The stately homes of England, though rather in the lurch,
Provide a lot of chances for psychical research
There's the ghost of a younger son who murdered, in thirteen fifty-one,
An extremely rowdy nun, who resented it,
And people who come to call meet her in the hall.
The baby in the guest wing, who crouches by the grate,
Was walled up in the west wing in fourteen twenty-eight.
If anyone spots the Queen of Scots in a hand-embroidered shroud
We're proud of the Stately Homes of England.
"Stately Homes of England", Noel Coward
Harry looked up from where he had been industriously doodling a stick figure succumbing to fits of scrofungulus. He pushed aside what he had dubbed the Leaning Tower of Pain in his Arse, a stack of paperwork that rose up for several feet and then listed slightly to the left. It gave a faint and unpromising wobble before going blessedly still. “Sorry, did you need me for something?”
Ginger Assistant, whose name may or may not have been Jenny, glanced down at her admin parchment and ticked something off. “Just a quick one. There’s been a report of a few breaks of the Statute of Secrecy in Fugglestone St Peter.”
Perhaps Ginger Assistant was actually called Penny. Harry had assiduously avoided using her name in conversation for going on a year. It was now too awkward to correct. “In Wiltshire? Shouldn’t that be one for the Obliviators?”
“This is the third incident there this month, so we’d like an Auror to… check in. The problem is the perpetrator — Robards isn’t about to trust the word of a Malfoy.”
“The Malfoys were acquitted,” Harry said, blinking up at her. “Or — mostly.”
Ginger Assistant shrugged. “Malfoy Major may be deceased, but we’re apparently still concerned about Malfoy Minor. Robards wants you and MacDougal to pay a visit, do a little sniffing. See if he’s up to something.”
Harry snorted, wishing Ron had been in the cubicle to hear an actual human person ask him to see if Draco Malfoy was up to something. Alas, Ron was on assignment, and Harry’s private joke went unappreciated.
“I mean, have you seen Morag?”
“Snacking or smoking, those are the only guesses you’re getting out of me,” Ginger Assistant said, and wandered off to delegate more responsibilities.
Harry frowned at the Leaning Tower of Pain in his Arse. Life as an Auror had seemed much more exciting during his careers meeting at Hogwarts. In reality, Harry’s professional life was either monotonous desk-work or running through pints of blood, with very little middle ground. The latter was meant to be something he was made for, but he had found that the more altercations he got into, the worse he had started to feel at the end of the day. He wished, not for the first time, that Robards had let Harry partner with Ron. Morag MacDougal was a good Auror, and Harry liked her, but she didn’t seem to appreciate his ‘think last, act first’ tactics. This was meant to be a good thing.
Harry was starting to think there was something wrong with him. He had his dream job, but here he was waking each morning with a pit of dread in his stomach.
Surely everything would come out in the laundering charm. Maybe once Ron and Harry could be partnered together, or once Harry started to get some really useful cases, Auroring would start to feel like a grand adventure again.
Morag was not snacking, which led only to smoking. Harry took the lift up to the smoking room, found a knot of unfriendly Unspeakables who stopped speaking immediately upon Harry’s arrival, then shrunk his Auror robes and made his way to the rainy Muggle street above. Sure enough, Morag was leaning against a brick wall and watching the Muggles go by. She claimed this helped her ‘process’.
Harry took up the space next to her and cast a water-repellant charm with his wand hidden up his sleeve. “How’s your process?”
“Disgusting,” Morag said, blowing smoke away from Harry. “What’s our new assignment?”
Harry explained about Fugglestone St Peter, and the Malfoys. He considered asking Morag what Ginger Assistant’s proper name was, but then thought better of it.
“Ah, Malfoy Manor,” drawled Morag. “Haven’t been there since my ruffled-up childhood.”
“You’ve been there before?” Harry was surprised. Morag, with her dragonleather jackets and heavy boots, didn’t seem the ruffled-up childhood type.
Morag squinted at him. “You do know I’m a pureblood, don’t you?”
Harry had not known. Had she mentioned this at some point? Honestly, he couldn’t remember. “I’ve been too,” he said. “During the war.”
“It’s the accent, isn’t it. Not toff enough.” Morag stubbed out her cigarette, and then discreetly vanished the remnants. “Or is it the Sacred Twenty-Eight. You know we’re not listed, and it offends you.”
“I don’t know what that is,” said Harry honestly.
“Which in itself is refreshing,” said Morag, “My mother doesn’t stop going on about the bloody thing. She was a Burke before she married, and she won’t let you forget it.”
“We all are, especially at Christmas.” Morag shoved her hands into her coat pockets and started off towards the public toilets that were still the undignified entrance to the Ministry of Magic. “Come on, Potter. I’d like to get there before two.”
Harry followed, amusing himself by imagining various hated and starchy politicians flushing themselves down the loo. It cheered him up considerably.
Harry and Morag Apparated to the edge of a small market town. The narrow country lane might have been picturesque in better weather: it had not been raining in London, but the grey Wiltshire sky seemed determined to unleash a bout of windy drizzle upon their heads. Harry wiped his glasses off on his shirt. Ten feet ahead of them, a squirrel paused atop a sign that read FUGGLESTONE ST PETER, then scuttled up a nearby tree.
After faint grumbling about the weather, they started their walk away from town. With a great mass of brambles on one side, and rather overgrown hedges on the other, the already narrow lane began to feel more like a rather verdant corridor.
“Are you sure you’ve got the Apparition point right?” asked Harry.
Morag shot him an annoyed look that reminded him distinctly of Hermione.
Harry’s hair was plastered over his forehead by the time Morag turned right, leading Harry up a long drive bordered with rather overgrown yew hedges. An expansive manor house loomed ahead of them. The grey mass seemed almost to grow out of the grounds. The rain darkened the stone and made the towers appear to glower in the distance, like great eyes. Halfway up the drive, a large wrought-iron gate halted their progress. Absently, Harry pressed his hand to the cold metal and pushed.
At once, the iron began to twist. A large face emerged from the coils and whirls to clang, “State your purpose!”
Despite its theatrics, Harry got the impression that the gate was rather savouring its time in the sun. Perhaps it didn’t often get the chance to frighten visitors.
“Auror Potter and Auror MacDougal here to see Draco Malfoy,” said Harry, hiding a smile. There was a long pause, and then the gates swung open.
The last time Harry visited Malfoy Manor he had been a little bit preoccupied by other, noseless things, but he was pretty sure he got a general sense of the decor: shiny mahogany and extreme gilt, with a side of peacock.
At least one peacock was still there, looking a bit bedraggled atop the hedge, but as the front doors swung open to reveal the interior hall, Harry was surprised at the lack of sumptuous furnishings. What once had been a plush rug was now threadbare, and the mahogany paneling appeared scratched and dusty.
More surprising still was the hand that opened the door. Instead of the obsequious house elf Harry had been expecting, there stood Draco Malfoy in grey trousers and a thick blue jumper.
This was not the first time Harry had seen Malfoy since the war. Harry had seen him at the Trials, of course. Then, after Harry’s testimony helped him get acquitted, Malfoy had popped up at various horrible charity events and mind-numbing Ministry functions, always wearing impeccable dress robes and probably doing his best to make people forget what his surname had grown to mean. Harry and Malfoy had, in fact, undergone multiple civil interactions, including up to a dozen courteous conversations about the weather, Quidditch, and how surprisingly good the food was. They had not received a prize for this, but Harry felt one ought to be coming.
This was, however, the first time in years Harry had seen Malfoy in the daytime. He didn’t exactly wear the change of lighting well. Malfoy looked pale even for him, and the dark circles under his eyes had the muddy bluish-green tint of an untended pond. He looked Harry up and down with an odd tilt of the mouth — probably judging his rather soggy appearance.
“MacDougal. Potter. To what do I owe the… pleasure?” Malfoy spat out the world like particularly sour grapefruit.
“Afternoon, Draco,” Morag said, unperturbed. She strode through the partially open door and went about wiping her boots. Harry followed. In the year and a half he had been partnered with Morag MacDougal, he had learned it was generally a good plan to follow her instincts.
“Don’t you need a search warrant to riffle through my home, or am I running a particularly lax bed and breakfast?”
Morag shook her head. “Oh, we’re not on the hunt. Just wanted to have a few words about your Statute of Secrecy problem.”
“We wanted to remind you there is one,” Harry added helpfully.
Morag raised an irritated eyebrow in his direction.
“I’ve paid the requisite fines,” Malfoy said. “I don’t see how this concerns the Auror department.”
“Three this month? And for all that you’re apparently flouting the Statute, it sure looks like you’re not swimming in cash.” Morag looked pointedly at the bare stone floor.
Malfoy stood up straighter, his mouth a thin line. “Well, after all of our holdings were seized —” He stopped, swallowing. “If you insist on doing this, we’ll at least meet in the drawing room, like adults.”
Harry would be twenty-three in six months and he had yet to ever feel like an adult, not even when he had been awarded the Order of Merlin, first class. Especially not then. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather chat in the kitchen like pensioners? Hold court in the loo like teens?”
Malfoy and Morag ignored him.
Rows of pale-faced ancestors craned their heads to watch the unlikely trio walk by. Harry really ought to have been accustomed to scrutiny after this long as the Boy Who Lived, but the prickling press of eyes still rankled. Even from oil paintings.
“Sod off,” he muttered to one particularly contemptuous portrait, whose moue of disapproval turned into an indignant sputter.
“Well I never,” said the portrait, one hand to his painted mouth.
“What was that?” Malfoy turned back towards him. “Potter, are you talking to yourself again?”
“Usually,” Harry admitted.
Yet more disapproving relations awaited them in the drawing room. The ceilings were high, the mouldings were intricate, the furnishings antique, but the room still couldn’t quite shake the sense of being somewhat out of service.
Harry had been in a drawing room in Malfoy Manor before, and he did not think this was the same one. In a house this size, Harry figured the Malfoys probably had enough drawing rooms to set aside the one that had once housed the inconvenient torture of an Undesirable.
Malfoy motioned to a sofa thick with embroidered pillows. “Please sit,” he said, and then took the armchair directly opposite.
Morag knocked some pillows aside to make room and Harry gingerly sat on the edge of the sofa, wondering exactly what century it hailed from. A puff of dust emanated from the cushions, and Harry sneezed.
Malfoy rubbed his temples and addressed Morag, ignoring Harry completely. “This is absolutely none of your business, of course, but we have been having… Ghost troubles.”
“I thought your family didn’t have any ghosts,” Morag said.
“More like a poltergeist, perhaps.” Malfoy’s face twisted. “I’ll handle it, obviously. We have had some… issues with the house, and in town. Hence the Statute.”
“I thought poltergeists were pretty location-specific,” Harry said, furrowing his brow. “Why would it be in town, too?”
“Yes, yes, Granger taught you well. The situation is, er. Developing. But I have it handled.” Malfoy leaned back in his armchair, every inch the lord of the manor. “So we needn’t waste our time.”
“I don’t know,” said Harry doubtfully, “Your records aren’t exactly tales of extreme handling.”
“Sounds like an issue for the Spirit Division,” Morag said, getting to her feet. “ Anyway, if you don’t mind, we’ll do a quick scan of the area.”
Malfoy pursed his lips. “By all means, scan away.”
They divvied up rooms on the ground floor. Morag strode off to catalogue the front hall. Harry stayed behind, and began the complicated enchantment to survey the drawing room.
The charm spread like fairy dust, lingering on anything that had seen an encounter with Dark Magic. Harry had cast this spell thousands of times, in hundreds of places. Dark objects shone like small silver suns. Anything with a Dark enchantment looked more like silver firelight. Malfoy Manor was… odd. Silver glimmered off every surface in eyesight: the stone floor, the carved fireplace, and, most peculiarly indeed, off of Draco Malfoy himself, whose silvery hair glinted as if someone had shaken a Pixie vigorously over his head.
The silver light set off Malfoy’s features in the dim interior room. Harry examined him curiously. His Roman nose sat amidst features so sharp they could have been carved in marble — judging by the ancestral decor, eventually they would be. Malfoy’s eyelashes seemed to stand out in a shock of softness, long and curling in his marmoreal face.
If Malfoy had been a practitioner, he would have been lighting up like fireworks. Instead, he had the silvery tinge of someone who had been practiced upon. A few years ago this may not have been a very shocking result, but the war was over now. What had Malfoy gotten involved in?
“By all means, stare,” drawled Malfoy, sounding just as he had when he was sixteen.
Harry’s hackles went right up. “It’s the spell,” he said, then started picking his way around the small tables and sagging sofas to map the extent of the indicators. “Do you live alone?”
“Just myself and a truly geriatric house-elf.”
Harry frowned. “Where’s your mother?”
“That is certainly no business of yours,” Malfoy snapped.
“Well it is, actually, seeing as…” Harry motioned at his wand, the lit-up room, his Auror robes.
Malfoy sniffed. “Mother is on the Continent.”
“No,” Malfoy said at once, and then seemed to calm himself. “For the time being.”
“Do you have visitors?”
“I need you to make a list. Don’t leave anyone out.”
Malfoy surveyed him over his long nose. “I do so love being interrogated when I am the one suffering from this problem.”
Harry scoffed. “How do you think we’re meant to help you, then? Legilimency?”
“As if you could, Potter. And I have this handled. There’s no need for the Ministry to get involved.”
“I don’t know if you recognise the results, but this is a lot of Dark Magic, Malfoy, and that’s kind of my area.” Harry scowled at him and clenched his wand with white knuckles. The scanning spell trembled, but held. “If you’re being cursed, or hexed, or —”
“Don’t you think I know how Dark Magic feels? Me, of all people? ”
“I’m crying for you,” snapped Harry. “And, also, like — as an aside, you of all people? What am I, chopped flobberworms?”
Malfoy glowered at him. Harry glowered right back.
They were in the middle of what was shaping up to be a truly admirable glower-fest when Morag came tramping back into the room.
“Yikes,” she said. “I’d leave you to it, but Potter and I really have to go file this report.”
“File,” sneered Malfoy.
“Yeah,” said Harry, “At our job. Since we’ve got jobs, you know, instead of lazing about in our castles.”
“This is not a castle.”
“Oh, sorry, your perfectly ordinary two-up, two-down murder mansion then.”
Morag looked between them. “Not that this isn’t a nice rehash of school, but we really ought to be going.”
“Fine,” said Harry, and stormed off with another aborted glower at Malfoy. He would go right out the front door and slam it, or half of it, but he had trouble with the rusty hinges and it was too heavy to slam properly. He was still struggling when Morag caught up with him, looking supremely amused.
Harry glared at her. “What.”
Morag raised her hands in surrender. “Glad I didn’t know you two at school, that’s all. Lots of drama.”
“We didn’t have drama.” Harry started along down the drive, gravel crunching under his feet. “We had… a feud.”
“You were eleven. It was drama.”
Harry shrugged. He had been eleven when he started fighting Voldemort, too.
“It’s odd, don’t you think?” asked Harry, after recounting his visit to Malfoy Manor from start to finish. In the dim evening light Ron and Hermione’s small kitchen felt cozy and inviting, the opposite of the cold Manor. It didn’t hurt that the air smelt pleasantly of garlic, or that Harry’s stomach was warm and full of pasta.
“You know, I thought I had imagined the peacocks,” said Ron, reaching across the table to swipe more bread from the basket. “What with the trauma.”
“Yes, I’m sure it was very traumatising for you, Ronald,” said Hermione. Ron’s freckled face went white. She shook her head, and knocked their shoulders together. “What, I’m not allowed to joke about it?”
Ron managed a smile, and then gave Hermione his extra piece of garlic bread.
“I meant the poltergeist,” said Harry. “Have you ever heard of a poltergeist leaving its usual haunt?”
“Well, no,” said Hermione, slowly. “But I have heard about Malfoy Manor at work.” She leaned across the table, looking conspiratorial. “Apparently, the Spirits Division has been called in seventeen times since November. They aren’t ordinary poltergeists at all. An ordinary poltergeist is a sort of spirit of chaos, organic to the location. The poltergeists at Malfoy Manor, however, appear to be ghosts.”
Ron raised an eyebrow. “What, like they’re more see-through? Can’t chuck things at you?”
“Not exactly. More that they’re taking the appearance of specific individuals. Malfoy ancestors, I believe. There’s no one form; the spirit shifts depending on the haunting. It’s highly peculiar. No one quite knows what to make of it.”
“And now they’re leaving the grounds of the Manor,” said Harry. “Almost like it’s escalating.”
Hermione and Ron exchanged a glance. “It’s nice that you’re nothing if not a creature of habit, Harry,” said Hermione, but Harry wasn’t listening. What was going on at Malfoy Manor, and why was it happening outside the house? For that matter, what was Malfoy doing in a Muggle town? None of it made even the slightest bit of sense.
In the morning, Harry’s odd fascination with the state of Malfoy Manor had disappeared, leaving only the memory of Malfoy’s sneer and Harry sneezing from dust, which made his new assignment even more galling.
Ginger Assistant examined her fingernails. “Don’t crucio the messenger, Harry.”
Normally, Harry quite appreciated how Ginger Assistant never treated him with the startled, fearful deference that most of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement employed, but right about now would be a good time for her to start with the deferring. “Malfoy and I hate each other.”
“And the rest of the department really gets on with him.”
Harry frowned. He couldn’t think of a way to say how it was different between him and Malfoy, more personal, without sounding like an enormous prat.
“You did testify for him,” said Ginger Assistant reasonably. “At the Trials.”
“Because it was the right thing to do, not because we’re mates,” Harry sputtered.
“And you speak to him at parties,” Ginger Assistant continued, with a Hermione-esque righteousness.
“Maybe four times! About, like, the cheese plate.” Harry put his head in his hands. “Couldn’t Morag bloody do it? She’s, a, er. Holy Fifty-seven, or something.”
“No good.” Ginger Assistant reached over Harry’s bent head to grab a quill, and went about using it as a cuticle pusher. “We need someone who can blend in with Muggles. You were raised by Muggles, weren’t you?”
“In a manner of speaking,” muttered Harry, getting the sense that the deck was stacked against him.
“Well, you can speak Muggle and you know Malfoy. You’ve been to the house —”
“And Morag can stay and work the Fishleburn case. If there’s a break in that I’m sure you can Floo in for the heroics.” Ginger Assistant returned his quill. “There’s no use arguing.”
Harry spoke directly to the desk, not bothering to lift his head. “What if I tried crying? Just for a change.”
“You start right away. We don’t want more Obliviators in Fugglestone St Peter, all right? Not to mention the Dark Magic readings you two found. Robards thinks there’s a decent chance Malfoy’s behind it all, so you may as well keep an eye on him.”
“An eye, a wand, a decorative sword…”
“Cheers, Potter. Glad we’ve got that sorted.” Ginger Assistant ticked off her list, rapped on his desk once, and left his cubicle.
“If I just poisoned him, we wouldn’t have any more Obliviators in Fugglestone St Peter,” Harry informed his desk. His desk didn’t respond. His desk probably thought he ought to just get on with it. Harry let out a muffled groan.
“Was it the fancying fruitcake?” Ron’s voice sounded amused from the entrance of the cubicle. “Lempke tried it and said she felt like she’d had a hernia.”
“Malfoy,” Harry mumbled.
“Malfoy,” Harry repeated, raising his head. “I’ve been assigned to ‘watch him’.”
“And by watch, they clearly meant swap all his china with nose-biting teacups?”
“I should have died when I had the chance,” Harry sighed. Ron shot him an odd look. “What, I can’t joke about it?”
“Listen, mate,” Ron said, sitting on the edge of Harry’s desk. If he leaned or breathed slightly too hard to his right he’d knock over the Leaning Tower of Pain in Harry’s Arse. “I know this is a rubbish assignment — believe me, I know — but there’s also… You’ve been…” Ron’s freckled face went splotchy as he tried to formulate his thoughts.
Harry braced himself. “You’ve been talking to Hermione.”
“Well, yeah,” admitted Ron. “She mentioned — and I agree, mind you — that you’ve seemed a little, er. Down. Lately. In the past — year.”
“I’m fine,” Harry said, like he had told Hermione about twelve times that month.
“Right,” Ron said dubiously. “Well, I just wanted to say, like. I’m here for you. If you wanted to — talk, or drink too much, or whatever.”
Ron looked so earnest that Harry felt his chest go warm, despite himself. “I’m all right, but thanks, Ron.”
“Okay,” Ron said, looking relieved. “Glad we got that out of the way. Good luck on the wanker assignment.”
“Fuck off,” Harry laughed. “Though, if you had any nose-biting teacups you wanted to donate…”
“A couple boxing telescopes, a fungus fancy.” Ron sighed happily. “The possibilities have an end, but it’s bloody hard to get to, am I right?”
There was a sharp knock outside the cubicle, and Ginger Assistant poked her head in. “Fugglestone St Peter,” she reminded him, then disappeared.
“Say, Ron,” Harry began, “What’s her n —”
At that same moment, Georgie Lempke hollered, “Oi, Weasley! What’s that alias Viveka’s got, again?”
Ron stood up, watching the Leaning Tower of Pain in Harry’s Arse anxiously for a minute as it shifted alarmingly. Harry steadied it on one side. “See you later? Drinks?”
“I’ll need one. Or, like, eight.”
“Cheers,” Ron said, and left to join his partner.
Reluctantly, Harry started off on his way to Fugglestone St Peter, and the headache that would surely join him there.
On Thursday, Draco had planned to devoted himself to the rot in the Blue Bedroom. He woke early, washed, choked down a few slices of toast and made his way to the second floor to begin promptly at eight. Unfortunately, Draco only got so far as vanishing musty portions of the carpet before an imperious cough broke his concentration. He almost tripped over an ottoman and a half-open chest of drawers.
Draco eyed a portrait of an ancient great-aunt. “Yes?”
Lysistrata Malfoy adjusted her magnificent dress robes and observed him witheringly. She sniffed her rather large and overly pointed nose, a feature Draco had unfortunately inherited. “There is a boy at the gate, nephew.”
“If it’s another collector —”
Lysistrata continued as if Draco had never started speaking. “He was here yesterday, if I recall correctly. The dark boy with the shameful manners, who came with that MacDougal Auror —”
“He’s an Auror, too,” Draco corrected her absently, and then, as his brain processed the information, his face went hot. Potter. What on earth was Potter doing here? More investigating, perhaps? Fancied a few more groundless accusations? The nosey, arrogant prick.
“Aurors really ought to have more decorum; he’s arguing with the gate.” Lysistrata frowned. “Bad breeding is what it comes down to, Draco. One would expect —”
Draco ignored her and peered out of the grimy window to the lawn below. Sure enough, an irksomely familiar messy black head appeared to be chatting with the front gate.
“Of all the bloody cheek,” Draco snapped, and stormed out of the Blue Bedroom, down the back stairs, through the front hall and out into the drive. By the time he had reached Potter he was red-faced, panting, and far too annoyed to care. “Just what do you think you are doing?”
Potter looked almost surprised to see him, the idiot. He had visited Draco’s home, whomever else could he possibly expect? “Hello,” Potter said, with an aborted half-wave. Thin winter sunlight gleamed off his high cheekbones, yet another in a long line of irritations. “Your gate thinks I’m a wastrel.”
“The gate isn’t wrong,” Draco muttered.
“Sorry, what?” Potter asked, all flawless brown skin and sharp jawline, the arsehole.
Draco folded his arms across his chest. “What are you doing here?”
“YOUR BUSINESS, SIR,” roared the gate, sounding rather thrilled. “STATE IT NOW. THE ANCIENT HOUSE OF MALFOY —”
“Auror business,” Potter said, pitching his voice at a half-yell so it carried over the clank of the gate. “Could you let me in, please? This would be a lot less awkward without the gate.”
“I doubt that,” muttered Draco, but he took out the family wand anyway. With a few swivels, the gate melted away and Potter came striding through. His skin, unfortunately, was just as flawless up close.
“What Auror business,” Draco demanded.
“Oh,” said Potter, “Right. They haven’t told you?”
“Told me what?”
Potter frowned. “They should’ve owled you in advance. I’ve, er. I’ve been assigned as your Auror detail. Because of the poltergeists, you know. And the Dark Magic scans. To be safe.”
Draco blinked at him. “Absolutely not.”
“That’s what I said.” Potter looked almost like he wished to commiserate with Draco, which was simply unacceptable. Draco was a delight. Potter, on the other hand, may have been visually acceptable but that was simply where the appeal stopped.
“Have them assign someone else,” Draco snapped. “Don’t they know —”
“We had a feud, yeah, I brought that up.” Potter shook his head ruefully. “Listen, Malfoy, I’m not any more pleased about the situation than you are, but we’d best just get on with it — oh, we ought to go inside.”
Draco scowled as ferociously as he could manage. “Why would I let you into my home yet again?”
“You’re shivering a bit,” Potter pointed out.
Draco looked down at himself. Without him noticing, the flush from careening out of the house to admonish Potter had disappeared, to be replaced by the realisation that this was February, and he had not put a coat on. He folded his arms tightly across his chest. “Fine.”
Potter kept on Draco’s heels as they crunched up the gravel drive to the front door. Draco, feeling off-kilter as he had been since Potter’s visit the day before, kept up a long stream of complaints regarding the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, the Spirit Division, the Ministry of Magic, and Potter himself, who was utterly unsuited to — whatever it was he was meant to be doing.
“Are you meant to be some kind of bodyguard?” Draco asked, once they were inside. Truth be told, the interior of the Manor was hardly warmer than the grounds. Unless Coote had lit a fire — unlikely, these days — each room had the sort of damp chill you wore like a waterlogged jumper. “For me — or for the poor Muggles?”
Potter went a bit red. “It’s easy for you to be cavalier, Malfoy, but it sounds like the poltergeist business isn’t exactly easy for them.”
“That’s not what I — regardless. Am I expected to have you skulking around after me at all bloody hours?”
“Just the standard nine to five,” said Potter. “Anything else, I’m going to want overtime.”
With this amount of fuel, Draco could swear for England. Through only the greatest of restraint, he managed, “I just wish to know the parameters of your assignment.”
“You were a lot less formal with me at those balls,” said Potter, almost absently.
“They were charity events, and we were exchanging banal pleasantries.” Draco drew himself up even straighter, his shoulders going rigid. “This is an entirely different situation.”
“Yeah, I’m only here to help you.” Potter put his hands in the pockets of his terrible robes and tilted his face away from Draco, which was quite a trick, with the light, and his cheekbones.
“Help I do not need. As I said yesterday, I have it handled.”
