The peacocks were screeching.
They went on long enough that Draco dragged himself up off the couch where he’d been napping. Perhaps he had better see what they were alarmed about. He’d been alone in the Manor since he’d been sentenced to house arrest after the trials, some (how many now?) weeks ago.
He padded down the long hallway to the front door and opened it to find an eager-faced young house-elf, cradling a bedraggled Puffskein in his arms. Opening a door for a house-elf—just one more way the world had gone topsy-turvy.
“Hello! Merfley is here with our first patient!” The house-elf beamed and bounced up and down on his toes. They were encased in pale pink ballet shoes.
The elf looked anxious. “Merfley is sorry it took so long! But I can be helping now. Where is the room for recovery?”
An excellent question; if Draco knew of one, he’d move right in.
A memory returned of the wrangling at Draco’s sentencing. Though Potter’s testimony had saved him from Azkaban, no one was going to let Draco off completely. Some of the Wizengamot had argued for house arrest, some for community service, some for confiscating Malfoy Manor (which turned out not to be entirely legal).
Eventually there had been talk of compromise, sentencing him to somehow do community service while confined to the Manor. With little option but to accept, Draco had returned to the Manor—it had, for several years, been difficult to think of it as “home”—and awaited his fate.
Which, it appeared, took the shape of a house-elf in ballet shoes.
“First patient?” Draco enquired.
“For the Hospital and Haven for War-Damaged Magical and Muggle Beasts at Malfoy Manor.” The house-elf looked at him expectantly.
The Ministry must still be in such chaos that they’d forgotten to notify him of this outlandish plan. Or perhaps the news had been in one of those Owls he hadn’t had the energy to accept, or Floo calls he hadn’t felt up to answering.
Draco stood aside to let the house-elf in, if only to shut the peacocks up.
“You said your name is Merfley?”
The elf nodded.
“And this Puffskein was somehow injured in the war?” Draco gave it a dubious glance. The normally plushy custard-colored fur was frizzled and scorched on one side, and rather greasy. Draco suspected the owner of the Magical Menagerie was trying to offload damaged inventory.
The Puffskein shrank a little as if embarrassed. Draco sighed and turned back to Merfley. “What do you suggest?”
Merfley brightened. “A shampoo! And maybe a trim?”
An hour later, the Puffskein was clean, dry, fluffy and sweet-smelling. Merfley had trimmed off the scorched bits and sculpted the shorter fur into a floral design. The Puffskein hummed in contentment, Merfley beamed, and Draco decided that washing his own rather neglected hair would be a good idea.
The hot shower felt lovely. When he emerged from the bathroom, Merfley complimented him on his antique gold-brocaded turquoise silk robe, and Draco had to explain that the gaudy thing was not his, but merely something that had appeared when he cast an Accio for clean clothes. All Draco’s own clothes needed laundering by now.
“Merfley can teach you how to wash clothes!” the house-elf exclaimed cheerfully.
Draco blinked again. He saw nothing but good will in Merfley’s face.
His parents would have been horrified. But following their path had led Draco to far greater horrors than laundry lessons, and besides, they weren’t here. His father was in Azkaban and his mother, having seen Draco safely through his own trial, had finally given way to nervous exhaustion and been sent by her Healer to southern France, to recuperate in the care of distant cousins.
The Manor’s own house-elves had been freed by Ministry insistence, and fled. As for the ancestral portraits, Draco no longer cared what they thought.
So, having spent too much time alone, bored, and tired of foraging for meals, Draco just said, “Could we start with cooking lessons instead?”
Their first effort was constrained by a lack of fresh ingredients, but Draco learned a little about the judicious use of herbs and spices, and Merfley promised to go shopping after the meal.
Over lunch Draco learned that Merfley had volunteered for this position because he liked animals. He had been unhappy in his previous household, where he had been mocked for, among other things, his devotion to dance. In the end he had defiantly danced through all his duties and been dismissed, only agreeing to leave when he was presented with ballet shoes. Now he required Tuesdays off for ballet lessons, which Draco readily consented to.
Merfley did not know much about future plans for the Hospital and Haven for War-Damaged Beasts, except that a veterinarian would also be assigned to them, and that in addition to beasts that had been injured or cursed during the war, they might receive some whose habitats had been destroyed.
Draco couldn’t help but be a little apprehensive—he didn’t look forward to dealing with any giant snakes or Hippogriffs. But surely the veterinarian would be trained in handling whatever turned up. And the treatment of their first patient seemed to have been a success. The Puffskein was busily scavenging up a meal of crumbs and dead spiders with its long pink tongue, and rooms were noticeably cleaner already.
Over the next few weeks, as word spread in the wizarding community, animals began to trickle in: a Fire Crab that had lost its flames, an Augurey that had lost its voice, some Bowtruckles whose trees had been destroyed, an aged Muggle dog that had lost its family.
A Niffler with a broken nose had to be kept in a pen outside of the Manor as it would otherwise snuffle out anything shiny and try to carry it away. The Niffler got into a tussle with the Fire Crab, trying to abduct it for its jeweled shell, and Draco and Merfley had to pull them apart.
They carefully brought the Bowtruckles to a stand of trees to let them choose new homes, but it turned out that most of the trees already had Bowtruckles of their own. Draco ended up sending Merfley to the Root and Branch Magical Tree Nursery for saplings and planting several new ones, hawthorn, hazel, ash and apple.
