eyes to find the other side of his bed empty, the sheets cold.

Harry fell back onto his elbows with a sigh. He shouldn’t be surprised; he knew that. There had been no promises made on either side. In fact, there’d been almost no conversation afterwards at all. But as Harry’d rolled to his side and Draco nuzzled in against his chest, Harry had allowed himself to hope. He should have known better. He’d been a distraction from the anxiety running rampant through Draco, and Harry couldn’t even be irritated, because he’d known going in exactly what he was doing; Draco had told him. He sighed and hauled himself out of bed, the well-being fading as the soft sunlight slipping in around his curtains grew brighter.

He tried very hard to keep reminding himself that he’d known what he was doing going in, but it didn’t really help. Harry was certain he must’ve experienced more uncomfortable days, too; in fact, he was positive he had. That he couldn’t remember even one Harry chalked up to the presence of his primary irritant being right there, beginning with the moment he walked out of his bedroom door. Draco was coming out of the bath across the hall and they both stopped in something of a startled stand-off until Adrian came bouncing out of ‘his’ room, Whimsy in tow.

“Good morning,” Harry said, holding onto a serene expression with the skills he’d developed over all of his years in law enforcement.

“Good morning.” Draco didn’t look nearly as relaxed, and Harry knew it was childish but he took some simple satisfaction in that.

It was the last he’d get that morning.

Breakfast, even though Whimsy had done a complete traditional fry-up, was interminable. Draco sat across the island, nose buried in the paper but Harry would swear he was every bit as aware of Harry as Harry was of him. He left for the school at seven thirty with Adrian attached to his hand, and the little boy was bouncy and excited as Harry walked him to Babbity; they were going to be having music time that day and Adrian loved to sing. In fact his rendition of ‘Five Li’l Spk’l Fogs’ for Harry as they walked, his high little soprano voice floating on the crisp morning air, brought a smile.

Once ‘Thomas’ arrived, the back office settled into self-conscious silence. Harry went through his messages and cleared his desk, but he could feel Draco across the room, hear the scratching of his quill on parchment. It was maddening. Finally after two hours passed at a snail’s pace, Harry put down his quill with exaggerated care and pushed to his feet.

“I need some air,” he said, fighting to keep his voice even. He started for the door, glancing back to be certain he’d been heard. He wasn’t going to leave Draco alone in the office without any explanation.

Draco looked up, a frown fading from the now familiar but utterly wrong face. “Can I go with you?”

Harry stopped. “Uhm, yeah. If you want to.”

Draco tossed down his quill and grabbed his jacket from the coatrack on the wall. Realizing he’d been about to walk into the cold morning air without his, Harry slipped the mid-calf length wool jacket on, then opened the office door and held it for ‘Thomas’. Harry smiled fleetingly at Clara, who glanced up as they passed through. The scar on the back of her hand had all but disappeared overnight, and her grateful hug for Thomas had made him shift uncomfortably and blush.

They walked down the hall side by side, and every inch felt weighted by the silence. Harry wasn’t sure what he was feeling; glad Draco wanted to go with him, or irritated as shit that he couldn’t get even five minutes alone. He was leaning toward the second.

There was a large winter bare oak just outside of the school entry doors, and Harry went to it, crossing his arms and leaning against the huge trunk, looking out across the vacant playground. Draco stopped a few feet away, his bare hands tucked under his arms, chewing his lower lip. The quiet stretched out, broken only by the sound of a dozen little voices, raised in a song about frogs, singing in the distance.

“Harry,” Draco said finally, his voice soft. “I think we need –“

That was as far as he got. A gleaming white otter appeared to be swimming toward them through invisible water, turning several quick flips before rising up, front paws crossed on its chest and bright eyes quick with intelligence. Harry straightened away from the tree.

“Come to St. Mungo’s,” Hermione’s voice came from the little animal’s mouth. “Now.”

The otter vanished, and Harry saw fear and excitement war for place of prominence on Thomas Culpepper’s face.

“Wait.” Correctly interpreting what Draco’s first move would be, Harry grabbed
his arm before he could disappear. “You don’t Apparate well when you’re stressed out, remember? You told me that yourself.”

“Potter,” he said, trying to pull away, his mouth pulled down in a scowl. “My son.”

