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Home is Where the Nifflers Are

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Draco was well into veterinary school by the time Harry pulled his head out of his arse and realized they liked each other. True to form, Draco had known for years that Harry liked him—“Since we did that week-long plant care course with Longbottom in 2001, you dimwit,” Draco liked to say with affection. Unfortunately, as Hermione frequently pointed out, age did nothing to improve Harry’s ability to recognize his own emotions.

Harry found Draco in the corner of the room at Neville and Blaise’s wedding reception in 2004. Draco was crouched down and feeding bits of roast chicken to Anastasia, Blaise’s kneazle. “So pretty, aren’t you,” Draco murmured as Anastasia rubbed against his no doubt ridiculously expensive trousers. Anastasia purred in agreement, still wearing the little petticoat Pansy had forced onto her for ring-bearer duty.

The room was almost overwhelming with the booming music, made more claustrophobic by wixen shouting to be heard above the slightly-out-of-date hits. Harry still hated crowds, but Hermione had made him promise to stay for at least an hour, so he’d wandered over to the least-populated corner to get some air. And there was Malfoy, his face soft, a little smile pulling at his lips as he lavished compliments on the little kneazle.

Harry knew, at that point, that Malfoy was several years into magi-veterinary school, but he knew it in the way he knew Pansy Parkinson had opened an interior decorating business—sort of peripherally. He and Malfoy had even chatted a little about magi-vet courses once it became clear that their social circles would continue to overlap. And yet, Harry had somehow never put together that Malfoy’s pursuit of the career meant that he probably liked animals.

Now, seeing him totally engaged with Anastasia, Harry felt his chest tighten. Malfoy was totally unguarded. The only time Harry had seen him even close to this vulnerable was the singular occasion Harry had seen him overindulge in the firewhiskey at Luna’s going away party.

Malfoy looked up then, and afterwards Harry would credit their entire relationship to that moment: Malfoy all squatted down, fine robes sprinkled with kneazle hair, smiling gently up at Harry. The reception hall seemed to fade away for a second, the music and heat of the room dulling, and Harry thought, Oh. I like him.

They went to dinner a few nights after the wedding; they were engaged seven months later. Their own wedding was peaceful, sweet, a late spring lunchtime affair attended by close friends and family. There seemed to be no way to decide where to live—Harry wanted Draco to move into Grimmauld Place, which he had worked for years to renovate, but Draco suggested they take up residence in the newly-restored wings of Malfoy Manor. In the end, they compromised with a warm, bright flat in Shoreditch, and the fresh start did them both good.

Draco started work at a magi-vet clinic in Camden just after they moved, while Harry coached Little League Quidditch and taught flying lessons in Wales. Harry left each morning via floo, but Draco started taking Muggle transportation; he was fascinated by the mechanics of motor vehicles. They bought a car when Draco finished his final year of internship and became fully licensed as a magi-veterinarian—“A proper animal healer ought to travel in style,” Harry told him—and Draco delighted in driving his new olive-green Jaguar around the countryside. They spent innumerable weekends staying at inns wherever they ended up, which was frequently in the Fens. Draco loved the landscape there, wild and strange, and Harry loved exploring it with him.

~

The first time it happened, it was nifflers. Draco texted Harry midday—more Muggle technology he’d grown to love—and said he was bringing home a surprise. Harry expected tiramisu, maybe. When he walked out of the fireplace, still muddy from a rainy scrimmage, he found Draco on the couch, cradling what looked like a Quaffle-sized bubble.

“What’s that?” Harry asked, setting his shrunken practice bags on the shelf.

Draco wrinkled his nose at him. “Gross, Potter. Go shower.”

Harry grinned. “Love you too, sweetheart.” He traipsed to their bedroom and once again silently thanked Draco for insisting on a ridiculously luxurious shower during their house hunting. One quick but very hot shower and a soft set of pajamas later, Harry made his way back to the sitting room and peered at the bubble in his husband’s lap.

Tiny, furry nifflers were wriggling around inside, crawling over each other and peep-ing softly. There were several gold coins in with them, the nifflers grasping them with their itty-bitty paws.

“It’s an incubator,” Draco said softly. “They’re too little to be on their own.”