As for the dog, he didn’t see or hear very well, but he didn’t seem to be in pain, and would push up against Draco’s legs or hands, looking for affection. “All right, Old Timer,” Draco said, scratching him behind the ears as the dog wagged his tail.
Old Timer liked to roll on his back in the grass, twisting from side to side and pawing the air in delight. Sometimes Draco sat beside him, reaching over to rub his stomach. Once, on impulse, Draco caught a paw and leaned in to sniff it. It smelled like grass stains and sun-warmed earth. Like peace. Draco smiled and lay back, closing his eyes. Old Timer snorted with pleasure. Contentment bathed them like sunshine.
One morning a horsewoman rode through the gates on an enormous palomino. Draco went to meet her as she swung down, a compact woman in her forties with dark eyes and short dark hair lightly streaked with grey.
“Single malt whisky, right away,” she said.
Does this look like a pub? he thought, but post-war Draco had to be polite. “I beg your pardon? This is an animal sanctuary.”
“And this is an injured and thirsty Abraxan. They live on single malt whisky.” The woman removed a Disillusionment Charm with a wave of her wand, and the horse’s wings became visible, one of them hanging crookedly.
Draco hadn’t seen an Abraxan since the ones that pulled Mme Maxine’s carriage from Beauxbatons to the Triwizard Tournament years before. Even wounded, this was a magnificent animal.
The horse whinnied as Merfley came up. “Allow me to introduce myself,” Draco said. “My name is Draco Malfoy, and this is Merfley. We are the staff here as we await the arrival of the veterinarian.”
“I am the veterinarian,” said the woman. “My name is Æthelflæd.”
“Oh! We’re very pleased to have you here, Dr…. I didn’t catch your family name?” Draco had been raised to rate people based on family connections, and old habits died hard.
“Call me Æthelflæd. I find one name enough.”
“Ah. Yes, it is, er, unique.”
“No it isn’t. I was named for Æthelflæd Lady of Mercia, who led her people to fight off the Danes.”
“An accomplished witch, I’m sure,” Draco offered.
“She was a Muggle.” Æthelflæd fixed Draco with a look. “In one battle her people poured hot beer down upon their attackers and dropped beehives on them.”
Was she testing Draco for anti-Muggle sentiment? “What an inventive substitute for a Stinging Hex.”
Æthelflæd did not crack a smile. “It was hard on the bees.”
Draco gave up on trying to find diplomatic replies, told Merfley where to look for a bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhisky, and went to sort out a place for the Abraxan to stay.
Over the next few weeks Æthelflæd proved to be an efficient Healer, although not very sociable. She set the Niffler’s nose properly, re-ignited the Fire Crab, and taught Draco to brew a potion for the Augurey’s throat and ointment for Old Timer’s eyes. She fixed up a cottage on the grounds to live in and spent a lot of time with the Abraxan, working with its wounded wing.
And Draco, one way and another, was kept busy.
Harry reached the top of a hill and paused for breath and the view. He’d thought, after that miserable stay in the Forest of Dean, that he’d had enough of wild camping for a lifetime. But after the trials and funerals that filled the first few months after the war, he felt a need to get away, to be alone with nothing more pressing to do than walk and breathe and look at hills and trees and water and sky. So he’d found an old guidebook for wizarding walking tours and headed for Scotland, where freedom to roam the land was a traditionally recognized right. And now here he was, drinking in the clean air, the rose and orange colored clouds…
Which meant the sun was setting and he’d better pitch his little tent. He chose a spot under a tree by the edge of a meadow, had a simple meal and watched the stars come out. Finally he crawled back into the tent to sleep.
Harry woke in the middle of the night and poked his head outside. The full moon had come up and the world was awash in silvery light. Something called to him.
The moon shines bright, the stars give light
A little before the day…
He found his glasses and crawled out of the tent. Looking toward the meadow he caught his breath.
The meadow was full of silvery-gray animals like big-eyed cows, upright on two spindly hind legs, performing a stately and intricate dance in the moonlight. They swayed and turned and stepped out a pattern with wide flat feet, treading a design into the meadow grass. Spellbound, Harry gazed.
And then sneezed.
The beasts panicked, ran, and disappeared. All but one, which must have stepped in a rabbit hole—it tumbled down with a snapping sound and a cry. It struggled to rise again, panting and giving out little cries of pain or fear, but it couldn’t stand.
Feeling awful, Harry hurried over. The creature rolled its bulging eyes in terror at his approach. Afraid it would injure itself worse, Harry used a mild Stunning Spell and tried to think what to do. He needed advice from someone who knew magical creatures.
Hagrid had gone out of the country on an extended visit to Mme Maxime. Better ask Luna.
The light was changing. The sun would be coming up soon. Harry sent off a Patronus, hoping Luna was an early riser.
Soon the silvery hare of Luna’s Patronus came lolloping up. “Oh, the poor Mooncalf! Luckily there is a magical beast hospital and sanctuary that just opened up. Here are the Apparition coordinates—you can go there first and they can come and help you to transfer the patient. Moving anyone with broken bones is tricky.”
It was a relief to have a plan and know where to turn for help. Harry renewed the Stunning Spell on the Mooncalf, adding one for protection and one to keep it hidden while he went to get help. Then he Apparated to the coordinates Luna had given him.
He arrived in a garden behind a large house. There was a Hippogriff, hissing dangerously. Harry turned to see what it was hissing at and was shocked to see Draco Malfoy, of all people, pointing a wand at the furious creature. Harry had arrived just in time.