Someone behind them cleared their throat, and Draco glanced over his shoulder. An entire line of Malfoy portraits was watching him and Potter with great interest. At the far end of the hall, elderly Cymbeline Malfoy peered through mother-of-pearl opera glasses, and the dissolute Cygnus had got hold of a pair of pince-nez. Lysistrata Malfoy seemed to have descended from the Blue Bedroom for the occasion: she was leaning over Cymbeline’s shoulder to get a turn with the opera glasses.
“Really, Draco, the young Potter cannot aggravate the situation,” said Septimus Malfoy II from beneath his powdered wig.
“Tis exceedingly suitable. Prithee, young Potter, tarry here longer,” added Gaius Malfoy, adjusting his ruff. “He is a most comely boy. Zounds, had I my youth —”
Draco aimed a swift silencing charm at Gaius, who wagged his finger playfully in Draco’s direction.
Potter’s mouth twitched at the corners.
Salazar, Potter was going to try to sympathise with him.
“I’d listen to your elders,” Potter said, which was not sympathy. Draco found he was cross about it.
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand anything about family,” Draco snapped.
Potter’s face darkened. “I don’t want this any more than you do, Malfoy, but I’m going to do my damn job, all right? Even if I have to cite you for contempt.”
Draco avoided meeting the eyes of any portraits. “Fine,” he said. “Don’t — cause any trouble. I have a lot of work to do, and I don’t want you hovering.”
“Sure,” Potter said, clearly unconvinced.
Draco refrained from continuing his work in the Blue Bedroom. The disrepair on the ground floor was quite enough to show to outsiders. Instead, he tried to go over finances in the small library. He had all the papers laid out and was performing calculations, but every time he held a number in his head, Potter would sneeze or drop a book or ask a banal question, and Draco would have to start again from the beginning. Such as —
“Where is that?” asked Potter, gesturing above the desk. Draco craned his neck to see the small oil painting, its trees waving gently in an invisible wind.
Draco pointed at the south wall.
Potter peered out of the indicated window. “Hey!”
“There we are,” Draco said, and turned back to his parchment.
“Did some ancestor do it?”
“Yes, my great-aunt — oh, for Merlin’s sake, Potter, I have actual work to do.”
“What work? You don’t have a job.”
“The house doesn’t run itself, you realise,” Draco said, scowling.
Potter looked around as if assessing the situation. There was no missing the damp chill, or the cracked gas lamps, or the many uneven floorboards they had trod upon in the journey from the front door.
“You could bring work of your own. I wouldn’t want to hold up your important Auror business.” Draco leaned back in his chair, which groaned disconcertingly. “Instead of just walking around being a nuisance.”
“It’s not my fault,” grumbled Potter, sinking into an ancient chair. “I thought a poltergeist would’ve descended on us by now. And none of the books in here are on Dark Magic, anyway, I checked.”
“They wouldn’t be,” said Draco. “The Ministry seized all Dark objects back in — oh, our second year, then again before our sixth, and then again after the War. Will you please sit still.”
Potter stilled his fidgeting for a brief moment, then went on tapping his foot. “What? There’s nothing for me to do.”
“If you wanted constant doing, I would have thought you’d have gone the Hitwizard route.” Draco turned a page in his calculations. “Everyone knows Aurors mostly sit around tracking people. But no, I imagine you had to go for the glory, didn’t you.”
“Yep, can’t have enough of that,” said Potter dryly.
Draco ticked off a sum under ‘Floo cost’. Potter started jiggling his foot, then his hand, then he leaned back so far in his chair it gave an ominous crack.
“Do not,” Draco snapped, but it was too late. Potter jumped to his feet, looking comically guilty. His eyes went huge like a repentant crup.
“I didn’t mean to,” he said, half to the chair.
Draco eyed him curiously. “A reparo should suffice.”
“Oh, right,” said Potter. He drew his wand from his terrible Auror robes and repaired the chair, which fused back together in a languorous and unconvincing way. “I don’t think I should…”
“No,” Draco agreed. “That chair is about four-hundred years old.”
“Oh,” said Potter. He goggled at the chair, making guilt-ridden eyebrows all over the place.
“There’s no need to look like that, Potter, nearly bloody everything in this place is.” Draco glanced at the portrait of Lucius III who was clearing his throat to correct him. Draco made a face in his direction. “Or older.”
Lucius III nodded graciously.
“Oh,” said Potter, looking around him for somewhere safe to sit. He seemed to be considering the floor, which — Draco really had enough on his plate.
Draco took pity on him. “The rose sofa is a bit less rickety.”
“Thanks,” said Potter, grudgingly.
That appeared to be the détente of the afternoon. Potter occupied himself flipping through books and pacing the floor of the library, occasionally doing whatever fidgety spellwork he had been so keen on the day before. Draco found it difficult to concentrate, but he would absolutely die before he let Potter realise that.
Draco had been staring at the Gringott’s balance for a solid fifteen minutes without fully processing it when a sharp knock on the door startled his eyes from the page.
“Enter,” he called.
The door swung open to reveal Coote in her linen shift, the remnants of some nineteenth century pillowcase. Her white hair looked like it had been freshly curled. She shuffled forward, a silver tray in her arms. “Master Draco, Coote has brought luncheon.” Her high, quavering voice rang out in the quiet room.
“Thank you, Coote,” said Draco, and he moved his papers aside to make room on the desk.
“Coote was unsure what our guest would prefer, so Coote procured a variety of sandwiches.” Coote looked down at the tray hesitantly. Draco knew without asking that she meant to add, within our ability. Coote had done wonders with the kitchen garden, but supplies were otherwise paltry.
Potter seemed to goggle at the elf, and then started. “I’ll eat anything,” he said. “I also — I mean, I brought lunch, I think. Did I bring lunch?” Potter pulled his bag towards him and rifled through it. “No, I didn’t. I didn’t bring lunch.”
“You ought to eat more, begging your pardon,” said Coote with her typical nanny-ish concern, fixing her massive eyes on him. “Very thin, you are, like Master Draco.”
Potter appeared torn between laughing and continuing the goggling to which he had been partial.
“All right, Coote, I’m sure Potter gets enough coddling from his admiring followers,” Draco said, waving Coote off.
“Very good, Master Draco,” said Coote, although she looked unconvinced. “Coote will just be working in the Violet Parlour, sir. Mistress Narcissa wishes for us to prioritise it.”
“Did she say she was —” Draco looked at Potter. He was curiously picking through the sandwiches, not paying any attention. “Never mind. Thank you Coote, that will do.”
Coote nodded and left, tottering a bit as she closed the door.
“Is that the elderly house-elf?” Potter picked a sandwich and sat back on the sofa, eating carefully with one hand beneath the bread for crumbs. “I had expected a whole fleet.”
Draco examined him for a moment, and then shook himself out of it. “At the most, we had five house-elves. Four of them belonged to my father. One of them was held in trust for the heir.” Draco stared at the crown moulding and added, unnecessarily, “Me.”
“Hermione wouldn’t like that,” Potter said. “Held in trust.” He picked a very small crumb that had escaped his hand off of the sofa.
“You have a house-elf,” Draco pointed out. “What does she think about that?”
“How do you — Er, never mind. I try and pay him a wage. He just leaves the money where it is and cleans around it.” Potter looked as if he found this baffling.
“Typical. You know nothing about house-elf culture,” Draco muttered.
“House elf culture?” Potter looked genuinely interested, which was horrific.
“Excuse me,” Draco said, and got to his feet.
Potter immediately stood as well. “We going somewhere?”
“Surely I don’t need an escort to the lavatory.”
Potter stowed his half-finished sandwich carefully on a cloth napkin Coote had thoughtfully provided. “Poltergeists can appear in toilets, can’t they?”
“Uncouth,” muttered Lucius III.
Draco took a deep, steadying breath, and summoned his last reserves of patience. “Fuck off, Potter.”
Disappointingly, this didn’t faze Potter at all, possibly because he was a masochist. He followed Draco out of the library, into the long hall, across the courtyard and up to the first floor.
“Nice hike,” Potter said.
Draco ignored him. The sky was darkening outside, and the flickering light in the corridors was particularly kind to Potter’s complexion. Plumbing had only been added to the Manor sometime in the late nineteenth century, and he wasn’t about to tell Potter how the plumbing remained nineteenth-century quality.
“When was the last poltergeist?”
“Yesterday,” Draco said slowly, like he was reminding a child, “In town, which is why you were summoned to call on the Manor, and which is why you are currently an assault to my blood pressure and self-restraint.”
“Likewise,” Potter muttered.
“Evening's greetings,” said the portrait of some distant cousin next to the door the lavatory.
“Hi,” said Potter.
“Do not talk,” Draco demanded, and went into the lavatory. Sure enough, when he came out, Potter was in deep conversation with the bloody portrait.
“So you’re a Black, then?” Potter was asking.
“Indeed, good sir,” said the distant cousin.
“My godfather was a Black.”
The distant cousin nodded approvingly, which surely he wouldn’t do if he knew which Black Sirius Black had been. “The young master is of Black lineage as well, on his mother’s side. Though between you and I, her colouring seemed rather —”
“Come along, Potter,” Draco announced. Potter started. “Stop gawping, we’re leaving.” Draco strode off. He didn’t grab Potter by the arm to tow him manually, but it was a near thing. He wanted to demand that Potter stop making the bloody house like him, but he couldn’t think of a way to phrase it that wasn’t horrific.
Draco only had to endure Potter by gaslight for an hour before he finally, blessedly, took his leave with an awkward “see you tomorrow.” He slumped back in his chair the second Potter had left the room, only to sit up straight wondering if he’d be able to leave without getting lost.
“Gaius has taken it upon himself to show the Potter boy out,” warned the painting of Lucius III.
“Oh, splendid,” muttered Draco. At least Potter probably wouldn’t be able to understand Gaius’s medieval leering, and Draco didn’t have to deal with Potter himself. He put his head down on the heavy oak desk and attempted to let death claim him.
“Your melodrama must come from the Blacks,” mused Lucius III. “There may have been strains of madness in the Malfoy line, but —”
“Strains? More like waterfalls,” Draco said, half into the desk.
Lucius III tutted. “Insolent. In my day —”
“In your day I’d be lashed by whips of hawthorne for cheek, yes, so you’ve told me.”
“Your father would tell you the same thing, were he here. Where is his portrait, Draco? He should be in the Grey Gallery, with —”
Draco aimed a silencing spell behind him without looking. His father’s portrait was not going in the Grey Gallery for some time, and he wasn’t about to be lectured about it again. After an aborted sulk, Draco dragged himself to his feat and made his way up to the Blue Bedroom. He could work on the damp for about an hour before Pansy arrived.
Draco made the tea and laid the plate of biscuits himself. Coote had fallen asleep cleaning the Violet Parlour, and Pansy was not enough of a guest to warrant Draco waking her. He held the teapot with one arm and guided the tea tray ahead of him with his wand, avoiding the usual pitfalls along the long walk from the kitchen to the drawing room.
“I was beginning to think you fell to your death.” Pansy was sprawled across a sofa with her turned-up nose in a magazine. Her blunt bob was freshly cut and her nails freshly manicured, her robes the very height of fashion. Draco suppressed his irritation. It wasn’t Pansy’s fault that her family hadn’t lost everything. The Parkinsons had sensibly supported the Dark Lord when it looked like he was on the up, and now they sensibly supported the reform government. Luckily for Pansy, the Parkinsons never had the bad taste to actually join anything.
“One could only hope,” Draco said, laying the tray on the coffee table and pouring their tea. He put two sugars in Pansy’s before she could order him to.
“Remember when we used to get sloshed on a Tuesday and snog regrettable strangers?”
“No,” said Draco.
“Sad,” said Pansy. “We ought to have more memories like that.”
Draco eyed the drinks trolley. “We could still get sloshed on a Tuesday.”
“No regrettable strangers,” Pansy pointed out. “Although we could go to a club.”
Draco raised an eyebrow, and thought briefly of the complete and utter humiliation of rejection.
“So dull,” whinged Pansy, tossing her magazine over the back of the sofa. One of the elderly Malfoy portraits muttered some very unkind things about modern young girls, which Pansy ignored with aplomb. “It is too awful about your Auror detail, but do we have to talk about it all night?”
“It’s not just the Auror detail. It’s who the Auror detail is,” said Draco, for about the tenth time since Pansy arrived.
“Why couldn’t they have MacDougal do it? At least she’s, you know, our sort.” Pansy considered this for a moment, along with her fingernails. “Approximately. Although the MacDougals don’t have your estate problems.”
“They need someone with Muggle fluency.” Draco glowered at a portrait of Araminta Meliflua, who seemed entirely unconcerned. “So that’s Potter.”
“Well aren’t you a treat tonight,” drawled Pansy.
“I hate Potter seeing the state of the house,” Draco managed through clenched teeth. “Do not offer some emotional support, Pans, I have honestly dealt with enough today.”
Pansy put up her hands in a show of surrender. “You are eggy, Draco, when have I ever offered emotional support?”
Draco lay back and covered his face with his hands. “Every single day, he’s to be here, until this whole business is resolved — and I’m going to have to find other things to do. I don’t want him seeing…” Draco’s mind cycled through all the most pressing concerns: the tree growing through the orangery, the rot in the Blue Bedroom, the infestation of pixies in the Grey Gallery.
“At least you aren’t as badly off as the Browns,” said Pansy, examining her heel with interest. “They have umbrella charms in place of a roof.”
“I doubt that.”
“May as well, for all the good their roof does them.” Pansy wandered over to the drinks trolly and started mixing something with vodka. “And Teddy’s thinking of selling.”
“He isn’t,” said Draco, shocked.
Pansy sipped her creation, then added more vodka. “What else is he supposed to do? No money, and his relations are all dead and dusted. His father’s utterly senile in Azkaban, they say.”
“But to sell,” said Draco, furrowing his brow. “That’s a bit drastic.”
“Teddy’s never cared for Nott Hall, Draco. He’s not going to sign a life sentence to some decaying ruin — he’s not you.”
Draco leaned back sharply. “Low blow, Pans.”
Pansy’s face tilted in a contrite sort of way. “Sorry. It’s just so hopeless, darling. I don’t know why you bother. Drink?”
Pansy hovered an overfull drink in his direction. Draco took the glass from the air before it sopped vodka onto the carpet and ignored his tea in favour of the precious, precious alcohol.
Hopeless. Was it really? He supposed it looked that way from the outside: this great pile, and no way out. Half his friends thought he was barking for trying to keep it. They had seen what his people had done to some of the rooms. The War had not been kind to Malfoy Manor. The disrepair would have been bad enough, but the poltergeists were just the glaze on the cauldron cake and now everyone was calling the Manor cursed. Even his mother didn’t want to stay here.
Draco drank deep. Malfoy Manor may have been a mouldering pile of relics and mouthy portraits, but it was his mouldering pile of relics and mouthy portraits. Salazar save him if he was the link in the chain to break.
The pub could have been any pub in Britain, with its wooden panelling and dim yellow light, but Harry liked it. He had secured a small table towards the back. No one took much notice of them, which never failed to be a brilliant side effect of visiting Muggle pubs. Their closest neighbours were a knot of university-aged girls drinking pink beer and roaring with laughter. Hermione had performed the Muffliato and Ron had selected what he deemed to be several truly hysterical Muggle board games from the low bookcase by the fireplace.
“So, I’ve waited this long to ask: how the fuck was it?” Ron pushed a pint across the table towards Harry. Hermione sipped thoughtfully at her cider and watched them both.
“It was…” Harry frowned down at his pint. How was it? Odd, definitely. Annoying. Slightly surreal? “Fine,” Harry said. He turned to his beer, which was cold and wheaty and never had a feud with him for eleven and a half years and then made him confused and oddly sympathetic on and off for four.
“Is he as much of a prat as ever?” Ron asked, his eyebrows going sympathetic. “Did he order you around? How many bigoted things do you reckon he said per hour, like on average? More or less than four?”
“Ron,” Hermione said, looking a little guilty.
“He’s definitely still a snob,” Harry said.
“If you had to guess the general number, you know. Awful, prejudiced nonsense. More like, two? Or more like twelve?” Ron made hand motions not unlike big fish, little fish. “Small? Or infinite? Just if you were to guess, like.”
Harry narrowed his eyes at him. “Did you bet on my assignment with Malfoy?”
Hermione winced over her cider. “We’re sorry, Harry.”
“Not sorry,” Ron said, grinning. “It’s hilarious, mate. If you can’t see that, there’s no hope for you.”
Harry scowled at the scratches on the thick oak table. The Muggle pub buzzed around them, oblivious. “That’s because you’re three pints in and everything is hilarious.”
“Nah. Well, that helps, but also, your pain causes us amusement.” Ron grinned at the ceiling for a moment, until his face darkened like a sudden spring storm. “Not your actual pain, mind.”
“I know, Ron,” Harry said, patting his arm.
“It was meant to be a friendly wager,” Hermione explained, looking guilty. “It wasn’t serious. I am sorry about that, Harry, we shouldn’t be —”
“Taking the piss out of my terrible assignment? It’s all right.” Harry smiled and flicked little pieces of torn up napkin her way. It’s true that if Ron had been assigned the Malfoy case, he’d have taken the piss significantly more than Ron had been doing. “Anyway, I think the number’s…” Harry trailed off. “One?”
“One an hour?” Ron made a face. “Damn. I really had my heart set on six.”
“I win,” Hermione said, beaming. “The washing up is all yours, Ronald.”
“No, one… total. Maybe one and a half?” Harry thought about whether the crack Malfoy had made about the word ‘serviette’ counted, and decided it did. “Two and a half, tops.”
“But — you were there for hours.” Ron looked dumbfounded. “For hours, Harry.”
“I had wondered,” Hermione mused. “The end of the war really changed —”
Ron made the sound of a cranky buzzer. “Nope. No war talk on this, our sacred Thursday pub night. Not bloody permitted. Penalty box for Granger.”
“Bugger,” said Hermione, amused. “What are the terms of the penalty box?”
“Penalty box? When have you been watching Muggle sport? Without me? Rude.” Harry shook his head. “No manners.”
“Dean, mate. He’s got a felly — tellah… Oh, fucking wank bollocks. What’s the bloody word, Hermione?”
Hermione patted Ron on the arm consolingly. “Television.”
“I get that right, normally,” Ron informed them.
“Of course you do,” said Hermione.
Ron started going on about how much he knew about Muggles — loads, apparently, since he’d attended several dinners where he’d helped Mrs. Granger with the meal and became an expert on the dishy-flosser and the esoteric habits of the elusive markowave. “Not to mention the, er, the fucking regerotter, you know, it’s absolute wankery, don’t know how Muggles —”
“I’m glad it was all right, anyway, Harry,” Hermione told him in a low voice. “The situation sounded fairly dire from what I heard at work. The Spirit Division has absolutely no idea how to help and have written it off as a Dark Arts matter. You might be there for a while.”
“Oh,” Harry said. “Oh, yeah. That’d be shit.”
The thing was, Harry was not entirely sure if it would be shit. His time at Malfoy Manor had not been pleasant, exactly, but he hadn’t had to sit behind a desk. He hadn’t had to do a lot of research into the horrible practices of horrible people, or wade through any blood, or attempt to call Healers in time so that someone didn’t die of a flaying hex on their kitchen floor whilst their kid — Well, it hadn’t been awful. No one had died. No one had been grievously injured.
Yet, Harry reminded himself, thinking of the residual Dark Magic still lingering on Draco Malfoy and his environs. No one had been grievously injured yet.
“Not to mention how many times I have used the fellytone,” Ron was saying wisely. “Several.”
“Yes, you’re a veritable Muggle Studies scholar.” Hermione shot a conspiratorial eye-roll Harry’s way.
Harry felt as if a gentle warming charm had just been cast on his solar plexus. Thursday Pub Night really was lovely. “You guys are all right,” he said, beaming at them.
“That’s because you’re three pints in,” Ron told him, “And everything gives you feelings three pints in.”
“Sod off.” Harry laughed and threw a balled-up napkin Ron’s way. “Wanker.”
“Not tonight,” Ron said proudly.
“Mmm, maybe, but not for reasons you might think.” Hermione then made a gesture so utterly un-Hermione-like that Harry was torn between TMI and wanting to applaud her for coming so far in her life.
Thursday Pub Night wound on with a spirited game of trivia — they changed the rules to ‘most original nonsense answer’ so Hermione wouldn’t trounce them, and Ron wouldn’t have a ludicrous disadvantage with Muggle world events — and a long monologue by Hermione on the importance of St Mungo’s psychiatric reform. Shortly after eleven Hermione reminded them that they did, in fact, have work the following day, and they reluctantly parted.
The night was cold enough that Harry could see his breath in the air as he walked home along Regent’s Canal, and then turned to wind north into Islington. The wet streets glistened with rain, and fog blurred the street lights and neon signs into hazy oblong shapes. A handful of drunken City boys infested the pavement along Upper Street, all piss, vomit and shouting disparaging oaths against foreigners, women and cabbies; Harry was glad to leave the high street to make his way along the twisting side-streets towards home.
Finally Harry found himself in the centre of a small square. Number twelve was beginning to look like the shabby cousin of its neighbours, whose recent renovations and refurbishments were causing Harry to spend a lot of time casting silencing spells at Grimmauld Place’s many windows. The days of pounding stereos and overflowing bins were definitely coming to a close.
Once inside Harry hung his coat on the hook next to the door, studiously ignored the portrait of Sirius’s mum and took the narrow stairs down to the kitchen. The cozy space was warm and spotless, the copper saucepans gleaming in the light. Something delicious wafted from the cauldron in the fireplace. Harry suspected soup.
“Master Harry!” Kreacher beamed, his white hair rising from his head like masses of cotton. “Would Master Harry like a late supper? Or perhaps a spot of his favourite treacle tart?”
“No thanks, Kreacher, I just wanted to get a glass of water and give this to you.” Harry passed Kreacher a small bag of coins.
Kreacher shook his head ruefully. “Master Harry should not be giving this to Kreacher,” he said, almost to himself, “Kreacher will put this away for Master Harry’s safe-keeping.”
“No, Kreacher, that’s for —” Kreacher had disappeared before Harry could finish. Surely there had to be a better way to explain to Kreacher that Harry wanted to pay him for his work at Grimmauld Place. Both he and Hermione had attempted a dozen times, to no joy. His errand unsuccessful, Harry poured himself a glass of water and trudged upstairs.
Harry switched on the wireless in his bedroom. The WWN was playing a re-run of Charms Over Notting Hill, one of the episodes after Llewellyn died in the Fiendfyre accident at Glenys’s cauldron shop. As Glenys confronted the dastardly vampire Dragomir over his refusal to pay council tax, Harry lay on his four-poster bed and thought about Draco Malfoy. If Hermione was right about the poltergeists stemming from source within the Dark Arts, he could be spending more time at Malfoy Manor than he did at Grimmauld Place. Not that he spent much time at Grimmauld Place as it was, really. Never mind nine-to-five, Auroring could be a five-to-nine sort of business.
Despite his reservations, and despite them having hated each other on principle for half their lives, the day had not been as yelly nor as hexy as Harry had expected. Parts of it had been almost interesting.
As Harry drifted off to sleep to the sounds of Dragomir the vampire accusing Glenys’s attic ghoul of tax evasion, he spared a thought for Draco Malfoy, alone but for Coote the house-elf in that drafty old house. Whatever Harry had pictured for Draco Malfoy’s home life, Malfoy Manor had not been what he’d had in mind.
Friday dawned grey and chilly, with intermittent downpours of rain that spurted as if the sky had become a broken tap. Harry visited the Ministry before Apparating into Wiltshire. If there was to be more pacing and sitting around watching Malfoy flick through papers, he’d need something to do with his hands so he didn’t accidentally break a series of priceless antiques out of sheer boredom. A portion of the Leaning Tower of Paperwork Pain would have to do.
“Well if it isn’t our prodigal son,” said Morag, leaning her head out of her cubical to shout at Harry. “Nice of you to leave me with all the Fishleburn work.”
“Like you wouldn’t have hogged it all to yourself anyway,” Harry said.
“We’re close to a breakthrough. I can feel it.” Morag’s brown eyes were fierce. “I’ll make them take you off the Malfoy case for any arrests, don’t worry.”
“I… I won’t,” Harry said, doing his best to look excited, or grimly determined, or something. He was thinking, faintly, about the last case they closed: the attic filled with blood, the serrated silver instruments, the glass jars of hazy distended shapes.
“You’re a good man in a fight, Potter, but you’re rubbish at research.” Morag shot him a grin and turned back to her desk.
Harry said good morning to Ron and to Ginger Assistant, then filled his messenger bag with a portion of the Leaning Tower. He made sure it contained the Fishleburn file, so he’d be prepared if they had to move quickly.
Relief poured over Harry as he Apparated into Wiltshire, although relief bore considerable resemblance to rain. Harry was soaked within minutes. The gate in front of Malfoy Manor was as ornery as ever, relishing every shouted word as it demanded to know Harry’s business. Eventually the gate capitulated, and Coote let him in the front door.
“Master Draco will be down shortly,” Coote told him, taking his coat almost entirely by force. “Coote will be begging your pardon, but Coote will be taking care of Master Harry’s shoes now.”
Harry began to ask what that entailed, exactly, but before he could speak, there was a puff of air and a rush of warmth and Coote had magically cleaned his shoes of any caked-on mud and sodden water. He shook his feet experimentally. His toes tingled; he felt a bit like he was still steaming.
“The carpets has been seeing too much difficulty already, without any more,” Coote said, brushing down Harry’s coat. “Coote remembers the werewolves —”
“Timely as ever, Potter,” Malfoy drawled, emerging at the end of the hall.
“Hi,” said Harry. “I brought paperwork.” He waved his bag in Malfoy’s direction.
“Even the Chosen One has to deal with bureaucracy,” Malfoy said with satisfaction. “Come along.”
“Coote will be bringing tea shortly, Master Draco,” Coote informed him. She shook out Harry’s coat and made an indiscreet face. “Fashions is been changing much since Coote’s day.”
Harry attempted not to laugh too loudly as he trailed after Malfoy through the labyrinthine corridors of the Manor.
Draco thought he was going to go mad. There was Potter, sprawled out over one of the low tables, pouring over some frankly disgusting looking photographs and looking queasy. And here he was, doing budgeting and slowly but inexorably losing his entire mind.
“I expect I’ll be taking a break from this for a couple of hours,” Draco announced.