“I know, Draco.” Harry pulled him close and spoke near his face. “I. Know. But you won’t help him if you splinch yourself. Take a deep breath, and remember that you need to make arrangements for Adrian.”

“Oh, God.” He ran unsteady fingers through the dark hair.

Harry pulled Draco behind the building where they wouldn’t be seen and drew his wand, holding firm to his arm as he conjured his Patronus. The stately stag appeared and stood before them, regal even in its wispy form, waiting.

“Go to Whimsy,” Harry said. “Tell her Draco has been summoned to St Mungo’s by the Ministry. We don’t know anything yet, but we’ll contact her as soon as we do.”

The stag nodded, then turned and ran toward his house, disappearing after a few steps.

They were inside of Babbity Rabbity for perhaps ninety seconds, just long enough to ask ‘Miss Penny’ to walk Adrian to the house at the end of his class, then Harry wrapped his arm around Draco’s waist and pulled him close, Apparating to St. Mungo’s in three quick jumps. They arrived in the vast, marble floored lobby, and Draco pulled away, pushing through the large, milling crowd while Harry was still getting his breath back and settling his stomach. He didn’t know why, but Apparating with a side-along always accentuated the effects. When he arrived behind Draco at the reception desk, he found him already in the middle of a spirited argument.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the elderly welcome witch was saying, her face a picture of prim disapproval, “but I cannot give out any information on whether or not someone is a patient here. I have been familiar,” her disdain could not have been more obvious, “with the Malfoy family since I was a girl, and you are not a Malfoy.”

“Scorpius is my son, you self-important bitch.”

Harry could see the outrage on her face, then the unsteady hand as she reached for the button that would call security. The whole situation was about to devolve into a true mess. Harry curled his hand around Draco’s arm, and he whirled on him, blue eyes a little wild in Thomas Culpepper’s face.

“Take off the glamour, Draco,” he said in a soft voice, squeezing his arm. “You look like Thomas Culpepper. This isn’t the time or the place for you to hex someone.” Draco stared at Harry, almost as if he didn’t understand what he was saying, then rubbed his hand over his face, drew his wand and removed the glamour. It was just as dramatic as it had been the day before, dark hair fading to light, patrician, pointed features replacing the bland, and the woman at the desk couldn’t seem to decide what to look at; Draco’s startling transformation, or Harry.

“Oh, Head Auror Potter,” she gasped, thin hands crossed over the base of her throat. Harry forced a mild smile.

He chose not to correct her. “As you can see, this man is Scorpius Malfoy’s father. Can you please give us his direction?”

“Oh, of course.” She waved her wand and a page of rolled parchment popped from thin air and landed on her desk. She unrolled it with unsteady hands. “He’s still in the emergency department, fourth floor. I can have someone come get you…”

“That won’t be necessary,” Harry said. He’d spent enough time in the ER; he knew how to get there. “I’ll take him up, then?”

“Of course.”

Draco scowled at him, but didn’t argue when Harry once again wrapped his arm around his slender waist. It took all of his concentration to Apparate them the four floors, and he had to lean against the institution grey wall when they arrived. The fourth floor was redolent with the overwhelming scents of potions and fear. Healers and Medi-witches rushed to and fro, orderlies with baskets of potions floating behind them went in and out of the exam rooms, and the irritating tinny music fought for an audible place with the rush of murmured, intense voices.

Once Harry’s stomach was back where it belonged and the spinning in his head settled, he saw Draco standing across the hall at a bustling nurse's station, trying desperately to get someone’s attention.

“Harry.”

Hermione’s voice cut through the clamour and he turned. She approached on quick feet, her robes creased and tightly curling tendrils of hair escaping from the chignon at the base of her neck. She looked so tired, he thought, then supposed he probably didn’t look much better.

“Where’s Draco?”

“There.” Harry gestured to where Draco still stood, his hands fisted on the counter, leaning forward and trying to make one of the nurses listen. Hermione went to him, putting her hand on his shoulder. Draco jumped and whirled, and she leaned in and murmured something in his ear, then turned and led him back past Harry toward the triage area. Harry followed, but when she pushed through a set of large doors, Draco on her heels, Harry stopped. He wasn’t the boy’s father, and he wasn’t his superior. He was little more than an interested bystander, and he didn’t have a right to be in that part of the hospital. He ran his hand over his slightly scruffy chin, his five o’clock shadow already making an appearance at ten in the morning, then sighed explosively. All he could do was wait, he realized, and he hated it.