“Expelliarmus!” Harry shouted, and caught the wand that sailed towards him.
Malfoy’s jaw dropped.
Harry had testified for Malfoy’s trial because he’d believed that the worst of what Malfoy had done in the war was under compulsion. He’d thought Malfoy had, in the end, been looking for a way out of Voldemort’s service. He’d hoped that given a chance, Malfoy could change. But it seemed not.
“What are you doing here?” Harry demanded.
“I live here, Potter.”
Harry looked more carefully at the mansion. He’d never seen Malfoy Manor from the back, but that could certainly be the house. Luna must have got the animal hospital’s coordinates wrong.
“What are you doing here?” Malfoy continued.
“Preventing a crime against a Hippogriff, apparently.”
“Oh, because you’re the only one who can save anything, is that it Potter? What do you know about it anyway?”
“I know how to approach a Hippogriff. Seems you’re still too arrogant to have learned.”
Malfoy’s mouth fell open again. Then he huffed and shook his head with a wry twist of his lips. “Go ahead, Potter, show me how it’s done.”
Harry slowly approached the Hippogriff and bowed low. The Hippogriff hissed, screeched, and lunged towards him with its sharp beak. Harry stepped back in a hurry, confused.
“Draco! What is the delay?” A fierce looking woman of middle age and height approached.
“I have temporarily lost custody of my wand,” Malfoy said. He gestured towards Harry.
The woman turned to him. “Well?” she snapped. “Who are you?”
“I’m Harry Potter, and…”
“You’re interfering with the treatment of a patient, is what you are.” The woman glared at him.
“Potter, allow me to present Æthelflæd, our resident veterinarian.” Malfoy’s eyes were gleaming. “She is named for a Muggle warrior queen who defeated enemies by dropping beehives on them.”
Harry sensed that he was being tested. “How, er, ingenious.”
Æthelflæd regarded him sternly. “It was—”
“—hard on the bees,” Malfoy echoed along with her. He looked smug.
“Return my assistant’s wand, Mr Potter.”
Harry tried to explain. “The Hippogriff was hissing at him…”
“It was in pain, which we were endeavoring to do something about. I will handle it. Draco, retrieve your wand and find out what this person wants. We have animals to attend to.”
The woman began casting diagnostic and healing spells. The Hippogriff quieted and seemed to relax.
Disgruntled, Harry followed Malfoy a little way off. He handed over the wand. “You have to admit it was a reasonable mistake…”
“Yes,” Malfoy said briefly, no longer smiling. “What do you want, Potter? Here as a junior Auror, are you? Where’s the uniform?”
“I’m not an Auror. I found an injured Mooncalf and Luna told me to bring it here.”
“So where is it?” As Harry was silent, Malfoy added, “I see. You didn’t trust us.”
“Why should I have?”
Malfoy’s eyes flickered as he looked at Harry. He shrugged. “The Wizengamot has designated this as a sanctuary for injured beasts, but whether you bring one here is up to you, I suppose.”
Harry remained silent, his own wand still out, as he scanned the grounds.
“If you want a tour, Potter, I imagine Merfley would be happy to satisfy your curiosity. I have work to do.”
Harry hesitated. The Mooncalf needed help that he didn’t know how to give. And if Luna trusted Malfoy and this Æthelflæd person… But did she? Or had Luna not meant to send him here at all?
“Hello Harry! Hello Draco.”
Think of the Luna and she appeared, stepping lightly over the grass. “I hope you don’t mind me coming by.”
Well, that answered that question. “Hello, Luna,” Harry said.
Malfoy nodded to her.
Behind them was a sudden loud rustling as the Hippogriff shook out its wings. Luna turned. “Oh, what a splendid Hippogriff! I haven’t seen one in so long.”
Æthelflæd left the Hippogriff and walked toward them. Malfoy introduced her to Luna.
“Æthelflæd, this is Luna Lovegood. She has an interest in some of the most, er, uncommon magical beasts. Luna, this is Æthelflæd, our veterinarian.”
“Oh, are you named after Alfred the Great’s eldest daughter?” Luna asked with interest.
“I know she was an accomplished military strategist, but I’ve always thought it was hard on the bees,” Luna said.
Æthelflæd’s eyes widened and softened. “The loss of their home.”
“And the poor defenseless baby bees!”
“And the queen,” Æthelflæd nodded.
“And all that honey wasted…” Luna added.
“Countless bee-hours of work.”
Feeling as though he was missing something, Harry leaned over and asked Malfoy quietly, “How long ago did this great bee tragedy take place?”
“If she was the daughter of Alfred the Great… about a thousand years ago?”
Harry couldn’t help himself. “You’d think the buzz would have died down by now.”
Malfoy snorted. “That was a terrible joke,” he said in an undertone.
“Yeah, but you laughed.”
“Only because it’s the first joke I’ve heard in months.”
Harry’s grin was cut short when Luna began asking about the Mooncalf. Guiltily he realized that, distracted by Malfoy, he’d almost forgot the poor creature.
“And this Mooncalf was injured in the war?” asked Æthelflæd.
“Er, no, it was just last night,” Harry said. “I was camping wild on a walking tour. I startled it and it broke its leg running away.”
“This is the Hospital and Haven for War-Damaged Beasts,” Æthelflæd stated.
