Chapter 1: Chapter 1
SEIZING SECOND CHANCES
In front of him a dozen or more young children played in the sunshine. They were beautiful, happy, healthy children, each and every one of them. They ran; they squealed and laughed and shouted, “Mummy, look at me!” before sliding down a multi-coloured spiral slide that made their hair stand up with static. They climbed up a pretend rock wall with bright emerald green hand and footholds. They swung by their arms across a climbing frame.
Draco watched them with a heavy heart and a burning sensation behind his eyes. He rested a hand low on his abdomen, still able to feel the slight swell, the fluttering movement of a tiny body.
Scorpius. . . .
He sniffled and cleared his throat. Dammit, he’d known coming here was a bad idea. But still he came, just like he came every year on this date. He should have listened to his mother. No more, he resolved. No more. Next year, he would not come.
Even as he promised himself, he knew that next year he would break that promise.
A breeze kicked up, not too strong, but enough that the plastic carrier bag next to him made a soft crinkling sound.
As he sat, Draco’s eyes picked out one particular child—a small boy of about four or five. The child had a thick head of untidy dark hair and swung contentedly on the swings, kicking his legs up in front of him as he swung forward and curling them under when he swung back. Draco watched him for several seconds before blinking rapidly and looking away.
What was he doing here watching unknown children play, he asked himself? He exhaled and picked up his carrier bag, ready to leave. He’d tortured himself long enough.
Draco pressed his lips together. He should have chosen a different park. This one was far too close to the Apparition point. Even in a Muggle neighbourhood, he should have realised the likelihood of encountering a Wizarding family. And it would be him, of course. It had to be. Swallowing hard and tightening his fingers around the bag, he closed his eyes and wished the voice away.
No such luck. But when had Draco ever had any luck where the owner of that voice was concerned? Resigned, he turned toward the man he saw approaching from the corner of his eye.
Harry Potter approached him with a wide grin across his face, and with a jolt as sharp as a knife, Draco recognised the unruly jet black hair of the little boy on the swing. He’d known Potter had children, of course. He’d even known that one of them was about the same age as—
“I thought it was you,” Potter said in surprise. He sat down next to him as if they were old friends eager to catch up with one another. “Fancy running into you at a Muggle play park.”
Every muscle in Draco’s body tensed. He inched away from the other man, the plastic bag held close to him like a shield.
The former Auror clearly hadn’t lost any of his observational skills since he’d left field work for a desk job following the death of his wife over a year ago. When he next spoke a moment later, there was a guarded tone to his voice that had been absent previously. “I didn’t even know you had children. Which one’s yours?”
“None of them are mine.” Draco stood quickly. “If you’ll excuse me.” Not waiting for a response, he rushed off.
He didn’t look behind him, but he could still hear the children laughing.
Hermione’s question was incredulous as she sat down in the seat the blond had just vacated. They’d all known the other wizard had returned from Canada five years ago when his father’s health had begun to deteriorate, but in all that time, they’d barely caught a glimpse of him. To run into him now in a Muggle play park?
“What was he doing here?” she asked.
Harry cocked his head to the side as he watched the other man hurry down the street towards the nearby Apparition point.
“I’ve no idea.”
Without looking up, Draco responded, “Come in, Mother.”
He’d Apparated directly back to the manor after leaving the play park and had gone straight to his private apartment without informing his mother he’d returned. Mother and son had always had a close relationship, but in the years since Draco had come back to England, the dynamic had shifted to one of more equal footing than that of a parent and child. Draco had returned to his ancestral home after the loss of his son in time to witness his father’s rapid decline. Less than four months after laying his son to rest in the Malfoy family tomb, they’d lost his father as well.
Draco’s private apartment was made up of four rooms: his bedroom, dressing room, a sitting room, and his office. He was in his sitting room at that moment, sitting at one end of a long brown leather sofa in front of an empty hearth. His feet were flat on the ground as he leaned forward, his elbow on his knees. In his hands he held a soft, light-weight baby blanket in pale blue. Five years ago, he’d intended to bring his son home from hospital wrapped in that blanket, but he’d never got the chance.
Dropping his eyes, Draco recalled watching Potter’s son on the swings the day before. His Scorpius would have been the same age as Potter’s son. They’d have gone to Hogwarts together. Played Quidditch against each other. Or maybe they’d have been in the same house; they might’ve played on the same team. The ghost of a smile pulled at the corners of Draco’s mouth. Wouldn’t Potter have loved that?
Draco returned his gaze to the grounds and breathed deeply. Scorpius’ birthday was always the worst day of a terrible week.
After a period of time, his mother joined him. She linked her arm with his and rested a hand on his forearm, and together they stood in companionable silence, watching the rain.
“Biddy told me I’d find you here,” Narcissa eventually said. “I wanted to remind you of your luncheon appointment with Petherbridge.”
Draco appreciated that she didn’t offer to owl to postpone the meetings.
A wizard of almost forty, Percival Petherbridge was the head of Petherbridge Potions, the newest potions brewing firm in Britain. He was also a distant Malfoy cousin through his maternal line. Draco was in no shortage of distant cousins; it was ones who were willing to acknowledge the connection who were exceedingly rare.
Petherbridge Potions was a small company with only a handful of employees. Draco was not one of those employees. He had no interest in brewing existing potions to be sold to the masses, and even after the reparations they’d had to pay after the war, he wasn’t in such financial need that doing so was necessary. What he was in need of was a sense of purpose, to know that in some way, he mattered, he made a difference for the better after all the harm done during the war. His interest lay in private, independent research: the improvement of existing formulas, or better yet, the development of new potions. With the combination of his own talent for the subject and several of Severus Snape’s notebooks, he’d had considerable success at the former. It was the later that continued to elude him.
“I think after my meeting I had best stop by the Ministry,” he commented.
Surprised, his mother asked, “Whatever for?”
The days of the Malfoy family’s political power were long gone, and Draco had not set foot in the Ministry of Magic once since his return from Canada.
“I ran into Potter at the play park yesterday.”
The news shocked his mother, Draco knew, but she hid it well.
“What of it? Are you not allowed to come and go as you please?”
He sighed. “A single man without a child hanging around a children’s play park. It raises eyebrows, surely you must see that. Best assure our hero I am not up to some nefarious scheme.”
“But, what will you tell him?”
Draco shrugged in an attempt to appear casual while inside he was shaking.
“The truth. I will tell him the truth.”
Disclaimer – All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc., are the property of their respective owners. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Turning his head, Draco saw the plastic carrier bag from his excursion into Muggle London yesterday lying on a chair in the corner of the room. He stared at it for so long, he might have risked being late to his meeting had Biddy not appeared to remind him of the time.
Having come to a decision, he stepped into the Floo a moment later with the bag in his hand.
Unsurprisingly, the witch’s eyes widened. He had got almost the identical reaction from nearly everyone he’d passed since entering the Ministry. Their eyes would widen, then moments later narrow into a glare.
“And, is Mr. Potter expecting you?” she asked suspiciously.
“No. He is not.”
“You don’t have an appointment?” she asked, eyeing him up in a way that made Draco think she was considering shouting for the nearest Auror to come running, wand at the ready.
“I do not,” he answered. He managed to restrain himself from adding that that much should be obvious to even the slowest of brooms, as he had just said Potter was not expecting him, but it was a near thing. No need to tip the scale against him.
Deep, masculine laughter boomed from a nearby office, and the reassurance appeared to bolster the witch. The good guys are just down the hall, you. Do keep that in mind, her gloating expression seemed to say.
“Mr. Potter has a class at the moment, Mr. Malfoy. If you would care to leave him a message—”
“I prefer to wait.”
“Mr. Potter may be quite some time, sir. If you would—”
“I can wait.”
“Very well,” she said in forced professional tone. “If you will follow me?”
Draco was shown to a very poorly furnished waiting room. The chairs were uncomfortable and mismatched, and more than one bore spots of heavy wear. The walls had not seen a fresh coat of paint in recent memory—if, in fact, during Draco’s lifetime—and the carpet was threadbare. He settled himself into what he deemed to be the least deplorable of the chairs, placed the plastic bag on his lap and prepared himself to be kept waiting for the better part of the afternoon.
Less than five minutes after he’d sat down, Potter himself appeared in the door. Draco had been fiddling with the handle on bag, debating with himself whether to shrink it and slip it in his pocket. Too late now, he reckoned.
“Potter,” he said as he rose to his feet.
Harry Potter was not a tall man—Draco was likely three or even four inches taller than he was—
but there was no question he exuded strength standing there in his Auror robes. Not just magical strength—no one in his or her right mind would ever doubt Potter’s magical strength—but physical strength.
It had to be some sort of charm woven into the robes, Draco told himself.
“You wish to see me?”
Potter nodded his head as if he understood the purpose of Draco’s visit and was not in the least surprised to see him.
“If you’ll follow me, then?”
Draco followed Potter down a long corridor. On one side, offices with closed doors lined the wall, which was plastered with a number of maps and bulletins. To the other side was a large room filled with cubicles where a number of Aurors sat at their desks and worked. Oddly enough, it was the Aurors who took the least notice of him of all the people he’d encountered in the Ministry. They glanced up as Potter and he passed, but they paid them no special attention and returned to their work.
Draco diverted his eyes from the Aurors at their desks and looked straight ahead as he followed behind Potter. Judging by the way the other wizard’s robes billowed behind him as he walked, Draco reckoned he’d learnt at least one thing from Professor Snape.
Opening the second to last door at the end of the corridor, Potter motioned for him to enter. He closed the door behind them and gestured to a much more comfortable-looking chair in front of a desk covered with files and various objects, including a number of picture frames. Draco’s fingers tightened on the bag.
Potter looked very much at home as he took his own seat behind the desk. He leaned back in his chair and crossed one leg over the other, his elbows on the armrests and his fingers steepled together in front of him. He said nothing, seeming content to wait for Draco to speak first.
“I’m sorry to pull you out of class. I should have made an appointment.”
Potter waived his apology aside.
“Saves me from having to make up an excuse to leave them alone in there, but I can only spare a few minutes before I get back. New recruits. They’re sitting an exam.”
“And you left them alone?”
Draco had been about to ask what Potter had been thinking, leaving a group of trainees alone to sit an exam, but as a grin that was more smirk than smile spread across Potter’s lips, he fell silent.
Feeling suddenly discomposed at the very Slytherin expression on Potter’s face, Draco blurted out, “Those are some bloody uncomfortable chairs you’ve got out there, you know. You’d think the Ministry of Magic could—”
“By design, of course.”
“The chairs? They’re meant to be uncomfortable.”
“Well, without giving away too many tricks of the trade, I will just say that there are times when it proves advantageous to have a person wait in a comfortable waiting room, and times when the reverse is true. I do apologise for that, though. Sarah should have shown you to the other room, the comfortable one. I will speak to her about it. As for the trainees, leaving them alone during the exam is part of the test. That room is layered with every anti-cheating spell known to wizardkind. Someone so much as leans towards their neighbour, I’ll know about it, and they’ll be out on their arse faster than they can say Quidditch.”
Leaning forward and putting his elbows on his desk, Potter continued, “Now, what can I do for you?”
Now that the moment had arrived, Draco’s nerves failed him. His stomach twisted uncomfortably, and his throat felt tight. His mouth went as dry as a desert. Apart from his mother, he had never talked about Scorpius to anyone, and he hadn’t fully appreciated just how difficult it would be.
“You came to see me for some reason, I suppose?” Potter said encouragingly and not at all unkindly.
“Yes,” Draco responded, his eyes focused on his knees. He knew Potter was studying him. He also knew his encouragement was calculated, just as the small talk he had engaged in and the comfortable waiting room were calculated, to induce a person to feel at ease, to lower their resistance to telling all they knew. They were tactics Draco himself had been taught from an early age.
Potter’s chair squeaked as he shifted positions.
“Shop at W H Smith often?” he asked in a friendly tone, referring to the carrier bag held tightly in Draco’s hand.
“No. Not often. A couple times a year just.” August and Christmas, Draco’s mind filled in.
“Pick up the latest James Patterson?”
“Muggle author. Thrillers and such.”
“No.” Taking a deep breath, Draco said, “It’s a children’s book. A gift for a little—” The words got stuck. “A little boy”
He cleared his throat. “Mine. But since I can’t give it to him, I thought—I thought maybe your boy might like it. That was—that was your son—on the swing yesterday? He has your hair.”
“Both the boys have, I’m afraid. Lily—Lily’s her mother all through.”
Potter’s voice held a lingering grief when he mentioned his late wife, wistfulness for the life he’d once had.
The entire Wizarding world had mourned the sudden death of Ginevra Potter the year before, as if although perfect strangers they felt they were entitled to a share of the grief. Potter’s inconsolable face had been splashed all over the Prophet alongside articles lamenting the tragic loss of the war heroine in a Muggle car crash—and earning the owners of the Prophet a massive pile of Galleons, Draco was sure. At the very least, Draco had suffered his own pain in private.
Potter had left field work for a desk job training prospective new Aurors following his bereavement.
“I don’t understand. Why can’t you give it to your own son?”
Draco inhaled sharply. There it was. THE question. He ran a dry tongue over equally dry lips and steeled his nerves.
“Because he died.”
The words hung heavy and oppressive in the air. They were like a raging fire burning undetected all around them and steadily sucking up all the oxygen. After Potter’s initial gasp of surprise, they were followed by a silence so absolute, so complete, it was as if a spell had been cast over the room which deadened all sound.
When he could stand it no longer, Draco jumped to his feet. “Right, so, that’s why I was at the play park yesterday. Here’s the book.” He thrust the bag forward and set it on Potter’s desk before he could change his mind. “I hope your boy will enjoy it.”
He hurried out of the office and made it three steps out the door before Potter ran out after him.
“Malfoy! Draco, wait!”
Potter caught him by the arm. The last thing in the world Draco wanted was to hear the “I’m so sorry” he knew was coming, but he stopped and braced himself for it. He understood the few people who knew about Scorpius meant the words to offer comfort, but comfort was impossible. Jaw clenched, eyes straight ahead, he waited.
“Let’s grab a pint.”
“What?” Draco asked, stunned.
Potter knocked on the door one down from his own. “Trevor?” he asked, opening the door after a voice called out from within. “Cover the rest of my class for me, yeah? Just collect their parchments and send them home. Something’s come up.”
“Yeah, sure, Harry,” the voice said.
“Are you mad?” Draco asked.
Ignoring his question, Potter said, “There’s a little pub just ‘round the corner. The publican is a Muggle, but his daughter is married to a wizard, and since they’re so close to the Ministry, they’ve got a back room for wizards.”
“I am not one of your adoring fans, Potter—not to mention the fact that it’s half one in the afternoon.”
“Fine. You have a cuppa, and I’ll have a pint.”
Potter took a long draught from his glass. He left a bit of foam on the corner of his mouth and raised a hand to wipe it away. At Draco’s look of disapproval, he reached for a paper napkin.
Crumpling the napkin into a ball, he asked, “What was his name?”
Draco did not want to talk to Potter about his son; the man was as good as a stranger to him.