Potter nearly expired from obvious relief. He threw down his disgusting photographs. “Listen, I’ve been thinking about it, and I think we have to visit the places it’s happened before,” Potter said. “We have to go through the house, and do the ones in Fugglestone St Peter as well. Actually, I think Fugglestone St Peter will be more helpful, because there hasn’t been as much history of Dark — er.”
“Yes, the manor has an exceptional amount of history of Dark ‘er’,” said Draco dryly. “As it so happens, you are in luck. I have to go into the village anyway, and I suppose I can’t get out of you coming too.”
“Not really,” Potter said. Potter really was becoming irritatingly immune to Draco’s tone. He’d have to make some drastic tone alterations to keep narking Potter off.
Draco led Potter through the kitchen garden. He wasn’t especially pleased about showing Potter what he considered to be a family shortcut, but the alternative was a long walk or flying, and he couldn’t risk Potter mucking about and getting them spotted so near to town. Feckless idiot. Draco ignored Potter through the walled garden and past Lucius IV’s opulent fountain, resigned now to moss and disuse.
“What are you doing in town, by the way? You never said.”
Draco gave a beleaguered sigh that hopefully translated as if you must be so gauche as to ask, but didn’t seem to trouble Potter in the least. “I have some private inquiries.”
“Are these private inquiries with wizards?”
Draco looked back at Potter, trying to suss out if he was making a crack. The sun hit Potter’s golden face in a particularly distracting way. His mouth looked wet and full, dark like he had been worrying his lower lip.
Potter frowned. “What? Do I have something on my face?”
Draco swallowed hard and started forward again. “Nothing. No, they’re not with wizards.”
Draco felt a prickle of irritation as they went through the copse of bare beech trees where he had once ill-advisedly kissed Theodore Nott, a prickle which bloomed into full fury as they passed into the cool shade of Augury Wood. Draco had hid here often when he was seventeen, and each gnarled oak tree was familiar, like an old friend. Having Potter here felt like having him in his memories, in his private thoughts. As if Potter hadn’t been there enough.
“You know, it’s pretty reasonable for me to ask who we’re meeting, and why.” Potter had his hands in his pockets. He was smiling with one side of his mouth. It was terrible.
Draco’s deep and centring breath was neither deep, nor centring. “I’m selling a few objects from the Manor. Apparently they have historical value to Muggles, and since they don’t mind about the Malfoy — anyway. A local woman manages the appraisal and sales. Obviously, since Muggle money makes absolutely no sense.”
“There are twenty-nine knuts to a sickle,” Potter said mildly. “Twenty-nine.”
Draco blinked in Potter’s direction. “I don’t see your point.”
“And seventeen sickles to a galleon.”
“Now you’re just explaining currency; I fail to see how this is relevant.”
“Yeah, and you think Muggle money makes no sense.”
Draco looked at Potter in disbelief. “Muggle money is made of paper. Not entirely, I understand, but enough. How does it not rip? What makes the paper valuable? What if it blows away?” He shook his head, thinking about this. “It could get crumpled in your money bag. You could spill tea on it and stain it, and what if it doesn’t work when it’s stained? Their coins are all right, I give you. I like the one that looks like silver and gold squished together. It’s a nice size, like a galleon. But the paper…”
“Notes,” said Potter. “They’re called notes. Banknotes.”
“They’re completely… irresponsible, is what they are.”
Potter looked on the verge of a laugh. “You should talk to Hermione. She has a lot of thoughts on banking in the wizarding world. Something about a market monopoly, and goblin-controlled —”
Draco made a derisive sound.
Potter prickled immediately. “Excuse me?”
“Nothing,” snapped Draco. They walked on. For a minute Draco actually thought he would no longer have to endure Potter’s frankly bizarre attempts to socialise, until he cleared his throat and started up again.
“So, what things are you selling?” Potter strode on with his hands in his pockets, and then frowned. “They aren’t magical, are they?”
“Do you think I’m a complete idiot, Potter? No. Some old tapestries, and the like. Don’t even move. Entirely dull.”
“Are they —”
“Will you give it a rest? You were the one who wanted to go into town and see if it would unhinge a damn poltergeist —”
Draco ignored him stonily, a blessed silence broken only by the rustling of trees and the sound of their breath in the chilly air.
“Do you own all this?” Potter asked, as they emerged from the wood into a wide field where a brown hare raced across their path. The Gothic folly built by Aias Malfoy shone beyond the hill to the east. Winter berries glinted poisonous red off the hawthorne hedges to the west.
For now, Draco thought. “I do not own anything. This is, however, the seat of the Malfoy family.”
“You’re the Malfoy family.”
Draco clenched his jaw. It would not do to hex his ‘protective Auror detail’, no matter what a terrible wanker he was. “Currently.” Draco absolutely did not trip when crossing Hinkypunk Stream. He didn’t trip, he — stumbled. Slightly.
“You all right?” Potter reached forward to take Draco’s elbow. Draco shook him off at once.
“Fine,” he muttered. If Potter could just stop do-gooding for five seconds, it would do a lot to help Draco’s heartburn.
They walked on along the worn footpath until a cluster of shingled roofs and chimneys rose from the landscape just beyond the spires of the town church.
Though Draco had wandered into Fugglestone St Peter periodically throughout his adolescence and spent considerably more time in the village now, something about the place never failed to disquiet him. All the unmoving pictures, perhaps, or how oddly everyone dressed with their baggy beige trousers with excessive external pockets. He did appreciate how no one looked at him oddly as they walked down the quiet road. He truly had mastered Muggle dress. Potter’s shoulder bumped almost close enough to touch as they passed the handful of half-timbered buildings and headed towards the white and green door, and the sign that read ‘Flowley & Coles’.
The diminutive woman behind the counter squinted through her spectacles and then beamed. “Young Mister Malfoy,” she said. “I’ve been expecting you. Your tapestries have done very well.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Mrs. Coles.”
“Lydia, please. And who is this?” Mrs. Coles eyed Potter. “I haven’t seen you here before. A friend of Draco’s?”
“He, er —” Draco glanced at him. Potter looked taken aback, and faintly amused. “We went to school together.”
Potter strode forward, giving that Only the Hero of the Wizarding World, No Need to Stand on Ceremony smile. “I’m Harry Potter,” he said. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Coles.”
Mrs. Coles shook Potter’s hand, obviously and horrifically charmed. “Just Harry? I was expecting one of those odd names, like Draco, here. All his school friends seem to have unusual names. Blaise. Pansy. I suppose it’s like that, posh school like yours.”
Potter couldn’t quite suppress his snort. “Er?”
“There’s no need to look embarrassed, Mister Potter,” Mrs. Coles said, leaning forward as if to share a secret. “I know all about how strange that school must have been — poor Draco seems to have barely had electricity.”
“Barely,” Potter agreed faintly. Draco’s ears burned but he stayed silent. How was he meant to know that some strange wall protuberance controlled the lighting? He knew now.
“Do you have the, ah. Cheque?” Draco looked significantly at Potter. He knew things, like about cheques.
“Amelia has it in the back. Go on, now, love, and I’ll stay and chat with your Harry, here.” Mrs. Coles beamed and ushered him towards the low wooden door next to a spindly bookcase.
“He’s not my anything,” Malfoy said, and then went red again. His rival, his enemy, his pain in the —
Amelia in the back had the cheque, one of those flimsy paper things that made Draco nervous until he could get Gringotts to exchange it for reliable gold. She asked after a sixteenth century gilt-metal spherical clock that Draco had mentioned the last time he was in, and he discussed its prospective sale for ten minutes before he remembered that he had left Potter not ten feet away on the other side of the wall, talking to Mrs. Coles about Merlin knew what. He made his excuses to Amelia and ducked back into the main room.
“I can’t tell you how surprised I was when Draco turned up,” Mrs. Coles was saying. “The Malfoy solicitor lives in town, but the family has kept themselves to themselves as long as, oh, anyone can remember. Although when I was a girl during the war, there was a young woman who used to come into town from the big house. Odd girl, she was. Must have been an aunt or perhaps a much older cousin of yours, Draco.”
It took Draco a minute to realise that Mrs. Coles was not speaking of Grindelwald or Voldemort, but of one of those Muggle wars. How strange to think that they knew nothing of the danger they had been in. Mrs. Coles had been bustling around the village like everything was normal whilst Voldemort, a dozen Death Eaters and half a dozen werewolves were living a mile away.
Mrs. Coles continued on, taking no notice of Draco. “And of course the Malfoys were very active in the community hundreds of years ago, until about — oh, the Glorious Revolution, I suppose. We have all sorts of Malfoy-named structures scattered about.”
“Mrs. Coles is the village historian,” Draco informed Potter.
“Someone has to be,” Mrs. Coles said. “So many people nowadays have no knowledge of their history! Not you, of course, Draco, dear.”
Draco preened “Potter here never paid any attention in History of M— er, England.”
“Such a shame.” Mrs. Coles tutted and turned to examine a small porcelain chicken.
“It’s not my fault,” Potter said. “Professor Binns was rubbish.”
“A poor excuse,” sniffed Draco. “We should start back, Mrs. Coles. Thank you for your help.”
“Lydia, Draco. Lydia!” Mrs. Coles jabbed the porcelain chicken in his direction as if to underscore the name.
Draco smiled and dragged Potter from the shop before he could charm any more elderly ladies with his unkept, take-care-of-me-I’m-confused-and-have-nice-shoulders aesthetic. Once outside in the drizzle, he realised he still had his hand around Potter’s forearm. He yanked his hand back immediately. Potter blinked at him with his improbable eyes, as useless as a Confounded Puffksein.
“She seems to like you,” Potter said.
“Don’t look so surprised, Potty,” Draco huffed. “I’m likeable.”
Potter looked back at the mullioned window of Mrs. Coles’s shop. “Bugger. How am I meant to do a diagnostic in there?”
Draco watched Mrs. Coles through the glass. “We’ll have to come back after they close.”
Next they visited the discoloured pavement outside the town bakery where the ghost of Lucretia Malfoy had attempted to murder both Draco and a Muggle woman who just wanted to buy a wholemeal loaf. Draco hit Potter with a Disillusionment Charm and stood back as he performed whatever the less-obvious version of the Dark Magic detection charm Aurors were meant to use when Muggles were about. Not excessively about, as the minuscule lane was entirely deserted, but Draco could spot a bored-looking teenage girl at the till inside Fugglestone St Peter Bakery. She narrowed her eyes at him.
Damn, he should have Disillusioned himself as well.
Every step probably telegraphing ‘casual’, Draco strode into the bakery. “One… loaf, please,” he said, suavely.
“What kind,” said the girl.
The door sounded. “You keep going places without telling me,” Potter complained, his Disillusionment shaken off like a bad coat. “You shouldn’t —”
“Sorry if your feelings are hurt,” Draco said, before stupid Potter could blow their awfully cunning cover.
“Help your boyfriend decide what kind of loaf he wants,” the bored girl said, leaning her chin on her hand. She had a metal rectangle she kept glancing at compulsively. The metal rectangle had a cylindrical bit that protruded from the top, onto which was strung several brightly coloured charms.
“He’s not my —”
“Sourdough,” Potter said.
“Cheers,” said the girl, and put her metal rectangle down so she could bag the loaf. “That’ll be four pounds.”
Draco wondered if he could ask the girl to deal with his cheque.
“I’ve got it,” Potter said, and passed the girl a handful of coins.
“You shouldn’t just go into the shops without me,” Potter said, after they left the girl to her metal rectangle. “I’m meant to be keeping an eye on you.”
“Making sure I don’t perform Unforgivables on unsuspecting Muggles, is that it?”
“No. It’s the — poltergeists.” Potter looked uncomfortable. “I have to be there if another one turns up.”
“Well, now we have bread.” Draco brandished the bread. “What do you suggest we do with this, then?”
Draco narrowed his eyes at Potter. He was getting very cheeky for Auror detail.
The sun was starting to set. It coloured the village in a flattering yellow glow. Unfortunately, the flattering glow also fell across Potter. Draco felt it prudent that they move to an interior location. “I’m hungry,” he announced. “Let’s have supper, and then do your — whatever, at Mrs. Coles’s.”
“Lydia’s,” corrected Potter.
Draco ignored him and led Potter into a nearby pub. The ceilings were low and the lighting unflattering, which would do fine.
“The Malfoy boy! Drake, is it?” An old man in a tweed waistcoat beamed in their direction.
“Draco,” Draco said, staring at him. “How do you —”
“It’s a small village, young man. I’m Bertram Coles. You are quite friendly with my wife, I’m given to understand!” Mr. Coles laughed heartily, and ushered them further into the pub. “There’s a lovely table back here for you and your —”
“Acquaintance,” Draco said.
“Hi,” said Harry.
Mr. Coles ushered them into their seats. “Menus? Wine? If I’d have known you were coming, I’d have laid out candles — there are so few young people in Fugglestone St Peter, these days, it really is a treat to have a young couple —”
“Of acquaintances,” Draco interjected.
“Of course,” said Mr. Coles, beaming. “I’ll be back with the wine list. You’ll be wanting wine, I presume? Lydia tells me you are partial to it, Draco.”
Draco felt begrudgingly flattered. He didn’t know Mrs. Coles talked about him to her husband. It had been a long time since he had been the subject of favourable gossip. These days it was all, ‘Draco Malfoy visits a charity ball, probably doing something malevolent’ or ‘Draco Malfoy has a case of nasty poltergeists, it’s probably all the Dark Arts he’s doing, in a malevolent manner’.
“I like it here,” Potter announced. He spread his long fingers out over the oak table. “It feels kind of, uh. Steady.”
Draco eyed the medieval fireplace and had to admit, which surely was a point against him, that he understood Potter’s nonsensical comment.
Mr. Coles returned with the wine list. Draco had no idea about Muggle wines but he figured wine lists were ultimately the same everywhere, which was to say, they were mostly nonsense. He tried to sound like he knew what he was talking about when he ordered.
“So,” said Potter as Mr. Coles retreated, still grinning widely. “Lucretia Malfoy was the poltergeist outside the bakery. Who got you in Mrs. Coles’s shop?”
“Potter,” Draco hissed, “Do shut up.”
“What?” Potter looked around at the admittedly vacant tables. “There’s hardly anyone here, it’s fine. I could do a Muffliato if it’d make you feel better.”
Draco wanted to demand that Potter stop acknowledging Draco’s feelings, but that seemed a bit much. “Eat some bread,” he said instead, and shoved the basket in Potter’s direction.
The silence was, if not stoney, certainly hard enough to be a building material. Draco amused himself by awarding imaginary points to the tackiest decor choice. The carpet certainly scored high, but the ruffled curtains surely had a special place in hell reserved for fabrics that induced migraines. Eventually, Mr. Coles returned with two steaming plates, which he placed in front of them with a flourish.
“There you are, lads. Cuisine fit for a duke!”
Potter stared down at his plate of blackened fish. He forced a smile and speared a piece. When he bit into it, Draco thought he could hear an audible crack. “Delicious,” Potter told Mr. Coles, unconvincingly.
Mr. Coles smiled and patted Potter’s shoulder. “Bless,” he said, and wandered off.
“Oh for Merlin’s sake,” Draco muttered. He palmed his wand and muttered a charm. The fish went from nearly entirely black to slightly charred. Coote could have done better, but at least it looked edible now.
Potter looked up, surprised. “Thanks.”
“I don’t want to deal with any dental emergencies,” muttered Draco. His beef was fine, a bit bland, and the chips were cold. Nothing a subtle warming charm couldn’t fix.
“So, er.” Potter chewed like a cow, all big eyes and a slightly desperate expression. He ate too fast. “How did you get to doing this? I mean, coming into town?”
Draco scowled. “How did you get into Auroring, which you are frankly probably awful at?”
“I’m not,” Potter said, frowning. “My solved case ratio is —”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure you’re very heroic. But I saw the faces you made looking at your files this morning.” Draco took a prim bite of roast, feeling as if he had made an excellent chess move. “Disgust was written all over you.”
Potter squirmed in his seat. “Maybe that was the smell of the room.”
“The room smells fine.” Draco wondered if he just thought that because he had grown accustomed to it. Oh, Merlin, what if he smelled, and he had no idea about it? Surely Coote would have told him. Unless Coote was assimilated as well. Pansy, surely Pansy would have informed him by now if he stank of Salazar knew what, rot and mildew. Or Blaise.
“No, it’s fine,” Potter said. He shovelled fish into his mouth in a way that should have been revolting in any just world. “I just hate paperwork, that’s all.”
Draco raised an eyebrow and went back to his meal. The silence had been downgraded from stony to comparable to packed sod, or mouldy hay bale.
Potter ate the entirety of his blackened fish, which was almost impressive. “When does Lydia’s shop close?”
Draco eyed the gold clock that swung above an oil painting of a horse, and called for the cheque, which he took great pleasure in paying since Potter didn’t have any more Muggle currency on him, whilst Draco had several of their terrible pieces of paper to offer Mr. Coles.
Two days passed, and Harry began to feel almost as if he had a comfortable routine. Harry would show his face at the Ministry, Apparate to argue with the gate, be subjected to various cleaning charms of Coote’s, then spend a few hours doing paperwork in the same room as Malfoy, doing his best to ignore the commentary of portraits and not to squirm too much. In the afternoons, Malfoy usually did errands of some kind. Once they went to a gardening shop. Another time Malfoy made Harry stand outside a greenhouse whilst Malfoy did something inside that sounded a lot like he was uprooting a tree. No poltergeists made themselves known until Monday.
Harry and Malfoy were passing through the drawing room. Malfoy had begun waving the curtains open with his wand when he suddenly stopped, standing starkly upright, his face pale. “Damn,” he said.
There was a loud crash, and an immense, bone white figure came blooming out of the south-facing moulding. Harry caught a glimpse of ruff, doublet and massive calves as the figure whirled passed them, dislodging trinkets from the shelves and curtains from their moorings.
“SHAME UPON THEE,” boomed the poltergeist, chucking a crystal vase at Malfoy’s head. Harry put up a shield charm just in time for the crystal to bounce off and shatter into a thousand glittering shards at their feet. “THE MALFOY NAME, THE BLOOD OF THY ANCESTORS —”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Malfoy said, yanking out his wand. The poltergeist whirled towards Malfoy like a descending tornado. Malfoy aimed a succession of freezing jinxes as it swooped above him, close enough to ruffle the top of his white blonde head.
Harry cast hex after hex, but none of them seemed to land. The poltergeist kept on his procession of fury. A series of dark wooden trinket boxes whirled past them to crash against portraits, who screeched and dodged out of the way. An immense bookcase came tumbling to the ground with a sound like a minor earthquake. A mahogany footstool nearly got Harry right in the face.
All the while the poltergeist kept up screeching indiscriminate abuse at Draco, the portraits, the house itself. “HORROR UPON THE HOUSE OF THY FATHERS, SHAME ON THE BLOOD AND BONE —”
“Friendly!” shouted Harry, ducking a small porcelain goose.
“Quite,” Malfoy shouted back, attempting to protect an inlaid bureau from a flying jewelled dagger.
“FOUL CRIMES DONE, STRANGE AND UNNATURAL—”
Their spells bounced from the poltergeist as if from a dragon’s hide, or a giant’s skin. Try as he might, Harry couldn’t seem to find a vulnerable point. Somehow they found themselves back to back in the centre of the room, shield charms firm as they attempted to immobilise the poltergeist.
“What do you want,” Harry yelled, aiming a freezing hex at the poltergeist. “Come on, use your fucking words!”
Three gilded armchairs smashed through the long windows to plummet to the gravel below. The poltergeist let out a howl of indescribable rage and then, with a clap of displaced air, vanished.
The sudden stillness left Harry’s ears echoing. The room appeared entirely demolished, as if a dozen nifflers and a bonus hippogriff had come through searching for gold, or dinner. Splintered chair legs littered the floor. Malfoy’s back was warm through the layers of jumpers that separated them; Harry could feel that their heavy breathing had synchronised. Faintly, he could hear the sound of sobbing.
“Portraits,” Malfoy said tersely.
Sure enough, Harry spotted one of Malfoy’s ancient relations weeping in the corner of an oil painting, his original frame smashed to bits.
Malfoy let out a heavy sigh, broke away and started repairing windows.
Harry blinked at the space where the poltergeist had been. His only previous interaction with such a spirit had been Peeves who, Hermione had him given to understand, was considered one of the most pernicious poltergeists in Britain. Peeves had always seemed more interested in tricks and pranks, not this sort of blanket fury.
“Is it always like that?”
“That one appeared to be Lucius Malfoy I,” said Malfoy. “The last time it was one of the nineteenth century Malfoys. Hyperion, if I’m not mistaken. He was a real piece of work. He died before he could run the estate into the ground, thank Merlin.”
“I meant —”
“I know what you meant. Yes, that seems to be the general pattern. Though in the Fugglestone St Peter, there are quite a few more civilians about.” Malfoy sighed in a long-suffering sort of way, pointedly charming the stuffing of a destroyed cushion to come flying back into the silk shell.
Harry got the picture, and went about repairing the shattered vase. As they worked, glass flew from the floor into the mullioned windows, and sofas fused themselves back into a reasonable facsimile of how they’d looked before. Remembering the chair he’d broken and unsuccessfully repaired, however, Harry wasn’t sure how well the Reparos would hold up. Portraits knitted themselves back together, and little porcelain objects flew back into some semblance of shapes. There were, Harry thought, rather a lot of snakes.
“Come on,” Malfoy said, and turned and left the room before Harry could ask him where they were going. He jogged along to keep up as Malfoy barrelled along a long corridor of gossiping portraits, each of them calling out advice as they walked past.
“Thou shouldst move the art from thine walls,” suggested one witch in a full snow white ruff.
“So long as this calamity continues,” added a redheaded boy who was holding a small crup on his lap, “We do not wish to be scrap-canvas!”
“Úre lybcræft! Stánhleoþu!” roared a rather rudimentary portrait of a man in full chainmail.
“What?” gaped Harry, turning back to look.
“Isembard Malfoy. No one can bloody understand him; I wouldn’t worry about it.” Malfoy pushed through a pair of heavy oak doors at the other end of the gallery and down a narrow stone staircase. Harry trailed after his white blond head and tried not to trip on various disintegrating carpets.
They entered a room that resembled nothing so much as the kitchen at Grimmauld Place if it had been hit by a powerful Extension Charm. Three wooden tables were laid with what appeared to be an ongoing silver polishing project, and dusty plates and heavy goblets were toppled over onto the wood. Burnished copper pots glinted on shelves along the walls. The enormous stone fireplace could have fit both Harry and Malfoy comfortably, and the opposite one would have been a nice home for an adolescent dragon.
Malfoy went straight for the pantry, and shortly emerged with two discoloured bottles. “Left or right?”
“Left,” said Harry.
“Brilliant. Elf-made wine, of a vintage I can’t read as someone has torn off the label. Frankly I’m shocked there’s anything left; the occupation drank their way through nearly the entirety of our wine cellar. I doubt the werewolves appreciated the vintage particularly, but there you go.” Malfoy plunked the bottle on one of the wooden tables and procured two goblets which he quickly Scourgified. “Well, what are you waiting for? Have you ever had elf-made wine, Potter?”
Harry grinned at the memory. “Nearly, at the funeral for a giant spider. I didn’t drink any, though.”
Malfoy squinted his eyes at him. “Can you be normal for five seconds?”
“Probably not,” Harry admitted. He sat down at the long table. “Not like you’re particularly normal, yourself.”
“I’m normal,” Malfoy muttered, spelling the bottle open and pouring wine into the goblets in great glugs. “I’m entirely normal, thank you very much.” He slid one over to Harry and then made a face. “Fine. I’m not normal. I’m as fucked as you, happy?”
“Terribly,” Harry said. The goblet was heavy with dark green gems and reflected light onto Harry’s fingers as he picked it up.
“That fucking poltergeist. As if the house itself wasn’t enough bloody trouble.” Malfoy took a drink, seemed to consider the taste, and then took a second. He scowled at Harry. “Not that you’d understand.”
“I spent a summer cleaning out Grimmauld Place,” Harry said. “Or — more than a summer. One summer, and then, like, two years when I could find time outside Auror training.” He took an experimental sip of the elf-made wine. It was heavy and sweet. Harry wasn’t sure if he liked it, but he drank more all the same.
“Auror training,” Malfoy said suspiciously. “I suppose everyone hails your various movements, and you are greeted upon arrival by feasts and fealties.”
Harry attempted to imagine Ginger Assistant or Morag greeting his arrival with feasts and/or fealties. “I guess,” he said. The thought of the Auror office made something go cement-heavy in his chest.
“What’s that?” Malfoy looked intently at Harry, his grey eyes thin slits. “What’s that face?”
“Er,” said Harry, drinking to stall for time. “What’s the thing you hate the most about Muggle money?”
“Don’t distract me,” Malfoy warned, then let his gaze wander to a line of silver jars, one of which was emitting a light green smoke. “Cheques, Potter. Do you know what a cheque is?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “A small piece of parchment on which is written my name, and an amount of money — how is this legally binding? Wouldn’t Muggles forge them so frequently they would lose all value?”
Harry opened his mouth to explain about routing numbers, but Malfoy wasn’t finished.
“I have received a succession of these cheques in payment for genuine objects, physical objects, with form in the known world and everything. The first time I thought, surely this is a scam. But the Gringotts goblins were able to make sense of the damn thing, thankfully, as this place needs every knut I can throw at it, obviously.”
Harry stared at Malfoy for a long, wine-soaked moment, and then started to laugh. He couldn’t stop. It was all too strange. Malfoy was laughing too. It was the wine, probably, or the leftover adrenaline from the poltergeist. They drank a glass, and Malfoy enthusiastically poured another. He seemed to grow more effusive with every sip. He smiled more. Harry found he liked it.
“They can’t be drawn to harm Muggles,” mused Harry, shifting the conversation abruptly from the rapid descent of the Tutshill Tornadoes in the latest season’s rankings.
“I don’t see why they would,” Malfoy said. “Well, Hyperion, all right. He got on with Araminta Meliflua, who was really keen on Muggle hunting as a sport. But Lucius I and Lucretia were pre-Statute of —” Malfoy hiccuped, then looked furious at himself for hiccuping. “Secrecy. Bloody loved Muggles.”
“Really,” Harry said, sceptical.
“How the hell do you think we got this place?” Malfoy waved at the kitchen, wobbling. “Muggle king gave it to us, for, you know. Helping out.” He gestured with his wand, which emitted pale blue sparks. “Like, a thousand years ago.”
Harry examined the stone fireplaces. Surely they couldn’t be a thousand years old. Did they have fireplaces a thousand years ago? He wished, suddenly, that he had paid any attention in any history class in his entire life.