Did that mean she wouldn’t treat the Mooncalf? Harry looked at Malfoy.
Malfoy smoothly stepped in. “I think we can consider the injury collateral damage.”
“The war was traumatic for all involved,” Malfoy began. “But surely Pot— … Mr Potter, as the prime target of the Dark Lord’s wrath, and the chief hope of those who opposed him, would have felt the stress greatly. He may have felt a need to seek the quiet of the countryside in order to recuperate. Was your walking tour restorative, Potter?”
“Yes,” said Harry, wondering how Malfoy knew all that.
“Because of the after-effects of the war, Harry Potter was taking a therapeutic walking tour, in the course of which the Mooncalf was accidentally injured. So it was a late casualty of the war.”
Æthelflæd nodded. “Very well. Mr Potter, come with me to show me where it is, so that I can stabilize the leg to move it safely. It will need time to recuperate while the bone heals, so we’ll need to bring it here. Draco, stay here and find a secluded place to make a shallow burrow for it to rest in. Ms Lovegood?”
“My mother used to sing me songs about the moon,” Luna said. “Because of my name. I could sing them. It might be soothing.”
“Good. Come with us.”
With an awkward 3-way Side-Along Apparition, Harry brought Luna and Æthelflæd to the meadow near his campsite, where he’d left the Mooncalf. The animal was where he’d left it, still immobile.
Æthelflæd rubbed a painkiller salve into the skin inside the Mooncalf’s ears, saying it would spread through the bloodstream and work better than trying to get the frightened beast to swallow a potion. She splinted the leg and stabilized it.
Luna stood above it, singing very quietly. The Mooncalf gazed up at her with its bulging eyes.
“Transport is going to be a problem,” Æthelflæd said. “I don’t think it’s safe to Apparate with it, there’s no telling where the nearest extra-wide Floo is, and a broom stretcher isn’t practical over long distances. If only flying carpets were still legal here. Mr Potter, if you can find the nearest road, I can give the poor beast a sleeping spell and levitate it after you.”
And that’s how Harry found himself traveling back to Malfoy Manor on the Knight Bus with a veterinarian who spent the whole trip looking out the window, a sleeping Mooncalf, and Luna teaching him lullabies about moonlight.
Draco had help in making the Mooncalf burrow from Merfley, who had returned from his ballet lesson. They’d fixed up a comfy nest in a quiet spot by the time Æthelflæd, Luna and Potter pulled up in the Knight Bus with the beast. Æthelflæd even approved of it.
Potter hung about for a bit and finally left again with Lovegood, thanking them as he went for taking care of the injured Mooncalf.
After that things were quiet for a while. The Mooncalf was terribly shy, but no trouble, as long as they kept the Hippogriff in another part of the grounds.
Old Timer needed some teeth pulled, so Draco fixed him soft food to eat afterwards. Old Timer clambered up on the foot of Draco’s bed at night, and Draco let him.
Potter came by now and then, ostensibly to visit the Mooncalf. Perhaps he was also there to check up on Draco, but Draco refused to worry about it. He wasn’t doing anything he needed to hide. And he didn’t entirely mind the company, to be honest. Draco got letters from Pansy, whose parents had whisked her abroad after the war ended, and from his mother, but that was about all.
One afternoon Draco was scattering treats to placate the peacocks when Potter walked up and asked if something was wrong. “They’re just miffed at having to share the spotlight with so many other beasts,” Draco said.
“Not the birds. Someone is sobbing,” Potter said.
“What? Where?” Draco couldn’t imagine Æthelflæd sobbing. Could Merfley be nursing some secret sorrow? He followed Potter around the side of the Manor. Sure enough, there were heart-rending cries coming from a tangle of brambles that they hadn’t had time to clear. But who would hide in the middle of thorn bushes?
The melancholy sound was distressing. As Draco wondered, the wind rose and dark clouds began scudding across the sky. A drop of rain splashed against his face.
Sobbing… thorn bushes… rain… “The Augurey! It’s found its voice again!” he exclaimed, just as the rain picked up. “My potions worked!” He had to raise his voice over the sound of raindrops bouncing off the Umbrella Charm Potter had hastily put up to cover both of them.
On cue, a dismal-looking greenish-black bird flew out of the thorns.
“Well, congratulations, I guess,” Potter said. “Though I think it would be easier to live around if it were still mute.”
“Mine is not to reason why, mine is but to heal and let it cry,” Draco said. “But I wouldn’t object if it found somewhere else to do its moaning.”
Just then the rain became a downpour that ripped through the Umbrella Charm and drenched them. “Come on!” Draco said and ran for the house.
Inside, after a good Hot-Air Charm, Draco put on tea. “So, the star of Defense Against the Dark Arts is not so strong at Defense Against the Dark Clouds. How can you camp with such a fragile Umbrella Charm, Potter?”
“It hasn’t rained much this summer. Last winter… Hermione was there.”
Abruptly Draco realized when Potter must have been camping with Hermione. When they were on the run from the Dark Lord, right up until the Snatchers dragged them into the Manor. Where Hermione had been tortured. His hands shook a little as he poured the tea and handed it to Potter.
“How is she?” Draco asked, not daring to meet his eyes.
Potter didn’t say anything. Draco forced himself to look up.
“She’s in Australia,” Potter said finally. “With Ron.”
“Oh. Er. That’s good.”
“Why? You still don’t think Hermione deserves a place in wizarding Britain?” Potter’s voice was hard.
