“Would it help if I told you to go bugger a goat, Potter?”
“Just get on with it, Malfoy,” said Potter wearily, hardly cracking a smile. “We haven’t got a lot of time.”
“Very well,” said Draco sweetly, his quill digging into the parchment. “May I suggest you fuck off and bugger a goat, Potter? I’m sure any goat apprised of your reputation would be entirely amenable.”
“Goodness me,” said the murder victim. “Language.”
Potter leaned forwards eagerly, pushing past Draco. “Mrs Montfort?” he said, really quite politely. “I’m afraid we don’t have much time. I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Mrs Montfort blinked up at Potter, who was looking very spruce and official in his red Auror robes. Of course, the hair spoiled the effect; possibly Mrs Montfort couldn’t see it from her angle.
Draco shoved his chair back, ceding the floor to Potter, and flexed his inky fingers. He didn’t much want to see what would happen next, but he was even less eager to go wandering about the Ministry without an escort. Shiny 'Sketch Artist (Auror Dept)' badge or not, he didn’t trust half the people here not to chuck him back in a cell for old time’s sake. As it was, the Sketch Department, which consisted of little more than the room they were in, sometimes felt rather too close to one for comfort.
Draco would have darkly suspected that they’d been shoved into an old cellar, but there was no need for suspicion on this front. The place was an old cellar. He and Potter had had to clear the room by levitating out rack upon rack of cheap port, only to spend almost an entire day dealing with the enormous wheel of cheese that had once been a diplomatic gift from the Dutch wizarding community but which had, by the time they unearthed it, become a kind of Doxy village, practically ready to claim municipal status. The experience had been most undignified, though Draco had at least kept some of the port.
He and Potter had cracked the first bottle together, in fact, sitting sticky with grime on a pile of musty ceremonial robes in various alarming shades of puce. Draco, feeling that one more cleaning spell or Doxy-bite would demolish him entirely, had subsided, delicately but decidedly, spelled the cork out of one dusty bottle, and taken a lengthy swig of punishingly sweet and rather silty port. Much to his surprise, Potter had joined him, swiped the bottle, and taken a gulp of his own.
Draco had watched the line of Potter's throat as he swallowed, conscious of a sudden sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
It was the first time that Draco had allowed himself to really realise that he was alone in a room with Harry Potter. That they were working, more or less, together. That Potter was an actual real-life person, his lips reddened from the gritty port and a clump of cobwebs in his stupid hair.
He had spent the months since trying assiduously to forget, ignore, or sidestep these unsettling facts. At the time, he had reacted by drinking rather a lot of port, which had possibly had something to do with the later spectacular failure of his attempt to levitate one of the racks of bottles. The result had been both sticky and pungent.
Even now, six months later, the room smelt vaguely ripe, like a Christmas party gone to seed. It was the bare stone walls and curved ceiling: no room for air to circulate. Especially now that half the space was taken up with rolls of paper and parchment and Draco’s drawing table. And bottles of ink, of course, glinting behind protective spells on their high shelf like fat black beetles. At least, he thought glumly, there was a fireplace.
Mrs Montfort had stopped peering at Potter and was looking at her hands, her face falling as she flexed sketchy lines of silvery-black ink. She looked down at the letters at the foot of the page - ‘Ellen Montfort, 42, d. 3rd Nov’ - and tapped them gingerly. They gave a little under her touch, then sprang back into place.
“I’m dead, aren’t I,” she said, quietly. “But I’m not a ghost.”
“I know this must be unsettling, Mrs Montfort,” said Potter briskly, “but we really don’t have very long. You’re in an Auror sketch -”
“I’m in a painting?” asked Mrs Montfort. Her face twisted, slapdash lines sliding over and against each other.
“A sketch,” said Potter hastily. “Now, Mrs Montfort, I understand that you may not remember everything, but it’s very important that you think hard about this and answer honestly. Is there anyone you know of who might have meant you harm? Anyone who stands to gain from your death?”
Draco thought, not for the first time, that he could hardly imagine a less reassuring interviewer. Potter, as ever, had all the sensitivity of a rampaging Nundu. Then again, it was doubtless his supreme self-absorption that allowed him to do the work he did. The Auror Sketch Department had a good closure rate but a truly abysmal reputation. Not least because it deigned to employ a well known ex Death Eater, Draco thought bitterly, moving further out of Mrs Montfort’s line of sight.
Mrs Montfort was patting the letters of her name again. “I don’t really know,” she said slowly. “I don’t have any personal enemies that I’m aware of. I went into hiding during the war, I’m afraid. My mother is a Muggle, though. I suppose someone could have killed me because of that?”
“Thank you, Mrs Montfort,” said Potter. “That’s very helpful. Can you remember any details of your death?”
Mrs Montfort gave a miserable little laugh. “No?” she said. “I remember being in my study working - I'm developing a charm for re-growing synapses in spell-damaged patients. Or I was, that is to say. All that research..."
"Any other details? Anything unusual or out of place?"
"I remember I was drinking butterbeer.” Her voice sharpened. “My wife?” she asked. “Felicia? Is she all right? I mean, is she safe? Can I see her?”
“I’m afraid I still have some questions for you, Mrs Montfort,” said Potter. “Your wife is quite safe.”
“Probably better not, anyway,” said Mrs Montfort. “I suppose. Is her sister with her?”
“What exactly did this charm involve?” asked Potter. “What kind of spell damage?”
“From pain spells, by and large. There’s a lot of call for it nowadays, you know, thanks to the war - I don’t think anyone would have killed me for it, if that’s what you’re asking. You can talk to my collaborator at St Mungo's, Dr Nagi, if you want more information.” She shook her head. “I do remember seeing something strange, though,” she said. “I heard a noise from the fireplace, and I turned around. I remember thinking it must have been one of the dogs, but then it wasn’t.” She laughed uncertainly. “Strange,” she said again.
Potter’s gaze sharpened. “Can you remember anything else?”
“I remember winning the Quidditch Cup for Slytherin at the end of Fifth Year,” said Mrs Montfort. “I haven’t thought about that for ages. What were we talking about again?”
“Anything about your death?”
“My death? Can I see Felicia? She’ll need to remember to feed Archibald, you see.”
“Mrs Montfort, please concentrate,” said Potter. “What was the strange thing by the fireplace? Try to remember.”
“Death is strange, isn’t it,” said Mrs Montfort. “I remember Professor Slughorn bought the whole team as much butterbeer as we could drink. We spiked it with firewhisky. Terrible hangovers.” She lifted one hastily outlined hand to her face, almost in slow motion, and touched her cheek. “Oh,” she said, “I see.”
Then the sketch stopped moving, and the silvery glow faded from the ink.
Potter stepped back. “Well, that could have been more helpful,” he said.
“Goodness,” said Draco acidly, “it is inconvenient when the recently deceased are a little distracted by their predicament, isn’t it.”
“Well, yes,” said Potter. “Do you think if you used more memories you could fix the sketch for longer?”
“No,” said Draco hastily. “Absolutely not.” Then, because Potter looked about to start asking questions, or possibly arguing, he shrugged. “At least not without coming close to creating an actual portrait. And I thought that was very much not the point of the exercise.”
“I thought you needed memories from lots of different people to make a portrait,” Potter objected. “As far as the Academy will let slip, anyway.” Fortunately, his mind was evidently still mostly on Mrs Montfort’s testimony. “It was very likely Greyback, don’t you think? Or a member of his pack.”
Draco rolled his eyes. Every so often Potter would do this, would start acting as if Draco was simply another colleague, no different from the people who analysed spell traces or worked with ghosts and crime-scene curse-residue down on the lower floors of the Ministry. It should have been a relief, but all it did was remind Draco how unremarkable his existence had become. Other people might hate him, in an abstract sort of way, for his past and his name and even his Malfoy hair, but to Potter he was no longer even particularly noticeable. It wasn’t as if Potter really wanted his opinion, after all, even if he was prone to staring in a rather disconcerting way, as if Draco was a suspect he was trying to memorise. He was merely thinking aloud.
Potter went on to prove this by pulling a coin out of his pocket as if it was burning him, and squinting angrily at the writing round the edge.
“I’m sorry, Malfoy,” he said. “Emergency up in Sheffield with the Delgado case. They’re calling us all in. You can finish up here, right? Thank Mrs Montfort - the other Mrs Montfort - for her help; say we’ll be in touch? Check that she’s happy with the Aurors assigned to protection duty? I’ll write up my report when I get back.”
He thumped Draco on the back, as if he really did think they were friends.
And without further ado he was out of the door, running past a startled Felicia Montfort to the lifts.
Felicia Montfort was sitting in the drab little Ministry waiting room, looking rather red round the eyes and fending off the attentions of a bored houseplant with long dusty tentacles. It had been exiled from the main lobby for bad behaviour, and now it lurked in the Sketch Department and alarmed visitors. Draco sometimes fed it crumbs from his lunch. Above her head, a couple of lost memos fluttered disconsolately in a corner, blunting their sharp paper noses against the bare stonework of the low ceiling. Draco took out his wand and spelled them away back to the main corridors: with any luck, some snooty Ministry bureaucrat would be terribly inconvenienced by their late arrival.
“I do apologise,” he said. “Auror Potter was called away on emergency business.”
Felicia Montfort stared up at him. She was a strong-featured woman with a rather beaky nose and fierce eyebrows, but at the moment it looked very much as if she might begin crying again.
“Thank you very much for your assistance,” said Draco. “The Auror Department will contact you as soon as there is any further progress in the investigation.”
He made as if to close the door, but Felicia Montfort rose to her feet and held out her hand.
“So she didn’t know?” she asked. “It didn’t help?”
“Your wife couldn’t provide us with an immediate suspect,” Draco said. Did the woman think he was an Auror, or something? “But she did give us information which might be vital to closing the case.” That sounded both vague and official, he thought - and it was probably more tactful than whatever Potter would have come out with.
“Ellen isn’t my wife,” said Felicia Montfort dully. “Not legally. We had a civil partnership. It’s a Muggle ceremony.” She twisted her hands in front of her. “We just got used to it, you know? Saying ‘my wife’. It was nice.”
“Oh,” said Draco. “Right.”
“Can I see her?” Felicia Montfort asked. “Please?”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” said Draco. “Sketches don’t last very long.” He began to close the door, rather hastily.
Felicia Montfort held the door open. Her nails were beautifully manicured, Draco noticed vaguely, and she wore very fine rings. “Make another one,” she said. “Another sketch. I can spare another memory.”
“I’m afraid that’s against Department policy,” said Draco, pulling at the door.
“I just want to see her,” said Felicia Montfort. Her eyes were dry. For a moment, she reminded Draco rather of his mother. Of course, the Montforts were quite an old family. It might not be such a bad thing to have one of them in his debt.
He stepped back, away from the door.
“Well,” he said. “You’d better come on in, then.”
Early next morning, Potter was yelling at Draco through the Floo. “I can’t believe you did that, Malfoy, you prick. I leave you alone for five minutes and you decide, what, to show off?” In the green flames, his face twisted unsettlingly. “You stole memories from a grieving widow to give her five minutes talking with a shadow, Malfoy!”
Draco, kneeling in front of his fireplace, felt disdain settle over his features like thin white ice. “Goodness, Potter,” he said. “I do apologise. How unseemly of me to bend the rules a little to give a ‘grieving widow’ a chance to say goodbye.”
“It’s not like that, Malfoy, you wanker,” said Potter’s flickering head. “Those memories were real. A sketch isn’t. But I suppose it’s no use trying to explain it.”
Potter’s head went on talking for a while, but Draco wasn’t listening. He sat back on his heels and stared around at the walls of his darkened flat, lit faintly by the greenish glow of the Floo. It had been remarkable enough, after all, for him to get employment of any kind after the war, let alone a job at the Ministry. And he owed it all to what had happened to Greg. To Miss Darlington, of course, as well. But mostly Greg. Which meant it seemed fair enough that he’d bolloxed it all up already.
He couldn’t remember so much of Greg himself nowadays, of course. When he tried, it gave him a headache: the memories stopped and started without rhyme or reason. It was like unfolding a scarf and finding it lacy with moth. He did, however, remember finding Greg, rather vividly. Draco had been a little drunk, and he had Flooed to Greg’s place with the intention of getting a lot drunk, and perhaps of seeing someone look at him like they had in the old days, like he was someone who mattered. Even if Greg couldn’t really be counted on for that, any more. Perhaps the judicious application of Firewhisky would make up the difference. Draco had swung round the doorway into the sitting room of Greg’s grotty London flat, all set for a nice rant about the Ministry, and Greg had been sitting there on his sofa, already smelling a little sweet and quite, quite cold. He had a hole in his front from a Muggle gun.
Then Draco remembered Greg frowning up at him from the page, trying to tell him something but only managing gibberish. Or speaking perfectly, but thinking they were still at school; that Draco was talking about homework, or about the lessons the Carrows had set them in their final year. Or simply never moving at all, though Draco had set the look-alike spells on his pencil quite correctly and used a strong memory, and the sketch was an excellent likeness.
Even when Greg had told him what he needed to know - that someone whose name Draco didn’t even recognise had killed him, not even because of the things he’d done in their last year at school but simply because he’d been a Death Eater - even then, Draco had had to draw him again and again for the Ministry, taking more bites out of his memory every time. In the end, it had been only Potter who’d been willing to take him seriously.
Seriously enough not just to catch Greg’s killer, but to throw his weight behind the creation of the Sketch Department. And even though Draco knew, he knew that Potter was simply seizing a chance for glory and self-righteousness, taking the opportunity to be magnanimous to someone like Draco, even though he knew all these things and had felt obligation churning inside him, like sour milk, for the past year, he still couldn’t bring himself to listen to Potter explaining just why he should never have trusted Draco. How Draco had just confirmed what a mistake it had been in the first place. So he looked at the paintings on the walls of his flat out of the corner of his eye, and tried hard not to listen at all.
When Potter seemed to have finished, he leaned forwards towards the cool flames. “I suppose that’s it, then,” he said. “I’m sacked, am I?” He looked at Potter’s awful hair, waving in the fire as if it was underwater. “How did you even know?” he asked.
Potter blinked at him. “What? No, Malfoy,” he said testily. “As a matter of fact, you’re needed here now. There’s a case we need the Sketch Department’s help with. Something unusual.” He rubbed at the back of his head. “And I knew because I remembered that thing Mrs Montfort said about feeding Archibald. I thought Felicia Montfort might like to hear it. Though it turns out that Archibald is a pedigree Crup who won’t stop barking, so it doesn’t seem as though she’d be able to forget to feed him even if she tried.”
“You’d be surprised,” muttered Draco.
“Nothing. I take it I’m still in employment?”
Potter sighed. “I couldn’t sack you even if I wanted to, Malfoy, you unbelievable drama queen. I’m just the Auror liaison.” He paused, frowning. “Are you all right, Malfoy?” he asked. “I mean, like I said, I can see why you did it. I just wish you hadn’t, that’s all.”
“And I’m just the Queen of Sheba,” said Draco pleasantly, studiously ignoring Potter’s question. “Well, get back. I’m coming through.”
He tried to ignore the knot in his stomach. Resentment, as per usual, with perhaps an extra pinch of bile. After all, Felicia Montfort had been grateful, even if she had ended up crying in the end. Very grateful.
“Someone is killing portraits,” said Potter. Warming charms never lasted long down in the Sketch Department, and the end of his nose was red. But he looked entirely earnest.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Draco. “You mean slashing their canvases? Because, Potter, I have some exciting news for you. In this wonderful wizarding world of ours, portraits can move! They are capable of escaping from the most dedicated iconoclast. And in any case, I was under the impression that you saw portraits as some kind of reheated fake memory. Doesn’t sound very killable to me.’
Potter had been rolling his eyes like the boor he was, but at this he had the temerity to look upset. “That wasn’t what I was saying, Malfoy, and you know it,” he snapped.
“I should hope not,” said the portrait of Miss Darlington, who was hanging on the wall between them.
Miss Darlington was a young woman possessed of large blue eyes and a watery kind of prettiness, with pale yellow hair done up in translucent-looking ringlets. She had been a distant Malfoy cousin who had been taken in by the family, no doubt out of the goodness of their hearts, at some point in the early nineteenth century. She had lived an unremarkable life and had been painted wearing an unflattering pelisse and a dress of rather drab sprigged muslin. She had also, however, been painted holding a brush, with a paint-set and palette at her elbow. In life, she had told Draco, she had painted little beyond polite watercolours of the Wiltshire landscape, but in death she had, as she put it, expanded her repertoire.
The sprigged muslin was now decidedly paint-splattered, and the sketchpad on the card table beside her was in constant use. Redeemed from the destruction of Malfoy Manor by dint of having been sent out for repairs at the time, she had taught Draco everything she knew about making portraits, though - as she herself admitted - this was little enough: the Academy of Wizarding Arts would never have admitted a female amateur to their august ranks.
Now, Miss Darlington steepled her painted-stained fingers and looked vaguely pained. “Mr Potter?” she said. “If you would?"
Potter bent down and began to unwrap a parcel which had been lying at his feet. This was just the sort of occasion when Draco was usually driven to distraction by Potter doing things the Muggle way, without so much as lifting his wand. Now, however, he found himself swallowing down a comment about Potter’s bright future in the gift-wrapping industry. Potter was unwrapping a portrait that was very dead indeed.
It showed an elderly wizard sitting by a window, looking out onto an improbable landscape in which a glacier snaked through lush jungle under a sky filled with stars. The curtains at the window were moving gently, but the wizard himself was quite still. His throat was cut. The wound was painted in thick brush-strokes, heavy with red and brown paint; the wizard’s velvet smoking jacket had a great stiff stain of dried blood spreading down from the neck; Venetian Red overpainted with Burnt Ochre, Draco thought to himself, peering closely. There was an ugly smear of blood on the wall behind the still figure, as if the murderer had tried his hand at some gory finger-painting.
“He was brought in to Magical Artefacts yesterday,” Potter was saying. “Magical Artefacts! As if he was a broken cupboard!”
“Who brought him in?” Draco asked.