“Lucius I wanted to marry that queen. Ginger one. Weasley queen.” Malfoy snickered, and then fell silent. “Hey — weren’t you dating that Weasley?”
“Er,” said Harry. “After the, er. War. But not now. Not for ages.”
“Hm,” said Malfoy, nodding wisely. “Trauma.”
“No.” Harry frowned at his wine. “Just, like. We weren’t working out.”
“Because of the trauma,” Malfoy substituted.
“Stop saying trauma,” said Harry.
“It’s all right,” Malfoy said. “Mother once tried to say the world therapy to me, but she started coughing halfway through and had to leave the room. It was too much for her. She’s far too well-bred.”
“Hermione says therapy a lot,” Harry said glumly.
“I’m so sorry,” Malfoy said.
“She says trauma, too.”
Malfoy nodded knowingly. “She has a large vocabulary.”
The fireplace crackled and sparked, drawing Harry’s eyes to its small fireworks. A face with a faintly familiar pug nose burst from the cinders.
“Coote! Send for Draco, if you would — Oh! Draco I wanted to inform you that — Draco and —” Pansy Parkinson stopped, eyes going saucer-wide. “Potter?”
“Hi,” said Harry, waving.
“This is Potter,” Malfoy said, gesturing expansively at Harry. “Here he is. Sat in my kitchen. That’s Potter, right there.”
“Are you drunk?” Parkinson looked delighted. “Remember how we wanted to make more terrible choices on a Tuesday, well —”
“None of that!” Malfoy leaned forward like he wanted to clap a hand over Parkinson’s mouth, and then stopped himself. “Of this we do not speak.”
“It’s Monday,” Harry said dumbly.
“And he’s clever too.” Parkinson smiled at him like one would smile at a small child one didn’t like especially much. “Is he house-trained?”
“Mocking Potter is my job, Pansy, thank you.”
“I don’t mind,” Harry said, and was surprised to realise that he didn’t.
“Absolutely not. Pansy has no delicacy of touch. No subtle burnished wit!” Malfoy looked immensely pleased with himself. “Clearly the job is fit only for me. Pansy would only leer about.”
Harry examined Malfoy in the firelight. He tried to trick you, Malfoy, with his posh accent and look of irritable condescension, but underneath he was still the boy who did a few too many impressions of hippogriffs in the Great Hall. It was strange how he did that, talk so much and so fast as if to distract people from something else, something underneath —
Parkinson rolled her eyes. “I was going to tell you about Teddy’s scandalous affair with the village tailor, Draco, but I’ll just leave you to your terrible Tuesday choices and —”
“Do not,” said Malfoy.
“Remember your protection charms. You don’t know where he’s been!” Parkinson concluded cheerfully. There was a flash of light, a few golden sparks and the fireplace held only fire once again.
“She suffers from motherwort poisoning,” Malfoy said. “Delusions. Loosening of the tongue. Dreadful.”
“Luna Lovegood would say she had nargles.” Harry held his goblet up to the light. It really was tremendously heavy.
Malfoy brightened. “I know Luna Lovegood. She sends me Christmas cards.”
Malfoy stood up, stumbled, and caught himself on the table. Then he wandered over to the mantle, where he removed a violently violet card and handed it to Harry.
Harry opened the card slowly. Inside, as he had halfway predicted, a large fir tree sprung from the page and began singing a spirited rendition of Thestrals We Have Heard On High.
“You used to be more irritable,” Malfoy said, loudly over the sound of the card.
Harry shut the card. The fir tree’s song echoed faintly in the large stone room before dying away. “I used to be fifteen.”
Malfoy genuinely shuddered. “What a horrific age.”
“I think,” said Harry slowly, “That I just don’t have the energy to hate you anymore. There are — there are a lot of horrible things in the world, a lot, and you aren’t… You aren’t really high up on the list.”
“I am high up on every list, Potter,” Malfoy said. “But thanks, thank you for the ringing endorsement. I am not on the list of the most horrible things in the world. Brilliant. I’ll be having that in my eulogy.”
“You’re welcome,” said Harry. He took a sip of wine and then added, “Draco.”
The look on Malfoy face was a peculiar, pointy thing. Like an anteater. Like an anteater who had been given a type of food that was delicious, but he was not sure if he was allergic to it.
Harry shook his head slightly. The elf-made wine really was very, very wine.
“I’m not calling you Harry,” Malfoy warned.
“That’s okay,” said Harry.
“It’s too bizarre. It’s too — I don’t know how you’re doing it, it sounds unnatural.”
“I wasn’t really thinking of you as Malfoy by the end of the war,” Harry said, half to the ceiling. He was lying on the stone floor. He wasn’t sure when he started doing that. It felt nice, though, on his back. Auroring really hurt his back sometimes. “When I talked about you to —”
“You talked about me?” His pale, pointed face turned intently in Harry’s direction.
“Mmm. Yes, a few times. You know, this wine is extremely wine,” Harry informed Malfoy.
“You should go home,” Malfoy said.
“Yeah,” said Harry. He sat up slowly. “You should call me Harry first. I want to hear if it sounds weird.”
“No, thanks. The Floo powder is that way, Potter. Aurors may vacate the premises. No Muggles will be harmed by any rogue relations this evening.” Malfoy pointed an imperious finger at an enormous pewter vase that rested on a shelf next to the cavernous fireplace.
Harry stood up, bracing his hand on the table to retain verticality. “Say it,” he said, slinging his bag clumsily over his shoulder. It knocked over his goblet, which luckily was empty. Possibly unluckily. Harry felt very dizzy.
“Absolutely not,” said Malfoy. “Out!”
Harry strongly suspected that Malfoy was demanding that he leave because he was dangerously close to vomiting. He wondered if he should call Coote.
“Do not,” Malfoy said, as if he was a mind-reader as well as a very drunk, wine-having person.
Harry shrugged and scraped the bottom of the vase for a pinch of powder. “Just saying, you should say it. I did. Draco.” Harry grinned and threw his Floo powder into the fire, which went violently green and made spots dance in his dazed eyes. He stepped into the fireplace.
On the other side of the flames, Draco’s flickering pale face watched him. “Don’t Floo-splinch yourself, Harry.”
“12 Grimmauld Place!” Harry shouted, then blinked. He wanted to ask Draco to repeat himself, but he couldn’t — he was spinning, whirling away from Malfoy Manor and along the succession of wizarding grates towards home.
Draco did not wake up in his bedroom. He was summoned to consciousness by the rustling of the magnificent gold and silver damask on the state bed in the King’s Bedroom, which was so slippery he nearly slid to the floor. He shifted, and a cloud of dust rose up into the dim air.
“No,” Draco croaked, and sneezed. His head pounded as if a hippogriff had trod upon it.
“This bed is for the king,” hissed Porcius Malfoy’s dusty portrait. “Not for young drunkards!”
Draco spoke into the coverlet. “The king never even bloody visited.”
“No. His disquiet regarding witches… However, he still might,” Porcius said, stalwart.
“There’s a queen now. She’s on all the currency.”
“The lady, too, wouldst like it! Five mattresses in total — two goose-down, the rest common straw. A year’s work on the damask! Woven gold and silver thread in the hangings — this bed did cost nearly four-hundred pounds, my son.” Porcius shifted his robes, the rustle unnecessarily loud. “This wouldst be fit for any monarch living, nay, even those dead!”
“Please. Please, stop shouting.” The damask smelled truly awful. Draco could not remember if anyone during the occupation had taken this room — probably not. Despite what Porcius was claiming, Draco did not feel any goose-down beneath his limbs. Still, some were more attracted to the gilt than to the quality of the mattress. Oh, Salazar’s rotting corpse, Draco hoped no one truly vile had slept here.
Porcius went into a sulk, and Draco attempted to remember how best to get to his bathroom from the King’s Bedroom, where if life were kind he’d find pain potion. Would Accio at this distance result in a broken bottle?
A loud and important throat clearing broke his revery. He looked up to see that Gaius Malfoy had joined Porcius in the frame, nearly edging the latter out with the expanse of his opulent ruff.
“’Tis the gate,” Gaius said, “A visitor hast called. The Potter boy! Thy house-elf still slumbers. If’t be true that thou may ask me —”
“Thou didn’t,” Draco mumbled.
Gaius continued, unconcerned. “The young master mayst consider acquiring a more youthful house-elf. The servant sets the course for the household, boy!”
“No,” Draco said, his head hurting far too much for his normal lecture on the subject.
“The boy doest not mark me, nor the rest of his ancestors,” Gaius sighed.
“Speak not to me, sodomite!” Porcius backed up in his own portrait, ducking behind green velvet curtains.
“Go prick thy face, clay-brained guts!” Gaius swept from the frame, leaving Porcius to hesitantly reemerge.
It took herculean effort for Draco to turn over. When he finally did, he spied that an industrious spider had spun her web from one of the bedposts, reaching nearly halfway across to the opposite post. Spiders didn’t drink. This was wise of them. “Fuck,” Draco said quietly.
“Fuck,” Draco said, even more quietly. It was time. He needed to stand up. Merlin, he hated himself so much. So much more even than on an ordinary, less wine-soaked day, which was already a not unsubstantial amount.
Thanks to Coote’s strict beliefs about drunkenness — she’d managed quite a stint of house-elf overindulgence in her time — if he was sick all over the antique carpet he would have to clean it up himself. Therefore Draco could not be sick on the carpet. He could be sick in a toilet, which would clean itself. The nearest toilet was all the way by the Potioneer's Parlour. Therefore Draco could not be sick in a toilet. He could not be sick anywhere. He would have to die. He would have to die, quietly, and be posthumously launched into an active volcano.
Slowly, Draco slid from the bed to the floor. The back stairs had never seemed more treacherous, but somehow Draco found himself on the ground floor, passing a long corridor full of advice on his way to the front door.
“Dipped in the wassail bowl, young master? For thee, raw eel is what is needed!”
“Nay, a lump of fresh soot in warm milk.”
“Powdered bobotuber and essence of yarrow is what I always used.”
“Yes, because I’m so keen on dying at twenty-five of intestinal blockage like you did,” Draco may not have actually said out loud, but certainly thought. He swung the door open. Potter was not, as he had assumed, standing just outside. Instead, Potter could be glimpsed halfway down the drive having a spirited conversation with the wrong side of the gate. Draco staggered outside, cursed the human race and also nature, and crunched along the gravel towards Potter.
“Hi,” said Potter. Aside from the dark circles under his eyes, he looked fine, because of course he did. Draco wished more ardently than ever for volcanic immolation.
“Why didn’t you just do the wand wave thing,” Draco demanded, swaying a bit on the spot. The sky, thankfully, expressed no hint of dastardly sun. Truly Draco was one with the universe.
“Er,” said Potter. “I don’t know what that is.”
“You might as well. I already added you to the wards.” There was the distinct possibility that Draco was leaning against one of the yew hedges for support.
Potter had a funny expression on his face.
“Well, you’re always here, aren’t you? If you’re on the wards you can just do this.” Draco waved his wand in a serpentine pattern. The gate dissolved like so much mist.
“I’m going to have to learn that,” Potter said. He held up small brown bag. “I brought pain potion.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Draco said.
Potter blinked. “If you don’t want it —”
“I want it, I want it.” Draco grabbed it out of Potter’s hands. “Just a verbal tic, at this point, honestly —”
“Oh,” said Potter. He was smiling. It was awful, but Draco was too hungover to care. “All right.”
Draco ripped open the packaging. He really should mix it with water, but he could not bring himself to give even the smallest of shits. He took a gulp, braced his stomach, and then took another.
Draco held one finger up, and Potter fell silent. They stood there waiting. In the distance, a peacock was possibly being sick over some important plant or sculpture. Despite the ill omen, Draco took a deep breath and did not spew the meagre contents of his stomach over the gravel. “Less imminent danger,” he said, finally.
“I always feel like there ought to be a better formula for those things,” Potter said, nodding at the bottle. “They only work half the time.”
“Not with gin, right?” Draco had made that mistake before.
“Jagerbombs,” Potter said.
“I have no idea what that is, but it sounds disgusting.”
“Never again,” Potter said, then examined Draco with a far too intent expression. “Draco.”
“No,” Draco said flatly.
Potter shrugged. “Do you have a middle name you’re going by now? Something multisyllabic and awful?”
“Indeed.” Draco examined the remnants of the pain potion. Just enough for a little more in a couple hours, if Draco was out of his own remedy. “Let’s go in. It’s going to rain in a minute.”
Potter followed him into the hall. Draco could tell he expected them to take the familiar route to the library, but it had been long enough now that Draco really had no choice. They had to go upstairs.
“I’ve never been on this floor before,” Potter said, swivelling his head to peer into all of the rooms. Dust covers shrouded most of the furniture, but he could see the rest of what happened. Minuscule holes in the wall marked where some of the occupation had played a game of darts, wooden panelling had been stripped away for firewood, singe marks from target practice riddled most ceilings and carpets.
“What’s in those, uh…” Potter trailed off, and Draco looked back to see him make a clumsy gesture at turrets. “If this is the highest floor, I mean. How do you get to them? Are there other staircases?”
“The banqueting houses are only accessible through the roof,” Draco informed him, and braced himself as he swung the heavy door open to the blue bedroom. He saw it anew through Potter’s eyes: cluttered, decrepit and thoroughly damp. Hunks of ceiling had peeled away to expose the beams and rushes underneath, most of which had the green tinge of rot.
“You brought a stranger here?” Great Aunt Lysistrata demanded. “Nephew, this is highly irregular.”
Potter wrinkled his nose. “What’s that smell?”
Lysistrata gave a shriek of shame and disappeared from view.
“Mould, probably,” Draco told him, and began vanishing the disintegrating carpet.
Potter noisily paced the bounds of the bedroom, poking at bits of peeling wallpaper and eying the wet patches above their heads. “How did it get like this? It’s so much worse up here than on the ground floor. Was it your poltergeists?”
“My late father managed with glamour charms rather than sacrifice the galleons for genuine repairs.” Draco scowled at the ceiling. “Three decades of drips in little-used rooms later, and obviously, we have rot.” There was, of course, also the matter of the occupation, but Draco figured that went without saying.
“Do you think that has anything to do with the poltergeist problem?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Potter. Probably. If you’re just going to stand there, getting your nose into my business as always, would you mind lending your mythical magical ability to the bloody problem at hand?”
Surprisingly, Potter didn’t have a retort for him. Instead, he pulled out his wand, rolled up the sleeves of his oversized jumper, and began syphoning water out of the sodden wooden panels.
Draco watched his bare forearms for a long moment. He honestly had expected Potter to go on interrogating him, or make a break to go searching for dark lairs or cursed cauldrons or whatever it was the Aurors thought Draco got up to in his abundant free time. Had he said something the night before? Draco forced his eyes away. “Fine. You start on the walls, and when I’ve finished with the carpets I’ll need assistance with the ceiling.”
After what could have been an hour of silent toil, Potter finally spoke. “Should we just get rid of the furniture? It seems pretty… mouldy.”
Draco looked up. “Certainly not. Lysistrata there would have my head.” He nodded at the vacant portrait and stood, brushing off his knees. “We’ll finish with the ceiling and then see what can be salvaged.”
In a striking difference from how he had been in the library, Potter was surprisingly good company as they dried the rushes and transfigured the ceiling beams. Draco supposed it was that irritating Gryffindorian need to do things. He didn’t feel the need to chatter, or ask nonsensical questions, or break priceless heirlooms, or sigh pointlessly at truly horrific photographs. Instead, Potter’s questions were rather topical. Like, “Is there something we can do about that?”
Potter was pointing to the fireplace. It had once been oddly grand for the bedroom of a maiden aunt, with spectacular woodworking that told of a more important use for the room in days gone by. Now the cornice moulding had great hunks taken out of it, and the ornate frieze was all but unrecognisable.
“We could try,” Draco said. He had left an ancient book of architectural spells on Lysistrata’s bedside table the last time he had worked in this room, and he began flipping through it. Potter peered over his shoulder. His breath was warm on the back of Draco’s left ear. An irritating rush of want threatened to drown his entire body. He shoved it to the back of his mind. Ignoring Potter, he aggressively scanned the book for options.
“Here,” he said, jabbing a finger at the page. “This is meant for restoring transfiguration. This side is stone; this side is wood.”
Potter squinted at the page, his chin almost resting on Draco’s shoulder. “I can’t make that out at all. Is this English?”
Draco elbowed Potter away from him and carried the book to the front of the fireplace. “Here, I’ll try it, and then you have a go.”
Draco waved his wand and performed the incantation over the stone lintel that made up the lower portion. With great creaking and crumbling, the stone refashioned itself into some semblance of integrity. He eyed it critically. “Not too bad,” he decided. “Now you. Only you move your wand in the other direction when you’re not restoring stone.”
Draco watched as Potter guided his wand through the same incantation, with the slight variations needed for wood.
“Hey!” Potter stepped back from the fireplace. “Look at that!”
The carved frieze of unicorns above the chimneypieces settled into place, tossing their great manes before going still.
Draco blinked. “They haven’t moved in years.”
“I knew portraits could move, obviously, and photographs, and statues, of course, but —” Potter gestured up at the unicorns. “Brilliant!”
Even the repairs Draco had done didn’t move anymore. He did well enough setting them mostly to rights, the wyverns in the long hall and the phoenixes in the dining room, but he figured the original enchantments must have been too worn to ever fully recover. “Honestly, Potter,” he said, mouth dry, “Over a decade in the magical world, and you don’t notice fairly elemental aspects of magical architecture?”
“I’ve never spent a lot of time in, you know.” Potter gestured at the room. “Stately houses.”
“Hogwarts had moving carvings,” Draco said, still watching the unicorns. “You really didn’t notice? I don’t know why I’m surprised. You have an incredible talent for compartmentalisation.”
Potter made a face. “I had a lot on my mind.”
“Yes, yes, you’re very heroic, now can you please help finish the ceiling? If any more water gets through those unicorns won’t be long for this life.”
By the time the ceiling began to knit itself together, darkness had fallen over the room. Coote had come and went, leaving her plate of sandwiches. A few crusts still lay on the silver platter. Draco did not know what time it was, only that the room had begun to look less like a ruin, and that the gas lamps had lit.
“The furniture next?” Potter lifted the bed’s coverlet and grimaced. Draco did not want to know what he might have found there.
“I’m having a break,” Draco announced, and poured himself a cup of tea from the flask Coote had left.
“Can I ask you something?” Potter sat down across from Draco on the now bare floor and reached for the flask.
“You just did.”
Potter made a face. “What are you, thirteen?”
“You bring it out in me,” Draco muttered. Potter had no idea how true that was.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, because I’m not — I mean, I don’t meant to criticise you, or say you shouldn’t, or anything. It’s just —”
Draco knew where this was going. “Why do I bother?”
“No,” Potter said. “I know why.”
Draco stared at him. “You do?” Even with what happened here, even with who lived here, he wanted to ask, but didn’t.
“If I had something like this, something from my family…” Potter stared down at his cup of tea, watching the steam rise from it in hazy swirls. “No, I was wondering why you’re doing this alone.”
“I’m not alone,” Draco said. “I have Coote. And —” He was going to say his mother, but that wasn’t even remotely true at this point. “Pansy comes by sometimes. And Greg, and Blaise.” They did not exactly help with repairs, but still. They counted. He wasn’t some recluse. At least, he wasn’t some recluse on purpose.
“Well, I’ll help. So long as I’m here with the investigation, I mean.”
Draco was suddenly too aware of how close they were sitting: Potter’s knees were maybe an inch away from his own. He felt dizzy. “All right,” he said. He refilled Potter’s cup without his asking. He hoped that was thanks enough.
Harry dodged four people, seven rolls of parchment and an owl on his way to the Auror office. Beyond the heavy oak doors Georgie Lempke and Ron were deep in conversation in Ron’s cubicle, jabbing their wands at a large piece of parchment laid out over the desk. Harry raised a hand in greeting and Ron smiled with half his mouth, quickly going back to his parchment.
Harry’s in-tray overflowed with memos. He grabbed the lot and shoved them into his bag, not bothering to flip through them. He ducked in on Morag next.
“Morning,” he told her, leaning up against the partition.
“So bloody close,” Morag said, waving the Fishleburn photographs at him. “I can feel it.”
Morag usually got murderous close to the end of a case. Harry knew it would be nearly time for an arrest when she started speaking only in monosyllables.
“Right,” Harry said. “I’m on my way to Malfoy Manor and wanted to know if you needed me to do anything.”
Morag had a grim look on her face, dark eyebrows pulled low over her eyes as she examined the photographs.
“It’s a matter of time,” she muttered, almost to herself.
“Yeah,” said Harry, unconvincingly. “About what I said before, with the needing of anything?”
“Oh, right,” Morag said, looking up. “I’m dropping in on Malfoy Manor today. Higher ups want us to do a full scan of the house. Dark Arts, you know. Make sure there aren’t any Dark artefacts lying around that Malfoy Minor could be using to —”
“He isn’t,” Harry said.
Morag frowned. “Have you done a thorough scan of the house? All of it? Including the cellar, and the attics?”
“There are attics? I mean, no, but —”
“But nothing, Potter, you can’t be vouching for him. You know what people are capable of.” Morag glanced at the Fishleburn photographs. “You know what people can do. Even when you think they’ve changed.”
If there was one thing that unsettled Harry most about the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, it wouldn’t be all the blood, or the gory photographs, or the constant facing of death. It would be how quickly Aurors started to get that dead look on their faces as they told you what people could be capable of.
“He’s not doing it,” Harry insisted. “Malfoy is as surprised by the poltergeists as anyone else. They’ve damaged the Manor as much as they have the village. It doesn’t make sense for him to be behind them.”
Morag fixed him with a skeptical look. “Whatever. Still got to do the full scan. Top to bottom.” She made a face. “Should take all bloody day. Personally, I’d rather focus on Fishleburn, but orders are orders.”
As he and Morag walked to the Apparition point, Harry thought about Draco and Mrs. Coles, and how proud Draco had been when he was able to scrounge up enough Muggle notes for dinner. This was not, he thought, something he could use as evidence of lack of wrongdoing, but it felt significant all the same.
They Apparated into the familiar country lane, closer now that Harry had pinpointed the outlines of the wards on Malfoy Manor. Morag looked vaguely impressed as Harry dissolved the gate with a serpentine flick of his wand.
“Less arguing with metalcraft this way,” Morag said.
“To be honest, I kind of miss it,” Harry admitted, as they passed through the translucent gates.
“You would, you complete and utter weirdo.” Morag clapped him on the shoulder and strode up the drive towards the door. She rapped efficiently on the wood and the door swung open to reveal Coote in her floral pillowcase.
“Shoes off, if you please,” Coote told them, standing back to let them through into the hall. “And Coote will be taking your coats.”
Morag shrugged off her jacket and handed it over without really looking at Coote, too busy peering down the corridor.
“Thanks, Coote,” Harry said, passing her his robes.
“You is being very welcome, Master Harry,” Coote said, examining his robes with her usual look of genial disapproval. “Coote will be taking these to be cleaned.” She snapped her fingers and disappeared, leaving nothing but a quiet clap of air in her wake. Morag didn’t so much as flinch.
“Now where is the lord of the manor,” Morag mused, eyeing the portraits with interest.
There was the sound of footsteps, and Draco rounded the corner ahead of them. He looked flushed, grinning. “Potter! Potter, Coote and I found the oddest —” He spotted Morag, and his face smoothed over like someone raking away footsteps from the dirt. “MacDougal.”
Morag looked between Harry and Draco, blinking. “Morning, Malfoy.”
“Robards wants us to scan the whole house,” Harry said, apologetically. “He wanted us both to do it, so —”
“So one of you could keep an eye on me?” Draco folded his arms tightly across his chest.
“So it won’t take thirty-four years,” Harry finished.
Morag was watching them both with mild interest. “Right. Well, we have actual work to do, so I’m going to leave you two to…whatever this is. Potter, I’ll work clockwise, you do anticlockwise and we’ll meet in the middle.”
“Deal,” Harry said, pulling his wand out. “Do you want the courtyard or should I do it?”
“Whoever finishes this floor first.” Morag nodded at them, walked the rest of the way down the hall and turned left.
“Potter,” Draco said quietly. “I don’t want her seeing the upper floors.” Draco sounded as if every word pained his throat, and his face had gone an odd shade of pink.
Harry thought of the Blue Bedroom, and the dozens of similarly ruined rooms that surrounded it. “I don’t think we can get out of it entirely. Robards wants the whole thing done, and soon.”
“Teach me the damn spell,” Draco demanded. “Come on, if MacDougal sees that and tells her mother… Merlin, my mother would never want to show her face in British society again.”
“What about the ground floor? That’s not too bad,” Harry said slowly, thinking hard. “We could take the rest. She really wants to work on this other case we have. She doesn’t give a damn about this one, really.”
They had pitched their voices low, and accordingly were standing quite close together in the corridor. Malfoy’s skin smelled of soap. Bits of blond hair fell down into his face, catching the light from the windows.
Draco spoke slowly, his gaze slipping down Harry’s face. “She could do the cellars, maybe. They were always awful; there won’t be much difference.”
The cellars, Harry thought dumbly, watching Draco. Voldemort had kept people imprisoned there: Ollivander, and Griphook, and Luna. Luna, who now sent Draco Christmas cards. Harry wondered what Draco had done to rate that. He wondered if he had visited her. He thought of how frightened Draco had looked that night, years and years ago, just steps from where they stood now. He still had never set foot in that drawing room. The door at the end of the hallway was always shut.
“Was that MacDougal of the Scottish MacDougals?” inquired one of the portraits in a high, carrying voice. “She is improperly dressed, for an Auror. Dragonhide!”
Harry and Draco stepped hastily back from each other. “I’ll teach you the spell,” Harry said. “Come on, let’s do this corridor first.”
Draco did not try the spell for the first time until they reached a long, heavily decorated room he called the Grey Gallery. Wood-panelling and a latticed ceiling made the space feel quite cramped. The double rows of gilded portraits gave the impression of a rather crowded and historically improbable queue. Several of the portraits were empty, their inhabitants most likely finding other locations more interesting.
“Do you ever get lost?” Harry wondered, trying to figure out where exactly they were in the house. The trouble with Malfoy Manor was, amongst other things, that corridors seemed to be an afterthought in many parts of the house. Rooms just led into other rooms in no discernible order, like a posh and dusty rabbit warren.
“It’s my house,” Draco said, mimicking the patterns for the detection spell and mouthing the words.