“No! I mean, that’s not it… it’s just…” Draco stammered. “I just meant it would be good to have company. To be with someone who understands. After you’ve been through a lot.”
Potter was silent for a moment before answering, “Yeah. It would be.”
And who did Potter have, then?
Draco exhaled a long breath. He tried to think how his mother navigated conversational minefields, but he would never be in her league. At least he could appeal to Potter’s sweet tooth. “Would you care for a biscuit?”
Drawn by some sixth sense for biscuits, Old Timer meandered into the room and pressed against Draco’s leg.
“Hello, boy,” Potter said, holding out his hand. Old Timer ignored him.
“He doesn’t see or hear very well,” Draco explained. He was having trouble climbing up on the bed lately too, but Draco didn’t want to think about that.
“He found you alright,” Potter said.
Actually, Old Timer always seemed to know how to find Draco. “Oh, well he… well we… well.” Draco gave up on finding words for how they were, and handed Old Timer a biscuit. A soft one, because of his teeth. Old Timer thumped his tail against Draco’s leg.
Potter held out a biscuit too. Old Timer didn’t seem to notice.
Old Timer liked Draco better than Harry Potter! Which was natural, but usually only Slytherins felt that way. And Old Timer would surely be a Hufflepuff.
Draco smiled a little and gave Old Timer another biscuit.
Potter laughed. Nicely. Draco offered him another biscuit too.
One day when Draco was out in the garden Merfley appeared carrying a cauldron like the ones used in Hogwarts classrooms, walking carefully as if afraid of spilling something. “We is having another guest,” he said beaming. “A giant squid from Hogwarts.”
“The Giant Squid?” Draco said, startled. “Did something happen to it? What’s wrong? But how could it be here? It’s enormous.”
“Here is Herman!” Merfley announced, holding out the cauldron full of water. Inside floated a greyish squid about three inches long, regarding him wide-eyed.
Draco couldn’t help laughing.
The squid flounced its arms and zipped around the cauldron in agitation.
“Maybe Herman is not reaching his full growth yet,” Merfley said, giving Draco a reproachful look. “But he is brave to help his brothers and sisters.” He set the cauldron down gently on a nearby bench.
“Greetings and welcome, Herman,” Draco said, mustering his mother’s lessons in courtesy.
Herman slowed but continued moving fitfully through the water.
“Perhaps I knew one of your parents at Hogwarts? A most impressive squid,” Draco added.
Herman paused and floated. His arms and tentacles undulated.
“Is his mother,” said Merfley.
“I hope she is well,” Draco said truthfully. He’d often gazed at the underwater life of the Great Lake through the windows of the Slytherin dormitory. One hopeless afternoon in his last year there he’d been staring moodily into the watery shadows when the Giant Squid drifted by. It looked at him solemnly with one huge eye, and for a moment Draco felt calmer, as if he’d glimpsed a place the war didn’t touch.
But here was Herman the baby giant squid at the Hospital and Haven for War-Damaged Beasts. So. “How can we help you and your siblings?”
Merfley and Herman seemed to understand each other fairly well, and Draco gathered that the final battle at Hogwarts had left a lot of curse residue in the lake there. As a result, the squidlets’ growth was delayed and they had lost some of their ability to change color, crucial for camouflage. They needed a safer place to recover.
“Hmm.” There wasn’t a lake at the Manor. “I suppose we could make a pond. How much space would you need?”
Draco cast a careful spell to make the cauldron transparent so that Herman could see, and with Merfley carrying it they walked around the grounds to find a suitable site.
A few days later an area had been excavated for the pond and filled with water. Harry Potter turned up just as Draco was getting ready to release Herman into his new home. Draco introduced them.
“Herman, this is Harry Potter. Potter, this is Herman the giant squid.”
Potter looked around as if he expected to see the Giant Squid of Hogwarts rise up out of the pond or crawl across the lawn.
“Here,” Draco clarified, holding up the cauldron as Herman swam curiously to the surface.
Potter looked in and, unfortunately, laughed. Herman flushed angrily and squirted a jet of water into his eye.
“Herman, you’re red! Your chromatophores are recovering! That’s brilliant!” Draco exclaimed.
“That stung!” Potter said, wiping his eye.
“Don’t mind Potter, Herman. Everyone calls him a hero now, but he was a weedy little thing when I first met him.”
“Oh, like you weren’t a pointy little thing, Malfoy.”
“In any case,” Draco said with dignity, “Herman is a valiant and significant representative of the giant squid species. He is helping us to prepare an aquatic refuge for himself and his siblings, who were affected by curse fall-out in the Great Lake at Hogwarts. We hope that what they may have lost in, er, physical magnitude may be made up for by greater adaptability in appearance. We hope to not only revive their chromatophores, but add the photophores, iridophores and bioluminescence that other members of the squid family can flaunt.”
“No offense intended, Herman, my apologies,” said Potter. “What are all those -phores for?
Draco explained what he had recently learned. “They make squid skin change color, glow, and flash with light. Æthelflæd and I are researching the magic for them. We hope to offer the full spectrum for those of Herman’s siblings that are interested. But first we need to bring the squidlets here, which is why we’ve made the pond. Are you ready to try swimming there, Herman?”
Herman bobbed vigorously.