“Scorpius,” he responded after several seconds.
“Your family does like astronomical names.”
“What do you want, Potter?” Draco asked. He had no interest in discussing his family’s preference in names or any other matter with the man. “I do have things to be getting back to.”
His potions research would still be there regardless of what time he returned to the manor, of course, but what he had to do with the rest of his day was none of Potter’s concern.
“Okay, look,” Potter said. “After Gin died last year, it was, I was . . . It was real bad. The kids . . . Molly and Arthur . . .” He bit his lip and wrapped a large, calloused hand around his ale, although he did not raise the glass. “I was the one with the dangerous job. She was the one always worried about whether I might not come home one night. She stayed home with the kids. She was the one who was supposed to be safe. She’d just gone out to run a few errands . . .” Potter ran a hand over his mouth. “It was real bad.”
Draco was a lot of things, but heartless he was not. Sighing, he touched the cup in front of him. “I’m sure it was,” he offered in place of condolences.
Potter drew a long breath. “The hardest was our anniversary, you know? ”
Draco stared into his tea and swallowed. He did know.
“It was always our day, just the two of us. We’d’ve been married ten years, and we’d made plans to celebrate, but then the day came and . . . When you say your vows, you promise yourself to this person until death you do part. You don’t realise it can happen so soon.”
Potter raised his glass.
“Scorpius would have been five yesterday. His birthday is the worst. Every year. We should be celebrating another year older . . . We should be instructing Kebby what cake he would like. We should be marking his height on the back of his bedroom door. We should be watching him open his presents. But he’s not here.
“I go—I go somewhere there will be children. Just to watch them play for a little while. Rather like rubbing salt in the wound, I know, but there it is.”
Draco covered his mouth with his hand. He had no idea why he’d shared that with Potter. He’d opened up a door he’d always kept closed tight, preferring to keep his grief to himself. He expected Potter to ask what had happened, but he did not.
Uncomfortable after having shared something personal, Draco fidgeted in his seat. He sniffed and took the handle of his teacup between his thumb and forefinger, turning it a bit one way then the next on its saucer. He could see Scorpius’ fragile little body so clearly.
“He was born too soon. He was so tiny I could’ve held him in the palm of one hand.” He paused a moment, remembering, and twisted the signet ring on his left hand. “My ring could’ve slid all the way up his little arm. That’s how tiny he was.”
“How long did he live?”
“Six days,” Draco answered. “His skin was so thin, it was transparent. His lungs were severely underdeveloped. They used special spells to help him breathe. And to feed him—he couldn’t suck or swallow on his own. His muscles were too poorly developed.” Draco sat back, his fingers on the edge of the table. He didn’t know why he was telling Potter any of this, but once he’d started, he found it hard to stop. Maybe there was something to the Healers’ advice to talk about his loss with someone who could relate. Potter’s children were all alive and well, but no one could argue he didn’t understand loss. “Weak as he was, though, he fought to live, the little bugger.”
It felt like it was five years ago. Draco could almost hear the mediwitches and wizards voices again, telling him to talk to Scorpius, to let him hear the sound of his father’s voice. One of the mediwitches, he couldn’t remember which, had handed him a Muggle children’s book, and he had started to read.
The door to the back room opened and a group of people came in, talking loudly, and just like that, the mirage of the NICU in Toronto was gone.
“By the end of the fifth day, though, it was clear he was failing.” Draco pressed his palms together, sliding his hands against each other for a moment before laying them on the table. “The Neonatal Healer talked to me. I had to decide what to do.”
Potter reached out and squeezed Draco’s hand. It would have helped to have had someone to hold his hand like that five years ago when he’d had to tell the Healer to stop treatment.
“I sat in a rocking chair and held him. As bad as it was, it was really very peaceful. I think that’s
why I don’t find that day as hard to face as the day he was born, how peaceful he looked.”
Draco let out a breath and pushed the teacup aside.
“I think I will take that pint.”
Her husband’s portrait hung quietly on the wall. He’d tried to calm her with assurances, but when she’d finally threatened to send him to a Muggle boot sale if he said one more word, he’d wisely fallen silent.
Draco had been gone far longer than a luncheon meeting and a stop off at the Ministry could possibly account for. Had Potter caused trouble? Surely not. The man was not cruel. Had someone else? The war had been over for fourteen years, but old sins cast long shadows. There was still a large segment of the Wizarding population who would not bat an eye at shooting a hex at the back of someone they blamed for the atrocities suffered by so many, particularly if that someone’s surname was Malfoy.
The Floo came to life in the reception hall just outside the door to the informal drawing room with a loud Whoosh, and a moment later, Draco’s voice called out, “Mother?”
“Finally,” Narcissa whispered under her breath. Quickly, she settled herself in her favourite chair and retrieved the embroidery she’d abandoned earlier. “In here, dear,” she answered in a perfectly calm voice that betrayed none of the anxiety she’d felt a moment earlier.
“I’m sorry to have been gone so long,” Draco said as he joined her.
“Nonsense. You are a grown man. You need hardly keep your mother informed of your every movement.” She pulled a strand of sage green silk through the linen, adding a highlight to the leaf of a rose. “Your meeting with Petherbridge went well?”
“It was fine.” Draco leaned heavily against the back cushion of the sofa and closed his eyes. “He agreed that the leaves of the aconite plant could possibly create a much more potent Wolfsbane Potion compared to the flowers, if I could just find a way to counter their toxicity and keep them from killing the drinker without rendering the potion useless, that is.”
Narcissa knew Draco was determined to find a way to cut the needed seven doses of Wolfsbane down to only one. He considered it his personal mission to reduce the suffering endured by victims of Fenrir Greyback and others like him. It was part of the penance he’d set for himself.
“He must see real possibilities in the idea to have discussed it at such length.”
Watching him from beneath her lashes as she pushed her needle through the fabric once more, Narcissa caught the slight stiffening of her son’s pose in response to her words.
“I wasn’t with Petherbridge all this while,” he said as he sat up straighter. His eyes flashed toward her then away. “I . . . was with Potter.”
Narcissa abandoned the pretence of her embroidery and hurriedly pushed it aside.
“What? All this while? But, why?”
Draco stood up and walked around the room, picking up various little trinkets and setting them back down.
Incredulous, a hundred questions swam in Narcissa’s mind. She had rarely seen her normally self-possessed son so visibly disconcerted. She hardly knew what to make of his behaviour. No one had ever been able to get under his skin quiet so efficiently as Harry Potter, and it seemed that was a skill the other wizard still possessed.
“I explained . . . about Scorpius and gave him the book I’d bought—he has a boy about the same age . . . the same age Scorpius would have been. When I made to leave, he came out into the corridor after me and . . . we ended up going for a drink.” He gave half a laugh. “He can make one talk when one has no intention of doing so. I do believe he would have done well in Slytherin. Who could possibly have guessed it?”
Whilst Draco’s back was to her, she turned to Lucius’ portrait. They had discussed their concerns for their son’s future many times. He was only thirty-one; he had so much of his life to live yet. He needed to get out of the manor, to be among people. There was no one in the Wizarding world who held the sway that Harry Potter possessed. Being known to have been out with Potter socially could open doors for Draco that had been firmly barred shut since the war. It could be his reintroduction and acceptance into society.
Cautiously, Narcissa rose and crossed the room to where a late eighteenth century silver tea service had been laid. Striving for a casual tone, she asked, “Tea?”
Draco answered in the negative.
“What else did you and Mr. Potter talk about?” she asked, resuming her seat and placing a teacup and saucer on the table beside her.
It was so long before Draco answered, Narcissa wondered if he would not. He appeared reflective, pensive.
“This and that. He—he mentioned his late wife, talked briefly of what it was like when she died.” Draco looked towards the windows leading out to the terrace. The rain had let up earlier but it now returned in full force. “I told him about Scorpius. Not—not everything.”
It did not escape Narcissa’s notice that Draco’s hand had drifted to his abdomen. Male pregnancy was an extremely rare occurrence; the potential existed in only a small number of pureblood families. Although there were a number of theories ranging from the romantic to the dark, no one knew how or why the phenomena began, only that it could be traced back to one man from whom every family who possessed the trait was directly descended.
It also required, obviously, that the man who possessed the ability also possess the necessary inclinations—a man could not become pregnant alone any more than a woman could. To say that learning of the circumstance under which they were to be grandparents had been a surprise would be something of an understatement, but it hadn’t mattered. The war had driven their priorities home in a way they would never forget. Their son was to have a child, and they were to have a grandchild.
“After that, we just . . . talked,” Draco said. “Nothing of any great consequence. You know, just talk.”
Narcissa resumed her embroidery.
“Did you discuss your potions research?”
“Er, yes,” he said, distracted. “Briefly. He seemed quite interested, but Potions never was Potter’s best subject.”
Suddenly, Draco ran a hand over his face. “They have his hair,” he said.
Not understanding, Narcissa looked up from her embroidery and asked, “I’m sorry. Who has whose hair?”
“Potter’s boys. He said they both have his hair.” Draco lowered his eyes. “I’ve often wondered whether Scorpius . . .” He breathed deeply. “Well, it does no good to wonder. I think I’ll do a little work in my lab before dinner. See if I can’t detoxify those aconite leaves. Send Biddy down when dinner is ready, would you?”
“Of course, dear,” Narcissa said as Draco all but fled the room.
She turned to Lucius’ portrait and saw the surprise she herself felt visible in the lines of her husband’s face.
“Well,” she said.
Draco raised his eyes from his reading. “Mother? What is it?” he asked.
Having finished breakfast, his mother and he were lingering at the table over their coffee. One of the journals he had been left by Severus Snape—gold mines of invaluable information—was open in front of him. It had been no secret the man had been a gifted potions master, but no one had guessed at the true scope of his skill. His journals were nothing short of revolutionary; his theories and experiments, his alterations and alternatives were genius. Draco had been studying Professor Snape’s comparisons of the toxicity of various species of mistletoe and the means of counteracting that toxicity for use in potion making when his mother’s soft hum had caught his attention.
In her hand, Narcissa held a sheet of parchment. To most people, his mother was unreadable; but Draco understood the subtle signs others did not. She was conflicted. Whatever was written on the parchment had affected her. Draco was curious. One could say that neither of them had a wide circle of correspondents, but he did not think she was entirely surprised this parchment had arrived. That being said, it was clear she was uncertain what to do now that it had.
“I’ve received a letter,” she said unnecessarily, folding the parchment in half.
“From my sister.”
She held the letter in her hand as if about to pass it to him, but she did not hold it out for him to take.
“Oh,” Draco said. That certainly explained his mother’s lack of surprise at the letter’s arrival. His mother’s long-estranged sister, Andromeda Tonks, was Potter’s godson’s grandmother. He should have realised the likelihood of Potter’s relaying their conversation to her. And of course, what could his aunt do then but write expressing her condolences? As deeply divided as the sisters were, they’d had limited contact in the years since the war, and there had been a couple very awkward and ultimately failed attempts at reconciliation. He closed the journal he’d been reading. Uncomfortable at having someone he had only laid eyes on a scant few times in his life know something so deeply personal about him, Draco said, “It’s not as if I had asked him to keep what I told him in confidence.” And it’s not as if either of them know the whole truth, he added to himself as he rested his hand on his stomach under the table. Even if his aunt was aware he possessed the ability to conceive and carry a child—which, as a Black, she very likely was—there was no reason at all for her to suppose that that was in fact what had happened. “What does she say?” he asked.
“Deepest sympathies. Terrible loss. Had no idea. What one does say on such occasions.” His mother hesitated. The hand holding the letter moved an inch in his direction only to be drawn back. “There is more. Perhaps—perhaps you should read it yourself,” she said, having decided and holding the letter out for him.
Draco took the letter from her and read it through twice before laying on the table. He understood is mother’s uncertainty.
“To a picnic.”
“At her home.”
Draco tried to gauge his mother, but she was a closed book, even to him. That alone spoke volumes to him. It was not often his mother felt the need to hide what she felt from him. Her sister’s letter had affected her more deeply than he’d realised.
“What do you think?” he asked.
She poured herself more coffee and added milk and sugar. “I don’t know what to think,” she answered.
Some rivers simply run too deep to be bridged, he remembered her saying after the last of the failed attempts to rebuild a relationship between the sisters. In spite of the very deep divide between them, he knew his mother wanted her sister back in her life, at least to some degree. He was afraid, though. He did not want to see her disappointed again. Perhaps she’d been right that last time. Perhaps the river running between them was simply too deep to be bridged.
Draco looked towards the frame his father’s portrait typically inhabited in the breakfast room. It was empty. He would have liked to have his father’s input.
Picking the letter up, he read it once more. His aunt wrote that Potter would be there with his children as well. Draco looked up from the letter. As he had been doing since running into Potter at the play park, he thought of a little boy playing on the swings.
He returned his attention to the parchment and thought for some little time. His mother was alone in the manor all day, every day. He lived there too, of course, but his case was different. He had his potions work to occupy his thoughts, and he spent most of his day in his lab. His mother had only a few idle pursuits to fill her days—needlework, the gardens and greenhouses, a few watercolours now and again. He worried about her. She needed activity. She needed people.
Folding the parchment along the crease, he handed it back to his mother. “Well, I think we should go.”
“Yes. Certainly. Why should we not? In fact, I think it would be rude to refuse.”
“In that case, I shall write that we accept her invitation right away.”
Draco drank his coffee.
“Perhaps we should have Kebby prepare one or two of those little iced cakes she makes so well. The children will like them,” he said.
Narcissa rolled over again and punched her pillow three times, a ritual that, having got no sleep, she’d done time and again all night long.
As she did every year on that day, Narcissa lay in her bed until mid-morning. She did not call for Biddy to bring her morning tea; she had no appetite. When finally the majority of the morning had passed and the sun was high in the sky, Narcissa rose and dressed. She made her way out of the manor and across the grounds toward the Malfoy family mausoleum at the westernmost edge of the property where she knew her son would be sitting, keeping a silent vigil. There she joined him, placing her hand on his shoulder and standing behind him for a short while before moving to sit beside him.
Draco reached for her hand, and raised it to his lips, kissing the back of her knuckles.
Slipping into the long, rectangular room unnoticed, he watched as his former cohort in crime put the finishing touches on the iced cakes he’d requested.
“Oh, well done,” he said as the little elf charmed the last sugar Snitch to hover over the surface of the cake. Draco inspected the iced cakes their kitchen elf had created according to his requests.
“Master,” Kebby responded, curtseying so low he feared she might topple over. He was not the only one to get older in the intervening years. Kebby was not as young as she had once been Draco realised with a pang.
“Good heavens!” Narcissa cried from behind him.
“What?” he asked.
“Mr. Potter does only have three children, does he not?”
“Too many?” Draco asked, looking at the selection of cakes he’d asked Kebby to prepare.
“There are a dozen.”
Yes, there were quite a few, but they were rather small, Draco reasoned. Hardly larger than fairy cakes—well, hardly larger than particularly large fairy cakes, he admitted. And how could he know what flavours Potter’s children might like? Better to cover all one’s cauldrons.