There were several of the Ministry issued, uncomfortable plastic chairs along the wall, and Harry dropped into one of the gracelessly.

hpdmhpdmhpdm

Harry had been watching the comings and goings through the massive doors for nearly two hours when Hermione reappeared, pushing at her hair and falling into the chair at his side. She let her head fall back to rest on the wall and closed her eyes.

“Gods, what a day.” she said wearily, rubbing her hands over her face before lifting her head and turning to Harry. “He’s alive,” she said, and Harry felt a rush of relief.

“Good to know. How bad is he?”

“He’s got significant spell damage. Sectumsempra to one leg.”

Harry’s stomach lurched and he winced. “Will he keep it?”

“The emergency Healer has called in an Orthopaedic specialist, and a Neurologist.”

“Why a Neurologist?”

“Extended exposure to Crucio.”

Harry’s relief was replaced with fury. “Who the fuck had him, Hermione?”

“Just who we thought,” she answered, and Harry narrowed his eyes. “Hermione –“

“Harry, you know I cannot tell you that.”

“I can know enough about his mission to protect his father and son in my house, but not who kidnapped him? Did he find out if there was a mole on the inside?” She didn’t answer, but her eyes hardened, and as Harry’d had more than thirty years studying her face, he saw the answer in the clenching muscle in her jaw. “I’ll take that as a yes. Fuck. I hate traitors.” He scrubbed his hand over his mouth.

“Not as much as I do at the moment,” she ground out, and he arched a brow at her. “Harry, as soon as he’s briefed and all security risks have been neutralized, you know I’ll tell you what I can.”

“I know.” He exhaled. “The fact he’s alive is the main thing.”

She nodded. “It is.” She touched his leg just above his knee. “Draco asked if you’d go back to your house and tell Whimsy that he’s been found. He knows she’s frantic.”

Harry’s throat was tight with disappointment, and he felt as if was being dismissed. It wasn’t a rational response, but then he’d never been particularly rational where Draco was concerned. “Yeah, I can do that.”

Hermione tightened her fingers around his leg before he could stand. “Harry, what is it?”

He looked away. “Nothing.”

He grimaced when she pinched him. “Don’t give me that. I know you, and I can see on your face that something is wrong. Did something happen between you and Draco?”

She always had been annoyingly competent at putting her finger right on the heart of the problem, no matter what the problem was. If he didn’t get out of there soon, she’d be able to read everything on his face. He removed her hand gently and stood. “Nothing is wrong. I’m going to go and fill Whimsy in.” He huffed out a bitter laugh. “Well, as much as I can, anyway, with my current lack of security clearance.” That stung more than just a little, even though he knew it shouldn’t. He was retired, it had been his choice, and he hadn’t missed his security clearance until he needed it for something. Even he could see his response was childish.

“Harry, I’d tell you more if I could.” She looked miserable, and he knew he’d tread on her feelings. None of this was her fault, and he felt a bit of a prick. He inhaled sharply, the blew the air out through his lips.

“I know, Hermione,” he said finally. “I’m sorry I snapped. I’ve just been worried about the boy, too.”

She ran her fingers over his arm, her brown eyes sombre. “I know you have. And I’ll tell you everything just as soon as I can.”

He nodded, started to Apparate away, then thought better of it. Three times in one day truly might have him vomiting on landing, and his Floo was connected to the network. Abruptly exasperated, Harry shook his head; if he’d remembered that two hours ago, they could have travelled via Floo from Babbity, and the lining of his stomach might not feel like it had been scrubbed raw with steel wool.

“I’m going to go downstairs and use the Floo, and get Whimsy up to speed. After that, I’m heading back to the school, if you should happen to need me.” Hermione stood up, concern in her dark eyes, but didn’t try to stop him when he headed for the lift. He was halfway across the hall when he stopped and turned back. “Please tell Draco – “ he paused, shoving his hands into his coat pockets, “ – tell him I’m glad Scorpius is home.”

She nodded, opening her mouth to say something, but Harry quickly turned away. He loved her, but right now he just couldn’t deal with any more questions.