“I think you need a map, you know, for outsiders.” If Draco were to disappear at this moment, Harry was fairly sure he’d wind up wandering through rooms for years, going up and down staircases, never to emerge again. It wasn’t as if Malfoy Manor was the largest stately house he’d ever seen. It wasn’t even particularly enormous, for what it was. It was just confusing.
“If there weren’t so many bloody additions, we’d just have the great hall, and everyone would have to sleep on rushes,” Draco said. “Shall I just… do it, then?”
“Give it a go.” Harry stood back and watched as Draco performed the spell, his forehead knit together. He held his wand carefully, almost gingerly, as if it was hot to touch. Slowly, the room began to fill with light. Harry took out his notebook and the gel pens Hermione had given him as a joke that he had ended up using almost every day, and began to take down the information.
He was jotting down his observations surrounding an ancient sofa that appeared to have been embroidered with images of a rather brutal troll battle when Draco gave a surprised shout.
“What,” Harry began, and then stopped, as he did not need to ask what anymore.
A poltergeist was hurtling across the Grey Gallery, holding a walking stick in his translucent fist. “MAY THE HOUSE FALL UPON YOUR HEAD!” he shrieked, and used his walking stick to unseat the upper row of portraits to his left. The gilt frames smashed to the ground, tearing through furniture and scratching the floor.
“Oh, fuck,” Harry said, and began the barrage of spells. As usual, no hex seemed to land on the poltergeist and he took instead to various protective charms, attempting to limit the damage.
“Which one’s this,” panted Harry, freezing an armchair in place a few inches from where it was about to hurtle through a mullioned window.
“My grandfather,” Draco said, and ducked a footstool. “Abraxas.”
“AN ABSOLUTE BLOODY DISGRACE,” shouted the poltergeist. Harry could see that he wore fairly modern dress robes, although his mutton chops were not exactly contemporary.
A bolt of light shot past Harry’s shoulder; Morag had appeared in the doorway with her wand raised.
“The fuck?” She pitched her voice over the cacophony of another row of portraits becoming violently dislodged from the wall.
The poltergeist went on howling something about ancestry and duty, then attempted to chuck a mouldering throw blanket at them. The only incapacitating aspect of the move was the sudden shower of spiders.
“The actual fuck,” Morag shouted, brushing spiders from her hair.
Draco pushed Harry aside as an end table came careening past to splinter on a now-vacant portrait.
There was a sharp crack, and the poltergeist disappeared as suddenly as he had came.
“Bizarre,” said Morag, looking at the place where the poltergeist had last been howling, “but I’m still not convinced this is our department.”
“Cheers,” Draco said dryly. He righted an overturned armchair. This did not do much to change the room’s new resemblance to a shipwreck.
Harry knelt by a cluster of portraits. Luckily none of them appeared to be slashed, or broken. The inhabitants had all fled for other environs, but other than their absence the canvases seemed all right.
“Merlin, I hate these old piles,” Morag said, flicking a spider from her shoulder. “Dust and history and a lot of bloody judgmental portraits. One of them in the dining room called me a harridan. Glad I’m not inheriting. Give me a new build in the city over this any day.”
“I’ve got to check on the portraits,” Draco said, darting occasional glowers in Morag’s direction. “They’ll be nightmares just about now.” He stalked from the room, a spider still clinging to his right shoulder.
Harry pulled Morag aside. “Would you do me a favour?”
“Depends on the content. Buy you a drink, yes. Help you move house, no.”
“Would you let me catalogue the rest of the house? You can work on Fishleburn; I know you’d rather anyway.”
Morag looked askance at him. “You’re not covering Malfoy Minor’s arse for something, are you?”
Harry shifted. “Nothing that is important to the investigation. Or illegal.”
Morag did not blink for a very long minute. “Yeah, all right,” she said finally, shrugging. “I bloody hate being in places like this. And I don’t see the point of this investigation, anyway. Really think this is one for the Spirit Squad.”
“Cheers, Morag. I owe you one.” Harry clapped Morag on the shoulder, grinning.
“You owe me twelve,” Morag said. “I’m going to work from home. No use getting Robards in a twist. Have this done soon, all right? I don’t want to have to deal with the hassle.”
“Definitely. No problem.” Harry beckoned Morag out of the Grey Gallery. “I’ll show you the way out. It’s a bloody maze in here.”
“No need. Pureblood, remember?” Morag waggled her fingers like she was doing sign language applause. “I’ve been here before.”
“Oh. Oh, right,” Harry said, pretending as if he had not entirely forgot this fact. Morag waved and disappeared into the next room.
“We shall all be scrap,” sighed a forlorn portrait of a young girl. She was holding a vicious-looking dog in her lap. “Woe betide us all.”
Harry found Draco in the drawing room, attempting to convince a dozen figures huddled into one portrait that the Grey Gallery was not, in fact, host to their imminent demise.
“Morag’s gone to work on our other case,” Harry told him. “We’ve just got to scan the rest of the house in the next day or so.”
“Oh,” Draco said, turning around. He looked very young all of a sudden, all the pointy rigidity gone from his expression. “I — er. Thank you.”
Harry was not sure how to respond, besides an awkward, “You’re welcome.”
“That was the first poltergeist I knew. Personally, that is, not in portraits.” Draco’s eyes had fallen upon a carved heraldic wyvern. “Odd. That was the first time I thought of the poltergeists as ghosts.”
“But they’re not ghosts. Right?”
“No, they’re not ghosts.” Draco had a funny expression that Harry could not quite piece together, a little bitter and a little young. “Shall we visit the source?”
Without a word, and assuming Harry would follow, Draco set off through to the bare stone courtyard. Harry wished he was slightly less predictable, and followed close at his heels.
“Would you wait up a minute,” he asked, trying to get his bearings. At some point he would understand how to navigate this place. Apparently some point was not now.
Draco did not answer, but pushed through a pair of heavy oak doors emblazoned with wyverns, and into a minuscule antechamber. They passed then into a rectangular room with a high, vaulted ceiling. What could have once been pews were pushed together at the far end of the room. An enormous stained glass window dominated one wall that Harry saw, as he stepped closer, held a sprawling a family tree. Countless names glinted in the afternoon light, the details so precise and fluid that it could only have been made by magic. Harry thought immediately of the Black tapestry that still clung to the wall in Grimmauld Place. Large letters near the ceiling proclaimed: House of Malfoy, Sanctimonia Vincet Semper.
“So distractible, Potter,” said Draco and gingerly tugged Harry’s elbow to get him moving again.
Harry absently touched his elbow as he followed Draco down a flight of stone steps to a dusty, windowless room. Harry’s eyes adjusted slowly to the dim light, but soon he could make out the four levels of shelves and, stacked upon them, rows and rows of coffins.
“This is where all Malfoys go, in the end. If they don’t wind up in Azkaban, that is.” Draco’s tone was prickly. “Sometimes even if they do. Bribe the right guard and you can have them shipped home for in-house disintegration.”
A handful of coffins appeared newer, untarnished wood draped with red velvet cloth, but on most the cloth was moth-bitten and tatty. Further back some of the older coffins had began to rot away, exposing lead cases beneath. Harry spotted massive, capacious coffins and heartbreakingly tiny ones, hardly longer than a loaf of bread. A few bare skulls were tucked humbly in the few empty spaces, next to ornate urns and small plaques bearing the names of their inhabitants.
“Somewhat undignified,” Draco commented, nodding at the exposed bones. “We’re not sure who those are, truth be told.”
“I thought it would be grander,” Harry said, thinking about the white tomb that encased Dumbledore like a monument. “It’s so…”
“Cramped? Disorderly? Hoarder-esque?”
Harry shrugged. “All of the above.”
Draco strolled down the row of the deceased, wiping spiderwebs from the labels. “Down further is my father.”
Lucius Malfoy, so hungry for acclaim when he was alive, had sprung for a marble coffin in death. The flatpack stacking of ancestors around his resting place somewhat distracted from the grandeur. Harry squinted at the inscription. Lucius Abraxas Malfoy, 1954 - 1999, Sanctimonia Vincet Semper. “I’m sorry,” Harry said.
“No you’re not.”
“No, I’m not,” Harry admitted. “But I am sorry you lost your father.”
Draco looked back, his face shadowed. He seemed to be watching Harry intently, his eyes raking over his face. “Thanks,” he said, finally.
They were quiet for a long moment, their breathing amplified in the small space. Harry began to feel nervous. He didn’t think it was all the skeletons — Harry wasn’t particularly afraid of death, seeing as he had already died once — but something about the atmosphere…
Harry looked away. He did not know what to say, so he thought about the appearance of Abraxas Malfoy. “There’s something your poltergeists remind me of,” he said, slowly. “At my house, there’s this portrait — my house used to be the home of the Black family.”
“I know,” Draco said.
“Right, well, the portrait tends to go after people in the same way your poltergeists do. A lot of talk about stains of dishonour, that sort of thing, to me and the others. To, er. Muggleborns and, well. Blood traitors.”
“Blood traitors,” Draco repeated.
“I thought — what if there’s something in your house that’s enchanted like Mrs. Black’s portrait? To rebel against, uh. Behaviour it’s not so keen on.”
“You think I might be a… a blood traitor.” The look on Draco’s face was complicated. He had gone all pointy again.
“Well, no. I mean, maybe.” Harry shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s just a thought. We could test it out, if you wanted.”
Draco looked at him pointily for a while and then said, “Fine.”
Fifteen minutes later they Apparated into the small square of Grimmauld Place, where the grass in the centre struggled valiantly against winter and London itself in its attempt to grow in more than little tufts. There were two new iron benches now in the square, signifiers of the area’s economic upturn.
“Harry Potter’s residence is at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, London,” Harry told Draco, who gave him an odd look.
“Why are you — oh.” Draco watched as number twelve emerged from between numbers eleven and thirteen. “You’re secret-keeper to your own house?”
Hermione had once been secret-keeper, but it had become so awkward owling her whenever he wanted to shag someone he decided it was worth it to do it himself. He was not sure how to explain this to Draco.
“I’ve been here before, you know,” Draco told him as they walked across the street towards the pavement. “When I was very small. There were dinner parties.” He looked up at the house with a look of dawning memory, blinking rapidly in the cold evening air. “Mother didn’t like them, I think, but she always made us attend anyway.”
Harry unlocked the front door with a tap of his wand, and waiting for the creaking of gears to subside before opening it to reveal the front hallway. “I hope it’s not like you remembered,” he said, picturing the rather horrific decor choices of the Black family.
“I recall something about beheaded house elves.”
Harry grimaced. “Gone, thankfully.” Kreacher had thrown a fit, but Harry was confident the indoctrination couldn’t last forever. Putting aside Hermione as secret-keeper, leading a one-night stand up a staircase lined with elf heads tended to put a dampener on any intimate activities. He had kept, however, the serpent-shaped doorknobs. They seemed rather friendly.
“This is — nice,” Draco said when they were inside. “Not entirely awful.”
“We were able to get rid of a lot of the old things, but not Sirius’s mum’s portrait.” Harry nodded at the curtains up ahead.
“My Great Aunt Walburga.” Draco tucked his hands tightly into his pockets. His shoulders were up by his ears. “Well, how does this work?”
“We open the curtains, and see if she shouts at you.” Harry strode forward. “Come on, let’s see.”
Draco’s face glimmered parchment-white as Harry drew the curtain back.
“Filthy half-breed! Begone from this, the house of my lineage, you disgusting —” Walburga Black had caught sight of Draco, and her yellowing face twisted into a simpering smile. “Darling Narcissa’s boy, and he has grown, just the picture of his father —”
Draco dragged the curtain shut, and the hallway went silent again. “No,” he said, forehead working painfully. “I suppose since my portraits don’t recognise me as… Well. That’s a bust.”
“Draco,” Harry said slowly, fighting back a smile, “Were you hoping you counted as a blood traitor?”
“No,” Draco snapped, but his ears went pink.
Harry suddenly wanted to do something absolutely out of character. He wanted to touch Draco’s nose, or his earlobe, or hold him tightly about the waist. The thought was so surprising that he had to look away. All the dust at the Manor, he thought wildly. Something had to have been clouding his brain.
“Come on, I’ll make tea,” Harry said, instead of facing the deluge of bizarre images that the dust had clearly implanted into his mind. He led Draco down the narrow stairs to the kitchen, where someone with very bushy brown hair was sitting at the long table, stirring a mug of tea with a flick of her wand and listening to Charms Over Notting Hill.
“Hermione?” Harry could feel Draco tense up behind him. They were not touching, and Harry could not see him, but he could practically feel Draco pulling inward on himself, his arms crossing over his chest.
Hermione turned round. To her credit, the surprise on her face when she saw Draco quickly smoothed over into a rather awkward attempt at a smile. “Hello, Harry. Malfoy.”
“Granger,” Draco said.
“We were testing a theory about the poltergeist problem,” Harry said. He did not know why he felt he needed to explain himself. This was his house, after all, but there was something horrifically understanding on Hermione’s face that made him need to clarify.
“I see,” said Hermione, still looking unbearably tolerant. “And was your theory proven correct?”
“No,” said Harry. He did not know what else to do, so he put the kettle on. Draco stood awkwardly by the doorway, tension written all over his features. As Harry had predicted, he had his arms crossed so tightly he was gripping one bicep with white knuckles. “The poltergeists sort of — well, they act a bit like Sirius’s mum. Only more physical.”
“They attack you?”
Harry got out two mugs. He could have gone for the full tea service, but for some reason he did not want to do that in front of Hermione. “Sort of, indirectly. They attack everything, and you happen to be — well, there. Although they do shout a lot about stains upon their households, which could have been at us.”
“And you wanted to see if Malfoy would be given the same treatment by Mrs. Black.” Hermione stirred her tea thoughtfully. “It’s an interesting theory. Do your portraits treat you like the poltergeists do?”
Draco did not seem to realise immediately that Hermione had addressed him. “No,” he said coldly, and then seemed to wince. “I mean to say, the portraits at the Manor do not, generally. I don’t think many of them exactly approve of my stewardship, or at least at the present condition of said stewardship, but they don’t generally shout obscenities without specific cause.”
Hermione hummed thoughtfully.
“I should go,” Draco said. He darted a look at the fireplace, and the jar of Floo powder sitting on top of the mantle, and then at Hermione.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay for tea?” Harry motioned at the two mugs.
“No, no, thank you.” Draco’s eyes didn’t seem to know where to settle. He was glancing at Hermione, the fireplace, Harry, and the mugs in quick succession. “I must be going. Thank you for your hospitality. See you tomorrow.” He nearly backed out of the room in his haste to leave. “Goodbye,” he added as an afterthought, and went back up the stairs. The front door shut with a resounding thud before he could ask if Draco wanted to Floo, rather than Apparate.
“That was odd,” Harry said, looking at the doorway.
“I thought it went all right, considering.” Hermione sipped her tea. “Although you forgot we had plans, Harry.”
“We did?” Harry hit his forehead. “Oh, bugger. Sorry, Hermione. Morag was at the Manor today, and we had another poltergeist attack, and then I just had the idea about Mrs. Black, so —”
“It’s all right, Harry, I understand. I got a nice bit of time to catch up on the wireless. Can you believe Glenys’s brother-in-law was really Dragomir under Polyjuice? Ridiculous! Although, I think Kreacher is avoiding me.”
Harry would bet the contents of his Gringotts vault that Kreacher did not want another explanation about fair wages and holiday time. “Sorry I’ve been so distracted. We just don’t know where to go with the investigation,” Harry admitted, sitting across from Hermione with his mug. “Morag is so focused on this other case that she isn’t really thinking about the Manor, and we’ve just been doing it ourselves.”
Hermione was watching him with her brown eyes narrowed. It was a familiar look, but its familiarity did not make Harry feel less like he was being x-rayed. “Well,” she said, “It is an interesting conundrum.”
“The poltergeists.” Hermione drummed her fingers on the table. “They seem so intimately connected to the Malfoy lineage that I wonder if anything like this has ever happened before. There must be something about the enchantments done on the property. Does the house have any historical records?”
“Only about a million,” Harry said, thinking of the rows and rows of books he had perused in the library. “I couldn’t get through them all. They’re all in, like, Olde English with healthy servings of extra Latin.”
“Well, I’m off work tomorrow, and Ron has a case he’s stuck in the office with all weekend. If you’d like, I could take a look.” Hermione shifted in her seat. “And so long as I’m there, I wouldn’t mind having a look at some of his grimoires. I’ve read that the Malfoys have a few very rare editions.”
“Really?” Harry could have kissed her. “I’ll ask Draco if he minds, but honestly, it’d be a real help.”
“Draco?” Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Yes, do ask him. I wouldn’t want to step on any toes.”
“Hold on, I’ll firecall.” Harry went to the fireplace and got a handful of silvery Floo powder, threw it into the flames and stuck his head gracelessly into the grate. “Malfoy Manor,” he said loudly, and there was a rush of wizarding rooms until the kitchen of Malfoy Manor slotted into place. Coote was dozing at one of the long tables, mid-polish of a silver goblet.
“Er, excuse me?” Harry called. “Coote, is Draco there?”
Coote jolted awake, fumbling the silver goblet to the floor. “Oh, you will be excusing Coote, Master Harry! So clumsy these days, so terrible. Yes, yes, Master Draco is in the Violet Parlour. Coote will just be fetching him now.”
She disappeared with a pop, and Harry was left alone in the cavernous space, but for a few scattered paintings.
Harry saw Draco’s feet before he saw the rest of him. His shoes were scuffed, and as he knelt in front of the fireplace Harry could see the worn places on the knees of his trousers.
“Hi,” Harry said.
Draco looked torn between looking pointily embarrassed and amused. “Potter? Did you have a question that couldn’t wait until, oh, twelve hours from now?”
“Yes. I was taking to Hermione about the poltergeist problem, and she was wondering about the house records. I told her I’d seen a lot in the library.”
“Yes, and more in the Muniment Room. I’ve gone through many of them, but… Why? Does she want to have a look? I could owl some to you.”
“No, she, er. Well, we thought it might be quicker if she just came by to look in person. Would you mind?”
“Would I mind?” Draco had gone quite pale. “Are you sure that’s a good idea, Potter?”
“I don’t see why not. Hermione’s brilliant at research. She also wanted to have a look at your grimoires, if that’s all right.”
“Oh,” Draco said. The firelight glinted green in his pale grey eyes. He was not looking at Harry, but at something slightly to his left. Perhaps the edge of his ear, or the places his hair tended to stick up. “If she doesn’t mind, I don’t. Mind, that is.”
“Brilliant.” Harry grinned at Draco, feeling if he just did that enough then perhaps he might stop looking so peaky. “Brilliant, then we’ll see you tomorrow.”
Draco looked at Harry then. He was biting his lip, and the colour stood out starkly pinkish in his white face. “See you tomorrow,” he said, and stood up before Harry could say anything more. Left with a view of Draco’s shoes and a glimpse of pale ankle, he took his head out of the fireplace.
“Well?” Hermione rested her head on her hand, watching him. “What does he say?”
Harry decided not to worry about it. “He says he’ll see us tomorrow.”
Draco stood at the window in the Grey Gallery. Two small shapes walked up the long drive, becoming more visible with every step. Potter waved his wand to dissolve the gate and Hermione Granger stepped through with him, eying the house with interest.
His stomach plunged, and he stepped abruptly away from the glass. This had been a terrible idea. The only other time Granger had been to Malfoy Manor, she’d been violently tortured by Draco’s deranged auntie whilst Draco had stood shaking in a corner of the room and tried to disappear. The memory rushed over him like a cold pail of water, or a sudden infestation of chilled flobberworms.
There was a sharp knock on the door. Draco stood very still.
“Master Draco, is Coote to be greeting the guests?” Coote appeared in the doorway, hands on her hips. She looked entirely schoolmarmish.
“No, that’s all right,” Draco said. Granger wasn’t keen on house-elves working in houses, or something like that. Best not to put her off right away.
Draco braced his shoulders and made his way to entranceway and, feeling like he would rather bury himself underground than face this experience, opened the door.
Potter, wiping his glasses on his jumper, grinned up at him before climbing the stairs. Granger followed at a lag with a chronically polite expression. Draco stepped back to let them into the hallway, and closed the door. It was too late to make a run for it. He would have to get a grip.
“Hi, Draco,” Potter said, and slid his glasses back on. He frowned. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Fine,” Draco said faintly, watching Granger. She was peering into the frame of Septimus Malfoy II’s portrait.
“Are those nifflers in the background?”
“Er, yes, actually. He kept a colony of nifflers out in the old folly; used to set them out on the grounds to dig up treasure.”
Septimus II’s portrait nodded imperiously. “Mighty useful beasts,” he told them.
“Hm,” said Granger.
“Shall we go?” Draco wished he would stop looking pathetically towards Potter, like Potter might be able to explain how to behave in this situation, but he couldn’t quite help it.
“Yes, thank you.” Granger turned away from the portrait, and Draco turned around before he had to make excessive eye contact. He led them through to the corridor outside of the library, Potter just at his elbow.
“Right,” Potter said, grinning. “Hermione, this is the library. The small library. I’ve got to do a bit more scanning upstairs and I’ll come back down when I’m finished, all right?”
Granger was staring at the oak door like she wasn’t sure if she was allowed to touch it. Draco hastily stepped forward to open it for her.
“Oh, thank you, er. Draco,” said Granger, stepping through.
Draco shot Potter a panicked look. Potter just went on beaming, like a very handsome and irritating sun.
“Do I stay with her?” Draco looked in at Hermione. She put her bag on a low table, then leaned down to examine the ruffling feathers of a small porcelain peacock. “Or does she want me to leave her alone?”
“You could ask her,” Potter pointed out.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Draco bit his lip. “I shouldn’t leave her alone in here. What if there’s a poltergeist? Not that she can’t handle herself, but… I could have Coote stay with her, if she isn’t comfortable with me. What do you think?”
Potter didn’t say anything.
“Well, what do you think?” Draco demanded. “Would you ask her? I can’t; what if she’s just too bloody polite to say she can’t stand the sight of me?”
Potter’s eyes were large and round and fixed, entirely, on Draco. An absent smile played about his mouth. “All right,” he said, finally. “I’ll ask her.”
“Well, go on, then,” Draco hissed, pushing Potter through the door. He stood back to give them privacy.
“We haven’t had this many Moors in the house since we hosted the Egyptian Ministry of Magic,” said Lucius Malfoy IV conversationally.
“Please, never speak again,” Draco told him.
Potter emerged from the library a moment later, doing a discreet thumbs up that Draco wished was less gratifying than it was. “It’s all right. You can do your paperwork and answer her questions about classification systems. She says she doesn’t mind.”
“Don’t break anything upstairs,” Draco told him, looking at the doorway of the library as if it was perhaps rigged with some form of explosive hex.
“No promises,” Potter said, and touched Draco very lightly on the elbow. “It’ll be all right.”
“You can bugger off now,” Draco told him. His elbow tingled.
“Consider me buggered,” Potter said, as if Draco didn’t have enough on his mind.
Inside the library, Granger was pouring through the bookshelves with a face of unmitigated delight.
“I’ve gone through most of them already,” Draco said, sitting gingerly at his desk.
“Oh, I’m sure,” Granger said, nodding. “I’ll just have a look as well. You’d really be doing me a favour. It’s such an opportunity, with all of these primary source documents.”
Draco watched her take down a few dusty volumes. “The oldest of those dates back to the thirteenth century,” he told her. “The one with the red binding.”
“Oh!” Hermione examined the leather book, setting it gently on a side table.
Draco wished Potter was here. He wasn’t sure if he was meant to mentioned what had happened in this house to Granger, or just to go on pretending nothing was wrong. The latter held distinct appeal, but Granger was a talking about it sort of person. He attempted to estimate the rent from the Muggle farms and had a complete blank on calculating charms, and also the ability to hold numbers in his head.
“You were listening to Charms Over Notting Hill yesterday,” he said, after watching Granger pour through three books and an old journal.
“Oh, yes,” said Granger, lifting her bushy head. “It’s absolute rubbish, of course, but I do like it.”
“I like it too,” Draco admitted.
“Although I’m really not sure where they think they’re going with this Dragomir plotline,” Granger mused.
“I know,” Draco said. “Dragomir was absolutely in the same scenes as Glenys’s brother-in-law in past episodes; how are they getting around that?”
“Shoddy plotting.” Granger shook her head so that her hair wobbled in a disappointed sort of way.
“I knew Ludwig had to be shady, but to combine him with another shady character just feels like —”
“A load of flimflam.”
Draco couldn’t suppress his laugh. “I’ve never heard anyone use that word before, but yes. A load of flimflam.”
They smiled at each other, and then Draco realised that they were smiling at each other, and had to look away before it stopped. The last time Granger was here she had been tortured, and here he was prattling on about terrible wireless programmes.
The rustling of papers started up again. Granger was paging through the books and scribbling down notes on a roll of parchment. “There are quite a lot of contradictions in the enchantments done on the property,” she said, frowning. “It’s hard to tell what’s still in use.”
“My mother says that the network of spells on this place are too tangled for anyone to make sense of them.” Draco’s mother had spent a lot of time before the occupation trying to make the house and the grounds safer. She obviously was not successful. “The ones I know of are the Muggle-Repelling Charm — that’s on the house, and half of the grounds — and the anti-Disapparation jinx in the, er. Cellar.” Draco could feel his face heat up.
“Yes, that makes sense,” Granger said, not looking up from her notes. “They were dungeons, originally? Prior to the sixteenth century?”
“Yes,” said Draco.
Granger settled her shoulders, and put her parchment to one side, turning towards Draco. “Listen, Malfo — Draco. I’d appreciate it if you would stop flinching at everything I say. I’m not a game of Exploding Snap.”
“I know you’re not.” Draco looked down at his hands. Talking about it. Hopefully he could do it quickly and then launch himself into space. He hoped Potter appreciated this. “The last time you were here was… Not ideal.”
At this, Granger let out a rather loud bark of laughter. “You and Harry really are well-suited. I hope you invest in joint counselling; you’ll need it. Not ideal, no.”
“Joint — no. I meant, just…” What had he meant? He meant that he had been awful to Granger in school, and then he had watched her getting tortured, and now they were sitting in his library and she was helping him look up historical records with Potter upstairs doing yet another favour. He wasn’t sure how this had happened, but he was sure it was unsustainable.
“Draco, were you the one responsible for what happened to me here?”
“No,” Draco said, reluctantly.
“Were you or were you not a minor who did his best, considering the circumstances, to thwart what had happened?”
“I didn’t do my… My best.” Draco swallowed hard. “I didn’t.”