“There is Teddy Lupin, as well, remember,” he pointed out. “He’ll be a teenager now.”
Draco missed the look that appeared on his mother’s face as she watched him supervise Kebby’s preparing the cakes to be taken to the picnic.
“Giddy up, horsey! Giddy up!”
Lily Potter’s laughter carried across the garden like the musical sound of wind chimes. Teddy Lupin was on his hands and knees in the grass; the little girl sat astride his back, her hands gripping the back of his shirt. He raised himself up at an angle, hands reaching out in front of him like the front legs of a prancing horse. A deep braying “Neigh!” mixed in the air with the child's high pitched laugh as she toppled off and fell backwards.
“Oh!” Narcissa exclaimed as she jumped to her feet.
“She’s perfectly well, Narcissa,” Andromeda said. “See?”
Rather than landing hard on the ground, the child bounced as if jumping on the bed.
“There are cushioning charms all over the garden. Harry’s children are very active.” Andromeda smiled approvingly. “Lily, in particular, is very rambunctious. Now, Al there,” she indicated a boy sitting in the middle of a flagstone patio, close to where Draco and his father were stood, and playing contentedly with multi-coloured building bricks, “is more sedate than his brother and sister. He’s the quietest of the three.”
The sisters watched as Lily remounted her steed.
“Mother certainly never would have allowed us to tumble around on the ground,” Andromeda remarked out of the blue.
Surprised by the reference to their mother, Narcissa’s posture stiffened, and she did not immediately respond. On the limited occasions the sisters had met after the war, there were several topics which were simply not brought up. Of these, their parents, if not at the very top of the list, were not far from it. After several seconds, she replied, “No. No, she certainly would not have.”
Andromeda’s fingers absently fondled a pendant she wore on a long gold chain. She held her head high. “I believe that is why I approve of it so strongly. Children should get their robes dirty. It’s good for them.”
“Perhaps,” Narcissa conceded.
“My Dora was forever up trees or under furniture or Merlin knew where.” She smiled serenely as she slid the pendant back and forth on its chain.
“My Draco as well,” Narcissa ventured to say, a smile of her own turning the corners of her mouth upwards.
“Harry tells me your Draco is trying to improve the Wolfsbane potion,” Andromeda commented.
“Yes,” Narcissa replied, allowing herself to relax more. She didn’t pretend to understand the complexities of Draco’s potions research, but she talked with enthusiasm of his ideas.
“You should be very proud,” Andromeda said.
The words were simply stated, but they carried great meaning. They were a pillar upon which a bridge might be constructed.
Narcissa breathed easier. “As should you,” she said.
The Black sisters sat together more comfortably than they had in over thirty-five years.
“Merlin knows,” Potter responded, turning his attention to the two women. “No wands, though, so that’s promising.”
Draco said that his own thoughts ran much along those same lines.
In front of them, the little boy Draco had seen on the swings sat playing. A little farther off, but still close enough for his father to keep a watchful eye on him, the eldest Potter child rode a training broom, flying roughly three feet off the ground in determined pursuit of a Snitch.
The little boy Draco had seen on the swings came running up to them, holding up a very colourful arch he’d built for his father’s approval. “Daddy, look what I made!” he said proudly.
“It’s brilliant, Al,” Potter responded, ruffling the little boy’s hair.
Draco’s chest felt tight. It was remarkable how much the little boy resembled his father—the same eyes, the same face de-aged. The elder brother had Potter’s hair, but that was where the resemblance ended. The younger brother, however, was Potter in every detail.
“Al, show Draco what you made.”
Holding his creation up, the child turned to Draco with a wide smile on his face that showed off this gap in his teeth where the front two on top had fallen out. His bottle-green eyes glittered.
Pleased with their reactions, the child returned to his bricks.
Draco watched the little boy as he built another arch. He then set up both arches—one as a starting gate and the other as the finishing line—and played with two toy cars, pretending they were racing, the Vrrroom Vrrrooom of the engines and Eerrrr of squealing tires carrying to were Draco was stood.
“Is it some sort of sticking charm on the bricks?” Draco asked Potter.
“Nope. No magic at all. They’re Muggle, actually.” Potter retrieved a small number of extra bricks. “They stick together with these little pegs. They fit into tubes on the bottom of other bricks.”
“Ingenious,” Draco said, impressed.
“What’s so funny?’ Draco asked defensively.
Potter held his hands up as if in surrender.
“Nothing at all. I just get a kick out of you being impressed by Lego bricks.”
James came running up to his father, his training broom slung over his shoulder, the Snitch held tightly in his hand. His face was sweaty and flushed, and he was breathing heavily. Draco revised his opinion. This boy was every bit his father.
“Daddy! Can we have cake now! Please!” the boy pled. “I’m starving!”
Al abandoned his bricks at the sound of the word ‘cake’ and joined his brother.
“I reckon so.” Throwing a glance at Draco, he added, “Merlin knows there’re enough of them.”
“They’re small,” Draco insisted. “Practically fairy cakes, really.”
“Bloody big fairies,” Potter said under his breath.
“Lily! Teddy! Come on! Daddy said we can have cake now!” James yelled, running ahead of them and easily outpacing his brother, who followed several steps behind.
Potter waved his wand over the piles of bricks, and they swept up into the air and fell into a large plastic box shaped like the bricks themselves.
“You have lovely children, Potter.” Draco said wistfully as he watched them bounce up and down in front of the table pudding had been set out on as his aunt cut the cakes.
Bent over, fitting the lid on the box, Potter looked up and over his shoulder at him.
“You can call me ‘Harry’ you know.”
Suddenly uncomfortable, Draco shuffled his feet.
“I think the universe would collapse in on itself.”
Potter—Harry—smirked, and Draco was as struck by the expression as he’d been when he’d first seen it in the pub.
“I think the universe will survive just fine. Stranger things have happened.” He straightened up and looked toward his children. “Thank you, though. I am rather fond of them myself.” He chuckled. “I know they say siblings are nothing like one another personality wise, but those three? One minute they could be carbon copies of each other, then the next I ask myself if we didn’t bring one or more of the wrong children home from hospital.”
Walking towards the house, Harry said softly, “They enjoyed the book, by the way.”
“We go to that play park quite often, you know.”
Draco’s stomach twisted. He inhaled sharply.
“No. No, I didn’t. I hadn’t the least idea you would be there. If I had—”
Potter scratched his head. “What I meant was . . . I wanted to say, if you’d like, you could come with us sometime.”
The doubt Draco felt must’ve shown on his face, because a moment later, Potter—Harry—said, “I mean it. Come out with us sometime.”
Harry shrugged. “Why not?”
Disclaimer – All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc., are the property of their respective owners. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
And on top of that, there was Harry Potter.
Narcissa hoped with all her heart that seeing a young father his own age with his children might prove to be the catalyst to Draco’s getting out of his potions laboratory and back into life. He was only thirty-one, but by the time one reached Narcissa’s age, one realised the speed with which years turned into decades when one wasn’t looking. She was inordinately proud of his devotion to his work, but like any parent, she wanted more for her son. His work would not run up to him to show off some new creation or with a broom slung over its shoulder, begging for cake, as Potter’s sons’ had done. Nor would it ride on his back laughing for him to “Giddy up!” as Potter’s daughter had done.
As she continued worrying over her son’s future, a very young elf appeared with a distinct pop and held a small silver plate up to Draco. “A letter is come for Master,” the elf said.
Draco took the letter, and the elf vanished.
Narcissa watched him as he looked at the letter and set it down, only to pick it up again. When he’d repeated the actions twice more, she suggested, “Perhaps you should open it.”
“It’s from Potter,” Draco said.
All the more reason for him to open it without delay, Narcissa felt, although she didn’t say so.
Without opening the letter, Draco remarked in a low voice, “Al is a sweet child, did you not think so? Quiet, Potter said. His name is Albus Severus, did you know?”
“The Prophet reported on it at considerable length when the name was made known.”
“Yes, quite,” she said. A moment later, resisting the urge to strum her fingers on the table, she added, “The letter?”
Draco broke the wax seal with the air of a man expecting bad news. He looked over the letter for an inexplicable length of time—Draco and Potter had only spoken twice now in fourteen years, how much could the other man possibly have to write about?
Needing something to keep her from asking what the letter contained, Narcissa sipped her tea.
She waited in growing impatience until finally, refolding the letter and slipping it back into its envelope, Draco said, “He said he is taking the children to Diagon Alley for ice creams tomorrow evening and asked if I would care to join them.”
“How lovely,” she responded with carefully measured enthusiasm and restraint. Being seen publicly in Harry Potter’s company could lead to potential openings back into Wizarding society for Draco that they could not have dreamt of only a few days ago.
At the same time, Draco said, “I shan’t go, of course.”
“For pity’s sake, why not!” Narcissa cried out, setting her cup down so heavily that tea sloshed over the rim. Her chest heaved, and the hand lying on her lap clenched. To have such an opportunity presented to him—literally on a silver platter—and waste it was more than her well-practiced air of stoicism could tolerate.
Draco looked at her with the same wide-eyed look of disbelief he’d given her on the rare occasions she’d not allowed him something he’d wanted as a child.
“I have my potions—”
“To Circe with your potions!”
Narcissa dropped her face into her hands. She took two deep breaths. Pressing her hands together in front of her, she rested her forehead against them like someone praying to their god.
“You know how important my research—”
“Yes, Draco, I do. I apologise. It did not mean to suggest otherwise—but there is more to life than work. Surely, one evening spent at leisure will not derail all your hard work. I realise Mr. Potter might not be the most—“she shook her head as she searched for an acceptable word, “—refined wizard in the world, but he is certainly the most influential. Your being seen in company with him in so public a place as Diagon Alley—”
“At Fortescue’s, Mother. You remember Florean Fortescue, don’t you? Murdered by Death Eaters, wasn’t he? Because he wouldn’t cooperate? Can you imagine the scene that would arise were I to walk in the door?”
“As a member of Mr. Potter’s party, no one would dare say a word to you,” she implored. “On the contrary—Potter’s opinion carries tremendous weight. If people see that he has accepted you into his circle, to actually include you in an outing with his children—Draco, you must see that the rest of society will follow his lead! Think of the opportunities that would then open up to you! You could claim your proper place in our world! You would enjoy a respected position! Your company would be sought out! Think of what your life could be!”
“There is nothing wrong with my life as it is,” Draco insisted.
Calm yourself, Narcissa. You must control yourself, Narcissa warned herself. She took a moment before going on.
“There is nothing wrong with your life other than that it is passing you by while your head is bowed over a cauldron,” she said bluntly, her voice deep with emotion but her tone level. “You are young still, Draco, but you will not remain so forever. I have two wishes in my life, two things I wish to see happen before I die—”
“Mother, you are not going to—”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I am. We both will. It is the folly of youth to think one has all the time in the world; age has learnt better. There are two things I wish to see happen which would give me peace. The first is to reconcile, to whatever degree possible, with my sister, Andromeda.
“But as deeply as I would like to accomplish that before it is too late, it is nothing in comparison to my second wish, which is to see you leading a rich, full life, and to see you with a family of your own to share that life with.”
Draco recoiled from her words as if they were physical blows.
“Your mother is right, Draco,” came the deep baritone of Lucius’ voice from his portrait on the wall.
“Not you, too.” Draco said tiredly. “Have I ever suggested that I am not content with my life as it is?”
“We do not wish to see you merely content. We wish to see you truly happy,” Lucius said.
“I want to see you find someone to make you happy. It is not the position or the prestige that being seen with Harry Potter might bring you that I care about—the days when those things mattered are long gone. It is only the chance to find someone to love that those things could afford you that matters to me now. Your research is important, of course, but you cannot share your bed with it. ”
“Mother!” Draco cried in embarrassment. “I do believe I have heard enough!”
Draco sprang to his feet and threw his napkin on his plate. He shot from the room like a spooked rabbit.
Narcissa threw her own napkin on the table and sat back heavily in her chair. She turned to her husband’s portrait.
“I do miss you, Lucius. So very much.” Exasperated, she added, “Why must grown children act so appalled that their parents are aware of the existence of sex? How do they think we became their parents in the first place?”
Behind him, his father’s portrait cleared its throat from within the small frame he’d mounted in his laboratory for his father to visit him whilst he worked.
“I am sorry if you were embarrassed.”
Without turning, Draco said, “You do both realise that were I to find this person it would be a man, do you not? My male lover would be welcomed into the manor with open arms, I expect.”
“We did figure that out when you wrote to tell us you were expecting a child, and that you yourself were caring the child. Please do give us a little credit. We are not so old we forget how children are conceived. And as for welcoming him—yes, we would.”
Draco turned to his father and folded his arms in front of himself. He thought of the worst man he could possibly ever develop feelings for and threw the name at his father. “And what if it was Potter? Would even he be welcomed? Maybe whilst he and I were talking at my Aunt Andromeda’s picnic, we were making secret plans to elope.”
“Nothing would surprise me more, seeing as he was married to a woman to whom he was clearly devoted. But if he were the one to make you happy, yes, he would be welcomed.”
Draco grit his teeth. He turned away from this father and drew a long, shaky breath.
“Does Potter’s behaviour not strike either of you as slightly odd? Do you not ask yourselves why a man who has never shown the least interest in my company should suddenly show such an interest? Should suddenly be inviting me out for drinks and to have ice creams with him and his children?”
“I do not pretend to understand the workings of a Gryffindor brain. They are unpredictable beings.”
Like a petulant child being made to do something he did not want, Draco said, “Fine. I shall write and accept the damn invitation if it will make you both so happy.”
“I would perhaps not word your response in quite that way.”
“Hey, mate,” a voice said from next to him. “You comin’ or you goin’? Make up your mind, already, would ’ya? You’re blockin’ the Floo.”
Draco hurriedly stepped aside and allowed a portly wizard to enter the Floo. He took a step back further and bumped into one of a number of wizards standing in a group and talking loudly, all with drinks in their hands.
“Sorry. Sorry,” Draco said hurriedly.
“No harm done,” the wizard responded in a jovial manner. He clapped a hand down Draco’s shoulder before returning his attention to his companions.
The crowded pub that had stirred up feelings of nostalgia in him just moment’s ago now felt stifling hot. It felt like there was not enough air to breathe, and the walls appeared to have drawn closer, shrinking the space. Draco sprinted across the room towards the back door. Once outside, he slammed the door shut and fell against it. He breathed in great gulps of the evening air as if he’d been underwater for too long. If he had a lick of common sense, he told himself, he’d Apparate straight back to the manor.
Then he shook himself. Are you a grown man or some frightened little Firstie?
Maybe his parents were right. Maybe being seen with Potter would make a difference in people’s attitudes. Maybe his mother would be able to once again stroll down Diagon Alley, to do something as simple as chose new robes in person rather than by owl order, to have tea, to shop at Madam Pimpernelle’s.
He also thought about Henri, the way his hands had felt on Draco’s skin. Five years was a long time to go without feeling another man’s hands on him. His relationship with Scorpius’ other father had not been serious, but it had been intense. And before him there had been a long line of others. What Draco wouldn’t give to climb into his bed every night and curl up next to someone . . . His bed was awfully big for just one person.