When he stepped onto the lift and moved to the rear so two Medi-witches and a Healer could get on after him, he saw Hermione still standing by the chairs, watching. He lifted his hand in farewell as the doors slid silently closed.

hpdmhpdmhpdm

Harry didn’t think he’d ever gone through a longer period of feeling anti-social.

There was the summer going into fifth year when he hadn’t heard from Ron or Hermione, but that had been Dumbledore’s doing, not his. After the Battle of Hogwarts he’d slept twenty-eight hours straight, but there were funerals and memorials, and he hadn’t missed even one. After he and Ginny split, he took about a week to get his bearings, to find himself a flat and get his things out of the house, (such as they were) but he’d still been in contact with the kids every day. Now, other than when he was at Babbity Rabbity, he hadn’t really had a conversation with anyone. In two weeks.

Hermione accused him of sulking, and she wasn’t wrong. Even he could see that. He just didn’t much care. She still wasn’t able to tell him anything about Scorpius’s condition, and even though he understood why, it irritated the shit out of him. Lily was busy with her friends, which Harry knew was as it should be at her age. Al sent him an owl and in his imitable fashion asked ‘hey Dad, you fall off the planet?’ Harry’d answered, ‘nope, not yet’ and a few more sentences, and as he hadn’t heard back he supposed his middle child was satisfied with that. Jamie and Jeanette were busy with their lives. Ron tried a couple of times, but Harry was certain he heard Hermione in the background coaching him with what to ask, and Harry wasn’t in the mood to answer. In fact, he knew he was being a moody pain in the arse. He just didn’t care.

When he’d arrived home from the hospital to tell Whimsy about Scorpius, she was already gone. There was a very neat note on the island, resting under a loaf of Whimsy’s cinnamon swirl bread, which Harry had complimented extravagantly. The note read;

Harry Potter,

Whimsy is thanking you for your hospitality and for keeping Master Adrian, Master Draco and Whimsy safe. Martin sent Whimsy an owl to let her know it is safe to be returning to the Manor, and so once Master Adrian is home from school, we is leaving. (How Martin would have got that information, Harry would never know, but then elves had both magic and sources of communications all their own.) Whimsy is leaving Harry Potter this loaf of cinnamon bread he is liking as thanks. Sincerely, Whimsy. A Malfoy Elf.

The signature reminded him forcefully of the rough etching on Dobby’s headstone, and it didn’t help his mood a bit.

She had returned the kitchen to its ‘pre-Malfoy invasion’ configuration, and after all of the time he’d put in to get it perfect during the remodel, he now thought it looked weird. Even knowing what he would find, Harry went upstairs to check in the guest rooms and of course, they were immaculate; bedding washed and put back on the beds, floors scrubbed until they shown, fresh vivid purple lilacs in vases on the nightstands. The lilac bushes in his garden weren’t in bloom yet, so he could only assume they’d come from the Manor hot house.

In fact, his whole house was immaculate. The scents of furniture polish and beeswax were almost overpowering everywhere. Except for in the room Draco slept in; it still smelled faintly of his cologne and Harry stood in the doorway, inhaling deeply and feeling as heart-sore as a twelve-year-old girl.

Over the next two weeks when he wasn’t at school, he was at home working in his garden. He couldn’t bear to be in the far too quiet house so he was outside, transplanting seedlings from trays into the raised beds, caging tomato plants, staking up his climbing roses, trimming his fruit trees and tearing out vines, basically working himself into pained exhaustion each night. Brilliant crocus blooms sprang up along the back hedge and filling the narrow window boxes on the front of the house, the product of his hard work the fall before, but he didn’t really enjoy their cheery colour. He didn’t enjoy much of anything, and he knew why; he’d gone and done the one thing he knew was a disastrous mistake. Draco Malfoy was fractious, obnoxious, and beautiful, and Harry was quite hopelessly in love with him.

Having come to that conclusion, Harry decided the last thing he wanted to do was to talk to any of his family, including Ron and Hermione, so he closed his Floo and communicated only via owl. He accepted and answered most of those, with the exception of Hermione’s ‘you’re sulking’ one; he didn’t really figure that one needed a response. And with each passing day, he fell deeper and deeper into Hermione’s aforementioned sulks.

