And an Owl Named Romeo
It wasn’t until after Harry had already Apparated that he thought about the coordinates. He was most definitely in Wiltshire. He squinted and thought that he could see Malfoy Manor off in the distance. Odd place for an owl nursery. He took in the site about a hundred yards in front of him. It was a large hangar that looked like an oversized greenhouse, only there were many small openings spaced uniformly along the top of the walls just under the roof. Harry surmised that the owls were allowed to come and go as they pleased. As he thought about the construct of the building, he realized that he knew nothing about magical owls, even whether they were different from regular owls. It struck him funny that Hagrid had never covered them in his class. Harry considered this; of all the magical creatures he knew of, owls were the ones most intertwined with wizard daily life, and yet he had no idea just how they knew what they knew or did what they did.
It was a wonderfully warm summer afternoon. The door was open so he stepped across the threshold. The interior walls were lined with fairly large sized wooden bird boxes with large openings. Several trees grew from the center of the hangar and the branches created a tapestry of perches across the attic space. He could see about ten owls, all different breeds, atop the branches and a few more that peeked their heads out of their box homes. One snowy owl caught his eye and he had to push down the pang of guilt that tugged at his heart.
He continued to look around. In the corner opposite the doorway, there was a single small wooden desk covered in scraps of parchment and a few quills. All was quiet except for a trickling fountain with a bronze owl in its center and the occasional hoot or trill from a real owl.
"Hullo?" Harry called out tentatively.
"Hello?" a startled voice called from the back.
Harry followed the sound, traveling deeper into the hangar. "Umm, Eeylops sent me." He had to duck under several branches to get to the back. Harry stopped dead in his tracks. Standing in front of one the nesting boxes was Draco Malfoy, his attention solidly focused on the fuzzy brown owlet in the palm of his hand. Malfoy was making soft chirping noises and rubbing the top of the owlet's head with the most gentle of touches.
Harry blinked several times and tried to reconcile the image with the last time he had seen Malfoy. His face seemed a little older, but really hadn't changed much. His hair was a little longer and he had it pulled back in a neat ponytail, but basically he looked the same. It had been almost four years since the hearing.
Malfoy was exiting the Ministry with his family. He bumped into Harry in his haste to get to the Floo. "Sorry," he said before he had realized that it was Harry. Malfoy's expression immediately changed from apologetic to extremely guarded.
"It's all right. I wanted to talk to you," Harry said, trying to keep his emotions in check.
"I suppose you want me to thank you."
"No, I wanted to… I don't know what I wanted." Harry shook his head. "I'm just glad it's over."
Malfoy stared at him in obvious confusion. There had been so much between them, between Harry and all of the Malfoys, so much that despite past enmity, Harry felt strangely connected. In that instant he came to the realization that he could no longer hate Draco Malfoy.
Harry held out his hand. "Good luck."
Malfoy met his eyes with skepticism. Over by the Floo, Narcissa and Lucius watched with interest. Hesitantly Malfoy took Harry's hand for the briefest of handshakes and then headed to the Floo without looking back.
"Malfoy?" Harry asked from a few feet away.
Malfoy didn't look up. He carefully returned the bird to its nest and dusted off his hands. Harry remained silent as he watched Malfoy collect his thoughts.
"What are you doing here?" Malfoy asked evenly, the effort so great that Harry could hear a slight tremor in the other man's voice. "I'm fairly certain that all my permits are up to date, and the yearly inspection of the Manor was only two months ago."
"Eeylops sent me. I'm looking for an owl. This is your place?"
Malfoy studied him. "I breed owls and sell them to pet shops. I don't—"
"He told me that. I haven't— never mind." The tension was so thick that Harry felt as if he was swimming in treacle. As he turned to head for the entrance, he smacked his forehead on a low-lying branch. "Ow!" He staggered back a step and rubbed the spot he knew would be black and blue by nightfall. Malfoy was snickering behind him. Harry took a steadying breath and then ducked down low to make his exit. Malfoy followed several steps behind.
When he reached the door, Malfoy asked him, "Why did you come here?"
Harry turned around expecting to see one of Malfoy's haughty sneers. Instead all he saw was a soft inquisitive expression. "Hermione and Ron bought me an owl for my birthday, only I didn't quite connect with him. I took him back to Eeylops and tried three others." Harry didn't know how to explain it. "They just weren't… right."
"Hard to please, eh?" Malfoy said, sounding much more like the arrogant sod that Harry remembered.