With new resolve, Draco pushed himself away from the door. He pulled his wand and tapped the same bricks in the wall in front of him he’d seen his father and mother do innumerable times. He took a deep breath as the bricks rearranged themselves, opening an archway into the world Draco had not set foot in for fourteen years.
It surprised him that there were so many people. Had there always been that many and he’d just never noticed?
A thread of anxiety wove its way up his spine, but he broke it and stepped through the archway. As he heard the bricks rearranging themselves into a solid wall, Draco stepped forward and lowered the hood of his robes. If he was going to do this—he was damn well going to do it.
Draco walked down Diagon Alley in the direction of Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. He kept his head held high as he heard a succession of gasps; he kept his eyes straight ahead as whispers followed in his wake. It was with a deep sense of irony that he realised he was modelling his posture after Potter’s on the night of the Battle of Hogwarts, when the boy-hero had walked bold-faced into the Great Hall in front of the entire student body and stood tall as Voldemort called for him to be handed over.
The gasps and whispers grew louder the further down the alley Draco progressed, and the louder they grew, the harder it was to keep his posture straight. It was a relief when the road curved and he saw the ice cream sundae-shaped sign hanging on the bracket beside Fortescue’s front window, and as he pulled the door open and the loud chatter of the patrons fell abruptly silent, it was an even greater relief when Potter’s voice called out to him, “Oy! Draco, over here!”
Potter took a spoonful of a very large sundae and pointed at him with it.
“You just won me ten galleons from Ron. Thanks for that.”
Relief turned to dread—had Potter’s invitation been nothing but a bet with his friends to see whether Draco would show up?
“I told him you’d walk in with your hood down. He thought you’d have it up.”
Reluctantly, and looking around them at the staring faces and gaping mouths, Draco admitted he’d had it up when he Floo’d to the Leaky Cauldron.
“The Leaky doesn’t count. We said ‘walk in the door’.” Potter’s attention drawn by the size of the spoonful of ice cream his daughter scooped up from the sundae that the two were sharing, he quickly snagged the spoon from the child’s hand. “Oh, no, you don’t,” he said as he deposited three quarters of the ice cream on the spoon back in the bowl. He handed the spoon back to the child. “There you go,” he said as he stroked the back of the little girl’s head. “You remember these three. Larry, Curly and Mo,” Potter said as he pointed to each of his children in turn. “Stooges, say hello to Draco. Draco is Aunt Andromeda’s nephew,” he reminded them.
Two ice cream-covered mouths said hello.
Potter’s elder son ate a child’s ice cream sundae of his own served in a Snitch-shaped bowl. Feather-thin wafer cookies fluttered from the sides of the bowl when it was served, Draco remembered from his own childhood. His spoon looked like a miniature broom.
Rather than say hello, Al blew bubbles in whatever drink he had in a cup advertising Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle. The cup being almost full, the bubbles spilled all over the table.
“Al!” Potter yelled as he grabbed a napkin.
The child laughed an adorable little-boy laugh and raised the cup to his mouth to drink after his father took his straw away. When he lowered the cup his entire upper lip was covered with foam.
A lump formed in Draco’s throat.
Potter’s daughter, young as she was, took advantage of her father’s distraction as he wiped up the spilled bubbles to snatch another much-too-big spoonful of ice cream.
Draco couldn’t help but laugh. “Er, Potter?”
“What? No! Lils!” Potter took the spoon from his daughter and again returned most of the ice cream to the bowl. “That’s too much, sweetheart. Here you go.”
Potter’s eyes moved over his children, one to the next to the next, as if he was trying to anticipate which of them would try something next.
Draco laughed harder. It was the eldest’s turn, he reckoned.
“Don’t encourage them,” Potter said, still watching his children. “Laughing at a child is like dangling a Galleon in front of a Niffler.” He turned to Draco about to say something else, but his expression changed and he closed his mouth.
“What?” Draco asked. He felt distinctly wary, but he could not honestly say why. Nothing about Potter’s behaviour was offensive; but something made goose pimples breakout on the back of Draco’s neck.
Potter suddenly looked away and wiped ice cream off his daughter’s chin.
“Nothing. It’s nothing,” he said. “You just look very different when you laugh like that.”
In her best Did I not tell you so? tone and without lowering the book she held, she asked, “Did you have a nice time?”
Draco rolled his eyes but admitted that he had.
“That’s good, darling. I am glad—Draco?” she asked, setting her book aside, her tone changing dramatically. “What is that all over the front of your robes?”
“Relax, Mother. No one threw anything at me, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Of course I wasn’t—What a thing to say—I can’t think why—”
“Narcissa,” Lucius’ portrait said.
His parents exchanged a glance, and his mother relaxed back into her chair.
Lightly prodding at the sticky mess on the front of his robes, Draco felt like a child who’d been caught dirtying his dress robes. “There’s this Muggle concoction called a root beer float, and, er, well, it can be rather messy.” He didn’t add that it only became so when blowing bubbles in it through a straw with a five-year-old when said five-year-old’s father’s attention was diverted. “And you know what rubbish I am at cleaning spells.”
“I am,” he answered. Harry took a forkful of his steak and kidney pie. “Root beer and ice cream all over himself.”
The three friends had met for lunch at the same pub he had taken Draco to the day after they’d run into each other at the play park.
Ron’s eyes widened to the size of saucers, and he stared at Harry before erupting into fits of laughter.
Hermione’s lips twitched, and she raised her napkin to her lips in an attempt to conceal the grin she could not fight.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a strained voice. “I don’t mean to laugh. I truly don’t. I’m sure he was very embarrassed. But—I—He—”
Harry was glad he and his friends had long ago grown accustomed to casting the Muffliato spell over themselves when speaking together in public. He could only imagine the rumours that would start flying if the rest of the patrons in the pub could hear his friend’s stomach-clutching laughter. As it was, he was still seething from the article Rita Skeeter had penned in the Prophet, coming up with one hundred and one hare-brained theories—each one worse than the last—as to why the Chosen One would have deigned to allow a known supporter of Voldemort to keep company with his children. The article hadn’t surprised him—Merlin knew that woman lived and breathed to spread lies—but it had got under his skin.
“Oh, my ribs! Oh, I can’t breathe,” Hermione gasped. “I can’t breathe.”
Ron wiped tears from his eyes.
“Don’t you think you’re over doing it just a bit? He spilled a drink on himself.”
“Spilling a drink on yourself because someone bumped your arm or because the cup slipped is one thing, mate. Spilling a drink on yourself because you were blowing bubbles in it like a five-year-old is quite another.”
Okay, Harry admitted. He gave them that.
Calming down and catching her breath, Hermione said, “I still just don’t understand why you’re all of a sudden so interested in spending time with Malfoy, Harry. I mean, of course, I understand . . . after he told you about his son . . . And of course, Andromeda does want to be reconciled with her sister, and that necessarily involves Draco to some degree. But still . . . going out for ice creams? It’s just a bit—odd. It’s just so out of nowhere.”
Harry pushed the food around on his plate before answering.
“When we talked over a couple pints, I just, I guess I just found him interesting to talk to. He was so passionate about his potions research. Most of the time he lived in Canada, he lived in Muggle Toronto. His parents were trying to get permission from the Canadian government to join him there, to be there when the baby was born. He’s just—he’s not the same person he used to be, and I think the person he is now is someone I like being around.”
And there was his laugh, Harry thought to himself. Harry believed you could tell a lot about someone by the way they laughed. Draco didn’t laugh the way he had in Hogwarts—a scornful, cruel crowing laugh. He laughed the same way Harry and his family and friends did—honestly, a laugh of enjoyment at being with someone rather than at someone’s expense.
“Well, mate. I trust your judgment,” Ron said. “If you say Malfoy’s an okay bloke now, that’s enough for me.” The same competitive look that always filled Ron’s eyes when Quidditch was brought up filled them now. “The Slytherin brain . . . Cunning, ambitious, clever. Reckon he’s any good at chess?”
“Oh, Ronald.” Hermione sighed indulgently.
“What?” he asked.
“Hermione,” Harry asked very seriously, “are you okay with it?” He didn’t need to explain; he knew both she and Ron understood what he meant. They’d all suffered during the war, but it had been Hermione who had been tortured on the Malfoy’s drawing room floor. He’d genuinely liked the time he’d spent with Draco, but next to his children, there was no one in the world who meant what Hermione and Ron did to him. If the idea of his befriending Draco was too painful to her, he would not pursue it.
Ron put his hand on his wife’s shoulder.
Hermione took her time before answering. In time, she spoke in a slow, soft voice, saying, “We all know what they suffered in Voldemort’s rage after we escaped. That is enough. Bellatrix is dead. Lucius is dead. Let the war be dead, too.”
Closing the journal he’d been reading for the umpteenth time in hopes of finding something he’d previously missed, Draco sat back. He rubbed his eyes and stretched his aching neck, turning his head this way and that.
An owl tapped at the top of one of the tall windows that lined the west-facing wall.
Startled, Draco grabbed his wand and opened the window for the bird to enter. He held his breath—was this Slughorn’s response so soon? He dearly hoped it was.
The bird was a fine looking tawny owl that circled once around the room before landing on the corner of Draco’s desk and holding its leg out for him to retrieve the letter it carried. The bird rotated its head, as if scoping the place out.
“Don’t have much call for owl treats in potions brewing, I’m afraid. But, how about this?” Draco ruffled the feathers at the back of the bird’s neck and stood up. He retrieved a jar from one of his shelves. “Feast on a couple of these,” he said holding two rat spleens out for the bird, who snatched them from his palm. Stretching its wings out impressively, the bird took off and soared out the open window.
No response expected, then, Draco thought. Not promising, that, but not a definite ‘that’s that, then’ either. The envelope was thin. It couldn’t hold more than a slip of paper. As Draco broke the wax seal, he told himself Slughorn would very likely have only written a line or two at first to say he would discuss Draco’s problem with his colleagues and be in touch.
Pulling the single bit of parchment, Draco read:
Taking the Stooges to the park after tea. Say around six, if you’re interested?
Draco’s arms fell to his sides. He read the letter again before throwing it in a drawer in frustration. Sitting down and sighing, he reached for another of Snape’s journals.
As he read the tightly scribbled script, Draco thought of the man he’d thought he’d known but hadn’t really. To love someone as deeply as Snape had loved Potter’s mother, Draco couldn’t imagine it. Lovers, he’d had several of. Someone he loved, never.
He thought more and more of Professor Snape, his bravery and devotion, but he also thought of his isolation and joyless existence.
Draco thought of Al Potter. The child exemplified such simple happiness.
Draco thought of the night-and-day existences of Professor Snape and Harry Potter. He thought of his own life. With sudden and shocking honesty, he asked himself which man’s life he wanted his own to resemble.
“This is high enough, Lils,” Harry responded, reaching his hands out to push her again as she swung back towards him. All three of his children, rather uncharacteristically, were playing on the swings at the same time. He rather wished he’d brought a camera.
“No! Higher! Higher like Dames!”
“James is older than you, princess.”
Harry looked around as he pushed Lily again. There was still no sign of Draco, but they’d only been there a few minutes. He told himself the other wizard still might come.
“Daddy, push me, too!” Al pled.
It had already been a while since Al had needed to be pushed on the swings, but his children were getting too big too fast. Even his baby girl would roll her eyes at him soon enough—“Really, Daddy, I can do it myself,” she would say to him. He took a step to his right and alternately pushed Al with one hand and Lily with the other.
With a loud holler to a friend who’d just arrived, James swung forward and jumped off when the swing was at its very highest point.
“James!” Harry yelled. He looked around nervously. It was a warm evening, and the play park was filled with Muggles, and just as another young child Harry had once seen in another man’s memory had done, James had flown just a little too high in the air, stayed in the air just a little too long, and landed on his feet in the wood chips just a little too lightly.
A woman Harry had seen at the play park many times before came up and stood close to him. He cringed internally. This woman had recently taken to coming up to him and making small talk whenever they saw each other at the park. Jennifer, she’d told him her names was—not that he’d asked. She was hardly the only mother he saw at the play park who chatted with him, but this particular woman had a habit of standing too close, and last time, she’d touched his arm three times. That Harry still wore his wedding ring did not seem to deter her in the slightest.
It would be her who noticed James’ stunt.
“Your little boy is quite the acrobat,” she commented.
“Yes, he is.” Harry said.
“Dames can fly!” Lily said enthusiastically.
Harry winced. His children occasionally slipped in front of Muggles and said something they ought not have, but at least Lily hadn’t mentioned James’ new broom.
“Yes, he certainly can,” the woman responded.
“Yay!” Al cheered, beaming with excitement. “Daddy, Draco is here!”
After the root beer floats at Fortescue’s a few evenings ago, Draco had made a friend of Harry’s middle child. Looking quickly at his son, Harry followed the direction he was looking. Draco was indeed walking across the play park towards them, and when he reached them, Al gave him a wide grin.
“I’m glad you could make it,” Harry said.
“I was working when I got your message. I decided an evening out of the lab would do me good,” he said to Harry. He asked the children if they were behaving.
“How is the problem you’re working on coming along?”
“Daddy, I want Draco to push me,” Al said.
“Okay.” Harry moved over to make room.
Grinning, Draco stepped behind Al and raised his hands. When he swung towards him, Draco gently pushed his hands against Al’s back.
“Oh,” the woman gasped as she looked between Harry and Draco. She gave a sheepish sort of smile. “Can’t blame a girl for trying,” she said as she looked at Harry wistfully before hurrying off.
Draco watched the woman walk away, but Harry only watched Draco. When she was out of earshot, Draco said, “Sorry if I interrupted anything.”
“Daddy, I wanna play over there now,” Lily said. She pointed to an area of the play park designed for young children and featuring a climbing frame designed like a castle, complete with bright yellow towers, and a climbing wall with different fruits and vegetables for the hand and foot holds. There was a bridge made of a fisherman’s style net and a slide at just the right height.
“Me, too!” Al said, dragging his heels on the ground to slow himself.
Harry lifted Lily from the toddler swing and set her on the ground.
“Come on, Al!” she yelled, running off across the large play park.
As he and Draco followed dutifully behind, Harry kept an eye on where James was playing nearby with a bunch of other boys his age.
“You do know what that woman is thinking, don’t you?” Draco asked, tipping his head in the direction Jennifer gone.
“I know. I’m fine with it. Hell, if it gets her to leave off trying to talk me up, I’m better than fine with it.”
“Not ready for other women yet?” Draco asked in a low, sympathetic voice. He quickly added, “Not that it’s any of my business.”
Harry toyed with his ring. “I don’t mind your asking,” he assured Draco. “I don’t know. I’m starting to think that maybe I’m getting there. I’ve even taken my ring off a couple times now—not for long, a few hours just, and only around the house. A year ago I would have said that that part of my life was over, and that I would never take this ring off as long as I lived. Gin was the centre of my world; she was my everything. I think, though, that recently I’m starting to think that maybe someday. You know. Maybe not today, but someday. If I find the right person. Gin and I were very happy together, and I miss that. Gin would be a tough act to follow, though. Someone would have to be very special. And sure as hell not someone who flirts with men wearing wedding rings.”