It was Friday, and the idea of two whole days alone in the house was making his steps lag as he headed in from another afternoon of hard work in the garden. He kicked off his gardening trainers outside the door before walking into the kitchen in his socks, the flagstones cool beneath his feet. He really only managed a couple of hours during the late winter’s shorter daylight, so the full days should be a plus, he supposed. The petunias were ready to move outside from his little hot house, and he could fertilize the lawn, but his neighbours were already asking if he was angling for one of the top spots on The Great British Garden competition. He wasn’t angling for anything; it was just something to do to keep him from thinking.

Harry sighed as he stood in the yawning opening of his refrigerator, leaning on the doors and trying to decide what to have for dinner. He wasn’t hungry, so finding anything appealing was difficult. He closed the fridge doors and was filling the kettle to make a pot of tea with the doorbell rang, echoing through the quiet house. Harry glanced over his shoulder when a knock sounded after the bell, and huffed.

“Fuck. Keep your shirt on,” he muttered. It had to be someone from the village. Ron and Hermione, or his kids, would just use an unlocking spell and walk in, and anyone else would owl. He banged the kettle down onto the hob and stomped toward the front door when the bell rang again.

“Oh, for fuck’s sakes,” he growled, yanking open the door. “What the hell do… oh.”

The ire drained out of him in a rush when he found Draco standing patiently under his porchlight.

He looked so wonderful Harry’s breath caught. He was wearing a calf length black wool coat, collar turned up and obsidian buttons fastened. A grey and white striped scarf was looped effortlessly around his throat, his black slacks were neatly pressed, and his black pointed-toed boots gleamed. Under the bright porchlight his hair glowed, and he looked rested and relaxed. And beautiful.

“Uhm, hi,” Harry managed, dragging his hand through his messy hair. He was still sweaty from the yard, and it felt chunky and crusty. Compared to Draco he looked like the guy who picked up the rubbish on Tuesday’s.

“Hi,” Draco’s eyes were level, and calmer than Harry knew his were. They stared at one another for several long, drawn out seconds. “Do you plan to invite me in?”

Embarrassment washed over Harry in a burning wave. “Oh, of course. Come in.” He held the heavy oak door wide, then closed it behind them when Draco stepped into the entryway. Another silence descended. Finally, Draco shook his head.

“The normal social niceties just really are utterly beyond you, aren’t they?”

Harry glowered. “No. I was just putting on a kettle for tea. Would you like some?”

Draco appeared to be fighting down an amused, if slightly nervous, smile. Harry’s heart lifted to peek around his ribcage, wondering if it was safe to come out, or if it should duck behind his spine and hide indefinitely.

Draco followed Harry into the kitchen, and Harry shoved his limp fringe off of his forehead as he crossed the kitchen and turned the knob for the burner under the kettle. It clicked, then blue flames burst to life. Harry set the level, then turned in time to see Draco slipping out of his coat, hanging it and his scarf on the coatrack he’d used every day when he’d been Harry’s houseguest. He was wearing a crisp white button down under a black jumper, and it hugged the slender body Harry had spent two lonely weeks dreaming about. He stared, unable to think of a single thing to say.

Draco pushed at his wind-ruffled fringe, then shoved his hands into his pockets. “Aren’t you going to ask me about Scorpius?”

Harry exhaled noisily, feeling like the biggest berk in the world. “Of course; how is he doing?”

“He came home today,” Draco said with a smile. “He’s much better. They managed to reverse the Sectumsempra and repair the damage to his leg, and there isn’t any long-term neurological impairment.”

“Christ, that horrible spell.” Harry stretched his neck, first to one side, then the other. “I’m so glad they know how to reverse it now.”

Draco’s gaze was solemn. “So am I. If Severus hadn’t left that journal – “

“I know. That really is great news. Are they making him take time off?”

“A month. He’s already chomping at the bit to get back to it, but the order came down from Shacklebolt himself.”

“I’m sure.” ‘No shit’, Harry thought. If Scorpius had been permanently injured, he could have sued the Ministry to within an inch of its very large budget. And Kingsley knew it. Silence settled again.