Harry shook his head. "This was a mistake."
"Why? My owls aren't good enough for The Chosen One?"
"What is your problem? I came because Eeylops thought that I might do better with a newly trained owl that had never been owned before. He didn't have any and thought that you might, but obviously I'm wasting my time."
"Well you are wasting your time. All my owls are newly hatched, except for my breeding pairs," Malfoy said proudly. "I should have around ten owls available in the late fall and a few more in the winter."
"Oh." For the life of him, Harry could not imagine Malfoy as an owl breeder. The boy Harry remembered had contempt for any creature less than a pureblood wizard with a seven-generation pedigree, although he did remember Malfoy being affectionate with his eagle owl whenever it delivered his sweets. Harry always assumed it was simply pride. Perhaps it had been more.
"Why can't you find an owl that you like?" Malfoy's question sounded sincere.
"I haven't had an owl since Hedwig. She died in the war. She saved my life." Harry nearly choked on the admission. It had been a long time since he had talked about his beloved snowy owl. Malfoy remained quiet and Harry thought he saw a hint of sorrow in his eyes, so he further explained, "After the war Ron and Hermione lived with me. I borrowed their owls whenever I needed one. Sometimes I used Ginny's, but that was back when we were dating. I live alone now, and Ron and Hermione thought it was time."
Suddenly, a brown owl covered with small white spots swooped down from a nearby branch and landed on Harry's shoulder. He was medium sized, maybe ten inches tall. He had large yellow eyes that seemed bright in contrast to his white face.
"Why, hello," Harry said. The owl gave a low "wood" sound and nibbled on Harry's hair with his sharp black beak.
"Think you're pretty smart, eh Romeo? I'd say you've got your signals crossed."
Romeo looked over at Malfoy and then turned his attention back to Harry.
"Romeo?" Harry asked.
"Yes, his name is Romeo and he is an utter slut," Malfoy said, more to the bird than to Harry.
Harry chuckled, and Romeo let out another "wood" call. "What kind of owl is he?"
"He's a Boreal owl. Sometimes they're called Tengmalm's. Loyal birds. They're fairly uncommon, but can be bred easily."
"He's one of your breeders?" Harry held out his arm and Romeo stepped sideways down towards his elbow.
"Romeo? Hardly. He's useless," Malfoy said. Despite his words, there was fondness in his tone. "Tried three different Boreal females before I gave up. I have two pairs with broods right now. He's the resident babysitter. He stays for the free food."
Harry looked into Romeo's eyes. "Maybe he just hasn't met the right girl yet."
Malfoy snickered. "Not quite."
Searching Malfoy's expression, Harry tried to make sense of that statement, but couldn't. "I suppose I should go. Sorry to take up your time." Harry moved his arm up and down to get Romeo to fly off, but the bird did not budge.
"What are you up to, Romeo?" Malfoy asked with intense curiosity.
"Go on," Harry said gently, and attempted to shoo Romeo away.
"Fine then," Malfoy stated. "Opportunistic whelp. You're smarter than I gave you credit, Death Eater to Savior of the Universe in one swoop."
"He wants to go with you, Potter. Are you that daft? Don't answer that."
"I thought you didn’t have any owls for sale."
"He's not for sale. He's his own bird."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, thoroughly confused.
"He moved in on his own accord after the war. I tried to send him back to his original owner, but had no luck. Perhaps they… anyway, his freeloading days are over. He's decided to take you up on your job offer."
"But I didn't—"
"Sure you did."
"Let me at least pay you."
"Don't need your money, Potter. Goodbye Romeo. Have a nice life." Draco waved his hand with a vibrant flourish.
Draco looked at him with such finality that Harry knew the conversation was over unless he was ready to draw his wand, which he wasn't – not over an owl. "Thank you. Really, I mean it."
"No need to thank me."
"If it doesn't work out, can I send him back?"
Malfoy studied Romeo for a moment, and then a smile ghosted his lips. "I think Romeo has things well in hand."
Harry didn't know what to make of that statement either. "I Apparated here. How do I get him home?" Harry asked, hoping that Draco would have a solution.
"You really are daft." Draco strode over to the desk and scribbled something on a small scrap of parchment. "What's your address?"
"My address? Oh," Harry said, embarrassed. "Number twelve Grimmauld Place, London." The Fidelius Charm was long broken.
Draco wrote out the address, and then attached the note to Romeo's leg. "Off you go. Don't let the door hit you on the way out."