Draco walked to the edge of the pond. He carefully levitated Herman out of the cauldron of water and lowered him into the lake. Herman jetted excitedly back and forth a few times, but then began waving his arms and tentacles frantically. As Draco watched in horror, the little squid began to swell like a balloon inflating. His eyes implored Draco.
“Accio Herman!” The little squid looked about to pop as he sailed through the air. Draco hastily deposited him back in the cauldron where Herman gradually returned to his normal size.
“I am so sorry, Herman, are you all right?” Draco asked anxiously. “What went wrong? The pond should be clean, I just filled it with fresh water.”
“Fresh…? Actually, he was in salt water before,” Harry said. “That’s why it stung so when it hit my eye.”
Draco stared at him. “Of course. Squid live in the sea. So do merpeople, that’s what their name means. I forgot that the Great Lake at Hogwarts was salt water.”
He sighed. “Well, Herman, I’m afraid you’ll be in the cauldron a little longer. I’ll ask Æthelflæd to check your health. Potter here turns out to be a squid safety sleuth, fortunately. I will start researching the proper salinity spells. Again, I am so sorry, and relieved to see you looking more like yourself.”
Herman swam slowly about the cauldron, apparently still shaken by his experience.
“Er, best wishes, Herman,” said Potter. “I guess I’ll go look in on the Mooncalf now.”
“Thank you for your help, Potter,” Draco said.
Potter looked at him with an odd little smile.
“What?” Draco said.
“I don’t think you’ve ever said that to me before. Not even after…” Potter gestured with his arm.
Not after the Fiendfyre, or the trial—could that be true? Draco supposed it was.
“But for helping a small squid in peril, you’re grateful.” Potter smiled again and shook his head.
Draco had no answer. He smiled back and then found himself ducking his head. Draco kept his eyes on Herman, who seemed to be perking up. When Draco finally looked back up, Potter was gone.
About a week later Harry arrived to find Draco glaring at a letter on Ministry stationery. “It’s madness,” he said turning to Harry. “They want us to take in a Manticore. That’s an M.O.M. class XXXXX beast, ‘known wizard killer.’ How can we heal it if we’re dead?”
“Do you want me to help?”
“What? No. I don’t want you dead too. That would be terrible publicity.”
“Maybe we wouldn’t die. I’m rather handy with a wand you know.”
“You can’t Expelliarmus a Manticore, Potter.”
“I do know a few other spells.” Harry grinned a little. “And then, you know, I might not want you dead either.”
“Yes, right, heroic Harry Potter has to save everyone.” Draco looked glum.
“No—well, maybe—just I’d prefer you to stay alive.”
“Is that so? Me in particular?” Draco cocked his head and looked at Harry. “Potter—do you like me?”
Harry shrugged with a half-smile.
“You do! You like me!” Malfoy crowed. “Well, in that case you definitely have to stay alive, so that you can say nice things about me at my funeral.”
Harry’s smile vanished as the memory of too many funerals tightened around him. Time and space fell away, until a touch on his arm brought him back to himself.
“I’m sorry,” Malfoy said quietly. “For… well, clumsy jokes are the least of it.” When Harry looked back at him, Draco added, “I might not completely dislike you either. Mind you, I’m only telling you this because I’m about to die by Manticore anyway.”
“Why would there even be a Manticore in Britain?” Harry asked. “Who told you this, anyhow?”
Draco consulted the letter. “Someone named A. Banbury.”
“Oh! Relax then. Someone’s pranking you. A. Banbury is a hoax.”
“You’re sure? There isn’t any lion-clawed scorpion-tailed human-headed beast coming to eat me?”
“I’m sure. Banbury stories are a Ministry in-joke, I’ve heard of them.”
Draco frowned. “We are not amused, are we Old Timer?” The dog pushed his graying muzzle into Draco’s hand. “Someone there has a very juvenile sense of humor.”
“Says the man who dressed up in a sheet to look like a Dementor and scare the living daylights out of me.”
“I was a juvenile at that time, Potter. Not someone old enough to have access to Ministry stationery. Hmm. Was this letter your idea of revenge?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “You found me out, Malfoy. It was an elaborate plot to get you to confess your not-loathing of me.”
“Well, now that that’s settled, do you want some lunch? Merfley and I made some soup last night that turned out rather well.”
Over lunch Harry explained that it would be the full moon again soon, and he’d been wondering if the Mooncalf was ready to return to its herd for their dance. However, Æthelflæd didn’t feel the leg had healed enough yet.
“It was a very intricate dance,” Harry said. “I wonder if they forget it if they don’t practice? Æthelflæd thinks this Mooncalf is quite young.”
“Harry Potter can be showing us all the steps, and we can practice with the Mooncalf!” said Merfley, who had joined them for lunch. His eyes were bright with enthusiasm.
“Merfley studies the art of the dance,” Draco added.
Harry’s alarm must have shown on his face. “Sorry, but I only saw them briefly, and I’m, er, not much of a dancer at the best of times.”
Merfley’s face fell.
“What if you went and watched the Mooncalves dance, Merfley, and then you could come back and demonstrate?” Draco asked.
They discussed it some more. In the end, they found Luna was happy to show Merfley where the Mooncalves danced by moonlight, and the two of them watched quietly and practiced under Luna’s Muffliato and Disillusionment Spells.
Harry found himself going to the animal haven almost as a matter of routine. He checked on the Mooncalf, looked in on the several dozen small giant squid now settled in the salt-water pond, admired the Abraxan as it exercised with Æthelflæd, chatted with Merfley, joined Old Timer in cadging biscuits off Malfoy.