“Well, it’s my decision whether or not to be traumatised at the moment, and I would appreciate it if you would stop hovering and let me get on with what I came here to do.” Granger fixed him with a look that he was entirely sure she had learned from Professor McGonagall. This did not make it any less effective. “Also, I want to borrow the Grand grimoire. And The Seventy-Third Book of Occult Philosophy.”
“All right,” said Draco, blinking.
“Also, I would appreciate it if you would call me Hermione.”
“I — okay.” Draco watched her, waiting to see if she had anything else to add. She did not. She went back to scribbling with the air of a job well done.
Morning ticked over to afternoon, and Hermione did not hex him, nor punch him in the face. Instead, she asked him questions about shelving, and dates, and the location of other sources. Potter ducked in and out of the room several times with a face like a hopeful crup, and informed them that his task was going well and how was theirs? No poltergeists made themselves known. It was, altogether, not not a success.
At just gone five, Hermione shut her book and stood up. “I’m having coffee with Ginny in an hour; I should go before I get too stuck in.”
Draco nodded. “Do you want to take the books with you, or shall I owl them?”
“I’ll just carry them out, thank you, Draco.” Hermione smiled at him, which was startling and not at all unpleasant. “I could see if I could find Harry but I suppose it would be easier just to send a Patronus.”
“Most likely,” Draco admitted. “I can show you the way out.”
Hermione nodded and cast her Patronus. A silvery otter went racing out of the room, and then they left the library together.
“I’ve noticed that none of your portraits are sleeping,” Hermione said as they walked through the house. “Portraits at Hogwarts seemed to sleep a lot — or pretend to, whenever convenient. Yours seem quite active. Have you noticed that?”
“They don’t sleep, really. Not lately. I think they’re keen on haranguing me.”
“Did they use to sleep?” Hermione stepped neatly into the entrance hallway.
Draco thought about it. “Yes, I suppose they did. Why?”
“I was just wondering if there might be a connection.” Granger tapped her fingers rhythmically on her armful of books. “I’ll have a think about it.”
For his part, Draco was thinking about how he could possibly say thank you. The idea of saying it felt trite and inadequate, also faintly humiliating, but his mother had been quite clear about etiquette. Although there was no situation in Madame Amory’s Guide to the Modern Gentlewizard that encompassed a search for poltergeists, a previous torture and six years of constant tormenting, clearly something was needed. Perhaps a fruit basket, or a card that Draco did not have to deliver in person.
“Listen, Hermione,” Draco began, steeling his stomach. “I wanted to thank you for… Well, everything. You didn’t have to come today.”
“Of course I didn’t,” Hermione said. “And although I don’t regret helping you, it wasn’t just on your behalf.”
“It wasn’t?” Potter had called in a favour, presumably. Another one. If Draco had to send Potter a fruit basket he really would have to launch himself into space. Possibly Mars.
“No,” said Hermione. “Oh, look, there’s Harry.”
Sure enough, Potter was jogging down the hallway towards them. “Just made it,” he announced. “I was all the way at the other end of the house and then I took the wrong staircase. Then I ran into Coote, and also a suit of armour that is — well, I’ll fix it.” Potter flushed, which only served to make his eyes look greener. “Anyway, I wanted to see you off.”
“I’ve got to meet Ginny,” Hermione said, checking her watch. “Now if you both will just let me go, that would be lovely.”
“The door’s that way.” Potter pointed, smirking.
“Cheers,” said Hermione and kissed Potter’s cheek. She did a sort of friendly nod at Draco, and then disappeared out the front door and onto the drive.
“How did it go?” Potter asked, watching her leave.
“She wants me to call her Hermione,” Draco said. “She also wants me to stop telling her when to be traumatised.”
Potter’s bark of laughter made Draco jolt. “I’m almost finished upstairs,” he said. “And you need to work on calling me Harry, if you’re going to call Hermione Hermione.”
A terrible thought dawned on Draco. “You didn’t scan my bedroom, did you?”
“Er, no. I thought that might be… No. Nice plaque on the door, by the way.”
Draco did not throw himself bodily into the fireplace to be consumed by waiting death, but it was a near thing. “I wrote it when I was eight.”
“You were a precocious eight-year-old,” Harry said. He was grinning. He really was unbearably good looking. Draco figured this was his punishment for his entire life. “I suppose I should go soon.” Harry looked towards the darkening window, absently touching his lower lip.
“You could stay for supper,” Draco said, his heart thudding. “I mean, if you want. Obviously you don’t have to. It’s not a part of your duties, or —”
“All right,” said Harry. They made their way towards the kitchen side by side.
After a meagre supper in the Potioneer’s Parlour, Draco and his guests retired to drink themselves silly in the South Drawing Room. It still felt funny to do this, like they were playing at being grown-up. When they were children they’d be banished to the nursery after supper, and when they were teenagers they stole away to the roof. At least one of the banqueting houses still held the remnants of their fifteen-year-old adventures in alcohol poisoning. Vince had been violently sick over the side of the roof into the courtyard, missing the head of one of the house-elves by scant inches. Coote had been livid.
“So, the Gryffindors,” Pansy said, swirling her glass of wine. “Are they horrible?”
“Awful,” Draco said. He did not bury his face in the sofa, but he dearly wanted to. “Awful, Pans, you have no idea.”
“Bet they’re smug,” said Greg. “Bet they think they know everything, and they look down on us.”
“Sort of,” Draco said, and then covered his face. “Worse. They’re being kind.”
“No,” gasped Pansy.
“Rotters,” said Greg.
“They’re being kind, and understanding, and it’s about the worst thing that has ever happened.” Draco wasn’t sure how to explain about Granger and the library, only that it had made him feel… Well, it had made him feel. It was just cruel. Why would one do that to another human being.
“Potter’s quite good-looking as well,” Pansy said wisely. She fixed Draco with an unblinking stare. “I liked the look of him when he was drunk, in your kitchen that one time.”
“Potter was drunk in your kitchen?” Greg looked flabbergasted. “How?”
“I believe wine was involved,” said Pansy.
Potter had been soft, and smiling, and lying on Draco’s kitchen floor with his glasses askew. Draco was entirely, comprehensively doomed. “Let us not discuss it,” he told the ceiling.
“I think we really ought to discuss it.”
“I agree with Greg,” Pansy said airily. “Did you —”
“No,” snapped Draco.
“I was going to say, did you disinfect the surfaces.” Pansy refilled her glass. “So touchy. Nothing’s changed, I suppose.”
“Yeah, you’re still obsessed with Potter.” Greg shook his head and leaned back so that the sofa groaned under his weight. “No offence, Draco, but what the fuck.”
“I am not,” Draco muttered.
“How long has it been now?” Pansy looked at Greg for confirmation. “Eleven years?”
“He stopped talking about Potter for a bit,” Greg pointed out. “Now he’s gone and started up again.”
“Now you’re talking about Potter.” Draco turned to his wine for sympathy. His friends were shit.
Pansy crossed her legs neatly at the knee. “This is what you have done to us, Draco Malfoy. I hope you are adequately ashamed.”
“A load of Gryffindors, and also it’s bloody freezing in here.” Greg looked around as if searching for a second fireplace, or a heavy blanket. “I don’t know what’s worse, you making us talk about Potter or making us visit this place.”
“Well, Greg, your house is vulgar.”
“Don’t be nasty.” Greg scowled in Draco’s general direction.
Pansy snorted. “There’s no use denying it, Gregory. Nearly everything is painted with cherubs, and you have a room with entirely silver furniture. And, before you get too pleased with yourself, Draco — you have a poltergeist infestation and you’re infatuated with a Gryffindor. Clearly I am the only success story here.”
“I’ve seen your collection of Muggle trousers,” Draco pointed out. “No one needs that many pockets. No one needs that many pockets in silver satin.”
“It’s the height of fashion,” Pansy sniffed.
“Her tops without any sleeves?” Draco raised an eyebrow, and Greg nodded.
“No offence, Pans,” he said, “But they’re bizarre.”
“They’re called tube tops.” Pansy’s nose stuck right up towards the ceiling. “Muggles love them.”
“How far we’ve come in life,” Draco mused. “The new millennium truly has reinvented us all.”
“You’re both still wankers,” muttered Greg. “That hasn’t changed.”
“And Draco is still obsessed with Potter.” Pansy finished her glass with the air of someone who has just realised they were about to win their game of chess. “The more things change, the more they, etcetera, etcetera.”
Draco threw an embroidered pillow at Pansy’s head and denied all charges as vigorously as he could manage, but as he was attempting to sleep that night he lay awake, staring at the ceiling as his brain spun in torturous circles. Somehow, over the course of several hours, worrying about Potter became worrying about his own mortality, and Draco gave up sleeping as a lost cause.
“Lumos,” he said, and the shadows of his bedroom leached away in the wandlight.
Draco threw back the bedcovers and got to his feet, shivering. His warming pan had gone cold in his hours of mental agony. He rested his forehead against the chilly glass of his window. Perhaps a sleeping potion. If he took a quarter portion, would that allow him to still wake up at a reasonable hour? Draco had just decided to search his sitting-room for remnants of Sleeping Draught when a familiar silvery shape burst through the wall.
“Oh, brilliant,” Draco muttered, and turned to face the poltergeist.
“You look tired,” was the first thing that Potter said upon his arrival the following morning. “Big one last night?”
If Potter counted a handful of wines with Greg and Pansy, which Draco unfortunately did these days, the answer was a solid maybe. “Poltergeist graced me with his presence at about four in the morning,” he admitted.
“Disgraceful,” said the portrait of Lucius II. “Those are hours of rest.”
“Or marvellous hours for bed-hopping,” tittered Cygnus Malfoy, who had clearly gone through the sherry in his portrait again. Cymbeline Malfoy smacked his shoulder from her neighbouring portrait.
Draco wondered if he could burn all of the house portraits in a tasteful ceremonial pyre.
“Hm,” said Potter. His smooth brow crinkled at the centre.
“Come on, I have plans and you can help,” Draco said, starting off into the house. “As you are so keen on doing. Leave your coat on; you’ll need it.”
“Help with what?” Potter had caught up and nearly bumped into Draco’s shoulder.
“It’s time, Potter, to strip the corpse of the family house.”
“And the less theatrical translation?”
Draco sighed heavily and took the steps of the Great Staircase two at a time. “We’re ransacking the attics for things to sell.”
“Could have just said that,” Potter noted. “You’re very dramatic for an emotionally constipated person.”
“How dare you discuss emotions in the house of my ancestors.” Draco led Potter towards the tiny staircase at the west end of the second floor. The doorway was so low they both needed to duck.
“You say these things, and they are jokes, but I also don’t think they are entirely jokes.”
“Yeah, well, you hate your job and refuse to do anything about it,” Draco snapped, and stomped upstairs.
“I do not,” Potter said hotly.
Draco could spot the exact moment that Potter fully glimpsed the task that awaited them, because all his protests extinguished and were replaced by a quick intake of breath.
“Bloody hell,” Potter said. “Have any Malfoys, ever, thrown anything away?”
“Probably not,” Draco admitted.
There was hardly room to move. The first room of the attics was long, with the eaves of the plaster ceiling forcing them towards the centre. Stacks of ancient iron bedsteads leaned against antique chairs; half-empty jars of potions ingredients lay scattered across hundred-year-old textbooks; heaps of rusted-shut cases contained rubbish or treasures unknown. When Draco was a child, this had been his favourite place to play. He and Vince and Greg would scramble through the attics trying to find swords, or treasure, utterly caught up in childhood’s intricate and impenetrable games. It helped, probably, that most adults would not fit up here, and certainly not well enough to chase a pack of seven-year-olds.
“You know Muggles, Potter. Help me find something that they would buy, and also wouldn’t kill them.” Draco sat down unceremoniously and began to pry open a rusted-over trunk.
They found and discarded a silver candelabra (tried to strangle Draco); a handsome drum table (infected with copious wood-lice); and a rosewood sewing box (found to be a self-sewing model). Draco spent an entertaining half-hour reading aloud from an etiquette book that had, judging by the stamp on the back, once been a compulsory text for Hogwarts, and found some ancient love letters that contained truly informative historical erotica. Eventually they had begun to amass a small pile of likely candidates, and Potter had begun to get antsy.
“Hey!” Potter stood at a small window, his glasses glinting in the sun. “Does this open?” He pushed at the sash and it gave way with a mighty creak. Potter had swung his leg over the side and was halfway through to the roof before Draco could say anything.
“Gryffindors,” Draco muttered, and followed him out onto the leads. He dusted off his trousers and, looking up, realised that Potter had already climbed to the peak of the roof and was sitting astride. His unruly hair blew back in the chilly breeze.
Sun had beat back the clouds momentarily, and the tiles were dry as Draco climbed up to sit next to Potter.
“It looks like a village,” Potter said, looking out over the Manor. The straight front of the house grew into a morass of twisting additions at the back, with peaks and valleys along the rooves as the interior shifted. Chimney stacks competed with battlements, and here and there heraldic wyverns in chipped stone twisted their heads to peer around the eaves, looking for intruders.
“It would have been like one, once.” Draco wound his scarf more tightly about his neck and carefully did not look over at Potter. He could tell, even out of the corner of his eye, that he was looking horrifically heroic. “Loads of people would have lived here. The entire extended family, a dozen house-elves, grooms and blacksmiths, gamekeepers, cooks, their families…”
“And now it’s just you.”
Draco did not wince. He did not wince, it was just cold. “And Coote.”
“Draco,” Potter said, looking at him with those grass green eyes. “Where’s your mother?”
“Abroad.” Draco did not, could not look at him.
There was a long silence. They listened to the wind whistling through the roof, rustling the bare winter trees.
“It seems ridiculous,” Draco admitted. “All this, and a population of two.” Over the occupation, the entire house had been filled in a ghastly parody of what it must have been like a hundred years ago. The current population was certainly better, but it still wasn’t ideal.
“You could do something with it. Open it to the public, maybe. Muggles do that.”
“Like anyone would want to come here.” Somewhere below them was the bedroom in which the Dark Lord had slept. Sure, Draco had incinerated all the furniture and welded the door shut, but it was the principle of the thing. “Maybe some teen fascists looking for disgusting memorabilia.”
“Ah, teen fascists. Everyone’s favourite visitors.” Potter twisted his long fingers in his lap, his shoulders tucked up close to his body like a bird huddling inside its wings.
“Do a warming charm, you idiot,” Draco demanded.
Potter looked down at his hands, almost surprised, and did so.
“So,” Draco said, deciding it was high time for a reversal of interrogation, “Why are you still at your terrible job that you hate?”
“I don’t hate it,” Potter said quietly.
“Half of it is research and sitting around, which you loathe, and the other part appears disgusting and extremely bloody, which I highly doubt any human person particularly enjoys. Well. Perhaps MacDougal. She was always quite keen on gore.”
Potter shrugged. “I want to help people.”
“You do realise there are other careers in which one could help people?” Draco eyed Potter full-on now; the sight was treacherous. The cold had bit his cheeks rosy red. “Healer, for example. Teacher. Topless dancer.”
“Are you suggesting I become a topless dancer?”
And it was now time for Draco to chuck himself off the roof. “No. I was saying, despite the bizarre school fantasy of the Auror being the ultimate Gryffindorian ideal, it is not the only way to help people, you massive pillock.”
“I didn’t say it was.” Potter looked out over the house again. “It’s my way, though.”
“Merlin strike me dead,” Draco muttered. Dumbledore had a lot to bloody answer for. “Come on. Let’s gather up the loot and attempt to hawk it to the Muggles.”
Potter, horrifyingly, beamed. “Brilliant! We can see Lydia.”
“Mrs. Coles,” Draco said, and began to inch his way off the ridge. Potter, typically, slid down and hit the valley of the roof with a resounding thump.
“Oops,” he said, holding a handful of red tiles that had come loose.
Draco gave a great sigh and left him to attempt to fix that — Merlin knew Draco had never quite managed spells for roof repair.
Inside the attic, Draco began to collect their various and sundry finds. A few moments later Potter heaved himself through the window, his eyebrows furrowed in a harassed sort of way.
“That did not work the way I thought it would,” he said, looking stricken.
“Is it worse than I last saw?”
“Then don’t worry about it.” Draco pointed at a tiny leather-bound book, and Potter passed it over. “I need to hire professionals but, A, wizards are not particularly keen on visits to my murder mansion, as you so charmingly once called it, and, B, no money.” He eyed the haul. “Let’s hope one of these things can pay us off.”
They Apparated just outside Fugglestone St Peter, then nearly careened into the surly teenage girl who had once sold them bread. She looked up from her metal rectangle just long enough to glare.
“I like her,” Potter said, when she had passed.
“She hates us.” Draco had been a surly teenager, himself, and knew the signs. “She hates everyone.”
“She has spirit.”
“I’ll give you spirit,” Draco muttered. He pushed open the door to Mrs. Coles’s shop, and the familiar bell rang.
“Draco,” Mrs. Coles said, clapping her hands together. She peered behind him. “And you brought Harry, how lovely.”
Harry smiled like no one had ever been glad to see him before, the pillock.
“I brought the gilt-metal clock,” Draco said, brandishing it. “And we found some more things in the attics. Do you mind looking through?”
“Not at all,” Mrs. Coles said, beckoning them into the back room. She sat in the armchair, which left only the small sofa for them both. Amelia, sat at the little dining table polishing a series of silver filigreed dogs, waved cheerily. Mrs. Coles put on her glasses and began to sort through their findings. “So fascinating, all these old things lying about,” she said, examining a paperweight, “And we wouldn’t even know they existed, if it weren’t for your trouble with the roof.”
“How does it all look? Any windfalls?”
“No discarded Rubens in your attic, my boy,” laughed Mrs. Coles. “But let’s see, we have the spherical clock, which should do well. A silver porringer and lid, ah, look at this date! William and Mary, lovely.”
Draco looked closer. The date was, in fact, the same year the Statute of Secrecy was established.
“A boarded desk box, I’m not so sure about this one — look at the wear on it. Oh, now this looks promising.” Mrs. Coles paged through a small leather book. “Book of hours, most likely late fifteenth century — terribly unusual, some of the illustrations are positively pagan. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was a book for witches!” Mrs. Coles laughed heartily, and then carefully turned the back page. “As you can see, the mark of the owner — oh! How odd. If you look here, you see two names — Malfoy, and Potter.”
Draco started. Surely not. He peered down at the page. There was a P, all right, but the rest of it could have easily been garbled. “Could be Pumpter. Or Potents. Porbus.” His mother had a friend called Herodotus Porbus. Surely it could have been one of his relations.
“Oh, that says Potter, all right.” Mrs. Coles looked intently at Potter, brow furrowed. “Although there likely isn’t be a connection, of course.”
Potter raised an eyebrow. “What, because I’m not white?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, there were all sorts of people in this country long before the likes of many of us,” Mrs. Coles said stoutly. “Potter is a common name, I meant. What an unusual coincidence, though, don’t you think?”
Potter squinted at the page, something strange working in his forehead. “I don’t know much about my family history,” he said. “Definitely not that far back.”
Draco began to mentally recite his family tree.
Mrs. Coles set the book to the side and began to piece through the rest. “Yes, a lot of this is highly viable, Draco. I’ll see what I can do. And you’re sure you don’t want us to go through your solicitor?”
The Muggle-fluent solicitor, a squib, existed primarily so that Draco’s father did not have to make physical contact with his various Muggle tenants. Draco did not think the solicitor had ever liked either of them, also he had very judgemental eyebrows. “No, thank you, Mrs. Coles.”
“Lydia,” said Mrs. Coles.
“Thank you for helping us, Lydia,” said Potter, horribly earnest. Mrs. Coles was clearly about fifteen seconds away from pinching Potter’s cheek.
They left Flowley & Coles a dozen antiques lighter. The sun would set within the hour, and the village looked positively bustling. Draco could see no less than ten people along the street, perhaps a record.
“My dad was a pureblood, you know,” Potter said. His conversational tone belied the way he held tension in every inch of his lean body.
“I know,” said Draco, who was still attempting to remember every instance in which the surname ‘Potter’ cropped up in his recent genealogy.
“Did we have a…” Potter stared down at the cobblestones as they walked. “A manor?”
“Possibly at some point, but not in recent memory.” Draco could not remember the Black branch very well; too much intermarriage. He also had no idea what family Potter’s paternal grandmother came from. He’d have to check, to be sure. “The Potters were always a fairly nondescript line. They weren’t even mentioned in the Sacred Twenty-Eight, not sure why.”
“Morag’s not in that either.”
“Of course not,” Draco scoffed. “Scottish.”
“Oh.” Potter shoved his hands into his pockets. “I’m starved, should we stop at the pub? I’m sure Bertram would love to have some young people about.”
“I’m sure you mean Mr. Coles,” Draco said, wearily. “And, no. I have plans this evening.”
“Don’t look so surprised. I had plans last night, too.” Draco wanted to explain that, actually, he was very popular, but the gap between reality and that statement could be compared to the Atlantic Ocean. Also his plans involved investigating genealogy, so he let it go. “We’ll go to the pub on Friday. Happy?”
“Yes,” said Potter.
Draco did not look at Potter’s face. He kept a careful distance between them just to be safe.
It was not Thursday, but Harry, Ron and Hermione had gone down the pub. The Lyon was the closest pub to Harry’s house, where they had started the evening, and as such, beggars could not be choosers. The only other customers were a series of old Muggle men who may not have moved from their seats since the late eighties. The decor had not been changed since the seventies, and the carpet seemed to exude a scent of utter despair. Ron, bizarrely, seemed to like it.
“No pretensions,” he said approvingly. “Lots of modern rubbish popping up these days.”
“You’re just afraid of all the glass,” Hermione told him.
Hermione discreetly performed cleaning charms on all three of their pints, and eyed her meal with quiet distaste.
“I’ve eaten here before,” Harry assured her, “No food poisoning.”
“Every time I’ve been I made sure to have dinner first,” Hermione sighed. “I can’t believe I forgot.”
Ron was tucking in without complaints. “Nice, solid place,” he said. “No posh rubbish.”
“I worry about you sometimes.” Hermione gingerly lifted a forkful of peas to her mouth.
“Thought you did that all the time, what with my ‘terrifying, foolhardy job’.”
“I only said that because you and Georgie went into that situation unprepared.” Hermione pointedly glanced at Ron’s left arm, which had sustained scars from the incident.
“Morag never wants to go in unprepared,” Harry said gloomily.
“And yet you always seem to end up it St Mungo’s anyway.”
Harry shrugged. “I have a gift.”
“How is that case going, by the way? Fishleburn?” Ron put away four chips at once. “Morag thinks she’s getting close to pinning him down.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, his stomach plummeting. He didn’t want Morag to get close, which was bizarre, because he should want Morag to get close. They had to get this bloke into Azkaban. He just — he didn’t know what they would find. He didn’t want to be the one to find it. “Yeah, she reckons it’ll be soon.”
“And the Malfoy case?” Hermione touched Harry gently on the forearm. “Has there been anything since I visited?”
“Not much,” Harry said, brightening. “Although I had a go at repairing all these marble wyverns in the big dining room. We got most of the main staircase fixed, as well. Might have accidentally vanished half of the stairs at one point — the Transfiguration is unbelievably tricky.”
“I still can’t believe you went there too,” Ron said, jabbing his fork in Hermione’s direction. “The whole thing’s mental.”
“Is it though?” Hermione raised her eyebrows. “Is it really?”
“Well, not him.” Ron’s fork jabbed towards Harry.
Harry sputtered. “Wait, why not me?”
Ron continued without looking at him. “But you, Hermione. Your only meaningful interaction with Malfoy was that time you punched him in the face.”
“Ah, our blissful schooldays.” Hermione smiled at the ceiling. “I still treasure the memory.”
“Right, as you should, and now you go to his house?”
Hermione sighed. “Everyone deserves another chance, Ronald.”
“How about a two-hundred and seventh choice? The number of times that little arsehole insulted you, or turned us over to Umbridge, or —”
Harry stole Ron’s roll to get his attention. “Wait, so, why is my thing not mental?”
Ron and Hermione fixed him with identical looks of exasperation, then returned to their argument.
“Malfoy was a bigoted little prick as a child,” Hermione said.
“As a child. And you were rude and quite unkind at times, Ron; and you had a terrible temper and an absolute inability to ask for help, Harry. And I was a know-it all, and an utter swot. There’s no use pretending otherwise, but we’ve all of us grown up since then. Although, Harry, you still are awful at asking for help.”
Hermione blithely dipped her roll in the remnants of her meal. “There’s no point beating around the bush.”
“I think you tend to incinerate the bush, Hermione.”
Ron snorted. “Bush.”
“Adulthood is such a lark,” Hermione sighed. “Anyway, Harry, I’ve had a few thoughts on leads for the poltergeist trouble. I’ll owl Draco with details.”
“Draco,” Ron said disgustedly.
“Thanks, Hermione.” Harry grinned. “You’re a treasure.”
At around nine the Lyons cut out Radio 2 and began, the bastards, an open mic. The first gentleman’s electric guitar screeched loud enough to rattle their glasses; Harry, Ron and Hermione decided it would be prudent to get the hell out. They walked back to Grimmauld Place, bumping up against one another on the narrow pavement.
“You do seem happier, Harry,” Hermione told him as they walked.
“You do, mate,” Ron said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Although I’m still around for drinking about it, if you need to.”
Harry fought the warm swell of affection in his chest. “Wanker,” he said fondly.
“Three drinks in and he’s having feelings about it.” Ron glanced knowingly at Hermione. “The Harry Potter Story.”
Hermione laughed. “Can you imagine if that really was the Harry Potter story?”
“We could go to wizarding pubs,” Harry said.
“Yes, that is literally the only difference,” Ron agreed. “Only the one. Wizarding pubs, that’s it.”
Hermione grinned. “Ron would be very disappointed. He loves Muggle pubs.”
“They’ve all got bizarre games,” Ron enthused. “And dartboards that don’t keep you from darting the walls! Hilarious.”
“This is the man to whom I have given my time and affection,” Hermione sighed, taking Ron’s arm.
“Oh, you love it,” Ron said.
“I do,” Hermione admitted.
Harry did too. He loved them both. He loved them, and the cold night, and the shabby square of Grimmauld Place. He loved his three pints and the terrible local. He loved that he did not have to stay at the Ministry all day, and how he had made a marble snake move that morning. For the first time in a long while, Harry was looking forward to tomorrow.
In the morning, Harry woke up feeling considerably less love for the universe, and considerably more regret that he had not hydrated more the previous evening. After a coffee and breakfast he felt almost entirely human, but the necessary stop-over at the Ministry before going to Wiltshire felt like oncoming torture.