Romeo flew out the open door, and Harry watched him until he was out of sight. He turned to Malfoy and awkwardly said, "I guess I'll be going."
"Arrivederci. Sayonara. Adios. Au revoir. Do Svi—"
"I get it." Harry put up his hands in mock surrender.
"I doubt you do, but feel free to Apparate at will. I've got work to do." Malfoy turned on his heel and headed towards the back of the hangar.
Not completely sure of what had transpired, Harry sighed, withdrew his wand, and Apparated home.
Romeo arrived at Grimmauld Place late that evening. Harry had the cage, a birthday gift from Ginny, all ready and an owl treat waiting. He opened Malfoy's note, the git's voice clear in his head.
Owls fly to wherever you address a letter. Idiot.
August 14, 2002
I thought I'd give Romeo his first mail flight from me. I know you said that he wasn't really yours, but still I wanted to thank you. So far I haven't had much luck with owls, so he may end up begging you to take him back.
August 14, 2002
Only a moron would send an owl immediately back to its previous home. DON'T send him here; you'll only confuse him.
No thanks necessary. He's a lazy freeloading excuse for an owl.
Goodbye and good riddance,
August 17, 2002
I sent Romeo on several mail deliveries over the past few days. He's done very well. He doesn't seem lazy at all. Although he won't eat the mice I bought for him and instead keeps raiding my cupboards. He ate all my chocolate biscuits.
August 17, 2002
He's trying to make a good first impression. You'll see. Lock up your sweets. He'll eat the mice.
Stop thanking me.
September 1, 2002
I thought of you today. September first always makes me remember the Hogwarts Express. Of course, it brought up memories of you breaking my nose and leaving me to bleed, but then I started thinking of your owls and wondered how the young owlets were doing, and if they were flying yet. Romeo has settled in. He's good company even if he does chew on all the picture frames in the house. It's almost as if he's purposefully carving new designs in them. They're all Sirius' old relatives, so I don't really care. He also tore up the kitchen wallpaper. That was fine too. It was ugly and it forced me to paint. As I mentioned I haven't had an owl for a long time. I'm glad it's worked out. Sadly, today also reminds me of Hedwig and bringing her to school. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I'll be keeping Romeo. I know you said not to thank you, but I will anyway. Thank you.
September 2, 2002
What the hell kind of letter was that? Could you have crammed any more non-sequiturs into one paragraph? Of course I broke your nose. You were spying on me. Stop writing me. I don't care that you and Romeo have set up house. I don't care about your stupid wallpaper and picture frames.
Goodbye (I hope for the last time),
September 2, 2002
Why are you such a prick?
September 2, 2002
Why are you so pathetic?
September 3, 2002
I was just trying to be nice.
September 3, 2002
Don't try. Stop writing. Romeo steals food every time he comes to the hangar.
September 3, 2002
September 3, 2002
Stop writing. You complete imbecile.
October 21, 2002
I know you don't want me to write, but I have a quick question about Romeo. Has he ever gotten into Firewhisky before? I had a few friends over Saturday night and I kept catching him sneaking sips from people's drinks. Towards the end of the evening he was pretty loopy. Can owls get drunk? Is the Firewhisky bad for him?
How are your owls?
October 21, 2002
Do NOT let Romeo drink Firewhisky. Of course it isn't good for owls, you twit. Although I'm not surprised to hear that living with you has driven him to drink. The latest batch of fledglings began to fly last week.
October 23, 2002
Can I come see your owls? I never studied them at Hogwarts, and I'd like to know more. We're having some owl issues at the Ministry, and I think understanding how they are reared and trained would help me. I also never did anything to properly thank you for Romeo. I've grown quite fond of him. Perhaps I could take you out for dinner afterwards. I was hoping to make peace.
October 23, 2002
There must be owl experts at the Ministry. Why me?
October 24, 2002
I don't know. It just feels like something I have to do.
October 24, 2002
If it means being rid of you once and for all, I suppose I can suffer through one meal with you. Come by next Tuesday at six. I should have about ten fledglings by then.
After his bizarre run-in and subsequent vapid correspondence with Potter, Draco had only wanted to be rid of him forever, but the dinner invitation intrigued him, and he couldn't pass up the opportunity to be seen in public with The Boy Who Saved Us All. Perhaps it was a sign that it was time to step out of his self-imposed exile. Further, he was curious. The shared interest of one anomaly of an owl, and suddenly Potter was interested in him. Even though there was a niggling of suspicion that Auror Potter was on some mission to spy on him, Draco accepted the invitation. What was there for Potter to find out? That his newest Eurasion Eagle Owl had laid a clutch of three eggs?