Finally Draco pulled one of the stools out and sat on it gracefully. The kettle on the hob whistled shrilly, and Harry jumped into the familiar ritual of making a pot of tea, relieved to have something to do with his hands and a legitimate reason to keep his back turned. Once the tea was steeping in the fancy flowered teapot Hermione bought him as a housewarming gift, he took down two heavy mugs from the shelves above the sink and got out the milk and sugar. He could feel Draco’s eyes between his shoulder blades as he set the timer and took some of Molly’s latest batch of biscuits out of the pantry.

“Aren’t you even remotely interested in how Scorpius’s mission came out?”

Harry’s head jerked around and he stared into Draco’s calm, steady eyes. “You know?”

“Of course I know.” Draco huffed. “I can hear, and they might’ve asked me to step out of the room during his debriefing, but they couldn’t stop me from eavesdropping.”

Harry’s mouth fell open slightly. “You just… stood there and listened.”

“Yes.” Draco crossed his arms on the butcher block top of the island, leaning forward. “They damn near got my son killed, Potter; nearly left my grandson an orphan. Of course I was going to listen.”

Harry stared into the unapologetic face, and amusement won out over his retired Head Auror’s sense of what the Ministry thought was right and wrong. “I asked Hermione, but she wouldn’t tell me anything.”

“Fucking bureaucrat,” Draco muttered. Harry had thought much the same thing.

“Yes, I want to know how it came out. Tell me.”

Draco’s lips quirked up on the side. “Ever the rebel.”

Harry gave him a slight sneer. “Just, stow it and – tell me.”

The timer sounded off, and Harry turned back to pour out the mugs of tea, then brought a tray with the accompaniments and set it in front of Draco, pulling out a stool with his foot and sitting down. He waited until Draco was done with the milk and sugar to begin doctoring his own tea.

Draco shoved back his hair, resting his elbows on the countertop, the mug between his palms. “Apparently, my son has aspirations’ to be James Bond.”

Harry snorted. “Know all about Bond, do you?”

“I’ve seen the films, believe it or not. And Scorpius, in the infinite wisdom of a twenty-one-year old with minimal Auror training, decided the best way to infiltrate the cells of these utter tits who think they can bring Voldemort back was to go undercover as one of those brilliant tits. He certainly has the family lineage to make the little stunt credible. When I heard his plan, I was ready to launch myself back into his hospital room and strangle him myself.”

“I’d want to do the same. I can’t even imagine how I’d feel if one of my boys decided to do something so – foolish.” Harry shook his head.

“Exactly; foolish, reckless brat.” Draco set his tea down and ran his fingers over his forehead, then let them drop to the counter. “The idea that he feels as if he has to mend the Malfoy name single-handedly because of what my father and I did– “

Without thinking, Harry reached over and grabbed his wrist. “It wasn’t you, Draco.” He couldn’t absolve Lucius, and he wouldn’t try.

Draco didn’t even attempt to pull away. “That’s kind of you, Harry,” Harry felt something hard in his chest begin to melt at the use of his given name, and at the feel of the warm skin beneath his palm, “but I did my share. At any rate, that was apparently Scorpius’ goal in infiltrating one of the Death Eater cells, to provide the Ministry with the information it needed to shut them down. The most frustrating part of all of this?” Draco gave a short, ragged laugh. “He succeeded.”

Harry felt his mouth drop open. “He did.”

“He did. Names, locations, every bit of necessary information to utterly wipe them out.”

“I’ll be damned.”

“No doubt,” Draco quipped, then pulled his hand from Harry’s grip, but gave him a small smile by way of easing any sense of loss. He sipped his tea.

Harry took a gulp from his mug. “So, what happened? Clearly, someone caught on to him.”

“There’s a mole inside the Ministry. Scorpius thought there was, but he had no idea how high up he was.”

Harry’s heart began to race. “Who is it?”

“Someone named Phipps?”

Harry gasped softly, rubbing one hand over his mouth. “Old Alamander Phipps’ great-grandson.”

“Oh, fuck,” Draco shuddered. “That old man used to give me nightmares when I was little. He was a regular amongst Father’s insiders at the Ministry.”

“This Phipps is in Hermione’s office.”

Draco grimaced. “I wouldn’t want to be him when she gets hold of that information.”

“Truer words. She wasn't keen on him before finding this out. So, what happened? Did Phipps send the info to the cell where Scorpius had infiltrated?”