The Auror Office retained the same smell of parchment, singed hair and a hint of nervous sweat, no matter what else had been done to the environment. In the most recent attempt, shallow bowls of potpourri scattered across various surfaces only added a hint of sickly floral sweetness to the odour.
“Potter,” Morag said, without looking up. “Thanks for getting the scans in. I can finally bloody come in to the office.”
“Sorry,” Harry said. “There are more rooms in that place than…”
“Than straws on a broomstick? Than feathers on a phoenix? I know.” Morag flipped the page of her report. “Still think that whole case is a waste of manpower.”
“Yeah, well. Orders, you know.”
Morag tilted an eyebrow and looked up at him. “Right.”
“I’ll just be off then,” Harry said, doing his best not to fidget.
“Uh-huh.” Morag flapped a hand at him. “Keep an eye out for my Patronus. Could be any day now.”
Something in Harry’s stomach curdled and went sour. “Yeah. Definitely.”
Malfoy Manor’s imposing facade had transformed subtly over Harry’s weeks on Draco’s case. The oriel windows and banqueting houses seemed beautiful rather than imposing, the overgrown hedges endearing rather than an eyesore. Draco, however, was looking rather the worse for wear when Harry met him in the entrance hall.
“Another nightly round of poltergeist fun,” Draco sighed. “Another week of this and I’ll die of sleep deprivation. Encrust my coffin with jewels and lay me in the crypt.”
“Every night, really?” Harry shifted his messenger bag. Draco looked as if someone had dipped their thumbs in grey-purple paint and smeared them under his eyes. Harry had an odd urge to touch his face, to turn his chin this way and that and examine the dark circles from every angle. Harry put his hands in his pockets.
Draco rubbed his forehead, leaving the skin pinkish when he moved his fingers away. “Quite regular, at around three to four o’clock.”
“I think I should stay over,” Harry said, surprising himself as he spoke.
Draco’s eyes widened. “Oh?”
“Well, it’s consistent, isn’t it? I want to see if there’s anything initiating the attacks.” This seemed to be a reasonable explanation. Harry latched onto it. “There must be a common thread, right?”
“Right,” Draco said faintly.
“It’s not like you don’t have space, anyway. You have about seven-hundred bedrooms.”
“Thirty, I think.”
“Yikes,” said Harry. “Well, at least one of them has to be habitable, right? Aside from yours.”
“Aside from — mine. Yes.”
“Well, what do you think?”
“I’ll talk to Coote,” Draco said, his face unreadable, and then he turned on his heel and left Harry in the corridor.
“That went well,” Harry told a nearby portrait of a woman with an enormous powdered wig.
“Terribly! Champagne?” The woman offered her glass, giggling.
“I’m not sure if… Physics,” Harry said.
“My gain, darling!” The woman tipped her glass back and downed it in one.
Harry waited for Draco to return for about five minutes, then gave it up and wandered through the ground floor until he found the Grand Hall, where he had been attempting to revive the wyverns atop a carved oak screen that obscured one wall. Harry put his bag down on a long bench, set up the ladder, and got to work.
“There you are,” Draco said, after Harry had finished the top row of wyverns, the large Malfoy crest and the central run of panels.
“You were the one who left me in the corridor,” Harry said, wiping a hand across his cheek. He was pretty sure there was dirt all over his face. The screen had definitely seen better days, possibly in the sixteenth century.
“Coote and I had to sort out your accommodation,” Draco said stiffly. He stood at the centre of the chequerboard flagstone floor, looking up at Harry like he was another architectural feature that needed repair. “It’s settled now.”
“So I’m staying over?” Harry turned back towards the oak screen, so he didn’t have to watch Draco examining him any further.
“Yes. What have you done to that leopard over there?”
The leopard in question was missing both its ears, a leg and half its tail.
“It was like that before I got here,” Harry told him. He knew without turning that Draco was scowling at it. He also knew, because he had looked at that leopard before, that it bore all the signs of someone throwing hexes at the ancient carvings. There was a lot more to the damage to Malfoy Manor than age and rot.
“We used to use this as the ballroom,” Draco said. His footsteps reverberated around the cavernous space.
Harry smiled at the screen. “Are you asking me to dance?”
“I’ve seen you dance, Potter. I wouldn’t risk my feet.”
“These carvings really are disgusting,” Harry said, turning his attention to what may have been an anatomically impossible merperson.
“It’s called grotesque.”
“Yeah, they’re pretty gross.”
“No, the style, Potter.” Draco sighed heavily, and Harry tried not to laugh. “Just do the damn Transfiguration. I’ll start on the fireplace.”
Harry moved down the screen and past the arched doorways, half listening as Draco lectured him on the meaning of grotesque. Harry knew very well what grotesque was, having spent a considerable amount of time with Hermione Granger, evangelical encyclopaedia, but he did not tell Draco that. He liked how Draco’s consonants sharpened with every irritable aside.
“I have a question,” Harry said, during a pause in Draco’s explanation of gargoyles versus grotesques. “So the Blacks’ heraldic animal whatsit is the serpent. And the Malfoys are wyverns, presumably.” Harry dusted the nose of a malformed centaur. “Do I have one? The Potters, I mean?”
“Phoenix,” Draco said shortly.
Harry had not expected Draco to have an immediate answer. He had expected a trip to the library, or a visit from Coote. “Not —”
“Not the lion, no. Merlin save us all, Potter. How cliché.”
The day wound on, and Harry and Draco rarely strayed from the Grand Hall. Each task seemed to open up another task: the fireplace to the flue, the screen to the plaster ceiling, the long benches to the cracked flagstones beneath their feet. Sandwiches were delivered, and tea, and still more projects were found: there was a brief battle with strangler’s ivy, as a vine had twined through a cracked window and fairy eggs were found beneath the leaves.
The sunset glowed orange and violet through the west windows, and Coote knocked briskly at the door of the Grand Hall. “Supper is being served,” she told them. “Coote has laid out a lovely table.”
“We can just eat in the kitchen, Coote,” Draco said. “It’s not a big—” He stopped short at her quelling look, swallowing audibly.
“Master Draco,” tutted Coote, her hands on her hips “When one has a guest, what does one do?”
Draco looked, suddenly, about fifteen years younger. “Show them hospitality?”
Coote sniffed. “You and Master Harry will dine in the Potioneer’s Parlour. Coote is not raising her hopes that you will dress.”
Harry had to turn his back to laugh. He didn’t want to make Coote feel he was mocking her.
The Potioneer’s Parlour was darkly panelled, with a large marble fireplace. It got its name, clearly, from the fifty-some portraits of witches and wizards that lined the walls, most with a cauldron somewhere in frame. Harry spotted several faces he recognised from Chocolate Frog cards. The long table had been laid for two and, although clearly Coote had intended it to be formal, it bore little resemblance to what Harry had learned of table laying at the Dursleys.
“She’s done the formal variation,” Draco said, with a sigh. “She must be cross.”
Four covered dishes were placed at the centre of the table, presumably their meal. Harry could see the obligatory line of utensils at each place setting, but the forks only had two prongs and the knives were upside-down. Harry gingerly took a seat, and put his napkin in his lap.
“What are you doing that for?” Draco peered at him from across the table. “Your napkin goes over your left forearm, Potter, everyone knows that.”
“Muggles put their napkins in their laps,” Harry said, and moved his napkin.
“What do they do that for? How can they wipe their knives?” Draco began to serve himself, shaking his head. “Preposterous.”
“Wipe their knives?” Harry filled his plate with carrots and steak-and-kidney pie.
Draco hovered the wine towards Harry. “Merlin save us, I’m glad I can intervene before you meet my mother.”
“I’ve already met your mum,” Harry said.
“Wine on the right, Potter,” Draco said, motioning to the correct place. “Yes, but she’s never seen you putting your napkin in bizarre places.”
“I can show you a bizarre place where you can put your napkin,” Harry grumbled, and took a forkful of carrots. They slipped between the prongs.
“Did the Muggles not teach you how to use a fork?”
“The Muggles mostly taught me how to lay the table and then get out of the room.” Harry got the hang of the fork in a few tries, and began shovelling carrots into his mouth.
“And you still eat like a furious crup,” Draco sighed.
“I couldn’t help but notice.”
Harry thought now might not be the best time to note that the Slytherin and Gryffindor tables had been separated by Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, as he recalled spending a lot of time craning his neck to watch Draco, too.
“Has Hermione mentioned anything about the case?” Draco’s tone was decidedly casual, although he darted quick glances at Harry between sips of wine.
“She’s had a few theories that didn’t go anywhere,” Harry told him. “She’s still thinking about it. We talked about it last night. She said she’d owl you.”
“You talked about work on a sacred pub night?”
Harry had forgotten that he had told Draco about that. “It wasn’t Thursday, so it wasn’t sacred.”
“You must not hate this case as much as the one you refuse to discuss.” Draco put a neat forkful of pie into his mouth.
“I like this case because no one’s getting tortured.” Harry drank his wine. That had not been what he had meant to say.
“You’re torturing me,” Draco said, although his eyes were amused.
At the end of the meal Draco enchanted all of the dishes to gather themselves together and hover out of the room and down the corridor.
Harry tilted his head. “Is your wand different than it used to be?”
Draco looked at the wand in question. It was definitely longer and darker than the hawthorn wand that Harry had once used to defeat Voldemort. “Yes,” he said absently.
“But I — you got the old one back. Does it not work? You could disarm me, maybe?”
Draco shook his head. “It’s not that. You’re right it doesn’t work as well, but that’s not necessary. We had a family wand before… Before. Part of the rules of inheritance here mean that the heir must have the Lord of the Manor Wand, as we apparently call it, to run the house. So. Got a new one.” Draco turned back to the table, waving his new wand so that the tablecloth folded itself up.
Harry took in the expanse of the wall, peering at the dozens of dark paintings. He stopped at the portrait of an old man with wrinkled brown skin and twinkling eyes. The label at the base of his portrait read FLEAMONT POTTER.
“Unruly hair, my boy?” The man laughed easily, his cheeks dimpling. “Try Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion. My most viable invention, you know.”
“Potter? What are you looking at?”
Harry didn’t turn around. He could feel Draco come up behind him.
“Oh,” Draco said. His voice went quiet. “I didn’t remember this portrait.”
“He’s a Potter,” Harry said.
Fleamont Potter nodded cheerily. “Indeed I am! Fleamont Potter, at your service. The name is unfortunate, I grant you. Dying wish of my grandmother! The Fleamonts died out, you see.”
“He’s your grandfather,” Draco said. “If I’m not mistaken.”
“My…” Harry touched the base of the portrait. “Is your son James? Was he your son?”
Fleamont Potter looked at him blankly. “James?”
“Harry, portraits don’t…” Draco touched Harry’s elbow with a gentle hand. “They’re just enchanted. They don’t know much about their subject’s lives, unless the subject spent a lot of time teaching them. They imitate the subject’s personality, their behaviour. Catchphrases, things they said a lot. Whatever the painter picked up on. That’s all.”
Harry let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. He ran his finger along the inscription of Fleamont Potter’s name. “I’m a Potter too,” he told Fleamont.
“Splendid, splendid,” Fleamont said, beaming.
Fleamont Potter had kind eyes, and deep smile lines. According to the label, he had died a year before Harry had been born.
Draco was still holding Harry’s elbow. “Come on, Potter,” he said, “The billiards room is just through the passage. Have you ever played wizarding billiards?”
“No,” Harry said, still watching Fleamont. They had the same nose. “Only Muggle.”
“Well, some of the balls have doubling charms on them, and other ones explode. You’ll love it.”
“Why is it that wizards always make games more violent?” Harry mused, as Draco led him through to the corridor.
“Hogwarts, probably,” Draco said. “We’re all used to it.”
After a few spirited games of wizarding billiards, Draco led Harry up to the second floor by way of a staircase he had never seen before. They went through a little door to a narrow corridor with pockmarked panelling and worn wood floors.
“I know where we are,” Harry said, in surprise. To his left, three steps up led to a low oak door that he had never opened. Set into the door was a little gold plaque.
Draco flushed. “I moved here from the nursery when I was eight. I thought I was very grown-up.”
Harry imagined a small and solemn Draco imperiously pointing out how he would like his bedroom to be laid out. He did not imagine what this small Draco would have thought of small Harry, underneath the stairs.
The plaque was flourished at the edges and engraved with a series of rules.
Terms of Entry
To the Rooms of Draco Lucius Malfoy
I. Knocking is Mandatory
II. Please Refrain from Bringing Food, Unless Contained to a Tray
III. Do Not Remove Items From These Rooms Without Express Permission
IV. Children Under The Age of Seven Not Permitted
V. The Proprietor of These Rooms Sets the Rules Therein
Harry snorted. “Specific.”
“Mother let me have the rules engraved,” Draco said, looking pained. “She thought it was charming.”
“No children under seven?”
“Ernie Macmillan’s little brother broke my rocking horse.”
“What’s the posh for bastard?”
“Cad, I think.” Draco’s ears were bright red. He walked past his door, clearly attempting to put as much space as possible between him and the evidence of his eight-year-old vocabulary. They turned right as the corridor curved, and then stopped in front of the next door. “Coote’s put you up in this bedroom.” He knocked on the wood with one knuckle.
“Does it have a name?” Everything in Malfoy Manor had a name. Corridors had names, and alcoves, and the occasional window. It was a little endearing, like a child naming an inanimate object.
“See for yourself,” Draco said, and pushed the door open.
Harry had not realised just how much of Malfoy Manor was oak or marble until he stepped into a room where the walls had been plastered over. Colourful murals covered every inch of space, curving around the mullioned window and up to the latticed ceiling. The subjects appeared to be entirely new magical creatures, formed via anatomically improbable combinations.
“The Mural Room?” Harry guessed.
“Close,” said Draco, leaning against the doorjamb. “The Painted Room.”
“I particularly like the unicorn-were-porlock by the window.”
“Really? And here I thought you’d like the hippogriff with the human hands instead of claws.”
Harry could not look directly at that portion of the mural without wanting to emergency paint over it. “And Coote put me in this room to punish me for something?”
“It’s the closest to mine.” Draco flushed a bit at the tops of his cheeks, and hastily added, “And also to punish you. She knows you’ve been tracking mud inside.”
“I will take my torture lying down. Because I’ll be sleeping.” Harry darted a glance at the hippogriff. “How much, I don’t know.”
“If you don’t see it, it can’t see you,” Draco said wisely. “Well. Coote should have laid out things for you. There’s the lavatory just down the passage. Did you need anything else?”
Harry watched Draco in the doorway of the bedroom. His eyes didn’t seem to know where to land. Given the subjects depicted on the walls, Harry didn’t blame him.
“No,” Harry said. “Everything seems fine.”
“I doubt you’d say anything if it weren’t,” Draco said wryly.
“Have you and Hermione been having conferences behind my back?”
Draco just smiled. He looked at Harry for a brief moment, and then looked away. “Well. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” said Harry, but Draco had already left.
Thanks to wine and proper hydration, Harry’s bladder woke him in the middle of a pleasant dream about a large green field. In the brief war between warmth and internal organ comfort, the latter won out and Harry stumbled from his bed and into the corridor, shivering under two jumpers. The moon illuminated slices of panelled wall in the otherwise coal-black darkness. He knew there was a toilet somewhere to his right. With short, stilted steps Harry began to make his way along the corridor, keeping one hand on the wall to guide him. He could feel each bump in the panelling, dented bits of scarring in the wood and the occasional cloth of a tapestry.
As he walked he could hear whispers from portraits, creaks and groans from the house. Something about the space made him feel childish again, like he was listening for monsters in the dark.
Finally he reached the toilet. After a moment of frustrated groping he located the lamp. He pissed, washed his hands, and stared at himself in the cracked mirror. His eyes were bloodshot behind his glasses. After a moment Harry shut off the light, only to be suddenly consumed by a pulsing blackness that left him entirely without sight.
Harry fumbled for the doorway, then followed the wall back the way he had came. He tripped over something, but could not figure out what. He felt a tapestry beneath his fingertips that he remembered from his previous journey, and continued on.
Doors passed underneath his hand, and stone and wood. Harry’s heart beat faster and faster. Another tapestry, a door — a turn? A turn, and a cold glass window, and —
Harry collided with a shape in the darkness. He could feel cashmere, and smell soap.
“Oof,” said the figure, and, “Harry?”
Harry had grabbed Draco around the waist with one arm to avoid falling over. Draco’s hand was clamped over Harry’s other wrist, held in the scant space between their bodies so that Harry’s pinky finger brushed his own chest and his thumb bumped up against Draco’s.
“What are you doing?” Draco’s voice was hardly more than a whisper.
“Toilet,” Harry whispered back. “I got lost.”
“Lumos at all?”
“Left my wand in my room,” Harry said sheepishly.
“Idiot,” said Draco. His fingers were warm around Harry’s wrist. His thumb pressed into Harry’s pulse point.
“Have there —” Harry had to catch his breath. His heart was going wild. He imagined it beating up against the pad of Draco’s thumb. He could make out only vague dark shapes; he didn’t know if Draco could see any better. “Have there been any poltergeists?”
“Not yet. It’s only just gone one.”
Harry felt dizzy. He could not see Draco, but he could smell his skin, feel the ghost of his breath. They were so close in the darkness.
“Potter,” Draco whispered. He had begun to sweep his thumb lightly along Harry’s skin.
Harry could not breathe. He tightened his hand in Draco’s jumper. It was riddled with holes, and he could feel that there was another jumper on underneath. Draco’s hand bumped against Harry’s hip, then ghosted along his side until he rested it on Harry’s waist. Harry could no longer remember a time in which he had been cold. He was burning now, every inch skin beating with heat and electricity. Holy fuck, he thought dumbly. Draco’s hand moved from his waist.
“Lumos spaera.” Draco’s voice was low and throaty. A small ball of reddish light floated alongside them, so dim Harry could not make out Draco’s face entirely.
“ROTTING FLESH UPON THE SACRED HOUSE,” roared a piercing voice, and Harry and Draco sprang back from each other immediately.
This was a fairly inappropriate time for Harry to laugh, but he could not help himself. Of course. Of fucking course.
Wandless, Harry did what he could to protect the corridor from imminent destruction. Luckily there were not a lot of fine furnishings for the poltergeist to pulverise, and the wandless magic Harry knew was enough to prevent himself from being killed by, in order, a candlestick, a grandfather clock, and a large dust-cloth. Draco managed to thwart the rest.
When the poltergeist finally vanished in a dusty clap of air, Harry was left in a dim corridor with Draco Malfoy, who had been holding his hand.
“Er,” said Harry.
Draco looked stricken. “Goodnight,” he said, and disappeared into his bedroom, taking the small ball of reddish light with him.
Harry, alone now in the darkness, felt as if he had just experienced an unnervingly vivid dream. He managed to find his way back to the Painted Room where the bed welcomed him with open although musty arms.
Well. Well. Harry’s brain shifted and reassembled itself. He had kissed men before, but he had never — not kissed, but rather had his wrist gently held by, anyone he had once enjoyed an epic feud with. He had never stood very close in the dark with a man who had once been his sworn enemy and now was — something else. Even thinking of Draco as a man felt new, and oddly electrifying. Draco as a boy had been despicable, infuriating, yet perversely magnetic — oh. Harry slowly covered his face with one of the pillows. Oh god.
“I’m such an idiot,” Harry told his pillow. He squeezed his eyes shut like if he did that hard enough he could erase every embarrassing thing he had probably been doing, unknowingly, because of the aforementioned being an idiot.
The walls were not thin enough for Harry to hear anything that happened in Draco’s rooms, but he listened anyway. He did not get to sleep for a very long time.
Harry woke up to a view of anatomically aggressive creatures and a feeling of intense foreboding. He checked the window for escape possibilities. Unfortunately, it looked over the stone courtyard.
“Right,” Harry muttered. “Right. Okay.”
He got dressed and forced himself out of the room before he lost the ability to face the world.
“Master Harry, breakfast has been laid out in the Solar,” said Coote. Her arms struggled beneath the weight of at least a half-dozen marble heads.
“Do you need help with that?” Harry attempted to take her armful of decapitations, but she stepped neatly out of the way.
“No, thank you, Master Harry. You is needing breakfast. Far too skinny, you are.” Coote tutted. “Down those stairs, on the first floor. You can’t miss it.”
Harry could, actually miss it, but he eventually followed the smell of toast to a small room off of the Green Passage.
Draco was standing at the window, backlit by the morning sun. Harry wanted to touch the long line of his back. He wanted to smell the warm skin and soap of his neck. He was, generally, an idiot.
“Morning,” Harry said.
Draco turned around. The dark circles under his eyes had grown interesting maroon depths, but he didn’t look at Harry any differently than he ordinarily did. “Coote’s provided breakfast,” he told him.
“She told me,” Harry said, and sat down at the round table.
“I imagine you’ll need to report in at the Ministry,” Draco said. He sat across from Harry and made a whole production of constructing his toast, never once looking up. “I have to meet with my solicitor, and then I’ll be working in the orangery. When you come back you can assist.”
Draco was doing a rather poor job of pretending like everything was fine and normal, but Harry decided to humour him. “All right. I’ll probably be about an hour or two, depending on whether Morag needs anything.”
“Fine.” Draco stared down at his toast, raised it to his mouth, and then put it down again. “Pansy, Greg and I had planned on going to the village pub tonight. If you would like to come.”
Harry stared at Draco, his white blond hair falling into bloodshot eyes, his set jaw and pointed nose. “Do you want me to come?”
“If you’ll be around anyway,” Draco said, “I don’t see the point of not extending the invitation.”
“All right, if you’re so desperate for my company.” Harry fought back his smile.
“Oh, fuck you, Potter.” Draco’s mouth twitched at the corners, and he began to eat his toast.
Harry took that as welcome enough.
When Harry Apparated into the Ministry he took the lift straight past the level for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and got off at Level Four, striding quickly into the offices of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
Hermione had a genuine office and not a cubicle, which had caused a brief crisis of adulthood in Harry when he first visited. He was grateful for that door now, and closed it firmly behind him.
“Harry?” Hermione looked up from her parchment, quill paused mid-sentence. “Are you all right?”
“It’s Malfoy,” Harry said. “Draco.”
Hermione looked at him, reading his face as if it were a textbook, and then smiled. “I thought we had the bisexual crisis years ago. Again?”
“I think this crisis is more specific to a person.” Harry collapsed into one of the chairs in front of Hermione’s desk. “Although, it’s not — it’s not, like, a crisis. I just didn’t… Know.”
“You don’t have a lot of emotional awareness, Harry,” Hermione said kindly. “It’s not your fault. It’s all the —”
“Trauma,” Harry substituted.
“Exactly.” Hermione put her quill to the side. “I’ve been expecting this for a while.”
Sometimes, most of the time, Harry really was enormously fond of Hermione. He was very glad they fought a troll together and then couldn’t escape subsequent friendship. She was, however, an abject know-it-all. “Do you ever get tired of being right all the time?”
“Never. I love being right all the time. It is my gift and my curse, because some of these bastards won’t see sense.” She scowled briefly at the closed door, and then turned back to Harry. “You really have seemed happier, lately. And when you spoke to me about Malfoy Manor, do you know how many times you said we?”
“Many.” Hermione smiled gently and rested her chin on her palm. “So what brought this on? Has something happened?”
Harry considered that for a minute. “Not really? Sort of. Mostly no.”
“And you want something mostly yes to happen?”
Harry had a brief thought of Draco, naked in his bedroom after they had parted in the corridor and had to think virtuously about Quidditch for twenty seconds before moving on. “Yes. Yes. Also, I’m going to the pub with a pack of Slytherins tonight.”
“You are serious,” Hermione said.
“You know me. Full speed ahead.” Harry pumped his fist weakly. He was not nervous. He was definitely not nervous at all.
“For better or for worse,” Hermione sighed. “Although you are still alive, which I suppose is a point in your favour.”
“Or a point in yours,” Harry said.
Hermione smiled at him with fond eyes. “I assume you came straight here instead of checking in with the Aurors?”
“Hermione ‘Always Bloody Right’ Granger, that’s what we should all call you.” Harry got to his feet. He was just starting to feel quite good and pleasantly anticipatory about this whole thing and didn’t want Morag to puncture his mood with more horrifying photographs or vague threats.
“I’ll draft the business cards,” Hermione said.
"Excellent,” Harry said, and went reluctantly to his cubicle.
Draco prided himself on his ability to compartmentalise. There was no chance he could have got through that year he was trying to betray Hogwarts whilst passing his classes without a decent ability to not think about things. He had grown proficient at attempting not to think about his upcoming death, the many and various ways he had failed his family, and the implications of the task he had been ordered to perform. He spent the following year not thinking about the truly exciting new population at the Manor, what the Carrows did behind closed doors, whether Fenrir Greyback could get into his bedroom, and the logistics of having the Dark Lord living in your house with a great giant snake as a companion.
Despite his learned proficiency, Draco had his weak points. He had never quite got the hang of not thinking about Harry Potter. And now he had only gone and invited him out with his friends, which was just a brilliant plan all around.
They walked together though the cobbled streets of Fugglestone St Peter. Potter’s spine was a tense comma, and Draco kept his hands in his pockets so he was less tempted to press gently at the base of his back.
“It’ll be fine,” Draco told him.
“The last time I saw them, I — Well.” If Harry kept frowning like that he’d get lines in his forehead. It would probably only make him look distinguished, with Draco’s luck.
“And the last time we saw you, we well-ed, too.” Draco opened the door to Mr. Coles’s pub and let Potter go in first.
Pansy and Greg were sitting at a rickety booth by the fireplace, and did admirable jobs of not falling out of their seats in surprise at the sight of Potter, although Pansy did mouth “what the fuck” at Draco when Potter was sitting down.
“He didn’t tell you he invited me,” Harry guessed, staring at them across the table.
“No,” Greg said. “Didn’t say anything.”
“Well,” said Harry, bravely. “Hi. It’s good to see you.”
“Is it?” Pansy raised an eyebrow at Draco. “I’ll get us all drinks. Shots, perhaps?”
“Yes,” Draco said, because it was that or launching his best friends through the front window of the pub. He should have warned them, but the idea of putting in writing — well, he had to be sure Potter was really going to come, first.
Mr. Coles and Pansy returned the table in record speed, each of them holding several shot-glasses of clear liquid.
“We thought vodka,” said Pansy, sliding back in next to Greg.