Draco was feeding one of the Tawny owlets when Romeo flew in with a note. His stomach lurched at the thought that Potter had come to his senses and cancelled. He fed Romeo a treat and stroked his back just the way he always liked.
Romeo gave a soft trill.
"I suppose not. Must be nice being the beloved pet of the most famous wizard in the world. I bet people give you whole mice for flying three blocks." Romeo pecked at Draco's hand and then flew to the hutch where Draco stored the rodents. All the owls knew where they were kept, but the holes were extremely small and the lock strong, so they had long stopped trying to break into it.
"You'll get no such adulation from me." Romeo gave an indignant hoot and flew off to a branch in the middle of the hangar. Draco chuckled and turned his attention back to the note. Nervously, he opened it.
I'll be there at six. I thought Romeo would like to visit with his old friends. He spends a lot of time alone at my place. I work long hours.
See you soon,
Admonishing himself for actually caring one whit what Potter did, Draco returned to handling his owlets. It was important to handle and feed each one several times a day to ensure that they were completely tame in human hands. It was also his favorite thing to do. They were so eager for attention and completely innocent. It was relaxing to stroke their beak or gently shuffle them from hand to hand. The shift of focus away from himself to the completely helpless creatures was freeing. They hungrily snapped up the scraps of food and rubbed their heads against the pads of his fingers, such a simple and pure act that it made Draco long for such comforts in his own life. Once he was satisfied that each young owl had been sufficiently handled, he allowed his attention to drift to Romeo, who was now socializing with a pair of Great Gray owls and a pair of Boreals. The group had been companions for several years.
"Such a strange parliament you lot make," Draco said to them.
"A what?" came the casual question from behind him.
Caught off guard, Draco spun around. Just how long had Potter been standing there? "Hello, Potter. A group of owls is called a parliament."
"Hi, sorry, didn't mean to startle you. Parliament… sounds pretty Muggle."
"Where do you think they got the term? The Wizengamot was created almost three hundred years before the Muggle kings took up the idea. You didn't think they came up with it out of thin air, did you?"
Potter did that stupid shoulder shrug that he always did. Inarticulate idiot.
"Do you even know what the first Muggle parliament was called?" Draco asked.
"Umm, no. I didn't learn too much history before I went to Hogwarts."
"Well it was called a Witenagemot. Coincidence? Muggles have been stealing all our best ideas and passing them off as their own for centuries."
"Wow, I don't think I ever really thought about it."
"I can just imagine the things you think are Muggle invented. You have no pride in your heritage. That's the problem with—" Draco stopped himself short. Potter was staring at him with the strangest look on his scar-infested face. He would never truly understand what it meant to be a wizard, and arguing about it wasn't going to help his own reputation in a wizarding world where Potter was the Golden Child.
Romeo flew across the room and landed on Potter's shoulder, breaking the tension.
"Maybe we should stick to the owls," Potter offered as a truce.
"Probably for the best. You said that you wanted to learn about owl breeding. What would you like to know?" Draco tried his best to sound sincere.
"Everything I suppose. We never studied them at Hogwarts."
"That's because your pal of a giant oaf was teaching Care of—" Draco censored himself again and wondered how they could possibly have an amicable conversation. Then it happened. Potter smiled, and Draco couldn't help himself, he laughed. Potter chuckled too.
"Can't we even…" Potter put his hand over his face. His bright green eyes peeked out through his fingers.
"Would you believe that I'm trying my best?"
"Yeah, that's why it's so funny." Romeo gave a series of loud trills. "Even Romeo thinks it's funny."
"Potter," Draco started unsure of what he wanted to say.
"Owls don't laugh." Draco was proud of himself for retaining his composure.
"So, what do they do?" Potter asked.
"They make mating calls or greetings. They can get really loud if they need to defend their territory, but owls in captivity rarely get into such scuffles. They give warnings and sometimes whistle." Draco walked deeper into the hangar and Potter followed him with Romeo happily perched on his shoulder. "I currently have twenty breeding pairs of eleven different species."
"Do you have to do a spell when they're born to make them deliver the mail?"
Potter's question was so shocking that Draco stopped in his tracks and turned to face him. "You really don't know anything, do you?" he asked as kindly as possible.