“A Mr and Mrs Snodwick, apparently. He was their great-uncle Ethelred; noted armchair explorer. They found him like that one morning. Gave them quite a turn. None of their other portraits noticed a thing.” Potter was marching up and down the room now, waving his arms. Draco feared for his stacks of parchment, and carefully avoided thinking about how Potter’s Auror robes snapped around him as he turned. Potter was still talking, and he was unstable, not charismatic. Alarmingly unstable. “Magical Artefacts were only too happy to turn the case over - if Hermione hadn’t caught wind of it and called me, he’d likely already be in storage. Hell, a broken cupboard would probably get more attention.”
“This should be impossible,” said Draco. He was holding his wand like a brush over the surface of the painting, feeling for the buzz of magic which surrounded a finished portrait. There was the same faint energy that one might get from a photograph or moving statue, but nothing more. It was rather like touching a corpse. “A finished portrait is nearly indestructible. You can destroy the original canvas and the subject should be fine, as long as they’ve got other pictures to escape to.”
“Yes, Malfoy,” said Potter. “I know. That’s why it’s a mystery.”
“What I mean, Potter, is that this is something that might be outside even my extensive purview. We might have to ask advice from the Academy on this one.”
“Yeah,” said Potter heavily, “we already thought of that.”
“The Academy of Wizarding Arts were most recalcitrant,” put in Miss Darlington. “They refuse to have the slightest involvement with the activities of the Sketch Department, as you are well aware.”
“Even in this case?”
“Especially in this case,” said Miss Darlington. “Believe me, I tried.”
“Well, bollocks,” said Draco. He considered kicking the table leg, but decided against it: he didn’t have so very many good pairs of shoes nowadays, and the ones he was wearing were bespoke. For a moment, he felt a ridiculous stab of envy for Ethelred Snodwick’s fetching smoking jacket.
“We were hoping you would have some ideas,” said Potter. “You could at least try and analyse the paint, right? The new paint, that is.”
“I could try,” said Draco dubiously. “Not that overpainting should have made any difference to a portrait in the first place.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Miss Darlington demurely. “As I recall, I first made your acquaintance after being most annoyed by an instance of overpainting.”
Potter stopped his pacing. “Oh, really?”
“I’ve already apologised,” said Draco stiffly. “Also, I was five.”
“And when you saw fit to apologise,” said Miss Darlington, “you were, I believe, sixteen. And you wonder why I should bear a grudge!”
“Honestly,” said Draco. “It’s not as if the moustache didn’t wash off.”
Potter was sniggering in the background. “Let me guess,” he said, “it was the house-elves who had to do the washing.”
Draco decided the time had come to beat a strategic retreat. He was over by his shelves of books on Wizarding portraiture - perhaps Varney’s controversial classic Life in Death might have some insights? - when he heard with dawning horror the next chapter of Miss Darlington’s revenge unfolding behind him.
“Allow me to tell you, Mr Potter,” she was saying, “about some other things Mr Malfoy got up to when he was five years old...”
After a day that had been exhausting and humiliating by turns (‘and he used to wear the most adorable little robes, Mr Potter! With frills at the bottom!’), Draco stormed out of the Ministry in a filthy temper. At six o’clock on a November evening, it was already quite dark: above his head the London sky glowed low and orange, coming on to rain. Crowds of Muggles streamed past him, feet skating over wet leaves on the pavement; plane trees thrust their thick-knuckled branches out over the seething traffic, scraping the tops of buses with twiggy fingers. The shop windows were already full of Christmas tat, swags of tinsel and fairy lights shining red and white and green, cheap decorations shedding drifts of glitter onto piles of books or mysterious sporting equipment.
Draco’s cloak could only pass for a Muggle winter coat on a first glance, but nobody looked at him twice. Walking through clouds of sweet, onion-scented steam wafting from a hot-dog cart, he was more or less invisible. His anger began to blur and fade, like sugar dropped into hot brown tea. Draco might hate being ignored (‘you want your name in lights, don’t you, darling,’ Pansy had said. ‘Well, think of it this way. You’ll get at least a footnote in any history of the war!’), but being anonymous had its advantages. On the streets of Muggle London, nobody looked at him like a Malfoy.
After a while, he found himself, as he had known he would, climbing a flight of steps to the shiny black door of a well-appointed house in Bloomsbury. Even the Ministry at its most rapacious could hardly succeed in stripping a family like the Malfoys of all their assets, after all.
Still, as always, it was a shock to see his mother opening her own front door. “Darling,” she said. “As ever, what a pleasant surprise. Do come in.”
Draco stepped inside, already pulling off his gloves. As usual, even a short time spent under Muggle lights made wizarding spaces, lit by wand light or torches or, as here, globes of pale fire sending twisting shadows up the walls, seem at once soft and large, full of hidden corners. Like home.
Narcissa was frowning delicately. “You are quite welcome to use the Floo, darling,” she said. “Or to Apparate into the back garden, such as it is.”
Draco sighed. “I’m not going to catch anything walking through London, Mother,” he said. “As you would know if you ever walked outside your own front door.”
His mother made a noise which could definitely be construed as a sniff. “I prefer to save my reserves of courtesy for when they are most needed, Draco,” she said.
Draco, who had once walked in on his mother being exhaustively - and exhaustingly - polite as she entertained a distant Muggle cousin from the Tonks side of the family, gave a weary shrug. “You’d enjoy some of it, you know,” he said. “There are some rather fabulous Muggle shops.”
“We all have our idiosyncrasies, Draco,” his mother said. “Now, Andromeda and Teddy are upstairs. I’ll bring you up some tea, shall I?”
“That would be lovely, Mother,” said Draco, bending to kiss her cheek. For a moment, he felt her gloved hand on his neck, the silk smooth and cold.
As he climbed the steep stairs, crowded at the landings by too-big furniture saved from the Manor, it occurred to him that his mother setting up house with a disgraced Muggle-loving sister still seemed a great deal more probable than seeing her fetch her own tea. Yet Narcissa seemed almost content, in her own way.
Happier than he could ever have imagined, watching her over his father’s grave two years ago, her face behind her veil still and pale as alabaster. Back then, Draco had thought that he might be able to save her, at least. That he might somehow do something splendid, might redeem the Malfoy name. Might at least be able to comfort his mother.
Then Andromeda had come up behind her, there in the churchyard, in the Malfoy family plot, and put her hand on her arm. Andromeda had bent down, had whispered something in her ear, and his mother had turned around all of a sudden and buried her head on her sister’s shoulder. And after that, though it took a long time for her to be anything more than sad and chill, she had not needed saving at all. Certainly not by Draco.
“Draco,” said Andromeda now, looking up from the floor in the high-ceilinged front room. She was a tall, handsome, somewhat sardonic woman, with dark hair wound in neat plaits around her head. It was hard to imagine her defying the Blacks, hard to imagine her name burnt out of the family tapestry. Sometimes Draco felt as if she had more in common with his mother than he himself did. “What a nice surprise. Say hello, Teddy.”
“Hello, Draco,” said Teddy absently. He was carefully feeding miniature chunks of coal into a train the size of Draco’s hand. “You can look, but you have to be careful.”
“Naturally,” said Draco, lowering himself gingerly to the floor. “It’s a splendid train.” It was too, he realised: the track ran all around the nursery in great loops, sometimes rising to hover in mid-air. The train itself, he realised, was a replica of the Hogwarts Express, shining red with gold trim, and puffing out tiny clouds of smoke. As he watched, it gave a shrill whistle.
“Our new obsession,” whispered Andromeda over Teddy’s head. “I hope you like trains.”
“Hey,” Teddy objected. “The Hogwarts Express is the best train in the world.”
“I thought you liked Muggle trains?” asked Draco.
“Muggle trains smell of lavatories,” said Teddy. “And people leave crisp packets on the seats.”
“Well, I can’t argue with that one,” said Draco. He caught Andromeda’s eye. “Potter?” he mouthed.
“A Halloween present,” said Andromeda, a little wryly.
Draco made his best effort at raising an eyebrow. “There’s no such thing,” he said, trying not to sound too indignant. “Halloween is for sweets. Even Muggle Halloween, surely?”
“Mr Potter is free to be generous if he feels like it, Draco,” said his mother from behind him, rather wearily. “Have some tea.”
“Don’t worry, Draco,” said Andromeda, sotto voce. “Trust me; your paint-set is still tops. He sleeps with it next to his bed.”
“Does he really?” said Narcissa, thoughtfully.
“You can give me some sweets if you like, Draco,” said Teddy generously. “Even if they are late."
“You’re a terrible child, Teddy,” said Draco, feeling a little misty-eyed. “Ruthless.” He smiled fondly at Teddy, who grinned proudly back at him.
Andromeda sighed. “Honestly, Draco. You’re encouraging him.”
Draco shrugged. “At least we’re not doing the graffiti spell?” This spell - Draco’s own adaptation of painting magic - had the interesting effect of sending painted words snaking out from the caster’s wand all over the nearest flat surface. It had been very popular with both Teddy and Draco; rather less so with Andromeda and Narcissa.
Teddy seemed to remember that it was strictly forbidden, since he only smiled - somewhat regretfully - at the mention of it, before looking sedately up at Draco’s mother. “I hope you brought two glasses of milk.”
“Naturally.” She stepped over the train tracks with a rustle of robes - still silk, if a little outmoded - and began to lay out delicate cups on the nursery table from the tray bobbing at her side. Her wand work was light and swift as ever, Draco noticed with a sudden rush of pride and pity. You would never guess that under the gloves her hands were a clawed ruin of burnt-smooth skin.
“Invisible friend,” said Andromeda, nodding at Teddy. “Also a new addition. Captain Marvel, apparently. He’s a Muggle superhero.”
“You can’t have any of his milk,” said Teddy. “You can have tea.”
“Perish the thought,” said Draco. “I may be many things, but I’m not a milk-stealer.”
Teddy giggled. From across the room, the miniature Hogwarts Express gave another piercing whistle.
“You really need a bigger space for the track,” Draco ventured, a little later.
“You have paint on your ear, Draco,” said Teddy helpfully.
“Ah, thank you,” said Draco, wiping hastily. He had never been any good at talking to children: they made him feel silly. Still. He tried again. “You could try setting it up in my flat.”
“I think not,” said his mother quietly. “More tea?”
“It may not be all that big,” said Draco, “but we could run the track from room to room, and Teddy could get to see -”
“No, Draco. You already know my opinion on this subject.” His mother sounded unbearably weary for a moment. It was the same way, he realised, that she had spoken to his father, near the end. Back when the Ministry was coming for the Manor.
“It was just a suggestion, Mother,” Draco said quickly. “Keep your hair on.” Teddy was watching them, he realised, with big dark eyes. “How about some more coal?” he said heartily. “Trains need plenty of coal!”
“I fooled you about the paint,” said Teddy brightly. “There isn’t any. Made you look!”
An hour or so later, when Teddy had been put to bed and Draco, somewhat coal-smudged and rather sloshy with tea, was back outside on the rain-dark pavement, he realised that Teddy’s hair, usually either Malfoy-white or some quite unsuitable and unnatural colour doubtless influenced by Muggle television, had stayed glossy black through the entire evening. Just like Potter’s.
All in all, Draco was glad to get home. His own flat was a series of tall, cramped rooms carved out of a warehouse overlooking Gripechant Dock, centre of a rather run-down wizarding enclave south of the river. In its heyday, the dock had seen ships from around the world moored up against its weed-slick stonework, their masts bobbing above the rooftops and the odd fleet of magic carpets circling lazily overhead. Nowadays, although still heavily warded, it was little used. Greenish torches cast shivers of broken light across water which reflected only the too-pale Muggle sky. The Malfoy yacht had been moored here when Draco was young, but now, seven years after the war, the family retained nothing but an interest in one of the surrounding warehouses. Fortunately, most of the other inhabitants of the area were recent immigrants to whom the name Malfoy meant nothing; Draco would not have dared live near Diagon Alley.
Now, creaking his way up battered wooden stairs in the river-smelling air, Draco allowed himself to relax. To forget a day spent analysing flakes of oil paint which looked just like dried blood but which appeared to have absolutely no unusual properties whatsoever; to ignore Potter’s vulgarly ostentatious gift - a gift Draco himself could never afford - and to forget, above all, Teddy’s Potter-coloured hair. He slammed his front door behind him, marinating in forgetfulness, and set the lights in the flat burning high with a wave of his wand.
Around him, on the walls of his little flat, Malfoy Manor opened out in long painted halls.
Draco had incorporated the doors and windows of his flat into the design as best he could, so that it was almost impossible to tell where paint ended and reality began. He had given the Manor the golden light of a late summer afternoon, so that his flat was filled with the radiance of low light glancing off marble and brass and polished walnut, caught between lines of silver mirrors.
Under his feet, the floor was painted parquet, pulled straight by the magic where it met the walls of the flat, the angles moving with the viewer so that it stretched out level as a chessboard until it met the panelled walls of Malfoy Manor. Draco had felt a little strange about painting unmoving copies of the lost portraits back into the Manor, so he had covered the walls with tapestries and mirrors, golden clocks and towering shelves of magical instruments, turning like blown-glass weathervanes. There were still lives, though: blue and white china vases stuffed with fleshy tulips; table-tops rolling with melons and moon-fruit and split-open pomegranates, craggy with ruby-red seeds; a jug of waxy white camellias in a dark mahogany frame. Snakes threaded through fruits and flowers carved in crisp limewood around doors left permanently ajar, giving onto rooms filled with long slants of shadow and the twisting light of unseen fires in marble hearths.
The Manor was shot through with the faint silver of memories, like watered silk, and the wide curve of the main staircase led up away into half-glimpsed galleries filled with glassy, muted light; bowls of roses and cabinets full of jade and porcelain; crook-legged tables inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Smooth green lawns shone untouched outside tall windows, the dusty shadows of the yew hedges slowly lengthening but never darkening.
In the painted Manor, time cycled slowly between four and five and back again. The shadows and the sunlight ebbed and flowed, but it was always, always time for tea.
Draco unclasped his cloak and let it fall to the floor behind him. With a wave of his wand, he nudged the lights a little lower. And, looking at the Manor around him, he felt his mouth stretch out in a wide, thin smile. He was home.
“You aren’t listening, Mr Malfoy,” said Mrs Aurelia Owen, following him from portrait to portrait through the Ministry.
“No, I’m not,” agreed Draco. “Good observation skills!”
Mrs Owen executed a tricky leap on to a table piled high with dewy fruit, sending rosy peaches and glassy grapes scattering wildly. In life, Draco knew, she had been an incurable asthmatic; being a portrait seemed to agree with her. “Mr Malfoy!” The next painting was a group portrait of members of the 1720 Wizengamot, and there was an outraged murmur as she pushed through, trying not to tread on buckled shoes. “Mr Malfoy, for fuck’s sake -”
Draco stopped and turned on one heel, tutting. “Language, Mrs Owen, language. Dear me.”
Mrs Owen had come to a stop in the middle of a bluish sort of pastoral landscape and was trying to pull one foot out of what was evidently a marsh. “I may have been born in 1857,” said her little figure acidly, “but I’ve had plenty of time to expand my vocabulary.” Her buttoned boot - probably the height of fashion in fin de siècle London - came free with a loud sucking sound, and she demonstrated some more expanded vocabulary before continuing. “Mr Malfoy, the Academy of Wizarding Arts will not continue to countenance your involvement in the - in the current case. We find your methods objectionable in the extreme. You create what are in effect a species of portrait, but grant them a mere minute or so of existence before they fade. And you leave holes in people’s memories in order to do so. Frankly, most of us consider that you were killing portraits long before this current maniac started honing his gore-painting technique.”
“We only make sketches when there’s no other way to solve the case,” said Draco, rather shrilly. “And anyway,” he said, aware that he now sounded nothing more than mulish, “if the Academy had agreed to train me in the first place, things might have been different.”
“You know perfectly well,” said Mrs Owen, her painted eyes flicking to his left arm, “that was never an option. Really, Mr Malfoy, the Auror Department’s stunning lack of interest in the present case should remind you that the Wizarding World at large isn’t given to affording an organisation where portraits outnumber living members twenty to one much of a say in things. We certainly couldn’t admit someone with your background.” She sighed theatrically. “Post-life discrimination, that's what it is. And ghosts say they have it hard.”
“I’m shedding a single perfect tear, Mrs Owen,” Draco assured her. “And going downstairs to continue working on this case, which if you hadn’t noticed is still racking up bodies. One a day, as a matter of fact! It’s almost as if the Academy is as incompetent as the next fancy artist’s supper club when it comes to, oh, actually solving crimes!”
And he made off down the stairs to the lower levels of the Ministry, past a thankfully blank stretch of wall. Mrs Aurelia Owen’s impressively expanded vocabulary floated after him as he went.
Potter was already in the Sketch Department when Draco walked in, ruffled by a contretemps with the plant in the waiting room as well as by his encounter with the Academy Liaison.
“I think we should prune that thing in the waiting room, Potter,” he said. “It tried to steal my scarf.”
Potter looked up from where he’d been bending over a portrait. He looked as though he hadn’t shaved, or even changed his clothes. The dark stubble on his chin made his eyes look very green. “Well, it is a very nice scarf,” he said absently. “It looks soft.” He bent his head again. “It’s still happening,” he said. “Look.”
Draco tore his eyes away from Potter’s jaw. “I am aware that portraits keep dying, yes, Potter,” he said, perhaps somewhat more waspishly than necessary.
“Mr Potter is referring to the process of decomposition, Mr Malfoy,” said Miss Darlington primly from the wall. “It is ... continuing.”
Sure enough, when Draco joined Potter in leaning over the first victim, he was forced to acknowledge that Ethelred Snodwick looked even deader than he had the day before, or the day before that. The corpse was livid and a little swollen: matters seemed to be progressing particularly swiftly on the side nearest the window overlooking the unlikely jungle. Draco wondered how hot it was in the painting, and swallowed thickly. Then he jumped back in horror as Miss Darlington popped her head into the corner of the painting, grubby pelisse held strategically over her nose.
“Certainly continuing,” she said, her voice rather muffled. “How fortunate it is that odours are confined to their original painting.”