A group of children ran in front of them, laughing and squealing.
“What about you?” Harry asked. “Anyone special for you since Scorpius’ mother?”
“I’ve never been in love,” Draco answered. Lowering his gaze, he said, “Scorpius was unplanned.”
Feeling like he’d put his foot in his mouth, Harry changed the subject. While there was no one close enough to overhear, Harry asked, “No luck on detoxifying the aconite leaves yet, then?”
His face relaxing, Draco answered, “Oh, there are things I can add to counter the toxicity, that’s not the problem. The problem is that any of those things would ruin the potion. Potion brewers at Petherbridge Potions are looking into it as well, and I’ve sent an owl to Professor Slughorn seeking his advice. If it can be done, someone will find a way.”
That Draco seemed wholly unconcerned that someone else might manage it before him and take credit for his idea did not escape Harry’s notice.
“Pity you can’t just add a bezoar,” Harry commented. “I’ve been thinking—”
“Stuff it, you,” Harry said. “I had an old text book of Snape’s in sixth year. He had all kinds of improvements and alterations written in the margins, and I’ve been trying to remember them in case there might be anything helpful. Remember when Slughorn taught us about—what was it? Galplath’s Third Law or something like that.”
“Right. Well, when I looked through the list of antidotes in the book, Snape had written ‘Just shove a bezoar down their throats’ across them.”
Draco stopped in his tracks. He looked utterly gob smacked.
Harry’s eyes widened. “Bloody hell. That wouldn’t actually work, would it?”
A full ten seconds passed before Draco came back to himself, and they resumed their course toward the climbing frame.
“It’s not a viable solution, no. Consuming a bezoar on such a regular basis would be far too damaging to one’s gastrointestinal tract .” Draco spoke in a soft voice, more to himself than to Harry as he ran through obstacles and possibilities like a student revising before an exam. “Added to the potion directly, powdered bezoar would nullify the poison in the leaves, but it would also react with . . . react with . . . ” His voice trailed off as they reached the climbing frame. His face went slack, but his eyes were keenly alert.
Harry vacillated between keeping an eye on his children and watching Draco. He’d seen the look on Draco’s face at that moment hundreds of times on Hermione’s. He knew the look of one on the cusp of an important breakthrough.
Draco’s hand went to his head, and he tugged on his hair. “Brew a tea,” he said breathlessly. “Could it be as simple as brewing a pot of tea with the aconite leaves?” He pressed his hand to his forehead and looked at Harry. His speech was so rapid and disjointed, it was hard for Harry to follow along. “Bezoars are powdered before being added to antidotes because of their complete non-solubility because, in the case of an antidote, it’s necessary for the bezoar to become part of the potion and be imbibed by the drinker. But I’m not brewing a potion for a poisoning victim. I don’t need the drinker to consume the bezoar. Added to the potion whole—not powdered—and remaining entirely undissolved, a bezoar would detoxify the leaves—or at least I strongly suspect it would, because as you’ve just said, if being administered directly to a poisoning victim, a bezoar is given whole—but it would also affect every other ingredient in the potion, not just the aconite leaves. But I’m not trying to detoxify the entire potion—only the leaves. So why must the bezoar be added to the potion? I only need to add it to the leaves . . .” Draco grabbed Harry by the shoulders. “If I steep the leaves, I would get an aconite tea, that tea would contain all the properties of the leaves, the beneficial and the toxic. If I added a bezoar—whole, not powdered—to the tea, it could nullify the toxins and then be removed in its entirety, leaving no trace whatsoever behind to interact with any of the other ingredients, then, rather than adding the leaves themselves to the potion, I could add the now detoxified tea.” He released Harry’s shoulders and forcefully ran his hands through his hair, tugging furiously on great fistful at the back of his head. “I’d need to adjust the amount of water added to the potion itself to compensate, but that should be a simple enough alteration.” Draco ran a hand over his face, pausing over his mouth. He looked at Harry so intently, Harry felt like he was unable to move and his breath stuck in his lungs. “Harry—I—I really think this could work. This really—this could really work.” Draco drew the breath Harry could not and shook his head slowly, never breaking eye contact with Harry. “Potter, if I didn’t know very well you would hex me inside out, I swear, I would kiss you right now.” He covered his face with his hands and breathed deeply. “I have to go. I have to experiment. I’m sorry. Tell the Stooges I’m sorry I had to leave.”
Draco hurried off but only made it four steps before turning and coming back. “Percival Petherbridge and Professor Slughorn, owl them for me, would you, tell them what I’m on to, ask their opinions?”
Draco hurried off again, that time making it only two steps before doubling back again. He was breathing like a marathon runner at the twenty-six mile marker. He shook his head again, more emphatically that time. He gave Harry no warning before he grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and kissed him full on the lips. “The hexing’ll be worth it,” he said.
Disclaimer – All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc., are the property of their respective owners. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Harry stood dazed as he watched Draco hurry off. Draco had kissed him. Harry was stunned beyond the ability to speak. He felt like he’d been hit with both Confundus and Cheering charms simultaneously.
Holy bloody fucking shit.
He touched the tips of his fingers to his lips. Maybe he was closer to being ready to be with someone than he’d thought. That it was a man rather than a woman who’d given him the nudge he’d needed to realise it didn’t come as a complete shock to him, but it certainly would to everyone else.
Who that man had been would have them flat on their backs.
Slow down, Harry told himself. Draco hadn’t meant anything by that kiss. There was nothing in it other than a man overcome by emotion at having a possible solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem suddenly in the palm of his hand.
Harry told himself that was the reason he felt so energized, as well.
“Professor Slughorn, Draco Malfoy asked me to let you know he’s onto something regarding the aconite leaves, and he would like your opinion. I think he’s cracked it, sir!”
The stag pranced around their table once and evaporated into wisps of smoke.
Professor Slughorn’s guest looked at the spot the stag had stood in astonishment. “Good Lord, was that . . . ?”
“That, my good man, was my very dear friend, Mr. Harry Potter.” Wiping his mouth on a napkin, Professor Slughorn pushed his great bulk from the table and with significant effort, got himself to his feet. “What say you? Shall we call upon Mr. Malfoy and see what he’s come up with?”
A voice filled the room, identifying itself as Harry Potter and informing them that Draco Malfoy had asked him to tell them he was pursuing a promising idea for detoxifying aconite leaves and would like Mr. Petherbridge’ s input.
Right after disconnecting from Ron and Hermione’s Floo, Harry made another call, to Andromeda that time. As Remus Lupin had been her son-in-law, she had taken a particular interest in Draco’s research into improving the Wolfsbane potion.
“If he is successful and his theory holds true, the difference this could make to so many. . . .”
If Draco was successful in improving the Wolfsbane potion, it would make the front page of the Daily Prophet, and his name would be made. His reputation would be transformed overnight.
The flames in the grate in the reception hall unexpectedly roared to life.
“Who could that be?” Lucius asked from a large gilded frame where he waited as impatiently as did Narcissa.
“I’ve no idea, I’m sure.”
Narcissa rose and smoothed her robes. Leaving the drawing room, she entered the reception hall and lowered herself to the flames.
“Mrs. Malfoy,” said a very cheery voice coming from a large, bald head inside the flames. “Most exciting! We’ve just had Harry Potter’s Patronus telling us of young Draco’s breakthrough, and we are most excited, I do assure you!”
“Professor Slughorn,” Narcissa began. She rather wished Potter had held his tongue—what if Draco’s experiment was unsuccessful? Much better to be assured of success before broadcasting it. Such an impetuous young man—a Slytherin would have known better. “Yes, it is, as you say, very exciting. Of course, it is early stages yet. But it is promising.”
“As it happens, a friend and I were just discussing the problem at hand ourselves. Draco was kind enough to owl earlier and ask the advice of his old teacher, don’t you know. We wondered if we might impose ourselves upon you to witness the experiment. Big moment in the world of potions brewing if he is successful, wouldn’t want to miss it!”
“I—why, yes. Yes, of course. Please, do come through,” Narcissa replied while mentally cursing rash, impulsive Gryffindors.
She stepped away from the Floo and moments later two men joined her. One was her own former Potions Master, the man to whom she’d just been speaking. The other she did not recognize in the least.
Professor Slughorn shook her hand warmly in both of his, and just as she was about to be introduced to the man standing with him, the flames erupted a second time.
“Mrs. Malfoy?” the caller asked.
“If you’ll excuse me,” Narcissa said to her guests, bewildered at who else Potter might’ve told.
“Of course, of course.”
“We’ve never formally met, Mrs. Malfoy, but your son Draco has been involved with my firm in a freelance research capacity for some time. My name is Percival Petherbridge.”
“Mr. Petherbridge. Yes, yes, of course. I am afraid Draco is unavailable just at present.”
Mr. Petherbridge explained that he had just had a terribly exciting Patronus from Harry Potter relating to him that Draco was pursuing a theory on the detoxification of aconite leaves.
“If he is successful, Mrs. Malfoy, I’m sure I needn’t tell you he may be on the path to one of the greatest advancements in potion brewing seen in many a year.”
He, too, asked if it would be too much of an imposition were he to witness the experiment.
Cursing Harry Potter in ever stronger terms in her mind, Narcissa said she should be delighted to have Mr. Petherbridge join them.
Her guests needed no introduction to one another, and after she had been introduced to the Professor Slughorn’s companion, whose name sounded familiar although she could not place at the moment, Narcissa extended her arm in front of her. “If you will follow me, please. I will show you to Draco’s laboratory.”
In front of him, two size one silver cauldrons were at a rolling boil over a medium flame. Beside one of the cauldrons sat a bezoar. In their cages to his left, two white mice he had transfigured out of pebbles scampered about. He hoped that after his experiment, one of the two still would.
The timer spell he’d cast when the first bubble rose from the bottom of the cauldrons emitted a buzzing sound. Five minutes down. Five more to go.
His journal lay open to his right, a self-inking quill beside it. He had already recorded every step he had taken to that point. He studied the colour of the tea at the halfway mark—amber with a tinge of green—and made note of it.
An unexpected knock at his door broke his concentration.
“Draco?” his mother called. “You’ve guests.”
Surprised, and not a little apprehensive at being proved wrong in front of an audience, Draco ran an eye over his workspace. When he’d asked Harry to contact Professor Slughorn and Percival Petherbridge, he’d not thought they’d actually come to the manor, but perhaps he ought to have done. He checked the flames and the speed of the boil to make sure both remained consistent before leaving his cauldrons.
Opening the door Draco was greeted by his mother and three men, the first two being the two he’d expected. The third man, on the other hand, was not someone Draco had ever met but knew by sight before Professor Slughorn could introduce them.
“We do hope you’ll pardon our intrusion, my good man, but we received dear Mr. Potter’s Patronus on your breakthrough and wanted to be there for the big moment,” Professor Slughorn said before turning to his companion and making the introduction. “Damocles Bilby, may I introduce Draco Malfoy.”
Draco felt rather star-struck. Damocles Bilby was legend in the world of potions brewing—inventor of the very potion Draco hoped to improve and an Order of Merlin, Second Class recipient for his creation of that very potion. Feeling a bit ill with nerves—failure in front of this man would be shattering—Draco held his hand out.
“I am most pleased to meet you, Mr. Malfoy,” the older wizard said as he shook Draco’s hand heartily. “ I can’t tell you how delighted I was when Horace contacted me to discuss your theory. I’m sure I needn’t tell you the very great impact this will have on the lives of those afflicted if it is successful. Please excuse our barging in on you, and, please, do feel free to tell us point blank to get out if you prefer to not be disturbed.”
“No,” Draco insisted at the same time as his spell buzzed again. Six minutes down. Four to go. “Not at all.”
“I’ll leave you gentlemen to it, then,” Narcissa said.
“Well, then. Let’s see what you’ve got,” Percival said, speaking for the first time.
“Mistress! You’s sister is being in the Floo. She is being wanting to come through, but Biddy is not being knowing what to do.”
“What?” Narcissa asked, taken aback. “Andromeda? Wanting to come here?” She raised her hand to her chest. As well aware of the very painful associations the manor represented to her sister as Narcissa was, she could not imagine what could possibly have happened to make Andromeda wish to come to her home.
“I will come at once,” she said, hastening her pace.
Entering the reception hall, she saw the flames glowing bright lime green, and she hurried across the vast room, dropping to her knees the moment she reached the hearth.
“Andy? What is it? What’s wrong? What has happened?”
“Did it work?” Andromeda asked breathlessly. “The bezoar—did it work? Harry’s just told us, and naturally, we’re very eager to know whether it worked.”
Astonished, Narcissa asked, “The bezoar?” Just how many people had that blasted Potter told! “Draco is still—the experiment is still underway.”
“Would you mind awfully if we came through? Teddy is terribly excited. And, of course, I am as well.”
Narcissa found herself saying she should be delighted yet again.
Andromeda stepped through the Floo looking every bit as ill at ease as Narcissa would have expected her to be and was soon followed by her grandson, Teddy.
“Whoa,” the boy said, his eyes as wide as an owl’s as he took in the size of the hall.
Turning and guiding her sister and nephew towards the drawing room, Narcissa surreptitiously searched the paintings lining the walls for her husband’s portrait and soon located him in the corner of a landscape on the opposite wall. Their eyes met, and she gave him a minute shrug of one shoulder as if to ask, “Have you ever?”
No more than five steps from the Floo, the flames roared once more.
“Er, Mrs. Malfoy?” came the tentative voice of the caller.
Narcissa’s steps faltered. She inhaled deeply.
“Mr. Potter,” she said with restraint.
“Hey, Harry!” Teddy exclaimed, returning to the Floo. Leaning into the flames, he whispered, “You should see this place—it’s huge.”
“Teddy?” Potter asked. He sounded genuinely surprised to find his godson speaking to him from Malfoy Manor.
“Gran and I came to see if Draco’s idea works. This place is as big as Hogwarts.”
“Perhaps you would like to join us to await the results as well, Mr. Potter?” Narcissa said in her best hostess voice—out of practice as that voice was.
“I—you wouldn’t mind?” he asked.
In spite of her irritation with the man, Narcissa softened towards him ever so slightly at the uncertainty in his voice. There was none of the presumption or entitlement she’d expected.
“We should be pleased to have you join us. Please, do come through.”
Seconds later, the most prominent wizard alive was standing in her reception hall and looking as antsy as a first year crossing the lake towards Hogwarts.
“Mr. Potter,” Narcissa greeted him. “Professor Slughorn, Damocles Bilby, and Percival Petherbridge are with Draco in his laboratory, if you would care to—”
“No! No. No, I—I wouldn’t—I, that is to say, I wouldn’t want to interrupt.”