“Oh,” said Harry. He watched the squirming babies and found himself wishing he could hold them.

“They just need to stay with us until they’re old enough to eat solid food, then we can send them to a sanctuary.” Draco waved his wand at one of the gold coins, levitating it slowly around the incubator, letting the little animals chase after it excitedly. Harry felt his heart swell at the look on Draco’s face, so soft and affectionate.

He wasn’t sure about the logistics, but Draco was far too clever to get involved in something over his head. “Sounds good.”

~

The nifflers were adorable; caring for them wasn’t difficult, besides the feedings every two hours, but Draco did most of those anyway. Harry found he liked having them around. At first, while they were still fragile, Draco took them with him to the clinic each day, hidden under Harry’s invisibility cloak in the passenger seat of his car. Within a couple of weeks, all nine little fluffs were pilfering Draco’s cufflinks and hoarding silverware in their pouches. They slept piled up in their makeshift burrow; Draco had charmed the walls of their nest to be like a one-way mirror so he could monitor them.

They were soon independent enough to manage a few hours by themselves in the flat, confined to a bedroom with more safety and monitoring charms than Gringotts. Draco popped in at lunch to refill their food dishes and confiscate whatever shiny contraband they’d managed to find. Harry couldn’t help but fall a little more in love with Draco every time he checked the camera he’d installed in the nifflers’ room while they were out; this kind of care and attention was something Draco hid from the world, protective of his vulnerabilities. Seeing it was a special kind of intimacy that Harry knew was rare.

After a month, Harry began to wonder if Draco really meant to send them to a sanctuary. After two, Harry was sure they were permanent. Draco had named them after the nine muses: Calliope, Thalia, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Urania, Terpsichore, and Polyhymnia.

“You’re such a swot,” Harry said lovingly. “I thought the muses were all women?”

“Goddesses,” Draco corrected. “But I think the names are pretty neutral.”

Calliope clawed up Harry’s back and burrowed into his hair; Euterpe snuffled his way into Harry’s hoodie pocket. “Sounds good to me.”

~

Next came the bowtruckle, Firbramble. He was wild and an adult, but he’d somehow broken an arm, and subsequently his family had rejected him; Draco explained this as he set up a habitat in the dining room, Firbramble waiting patiently on a branch on the table. Once he was healed, Draco said, he could move on to a sanctuary.

Harry eyed the little green twig. Bowtruckles were peaceful and cared for themselves, but they had a tendency to gouge at eyes if irritated. So far, Firbramble was quite calm, but Harry made a mental note not to let any of the nifflers bother him.

He needn’t have worried, though. Firbramble seemed to latch onto Draco, and by extension Harry and the Muses, as his new family. He spent nights in his habitat, but during the day he was usually found in Draco’s shirt pocket or on Harry’s shoulder. His arm took some time to heal, Draco carefully helping him regain his range of motion over a few weeks. Before long, little Firbramble was holding his own with the nifflers, and he took it upon himself to be guardian of the dining room. Any house flies or gnats that managed to get inside never stood a chance.

“I don’t think we can give him up,” said Draco into the dark one night. They were laying in bed, listening to the nifflers scampering around their room. Harry was almost asleep and had his arm tucked around Draco’s waist. “We’re his family now,” Draco continued.

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “He belongs here.”

Draco nodded. “He belongs here,” he echoed quietly.

~

Things became a little strained when Draco showed up a few weeks later with a baby bicorn.

“Draco, what—?” Harry started, but he couldn’t pick a question to ask first. He just gestured at the calf-sized animal currently laying on his living room carpet.

“It’s just for a week,” Draco said, stroking the bicorn’s newborn-soft fur. Two tiny horns poked out of its head. It huffed a sigh. “Just until she’s old enough to go to a—”

“A sanctuary, yeah.” Harry puffed out his cheeks. “Where will it—”

“—she—”

“Where will she sleep?”

Draco’s face brightened. “I’ve thought of that. We can convert the nifflers’ room with expansion charms. They need more space, anyway, now that they’re almost adults. So we’ll put down some rugs and transfigure them to pasture grass for Maria Antonia, give her a whole field to roam, then the nifflers can have their own—”

“Hold on, Maria Antonia?”

“I think it fits her.”