“Yeah, I bet,” said Potter. He turned to Draco, who was palpitating somewhat against the nearest wall. “See? It’s not just that someone found a new spell that actually wounds portraits. The whole world of the painting keeps on being affected, even after they’re dead.”
“So I see,” said Draco weakly. “You don’t think we could, well -” he flapped a hand delicately at Mr Snodwick’s brown paper wrappings.
Back in her portrait, Miss Darlington sighed. “Buck up, Mr Malfoy,” she said encouragingly. “What would your father say?”
“Shut it, Elise,” muttered Potter, mercifully returning Snodwick to his brown paper coffin. “Did Aurelia corner you on your way downstairs?” he asked Draco.
Draco nodded. “No joy from that quarter. Plenty of moral superiority, though.”
“I don’t understand why they won’t just admit that we’re helping the dead,” Potter said, sounding rather mulish himself. “And the living, of course. It has a cost, of course, but what doesn’t?”
“Well,” came a voice from the doorway, “you know I think they have a point, Harry.” Hermione Granger closed the door behind her, rubbing her hands together. “It’s freezing down here,” she said. “And I think you should do something about that plant, Harry. I swear it’s gone feral. I hope you’re feeding it properly: tentacled snapweeds are quite finicky, you know.” She nodded briefly towards the back of the room. “Miss Darlington, nice to see you. Malfoy.”
“I asked Hermione to come down for a consultation, Malfoy,” said Potter. “A new set of eyes, you know.”
“Of course,” said Draco, hoping he didn’t sound too strangled. “Hello, Granger.”
Granger had knelt down by the row of portraits leaning face down against the wall. “May I?” she asked, already beginning to turn them around. Most of the subjects had had their throats cut, but two had simply been stabbed. Since most wizards tended to be painted wearing their best clothes, there was a great deal of stiffened, rusty-coloured silk and lace and velvet. Draco tried not to look at the faces. One plump witch had evidently put up quite a fight: the vase of flowers she’d been painted with was shattered as if it had been used to hit her assailant over the head. Wilted tulips and splintered glass decorated her bloodstained skirts. “I really do, Harry,” Granger said, still peering at the portraits. “Think that the Academy are right, you know. Portraits have almost no rights in Wizarding society - you can hardly blame them for reacting badly to what you’re doing here. Even if the living agree to sacrifice a memory or two, you can’t exactly ask the dead for permission before it’s too late. Not to mention that even with a sketch, you aren't really talking with the dead at all, however much you'd like to think so.” She stood up, dusting off her Law Witch’s robes. “You can’t save all of them, Harry,” she said. “I know you know that. But still -”
“Yeah, I do know that, Hermione,” said Potter flatly. “Do you know that the Sketch Department has an eighty percent solve rate? Most murder victims can identity their attackers quite reliably, you know.”
“But not these ones,” Draco pointed out. Granger was staring at Potter with barely-concealed pity in her eyes, and it made him unsettled. Potter was a force of nature. One didn’t pity forces of nature, let alone question their methods. Draco’s methods.
“Not these ones,” said Granger thoughtfully. She scanned the row of portraits, frowning. “Still no common denominators?”
Potter shook his head. “I’ve actually wrangled enough time off my other cases to question the families. You’ve seen the files: the only thing they have in common is that they’re rich enough to have portraits hanging around. No pun intended.”
Granger was still staring at the portraits, pursing her lips. “There’s blood on the walls behind all of them,” she said. “Some kind of design, almost. Harry, tell me that isn’t what it looks like.”
“It looks like a crazy person smeared blood on the wallpaper,” said Potter. “Honestly, Hermione, I was hoping more for insights on magical theory or something. We’ve already spent hours staring at these pictures.”
Granger didn’t appear to be listening. “Miss Darlington,” she said. “I’m terribly sorry, but would you mind having a closer look?”
“You don’t have to, Elise,” said Potter.
Miss Darlington was already threading her way through the portraits, this time outright holding her nose. “I believe you may be correct, Miss Granger,” she said, shakily, as she returned to her own frame. “It’s crudely drawn, to be sure, but once you get up close the image is unmistakable.”
Granger had her hand on Potter’s shoulder. “You need to inform the rest of the Auror Department, Harry,” she said softly. “I’ll get Ron to come down.”
Potter was staring at the portraits, rubbing his jaw. “I think you might be right, Hermione,” he said. “It’s back to front, but it’s there. Fucking hell.”
“If anyone would care to enlighten me as to what on earth you’re talking about,” said Draco, “do feel free. Any time.”
Granger frowned at him, her hand still on Potter’s shoulder. “I would have thought you’d recognise it if anyone would, Malfoy,” she said. “It’s there in every painting, even if our culprit manages to draw it the wrong way round. Right there on the wall. It’s the Dark Mark.”
“So we know that our murderer is a Death Eater who can’t draw,” said Draco that evening, as he and Potter ducked past the flailing tendrils of the tentacled snapweed. “I need a drink.” Which was an understatement if ever he’d heard one, he reflected bitterly. He’d spent the day being first patronised by Granger then outright ignored by Weasley, while Potter stewed and fumed and generally took up about three quarters of the available space. Seldom had he been more envious of Miss Darlington’s ability to discreetly abandon her picture frame: he rather imagined she’d made tracks for one of the Ministry’s more alcohol-laden still lives.
“I know a place,” said Potter abruptly. By now they were in the lift, racketing jumpily between different floors of the Ministry. “For a drink, I mean.”
Draco stared at him.
“What?” said Potter. “I mean, it’s fine if you don’t feel like it after all.”
The lift juddered to a stop. “No,” said Draco. “I mean yes. Yes, absolutely.”
The place Potter knew was a Muggle pub in Soho, full of shouting Muggles and brass and dark wood and tall partitions of frosted glass. Draco perched uneasily by the window while Potter fought his way to the bar to buy the first round, clearing a patch on the steamed-up glass with the back of his hand. Outside, taxis nudged past one another over the black dazzle of wet tarmac, past the rain-stained concrete buildings across the road. From somewhere close by came a sudden brief thunder of Muggle music, gone as quickly as it came.
“London Pride all right?” asked Potter. “I should have asked.”
“I expect so,” said Draco. He took an experimental sip. “Tastes like beer.”
“Right,” said Potter. “Remind me never to take you out with Ron or Ginny. Take their beer seriously, do the Weasleys.”
“It seems rather unlikely, in any case,” said Draco dryly.
“What?” Potter was frowning at him, cupping his ear.
“I said, it seems rather unlikely,” yelled Draco. The pub was a maze of hard surfaces and half-pissed Muggles: it was exhausting trying to hear anything. “For you to take me out drinking with Weasley, let alone your girlfriend.” His last words fell with horrifying clarity into a pool of near-silence; Potter had set up a discreet silencing charm. Draco gulped desperately at his Muggle beer, mortified. He could feel his face turning an ugly red.
“Oh, Ginny and I broke up,” said Potter, with studied lightness. “Both of us were a little too, well, gay. Don’t you read the gossip columns?”
“Of course not,” said Draco. “And anyway, they tend to contradict themselves.”
Potter snorted. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure Witch Weekly has me going out with Celestina Warbeck at the moment. And Glamorie thinks I’m pregnant.”
“Pregnant?” said Draco weakly, trying not to glance at Potter’s midriff.
“I know,” said Potter glumly. “They have a bump watch and everything.”
“Well, Potter, obviously the possibility of you being, shall we say, enceint, is a matter of grave public import. One can hardly blame these fine upholders of the journalistic tradition for keeping the Wizarding World up to date on this vital information. Anyway," Draco found himself saying, "you do look rather dashing in some of those candids. Or blooming, rather. I mean, so one hears."
“Thanks so much, Draco,” said Potter. “Really, that means a lot.”
Draco stared at him. Potter knew his first name, of course he did. He just never used it, any more than Draco was likely to call Potter ‘Harry’. Who needed to sound like they’d left Hogwarts, anyway?
“You realise, don’t you,” Potter was saying, “that our murderer is probably a portrait themselves?”
Draco scrubbed absently at the steamed-up window. Potter was all business now; the name had been a slip of the tongue, nothing more. Outside, headlights sent a sweep of silver-shot light through the rain. “It had occurred to me, yes,” he said. “Is that why we’re having this conversation outside the Ministry?”
“Well, yes. And I needed a drink.”
“It’s bad for the baby, Potter,” said Draco. “You should be ashamed.” He plastered a sudden look of concern across his face. “You aren’t really in the family way, are you? One does hear of the odd magical accident...”
“Seriously?” Potter looked a little green. “No, Malfoy. Absolutely not.”
There we go. Back to normal. Draco shook his head. “And here was I, all prepared to hunt down the father at wand-point and force him to make an honest wizard of you, Potter. Ah well.” He tapped his fingers against his pint, thinking. “Portraits can’t usually make permanent changes within painting, though,” he pointed out. “Or no Still Life with Booze would last five minutes, not with that lot in the Ministry knocking it back.”
“I do wonder how they have enough food to go round,” Potter agreed. He looked worried enough at the idea that Draco found himself thinking uneasily of the claims about Potter’s childhood in the trashy biography that Skeeter had rushed out after the war. Of course, he hadn’t read that either. Certainly not. “But Elise - Miss Darlington - always has her dress covered in paint,” he continued. “So you can change some things.”
“I think that might be because she’s always painting,” said Draco. “There’s no time for it to go back to how it was originally.” He finished off his pint. “She does say that her paints never run out, after all. Same again?”
Several pints later, the world was beginning to feel rather steamed up in general. Their perch by the window was surrounded by swaying, yelling crowds of Muggles. Ducking out of the silencing charm to go to the bar or take a piss was like diving into a pool of solid noise, chatter rising with the hot air of the pub to the scarlet-painted ceiling mouldings.
“This is a good pub,” Draco told Potter. “Friendly.”
Potter smiled at him. His Auror cloak was bundled under his chair, and he’d rolled up the sleeves on his rather ratty knitted jersey, which had a large ‘H’ on the front. It was red, of course. It should have looked ridiculous. But as it was, it showed the hollow of Potter’s neck. The tender dip in the flesh where you might thumb down a smear of thick cream paint touched with pink, nudging just the faintest hint of blue into the wet surface to show the veins under the skin, the flesh flush with blood. Translucent and fragile but warm, warm and a little damp with sweat. Where you might turn from your canvas and put your paint-sticky thumb right there, where it would fit. Or your tongue. Draco swallowed.
“I thought you might not like it.” Potter quirked his mouth, and Draco managed to stop looking at his neck. He couldn’t paint worth a damn without look-alike charms, anyway. Why the hell should he want to paint Potter? “Because of the Muggles, you know,” said Potter.
“Oh,” said Draco. Abruptly, he felt a great deal more sober. “No. No, that’s not - that’s not a problem any more. I mean, I don’t have a problem. With Muggles.”
“That’s good,” said Potter. He was still smiling, Draco realised, with a flush high on his cheeks. Behind his glasses, his eyes were glittering, almost as if they were wet. For no reason at all, Draco remembered the note of pity in Granger’s voice that morning. Potter hadn’t even seemed to notice. “Do you ever think about it?” Potter asked, almost dreamily.
“Think about what?”
“About making a portrait of your father. Or a sketch, at least.”
“No,” said Draco creakily. Potter was still smiling. “No, of course not.”
“Oh,” said Potter. “I mean, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked. I just wondered if you’d like to ask him why he did it, that’s all. I mean, why he burned down Malfoy Manor. I suppose there are lots of reasons for the other thing.”
“You mean, for him killing himself,” Draco heard himself say. “That other thing.” He paused. “How did you even know that he set the fire? That was only ever speculation.” And Mother had used every last shred of her influence to keep it that way.
The smile slipped off Potter’s face. “I read your file,” he said. “Before we set up the Department.”
“Of course you did,” said Draco. It was Potter’s job, after all. Who could blame him?
Around them, past the silencing charm, the crowd opened and closed their mouths like fish gasping for air. Cigarette smoke curled around their heads like shapeless ghosts. Charms could never really get the smell out; Draco was going to reek when he got home. He closed his eyes for a moment, seeing the Manor behind them, the glowing gold Manor of his painting. Of his childhood, of the long summers which he knew had in truth been filled with tedious lessons and his father’s exquisitely raised eyebrows (‘second to that little Mudblood again, Draco? Dear me’) but which were outside his head now, made perfect on his walls.
Of course, he could still remember the fire. His mother being dragged out of the burning building with her hands a red, sopping mess not even St Mungo’s could rescue; the flames bulging out of the windows like the red hot guts of a dragon, like ropey scarlet worms. He quite understood why his father had done it; as Potter said, there were lots of reasons. The prospect of the Ministry taking the Manor, of auctioning it off or turning it into some Ministry storage space or Auror training facility, was merely the precipitating factor. His father hadn’t been able to keep them safe in the war, and in the peace, he hadn’t even been able to keep the house. Simple, really.
“I really am sorry, Malfoy,” Potter was saying.
“Don’t worry about it.”
Potter kept on talking. “It’s just, I was thinking about it. Thinking about you making a sketch of my mum for me. That’s why I brought it up.”
Draco stared at him. “You can’t be serious, Potter,” he said. His face felt stretched and dry, as if he’d been sitting by a fire.
Potter shrugged. “I’ve got a memory of her,” he said, his voice oddly pitched, as if he was making some kind of joke. “But to be honest I’d rather have five more minutes talking with her. I didn’t really get long enough, before.” He smiled at Draco, rather sweetly. “You see,” he said, “I’m selfish when it comes right down to it. People don’t see it, but you do, don’t you?” Potter didn’t look very much like a force of nature now. He didn’t even look like an arrogant boor who still believed Draco had a problem with Muggles, as if he hadn’t even noticed that Draco always made a point of trying some of Potter’s Muggle food when he brought it in, as if Draco didn’t go out walking through Muggle London where he got bumped and jostled and touched, just like anyone else. As if he hardly even noticed Draco at all.
Draco thought about Potter’s green face in the fire, wavering as if he was underwater, and felt ill. “Yes, Potter,” he said. “I know you’re selfish. Selfish and hypocritical. And if you think I’m going to indulge your maudlin sentimentality over a mother you never even knew, you are very much mistaken, you sick fuck.” Swaying rather, he slid off his stool and pushed his way out of the pub. But not before he’d seen Potter’s face, rather pale, with a wry little smile. Only to be expected, the smile seemed to say. Nothing to see here.
And not before he'd heard Potter's voice, chillier and more precise than it had ever been in school. "Takes one to know one, Malfoy," he was saying lightly.
Nothing to see here. Nothing at all.
Draco had left his cloak under the stool at the pub, so by the time he got back to Gripechant Dock he was wet through and shivering, even though he had taken a bus - a Muggle bus - half way there. Somehow the swaying of the bus, like a long box of pale Muggle light, and the swaying of the glassy black water down in the dock, pocked into a thousand busy little dimples by the rain, all came together into a kind of luxurious unsteadiness. By the time Mrs Toure, the alchemist from downstairs, had found Draco wrapped around a bollard, heaved him up, and posted him through his front door, Draco had almost forgotten how the night at the pub had ended. He stumbled through his flat, navigating by the faint silvery glow coming from the walls and, every so often, trying to go through a doorway that was only painted on, until he reached the furthest room.
Most rooms in the flat had real furniture of some kind or another in a corner, or a window that looked out, when the charms were down, over the empty dockyard. The room furthest from the front door, however, held nothing but paint. It was the only piece of painting in Draco’s flat, in fact, that was still unfinished. There in his study, before a painted fire, one long pale hand resting elegantly on the painted mantelpiece, stood a figure in fine robes, with long white hair. Only the face was missing: the hair framed nothing but a blocky oval, scrubbed with pale undercoat.
Draco had no idea how to make a proper portrait, but he had proved beyond any doubt that memories mixed properly into paint could perform a very similar function. One had to be careful which memories one used, of course: he could still remember the thrill of horror which had run through him when he realised, blocking out the morning room on the wall of his flat, memories running from his brush like water, that he was adding, half-seen through the doorway, a loop of scaly flesh. He had scratched it out, right down to the plaster, and repainted, until the section of wall that had shown Nagini was nearly a quarter-inch thick with fresh paint and new memories. But it had given him pause. Pause enough that he had never finished painting his father’s face.
Now, muttering a warming charm, he lay down on the carpet painted on the floor. He’d caught those memories just right, he knew: green and silver snakes wove under him in friendly coils. Nothing like that thing he’d remembered seeing through the door; nothing like the creature that had haunted the house in wartime.
Rolling over so that he could see the shiny tips of his father’s polished boots, Draco fell into sleep as if into warm green water, rising up like fire.
The following morning, Mrs Toure pushed a hangover potion across her counter towards him without being asked, raising one delicately arched eyebrow.
Draco knocked it back gratefully. “Did I meet you last night?” he asked, once the ringing in his ears had stopped.
“Something like that,” said Mrs Toure. “Heavy night, I take it.”
Draco groaned. Even with the hangover potion, an alchemist’s shop was a bad place to be the morning after: the air was musty and sweet, and dead things with claws hung down from the ceiling and tried to grab his hair. Sunlight on the dock sent water-crazed reflections spinning through the windows, making the things in the ceiling wink at him. Outside seagulls wheeled in the chill bright air above the dock, squawking thinly. Draco shuddered and bought another potion.
Even thus fortified, he couldn’t bring himself to go in to the Ministry. All those glowing childhood dreams of finally showing Potter what he was made of - dreams which had turned unreliable, since the war, and started to feature ridiculous scenarios in which he saved Potter from some unspecified but ghastly fate - had come true in the most unpleasant way possible.
All because he somehow couldn’t face doing one simple little sketch for Potter. Draco had an unsettling suspicion, even, that getting five minutes with a sketch of his mum might have had a lot to do with why Potter had lobbied so hard to get the Sketch Department off the ground in the first place. The knowledge sat in the pit of his stomach like a fat cold slug.
No, he decided, today was certainly not a day for going in to work.