"No. I suppose I could've done some reading. I'm sure Hermione would have found me fifty books if I'd asked."
"Why didn't you?"
"I guess I'm just really curious as to how you became an owl breeder. Sorry," Harry said good-naturedly, "I just can't picture you cleaning out bird cages."
"The hutches are charmed to banish excrement and debris twice a day, as is the floor of the hangar."
"How did you become an owl breeder?"
"I agreed to tell you about the owls. Anything personal, I think we should leave off limits."
"Okay. Tell me about the owls."
Draco looked Potter in the eye. "Is this some sort of Auror assignment to check up on me?"
"No," Potter said defensively. "It seemed like you knew a lot, so I imagined I could learn something and try to thank you for Romeo at the same time. He's been very good company."
Romeo and Potter. Draco couldn't help but be surprised. "All right. Lesson number one: owls are born magical, not all species, but most of the common ones and then some."
"Are they all magical?"
"No, they're either born with ability to see magic and wizards or they aren't, but it is passed to the next generation, and magic owls have been bred in captivity for centuries."
"Like pureblood wizards."
"Not that different actually."
"But a magic owl could be born to non-magic owls?"
"I know what you're suggesting, Potter."
"Why don't you answer the question?"
"Yes, Potter, theoretically a magical owl could be born in the wild to non-magical owls, but it probably wouldn't seek out a wizard of its own accord. It would remain on its own out in the wild. They need to be hand-reared to be tame and taught to recognize wizards and deliver mail."
"You teach them?"
"No, their parents do. I just help out a little," Draco said, and couldn't help but smile. He took great pride in the successful training of his owls.
"So tell me about what you do," Potter said with a casual grace that Draco imagined could have been charming on someone else.
Draco took one of the barn owl fledglings out of his nest and held him out for Potter to see. "Once they reach about this size and maturity, they attempt flight here in the hangar. Once they're strong enough, their parents will accompany them on their first flight outside. I'll start sending one of the parents on short mail flights. The first few will usually be just to the Manor. The fledgling will accompany them. Then the flights become farther and farther, and eventually I'll send the young owl on its own."
"How long does it take for them to be fully trained?"
"Depends on the breed, but usually between two to four months."
"They can't learn every magical place."
"They don't need to. The theory is that once the fledgling learns the behavior from the parent, the magic takes over and they inherently know how to locate the wizard. Our names and address become magical signatures to them. No one is truly sure how the owls know, but they do."
"Could an owl be trained to fly somewhere instead of its mail destination?"
"As in fly to a location or wizard first and then be set off to deliver the mail?"
"Yeah, something like that."
"I don't think so. No one's ever successfully been able to put a tracking spell on an owl either. They have their own inherent magic that is practically resistant to ours." Draco wondered about Potter's line of questioning. "You pretty much have to physically intercept an owl to keep it from its destination. What's with the cloak and dagger, Potter?"
"Nothing secretive. I told you that we've had some issues in MLE. We think there've been a few owls intercepted, but we can't find a trace of anything. I'm only trying to learn what I can."
"Try a library. Quite useful, you know."
"But then I wouldn't get to see it in action. I'm more of a hands-on kind of learner."
Draco rolled his eyes. He hadn't remembered Potter being any kind of learner, merely incredibly lucky, or unlucky as the case may have been.
"So where did your owls come from?" Potter asked.
"I bought them from stores or other breeders. Usually the owls in captivity readily pair up, but sometimes it takes a few matches to get it right."
"No." Draco chuckled. "Romeo's something else."
"Once paired, they usually stay together indefinitely. Extremely monogamous creatures, owls." Draco realized that he sounded wistful on that last statement, so he quickly changed the subject. "I provide the nesting boxes and they settle right in. Owls are opportunistic nesters. There are usually some mating songs, a bit of wing flapping, the obligatory gifts of dead rodents and bugs from the male to the female, and then voila."
"I wish my life were that easy," Potter said with a frown.
The admission surprised Draco. "I imagined you'd have a brood of red-headed imps by now."
Potter looked at him with sad eyes and shook his head.
"Why not?" Draco berated himself for asking. The break-up had been all over the papers two years ago. Almost everything Potter did was all over the papers, be it his bachelorhood or his buying a box of Bettie Bott's Every Flavor Beans.
"I thought we weren't going to get personal."
"Can I hold one of the owlets?" Potter asked— an obvious ploy to change the subject.