“I’m not certain exactly. That was the point at which a Medi-witch began watching me from the desk, and I had to stop listening for a bit.”

Harry snorted softly.

“She eventually had to go back to work, however, and I did get to hear about the skirmish where Scoprius’ leg was injured. They were able to take him prisoner once he was hurt.” Draco shuddered. “He’s so fucking lucky to be alive, although frankly I’m a bit torn as to how he was able to make his escape.”

“How’s that?”

“Do you remember Forsythia Mulciber?”

“Adrian’s mother?”

Draco nodded. “One and the same. Apparently her brother is one of the brainless twits who began this latest Death Eater nonsense, and he bragged to her about how he’d captured her old boyfriend. That night, while they were all celebrating his capture, Forsythia snuck into their hideout and Apparated him out.”

“She wasn’t part of this?” Harry asked, eyes narrowed.

“Not according to Scorpius. She knew where he was because they were using her father’s country seat as one of their safe houses. She rescued him and took him to the commune where she’s living near the Scottish border, and as soon as he was able he cast his Patronus and the Auror’s were able to trace it.” Draco gave him an ironic look. “And now I find myself in the position of having to be grateful to the silly bint.”

Harry fought a smile. “Do you think she and Scorpius will reconcile?”

Draco grimaced. “He assures me not, but she does want to see Adrian.”

Harry studied his face for long seconds. “Don’t you think having a relationship with his Mum would be good for him?”

Draco picked up one of Molly’s biscuits and studied it. “I suppose. Scorpius tells me she doesn’t want to change the custody arrangements; she just wants to know him.” He sighed. “I can’t blame her; he is brilliant.”

Harry smiled. “He is. A brilliant little man.” Harry picked up a biscuit, too.

Draco picked at the cookie, taking out the raisins and lining them up next to his cup. “And speaking of ‘the brilliant little man’, he’s one of the other reasons I’m here. He misses school.”

Harry smiled before taking a bite of the oatmeal-raisin biscuit, eating his raisins. “Of course he does. Babbity Rabbity is an awesome place.”

Draco arched a brow. “Even if the Headmaster can’t do his own books.”

“Even then.” Harry gave him an irritated look. “And Adrian is welcome any time, starting tomorrow if you like. Even if his grandfather is a great wanker.”

“His grandfather may be a great wanker, but he’s very good with ledgers. And you’re a prat.” Once the raisins had been removed from the large biscuit, Draco took a bite, brushing a scattering of crumbs fussily from his lap. “Some things never change.”

“Very true.”

They settled into an uncomfortable silence, each polishing off their large biscuits and their cups of Earl Grey tea. Draco used the tip of his index finger to pick up crumbs from the countertop and then popped the digit into his mouth. Harry had to look away, forcefully reminded of the night they’d spent in his bed. He fiddled with his mug, trying to decide if he wanted another or not, trying to figure out what happened now. For all he knew, Draco could thank him for the tea and biscuit, slip into his coat and scarf and be gone. Harry thought that might be worse than his never coming to see him at all.

“So, Harry,” Draco said finally, slowly.

“Yes, Draco?”

The cool grey eyes came up to look into his. “Why did you disappear?”

Harry blinked. “Pardon?”

“You heard me.” Draco stared at him, his mouth a flat line. “You Apparated me to hospital, I rushed off to see Scorpius, and I haven’t seen you since.”

Harry was stunned into silence for several seconds. “I… you had stuff going on, Draco.”

“Stuff. So articulate, Potter – Harry.” He sighed. “I did have ‘stuff’ going on. I had also just spent the night in your bed. It wasn’t very encouraging.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Now, wait a minute. You were pretty clear that what you wanted was a distraction.”

“Well, yes.” Draco’s eyes flicked away, and then back. “But I don’t recall saying I didn’t want to see you afterward.”

“You wouldn’t even look at me the next day,” Harry countered.

“Well, you wouldn’t look at me, either.”

The glared at one another for what felt like a long time. And then, the corner of Draco’s lips twitched slightly.

“How old are we?” he asked, his voice subdued. Harry closed his eyes on a sigh and shook his head.

“Too old to be acting like this.” He sighed. “I’m forty-six years old, Draco; I didn’t want to assume.”