“In that case, we were just going to await the news in the drawing room.” Narcissa raised her arm to guide her guests in the right direction, but she saw Potter’s face pale and his eyes dart from one closed door to the next. Andromeda touched the back of his hand gently. Narcissa’s arm dropped an inch, but she kept it from falling to her side by shear strength of will. “It’s just this way,” she said in a forced tone of calm. “We’ve found that since our views and values have changed, we prefer the manor’s smaller, simpler rooms to the larger spaces that, while grand, we now find cold.”
Narcissa waited with her heart in her throat and hoped her meaning had been understood and had been enough. How could she have been so foolish? Had she ruined all of Draco’s chances?
Slowly, Potter’s colour returned to normal, and his features relaxed.
Narcissa breathed easier.
“Where are the children, Harry?” Andromeda asked.
“With Ron and Hermione,” Potter answered. “When I called them on the Floo to tell them Draco thought he was on to something, the kids wanted to play with their cousins.” He added, “They’re anxious for word.”
“Indeed? You told your friends?” Narcissa asked, striving for a conversational tone. Really, how many people had the man told?
“Yes. After I sent Patronuses off to the men Draco asked me to contact for him.”
Reaching the drawing room, Narcissa stopped before entering. Potter had been doing as Draco asked when he contacted Professor Slughorn and Mr. Petherbridge?
“I hope he won’t mind,” Potter continued, “but with the number of people aware of his idea, I thought it best to prevent any possible problems down the road should his experiment not succeed on the first try.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” she said. “What possible problems do you foresee?” But even as she asked the question, comprehension donned on her, and she could not believe she had not thought of the possibility herself. “You mean that should Draco not succeed tonight, one or more of the people who know of his theory could conduct experiments of their own, and if they are successful before him, claim the discovery as theirs.”
“I mean exactly that. I don’t mean to suggest I have the slightest reason to suspect anything of the sort as being at all likely. I’m sure the men Draco has shared his theory with are perfectly honourable—Professor Slughorn, in particular, I would personally vouch for—but in the Aurors, I’ve learnt it’s best to prevent temptation, regardless of how honourable you believe people to be, than to learn the hard way you were wrong. There will be both significant financial gain and prestige should Draco’s theory prove successful. I’m sure you realise that. Maybe even an Order of Merlin. Now it will be known by all involved that there are a number of people on the outside of the thing, so to speak, who know the theory is Draco’s and can attest to that to the Wizengamot if needed.”
Narcissa looked at Potter with new admiration growing inside her. “Won’t you sit down?” she asked her guests.
He felt distinctly ill. He wished he’d never asked Harry to contact anyone. Better to fail in private.
The spell he’d cast informed him his tea had cooled to thirty-seven degrees.
Professor Slughorn put an encouraging hand on his shoulder. The man had been the Potions Master at Hogwarts for several decades over his two tenures, and the teacher in him remained. “The big moment has almost arrived, and you are suffering from a bad case of nerves, I should think, Mr. Malfoy. Every one of us standing here has felt what you feel right now. You’ve hit on an intriguing and original theory, and you mustn’t allow yourself to be defeated if you do not achieve your aim on the first attempt. There is not a potioneer in history who has not suffered setbacks. You must remember that an unsuccessful experiment is not a failure.” He clapped Draco twice on the shoulder.
Draco turned towards his former professor and nodded his head in appreciation of his words. He inhaled and cast the spell once again. The aconite tea had cooled to thirty-five degrees. “Tenere Caliditas,” he said with a wave of his wand.
All three far more experienced potioneers crowded around him, as rapt as spectators at the World Cup following a race between the Seekers to be the first one to the Snitch.
“Well?” Professor Slughorn asked. “Which cauldron will it be? The left or the right?”
Draco picked up the bezoar and dropped it into the centre of the cauldron on the left.
Percival Petherbridge checked his watch. “Seven thirty-four and twenty seconds,” he said.
Draco noted the time the bezoar had been added in his journal before stirring the tea.
“How long will you wait?” Damocles Bilby asked.
“I don’t know. Perhaps I should have prepared three or four cauldrons of tea to allow for varying lengths of time.”
“An idea for follow up experiments, should they be necessary,” Percival said.
“A bezoar typically acts very rapidly. That, combined with the wide range of poisons against which it is active, is what makes it so valuable as an antidote,” contributed Professor Slughorn.
Draco recorded the number and direction of stirs and consulted his notes. He’d re-measured the volume of liquid after boiling to determine the amount of reduction. It stood to reason, the greater the volume, the greater the length of time necessary to destroy the toxins. Making a decision, he said, “I’ll wait three minutes.”
Looking at his watch, Percival waited a length of time before saying, “Sixty seconds.”
Draco stirred the tea again, the same number of stirs in the opposite direction.
A pair of long, silver tongs lay on the table, ready to be used.
As Percival counted down the remaining seconds, Draco picked up the tongs, and held them ready to retrieve the bezoar.
“. . . three, two, one.”
Plucking the bezoar out, Draco placed it on a small towel. He retrieved an eyedropper and suctioned up a quantity of the, hopefully, now detoxified tea.
“Here goes,” he said as he collected the test subject mouse from its cage. He gave it the tea via the dropper and returned it to its cage.
He repeated the process with the control subject mouse and the untreated tea.
The times both mice were give the tea was entered into his log.
Huddled around the cages, the four men waited.
It was just a room, and Malfoy Manor, large as it was, was just a family home. A monster no longer roamed its corridors. Harry told himself that repeatedly.
The door was flung open, and Draco charged into the room. Already on edge, Harry sprang to his feet.
In his hands, Draco held a small white mouse, its nose twitching and its eyes darting all around. Three men followed close on his heels. All four wore triumphant expressions on their faces.
“It worked!” Draco exclaimed. “It really worked!”
Mrs. Malfoy hurried to her son’s side. “Draco! That’s marvellous!”
“How wonderful,” Andromeda said as she and Teddy joined them.
“Well sick!” Teddy exclaimed emphatically.
At the adults dumfounded expressions, Andromeda explained that was the en vogue expression for teenage approval.
Harry remained where he stood, watching. He laid his hand on the arm of the chair in which he’d sat and leaned his weight against it. He’d never noticed before just how handsome Draco was, but then, Harry thought to himself, he'd never seen Draco's expression so radiantly happy.
Draco was clearly surprised to see his aunt and cousin there; however, that surprise was nothing compared to his shock when he saw Harry.
Harry wanted to say something, to congratulate him on his success, but he found himself too absorbed in how well Draco had grown into his features. He’d once looked nothing but pale and pointy to Harry, but as his personality and views had changed, so had his appearance. The sharp, angular contours were still there, but they now gave him a piercing, classic attractiveness. He was every bit as fair complected as he’d ever been, with the same light gray eyes and white-blond hair, but now Harry saw how striking and unique Draco’s colouring was.
Draco Malfoy had grown into a very handsome man.
But he’d grown into more than that. He’d grown into a handsome man who was so devoted to improving potions for the betterment of wizardkind he gave no thought to protecting his own interests. More still, a handsome man, devoted to his work, who was not above blowing bubbles into root beer floats through a straw until they spilled over.
Harry felt something inside himself stir to life. Something inside his chest raised its head and blinked its eyes open, sniffing the air around him experimentally. It was waking up and rising to its feet and stretching itself out. It was nothing like he’d felt when he fell for Ginny at the age of sixteen, but it was every bit as undeniable.
Harry was falling for Draco Malfoy, and he had no idea what to do about it.
Draco heard his mother call for Biddy to bring them a bottle of their best elf-made wine. He heard the congratulations and the questions. But all he could see was Harry. He didn’t take his eyes off Harry until a glass was put in his hand and toast was called for.
He’d not so much forgotten that he’d kissed Harry as been focused on his hypotheses, but now that his experiment had been proved successful, it left his mind free to focus on the kiss—and focus on the kiss it did.
He heard the words of praise for his accomplishment, and he tasted the wine when he drank it, but all he could think about was the fact that he had kissed Harry Potter and, in all likelihood, ruined the friendship Harry had for whatever reason chosen to offer him.
He finished his glass of wine. He hadn’t realized how much he wanted that friendship until just then, when it was almost certainly lost.
“How did you hit upon the idea of using a bezoar whole in a separate potion?” someone asked—Draco had no idea who.
“Most clever,” another person commented—Draco thought it was perhaps Slughorn, but he would not have bet upon it.
He set his glass down, wanting to pour himself another and only resisting because he knew from experience if he did that, he’d drink his way through the rest of the open bottle and another after that.
“It wasn’t my idea,” he answered, his eyes on his empty glass. “It was Harry’s.”
Professor Slughorn beamed with pleasure, saying how he’d known some of his mother’s knack for the subject had been passed on and recounting the very same potions lesson Harry had talked about earlier at the play park when Slughorn had taught them about Golpalott’s Third Law.
“Every other student half-mad with adding this and that and counting the number of times they stirred and in what direction, and there Mr. Potter stood, calm as could be, and held out a bezoar on the palm of his hand.”
Harry disagreed. “Not at all. It was all Draco’s own idea. All I did was say it was a pity you couldn’t just give the person a bezoar. He took it from there.”
Draco raised his head and looked at Harry. His words had spoken so candidly and with such notable affection and admiration that Draco dared to hope that maybe the damage he’d done to their young friendship might not be irreparable after all.
And there was the simple fact that Harry had come to the manor; he’d wanted to be there to hear the results of Draco’s experiment. That had to be significant, Draco told himself. He understood what returning to the manor must have cost Harry. But he’d done it. Draco breathed easier; Harry would certainly not be standing in his mother’s drawing room if he never wanted to see him again.
One by one, their guests took their leave, starting with Professor Slughorn and Mr. Bilby and ending with Draco’s aunt and cousin, until only Harry remained.
“I can’t tell you how surprised I was to see you here,” Draco said as he and Harry stood in front of the large Floo in the reception hall, his mother having already given her goodbyes and thanks.
“You don’t have to,” Harry said with an easy laugh. “It was written all over your face.” His voice lowering and losing all trace of humour, he added, “I wanted to be here. I’m glad I was.”
“I’m glad you were, too.” Draco rubbed the back of his neck. The tension of the past couple hours had his muscles knotted tight. “I know coming here couldn’t have been easy for you.”
Harry studied him for a long while before answering, “Very few things that are easy are worth doing.” His eyes dropped before looking quickly away.
Draco’s stomach tightened—he could swear Harry had looked at his mouth. What did that mean? His pulse picked up, and his legs felt weak beneath him. His mouth felt dry. “I want to apologies for . . . at the play park.”
“No apology needed,” Harry said, sounding like someone who tried to speak after running up three flights of stairs.
"I’m sure you aren’t accustomed to men—”
“Grabbing me by the shirt and kissing me? No, I can’t say I’m accustomed to it, but that—that doesn’t mean I’m entirely opposed to it either.”
Draco inhaled in surprise so sharply, he was sure Harry had to have heard. Both men found a hundred fascinating all around the reception hall things to study; neither looked at the other for quite some time.
“I should be off. Have to collect the Stooges, and Ron and Hermione will be wanting to hear about your success.”
Draco rather doubted that. While he was sure they would be happy to hear his experiment had worked, he was equally sure they’d rather that success had been anyone’s but his. He wondered what they thought of Harry’s friendship with him—nothing favourable, he was sure.
“They’re, um, they’re coming to dinner tomorrow night. I make a pretty good Bolognese.”
“Oh,” Draco said, telling himself he would not be seeing Harry tomorrow then. He was more disappointed than he should have been.
“Why don’t you come?”
“Come to dinner tomorrow.”
“At your house?”
Harry bit his lip and laughed nervously. “Er, yeah.”
“With your friends?”
“You’re my friend, too.”
Draco felt like the bones in his legs had just vanished. He wasn’t sure how he was still on his feet. To hear Harry say they were friends . . . “It’s—it’s not quite the same thing, though.”
For the second time, Harry’s eyes lowered and quickly darted away. That time, Draco was sure he’d looked at his mouth. What did that mean? Did it mean . . . ? Draco’s heart beat faster. When Harry said he wasn’t opposed to a man kissing him, did he mean men in general? Or Draco in particular?
Harry reached for the Floo powder. Before tossing it into the flames, he looked at Draco. “Think about it?” he asked. Then, with a Whoosh of green flames, he was gone.
Then she’d ordered him onto his hands and knees and done things to him that he’d done to her.
Being with Gin had been as easy as breathing. It had been everything their friends and family had wanted, not that that had mattered. They’d been together because neither could imagine not being with the other. If the people they both loved had disapproved, it would not have stopped them.
Being with Draco would be anything but easy.
Harry sighed and rubbed his eyes. Was he seriously considering this? Or was he just daydreaming? Draco was the first person to wake up these feelings inside him. Was that all it was? Draco aroused him. Was that all he was feeling? Or was there more to it?
What even made him think there was a chance Draco returned whatever it was he was feeling? The only relationship he knew for certain Draco had ever been in had been with Scorpius’ mother, even if he’d said it hadn’t been serious. He’d likely had others, but what made Harry think he had any interest in men?
Harry’s mind kept returning to that kiss, but he knew very well it had meant nothing. Draco had been overwhelmed; he’d got caught up in the excitement and emotion of having hit upon the solution he’d needed. That was all.
Still, Harry couldn’t imagine a single scenario, no matter how monumental, that would ever make him grab one of his friends and kiss them.
Harry had a dozen unanswered questions in his head as he twisted the ring around his finger. But he did have one answer, at least. Standing up and leaving his bedroom, Harry slipped his wedding ring off his finger for good and placed it beside Ginny’s in the safe concealed in the corridor wall.
He touched the door of the safe after locking it. I will always love you, Gin. Nothing will ever change that. But I’m ready to let you go now. I’m ready to start living again.
The next afternoon, Harry waited for Ron and Hermione at their usual pub in the same booth he and Draco had shared. He thought back to that day. Hard to believe though it was, it hadn’t been that long ago. In that short span of time, so much had changed.
After taking his wedding ring off last night, Harry had made another decision.
He saw his best friends the moment they entered the back room. From the looks on their faces, he knew they understood something was up. While it was hardly unusual for one of the three to owl the others to meet up for lunch, to do so on a day they were already having dinner together was. Harry took a drink of his tea, wishing it was something a little stronger. He could’ve used a little Dutch courage for this conversation. He drew his wand and cast the Muffliato spell so they could talk without worrying about being eavesdropped on.
Hermione slid into the booth first, followed by Ron. Neither said anything, but Harry noticed their eyes went straight to his left hand.
It was Ron who spoke first. “We had a feeling it was time,” he said, gesturing to Harry’s missing ring. “The last couple times we’ve seen you, you’ve been different. You’ve met someone, haven’t you?”
Swallowing hard, Harry asked, “Would it be okay if I said yes?”
Ron leaned back heavily in his seat. “Bloody hell, Harry, of course it would be.”
“We want you to be happy, Harry,” Hermione said earnestly. “The whole family does.”
“What if—what if you didn’t like the person?”
Both Ron and Hermione agreed. “If you like her, that’s enough for us.”