Instead of going in to the Ministry, Draco went back up the damp wooden stairs to the afternoon sunlight of Malfoy Manor. Pale dappled sunlight was coming in off the water through his windows as well, giving a curious doubled quality to the golden light in the painted Manor. A night spent on the floor had left him feeling rather as if he’d played a stiff game of Quidditch the day before; he very nearly climbed back into bed.
Instead, after some thought, Draco took out his wand and Apparated to the front of number 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.
The Ministry might not have done a great deal to prevent the flood of books, pamphlets, inspirational novelisations, and X-rated versions of Potter’s childhood years that had come out after the war - Draco rather suspected that they hadn’t even tried - but the address of Potter’s Muggle relatives, at least, was meant to be a secret. Draco, however, had heard it mentioned a great deal at the Manor during the war: there’d even been photographs, spread out across the dining room table and tapped at, thoughtfully, by one long-fingered bone-white hand.
Privet Drive looked just as unprepossessing as it had in the photographs, even with acidic morning sunlight glancing off the shiny Muggle cars and twitchy-curtained windows. Number 4 looked entirely deserted, but Draco performed a couple of quick spells to check before he could face stamping up the garden path and aiming a quick Alohomora at the front door.
Once on the doorstep, however, Draco couldn’t quite bring himself to go inside. The door had swung open to reveal a rather beige hallway which smelled violently of fresh housepaint, overlaid with something heavily and indiscriminately floral which coated the back of Draco’s throat like acrid pink oil.
Unless, of course, that was the hangover.
A table by the door held a large, unmoving photograph of a plump boy who looked nothing at all like Potter. Above the table hung a print of a pallid watercolour in a shiny gold frame. It showed a spread of wide green lawn leading up to a large house not so very different from Malfoy Manor, though admittedly with fewer turrets involved. The artist had given the painting the warm light of an English summer afternoon; there were roses climbing rather blobbily over one side of the house.
Definitely the hangover; Draco was, by now, feeling rather ill.
He stepped back and re-locked the door as quietly as he could. For a second he felt absurdly guilty, as if he’d been caught rifling through Potter’s underwear drawer. Not, of course, that said drawer was likely to contain more than a couple of pairs of greying Muggle-style Y-fronts, of course. Possibly a lost sandwich as well: Potter was prone to stashing food in the strangest places. Revolting.
Somewhat cheered, Draco turned and strode off past more neat little houses. Bedraggled pampas grass and black-trunked cherry trees, bare branches weighed down with bird feeders, stood damply in small front gardens. Every so often there was an abandoned football, or a tiny pond edged with mysterious Muggle figurines. This was the place the Dark Lord had spent so much time obsessing over? Despite himself, Draco saw groups of dark-robed figures sweeping low over the gardens, pointing wands through upstairs windows at shocked Muggle faces; saw Greyback sending a bird feeder swinging with a thoughtful touch from a sharp-clawed finger. They’d have brought some Muggles back to the Manor, probably, for sport.
He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets and reminded himself that none of this had happened. Even Potter’s Muggle family had survived. All these ugly little houses were safe.
Also, Draco realised, he had absolutely no idea where he was. He could, of course, Apparate himself back to Gripechant Dock, where the Manor was waiting for him, golden and unchanging. He could even go into work.
Instead, Draco walked on through the rows of sharp-edged Muggle houses, all of them whole and untouched and quite, quite safe.
By this point, it was almost lunchtime. Draco, who had been in no state for breakfast, stamped angrily past rows and rows of square Muggle houses, a grey-grassed playing field, and more houses again, these a little shabbier, until he came to a tiny Muggle supermarket. There he bought himself a sandwich with something pink in it and a flaccid samosa, marched back to the grey playing field, prised them out of their chilly transparent cases, and sat on a bench eating his way vengefully through both of them.
Potter’s childhood home had really told him nothing that you couldn’t work out just from being around Potter - who was really, when you thought about it, quite fucked up - for more than a day. The least he could have asked for, he felt vaguely, was an oubliette in the hallway or a rack in the front garden. Rita Skeeter’s book had more or less suggested as much. The Manor had practically had an oubliette, after all. Or at least, it had had a secret compartment and a great many cellars.
Draco wiped his fingers, now covered in a thick film of grease. This Muggle food hadn’t been a patch on the stuff Potter usually brought in for lunch, he had to admit. In fact, it had been revolting. Between his feet, a prawn that had escaped from his pink sandwich lay on the grass like an obscene flesh comma, gelid and foetal.
“I know how you feel,” Draco told it solemnly, nudging it with his shoe. Then he stood up and Apparated unsteadily back to an alleyway near the Ministry.
Potter hadn’t been in to the Sketch Department either, Draco realised. Even Miss Darlington had left her portrait for parts unknown; a note left on the table in her painting read ‘back soon’ in spidery italics.
None of this was unusual: Draco was used to preparing ink and setting up the spells on his brushes alone in the port-smelling little room, with only the shifting of the fire in the grate to keep him company. Now, though, there was the line of dead portraits propped up along one wall, some of them still half-swaddled in brown paper, like ugly birthday presents. And there was a weight in his stomach that seemed to come not so much from the night before but from having gone and snooped around Privet Drive. It had been a perfectly understandable impulse, Draco told himself: as his mother had often told him, what you couldn’t learn from careful observation of a person’s home wasn’t worth knowing. Still, it was a good thing that Potter would never find out.
When the door to the Sketch Department opened, Draco was almost relieved that it revealed Granger, rather than Potter. She was clutching a large book bound in what looked like dragon hide, and obviously didn’t feel the same.
“Your plant is still a menace,” she informed the room at large. “Isn’t Harry here?”
“Potter does have a whole other job, Granger,” Draco informed her. “I have the vague idea that it involves reforming the Auror Department from the ground up.”
Much to his surprise, Granger almost laughed. “He does make it sound like that sometimes, doesn’t he? I suppose I’ll come back later, then.” She hefted her book – obviously, whatever secrets it held were too delicate to be revealed to the likes of him - then paused for a moment in the doorway. “What do you think about what you’re doing down here, Malfoy?” she asked. “I can see it’s an innovative use of memory magic, and the Auror Department certainly isn’t inclined to argue with your results, but you must see that there are moral issues at stake.”
“You show touching faith in me, Granger,” said Draco. “Must I?”
“Well, you’ve been working day and night on this portraits case,” Granger pointed out. “You seem less inclined than the rest of the Wizarding World to treat portraits like occasionally-useful wallpaper, even if you do use sketches as some kind of - of hotline to the dead. And you must admit there are issues with how you use memories in your ordinary work.”
Draco shrugged, deciding not to mention that ‘night and day’ had included a night at the pub. “As you mentioned, the memory-ink gets results,” he said. “The sketches have even lied to us once or twice, in case you’re looking for any more data on the moral standing of portraits.”
Granger did look fascinated. She was almost bouncing. “Really? That is intriguing, I admit. If only the process wasn’t so destructive.”
“Most people have far too many memories, anyway,” said Draco. “And,” he pointed out, “we do tend to be investigating murders. Destruction does come with the territory.”
Granger bit her lip. “Why do I feel the urge to start quoting Santayana?” she muttered to herself. “Too many memories, indeed.”
“Santayana who?” asked Draco.
“Yeah, what?” asked Potter, shouldering past her. “Hi, Hermione.”
“‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’?” said Hermione. “I can’t believe you’ve never heard that one, Harry. Though I suppose I could have gone with ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war’ if I wanted to be really cheerful.” She lifted her book. “Anyway, look what I found. It looks as though that theory you mentioned the other day isn’t the only possibility. It takes a bit of blood magic and a strong connection to the subject matter helps a lot, but it turns out that living people can enter a portrait. See?”
Not finding a free space on the table, Granger set the book hovering in mid-air and began pointing out passages. Potter leaned over her shoulder, looking even more unkempt than usual, Draco was glad to see. His eyes were a little bloodshot, and he still hadn’t shaved.
“It does seem a bit unlikely for the perpetrator to have broken into every single house with a murdered portrait and performed a Dark Arts ritual in front of the canvas, though, Hermione,” Potter pointed out. Even his voice sounded rough. “I mean, I’m not ruling it out. But there are practical difficulties involved, you must admit.”
“It already seems likely that the culprit has some way of moving between portraits in different houses, though,” Draco said, craning for a look at the book. “If we grant that, then whoever-it-is would only have to enter a painting once. They wouldn’t be stuck in one place like Miss Darlington in the Ministry, like ordinary portraits.”
“Actually,” said Granger, “Miss Darlington has access to Hogwarts as well, you know. She was a Drawing Mistress there for two years in the early eighteen hundreds. They abolished the position soon after, but there’s still a miniature of her hanging in the staff quarters.”
Draco turned to look at Miss Darlington’s empty frame. “Well,” he said. “Hidden depths. Fancy that.”
“Putting your encyclopaedic knowledge of Hogwarts: A History to one side for a moment, Hermione,” said Potter, “Malfoy is right. Or could be, at least.”
“Well, I usually am,” said Draco. He looked sidelong at Potter, but he was intent on the book, and he instead caught a glimpse of what looked very much like Granger rolling her eyes.
“Or it could be a spell that acts at a distance,” came a voice from the doorway behind them. “Some kind of curse, perhaps.” Weasley came in, eating a sausage roll far more messily than should be possible for a grown man in Auror uniform. His hair clashed violently with the scarlet of his cloak. “Budge over and let me have a look, Hermione.”
At this, Draco gave up and retreated to his drawing table. For the rest of the afternoon, he was privy to some kind of hideous re-enactment of Gryffindor common-room shenanigans, right down to the moment when Weasley pulled a handful of battered chocolate frogs out of his pocket.
The worst thing of all was when Granger turned round from where they were poring over books and files by the fire and regarded Draco thoughtfully. “I meant to ask, what do you think about the kind of portraits you get in the National Gallery, Malfoy?” she said.
“You mean Muggle portraits,” said Draco.
“Well, most of them are,” said Granger. “Portraits that don’t move, anyway.”
Draco, who had a strong and unsettling feeling that he was being researched, gave Granger what he hoped was a devastatingly chilly smile. “Well, they’re doing something very different,” he said. “They can’t exactly rely on a look-alike charm. But I don’t know much at all about Muggle painting, so I really couldn’t say.”
Potter took this moment to chip in. “Malfoy, you have a whole giant book of paintings by that Muggle artist who did paintings of people standing around looking glamorous,” he said. “You know, Hermione. He did that painting you were showing Ginny. The woman in a black dress.” He made a descriptive hourglass shape with his hands. “That kind of black dress.”
“John Singer Sargent?” Granger sounded amused, for some reason. Presumably at Potter’s antics. “Why does that not surprise me?”
“Sorry I’m not avant-garde enough for you, Granger,” said Draco stiffly, turning back to his pots of ink.
For some reason, Weasley seemed to find this hilarious. Draco considered glumly that Potter, who must have been sneaking about amongst his shelves to even find the Muggle art book, had probably had all his ideas on art shaped by Granger, who probably liked nothing that wasn’t fiercely conceptual or otherwise Improving.
For a moment, Draco was certain he saw Miss Darlington back in her portrait, staring at Granger and her giant book of Dark Arts with one eyebrow raised very high indeed. But when he turned to look, eager for an ally, the portrait was empty as ever.
“Still,” Weasley was saying thoughtfully, “Normal portraits - magical ones, I mean - are in all different styles as well. There’s that bloke by the men’s loos in the Auror Department who’s mostly painted in triangles. You’d think that’d make a difference to how you see yourself, over the years.”
Faced with the horrifying prospect of Weasley saying something interesting, Draco busied himself fiercely with mixing his inks. When Potter tapped him on the shoulder, it was all he could do not to spill the entire bottle he was holding. As it was, a few glossy black globules escaped onto his wrist, beading amongst the pale hairs. Potter seemed fascinated, looking down at the spilled ink with his mouth slightly open. He didn’t exactly look furious, Draco had to admit. No more than usual, anyway: Potter had a high baseline level of fury at the best of times.
“Sorry, Malfoy,” said Potter, reaching out and smearing the ink even further. “Oh, Merlin.”
“For fuck’s sake, Potter,” said Draco. Potter was still touching his wrist lightly, the ink tacky under his fingertips. Draco moved his arm away and spelled the ink back into the bottle, feeling his face heating ridiculously. Had Potter ever even touched his bare skin before?
Potter was gazing at his ink-free fingers, looking oddly flushed himself. He pulled a bundle out from under one arm and shoved it gracelessly at Draco, before rubbing his fingers together and then - was he licking them?
“Good gracious, Potter,” said Draco. “It was just a bit of magical ink. It’s hardly contagious.” He shook out the bundle Potter had pushed at him: his cloak, last seen under his stool in a Muggle pub. “Thank you, Potter,” he said. Now would be the time to say something smooth and suitably cutting but subtly apologetic. Something that would really floor Potter - and in front of his friends, too. Not, he had to admit, that they seemed to be listening. No, they were just chatting away on the floor of the Sketch Department, in the middle of the shabby red rug. Did neither of their Departments keep any track of their employees?
“We should talk,” Potter was saying. “About -” he nodded significantly towards the cloak. Then his eyes flicked towards Granger and Weasley. “Later.”
Draco nodded, faster than he meant to. “Absolutely, Potter,” he managed. Sounding far too eager, bugger it all. “Later.”
Potter shot him a glance as he turned away. “It does make you look like someone in one of those Singer Sargent paintings, you know,” he said. “The cloak. It would have been a pity to lose it.”
Draco gaped at him.
"No comment as to whether I meant one of the little girls in frilly dresses, of course," said Potter. He turned back towards the pair on the hearthrug, his mind apparently back on the case.
Draco stared after him, any chance of concentration shattered. He was fairly sure that his face was bright red, but he couldn’t seem to bring himself to look away. Potter was sitting with his back to him, head down. He was talking about the differences between the families who’d lost portraits.
“Are you all right, mate?” Weasley asked.
Potter’s back shrugged. “I just want to get this case settled,” he said, his voice level. “Now, about the possibility of some kind of curse -”.
By the time he could reasonably leave, Draco had not got so much as another unguarded glance out of Potter, and he had an incipient headache.
Not even barging his way along Regent Street under the Muggle Christmas lights, the air smelling of piss and perfume and wet newspaper, or standing under the swoop and whirl of the moving pictures at Piccadilly Circus, could do much to soothe Draco. When he walked through the door of Teddy’s nursery to find Potter perched awkwardly on a sofa, it seemed almost inevitable.
“I’m sure you two have plenty to talk about,” said his mother sweetly, ignoring Draco’s vituperative glare and absenting herself with all speed. “Don’t let Teddy run too wild, now.”
Teddy, his hair still black, was showing no signs whatsoever of running wild. He was sitting in the middle of the train tracks, painting intently and really quite neatly.
“I gave him those paints, Potter,” said Draco smugly. Then he remembered that the last time he’d actually spoken to Potter properly, he’d called him a selfish, hypocritical sick fuck. “I mean,” he said, intelligently. “Um.”
“I’m sorry about last night,” said Potter abruptly. “I should never have asked you what I did. What I think I did. To be honest, I was pretty pissed.”
Draco closed his mouth with some difficulty. “Well,” he said at length, careful to infuse his voice with a suitable degree of magnanimity, “so was I. We both said some unfortunate things.”
Potter nodded vigorously. “Exactly.” To Draco’s amazement, he sounded almost pleading. “Water under the bridge?”
“Never let it be said that I’m not always the first to forgive and forget, Potter,” said Draco loftily.
Potter snorted. “Yeah, that’s definitely the impression I got from our schooldays, Malfoy. Practically a saint in a loincloth, that’s you.”
“I’m glad you see it, Potter,” Draco agreed. At this point, Teddy took it upon himself to ask what a loincloth was, and Potter was overcome by confusion. He actually looked as though he was blushing.
It was a few minutes later, after Draco had finished showing Teddy pictures of chilly-looking saints in one of his mother’s art books, that Potter seemed to take in Teddy’s drawings for the first time.
“That’s a strange house, Teddy,” he said, frowning at the paint-rippled paper.
“It looks fine to me, Potter,” said Draco, a little stung on Teddy’s behalf. “It’s a perfectly nice house.” In fact, it did look rather dour: it was a tall grey house with black railings all around it, like the bars of a cage. Still, it was very neatly drawn for a seven-year-old. “How about some flowers?” he suggested. “Or a dinosaur?” Teddy had always had a particular liking for dinosaurs, he remembered.
Teddy regarded him with withering scorn. “Dinosaurs are for babies,” he pronounced. “This is my friend’s house. I can’t change it around.”
“This would be your invisible friend?” Draco ventured.
Teddy nodded. “You can draw some flowers if you want, Draco,” he said kindly. “But you have to sit over there so you don’t distract us.”
Luckily, Potter was too distracted to notice this overture. “Invisible friend?” he hissed at Draco, making complicated shapes with his eyebrows.
“It’s a perfectly normal part of childhood development!” whispered Draco in return. “Plenty of children have them.”
“Did you?” asked Potter, forgetting to whisper.
“Of course not,” said Draco swiftly. “Not me. Not in the least.” The war had left him perfectly well aware that there were indeed plenty of things which would make him divulge the identity of his childhood imaginary friend to Potter, but he wasn’t about to let it slip without such incentives. “Not that there’s anything wrong with it,” he added. “As I was saying.”
But Potter was staring at Teddy’s neat little painting of the house with railings in front of it and chewing his lip. Behind his glasses, his eyes looked clouded, as if he was staring at something a long way away.
“Potter, I hope you know that you can make your train go twice as fast as the manual says if you soup it up just a little,” Draco said. This was true, and the reason why he had left from his last visit rather covered in coal dust. Still, he couldn’t have said why he was telling Potter about it. Really, it was nothing but free ammunition.
Nevertheless, it did serve to perk Potter up noticeably. Once they’d got the engine zooming round almost too fast for the eye to follow - the secret was to direct a shower of sparks into the engine room as it set off - even Teddy was roused from his artistic efforts, staring round eyed as the miniature Hogwarts Express roared and whistled its way round the track, leaving a trail of stars and steam streaming behind it. He wasn’t even upset when Potter waved his wand a bit too close to the speeding locomotive and got a cut on his thumb for his trouble: in fact, Teddy took what Draco felt was a rather ghoulish pleasure in bandaging and re-bandaging the wound.