Harry looked at the bicorn’s black eyes, covered partially by shaggy brown fur. He bent down to stroke her nose; she was very soft.

“Okay.” Harry sighed. “Okay.”

~

The room adjustments took the better part of a weekend, but in the end they had a spacious, fenced-in field for Maria Antonia to roam and a good-sized house for her to sleep, plus a play yard and a new burrow for the nifflers. Everyone seemed pleased. Even Firbramble came for a tour of the new space, but he was happy to return to his dining room den.

Life was a little chaotic by that point, but Harry didn’t mind. He found he liked having things to do when he got home from practices or lessons, and the animals certainly kept him and Draco busy. The nifflers were now full-grown and entirely too mischievous for their own good. They worked in teams to steal anything within their (quite extensive) reach; Harry had to magically seal all the electronics after he found Terpsichore inside the television one evening.

Maria Antonia—Annie, Harry had started calling her, to Draco’s horror—needed grooming and exercise and ate about her weight in grain every day. She’d also developed a habit of gnawing on Harry, which Draco found hilarious.

“Bicorns eat devoted husbands,” he said, still laughing. “She’s just a baby, and she’s never been around others to teach her, but it must be instinctive.”

Harry, who after healing the teeth marks in his hands about a thousand times had ordered dragonhide gloves to wear around Annie, was not as amused. “Can we train her not to do that?”

“Maybe,” Draco answered with a grin. “Nice to know you’re faithful, though, love.”

~

“Draco.”

“Mm?”

“...Draco. Sweetheart.”

Draco looked over and smiled sweetly at Harry. “How was your day, babe?”

Harry sat down in the grass. Four nifflers crawled up his shirt. Annie chewed on his ear.

There were five mooncalves playing in the pasture. Five.

Draco had his wand out, expanding Annie’s barn, humming happily. “What do you want for dinner?” he asked.

“When you’re finished, could you come sit with me?” Harry asked. Harry had known this conversation was probably approaching, but he didn’t expect it so soon.

Draco put some final touches on a stall and walked over to him. “I know they’re a lot,” he said quietly, not meeting Harry’s eyes. “But— They just— They have nowhere else to go.”

Harry bit his lip, nodding. “I know. I don’t want them to leave.” He looked out at the mooncalves. They were jumping around, teasing each other, playing tag. Their giant blue eyes reflected the magical sun Draco had recreated overhead, their webbed feet leaving impressions in the soft grass. “But…” He sighed.

Draco finished for him. “But we live in a two-bedroom flat in muggle London.”

Harry nodded. “If Hermione ever figures out what we’re doing here— I mean, she’s not above murder. We’re breaking, what, at least a dozen laws. Unauthorized expansion of muggle property, spellwork within fifty feet of muggles, possession of magical creatures without proper permit—I don’t think we could even get a permit for Annie, I looked it up, she’s a four-X—”

Harry stopped abruptly to look at Draco. Draco sat with his proud shoulders sagging, his face fallen. He picked at the lush grass, breaking off stalks and peeling them apart. They sat in silence for a moment, Harry watching Draco’s methodical fingers, now stained green. He wanted this to work, didn’t want to be the one to crush this life they’d fallen into by accident. Harry had been doubtful at first, but his love for the animals outweighed his trepidation.

But they lived in a two-bedroom flat in muggle London.

And then it was as if someone had cast a lumos in Harry’s head. “What if we didn’t, though?”

“Didn’t?” Draco echoed, brow furrowed.

“What if we didn’t live in a two-bedroom flat? What if we—” The idea was taking shape as Harry spoke. “We could have land—a lot of land, an estate maybe—a house, fields, pastures, barns, trees… We could ward it all against muggles, keep the animals inside some boundaries— Firbramble could have, like, his own grove!”

Draco watched him, uncertainty written on his face, but Harry could picture it now, an expanse of safe, beautiful land just for them and their creatures, wild and lovely…

He gasped softly as he connected the dots. “What about the Fens? Draco, the Fens, you love it there.”

“The Fens,” Draco said, a smile spreading across his face. Euterpe and Polyhymnia nicked a couple of pens from Draco’s chino pockets, but neither he nor Harry stopped them. Let them have their fun, Harry thought, his heart beating fast with excitement.