“And I was afraid you really weren’t that interested.” Draco picked at the hem of his jumper, forcing Harry to look at the top of his head. “Of course, I still don’t know if you’re interested. You haven’t said.” Harry’s heart gave a funny little thump in his chest and his mouth went dry.

“Neither have you.” Harry’s voice was rough.

Draco looked up, momentarily nonplussed. “I haven’t, have I?”

Harry shook his head.

“Well, that’s unpardonable.” Draco straightened, crossing his arms, looking a bit embarrassed. “You were a wonderful distraction.” He paused, chewing on his lower lip. “And I find I’d like to be distracted…again.”

The tight bubble of anxiety in Harry’s chest burst into cautiously happy little fragments, flaring gleefully as they fell. Harry couldn’t have contained his smile if he tried. “Is that so?”

“Definitely. That was the most…diverting distraction I’ve ever had.” Draco looked up and there was cautious hope in his eyes. “I just don’t want to – put myself out there and find you don’t feel the same way – for me.”

Harry took a breath, feeling as if he filled his lungs for the first time in weeks. “Draco, I can tell you without qualification there’s not another thing I’d rather do than spend time being distracted with you.”

The smile Harry received in response was one of those slow growing ones, the kind that start with the lips but end up lighting the eyes. Draco pushed back his stool, took two slow, hip led strides that took him to Harry and spread his long legs, lowering himself to straddle Harry’s lap. He lifted his arms around Harry’s neck and smiled almost shyly into Harry eyes.

“Hi,” he murmured.

“Hello.”

Draco reached up and touched Harry’s sweat dampened hair. “You were working.”

“Yeah.” He lifted one hand and cupped Draco’s jaw, rubbing his thumb beneath Draco’s full lower lip, catching a slow smile in the corner of his mouth. “I probably need a shower.”

“Sounds good to me.” Draco pressed himself against Harry from neck to groin. “You don’t mind if I join you, do you?”

“Not even a little bit.”

“And then, after that maybe we could go to dinner?”

Harry angled his head to one side. “Or, we could stay here and eat ice cream in bed.”

Draco looked delighted. “Now that sounds like a plan.”

Harry stood, setting Draco on his feet. “Shall I race you to the shower?” Harry teased.

“Absolutely not. We’re grandfathers; we should behave with a certain amount of decorum.”

The moment he was out from between Harry and the island, he took off for the stairs at a dead run. Harry laughed and ran after him.

“You’re going to break your neck,” Harry called, laughing.

“You might, old man. Not me.” Draco’s voice rang with challenge down the stairs.

Harry straightened, the aches and pains of the time spent in the garden forgotten as he yanked off his filthy, top soil encrusted jeans and let them drop to the floor. Bending just long enough to pull off his socks so he could get some traction on the wooden stairs, he started after the lithe man who was now apparently naked if the black shoes, socks, slacks and boxers strewn on every other stair to the second floor were anything to go by. Harry yanked off his hoodie and grubby t-shirt, letting them fall to the floor right next to the black cashmere jumper on the landing. Harry could picture Draco in nothing more than a white button down and he smiled when he heard the shower turn on down the hall.

“Do you plan to get your sorry old arse up here sometime this century, Potter?” Draco called out, his voice echoing slightly on the bathroom tiles.

Harry slowed to a walk, slightly out of breath, his prick plumping in anticipation against his thigh. “If my sorry arse is old, yours is older,” he laughed.

“You wretched liar,” Draco drawled. Moments later, the crisp white shirt floated out of the bathroom door, landing at Harry’s feet. “Besides, age is a state of mind. How old are you feeling?”

Harry smiled. He felt really young right then, walking toward the man who’d first turned his sixteen-year-old head. With Draco Malfoy, things were never going to be predictable, and chasing him was going to be every bit as entertaining as catching him. He could think of worse things.

Harry walked into the steamy bathroom, his smile spreading as he saw the lithe, pale figure through the mottled glass shower door. He was standing under the warm spray, his head back as the water sluiced down his long, lean, form. He looked over his shoulder at Harry, and if there had ever been a come-hither look, this was it.

Harry took the extended hand and allowed himself to be pulled into his future.

You, who are on the road,
Must have a code
That you can live by.
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a goodbye.

Teach your children well.
Their father's hell
Did slowly go by.
And feed them on your dreams.
The one they pick's the one you'll know by.

fin