Andromeda, when she came to put Teddy to bed, was less impressed. But Draco, thinking of Potter’s rapt face as he watched the little red engine, felt as though, on balance, it had been worth it.
The next day, however, saw two new murdered portraits and no sign of Miss Darlington.
“Elise has never been gone for so long before,” said Potter, staring at her note.
“As a matter of fact, she has,” said Draco. “You could hardly expect her to stick around down here the whole time. But it’s not like her to go off in the middle of an investigation.” He peered into her painting, as if there might be some hidden clue amongst the scatter of paint-stains on the card table; hiding behind the delicately curved legs of the Queen Anne chair. After all, it had worked for Granger, with the blood-daubed Dark Mark. But there was nothing out of place except scuffs and blobs of paint.
“I suppose she could have gone back to Hogwarts,” said Potter tentatively. “We could go and check.”
“You could go and check, you mean. I’m not going back there unless I have to,” said Draco fervently.
Potter stared at him like a lost sheep. “Really?”
“I very much doubt Miss Darlington is going to be found very easily, Auror Potter,” said a crisp voice from her picture frame. Mrs Aurelia Owen was sitting in Miss Darlington’s chair, picking at the paint stains on the table.
“What on earth do you mean?” Draco asked. “If you’re here to tell us that she’s - that she’s the latest victim, then you’re acting in very poor taste.”
Mrs Owen sighed. “Keep your knickers on, Mr Malfoy,” she said. “I told you that the Academy has been looking into this. You know that the wounds on our victims” - she jerked her head towards the canvases on the floor - “are remarkable because they stick around. Everything else in paintings reverts to form, sooner or later. Food; clothes; gaping wounds: the lot of it. For instance.” She tapped her fingers against the notebook on Miss Darlington’s table, which was back in place with its attendant glass of water and set of brushes as if it had never been gone. “Can you see the problem in this picture?” she said. It was almost a statement.
“It’s the paint,” said Draco slowly. “The paint stains. They haven’t gone.”
Mrs Owen gave him a rather ironical clap. “Exactly. It’s not something that we’re keen on talking about - I had to dig around to discover it - but it turns out that the only thing that can change things for good within a painting is more paint. Makes sense, right?”
“Not really,” said Potter. “You don’t mean that all those people just sat still while Elise Darlington painted giant bloody wounds onto them?”
“Or she could just have painted herself a knife,” said Mrs Owen. “Believe me, that would work too.”
“I don’t suppose you can offer us any idea as to why Miss Darlington might have wandered off on a murder spree, Mrs Owen?” asked Draco.
“Or how she could have reached all those paintings?” asked Potter. “Are you sure you’re not just trying to pin something on her because she taught Draco outside your precious Academy?”
“As far as I can tell,” said Mrs Owen stiffly, “she taught Mr Malfoy bugger all. Except how to punch holes in his memory and make his house look like the inside of Bedlam. Don’t think we haven’t been keeping an eye on you, Mr Malfoy.”
“I thought the memory thing up myself, I’ll have you know,” said Draco. But she was already gone.
“What did she mean about your house?” asked Potter.
“Actually,” said Draco, “it’s a flat. It’s practically a hovel, Potter. It’s terrible.”
Potter, suitably distracted, narrowed his eyes. “For fuck’s sake, Malfoy. Don’t you live in a dockland warehouse? I know Gripechant Dock may not have quite caught up with the rest of Muggle Southbank, but hundreds and thousands of people would kill for that kind of London real estate. Literally!”
“We Malfoys are used to finer things,” said Draco airily. This sally had such a remarkable effect on Potter, who more or less refused to speak to him for the rest of the afternoon, that he almost managed to forget about the absent Miss Darlington and her apparently dangerous paint set. Every so often, however, he would catch sight of the empty portrait out of the corner of his eye, of the smears and dabs of paint, pink and green and red and yellow, Crimson Lake and Prussian Blue, that she’d left behind her, lying across the genteel little scene like long-shed dragon-scales.
To say that Draco was shocked when Potter turned up at the door of his flat that evening would be an understatement. Potter had been sufficiently repulsed by Draco’s cavalier response to the London property market that he’d hardly managed to tell Draco that there was no sign of Miss Darlington at Hogwarts, nor of any unusual activity in the houses where the two newly dead portraits had once hung.
Draco had walked home along South Bank under a greenish sky full of scudding clouds, a dry wind sending leaves licking round his feet. The tide had been out, leaving long slick tongues of mud lining the Thames, pierced at intervals by the blackened stumps of old pilings. Remember, let the charm guide your brush. Don’t let your thoughts get in the way, he had heard Miss Darlington saying. Painting is just like magic. At the time, filled with a horrible scrabbling kind of anger, a kind of fear new to him since the war ended, in which the worst thing was not that there might be no future but that there might be a great deal of it, years and years bunched up on great fatty haunches, lying in wait, at the time he had thought that her polite little aphorisms meant nothing at all. He had bent his head and stuck at it and got better at setting the charms, better even at drawing. And she had watched it all with a small smile on her face.
Of course, he’d feel pretty bad if she was lying all this while in some other picture with her throat cut open, he’d realised soon enough, and wrenched his thoughts around. After all, didn’t Miss Darlington have plenty of reason to be grateful to the Malfoys?
Even during the war, they had kept her as safe as they could. Most of the Manor’s portraits had vanished into the depths of their canvases, or followed the Dark Lord around with gleaming eyes and the odd outburst of polite applause. Miss Darlington, however, had sat quietly at her sketchbook, and said nothing even when some of the more uncouth new arrivals had leered - and worse - at her. After that, Draco and his mother had moved her out of the Long Gallery and into a forgotten corner of the attics. Draco had spent as much time there as he could himself, when he was not at school: perched on a battered trunk in air thick with old preservation spells, surrounded by broken clocks and chairs with missing seats, and in one corner the great stranded-jellyfish bulk of a superannuated chandelier, its crystals furred by dust.
It had reminded him, of course, of the Room of Hidden Things, but he had rather felt that he deserved the memory. Miss Darlington had been propped up against a dented cauldron, painting almost frantically in her sketchbook. But she had looked up with that little smile whenever Draco had come up, sick and shaky from whatever unpleasant task he had been made to perform, and had even suggested that he start drawing as well, to take his mind off things. Sometimes she had even listened while he talked, fast and reckless, the words spilling out of his throat like bile, about the things they had been making him do. She had been smiling then, as well. But they had kept her safe.
It was in the attic that he had first thought about painting with memories. He’d wanted to get what he’d done downstairs away from him, wanted to tip it out of his head. He hadn’t ever really managed: drawing the people he'd been forced to torture made him sick. Drawing them with his memories in the ink had been even worse: the little figures had screamed at him and made other terrible noises, and when they faded the picture had still been there, and the knowledge. The memories he couldn’t see had grown bigger, even, once they were outside him, like the shadow of something stooping close to a candle-flame. Huge and secret and misshapen. He’d been ready to give it up altogether before Greg had been murdered.
In the attic, though, Miss Darlington had smiled at him and said it was an innovative idea; that she did so like it when clever young men were clever in front of her. So flattering, she’d said.
They had even sent her off for repairs, at considerable expense, when the Ministry was coming for the Manor. Wizards and witches in pin-striped robes had been strutting through the corridors, tutting over the Dark Arts residue and pricing up furniture, when Miss Darlington had complained of an aching in her paint. Draco and his mother had parcelled her up and sent her off while Lucius had stood in the background, rubbing one hand over the other again and again, thinking, if they had but known it, thoughts of fire. As it turned out, they had saved her again - or at least, Draco corrected himself, saved the portrait from the Manor. Apparently she could have escaped to Hogwarts all along.
Draco turned into the dank and echoing archway whose illusionary bricked-up end separated Gripechant Dock from Muggle London, and snorted to himself. Miss Darlington had, after all, acted as an exemplary Slytherin. She’d always had a way out planned - she’d even helped train Draco up for the job that had got her a place on the walls of the Ministry. And to think that he’d always felt that she wasn’t really a Malfoy! He could, he reflected, stand to learn things from her beyond painting techniques. Considerably cheered, he nodded at the stuffed aardvark in Mrs Toure’s shop window, grinned when it nodded solemnly back, and took the steps to his flat two at a time. He was feeling rather like getting some painting done.
Draco was standing in front of the unfinished portrait of his father, in fact, admiring how precisely he had caught the embroidery on Lucius Malfoy’s favourite set of robes, how he’d made the silver clasps catch the firelight just so, and wondering whether he could bring himself to start on the face, when Potter knocked at the door.
Potter was holding up a carrier bag of what looked like Muggle takeaway, looking apologetic. “The nice apothecary downstairs told me which door it was,” he said. “I wanted to see your crazy-person flat, Malfoy. I brought dosas?”
Draco’s first impulse was to shove Potter out of his doorway, and possibly all the way down the wooden stairs and into the low and turgid waters of Gripechant Dock. But of course, those would be the actions of a completely crazy person, which would only prove Potter right. He reluctantly stepped back and waved Potter in through the door. “Well,” he said ungraciously, “since you came all this way. You’d better come in.”
Potter stepped through Draco’s front door. Then he stopped dead, took his glasses off, looked around, and put them on again.
Draco’s first thought was that Potter without his glasses looked rather young, almost vulnerable. His second thought was that the last time Potter had been to Malfoy Manor, he had almost died and one of his best friends had been tortured quite badly by Draco’s crazy aunt. “We can go and eat somewhere else,” he said quickly. “Or you can go, that is. I’m not crazy,” he added. “This is just a memorial. Of sorts.”
Potter was turning around, staring. “Is it like this all over?” he asked.
“More or less.” Draco felt a tic coming on, up in his cheek. “Really, Potter, even I can see that you might not want - that this is probably more than you bargained for. You can leave, honestly.”
“It’s fine, Malfoy,” said Potter. He was craning his neck to see the ceiling, where Draco had painted the chandelier lit up like a Christmas tree. “Well, not fine, exactly. But it’s actually sort of incredible. Where’s your kitchen?”
For the next ten minutes, Draco watched in growing bafflement as Potter laid out cartons of sambar and chutney on his wobbly kitchen table. He had had very few memories of the kitchens at the Manor - almost none, in fact - so the walls of his kitchen were mostly painted with a view of the rose garden: great nodding falls of pink and white growing against worn red brick walls. Rose-crowded archways showed long grassy avenues, lined with neatly clipped topiary creatures, nodding griffins and undulating serpents, narrowing into gently moving shades of deeper green. Every so often, a white peacock would strut along the top of the wall, bending slightly as it walked over the edges of Draco’s kitchen cupboards.
“This is pretty amazing, Malfoy,” said Potter. “How do you get the perspective right over all the corners and things?”
Draco sniffed. “It’s called magic, Potter,” he said, spooning himself out some sambar.
“I must admit,” said Potter, “I can’t wait to see if you painted the bathroom.”
“Of course I did, Potter,” said Draco, a little puzzled. “Like my own bathroom at the Manor, as a matter of fact.”
“Your own bathroom,” Potter repeated, half-smiling. He stared after a parading peacock for a moment, and shook his head. “I like the light.”
“It’s late afternoon,” said Draco. “The Manor always looked at its best then.”
"It kind of reminds me of Hogwarts."
"Well, to each their own. I will insist that there were far fewer midges."
"And more peacocks."
"Potter, peacocks are noble birds. Even if they do sound like banshees."
“And these are memories, aren’t they,” said Potter softly. “All of them. Fucking hell, Draco. It’s like being inside your brain.”
Draco didn’t say anything.
Potter coughed. “Was it really like this?” he asked. “All ... warm and shiny?”
“Yes, Potter,” said Draco. “It was like this every single day.”
“I see,” said Potter. “Of course it was.” He swallowed down a large chunk of dosa and stared unnervingly at Draco. “You know,” he said, “I’ve been meaning to say that I remember loads of stuff about Goyle from school. Well, not loads of stuff. And it’s mostly him being sort of horrible? But I do remember some things. I could put it in a Pensieve for you, if you’d like.”
Draco stared at him. Potter looked entirely serious. “You do remember what Gregory was like, Potter?” he asked. “Obviously I’m not precisely clear on the subject myself nowadays, but he once got confused and tried to cast the Cruciatus Curse at me even when he was a sketch.”
Potter shrugged. “You used up most of your own memories of him, though, didn’t you. And he was your friend. It doesn’t really seem fair.” His face brightened. “Hell, I even Polyjuiced into him in second year. You nearly found us out when I mentioned being able to read.” Potter sighed nostalgically. “Good times.”
“You Polyjuiced yourself into Gregory Goyle? In Second Year?”
“Er,” said Potter. “Well. I forgot you didn’t exactly know about that.”
Draco shook his head. “I don’t know why I’m even surprised, Potter. I suppose Granger brewed the potion?”
Potter grinned and began to tell a rather involved story about stealing ingredients. About stealing ingredients from Snape’s private stores. Really, it was a wonder any of his lot had survived school at all.
Fortunately, Potter seemed to have forgotten about his Pensieve offer. One thing Draco did remember about Greg was that he hadn't actually liked Draco, though he’d been willing to have a drink with him every so often. Draco knew this because Greg had told him. ‘No offence, Draco,’ he’d said, ‘but you turned out to be a wimp in the end. Everybody said so.’ Draco had been unable to disagree. He’d even kept the memory.
“Do you think that something that’s only really a sort of memory of a person needs protecting? Or at least, not torturing?” asked Potter later. “Or not even a memory. Just a kind of splinter of a person. If it couldn’t do anything to hurt anyone.”
“Are you still talking about paintings?” asked Draco. “I mean, a splinter isn’t much of anything. Much less a person. And to be honest, Potter, I'm hardly the person to ask about either of those things.”
Potter had shaken his head. But he hadn’t told Draco what he had been talking about.
After a while, Draco got up to find some beer, and Potter spilt some coconut chutney down his front. They began to talk over the Montfort case and ended up arguing about Quidditch, using half-empty tubs and cartons to illustrate particularly complex moves. Draco even showed Potter his graffiti spell, sending little lines of ‘POTTER SUCKS’ dancing across the table and over the takeaway containers. Potter got the hang of it quite quickly, and sent ‘MALFOY SUCKS’ snaking away over the table in a messy scrawl.
“Honestly, Potter,” Draco told him. “You have no imagination.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Potter. He sent a row of crudely-drawn dicks bobbing away under his first line of graffiti, snorting with laughter at the look on Draco’s face. “You did ask for it, Malfoy.”
At some point, Potter rubbed his jaw, his fingertips rasping against stubble. “I really should shave,” he said. “This can’t look very professional.”
Draco’s eyes followed his thumb as it ran over the dark bristles, back and forth. “You do know how to shave the magical way, right?”
Potter shrugged. “Ron tried to teach me, but I never really got the hang of it. Me and Dean always used to use normal razors.”
Dean Thomas. Draco swallowed down a surge of envy - Thomas had been accepted by the Academy straight out of Hogwarts, no questions asked - and leaned forwards. “It’s not that difficult,” he said. “I could show you right now.” He pulled out his wand.
Potter swallowed visibly. “Well,” he said. “If you want.”
Draco, feeling unaccountably nervous, muttered his usual shaving spell. “The trick is to keep the strokes even,” he said, dragging his chair round so that he was sitting in front of Potter. “This spell can draw blood if you’re not careful, so do try not to move too much.”
“How reassuring,” said Potter dryly.
“Well,” said Draco, “I try. We can’t all be the pride of the Auror Department.”
Potter gave a bark of laughter. “Yeah, Malfoy,” he said. “That’s why they’re so happy I spend half my time down in the Sketch Department. Pride and joy of the Aurors, that’s me.”
He sounded amused, Draco realised. Not bitter in the slightest. He must also, of course, be mistaken. Potter’s name alone was worth great deal. “As I said, Potter,” he said. He put his free hand on Potter’s shoulder. “Hold still.”
He began to drag his wand down Potter’s rather angular jaw, keeping it an inch or so above the stubble. The dark bristles vanished as it went, leaving a sharp-edged swathe of pale skin. Goosebumps rose on Potter’s flesh. The back of Draco’s neck prickled, his own skin feeling tight and shivery. He could see the pulse beating in Potter’s neck, right under the skin. So close.
Potter wriggled slightly. “It tickles,” he said.
“I can stop,” said Draco. Up close, Potter didn’t look particularly heroic. He had a thin face with sticking-out cheekbones and those sharp green eyes behind squarish spectacles, topped off with his ridiculous hair. He looked, Draco realised, beautiful.
“No,” said Potter. “Carry on.” He was looking closely at Draco; almost staring. His mouth was lifted in a kind of smile.
Potter had just as good a view of his own face, of course. Pale and Malfoyish. Distinguished, as Mother put it. Draco sniffed and set himself to shaving Potter in neat, broad strokes, following the grain of the hair around his red lips, over the curve of his jaw, skimming over the blue-white shadows of his throat. Potter swallowed again, and Draco lifted his wand without missing a beat, keeping the movement going like a dance. In the river-cold air of the kitchen, he could feel the heat radiating from Potter’s skin, warm and untouched beneath his wand.
It was like cleaning the varnish off an old painting, or wiping away dust. Absorbing. Draco realised that his mouth was dry, and that there was no more stubble left to shave.
Potter leaned towards him, raising one hand as if to cup his face.
“There, finished!” Draco shoved himself backwards, his chair squeaking across the floor. Potter had said he was gay, hadn’t he. And he knew about Draco, of course: somehow everyone did. But really, Potter couldn’t have been trying to snog him; the very idea was absurd. He was very conscious, suddenly, of the halls of the Manor, stretching through his flat like veins or nerves, running with memories.
Potter had leaned back in his chair and was feeling his jaw ruefully, smiling a little. “It is pretty smooth,” he admitted. “Not bad, Malfoy.”
Draco tried to raise an eyebrow. He knew from long and dispiriting experience with mirrors, which tended to end up laughing in his face, that he hadn’t quite got the trick of it. Still, if ever an occasion called for a delicately lifted eyebrow, it was this one.
“Are you all right, Malfoy?” Potter asked. “You look like you’ve got a tic.”