~

The plan came together quite quickly, all things considered. That night, they scoured real estate listings for properties and made a list of possibilities. Over the next two weeks, they visited a number of estates and farmhouses up and down the east coast of England. Some were practically collapsed, others too close to muggle villages, a few too small for six pasture animals. It was frustrating and tiring and Harry feared—though he would never tell Draco—that he’d made a mistake in suggesting this idea.

But then they found Hawthorne House. It was a large, intricate Victorian home nestled between a small wood and lush fields. The neighboring farm owners were private people, the estate agent said apologetically, but Draco and Harry exchanged smiles. Thirty acres of land and thirteen rooms in the house—there would be space to spare for their menagerie.

The part they both dreaded was sharing their scheme with their friends, but it went rather better than either of them had expected. The Weasleys were delighted; Charlie volunteered to consult and George asked if he could source rare ingredients from their animal tenants. Ron clapped Harry on the shoulder and said something about finally finding something new to save.

Pansy laughed and said she wanted to come visit the baby animals, but would never help clean, and Greg Goyle quietly asked if they needed any help. Blaise talked about the value of investing in property and Neville eagerly proposed building a few greenhouses for plants he couldn’t keep on Hogwarts grounds.

Hermione, for her part, only had a minor explosion and gave Draco a lecture about risking his magi-vet license that lasted a mere twenty minutes.

The wards were simple enough to put up, if time-consuming; Harry spent the better part of a week walking the perimeter of the property again and again, mending holes and adding defenses. Draco took on the Ministry permit paperwork in the evenings after his clinic shifts, which arguably constituted cruel and unusual punishment. After his third frustrated fire-call to Hermione, by which time he had bags under his eyes and looked half-crazed, Hermione considered him absolved of any bureaucracy-related sins.

At last, she took pity on Draco and agreed to finish the paperwork and push the permit through on the Ministry side. Draco told Harry they’d be naming a wing of the house after her.

“At least a pasture,” Draco said as they laid in bed one night, Harry curled around him and half-asleep. “Granger Paddock, maybe.” Harry snorted.

Charlie recruited a gaggle of wildlife experts to help plan habitats for all their current creatures and make space for any who might come along. Draco took two weeks of leave from the clinic and Harry connected his private students with other instructors. They spent night and day working on the house and the grounds—it turned out renovating a muggle mansion into a wildlife rehabilitation center was no easy feat. Friends popped in to help when they could, and Draco’s coworkers were a good support in planning the medical suite on the ground floor, but after ten or twelve hours of spellwork they had to apparate back to the flat and care for the animals. In short, they were bone-tired, but the vision of that beautiful, sprawling land pushed them on.

Finally—finally—three months after the mooncalves had taken up residence in their spare bedroom and the seed was planted in Harry’s head, the plan materialized. The house was ready, a floor for them to live and the rest for animals. The pastures and shelters were fenced and built. The wards were air-tight. They had food and medical supplies and toys and a trunk full of shiny things for the nifflers. Greg moved into the attic and agreed to keep the grounds in exchange for room and board and company. Harry and Neville had built up a little forest for Firbramble, extending from the dining room to the exterior, so he could move in and out as he pleased.

Ron and Hermione surprised them with a hand-carved sign to hang outside: Hawthorne House Refuge. Harry didn’t bother hiding the tears that welled up as he and Draco unwrapped it.

They moved everyone in one weekend, choosing to drive them up to the property rather than take magical transportation. Draco was sure that Firbramble would hate them if they sent him over portkey, and the nifflers were too easy to lose over floo, and Annie couldn’t stop headbutting Harry long enough to let him apparate her, and the mooncalves were supposedly sensitive to rapid time-space changes. So they packed everyone into a magically-expanded trailer (with the muses securely locked in a mobile burrow and Firbramble riding in Harry’s shirt pocket) and made their way north. Greg drove the truck with Harry awkwardly in the passenger seat, while Draco let the top down in the Jaguar and followed behind.