Draco walked to a nesting box two doors down and took out one of the fuzzy three-week old Boreal owlets. "Here. Just let him sit in your hand."
Potter put out his hand and allowed Draco to transfer the tiny chick.
"It's a Boreal like your pal Romeo," Draco said.
"It's so soft," Potter remarked as he slid his thumb over the downy coat.
"Feathers won't be in for another five weeks."
"You have them at all different stages right now?"
"Almost. Owls in captivity are still inclined to breed in the spring but many pairs will start a new brood whenever the last lot has left the nest, so I tend to have a pair or two breeding at some point throughout the year. Summer is still my busiest season with new chicks and fledglings."
"You mentioned that you would have some ready to leave the nest late fall."
"Looks that way, yes."
Potter kept his eyes on the owlet in his hand as if purposely avoiding eye contact with Draco. After a minute, Potter held out the chick. "Umm, here."
Draco gently scooped it up, brushing his fingertips along the inside of Potter's palms. Potter looked up at him with an expression that Draco had never seen before.
"Are you hungry? I'm getting pretty hungry," Potter said, breaking the awkward silence.
"Is that your subtle way of asking if I'd like to join you for dinner now?"
"I'm not much for subtle. Did you have a place in mind, or would you like me to choose?"
"Whatever you want is fine."
Potter showed genuine surprise and then suggested The Alchemist's Lounge, a small bistro that had opened last year in Hogsmeade. It was a decent place, and Draco was impressed that Potter had come up with that idea. Draco asked to meet there in fifteen minutes so he could wash and close up the hangar.
The restaurant was almost full. He relished the way everyone's head turned when they entered. He knew the craned necks were for Potter, but he could see every one of the patrons and staff taking in his presence as Potter's dinner companion.
They sat in awkward silence once they had finished discussing the menu and the steward had poured Draco's wine selection.
"This wine is really good," Potter mumbled more to the glass than to Draco
"Mother is extremely particular about her wine. My adolescence was complete with lessons to ensure that I could select the proper vintage with any meal." Draco knew exactly how pompous and privileged the comment sounded, but he didn't care. Etiquette was the only true dominion in which he had the upper hand on Potter.
Draco was surprised when Potter said nothing— only nodded in a vague manner before taking another long sip of the Bordeaux. He didn't like silent Potter, so he added, "Came in handy at all the Death Eater ritual sacrifices and orgies."
Potter choked on his wine and broke into a coughing fit. Desperately he reached for his water. After a few calming sips, he replied, "You're not serious."
"Oh, yes, merlot makes a sublime accompaniment to human sacrifice." Draco paused a moment, then let Potter off the hook with a wide smirk.
Potter blushed. How strange.
"Why do you joke about things like that?" Potter asked after a long slow sip of water.
Meeting Potter's intense stare, Draco replied, "It was horrific. To this day I still have nightmares. My memories are filled with blood-curdling visions of the bowels of human nature. If I couldn’t joke about it, I'd be in the Blast-Ended Skrewts-for-Brains Ward at St. Mungo's."
"There's no such ward," Potter said in a calm and even voice that displayed how four years and Auror training had changed his temperament.
"They'd create one for me."
"You might have company," Potter replied enigmatically.
Draco took a sip of his wine and tried to figure out if there was a way to change the subject without looking weak. It was a mistake to have headed down this train of thought. It only led to despair, misery, and the reminder of all he had lost and all that Potter had won. Conversation with Potter was as pleasant a chopping flobberworms. Draco sighed and took another sip of wine hoping that Potter would start asking owl questions again.
They lapsed back into silence, which Draco found only slightly less uncomfortable than talking about the Dark Lord.
"So, how do you like being an Auror?" That seemed like a harmless question.
"I like it fine. Good days and bad days like everyone, I suppose, but I can't imagine doing anything else. How do you like being an owl breeder?"
"Let's put it this way, I enjoy being around owls far more than people."
"That I can believe," Potter said with a slight chuckle.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Draco tried not to sound too defensive.
"When I first found out about your breeding business, I couldn't for the life of me imagine you working with animals."
"Not animals, owls, and I'll have you know breeding magical owls is a time-honored and noble wizarding tradition."
"See, it's all starting to make sense now. You get along with the owls better than people," Potter replied with a charming smile. It gave Draco pause and made him wonder if he was drinking too much.
"You think you know everything about me?" Draco challenged.