Draco felt himself beginning to flush. “Just considering my stunning restraint, Potter,” he said hastily. “I mean, I finally had the chance to slash you up, and I didn’t take it. I really have grown as a person!”
Potter’s face went still for a moment. “I’m sorry, Malfoy,” he said. “For the Sectumsempra. Really sorry. You know that, right?”
“Merlin, Potter. If we’re going to start apologising for vile and silly shit we did as teenagers, I’m going to be here rather longer than you are.” Draco looked over at the roses painted on the wall, their petals catching and half-holding the light. In reality, they had smelled dizzyingly rich and sweet, heady as wine.
Potter was still looking stupidly unhappy. “I never knew,” he said. “Did it leave a scar?”
“Did being ripped open like a spatchcocked chicken leave a scar? Honestly, Potter. You do remember that I was trying to Crucio you at the time?”
Potter shrugged. “Snape said it mightn’t, that’s all. Something about Dittany.”
Draco shrugged and pulled down the high collar of his robe. “Didn’t take.”
Potter’s face, as he stared at the tip of the ropey white scar, was gratifyingly pale. Draco had imagined this moment, as it happened, rather frequently. Often these scenarios ended with Potter begging his forgiveness while simultaneously attempting to cast the spell again, so that Draco could disarm him with a magisterial slash of his wand and magnanimously offer to forgive and forget even this latest transgression. Potter would owe him forever, and maybe he would kneel down...
Now, though, Potter was leaning forward avidly, his eyes on the scar. “Can I touch it?” he asked. He was already reaching forwards, his lips slightly parted. He looked almost proprietorial.
Draco opened the front of his robe, undoing the long row of little round buttons with a flick of his wand. “Feel free, I suppose,” he said.
Potter blushed, heavily and unmistakably. “You don’t wear anything under your robe, Malfoy?” he said, a little squeakily. “Really?”
“I am wearing trousers,” said Draco, somewhat affronted. “I’m not completely antediluvian. And if I used an undershirt instead of a charm it would spoil the line of the robes, even you should be able to see that. Merlin, Potter. Anyone would think you’d never seen a bloke’s chest before. I thought you were supposed to be gay?”
“I am, aren’t I,” said Potter. He reached forwards and thumbed Draco’s nipple, almost thoughtfully. As if he was testing something.
Draco gritted his teeth against a sudden rush of blood to his cock. Potter must be able to see it, thickening unmistakeably in his trousers, pressing against the seam. This, he thought distantly, explained quite a lot. Potter was gay and looking for a male body to fuck. Although that didn’t explain, so much, the offer of the Pensieve, did it? Or Potter just sitting there, with Draco’s wand to his throat, smiling?
Potter was still touching him, staring as his nipples hardened ridiculously, tightening up into stiff little peaks. It was the cold air. It was Potter.
Draco wetted his lips. “You really are desperate, aren’t you, Potter,” he said, as softly as he could. He caught Potter’s hand against his chest, bony and hot against the skin. The back of Potter's hand was scribbled with old scarring; his wrist furred with dark hair. He could probably feel Draco's heart beating, faster and faster.
Draco leaned forwards, crushing Potter's hand between them, and kissed him. Potter's fingers scrabbled at his chest, and his mouth opened up under Draco's, warm and eager and wet. The skin around it was very smooth, Draco found, kissing sideways, biting at Potter’s jaw. He could leave a mark, he thought, sucking. Then at least everyone would know. Potter would know.
“I suppose I am,” said Potter. “I’ve been watching you for so long, Malfoy,” he said.
Or was it ‘wanting’?
Draco stood up, grabbing at Potter, his chair falling backwards. Potter had been watching, not wanting, of course. It was the best someone like him could hope for.
Potter had come up with him and was running his hands over Draco’s body, rubbing at the scar.
"For fucking ages, Malfoy."
“I went to look at the Muggle house where you grew up, Potter,” said Draco. He kept his voice as light as he could, though there was a roaring in his ears like a fire.
Potter seemed to take a moment to take in what he’d said. He was still feeling at the scar, touching Draco’s chest as if he wanted to open it up like a present, gentle and inquisitive and consuming. Then his gaze snapped up, and he shoved Draco back until his shoulders hit the wall of the kitchen. Roses nodded behind his head, blush-pink, delicate and untouchable. Potter’s face was bright red. “You went into their house?” he said, looking something between furious and terrified.
Potter hadn’t even taken out his wand. He was just holding onto Draco’s shoulders, almost as if he himself was about to fall.
“I didn’t go in,” said Draco, his words tumbling over each other. “I didn’t see anybody. I just looked. Merlin, Potter, you really did grow up in a dismal little neighbourhood. Pure suburbia. And don’t think I’m saying that just because they’re Muggles! I’m saying it because all the houses were the same except for the bird feeders and the tiny statues. And I ate a prawn cocktail sandwich from the supermarket and it was the most revolting thing I have ever let past my lips, let me tell you.” He stopped, panting.
“Dudley used to have those sandwiches,” Potter said slowly, his grip loosening. “My cousin. He’d buy whole bagfuls of snacks from that supermarket.”
Draco reached up to knock Potter’s hands away, but ended up holding on to his wrists instead. “We could go there right now,” he found himself saying, “and buy you ten of those horrible sandwiches, Potter. If you really want. I mean, we all have our fetishes.”
Potter bowed his head and began to laugh: wheezy, heaving gouts of laughter that shook his whole body. “Thanks, Malfoy,” he said at length. “I think. But it’s probably closed at the moment, you know. Muggle shops don’t really have to cater to the vampire population.”
“And Hags,” said Draco absently. He was still holding on to Potter’s wrists. “They prefer to do their shopping at night, too.”
“And Hags.” Potter kept his head lowered. “You know it isn’t all true,” he said. “The stuff Skeeter put in her book.”
“I never thought it was, Potter,” said Draco haughtily. “I’m just nosy.”
Potter gave another little shake of laughter. “Yeah, it was pretty much creepy stalker behaviour, Malfoy. Between that and your flat, you’re really messed up, you know that?”
“I never even told you my address, Potter,” said Draco. “If we’re mentioning stalker-ish tendencies.”
“You never did, did you,” said Potter. He pulled one hand out of Draco’s grip and began to trace one branch of the scar which ran down his chest, jagged as a lightning strike, his finger pausing to draw a line round Draco’s nipple, slow and careful. “It was in your file.”
Draco shuddered. He could hardly feel anything through the knotted scar tissue: only a dull kind of pressure. Perhaps it was how portraits felt when they pressed up against the front of their paintings, almost in the real world. Potter’s thigh, he realised, was pressed in between his legs. Draco was rubbing himself against it in little involuntary jerks, his hips shoving themselves forwards again and again.
“Fuck,” said Potter hoarsely, looking down. He began to fumble at the front of Draco’s trousers with his free hand.
Draco closed his eyes and bit at Potter’s neck, at the long stretch of strong tendon under the jaw, the skin salty under his tongue. Potter’s thick, soft hair was pressing against his face, making green-red starbursts spark behind his eyelids, and Draco was bringing up the blood under the skin, between his teeth, sucking it up in a warm red bloom, neat as a brush-stroke. He could feel it.
Then Potter got Draco’s trousers open and partly shoved down, and his hand on Draco’s cock. Draco cracked his eyes open and looked down between their bodies. There was the tip of his cock with Potter’s hand fisted around it, already wet. He’d probably left a damp patch on his trousers.
“Come on, then, Potter,” he said, his voice ragged.
He licked at the curve of Potter’s jaw, and got the front of Potter’s Muggle trousers open and shoved Potter’s boxers down enough to get at Potter’s half-hard cock, doing it mostly by feel, their knuckles knocking together. Then Potter was brilliant enough to conjure lube, and everything got easier and faster, Potter’s cock hardening in his hand.
Potter was cupping his bollocks, just weighing them, stroking them. He was making tiny gasps, though, little cut-off, strangled sounds. Or someone was, anyway.
Potter was pressed up so close that the metal buttons of his jacket were pressing tiny flairs of pain into Draco’s chest, so that Draco could feel their hands bumping together, could feel Potter’s fist wet with his own pre-come.
“Malfoy, let me -” Potter was muttering, trying to get a better grip on his cock. “Fuck,” he said again, muffled.
“I am letting you, Potter,” said Draco into his neck. He gave Potter another bite, nipping the skin with his teeth.
“Fuck you, Malfoy,” said Potter, hoarsely but with feeling. He tightened his grip. “So fucking -”
Draco’s head hit the wall. He could feel the thick vein on the underside of Potter’s cock, and Potter’s balls against his knuckles. He swallowed heavily and bit the inside of his own mouth. “So fucking what, Potter?” he managed. He felt his balls drawing up, his joints going shaky and loose. Potter was practically holding him up.
“Fucking Malfoy,” said Potter intelligently, pushing Draco back against the wall.
Potter’s glasses were pressing into the side of Draco’s face, and Potter’s cock was hot and smooth in his fist. He reached around with his other hand and got a grip on Potter’s soft arse, to pull him closer, and Potter’s thumb came up over the top of his cock, pressing down; Potter’s strong thigh pushed in further between Draco’s legs, and he came, hard and sudden, opening his eyes as he did so, but for a moment not seeing the Manor around him. Not seeing anything at all.
When he blinked the room back into focus, Potter had taken his own cock in hand and was coming in thick white streaks across Draco’s stomach. Across his scars. As Draco watched, feeling the world coming back into place around him, suddenly conscious of how his robe was pushed down to his elbows and his trousers gaping open ridiculously, sweat clammy on his skin, Potter reached forwards, his face intent, and dragged his fingers through his own come, fingers skipping across the ridges of scar tissue. He was rubbing it into Draco’s skin.
“Are you serious, Potter?” Draco demanded. He tried to pull himself upright and failed. “Really?”
Potter grinned unrepentantly. “You more or less took a chunk out of my neck, Malfoy,” he said cheerfully. “I thought you said wouldn’t break the skin?”
“I didn’t, Potter,” said Draco indignantly. “Lovebites are perfectly usual and look rather good on you.” He shrugged his robe half-way back onto his shoulders.
“Merlin, Malfoy,” said Potter. “Was that a compliment?”
“I’m incapacitated,” said Draco. “Obviously you’ve been practising on that goat.”
“I wouldn’t poach on Aberforth’s territory, Malfoy,” said Potter. “I’m not that kind of person.”
Draco shuddered. “Good lord. Thanks for that image, Potter.”
Potter looked thoughtful. “I think that means I win or something, Malfoy,” he said.
Draco rolled his eyes, pulled out his wand, and performed a shaky cleaning charm on himself. Potter could manage for himself, he thought mulishly, tucking his cock away and trying to do up his trousers, before giving it up as a bad job and sinking down to sit on the floor, leaning back against the wall. Everything looked very tall from down here, he thought fuzzily, even Potter, who was pretty short for a national hero.
Potter had managed to make himself look more or less as neat as he ever did, if a little sweatier, when he dropped down to sit beside Draco, casting a cushioning charm on the floor under them both as he did so. He looked, Draco thought, rather smug.
“Well -” he said.
“Honestly, Potter,” said Draco. “Now my kitchen smells of curry and sex.” He raised his wand and summoned them both a beer.
“Well,” said Potter again. “Cheers.” He clinked his bottle against Draco’s, and thankfully started to talk about Quidditch.
Potter seemed pretty happy, though, Draco thought, looking sideways. The marks on his jaw were coming up something lovely, and his green eyes were bright. He was talking with animation and verve - if entirely incorrectly - about the proper usage of the Wronski Feint, waving his bottle in the air, at high risk of slopping beer everywhere. It was, Draco thought, really quite nice.
Stronger words pushed at the edges of his mind, but he pushed them back down - slapped a hasty layer of undercoat over them, so to speak. It was nice seeing Potter like this, that was all. He marshalled his thoughts to correct Potter’s lamentable ideas about Quidditch strategy, and didn’t think about anything that wasn’t here and now and nice, like the taste of beer and the edge of Potter’s smile. The glow of wandlight between them, and how Potter had picked up Draco’s wand, quite naturally, to cast it, before looking rueful and handing it back. How their shoulders were touching as they leaned against the wall.
He didn’t think about convenient male bodies or one-night stands or neat little Muggle houses or Potter asking, quite politely, for a sketch of his dead mother. He didn’t think about any of that at all.
Outside, the November night darkened, and on the walls, the summer shadows lengthened and, eventually, drew back, like river tides.
They cracked the case the very next day.
Potter hadn’t stayed the night: Draco hadn’t even offered. Potter might have said no, after all. Or he might have gone wandering through the flat and found the room with Draco’s half-finished portrait of his father, and the thick bit of overpainting where he’d found himself starting to paint Nagini through a doorway of the Manor. Draco hadn’t exactly felt like explaining either of these things, though Potter would hardly be likely to notice the overpainting, and should understand about the portrait of Lucius if anyone would. Still. On the whole, better safe than sorry, he had thought. Safe as houses.
As it was, Draco had sent Potter off through the Floo when his jaw-cracking yawns became too much to bear, and they had hovered over the fireplace for a minute like fourth-years wondering about a kiss after their first Hogsmeade date. But Potter had looked around, down the golden halls of the Manor, and got an expression on his face that didn’t seem much to do with kissing. Draco had thumped him on the back and seen him off into the Floo.
Afterwards, Draco had wandered through his flat, casting desultory cleaning charms and moving things back into position. The noises of late-night London had filtered in through his window: the odd unearthly shriek from the still-functioning warehouses of Wendel & Weedle, Magical Import and Export, and the faint seesawing cry of a Muggle ambulance. A rubbish barge chugging by, out on the Thames.
In the end, he had found himself kneeling under his father’s unfinished portrait, packing up his scattered painting materials and shrinking them down. He’d take them in to work, he found himself thinking. They might be useful in the investigation. He could always bring them back later.
The next morning, Draco and Potter had picked up their conversation about the relative merits of the Holyhead Harpies (Potter) versus the Falmouth Falcons (Draco) as if they’d never had more than a quick takeaway together. Potter was even wearing a sloppy concealing charm over the marks on his jaw – “Or I’d never hear the end of it from the Auror Department, Malfoy, you can’t even imagine –”
It was then that Draco had told Harry that he should let Teddy see him on a broom.
“You need to instil a bit of hero worship, Potter,” he’d said, unpacking his paints. “Get some awe flowing. I’m pretty sure Captain Marvel can fly without a broom, but you and me in a seeker’s game should still be able to give him a run for his money.”
“Captain who?” Potter had asked, going rather still.
“Captain Marvel,” Draco had said. “Teddy’s invisible friend. A Muggle superhero, apparently. Like Merlin, I think,” he added, in case Potter’s dubiously-benighted childhood had left him ignorant about Muggle comic books.
And that was more or less, in retrospect, when Potter solved the case. The most important bit of it, anyway.
“I’m going to go and check on Teddy,” Potter muttered, swinging his cloak back on.
Draco, baffled and remonstrating, followed. “Teddy’s probably at primary school, or wherever they stash him during the day,” he called out after Potter as he ducked into the Floo. “You’re probably heading straight into a bridge meeting.”
Teddy was at home with a cold, however, and Draco found himself privy to the simultaneously unsettling and ridiculous sight of Potter earnestly interrogating a seven-year-old. The tactics which doubtless worked like a charm on hardened criminals were, however, less successful when it came to Teddy.
“Tell me, Teddy,” Potter said, leaning forwards, “when did you last change the colour of your hair?”
“I don’t know,” said Teddy, squirming out from under Andromeda’s arm into the middle of the sofa.
“Or your eyes? You used to change those around all the time. Think carefully,” said Potter.
Teddy shook his head.
Potter changed tack. “Where did you meet Captain Marvel, Teddy? Could you show me where he lives?” His voice was low and strained, almost throbbing. “It’s really important.”
“It’s a secret,” Teddy said. “Why are you being weird?”
“You have to tell me, Teddy,” said Potter. He was holding his wand out in a white-knuckled hand, Draco realised, only just pointing it away from Teddy. “I need to know right now.”
“Harry,” said Andromeda. “Harry, you’re scaring him.” From either side of Teddy, Narcissa and Andromeda were directing arctic glares at Harry. Teddy’s face was screwed up and reddening like a ripe tomato.
“For fu-fudge’s sake, Potter,” said Draco. “His hair is him copying you, you absolute berk. And I have no idea what this fixation on his imaginary friend involves, but it can’t be healthy.”
“Captain Marvel is a real person,” said Teddy indignantly. “He’s just a bit different from other people, like how I can change my hair and nose and other things around. He lives inside paintings, so sometimes he’s big and sometimes he’s very small. He only has one other friend besides me, so I'm a really important person for him, and my hair is because of him, so that I can look just like him when I grow up. So there. And he lives in a big castle full of silver and gold.”
Potter made a small sound, almost a sob. But his voice, when he spoke to Teddy, was perfectly calm. “And you call him Captain Marvel because that’s part of his name, sort of, isn’t it. Marvel? I know it’s a secret, but it’s all right to tell me if I already know, isn’t it.”
Teddy nodded, mollified. “Because the Riddler is a bad guy.”
“And that’s another bit of his name, isn’t it,” said Potter, his voice almost sing-song. “Tom Marvolo Riddle. He lives in a picture, doesn’t he, Teddy.”
“He lives in all the pictures,” said Teddy reprovingly.
Draco glanced across to his mother. Narcissa’s face was bone-white, and she was resting her gloved hands on top of one another to stop them shaking. He realised, with sudden clarity, that there must be at least five pictures on the walls of the nursery. The seascape over the fireplace, the cheerful bunnies over the little round table, the fairy-tale forest over by the door... Teddy might have been seeing quite a lot of Captain Marvel, he thought to himself.
“But where does he mostly live?” Potter was asking.
Teddy shrugged. “That isn’t a secret,” he said. He fetched one of his paintings from a pile on the floor and showed it to Potter.
“I’ve been there,” Potter said quietly. “It’s Riddle’s orphanage.” He reached out his hand and took the painting.
Potter vanished as soon as he touched it.