But on this day, Draco was sitting cross-legged on the floor with Old Timer’s head in his lap and a worried look on his face.
“He isn’t eating,” he said. “I cooked his food until it was soft and cut it up into little pieces but he won’t eat.” He passed his hand in front of the dog’s face, but the dog didn’t react. “I put his eye drops in but he doesn’t seem to see at all.”
“Do you want me to get Æthelflæd?” Harry asked. Draco nodded.
But when Æthelflæd came, she had no solutions.
“I put the pain salve on,” Draco said. “He can’t get up. Should I give him Pepper-Up?”
Æthelflæd ran some quiet diagnostic spells and then shook her head.
“Listen to his breathing, it sounds so strange. What’s the spell for this? Or is there a potion I could make?” Draco asked urgently.
She shook her head again.
“But what’s wrong with him?”
“Mortality,” Æthelflæd said, as gently as Harry had ever heard her.
Draco looked stricken. “But—but he’s just an old dog that never hurt anyone. The war is over. We’re supposed to heal them here.”
“We do what we can,” said Æthelflæd. She bent to lay a hand on Old Timer’s flank, and then quietly walked away.
“Good dog, good boy,” Draco said, stroking Old Timer’s head. He turned to Harry. “Do what we can? But that’s what I asked. What can I do?”
Love and grieve, Harry thought. “You’re doing it,” he said softly, and sat down next to Draco.
He lost track of time, sitting on the hard floor, listening to Draco murmur to the dog, thinking of his own losses.
And then Old Timer gave a last long sigh. “He’s gone limp,” Draco said in a choked voice. “He’s gone—” His face crumpled.
Harry put an arm around him and then Draco Malfoy was sobbing on his shoulder.
They buried Old Timer in a sunny spot.
Harry came around more often. Draco was subdued.
One day Harry came in to find Draco sitting at a mass of papers. “Bills.” Draco sighed. “Do you know how much single malt whisky a full-grown Abraxan goes through in a month?”
“Doesn’t the Ministry give you any funding for that?”
“Not so far. I guess I should have asked for more details about how the animal haven would work. I was just glad not to be going to Azkaban, to tell you the truth.”
“Why don’t you leave those bills for awhile?” Harry said. “Go for a broom ride or something?”
“I’ve left them too long already. And I’m on house arrest, there isn’t very far I can fly.” Draco turned back to the papers and picked up a quill.
Troubled, Harry went outside, where he found Luna and Merfley admiring the squidlets. “They can flash all kinds of colors now,” Luna said. “So lovely.”
“Merfley is happy you are here, Harry Potter! Mr Draco will be feeling better then.”
Harry shook his head. “No. He’s worried about money. And he misses his dog, I’m sure.”
Merfley frowned. “We must help him. We must have a fun-raising party!”
“That sounds nice,” said Luna. “How do we raise fun?”
“Dancing!” said Merfley.
“Er, I might have mentioned that I’m a terrible dancer?” Harry said.
“It will be a dance-as-you-are fun-raiser,” Merfley said. “However you dance is fine. We will be happy that you have fun. And you can see other dancing. That will be fun too.”
“Maybe the Mooncalf will want to join,” Luna said. “And the other beasts.”
“Yes!” said Merfley. “Let us choose a date.”
Harry left them to it.
Over the next few weeks, plans for the fun-raising party proceeded apace. Merfley tried to teach the Mooncalf dance, which he called a quadrille, to anyone who was willing, though there were never enough dancers to practice all the steps. He also spent a lot of time with Herman and the squidlets.
Luna said her father would put a general invitation in the Quibbler, for interested people who would like to raise fun with them. No one informed the Daily Prophet.
They got unexpected help with party expenses from Luna, who remembered that Mooncalf dung was valuable fertilizer. She gave some to Neville, who offered to buy more for his greenhouse, and found a few other buyers for them.
Draco wasn’t sure whether he hoped anyone would come or not. What if people came and criticized their animal haven? What if people mocked this odd little family they had become? What if the Ministry decided to shut them down for some reason? But Merfley clearly had his heart set on the party, so Draco pretended enthusiasm.
The first people to come were a family with two small children. Luckily Luna took them in hand and steered them away from the more dangerous beasts. They watched the squidlets change color, tossed the contented Puffskein around a bit, and left satisfied.
Luna’s father came. Professor McGonagall arrived with Kingsley Shacklebolt, to Draco’s surprise, and to his even greater surprise, Hagrid came, bringing his homemade rock cakes, “in case you needed some refreshments.”
The peacocks, seeing there was an audience, put on a mating dance, spreading their luxuriant tail feathers in splendid fans and shaking them till they rattled like castanets.
Æthelflæd brought the Abraxan out to do airs above the ground. Kingsley was very impressed.
The Hippogriff, watching, pranced its own version.
Merfley performed a ballet solo with grace and dignity.
The Hippogriff snuck over to the food table and made off with some rock cakes, which made Hagrid laugh.
Luna and her father did a swaying, circling, arm-waving dance thought (by them) to attract Crumple-Horned Snorkacks if there were any in the vicinity, which apparently there weren’t.
Hagrid did a rhythmic stomping dance that made the ground shake.
“Back in the day, I’d have done a Scottish sword dance for you,” said Professor McGonagall.
“I’d have done the limbo,” said Kingsley.