"Not in the least. Malfoy, I've thought a lot of things about you, but never once did I think you were simple."
Draco smiled at the concept of Potter thinking about him. Potter tossed back his wine and finished off the rest of the glass. Within moments the waiter was there to refill them. At least dining with Potter gave the perk of great service. Their dinners arrived less than a minute later, and Draco was spared any more small talk. The food was superb, so they were able to talk about their entrees and segue into a discussion of the food at other wizard restaurants while they ate.
They ordered dessert with an aged port that Draco hadn't drank in years. Potter seemed impressed by that selection as well.
"Are you still living at the Manor?" Potter asked once the waiter had left them with their crème brûlées.
"I had a cottage built not far from the hangar about two years ago. Living with my parents wasn't conducive to having a healthy social life." Draco took a bite of his dessert. It was heavenly.
"I guess it made it hard to bring girls home."
"I'm about as interested in females as Romeo is." There, he had unzipped his flies. Draco felt pure unadulterated satisfaction watching Potter choke on his wine and launch into the second coughing fit of the evening. There was something truly empowering about dropping one's own pants, even metaphorically – the control, the turning of the tables, absolutely intoxicating. Merde, maybe he had drank too much.
"You should stop doing that; you're wasting a fine vintage," Draco said while Potter attempted to rein in his coughing.
"Romeo's gay?" Potter asked quietly. "Wait. You're gay?" Potter asked in an even more hushed voice.
"Fairly common knowledge among my friends."
Potter gave him a pointed look.
"Yes. Well. You should also know that my preference in men goes beyond a preference in wizards."
"It's not like there are a lot of gay wizards. There've been half-bloods among my paramours." Draco smirked at the look of astonishment on Potter's face. Only when Draco studied it further, it wasn't half as shocked as he thought it would be. Perhaps Romeo's instincts were on the mark. "I thought perhaps that's why Romeo took to you." Draco gauged Potter's reaction.
"What do you mean?" Potter asked, fidgeting in his seat.
"I've always assumed he gravitates to those who fly for the same team."
"Are there many gay owls?" Potter asked, confused.
"Not that I've seen. Oh, I think he'd shag another bird if he could, but I don't think he ever has. I'm guessing Romeo's quite the anomaly."
"And you're avoiding answering my question."
"I thought we weren't getting personal."
"We crossed that line right after the wine was poured."
"Yeah, but this is another level, isn't it?"
"Perhaps. I'm thinking it would explain a lot about your failure to marry the she-weasel… y," Draco added quickly at Potter's frown.
Potter shoveled a gargantuan spoonful of crème brûlée into his mouth. As he savored it, he kept a steadfast gaze into Draco eyes that revealed nothing. Damn Auror training. "This is really good," Potter said with a sappy grin.
"Fine. We're back off the personal life. Tell me more about this owl issue at the Ministry."
"Hmm. Well without giving you details—"
"I had a case that… umm… the only way the person we were tracking could've been alerted was if one of our Ministry owls was intercepted."
"Or someone on the inside tipped them off."
"Yes. We looked at that and even set up a trap. It had to have been the owl. Only we can't figure out how. And then it happened a second time with a different owl."
"What else can you tell me?" Draco was intrigued.
"Well, we traced the owls. Both were from Eeylops. One from a breeder, Clarion."
"I know of him."
"And the other owl came from a very sweet old witch who had died at the ripe old age of 127."
"No suspicious owners or traders. Nothing to make us think that the owls were planted in the Ministry. Nothing suspicious at all."
Something suddenly occurred to Draco and he found himself getting angry. "Were you investigating me that first day?"
"No," Harry answered defensively. "I had no idea you were breeding owls. Eeylops gave me your coordinates after I had returned the last owl. I swear."
"But you're investigating now."
"No." Potter shook his head for emphasis. "I swear. I thought you could help me and Romeo's a great owl. I…" Potter ran his hand through his hair.
"All right. I believe you." Against my better judgment.
"So what do you think about the owls?"
"I'm not sure. It is interesting. Can I think on it?"
"That'd be great." Potter finished the last tiny bits of custard clinging to the corners of the dish. Draco wouldn't have been surprised to see the uncouth git lick it clean.
Potter paid the check and they parted amicably with Potter asking if he could contact Draco in the future if he had more questions. Reluctantly, Draco agreed. As soon as Draco arrived home, he skimmed his bookshelves for material that might have some clues regarding the Minsitry owls.