Draco, starting forward with his hand outstretched, was left saying stop to empty air. Potter had gone entirely, without even the pop of Apparition, leaving only the painting of the tall house, with its railings all around, floating down to the floor. In one window, Draco saw, Teddy had painted a tiny figure, with spectacles and bright green eyes. He levitated the painting and stared at the miniature Potter. Then, quickly, he reached out and touched it.
“Don’t worry,” said Teddy. “That’s just a door. It’s specially for Harry, so it won’t work for you. But there’s a nicer place inside. Captain Marvel showed me how to draw the runes, and we used the blood from when Harry cut his thumb on the train. The Captain said it was a ‘lucky break’.” He looked up at the adults, his face beginning to crumple as he took in the expressions on their faces. “Captain Marvel can move around in between every painting there is,” he said, “so he can take Harry to all kinds of good places. He just said to draw this place for the door, even if it looks nasty.”
“I’m getting you out of here, sweetie,” said Andromeda. “We’re going to get the hell out of this house, door or no door.” She lifted Teddy up, staggering a little under his weight, and turned to Draco and his mother, her face pale and set. “Come on, Cissy,” she said. “Draco. We need to get out of here.”
“You aren’t listening,” said Teddy from her shoulder. “It’s only a door. We made it for Harry.”
“He’s right, you know,” said Tom Riddle, sitting delicately down amongst picnicking bunny rabbits in the painting above the nursery table. He was rather young and very handsome, with smooth dark hair and glittering eyes. There had been just as many books about him as there had about Potter, after the end of the war: Draco recognised him at once. From her gasp, so did his mother.
“I had planned to cultivate our little Metamorphmagus here - to mould him into a suitable vessel, if you will - but in the end, I went for the short-term gratification. I’ve always had a fondness for trophies, you know. For taking treasures.”
Riddle paused and lifted a pastel-coloured teacup to his lips, smiling over it slightly as Andromeda, swearing inventively under her breath, hefted Teddy and left. The nursery door banged shut behind her.
“See you soon,” Riddle called after them, raising the teacup in salute. He turned back to Draco and Narcissa, his face sobering. “I’m increasingly convinced, alas, that for those of us born inside the picture-plane, there is no way out. At least it means that Mr Potter and I will have plenty of time together. From what I hear about his adventures with my older self, we have a lot to talk about.” Riddle brushed down his neat school uniform and stood up. “I really owe you quite the debt of gratitude, Draco,” he said. “We could never have done it without you. Oh, I suppose I would have got Potter’s attention sooner or later, and it was easy enough to get a hold on dear Teddy - such a lonely little boy, with, I hate to say it, something of a hero complex - but your little Sketch Department made it all so very personal. Potter seems really rather smitten, if our Miss Darlington is to be believed. And goodness knows she’s had to spend hours humouring the pair of you. Potter talked to her about you quite a lot, apparently. She said it was nauseating. I wonder if he’ll be talking to me like that, by the end? Or about me, even?” He smiled smugly at Draco, favoured him with a little bow, and walked out of the picture.
Draco and Narcissa looked at each other. “I’m getting you to the Aurors,” said Draco.
His mother nodded swiftly. Ordinarily, nothing would have induced her to darken the doors of the Ministry, but now she moved without hesitation to the Floo.
“Wait,” said Draco, as she picked up the Floo powder. “Go to the Sketch Department first.”
Narcissa looked at him narrowly, but nodded. The flames turned green.
Back in the Sketch Department - how long ago had he and Potter left it? Ten minutes? Twenty? - Draco scooped his half-unpacked painting materials off his table and into a bag, swearing under his breath. If he hadn’t been such a coward, Potter might still have been in his bed. What kind of idiot let Harry Potter go with nothing more than an awkward handjob to remember him by? They could have had a morning quickie and been late for work, and Potter could have borrowed Draco’s clothes and complained about wearing robes.
“Draco,” said Narcissa from near the door, her voice sharp.
Draco looked up.
“I see you’ve met dear Tom,” said Elise Darlington, back in her usual seat in her paint-splattered portrait.
She had painted herself a new dress, Draco saw. It looked like deep blue silk. She’d even taken her hair out of its ringlets and tied it back away from her face. Useful for painting, probably. He’d never really thought about it, but the old style must have been rather annoying.
“He managed to make off with Mr Potter, even, by the looks of things,” Miss Darlington was saying. “I must admit, I did have my doubts about that. It was the purest luck that dear Miss Granger brought that exceedingly useful Dark Arts book down to the Department. Luckier still that you messy boys left it open in front of my frame, of course.”
She sighed. “Rune-work and blood magic are tricky things at the best of times, let alone when you’re trying to get a seven-year-old to do the physical honours. It drained the poor child quite a bit, you know. Still, Tom was adamant, and I do like to give him what he wants. He’s so new, you see, and - between ourselves - just the tiniest bit unstable. Besides,” she said to Narcissa, “it’s only natural for a mother to want to spoil her only son, isn’t it?” She turned to Draco. “And you understand the feelings of an artist for her creation, don’t you, my dear? Not that you’re much of one yourself, of course.”
Draco stumbled backwards to stand next to his mother, feeling sick. The door swayed behind him, and he felt for a moment as if he might fall down and never get up. A coward. A stupid, blind coward. He fumbled for his wand.
“Draco, I suggest we stop listening to this ridiculous painting and find the Aurors,” said Narcissa tightly. “They will not take kindly to any delay in informing them of Mr Potter’s fate.”
“Wait just a moment, Mother,” said Draco. “Please.” He turned to Miss Darlington, trying to keep his voice steady. “Where is Potter?” he asked. “What has Riddle done with him?”
Miss Darlington stretched her little satin-slippered feet in front of her and shrugged delicately. “Oh, Tom had all sorts of plans,” she said. “If dear Teddy’s picture did manage to draw Mr Potter in - and I assure you, you would have noticed if not; the implosion would have been quite memorable - then Tom could have taken him simply anywhere! Tom can move through any painting,” she said confidingly, “in any building. Though, naturally, he has his favourites. It’s because I painted him, you see.” She tapped her sketch-pad. “On this very table, as a matter of fact. And I think you boys did manage to work out that paintings inside paintings work in very peculiar ways, didn’t you?”
She looked from Draco to Narcissa and clapped her hands girlishly. “Oh, I’ve been waiting for this for so long. Practically centuries. When I could look the last of the Malfoys in the eye and tell them what I’ve done to them. Naturally neither of you really know what it’s like to be a poor relation,” she went on, “so I won’t put myself to the exertion of trying to explain it. Though I suppose it’s a little like being the pea in all those mattresses, with the princess on top.
“They stopped me even being considered by the Academy, you know. The Malfoys. Training me properly wouldn’t have been respectable. They found me a sinecure at Hogwarts instead: teaching little witches how to draw flowers; terribly boring. It meant, though, that I could remember Tom quite well when I needed to draw him. Such a magnetic boy - I knew him rather well when he was at school. He took quite an interest in the portraits. Not like the other children, nasty creatures. He liked me because my Hogwarts frame was only a miniature, so I was used to being small. I used to keep an eye on things for him around the school when he couldn't do it himself, you see - he needed me, even back then."
Miss Darlington trailed off, dreamily, then pulled herself together. “He was quite mad, of course, I saw that at once. But useful too, and very handsome, one must admit. I made a great many sketches. They didn't move at all, to begin with. But I’d already realised that I could do all kinds of things with my paints, and I began to wonder if I could even paint a proper portrait. I’d always wanted to, after all. And I did! My little masterpiece.”
For a moment, she looked mournful, smoothing her silk dress out over her knees. “Tom himself - the living Tom - was quite interested. We performed a few rituals based on portrait-magic: I suspect they were what enabled me to paint him successfully all those years later. Though he lost interest quickly enough after he started scribbling in that diary. But he was right that it would require a sacrifice.” She smiled at Narcissa. “It was easy enough to get into poor old Lucius’ head - even a still picture of Tom would do the trick. His nerves were absolutely shot, as they say.”
Draco’s mother raised her wand. “Sectumsempra,” she said clearly.
Miss Darlington’s portrait ripped open as if a dragon had raked it with its claws.
“Dear me,” said Miss Darlington herself. “Temper, temper.” She prodded at one rip which cut her in half at the waist, and shrugged delicately. “Did you really expect that to have any effect on me?” she asked.
“No,” said Narcissa. “But it relieved my feelings.”
“Your husband wasn’t the sacrifice himself, my dear girl,” said Miss Darlington. “He was merely the physical instrument. Rather like little Teddy. Frankly, I suspect he might have put an end to himself in any case; making sure he saw a few too many paintings of Tom in dark corners just sped the process. Not that I ever liked drawing Tom as he became, I must admit - that horrid snaky nose.”
She bent forward so that her face was distorted by a rip in the canvas, giving her a ghastly, gaping grin. “But when it became apparent that poor Tom had failed, and that the Malfoys were going to endure - well! I was rather fond of some of the other portraits in the Manor. But we all have to make sacrifices to get what we want, don’t we.” And she winked - actually winked - at Draco and his mother.
“You puling little nonentity,” said Narcissa. “You do know that I have no idea who you are?”
“Draco here was almost as mouldable as dear Teddy,” said Miss Darlington smoothly, “though from the inside out rather than vice versa, of course. Such a biddable young man, and really quite ingenious.
“You’re quite right, you know,” she told Draco. “The memory-ink really was your idea. I couldn’t have thought of anything better if I’d tried. You ate holes in your own memories, and you felt so accomplished about it!”
She smiled. “You see, Draco,” she said sweetly, “I really do know how to hold a grudge.”
“And how to provide a lengthy confession, I see,” said Mrs Aurelia Owen, delivering a swift uppercut to Miss Darlington’s jaw from the edge of the portrait. Miss Darlington dropped like a sack of potatoes. “Thanks for calling me, Mr Malfoy,” she said gruffly to Draco. “There may be hope for you yet.”
“Oh,” said Draco, who had been sending his graffiti spell - ‘AURELIA OWEN SKETCH DEPARTMENT PORTRAIT POTTER EMERGENCY’ - out through the crack in the door for the past five minutes. By now, he imagined, it must have snaked its way across half the walls in the Ministry. “Thank you.” He sounded quite calm, he noticed. Quite calm and sensible.
His mother put her hand on his arm. “And what of Mr Potter?” she asked. “And Mr - Mr Riddle?”
“We’re looking for Mr Potter,” said Mrs Owen. “And to be honest, if we find one, we’ll probably find them both.” She bent and heaved up Elise Darlington’s slumped form, grunting as she slung her over her shoulder. “They’re going to need both of you upstairs in the Auror Department,” she said. “The Academy will deal with this one.”
“My sister and nephew may need some assistance,” said Narcissa as she turned towards the Floo. “I believe I have some idea where they are likely to have sought refuge.”
“Tell it to the Aurors, Mrs Malfoy,” called out Mrs Owen, her voice receding. “You really need boots on the ground for that sort of thing.”
“I suppose so,” said Narcissa, almost to herself. “But I have no intention of waiting for them to get down to the Ministry cellarage.” She took a pinch of Floo powder from the pot on the mantelpiece, and held it ready. “Are you well, Draco?”
“I’ll manage, Mummy,” said Draco stiffly. “I mean to say, Mother.”
Narcissa looked at him. “Oh, Draco,” she said, lifting one silk-gloved hand to touch his cheek. “Be careful.” Then she threw the glittering powder into the fire. “Atrium, Ministry of Magic,” she said clearly, and ducked into the flames.
Draco, left standing alone in the Sketch Department, picked up his bag of painting equipment and thought, for a moment, about Teddy’s drawing. Teddy’s door. Granger’s esoteric blood magic, the way she’d discovered for a person to get into a painting.
The enormous dragon hide volume was still resting on the table where they’d left it, right in front of Miss Darlington’s empty frame. He’d been thinking of it, he realised, ever since he’d failed to follow Potter into Teddy’s painting. A bit of blood magic and a strong connection to the subject matter, said Granger’s voice in his head, full of the thrill of intellectual discovery.
The tall dull house in Teddy’s painting was nowhere he recognised, but it didn’t really matter. As Teddy had said, Tom Riddle preferred to live in a palace made of silver and gold. And if he meant a different palace - well, Draco would just have to take his chances.
Draco sucked in a breath through his teeth and reached for the Floo powder. “Flat five,” he said into the fire. “Gripechant Dock.”
A while later, Draco stepped out across the parquet floor of Malfoy Manor, feeling his father’s best robes swaying thickly round his feet. It had been quickest, after all, to fill in his own face in the blank oval. Apart from that, the spell needed very little but some blood and the right runes. A child could do it, he reflected bitterly. Teddy evidently had.
Around him, the scents of the Manor - beeswax and roses and freshly-cut grass - locked into place as if they had never been gone. He stopped, breathing it in, hearing the soft chimes and creaks of the Manor all around him. The Manor smelt of vinegar too, he realised, the vinegar his father had insisted the house-elves used on the windows, until their hands were red and swollen, because no spell could manage quite the same effect. The sun came through them in warm lozenges, gilding the floor and catching dust-motes in the air. The house-elves had probably gone off to Hogwarts; he’d never asked.
Draco shook himself and went on, further into the Manor. He had a good idea where he was heading.
Sure enough, Harry was in the kitchen, holding a knife in front of him as best he could. He was a bundle of thick-painted lines, with a face on top like a dinner plate and great green dots for eyes, outlined in heavy black rings. But his voice was the same. “Draco?” he said incredulously. “Your face looks a little ... unfinished.”
“At least I wasn’t literally drawn by a seven-year-old, Harry,” Draco snapped. “We need to get out of here. Now.”
Harry shook his round white head. “How do I know,” he said quietly. “How do I know you’re not something else Elise painted?”
“Well,” said Draco, “I was planning to kiss you dramatically. But you don’t really seem to have lips at the moment, so we might have to postpone that one.” He paused, feeling ridiculous. “I mean, if you wouldn’t mind picking up where we left off.” He was conscious, suddenly, of his father’s long hair, swinging round his face. “Obviously, you’d be a fool to let a prize like me slip, wouldn’t you?”
Potter’s blob of a face regarded him inscrutably for a moment. “I didn’t think we left off at all, Malfoy,” he said, “but, yeah. I mean, no, I wouldn’t mind. That is quite convincing. The kiss thing.”
“Though if you think about it,” said Tom Riddle cheerfully, striding into the kitchen and swinging himself up to sit on the table, “that’s just the sort of thing I might do, as well.”
Draco stumbled back, knocking into Harry. The kitchen, strung together out of Draco’s muddled memories, was a bit sketchy at the edges; prone to slide out of view when you turned your head. But Tom Riddle was beautifully painted and very solid. Practically flesh and blood.
“You know, Tom,” said Harry, “what I was saying earlier -”
“Before you ran away and hid in the kitchen like a house-elf, you mean?”
“Yeah, before that. You are made out of memories, you know. But that just means that you don’t have to be him. I mean, look how he ended up. This little peeled crying thing under a bench in King’s Cross Station. Worse than nothing.”
Draco stared at Potter. What he was saying made very little sense, but he sounded horribly earnest about it. Around them, the house was very silent.
“He’s probably still there,” said Potter. He sounded achingly sad. “He’ll be there forever.”
“So you said, Harry,” said Riddle. “And you left him there like the hero you are. Gosh, I feel ever so inspired to follow your stirring example.”
He lifted a chiding finger and shook it waggishly. “Or not! By now the Ministry should have their hands on my naughty second mother. Poor Miss Darlington should content them for quite a while. They’ll find a way into the Manor eventually, I suppose, but by then we’ll be long gone.”
He turned his handsome smile on Draco. “So kind of you to come along, Mr Malfoy,” he said. “You already have me painted under your skin, don’t you?” He nodded confidingly towards Draco’s left arm. “You should really be thanking me, one Slytherin to another,” Riddle said musingly. “In a way, I pointed you towards your career, didn’t I?”
He looked boyishly pleased with himself.
Riddle couldn’t be more than fifteen, Draco realised. He was wearing school uniform, and probably sitting down so that they couldn’t see how short he was. Draco had been expecting to face the tall white thing that had lived in the Manor, not a posturing teenager.
All of a sudden, most of his fear dropped out of him like water through a sieve, leaving behind nothing but anger.
“Potter’s right,” Draco said abruptly. “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is dead, and you’re nothing but a silly boy trying to live up to an ugly memory. You can’t even paint your own Dark Mark properly. It looks back-to-front from outside the paintings, just so you know.”
His voice had gone high and shrill, and he felt a prickling shudder run down his spine. For some reason, he remembered Ethelred Snodwick, sitting in his fancy velvet smoking jacket with his throat cut. Riddle had done that just to see if he could, he realised. Because he wanted to prove himself. To show what he was made of.
(Finer stuff, said his father, standing in his rich robes in the garden. Malfoys are made of finer stuff, Draco. You must never forget that.)
“Besides,” said Harry. “What are you even planning to do with us? You can’t use magic in here.” Without turning away from Riddle, he stuck out his thick black brush-stroke of an arm. Draco reached out with his father’s hand and held on fiercely.
“Dear Miss Darlington painted me a few toys,” said Riddle. He pulled a long, wickedly sharp knife out from inside his robes and tested the blade on his thumb, wincing. “Never underestimate the ingenuity of a bitter little spinster, boys. I think she had a wee crush on me, you know - my first fan, really. She used to follow me around Hogwarts like a shadow.” He licked a bead of blood off his thumb. “Harry can empathise, I’m sure.”
Draco stepped back.
But Potter, he realised, was trying not to laugh. “Seriously?” he asked. “You do know I went through Auror training, don’t you? Plus, I’m pretty sure that I have about two feet and three stone on you. Possibly more. Teddy's painting doesn't exactly stint on the extremities.”
Riddle shrugged. “You do know that you’ll be trapped here forever, don’t you?” he echoed mockingly. “I’m sure I can think of something to keep us occupied. But as a matter of fact,” he added, “Draco here has already given us the perfect housewarming gift. Why did you think I came here, Harry?”