The moon had risen, nearly full. Merfley announced the Mooncalf Quadrille for anyone who wished to try it. Luna jumped up immediately. Her father invited Æthelflæd. Kingsley asked Professor McGonagall, and Harry tugged Draco. “Come on, Merfley says eight dancers make a set.” Hagrid said he’d watch.
It was a complicated dance, but everyone was good humored when they inevitably bumped into each other or made missteps. There was a lot of changing of partners, but even when they were separated Draco often caught Harry smiling over at him, and they always found their way back together. The moonlight silvered over and soothed everything.
“Look,” Harry whispered to Draco. Draco turned. Hovering at the edge of the field, watching them solemnly, was the Mooncalf.
He turned to whisper something back and found his nose brushing Harry’s cheek, his lips brushing Harry’s ear. He took a shaky breath.
“Do you feel alright?” Harry asked in a low voice.
Draco dragged his eyes up to Harry’s and was held there, a moment out of time. “Giddy. Like I’m floating.”
“Maybe you’ve been stung by a Billywig, Draco,” said Luna. “I wonder if some have come over from Australia?”
Snapped out of his reverie, Draco had to laugh.
“Now is coming grand finale of our party!” announced Merfley. “Please come to the pond. We is presenting water ballet and underwater light show!”
Wondering, Harry and Draco followed the other guests to the pond. The moon had gone behind a cloud, darkening the sky. A small blue light gleamed from the surface of the pond, and then another. And then there were little constellations of blue and green light, swooping here and there. The lights formed patterns, bloomed outward, pulled in, spun in circles, scintillating.
The moon came out again and revealed an exuberance of small squid lighting up the water, diving and shooting back up again, propelling themselves in beautiful synchrony as they flashed and flickered. The patterns flowed one into the next like a kaleidoscope or fireworks display. Finally all the squid shot up into the air at once, brilliant as sparklers, and fell back into the pond with a splash.
Everyone applauded. And since nothing could top that, said goodnight.
The success of the party continued the next day. Kingsley Shacklebolt contacted Draco to ask if there was anything the animal haven needed, and was surprised to find they lacked funds. He said money had been allocated but the funds were apparently held up for some reason; by the end of the day they were released.
Draco learned that Æthelflæd had vouched for him and his house arrest was over, but he was expected to continue working with the haven for a year, longer if he wished; since he enjoyed the work, that was no problem.
The Mooncalf was healed. Harry and Draco took it back to the field where Harry had first found it, just in time for the full moon. They stood in the shadows, removed the Sleeping Charm they’d used to relax it for the journey, and waited.
The moon rose over the horizon. Quietly the other Mooncalves emerged. The young Mooncalf with them stood quivering at attention and then stepped out from the shadows.
The other Mooncalves, noticing, came running, making crooning noises. They stopped abruptly when they saw Harry and Draco.
The young Mooncalf had began to run forward but stopped and turned to Harry and Draco. It stood and danced a few steps, facing them. Then it dipped its head and ran again toward its fellows.
As Harry and Draco watched, the young Mooncalf was welcomed into their midst, and the dance began, the silvery beasts stepping lithely in the moonlight. It was Draco’s first time to see the dance as it was meant to be, and he was awed.
“Come on,” Harry said, pulling him to join the steps.
“For someone who claims not to like dancing…” Draco said.
“It just feels like we’re meant to.”
And somehow, when Harry took his hand, it did feel like his feet knew what to do. As long as Draco’s eyes met Harry’s, he couldn’t go wrong. They stepped and turned, part of a great pattern and yet a little world unto themselves.
The dance ended with them standing in each other’s arms, a little short of breath, swaying together.
“Luna said this was a courtship dance,” Harry said softly.
“Did she now.”
“I feel like I’m floating.” Harry smiled. “She’d say I’d been stung by a Billywig.”
“Is that what they’re calling it these days,” Draco murmured.
And then they were kissing in each other’s arms in the moonlight.
Some months later, an Owl arrived for them from Luna. Harry read it aloud over breakfast. “Dear Harry and Draco, I hope you are well and not troubled by Nargles. In my reading of interspecies independent journalism, I came across this clipping from the Mermish Messenger which I thought you’d enjoy. Love, Luna.” He stared, puzzled, at a stiff, briny-smelling green-brown square.
“A clipping of what, kelp?” Draco asked. “What are you going to learn from a piece of seaweed?”
“Seaweed, that’s it! I bet we need to put it in water to be able to read it, just like you need to be underwater to understand spoken Mermish.” Harry filled a bowl with water and dropped the square in. It slowly expanded and the scratches on the surface became words.
“Well, would you look at that,” Harry said grinning.
Squid-tacular Aquabatic Sensation
Herman and the Mermen
perform a Gala Concert
to benefit the Hospital and Haven for War-Damaged Beasts
June 5, Mer-Castle Courtyard
Terrestrial Guests Welcome – Make your Own Breathing Arrangements
“Look, Herman’s made it big in show business but he hasn’t forgot us!”
“That’s on my birthday.”
“We’ll have to go. Do you fancy using Gillyweed, or a Bubble-Head Charm?”
“You’re the expert.” Draco read the note again, smiling. “So, Harry, are you troubled by Nargles?”
“Nah, not me. Nary a Nargle in sight.” Harry grinned. He wrapped an arm around Draco and rested his head on his shoulder. “Nobody here but us Billywigs.”