The first few weeks were hard. Annie kept wandering from her fields into the kitchen. They decided she was missing the near-constant affection Draco gave her back in the apartment and moved her closer to the house. The nifflers took it upon themselves to loot every inch of the home and filled an entire closet with stolen screws, keys, change, jewelry, and whatever else they could pilfer. They were also frequently missing, so Harry and Draco took turns summoning them throughout the day to make sure they hadn’t escaped or been eaten by a rogue bird. Harry tried to point out that he’d both warded against predators and charmed the property lines not to let the animals leave, but Draco worried constantly about his little muses, so Harry humored him. Three or four times a day, nine furry, squawking bodies zoomed in through the nearest window, looking guilty and clutching old horseshoes or bits of sheet metal.

The mooncalves settled in pretty well, but they spent the first week bouncing off the wards. They would collide with the invisible barrier, look around in confusion, and then walk right back into it. Harry and Greg put up a fence a meter inside the property line, but the mooncalves jumped it easily and determinedly rammed themselves into the wards. Harry, remembering birds having the same problem with Aunt Petunia’s immaculately-clean window panes, asked Hermione to help him figure out a charm that would be visible on the inside of the wards but hidden from the outside. Petunia had plastered flower-shaped window clings around the living room; Harry opted for vertical lines. They looked a little odd from afar, just straight lines from the ground to fifteen feet up, but it did the trick.

Firbramble, though grumpy at first with his new digs, acclimated well once he discovered the large woodlice population Neville had introduced to the trees. Bowtruckles weren’t capable of gaining weight, Draco told Harry with an eyeroll, but Harry swore that Firbramble had developed a little stick belly.

Just a few months after they moved in, a colleague brought Draco an abandoned litter of matagots. They couldn’t be sure how many there actually were, since the black cat-like creatures multiplied at will, so Harry made the decision to name them all Frank. The Franks quickly became the unofficial security force of the property; they seemed to enjoy catching the nifflers mid-mischief in particular, though once they scared off a wild hog at the edge of the boundary. They added a strut to their step after that.

After the Franks came a porlock who found her way to them after the neighboring farm sold all their horses. With no one to monitor, the porlock had just started walking. Draco found her trying to herd the mooncalves one afternoon. She ran when she saw him, but Draco made her a little den in the mooncalves’ barn and left her fresh hay every morning. It would do the mooncalves good to have someone with some sense among them.

Then there was the sea serpent the Aurors had found being sold on the black market; Greg spent a day building him a lovely, deep salt water lake. A week on, Luna brought them an imperial dragonfly with an injured wing, which Draco repaired with a prosthetic. A school of shrakes arrived when locals rescued them from a muggle fishing group. After a long conversation with the serpent, the shrakes moved into the lake, where they happily destroyed any fabric unlucky enough to blow onto the surface. A group of fanged puffskein were found in an illegal breeding operation and brought to Draco at the clinic. A basket of dragon eggs appeared on the fronch porch one morning. On and on it went, and Harry and Draco loved every moment of it.

In time, the horse-selling neighbor decided to sell her farm as well, and Harry and Draco bought it to expand their capacity. They started hiring magi-vet interns to live in cabins on the new acreage and help care for the animals. Greg started dating a German magriculture professor; after a couple of years, he and Kurt moved out of the attic and into the farmhouse on the adjoining land. They formed their own business, selling various soils and seeds, but Greg still kept some hours to care for Draco and Harry’s grounds.

Draco left the magi-vet clinic in time, claiming he was too busy with the rescue to keep commuting, but Harry knew he just didn’t find the clinic work as exciting as his time with their rehab animals. Instead of spaying kneazles and scanning lost crups for identification, Draco spent his days doing what he really, truly loved: Taking in creatures with nowhere else to go and making them feel safe (Harry didn’t think too hard about where he fit in with that).

They worked hard every day, from early in the morning to late at night, but Harry wouldn’t trade it for the world. He lived a life he’d never imagined for himself: Mending broken erumpent legs and delivering baby chimeras, researching bowtruckle body types and bicorn-safe spellwork, cuddling sweet, naughty nifflers and arguing with a proud sea serpent; and all of it side by side with the person he loved more than anything.

Sometimes, as he fell asleep, Harry went back to that moment at Blaise and Neville’s wedding all those years ago, the second his world tilted, when he fell into Draco’s animal-loving universe. His life had never been normal, he’d never been able to anticipate what came next, but this Harry knew: He would spend every day of his life with Draco, and he wanted nothing more.