To Draco’s horror, Riddle slipped into the hissing syllables of Parseltongue. There was a gentle rustling sound from outside in the corridor, like sand pouring endlessly through an enormous hourglass. Like a summer wind through tall trees. Like something very big and very smooth moving itself along a polished floor. It was a sound Draco remembered very well indeed.
Draco watched, paralysed, as the wide green curves of Nagini looped their way through the doorway and around Riddle’s body, the snake’s flat blunt head resting on his shoulder. Riddle was so much smaller than the Dark Lord had been that Nagini looked far larger - large enough to unhinge her jaw and swallow them whole. But then, Draco thought sickly, she’d always been able to do that, hadn’t she? He no longer remembered the sunlit summer days of the Manor, but he remembered the times when the Dark Lord had fed Nagini with pinpoint clarity, sharp as a photograph.
“See?” Riddle was saying cheerfully. “Nagini knows who I am, don’t you, sweetheart.” He scratched the snake under her chin, chuckling to himself. “I’m really very grateful,” he said to Draco. “She’s been good company. I don’t have much in common with other portraits, you see.” He pouted theatrically and dropped a kiss on top of the snake’s great green-scaled head. “But Nagini and I get along like a house on fire – which might be a sensitive subject for you, Draco, I understand? How inconsiderate of me!”
“You painted Nagini into the Manor?” Potter hissed at Draco. Then he hissed something at Nagini - actually hissed. Draco had almost forgotten that Potter could talk in Parseltongue; it sounded strange coming out of his mouth. It sounded dangerous.
“It was a mistake,” said Draco blankly. “I painted over it.”
“Oh, Draco,” said Riddle chirpily. “Once you put something in a painting, it never really comes out. Don’t you know that?” He hissed something to Nagini, rubbing his cheek lazily against the top of her head.
Nagini hissed back.
“Draco,” said Potter. “Run.”
“I still can’t believe you painted Nagini into the Manor,” said Potter a few minutes later, as he shoved an intricately-carved court cupboard up against the door of the Silver Drawing Room, looking rather like an oddly-coloured and very angry gingerbread man. “Seriously, Draco. Nagini!”
“I didn’t mean to,” said Draco pettishly, also shoving. “I was pissed at the time. And, you know, maudlin.”
“About Nagini?” asked Potter, his voice rising. “You were maudlin about Nagini?”
“I was maudlin in general! And fucking inebriated!”
“While you worked on your very intricate magical painting using your own memories?”
Potter stared at Draco with his blobby green eyes. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you’ve just slapped your own face on top of what was obviously going to be a portrait of Lucius Malfoy,” he said. “Merlin, Malfoy.”
“You can hardly talk when it comes to that, Mr ‘I’ll use my one remaining memory of my mother up on a sketch that will last five minutes’ Potter,” snapped Draco. “You really are a hypocrite. And you look like a rag doll that got stepped on by a giant!”
Potter stopped pushing and began, unbelievably, to laugh. “For fuck’s sake, Malfoy - I mean, Draco,” he said, “at least call me Harry when you’re insulting me. I think shagging tends to move things onto a first name basis, don’t you?” He thumped the court cupboard into place with one painted arm. “I don’t want to try the sketch thing any more with my mum, anyway. I think you were right. For now, at least.”
“Yes, well,” said Draco. “Harry. Obviously my portrait of Father ended up getting re-purposed. Much like the Manor at large, actually. And I wasn’t going to finish it, in any case,” he added. “Probably.” They’d been making an awful lot of noise, he realised, shuddering. Riddle must know perfectly well where they were. And even if they didn’t have much time left, one way or another, he’d prefer not to spend it with Nagini.
“No fucking wonder you didn’t have me stay the night,” Potter was saying.
Draco stopped listening out for the sound of scales. “I thought you wouldn’t want to!” he said. “I thought you were just, well, getting off. Slaking your newly-gay appetites.”
“Slaking my newly-gay appetites,” repeated Potter, slowly and incredulously. “Slaking -”
It was at this point, almost to Draco’s relief, that Nagini crashed in through the window, Riddle climbing rather gingerly after her.
“We may have plenty of time,” Riddle said, “but you two are beginning to try my patience. I think a dose of venom, don’t you, Nagini? Perhaps an extra shot or two for the Malfoy here, so that we can really concentrate on dear Harry.”
Nagini swayed forwards, mouth opening.
Draco grabbed Potter’s arm. “Actually, Harry and I are leaving,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “Miss Darlington taught me a lot about painting. More than she realised.” He tightened his grip on Potter. “Do you know,” he said, “that a painting within a painting can change the first picture for good? Can destroy it, even?” He cocked his head, smirking as obnoxiously as he knew how. “Of course you do,” he said. “It must be a sensitive subject. How inconsiderate of me!”
“Draco,” said Potter. “You didn’t.”
“I painted myself in with a big tube of red paint in one hand, if that’s what you mean,” said Draco. “We should run.”
Riddle sighed. “Really, just like a Malfoy,” he said, “always -” he stopped, staring at Nagini.
The snake’s mouth was wide open, her head swaying from side to side. She was scenting the air.
Draco could smell it too, now, very faintly. The smell of smoke.
“It’ll be here soon,” he told Riddle. “It should just spit Harry and me out, you see. It’ll just keep burning and burning until there’s nothing left. No more painting, no more spell. I’m afraid I can’t really say the same for you.”
Nagini was coiling back on herself, he saw, towards her master. Almost as if she was afraid.
He hung on tighter to Potter’s arm. “If this doesn’t work, Harry,” he said out of the corner of his mouth, “I do apologise.”
Riddle’s face was twisting. “I can just walk out of here,” he said. "Or have you forgotten that? I'm special."
“To do what?” asked Potter. “Kill more portraits, for no reason? We’ll catch you eventually, you know. Trap you in a single warded canvas. You’ll stay there for a very long time, just like that bit of your - of your original in King’s Cross Station.” He paused to cough; the smoke was getting thick. “Or you could change,” he said. “You really could. You’ve got all the time -” he broke off, choking.
The crackle of encroaching flames was loud in the air; furniture loomed oddly through the smoke, as if it was closing in. Draco realised he had hardly even noticed the Manor around him. And now it was burning, gouts of red and orange flame streaming past the windows. Fire was coming up around them, through the floor.
They were standing, all of a sudden, in a cavern of flame. In the Room of Hidden Things. Draco held Potter’s arm tighter and tighter, his fingers clawing into the soft paint. He looked for the familiar shapes of the Silver Drawing Room, but there was only smoke and fire and burning lumber.
(Draco, said Greg, his face curling up at the edges, we always knew what you were made of.)
"Don't worry, Draco," said Potter's voice next to him. "We're going to get out of here. This is my kind of crazy plan!" He spoiled the effect a little by coughing again.
This was his fire, Draco told himself desperately. He'd painted it himself. He'd rushed about inelegantly in his father's stiff robes and painted big sweeping red flames all over the wood panelling of the entrance hall; the little escritoire in the morning room; the curtains of his father's study. This fire didn't have claws or mouths; it wasn't reaching for them. It was just burning.
He breathed in the smoke, thick in his throat as cotton wool, and doubled over choking. But his body was feeling muffled now, he realised. Distant. The paint of his hands was peeling, bubbling, but he felt nothing at all.
Riddle, his face twisted with rage, stepped towards them, hands open like claws. If he’d brought his painted knife with him, he’d forgotten about it now. It almost looked as if he was about to burst into tears like a cross child.
Behind him, Nagini writhed in the flames, thrashing like a snapped hawser. She was making a horrible noise, a noise that should never have come from a snake.
And Riddle hesitated.
Nagini made the noise again, a bubbling, grotesque rattle. Riddle stared at Potter for a moment. Then he turned back towards her, his face unreadable in the smoke.
Fire licked up behind him, closing them off. Draco thought he saw Riddle, just for an instant, leaning over Nagini’s slackened coils.
“Tom,” said Potter quietly, his voice almost inaudible. “Oh, Tom.”
The smoke had closed over Riddle and Nagini: they could hear nothing but the flames and the fall of masonry.
“Stay here, Harry,” said Draco desperately. “We have to stay in the fire.”
“I know, Draco,” said Harry. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“It should just spit us out,” Draco repeated, his voice creaking, the words ripped out of his dry mouth. “We aren’t part of the picture.”
“Well,” said Harry from Draco’s side, “here’s hoping.” He bent his ridiculous head briefly, and for a moment Draco felt the touch of lips on his, light as snow.
Then the fire came up and took them.
“And then I woke up and discovered I’d redecorated,” said Draco grandly. “White walls, very Muggle art gallery. Quite chic.”
“So you basically torched Malfoy Manor again?” asked Weasley.
Granger kicked him, rather obviously, under the table.
“And I woke up on the floor of Teddy’s nursery,” Harry chipped in hastily.
“And then we went back to his place and had lots of sex,” Draco put in, mostly for Weasley’s benefit.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “You could say we were slaking our -” he stopped, grinning, as Draco dug his elbow viciously into his side. “Well, you would say it, anyway,” he said to Draco.
Weasley stared between the two of them, shaking his head tragically. “Why didn’t you warn me, at least?” he whispered to Granger.
“Because I had no idea, Ronald,” Granger whispered back. “But we should be supportive. Until Malfoy does something stupid,” she added thoughtfully, smiling sweetly at Draco.
“Thanks, Granger,” said Draco. “I’ll be sure to let you know the moment I do.”
“That’s very considerate of you, Malfoy,” said Granger brightly.
Harry rolled his eyes. “If you’ve all quite finished?”
“Aurelia Owen is going to start training you, isn’t she?” Granger asked, a little later. “In painting, I mean,” she added. “You’re already an Occlumens, which should help, shouldn’t it? With learning the kind of Legilimency that you need for real portrait painting.”
“Skimming memories instead of scooping them,” Draco agreed. “We’ll see.”
“And Teddy’s doing fine,” said Granger bracingly. “I mean, Ginny says so, anyway. She’s been spending a lot of time with him. She says he’s a great kid. After all, Riddle didn’t exactly get inside Teddy’s head. Not really.”
“And she should know,” put in Weasley. “She is the expert when it comes to younger versions of You-Know-Who. Harry as well, of course,” he added. They all regarded Harry, a little dubiously.
Draco sighed. “I think you’re half-way hoping that pissant little psycho managed to escape the fire, just so you don’t have to feel guilty about killing him again,” he said to Harry. It was something Granger and Weasley should at least know about, he thought. Perhaps they might be able to knock some sense into him. “An opinion, may I remind you, that literally every portrait in Britain would be thoroughly horrified to learn about. Except Miss Darlington, I suppose. And Merlin knows what the Academy have done with her. Though she’s safer where Mother can’t get at her, I suppose.”
Harry shrugged. “Well, yes? Sort of? I mean, the Riddle in the portrait wasn’t Voldemort or anything. He wasn’t even the original Riddle. Not really.”
“He certainly had a bit of the Dark Lord in him,” said Draco bitterly, thinking of the row of dead portraits.
Harry smiled, a little sadly. “Maybe,” he said. "So no wonder he was fucked in the head."
“Oh, Harry,” said Granger.
“Plus he was only really, what, a year or so old? Miss Darlington sacrificed the portraits from Malfoy Manor to make him, however that worked. He can’t have been around for more than two years. So I suppose I just - I wish things had been different.”
“You can’t just admit it,” said Draco crossly. “It’s fucked up!”
“Well, you miss the Manor, don’t you,” said Harry. “And your dad. And Elise Darlington, even.” He looked across the table at Weasley and Granger and cleared his throat, shooting Draco an apologetic glance. “Anyway,” he continued, “There haven’t been any more horrifying portrait murders, so he’s probably dead, if that makes you feel any better.”
Draco sighed feelingly. “You have no idea,” he said, “how much better that makes me feel.”
“I’ll drink to that one,” said Weasley. “You really all right, mate?”
“I’m fine,” said Harry. “Really. I’m good.” He looked down at where his hand was resting on Draco’s and squeezed. “I’m not going anywhere.”
A few weeks into his apprenticeship with the Academy of Wizarding Arts, Draco Malfoy got his first commission.
“I want you to paint her,” said Felicia Montfort. “A real portrait, this time.”
Draco shook his head. “I’m sorry, Mrs Montfort,” he said. “A personal portrait, so soon after the subject’s death? It’s against Academy policy. And, honestly, I think it would be a bad idea myself.”
“You drew me a sketch,” said Felicia Montfort.
“I shouldn’t have done that either,” said Draco. “You have my sincere apologies, Mrs Montfort. It was an error of judgement. We’re refining the Sketch Department’s activities,” he continued. “Trying for more of an echo of the subject’s final moments than an almost-portrait. A kind of mirror, not a picture."
Felicia Montfort shook her head. “You don’t understand,” she said. “I don’t think I would have made it through that first week, if it wasn’t for that sketch. You did a kind thing, Mr Malfoy. Or at least,” she corrected herself, “it was kind for me. And it worked, as well, didn’t it? The first sketch helped you catch Greyback. Mr Weasley told me in person when they brought him in.”
She drew herself up in her chair. “In any case,” she continued, “I don’t want a personal portrait of my wife. Not yet, anyway. This is an official commission for a St Mungo’s portrait; quite customary. They still need Ellen's help with the research, you see.”
Draco nodded slowly. “I’ll ask my superior,” he said. “We’ll let you know our decision as soon as we can.”
Felicia Montfort bowed her head. “I await your owl, Mr Malfoy,” she said.
Draco’s second commission came only a little later.
It was Christmas Eve, and he was sitting next to Harry on the rather battered sofa in Draco’s flat, wrapping last-minute presents and watching Teddy trail strings of painted stars from Harry’s wand across the empty walls.
Most of the room in front of them was taken up with a large and bristly Christmas tree, hung with ever-burning silver sparklers and filling the air with a strong scent of pine.
Next to the tree, and also waving a festive sparkler or two in its tentacles, was the dyspeptic pot-plant from the Sketch Department waiting room, finally exiled from the Ministry. It had stolen Kingsley Shacklebolt’s favourite hat when he’d ventured down on a Ministerial inspection, and Draco had taken it home in disgrace the same day (Shacklebolt's hat had never been seen again). At the moment it was wearing a festive Santa hat on its topmost tentacle, a little askew, and chewing thoughtfully on a length of shiny purple tinsel.
“I changed my mind,” said Harry abruptly.
“About what, precisely?” Draco asked.
Teddy rushed past them, kicking through the scraps of wrapping-paper on the floor like autumn leaves. A line of bright red and green stars followed him, blinking into place across the wall and part of the floor. Outside, heavy rain sleeted down against the windows, catching the light as it fell.
“About the picture of my mum. I don’t want a sketch,” said Harry hastily. “Or a portrait. At least, not a magical one.”
“You want a Muggle portrait of your mother?”
“I want you to paint a Muggle portrait of my mother,” Harry corrected him. “And my dad.”
Draco stared at him. Above the latest Weasley knitted monstrosity, Harry’s face was quite earnest. He was looking at Draco as if he thought Draco could do anything.
“I can’t do Muggle paintings,” Draco pointed out. “Ask that Dean Thomas bloke.”
“You can still use the look-alike charms and stuff,” said Harry. “ I have a lot of photographs. I don’t want Dean to do it. I want you.”
“Do you, now,” said Draco slowly.
Harry really did, he could see. He wanted Draco; he wanted Draco’s painting.
Draco leaned towards Harry, his mind full of bigger, warmer words than nice, raising his hand to touch his jaw, running his thumb across his lower lip. It was soft under his fingers, a little dry. Very red. Crimson Lake, he thought. Venetian Red.
Harry’s mouth moved under his fingers, in a small and private smile.
“Can I draw on the ceiling?” asked Teddy. “I found out how to make the stars go gold and silver.”
Draco pulled back, glancing apologetically at Harry. “Only stars,” he said. “And nice things like that.”
This was the wrong thing to say, he saw at once.
“I’m not going to draw anything bad again,” said Teddy. “I said already. I promised.”
Harry leaned forwards. “I know you’re not, Teddy,” he said seriously. “It wasn’t your fault, you know that, right?”
“That’s what everybody says,” Teddy said, kicking at the floor. “Ginny says that a lot.”
“Well, Ginny’s right,” said Harry. “Besides, I thought what Ginny mostly does is take you on extraordinarily dangerous flying expeditions.”
Draco caught Harry’s rueful glance: as far as either of them could tell, Ginny Weasley’s therapeutic sessions had rapidly devolved into flight-training that was hair-raising enough to knock both of them off the top of Teddy’s prospective list of aerial daredevils. It was cheating, really: she’d got in there first.
At the mention of the flying lessons, Teddy perked up a little. “I am sorry, though,” he said. “Even though it wasn’t my fault.”
“It’s okay to miss Captain Marvel, Teddy,” said Draco carefully. “He was a bad person who told you lies, but you thought he was your friend, didn’t you? It’s okay to feel sad about that.” He looked across at Harry. “It’s okay to feel sad he’s gone.”
Teddy sniffed, and sent an uneven circle of gold and silver stars spinning out from Harry’s wand, decorating the sofa and the sleeve of Draco’s robe. He nodded silently but fervently, looking, Draco thought, considerably happier, as if a weight had been taken off his mind.
“Come on, Teddy,” said Harry. “Let’s see if we can make the sparklers on the tree explode a little bit. Maybe try for some exciting colours.” He leaned forwards and gave Teddy an awkward hug, knocking his glasses sideways.
Teddy hugged back, scattering painted stars across the floor.
Draco felt a smile spreading uncontrollably across his face. “Oh, fine,” he said. “You two just get on with exploding my flat. Feel free!”
Teddy looked up at him and smiled back. “Thanks, Draco!” he said cheerfully. “It’ll be a really Christmassy explosion, promise!” He trotted over to the tree and began to consider the fizzing sparklers, a little galaxy of stars beginning to gather around his feet.
Draco leaned over and straightened Harry’s glasses for him. “I’ll paint the portrait,” he said. “I would tell you to temper your expectations in terms of quality, but obviously, like anything I produce, it'll be a bloody masterpiece."
“Of course it bloody will,” said Harry, and kissed him fiercely, sending wrapping paper flying.
Across the room, Teddy’s hair turned slowly the same colours as his stars, red and silver, green and gold.