“What if—what if—what if the person wasn’t . . .” Harry’s voice trailed off into a garbled whisper, making the last two words of his sentence inaudible. He dropped his head and buried his hand in the hair at the back of his head. He couldn’t believe how hard this was, but that he was willing to do it regardless helped answer more of the questions he’d asked himself last night.
There was a long moment of silence before Hermione hesitantly asked, “Wasn’t what, Harry?”
“A she,” he answered, his eyes locked on the grain of the wood in the table.
Five . . . ten . . . fifteen . . . twenty, Harry counted the seconds as the silence dragged on.
“But—you were married to Ginny,” Ron said. He sounded like he’d been punched in the stomach, but his words were laced with confusion rather than anger.
“And I loved her with everything in me.”
“You just like men, too?” Hermione asked.
“Did Gin know?” Ron asked.
“Yeah. She knew.” Harry couldn’t help but grin remembering the way Ginny’s eyes had sparkled with excitement as she’d told him to get on his hands and knees.
What would it be like to get on his hands and knees for Draco? Harry almost groaned just thinking about it.
The conversation paused as a waitress came up to take their orders, and they ended the Muffliato spell.
Harry recast the spell once they woman had gone.
“I don’t want to know what just made you smile like that, Harry,” Ron said in a very emphatic tone once they were alone again. “Seriously. I don’t.”
Harry agreed. “No, you don’t.”
“Why didn’t you tell us before? Did you think we’d care?” Hermione asked.
“At Hogwarts, I just wanted to be normal.”
“There’s nothing not normal—”
“I know that. I didn’t mean it that way. I just,” Harry shook his head, “It was just so much easier. I just wanted to be the same as everyone else in the one way I could. And I never pretended. I mean, in fourth and fifth year, I didn’t pretend to like Cho, I really did. And from sixth year on, well, it didn’t matter, did it? I loved Gin.”
“So,” Ron said as if trying to drive the remembrance of the smile he did not want to know the cause of from his mind. “You like someone, and it’s a bloke. Well, okay, then. It’s a surprise, but I don’t see that it matters. You’re my best mate, and if this man makes you happy, that’s enough for me. I can’t say it won’t take getting used to, because it will, but seeing you with anyone other than Ginny would take getting used to.
Hermione studied him. “There’s more though, isn’t there?” she asked. “You asked what if we didn’t like the person.” Just from the look that crossed her face, Harry knew she knew who he meant. “Oh, Harry,” she said with a sigh.
“What? Who?” Ron asked. Understanding dawned up him. “Oh, hell. It’s Malfoy, innit? Please tell me it isn’t Malfoy.”
Harry fidgeted. “He’s not like he used to be.”
Ron floundered, obviously grasping at straws. “What about that Wilkinson bloke from the Improper Use of Magic Office? He—you know—likes men.”
“I like Draco.” Oh. Having said it out loud, Harry felt a bit giddy. “He’s got a good laugh.”
“His laugh,” Hermione scoffed. “That’s what attracted you? ”
Ron looked slightly ill, and Harry bit back a smile he didn’t think his best friend would appreciate.
Hermione spoke cautiously, asking, “Has he, I mean, do you think he, you know, feels the same? He did have a child. Has he given you any reason to think he might be attracted to men too?”
“He kissed me.”
“HE WHAT!” both Ron and Hermione shouted.
“Get ya’ anthin’ else, mate?” Ian asked smock-wearin’ gent.
“No, thanks. I’m good.” The man raised a nearly empty glass. Draining the last of his drink, the man motioned with a jerk of his head towards three of Ian’s regulars sitting in one of the back booths. “Don’t reckon you know who those three are. Pretty famous in our world. Come in here pretty often, I hear.” He set the empty glass down on the bar. “Wonder what they’re talking about so intently. There are people in our world would pay a handsome sum to find out.”
Ian made a show of wiping the bar in front of the man before leaning forward, elbows on the bar. His Lizzy’s Alistair had told him plenty about his world’s recent history, and Ian knew exactly who those three were.
“As I understand it,” he said to the man in the smock, “both our lots owe our lives to those three. I reckon they’ve earned the right to talk about any damned thing they please, and you’ll not be pokin’ your nose in their business here.”
Standing up, the man in the smock dropped a couple coins and a business card on the bar with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. “In case you change your mind,” he said.
Ian picked the card up and tore it in half before tossing it in the bin. He watched the man exit through a door that opened onto an alley that did not run behind the pub. Odd thing, magic. Friends of his Lizzy’s Alistair had installed the door.
As Ian collected the dirty glass and coins off the bar, he noticed a small beetle scurrying along almost invisibly, so well did it blend in with the dark colour of the wood. He crushed it under the glass and wiped the bar down.
Turning to put the coins in the till, Ian glanced towards the three seated in the back booth. They did seem particularly deep in conversation. He closed the till and took the glass to be washed. Whatever those three were talking about, no one’d be hearin’ about it from him.
“If he wasn’t good with the kids, or if they didn’t like him, we wouldn’t be having this
conversation,” Harry answered. “I’ve invited him to dinner tonight.”
“You’re serious about this, then?” Ron asked.
“I know it’s sudden, but yeah, I think I am. You’ll still come?”
“Of course we’ll still come.”
“They’re nearly identical, darling,” his mother said.
“That is not helpful.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, setting her book down. “Let me see them again.”
Draco held up both robes.
“Wear the grey,” she said decisively.
Draco set the grey robe down and looked at the black one. “What’s wrong with the black?”
“Wear the black if you prefer.”
“What’s wrong with the grey?” he asked, setting the black robes down and picking up the grey.
“Draco,” his mother said in a tone she had used on him as a child when his behaviour had become tiresome. “What’s this all about? You come in all in a dither and fretting about which of two nearly identical robes to wear, why, if I didn’t know better I’d—” Narcissa sagged in her seat. “Oh, Draco, please tell me you’ve not developed feelings for Potter.”
Draco sat down. “You say that as if it would be a bad thing.” He’d been feeling as high as a kite a moment ago, but now the wind had gone from beneath him and he had fallen hard back down to the Earth.
“Darling, he was married to a woman.”
When Draco did not respond, his mother asked, “Has he given you any reason to believe he might welcome your feelings?”
He said he wasn’t opposed to being kissed by a man, Draco wanted to say but did not.
“I don’t know. Maybe.” Draco remembered when he and Harry had stood talking together in front of the Floo. He was sure Harry had looked at his mouth—not once, but twice. “ I think so.” Or had Draco only imagined it? Had it had been nothing but discomfort at being somewhere that could only hold terrible associations for him? Had his surprise at Harry’s admission made him read more into his restlessness than it had been? “Maybe not. I just don’t know.”
All that was missing were his guests.
In some ways, Harry felt the same as he had when he was a teenager. There was a nervous excitement buzzing through him from head to foot. He’d replayed the moment Draco had kissed him in his mind a hundred times, except in his mind, they were in private, and rather than being too surprised to react, he slipped his arms around Draco’s waist and pulled him closer; he parted his lips and let his tongue trace the shape of other man’s mouth.
What would Draco have done?
What would Draco do if Harry acted on the kiss he’d been fantasising about the moment he stepped out of the Floo? Would he respond? Or would he step back, embarrassed and awkward, offering apologies for having given Harry the wrong idea? Or would he shove Harry away, shouting the place down, “What the hell do you think you’re doing!”
His children’s laughter ringing out brought Harry back to reality. Finding out would have to wait. They would not be in public, but they would not be alone.
Harry sat down. Before he could act on his feelings, he needed to make absolutely certain Draco was—to paraphrase Draco’s own words—accustomed to kissing men.
The Floo lit up bright green, and Harry was back on his feet.
“Draco,” he said, fighting to restrain his eagerness as the other man stepped from the flames.
“I brought wine,” Draco said as he held the bottle up. “Am I early?” he asked.
“You’re fine. Ron and Hermione are always a little late. Ron blames the kids, but I’ve lived with him. It’s him.”
The kids ran up to Draco, excited to see him.
“Daddy said you did something really important,” Al said proudly.
“Alright, you three. Go play and leave Daddy talk to Draco.”
Once alone, Harry indicated the bottle in Draco’s hand. “I’ll get us some glasses.”
In the kitchen, Harry fiddled with the cork, but he was all thumbs. He’d always been pants at opening a bottle of wine, and his nerves did not help. “Here,” he said, passing the bottle back to Draco. “Why don’t you do this?”
Draco opened the wine, and Harry handed him two glasses.
“I notice you took your ring off,” Draco commented as he handed Harry a glass of wine.
“Er, yeah. Last night.”
Returning to the living room, Harry and Draco watched the children play—Lily colouring with crayons, Al building with his bricks, and James playing with a set of Quidditch figures in Chudley Canon’s orange robes.
“Your children really are lovely,” Draco said. “You’re very lucky.”
“Do you—I’m sorry if I’m intruding, it’s just seeing you with them these past weeks, do you ever think about having more children someday, if you found the right woman?”
Draco swirled the wine in his glass before answering. “I’d have to find the right man. I wouldn’t want to go it alone again.”
“You’re surprised. Understandable. Male pregnancy is very rare.”
WHAT! Male what! Shocked, Harry drank half his glass in one go.
“Henri was a lot of things—brilliant in bed among them—but interested in being a father, he was not. To be fair, he was younger than I was. He was only twenty-one and still in university. And he was a Muggle to boot, so—” Harry had raised the glass to his lips again, but Draco took it from him and set it down. “What say we slow it down a bit, yeah? It may not be Firewhisky, but it’s not grape juice either.”
Harry struggled to comprehend what Draco had told him. “Male—when you say male . . . pregnancy. . . .”
“I mean, I carried Scorpius,” Draco said with a note of self-consciousness creeping into his voice.
“Carried, meaning. . . .”
“Meaning I conceived, carried and gave birth to him.”
“But—I—You—Men don’t. . . .”
Draco set his glass down. He rubbed his thighs and looked anywhere but at Harry. Standing up, he said defensively, “If you are so appalled—”
“No!” Harry stood as well. “No. Please, don’t leave. I’m not . . . I’m sorry if I . . . I’m just. . . .”
“Surprised,” Draco said.
“Rather an understatement,” Harry said, his voice hoarse from shock. “I’ve lived in the Wizarding world for twenty years, and it still shocks the shit out of me sometimes.”
“Being told I was pregnant rather shocked the shit out of me as well. I knew it was possible, but one never thinks it’ll happen to him.”
“But—how is it possible? I mean—is it a spell, or is there a potion, or. . . .” After so much of his life spent in the Wizarding world, Harry had thought he’d seen everything, but this—male pregnancy—took the cake.
“It’s hereditary.” Draco explained what little was known about the origin of male pregnancy, and Harry tried to wrap his head around it.
“So, er, Henri,” Harry said. He was reeling and using every bit of self-control he possessed to appear calm. He’d got the information he wanted—and then some. Male pregnancy! Holy fucking shit! “You said before your relationship was not serious.”
“No. It wasn’t. I never,” Draco paused before continuing, self-reproach weighing heavily in his words, “I never told him about Scorpius. I don’t know if I did the right thing or not. Once or twice when we were out together somewhere and saw a pregnant woman, he’d make offhand comments about how glad he was he’d not have to worry about any unwanted surprises popping up. He was a Muggle. I’d never even told him I was a wizard. Springing it all on him, knowing how he felt, it seemed unfair. But he was Scorpius’ other father, keeping it from him wasn’t fair either.”
Harry longed to pull Draco into his arms and comfort him. Thinking of how much Draco had endured thousands of miles from those he loved, Harry ached for him. “For what it’s worth, I understand why you didn’t. You were in such a difficult position, I don’t think there was a wrong or a right answer.”
“Thank you. It means a lot.”
Draco looked at him, and Harry couldn’t look away. He was suddenly and absolutely sure they were about to kiss. He knew it as certainly as he knew his name. His entire body thrummed with anticipation. His fingers twitched, wanting to bury themselves in Draco’s hair, tangle themselves in the white gold strands.
Harry stood. Draco was sat not more than three steps from him, and when he looked up, his lips parting as Harry took a step towards him, Harry knew he was as aware of the inevitability of what was about to happen as Harry was.
With a roar like a lion waking from sleep, green flames shot six feet tall in the Floo, and Ron stepped into the room, carrying his younger child, Hugo, in his arms.
“Sorry we’re late, Harry. Rosie gave us a bit of bother.” Ron said, oblivious to what he’d interrupted.
“Hugo!” Harry’s children cried with so much enthusiasm, one would have thought they’d not seen each other in ages.
The flames burst to life once again, and Hermione joined them with Rose.
The frustration Harry felt at having been so close was palpable and, he suspected, evident on his face because when Ron looked at him again, his expression changed from one of forced affability to suspicion. “What?” he asked.
Harry and Hermione sat together on the sofa, talking, although Harry had to admit, he wasn’t paying as close attention to what his friend was saying as he should. Draco was every bit as competitive at chess as he was at Quidditch, and the look of intense concentration on his face held Harry spell-bound.
“So,” Hermione said finally. “Are you going to tell me what we interrupted earlier, or are we going to sit here with me making small talk and you not listening?”
“Was it that obvious?” Harry asked.
“Pretty much.” With a knowing glint in her eyes, she whispered, “I take it things have progressed.”
Harry motioned towards the kitchen, and Hermione followed him there.
“Well?” she asked. “He is definitely attracted to men as well as women?”
“Men, oh, yeah. Women, I’ve no idea. Hermione,” Harry asked in a voice so low he had to lean towards Hermione for her to hear him, “have you ever heard of men, well, er, getting pregnant?”
Hermione’s eyes bulged. “You don’t mean—”
Harry nodded his head vigorously. “He said he carried the baby.”
It was rare that Harry had seen Hermione at a loss for words. Several long moments passed before she gasped in a breathless voice, “That’s so rare! I’ve read about it, but to actually witness it . . .” Hermione’s eyes glossed over.
“He’s not a science exhibit, Hermione.” Harry relayed what Draco had told him. “Is it safe, do you know? Is it higher risk than with women? Is it something I need to worry about, if, well, you know.” Harry felt his face heat up.
“It’s something I think you need to talk to him about.” She winked. “If, well, you know.”
“If he knows what?” Ron asked joining them.
Hermione wriggled her eyebrows at her husband. “You know.”
Chuckling at the look on her husband’s face, Hermione asked, “Game over?”
“Stalemate. He’s good,” Ron admitted. “He seems alright. The kids do seem to like him. He said to tell you goodnight and thanks.”
“What? Is he—he’s not gone already?” Harry asked, his stomach plummeting. Had Draco left already, without saying anything to him? Harry had hoped he’d stay for a while, for the night, if he was being honest. Did he suspect Harry had told Hermione what he had told Harry? Was he upset? He hadn’t said he was telling Harry in confidence, but had he assumed it was understood?
“Is anything wrong? He said he had to get back to the manor. I did think it was a bit odd, but he did say he’d see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I reckoned you’d made plans or somethin’.”
Harry shook his head. “We hadn’t.”
“Er, Harry? I think he just did,” Hermione said with the air of one mentally rolling her eyes and thinking, Men.
It surprised him just how quickly he had fallen hard for Harry. All it had taken was the realisation that such feelings might be returned for them to take root inside him. He was normally much more guarded. Perhaps he’d let his guard down because, unlike any other man he’d ever been involved with, he had nothing to hide from Harry. He knew everything Draco did during the war, both what he’d done willingly and what he’d done because the price for not doing so was too high to contemplate.
Draco smiled. It amused him to no end that the catalyst for the feelings that had developed, he hoped mutually, had been his impetuous kiss at the play park after Harry’s mention of a bezoar had set him on the right track. He laughed out loud. It had been a comment of Severus Snape’s written in his old textbook that had made Harry mention the bezoar in the first place. So, one could say any relationship that grew between them was all thanks to Professor Snape. The man was rolling in his grave, Draco was sure.
His grin faded away as a worrisome thought nagged at him: would Harry be angry he’d left as he had last night? Draco’s Slytherin perspective saw his leaving so abruptly as a tactical retreat. If he had seen Harry again, he’d not been sure he would have left before morning, not if he’d had his way, and he rather feared Harry might come to regret a sleepover with his children in the house. But Harry did not have a Slytherin’s view of things. Would he have seen Draco’s leaving without seeing his host as running away? Would Harry, who valued bravery so highly, see it as cowardice?
Draco dropped his head into his hands. There was nothing else for it. He would just have to write to Harry and explain? He had to remember he was dealing with a Gryffindor. He would have to be direct.
Draco searched through his desk drawers, but he did not have a fresh sheet of parchment at hand. He rose and crossed his lab to his store cupboard.
As he returned to his desk, there was a knock at his door and Harry’s voice called his name.
Draco’s pulse sped up, and the air left his lungs. “Come in,” he responded.
“Er, hi. Your mother led me to your lab. I hope you don’t mind.” Harry said bashfully as he closed the door behind him. “Are you busy?”
His desk littered with figures and computations for replacing the aconite flowers with the detoxified aconite leaf tea, Draco answered, “No. Not at all.”
“Good. I thought, well, I thought maybe we could do something today. If you wanted to.”
Merlin, did Draco want to.
“But I wouldn’t want to interrupt your work,” Harry added.
“You’re not. I was just about to call it a day,” Draco lied, rubbing the back of his neck. “Where are the children?”
“Does your neck hurt?” Harry asked. He gestured to the back of Draco’s neck with his hand. “Only, I noticed you rub it a lot.”
“Occupational hazard of positions brewing, always having your head bent over a cauldron or preparing ingredients or what have you.”
“Well, you’re in luck,” Harry said with a smile. “I happen to give excellent neck rubs. Turn around.”
Pulling his bottom lip between his teeth, Draco turned around. Harry was going to rub his neck. Oh, Merlin. One would think he was some blushing virgin to be so excited at the thought of a mere neck rub.
“Just relax,” Harry said as his fingers started to slide over Draco’s skin.
Draco dropped his head and moaned. Harry hadn’t lied—he was good at this. However, even as Harry’s fingers worked magic and the tension in his neck muscles lessened, relaxed was the last word Draco would’ve used to describe how he felt. He’d never felt so charged with energy, so aware of another man’s hands on him. Probably because it had never before been Harry’s hands on him.
Harry’s thumbs moved in circles at the nape of Draco’s neck; his fingertips kneaded right at the curve between his neck and his shoulder. “Like that?” Harry asked, his voice sounding very near. Even with his back to him, Draco knew Harry was standing so close to him that if he just leaned back even the slightest bit, they’d be touching.
“Fuck, yes,” Draco answered. He knew how Harry was making him feel was loud and clear in his voice and in those two words, and he made no effort to hide it. He wanted Harry to know exactly what he was doing to him, and exactly how much he liked it.
“So, there was something I wanted to ask you about. Something I need your opinion on,” Harry said. Draco swore he felt Harry’s breath on his skin as he spoke.
“Yes, well, you remember what we talked about the other day? About finding the right person?”
“Well, you see, I think I may’ve. It came on me out of nowhere very unexpectedly. But I’m rusty. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to approach someone I had feelings for. And, well, this someone is a man. That’s something I believe you have some experience with, yes?”
“How’s this?” Harry asked as his hands slid down Draco’s spine to the small of his back, his knuckles pressing firmly into Draco’s muscles.
“S’brilliant,” Draco slurred.
Harry laughed. He must’ve moved even closer, because that time there could be no mistake that Draco had felt the warmth of his breath on the back of his neck.
“I have to be careful, though.” Harry said. “There are the children to consider. I have to think about how my being in a relationship with someone will affect them.”
“Does this man get on with the children?” Draco asked, already knowing the answer but appreciating why Harry had broached the subject.
“Wonderfully. But it’s early days, and that’s with us as friends. Entering into a relationship changes everything. What if he and they develop a bond, and then our relationship doesn’t work out? I will not have people coming in and out of their lives.”
“Understandable. If a man is going to enter into a relationship with a single parent, he should do so realising there are the feelings and needs of more than just two people involved.”
“I’m glad you agree.”
“For example,” Draco offered. He licked his lips. “He would have to appreciate that no matter how much he might like to stay the night, when the children were present it would be better to leave before things could get carried away.”
Harry’s hands paused. “Very true,” he said. When his hands moved again, his fingers crawled like spiders up Draco’s back to his shoulders; his nails raked back down to his waist. “And I’ve plenty of in-laws and friends with children to arrange for sleepovers with, so we could have the house to ourselves for the night easily enough with a little planning.”
“But there’s also the unavoidable attention being with me would land him with,” Harry said. “We could keep it quiet for as long as possible, but eventually it will come out. Rita Skeeter and all her kind will go wild. There will be whispers behind his back wherever he goes, and I’m afraid probably a good deal of hate mail. I would want him to go into it with his eyes open.”
“I know what that’s like.”
“Yes, I’m sure you do.”
“Hate mail makes good kindling for starting fires the Muggle way,” Draco observed.
Harry laughed. “Yes, but sometimes it contains more than vitriolic words.”
“Vitriolic? Ten points to Gryffindor for vocabulary.”
Harry pinched him on the side.
“Oh, and you’re violent, too. Mustn’t forget to make him aware of that.”
“I’m sure he knows. So, what do you think? How should I go about making him aware of how I feel? Assuming he’s aware of the difficulties he’ll face and is willing to face them. How would you like a man to profess his feelings for you?”
“What was it you said to me the other night? Nothing worth doing is easy? Do something unmistakable. Something that would leave no room for doubt. Something to be remembered.”
“Hm. I could set off fireworks over Diagon Alley, spelling it out in the sky.”
“Unmistakable. Memorable. Private. How about this, then?” Harry closed what little distance there was between them and slid his hands around Draco, pressing them flat against his abdomen and chest. His mouth pressed against the back of Draco’s neck, lips and tongue moving over his skin.
Draco’s head spun. His knees buckled, and Harry’s arms tightened protectively around him. Where it not for that, he’d have collapsed to the ground, he was sure of it. If this was what just being kissed by Harry did to him, what would sex between them be?
“How’s that?” Harry whispered against the back of his ear.
In answer, Draco twisted, stretching to capture Harry’s mouth with his own. The kiss was sloppy and loud, and it was an awkward, uncomfortable position to kiss someone in, especially given the difference in their heights. Regardless, it was the best kiss of Draco’s life.
Harry’s hands covered every inch of Draco’s stomach and chest. They moved to the fastenings on his robes, opening them blindly one by one. Under his robes, they pulled at the thin cotton shirt Draco wore, pulling it free from his trousers and sliding it up his chest and finding the skin beneath. Harry’s touch was more than just skin on skin; it went bone deep.
“Want you,” Harry whispered into their kiss.
Draco turned and grabbed him, shoving him roughly backwards. They crashed into a wall of shelves containing countless bottles of potions ingredients, some rocking where they stood, others tipping over.
“Potions lab might not be the best place for this,” Harry gasped as Draco’s mouth closed over his neck, biting then soothing the reddened skin with his tongue.
He buried one hand in Harry’s hair, pulling it to angle his head and bring their mouths together. The other hand pushed Harry’s jumper up his chest. “They’re all charmed not to break or spill,” Draco said as he pinched one of Harry’s nipples hard.
Harry groaned. “Now who’s violent?”
Draco tugged and pulled at Harry’s jumper, yanking it over his head. He dragged his nails over Harry’s bare chest hard enough to leave angry red lines behind. “We can do it slow and gentle next time.” He sucked at Harry’s shoulder, marking him. His hand slid down Harry’s torso and cupped him through his jeans.
“Fuck, oh, fuck,” Harry said, breathlessly. “You’ve a bedroom somewhere in this place?”
It had been so long since Draco had been with anyone, and he’d never been with anyone he wanted as badly as he wanted Harry. The idea of waiting to be inside this man a second longer than was absolutely necessary was painful. “Much too far. Here and now.” He slipped open the button of Harry’s jeans and lowered the zip. A stone floor might be far from ideal, but it was going to have to do.
Harry pulled his wand from his pocket and cast a number of spells on the floor.
Draco knelt, the stone beneath his knees as soft as a pile of feather pillows, and he pressed open-mouthed kisses along Harry’s stomach as he fondled him through his open jeans.
“Fuck, please, Draco,” Harry moaned. His fingers tangled in Draco’s hair, tugging on it hard enough to be painful but nowhere near too much so.
“Oh, I fully intent to fuck you, but things work a bit differently with men than what you’re used to.” His hands moved around to Harry’s arse and his mouth took their place, closing over the bulge in his boxers.
Harry cried out his name, and the need in his voice threatened to break what restraint Draco had tried to hold on to. This was Harry’s first time with a man; Draco needed to remember that, to be careful and make sure Harry was ready.
“I need to prepare you for me first,” Draco explained.
Harry laughed. Indulgently, he said, “I have done this before.”
A small spike of disappointment stabbed at Draco at not being Harry’s first male lover. Foolish of him, he knew, especially with as many lovers as he himself had had.
Harry knelt down and pushed Draco onto his back. He crawled over him, his weight supported on one hand while the other roamed over every inch of Draco he could reach. “You are only the second person I’ve ever been with,” he whispered. “And you know who the first was.”
“Transfigurations during sex? How risqué.”
“Nothing so complicated. They do make sex toys, you know. But,” Harry said, his hand lingering over Draco’s trousers, teasing him, “there is one thing I’ve never done before that I really want to.”
Without another word, he opened Draco’s trousers and palmed him through his pants before pushing them down and closing his lips over the tip of Draco’s penis.
Stars burst inside Draco’s head. He couldn’t take his eyes away from Harry. There was something to be said for the way Gryffindors just charged right into things. For someone who had never given a man a blowjob before, Harry was doing a very fine job. Every swipe of his tongue, every time he swallowed Draco as deep as he could, every time he let Draco slip free from his mouth to nuzzle his face against him and trail his lips from root to tip, Draco thought he might come from the waves of pleasure Harry was creating in him.
“Stop, stop,” Draco said, breathless and gasping.
Harry looked at him with worry etched around his eyes. Draco reversed their positions, pushing Harry onto his back and crawling over him just as Harry had done a moment ago. “I can’t fuck you if you make me come with your mouth.”
“It was okay then?” Harry asked.
“That was far from being just okay,” Draco said as he ran his thumb over Harry’s lips.
A triumphant gleam in his eyes, Harry kissed his thumb before running his tongue over it. Draco slipped his thumb into Harry’s mouth, and Harry sucked on it as he had on Draco’s cock, this time with the addition of his teeth.
“You have such a beautiful mouth,” Draco said before grabbing Harry by the hair and kissing him deeply.
As they kissed, their hands worked furiously to remove the last of their clothes. Shoes and socks were kicked off, jeans, trousers, and pants were discarded.
Draco broke their kiss, pushing himself up on one hand. He was out of breath and his pulse was racing and he knew Harry was exactly the same. “I want to look at you,” he said when his breath had returned enough, his eyes devouring the sight of Harry’s body beneath his.
“My turn,” he said. His mouth travelled down Harry’s body before swallowing him whole.
Harry made the most maddening sounds; he swore, he groaned and gasped, his breathing was shallow and rough. Draco relished in every last utterance, knowing he was the one causing Harry to react like that.
“I’m close—Draco, stop, stop.”
Draco moved up Harry’s body, trailing kisses from his hip to his jaw before kissing him slow and deep.
“I don’t want to come until you’re inside me,” Harry said breathing heavily between kisses.
Needing his wand, Draco reached for his robes. Once he’d retrieved it, he summoned a phial of liquid and transfigured his shirt into a large pillow, which he slipped under Harry.
“Lie back and relax,” Draco said. He ran his hand over Harry’s body, watching his chest rise and fall and savouring the sight. “Spread your legs apart a bit.”
Opening the phial, Draco explained, “This is a very mild muscle relaxant. Just enough to make this a little more comfortable and a little faster.” He poured a generous amount of the liquid onto his finger. “Ready?”
Harry exhaled and nodded his head.
Slowly, Draco slid a finger inside him.
His eyes falling shut, Harry groaned loudly. He wrapped his hand around himself and pumped himself in time with Draco’s finger. When Draco added a second finger, Harry shuddered.
His body was trembling with his need to bury himself inside Harry, and he was so hard it hurt, but Draco forced himself to be patient. He needed to be sure Harry was ready for him.
“Okay—okay. I’m ready, please, Merlin, Draco, just do it before you kill me,” Harry stammered between clenched teeth.
Eyes locked on one another, Draco pushed inside Harry, shaking from the effort of retraining himself and moving slowly when all he wanted was to pound into Harry as hard and fast as he could. Starting slowly, he gradually increased his pace. Harry pushed himself up on one hand a reached for Draco with the other. “Come here,” he said, his eyes heavily lidded and his voice strained.
Draco leaned forward, and Harry pulled him closer. They kissed as they fucked, each supporting himself with one hand while the other slide over their lover’s body. Draco’s took Harry in his hand and stroked him in time with his thrusts. He was so close; he wouldn’t last much longer. “Come for me,” he breathed against Harry’s lips.
Almost as soon as Draco spoke the words, Harry’s head dropped back and Draco felt him tighten around him a second before he came, his body jerking as he shouted Draco’s name. Breathing heavily, Harry lifted his head and pressed a kiss to Draco’s shoulder then lowered himself to the ground. The sight of Harry so completely undone beneath him had Draco’s own orgasm crashing over him like a tidal wave. Feeling boneless after his release, Draco’s arm gave out, unable to support his weight any longer, and he collapsed on top Harry, who wrapped his arm around him trailed his fingers up and down Draco’s spine.
Sated, they lay on the floor side by side, legs twisted together, hands roaming over the other’s body, talking in hushed tones in between lazy kisses. As their bodies cooled, they searched for a wand to summon a blanket for themselves to snuggle under. Draco traced the lines of Harry’s face with his fingertip. He couldn’t remember a time in his life when he was as perfectly sanguine as he was at that moment. He knew there were those in their world who would stop at nothing to separate him from their hero, but he’d found a second chance at happiness, and he’d be damned if he’d let anyone take it from him.