“So many young people,” Mr. Coles said happily, “It’s just wonderful to have some youthful faces in this place. Reminds me of the old days.”
Merlin save Draco, he was going to have to come and eat lukewarm chips here with everyone he knew. For years. There was no hope for him at all.
They all ordered, and Mr. Coles bustled away, still fairly radiating happiness.
“So, Potter,” Pansy said, after putting her shot away in one, “I hear you’ve been helping with the repairs at the Manor.”
“A little,” said Harry, as if he had not fixed the entire Grand Hall screen just yesterday. “I mean, if I’m there anyway.”
“It’s starting to look better, isn’t it, Greg?” Pansy eyed Greg, who was staring at Potter as if he were a particularly fascinating exhibit at the zoo. “It’s why you should never let your house be requisitioned for military service.”
“For military — Oh.” Potter’s eyebrows went all unimpressed.
“She’s testing you,” Draco muttered. “She doesn’t actually mean it like that.”
“Well, I do in a way,” Pansy said. “Are you going to drink that?” Greg shrugged, and Pansy took his shot as well. “Of course, it’s not the house’s fault it was needed for the war effort.”
“For the war effort,” Potter echoed flatly.
“It didn’t exactly have a choice,” Pansy continued blithely. “And it certainly paid the price.”
“I get the feeling you’re not really talking about the house.” Potter’s voice was drier than excellent champagne.
“So you have house-trained him, Draco.” Pansy smiled.
“I will hex you,” Draco said. “I will hex you entirely in the face, in this Muggle establishment. It’ll be worth the fine.”
“The food’s here,” Greg said desperately, and took his plate from Mr. Coles with the air of a starving man.
“Enjoy, enjoy,” Mr. Coles said, passing around utensils wrapped in cloth napkins, “Stay as long as you like! We’re open as long as you’re in need of refreshment!”
Mr. Coles left the table, and Draco could see it now. He would have to eat here multiple times a week. He was doomed.
Pansy eyed the placement of Harry’s napkin with an approving tilt of the head. “Someone knows their etiquette.”
“I better,” Harry said. “As it turns out I’m practically one of you. On my father’s side, anyway.” With a snort he pushed back from the table and headed in the direction of the lavatory.
“Oh. Oh,” said Pansy, a hand to her mouth. “I mean, I knew his father was a pureblood but the Potters were so —”
“Yeah, well.” Draco shrugged. “Turns out those Potters are the same as his Potters.”
“Salazar’s dick. Well, how bad is it?”
“How bad is what?”
“The incest factor. You have checked, haven’t you? Nature’s Nobility? Best to make sure you don’t want to fuck your cousin. You do have a tendency. You snogged Teddy Nott and he’s your third cousin. Twice. He’s twice your third cousin.”
“I’m your third cousin and you’ve never snogged me,” Greg said, and then seemed to realise what he had just said. “Which is good. Thanks for not doing that, Draco.”
“No problem, Greg,” Draco said faintly.
“Well?” Pansy leaned forward, eyes darting towards the lavatory. “Come on, before he gets back.”
“He’s my cousin.”
“No,” gasped Pansy.
“Second, twice removed.”
“Oh, better.” Pansy relaxed in her seat. “That’s fine. That’s regular pureblood incest, not Gaunt incest, and it’s not like you have to worry about offspring.”
“Thanks, Pansy. I feel so much better now.”
“Honestly I’m shocked we’ve all lived as long as we have,” Pansy mused. “And with so few genetic markers of inbreeding.”
“Speak for yourself,” said Greg. “You know I’ve got —”
“Yes, your minor blood disorder,” Draco said. “And my mother has albinism.”
“What,” chorused Greg and Pansy.
“You never thought it was odd that she didn’t have the Black colouring? Do not spread that around, by the way, my mother would genuinely lock me in the cellar.”
“What are we talking about?” Potter slid back into his seat, brushing tendrils of hair from his eyes.
“Quidditch,” said Draco and Pansy together.
“Yes,” Greg said, doing his best at being stealthy, which was dismal. “Quidditch.”
Beneath the table, Harry’s thigh pressed gently against Draco’s. “Ah,” he said, shooting Draco an amused look. “Quidditch.”
Greg, bless him, began to stumble through a recap of the most recent Holyhead Harpies game. Harry leaned forward and began to talk about Chaser strategies, motioning so enthusiastically he nearly toppled his water into his meal.
“Fucked,” Pansy mouthed across the table, “You’re fucked.”
Draco knew. Oh, he knew.
The quarter moon swam in and out of sight as clouds drifted in puffy bursts across the night sky. Mr. Coles had shut his pub for the evening, and the only light on the narrow street came from the gas lantern mounted high on the building’s wall. Draco eyed the immense figure of Gregory Goyle, whose stubborn allegation of sobriety had been disproven several times throughout the night, although he wouldn’t admit it.
“I am fine to Apparate,” Greg insisted, pounding his meaty fist on his open palm.
“Not fifteen minutes ago, you were crying about how much you loved Ginny Weasley’s Chasing strategy,” Draco said. “With tears, and everything.”
“Yeah, well, she’s a brilliant player!” Greg swayed, eyes going watery again. “I feel bad about how I did stuff, back then, ‘cos she’s so good.”
Draco thought that perhaps Greg should feel bad about how he did stuff, back then, because she was a human being, but that wasn’t really Greg’s area — lucky for him. Greg slept fine.
“I’ll get him home,” Pansy said, rolling her eyes. Pansy was not particularly drunk, although she had drank at least as much as Greg and was about a third his size. Her iron constitution, now legendary in Slytherin House, was part genetics and part sheer bullheadedness. “You all right there, Potter?”
Harry was petting some moss that was growing alongside the pavement. Potter did not have an iron constitution. Potter’s constitution was made, perhaps, of tissue paper. “Brilliant,” he said.
“He’s fine,” Draco told her.
“Yeah he is,” Pansy muttered, raising a wicked eyebrow.
Draco moved closer so he could whisper without Harry overhearing. “So you suddenly approve of him? You were doing a nice impression of someone putting him through the wringer back there.”
“Oh, I’m not sure if I approve,” Pansy said, at a normal volume. “I do, however, find this whole thing hilarious.”
“I can definitely Apparate by myself, no question,” Greg informed them again. He wobbled on the spot and Pansy caught him under the arm.
“I appreciate your support,” Draco said dryly. “As I am sure Greg appreciates yours.”
“Completely fine,” Greg said, nodding. “Absolutely ready.”
“I — oh.” Harry had attempted to stand up, and wobbled alarmingly. He braced himself on Draco’s shoulder. “Gravity, am I right?”
“Indeed,” Pansy said, shooting a delighted and more than slightly demonic grin in Draco’s direction. “Indeed, Potter. You know, this is the Chosen One. Right here, there he is, and he can’t stand up.”
“Not Chosen anymore,” Harry pointed out, literally, as his finger was about an inch from Pansy’s pert nose. “War’s over. Just a One. Not a Chosen One.” Harry flopped his hand back and managed to hit Draco in the face. “Oh, sorry.”
“That’s all right,” Draco said. He backed away from Potter, checking to see if he remained upright.
Pansy’s expression could be described as ‘cat amongst the pixies’. “What do you think, Draco? Is he the one?”
“I will set fire to your entire wardrobe,” Draco said. “Don’t test me.”
“That might be good,” Greg said heavily, “Pansy, you’re my friend and everything, but some of your clothes are really weird.”
“I could splinch you,” Pansy told him. She adjusted his considerable weight on her shoulder.
“Nah,” Greg said. “You wouldn’t. You’re my friend.”
“You’re all friends,” Harry slurred. “That’s great. I’m happy about that.”
Draco couldn’t look directly at Harry because if he did, he was sure his face was going to do something awful that Pansy would mock for eighty-seven years.
“You’re all right, Potter,” Greg decided, his heavy eyebrows pulled down over his eyes like he had to concentrate.
“You’re all right too, Goyle,” Harry said, beaming, as he swayed relentlessly forward. “I like your opinions on Quidditch.”
“Oh my god,” Pansy muttered. “Okay, I’m getting Greg out of here before these two drunkies make a blood pact of eternal friendship, or something equally daft.”
“Wise,” Draco said.
Pansy took Greg’s arm more securely. As Greg began to wave goodbye, Pansy gave him a great yank and they both popped out of existence with the familiar ear-splitting crack. Draco eyed the surrounding Muggle buildings, hoping that no one had been looking out of their window. Potter had wandered off again, like a drunk house-cat.
“It’s nice to think that, like…” Harry was off to Draco’s left, stroking the worn stone wall of the pub. “Like, this place has been here for longer than we’ve been alive. It’s older than the war. It’s older than our grandparents.”
“It’s older than the United Kingdom,” Draco said, because he was fairly sure the pub had once been an inn, founded sometime in the thirteenth century.
“Right? It’s seen all these wars, and it’s still here. It’ll keep being here after we’re dead.” Harry’s skin looked poreless in the moonlight. He gazed up at the building with a faint smile. “Still serving drinks. Like nothing ever happened, after people forget.”
If Draco were more drunk, or less principled, he’d push Harry right up against that stone wall and kiss him until he was gasping.
“Come on, morbid,” he said instead, “We’ve got a long walk back.”
Sometime between the edge of the village and Pheasant Walk Harry took Draco’s hand, easy, as casual as if he had been picking up his satchel on his way out the door. He didn’t say anything about it, so Draco wasn’t about to ask him what the hell was going on. He forced himself not to think too hard about the press of Harry’s calloused palm against his own. Their hands were almost exactly the same size.
“That’s Hinkypunk Stream. Feeds into the River Nadder,” Draco said desperately, pointing at the water as they passed over the little bridge. “And this field is the Swallows.”
“That doesn’t look much like a river.”
“Not yet,” Draco told him, “It will. Further down.”
Harry hummed thoughtfully. Their footsteps cracked twigs and crushed grass. Other than the quiet rustling of small animals in the dark, the landscape was silent. They passed under an immense oak tree, and Harry tilted his head so far back Draco was slightly concerned he’d trip over something. “What’s this called?”
“Augury Wood.” Draco tugged Potter out of the way of a smaller tree.
“I like how everything here has a name,” Harry said, swinging their hands between them. “People name things they care about.”
Draco’s heart clenched painfully.
The ancient, scarred door set in the high rag wall to the gardens required some finagling to open, but still Harry did not let go of Draco’s hand. “Those are beech trees,” Draco said, his heart doing some kind of tap dance in his ribcage. “And chestnut, up ahead.”
“I like that you know the names of things. Trees, and flowers.” Harry tilted his face up to the dappled moonlight. “When I was little I always asked the names of things, but my aunt and uncle just yelled at me to stay quiet, so. I used to follow other families around when we’d go places. Sometimes they’d tell their kids what the flowers were called.”
Draco did not know what to say. He held tight to Harry’s hand. “In the spring, the paths are all covered with bluebells and daffodils. The apple trees flower, all over there — larkspurs, and snapdragons. I’ll show you.”
Harry turned and smiled at him, his teeth a flash of white in his shadowed face.
If only Draco were drunker, or less principled, he would push Harry beneath those apple trees and make him forget his name. It was honestly becoming more and more difficult to remember that Harry was very drunk, and Draco was… Not for him. He wouldn’t be looking at him like that, with his eyes flickering to Draco’s mouth, if they weren’t drunk. He wouldn’t.
“You’re such a lightweight, Potter,” Draco huffed, striding forward and trying not to look round at Harry. “Saviour of the Wizarding World and you’re knocked out after a couple shots and a pint.”
“Ron says I’m an emotional drunk.”
“I’ve noticed.” Draco guided Harry around some enterprising brambles. “You nearly pledged eternal friendship to Gregory Goyle.”
“I just said he was all right,” Harry protested.
“Have you met us, Potter? That is tantamount to a proposal.”
“You’re all right, too, Draco.”
Draco did not swallow his tongue, but if he had he really could not have been blamed. “Now you’re just throwing your affections at everyone, you trollop.”
Harry laughed. “Did you know it’s March?”
“That is how the passage of time works.”
“I’ve been here a month.”
“A month during which you didn’t have to be on other cases, where people were being tortured.”
Drunk as he was, Harry still shot him a look. “That’s my job,” he said.
“Your awful job that you hate.”
Harry pulled his hand away. Draco did not want to admit that he missed it. “It’s what I was made for.”
“What you were made for? What the actual fuck, you pillock.”
Harry had overtaken him, even though Draco’s legs were longer. He shrugged with one shoulder, and Draco watched the back of his bare neck. He really ought to be wearing a scarf. “I’ve been fighting Dark Magic since I was eleven.”
“Which is, point, not something you should have had to do.”
“Who else would?”
“Er,” said Draco, looking with growing alarm at the back of Harry’s head. “Adults? Actual Aurors? Frankly I am disturbed that a prepubescent boy was entrusted with the saving of the world so frequently. I don’t think that’s responsible behaviour.”
“And I suppose that time you tried to destroy the world when you were sixteen, and didn’t leave that to adults, that was all right?” Harry stumbled over a couple of words, but really it was admirable how sober he sounded. Then he tipped over, and caught himself on a stone bench.
“I wasn’t trying to destroy —” Draco took a deep breath, and caught up with Potter, dragging him upright again. “I was almost of age, and a fucking idiot; it’s not the same.”
“Well then, get off my back about my job.” Harry crossed his arms tightly across his chest. He was not looking at Draco with those green green eyes anymore; he was squinting through his glasses and frowning.
“Clearly no one else is going to get on your back about it,” Draco muttered.
Harry turned in a slow circle, squinting into the distance. “How big is this bloody garden? I feel like we’ve been here for weeks.”
“About ten acres.”
“It has a forest in it.”
“Sort of,” Draco said. “That part is called the Wilderness.”
“Huh,” said Harry. The corner of his mouth twitched. Draco could spot the exact moment that Harry softened and gave in to the handful of pints; the moonlight night; and the names of things, that strange creature.
“It’s been a garden for five-hundred years, you know,” Draco told him, knowing that Harry would like that. He did not tell him that parts of the garden would eat him if he got too close. Harry wouldn’t like that.
“Huh,” said Harry, smiling.
They resumed walking, weaving through brambles and trees, and reached the door to the kitchen within ten minutes.
They took the Le Fey Staircase. Harry patted the heads of the decorative snakes, which Draco tried not to find endearing. On the first floor, Coote peered suspiciously around the corner of the Green Passage but Draco waved her off, mouthing I have it handled in decreasing speed and increasing emphasis until she nodded reluctantly and backed off.
“Am I in the Painted Room again?”
Draco guided Harry around a suit of armour. “Seeing as that’s where we’ve made the bed, yes.”
“You’ve made the bed in your room.”
Draco let go of Harry’s arm. “That is generally what one does.”
“Remember that night, when we crashed into each other in the dark? Right over there?” Harry pointed to a spot that was not at all where they had actually collided.
“I remember almost dying of head trauma from a flying footstool.”
Harry laughed, a bubbling sort of thing that sounded almost innocent. He leaned towards Draco, and Draco ducked away. “Draco, just —” Harry touched Draco’s neck, his shoulder. “Just let me—”
Draco stepped hastily out of his reach. “Potter, we’re on the wrong side of the courtyard and your room is— oh.”
Harry had stumbled over a discarded piece of armour from some long-forgotten suit. He fell down in a spectacularly messy way, scattering further bits of chainmail as he went. “Damn,” he said, from the floor.
Draco hauled him back up with some effort. “Bed,” Draco told him, hoping his sounded businesslike and not strangely overwhelmed. “Or I’ll have to get Coote to help you. She has absolutely no bedside manner for drunkards.”
“Bed,” Harry agreed, sounding chastened. “Sorry.”
Draco turned his face away so that Harry could not see him wince. “It’s fine, you numpty. Let’s get you back to the terrifying murals.”
When Harry met Hermione for lunch, she looked harassed, her hair rising from her head like a cloud. “I can only really spare a half hour,” she said. “Do you mind if we just walk down to Pret?”
“No,” Harry said, honestly. Sometimes he preferred just grabbing a mediocre sandwich and eating on his feet, although Hermione did not generally approve of that impulse.
They walked through Whitehall towards Charing Cross, dodging efficient people in suits. To all eyes, Hermione was certainly an efficient person in a suit. She walked faster than anyone her height should have been able to, given leg length.
“I am going to strangle Cuthbert Mockridge,” Hermione told him, plowing ahead through the crowded pavement. “What a fusty old man.”
“Sounds like a wanker.” Harry had never met Cuthbert Mockridge, but if Hermione thought he was terrible Harry agreed with her entirely.
“He treats the goblins like they’re about to murder him at any provocation,” Hermione grumbled. “It’s incredibly unproductive for improved relations!”
Harry murmured his assent and avoided tripping on a small and yappy dog.
“Sorry, Harry. I shouldn’t get worked up about that again. I have another meeting with him in an hour.” Hermione slowed down, fixing him with an interested gaze. “How did your full speed ahead go? Drinks with the Slytherins?”
Harry made a face. “I got drunk, we fought in the garden about… something, god knows, and then I tried to kiss him and fell down.”
Hermione’s smile broadened into an irrepressible laugh. “So, about on par with your usual romantic strategy.”
“Pretty much,” said Harry, laughing. “But I’ve got, you know, strength of will and determination, or something. I’ll muddle through somehow.”
Pret a Manger heaved with the lunchtime rush, and Harry embarrassed himself thinking about how much Draco would like all the packaging and labels. He grabbed a chicken and avocado, paid for Hermione’s baguette, and got out of there.
“Well,” Hermione said as they walked back, “My working theory about Malfoy Manor is that there must be some sort of enchantment on the owner, or current owner of the property.”
“Really?” Harry’s voice came out garbled. He had just taken a large bite of sandwich.
“It has to be mobile,” Hermione explained. “If the poltergeists appear both in the village and in the house, the common denominator is Draco.”
“Do you think it could be a curse?”
“Mm, no, unless his health is somehow compromised.” Hermione unwrapped her baguette carefully. “Which it could be, I suppose. I don’t think he’s really the sharing type.”
“No,” Harry agreed, “But if he was in pain he wouldn’t be able to resist complaining about it. Probably at length, maybe in verse.”
Hermione shot him a look from the corner of her eye, amused. “Full speed ahead?”
“Shut it,” Harry said cheerfully.
They walked back to the Ministry in the periodic drizzle. Hermione told him about the various grimoires she’d borrowed from Draco’s library, and Harry wondered if it would be raining in Wiltshire, when he got there. He liked the Manor in the rain.
The following day dawned unreasonably sunny, almost warm in that premature and unlikely way that made the entirety of London honestly believe that they could have a barbecue about two months in advance of summer. Harry decided to skip out on Apparition and take the Underground to the Ministry. He passed three people in shorts on his walk to the station, even though everyone else was still in coats.
“Global warming,” Morag said, when Harry greeted her. “It’s a scourge.”
Morag hated summer, the sun, and warm weather fashion. The days during which she could not wear her omnipresent leather jacket were days that Harry would end up filing more paperwork because Morag had got a little too hexy with a target.
“How’s the case?”
Morag sighed and slumped in her chair. “Waiting on a report from the Floo Network Authority. Yours?”
“Possible lead,” Harry said. “We’ll see.”
Morag put her chin on her hand. “Well? You fucking done?”
“Er,” Harry said. “Yes?”
“Great. Get the hell out of here.” Morag turned towards her intricate wall art of disgusting photographs, clues and pinned maps.
Harry stared at her back for a split-second, hoping that her increasing irritation was not due to her closing in on Fishleburn but was, instead, fury that the degrees now were in double instead of single digits. He turned to leave, stomach sour. Ginger Assistant shot him a suspicious look which he studiously ignored.
“Hey, mate,” Ron said, catching his arm. “You got a minute?”
“Of course,” Harry said, and followed him into his cubicle. The space was such a mess they could barely both fit.
“I wanted to say…” Ron seemed to gather his strength, settling his shoulders. “I don’t want to be unsupportive. If you want to, er, go to pubs with Malfoy, that’s your business, and if Hermione wants to help him with his little ghost problem, that’s her business.”
“Wow,” Harry said. “That hurt a little bit to get out?”
“You have no idea,” Ron sighed. “But I do, like. Support you. I’ve almost come to terms with the whole thing. Nearly. Give me another week and a couple pints and I’ll be fully on board. Well, I won’t be off board. Probably.”
“What whole thing,” Harry said suspiciously. “What’s Hermione said to you?”
Ron shook his head with an almost pitying smile. “She didn’t have to say anything specific. Mate, you’re like… Pretty transparent.”
Harry wondered why, if he was so transparent, he never seemed to know what he was feeling. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Glad to hear it,” Ron said with palpable relief. “See you later?”
“Definitely,” Harry told him, and left the office at a jog.
Coote gave Harry’s trainers a politely disgusted glance as Harry arrived at Malfoy Manor. “Fashions,” she sighed, and took them off to be cleaned.
Harry found Draco in the Grand Hall, halfway up the ladder doing something to the windows. He admired the view for a long moment, before clearing his throat. “Hermione has a theory,” he said, and Draco turned around.
“All right, let’s hear it.” Draco climbed down to Harry’s level. He looked increasingly tired with every step. “Two poltergeists last night. Two.”
“Hermione says that it has to be something on you — on the heir. Or, er, the… What’s the word for when you actually own the place? Is it just ‘owner’?”
“Lord of the manor,” Draco said.
Harry made a face. “Really? Still? What is this, medieval times?”
“He does not show respect for the Lord of the Manor,” grumbled the white-wigged portrait of someone Harry was fairly sure was Septimus Malfoy the somethingth.
“You simply must get with the changing times, darling,” said the portrait of the woman with the champagne glass. She had invaded an enormous family portrait over the fireplace and was sitting on a decorative fountain watching them with interested grey eyes.
Draco ignored them both. “I suppose you could say châtelain, but that’s a bit French. Or castellan, but the Manor hasn’t ever been much of a castle.”
“You have dungeons.”
“We call them cellars these days.”
Harry shrugged. “All right, then. Something on the lord of the manor. She thinks we should check the inheritance enchantments.”
“We’ll need the Muniment Room, through the Small Library,” Draco told him. Harry kept up as they weaved through galleries and passages, feeling at last like he had started to get his bearings amongst the jumble of doors and windows.
“It’ll be wildly disorganised,” Draco warned as they entered the familiar space.
Harry looked around the room. He was surrounded on all sides by built-in bookcases or windows or portraits, with no discernible doors other than the one they had entered through.
Draco approached the bookcase to the right of the ornate fireplace. “Keep up, Potter,” he said, darting a pleased little look back at Harry. “Here, press your wand up this leopard’s nostril.”
“That’s a sentence I’ve never heard before,” Harry said, and did so.
The carved leopard gave a great yawn and stretched. The bookcase creaked ominously, then swung open to reveal a large room beyond the library. Cabinets consumed every spare patch of wall, and stray boxes littered the plain wooden floor.
“Brilliant,” Harry said feelingly. He hadn’t seen a secret passage or a hidden room since Hogwarts and he had just known the Malfoys had to have a couple. That this secret room was filled with very dull documents did not dampen his enthusiasm.
“Someday I’m going to get around to putting all this to rights. Thankfully no one ever cared about it, so the occupation left well enough alone.”
As Draco pulled out the first drawer, Harry noticed that it extended far beyond the actual length of the cabinet.
“Extension charms on everything,” Draco explained. “We need it. The records here date… Oh, correspondence since the fourteenth century, household accounts since the eleventh, broadsides, manuscripts, maps, some documents signed by Rowena Ravenclaw —”
“You’re so predictable, Potter.” Draco’s mouth twitched. “Although, to be fair, it’s not for lack of trying. Slytherin’s descendants were always more interested in acquiring his artefacts than the heirs of the other houses.”
“There we go,” Harry said, nudging Draco’s shoulder with his own.
They spread out disintegrating parchment and leather-bound tomes, pouring over tiny print and bizarre calligraphy. Draco knew a few translation charms that came in handy for all the Old English.
“There has to be something consistent here…” Harry thought about the scans, about how the silvery light of the spell had settled all over Draco like a fine dusting of snow. “A Dark spell, maybe.”
Draco shot an icy look in Harry’s direction. “Not everyone in my family has been into the Dark Arts, Harry.”
“I know that,” Harry said. He wanted to put a hand on Draco’s back, his shoulder maybe, right along the spine, but wasn’t sure whether that was allowed. Draco was looking extremely pointy. “I know.”
“And even the ones who were…” Draco straightened the papers and shoved them back into the drawer. “That’s not all they were.”
“They were still people. Maybe they made some mistakes, or a lot of mistakes, or… Their interests were fucked up, just.” Draco shoved the drawer back into place with a clatter. “Do you think that’s what this house is built on? Dark Magic and relentless ambition? That’s all this is to you?”
Harry was never going to think Lucius Malfoy was anything less than a bastard, but he didn’t know what it was like, with parents. Harry did know, down to his bones, that no matter how much of a bastard Lucius was, he loved his son. “That’s not all this is to me,” Harry said, putting his hands up like he was calming a startled thestral.
“Certainly doesn’t seem that way.” Draco pulled out another box and spilled it out over the floor. Something in his forehead twitched, doubtlessly the mistreatment of antique papers. Draco was funny about old things. He didn’t mind when Harry broke a chair, or loosened tiles on the roof; but he looked askance if some four-hundred year old household inventories got so much as a speck of dust on the ink.
“There are some things about the house — about all pureblood culture — that I’m not keen on,” Harry admitted. “I’ve never said otherwise. But…” Harry began to sort through the spilled records, carefully shooting a thin stream of air from his wand to clear them of dust. “I think places like this are also important. They’ve got magic right through them, like Hogwarts does, right into the foundation. They last. They’ve lasted through a lot. And if Professor Binns talked like you did, I might have learned anything about History of Magic, like. Ever.”
Draco was facing away from him, but Harry could tell from his cheeks and the tilt of his ears that he was smiling. He went back to rustling through drawers.
Harry waited for him to say something, and then couldn’t wait anymore. “All right?”
“All right, Potter, Merlin.” Draco turned round and he was trying not to smile, but his eyes crinkled at the corners. “Come on, help me sort through this.”
By the time Coote brought the silver tray of lunchtime sandwiches, Harry and Draco had a neat stack of possible enchantments that could, potentially, be construed as ‘placed on the lord of the manor’. There was the spell that allowed the lord of the manor to Apparate even in the cellars, and the one that gave him jurisdiction over the house-elves, and the one that tied him to the wards. There were spells to do with the trees, and spells to do with garden, and and spells to do with something called desmesne land. Draco tried to explain the difference between seigniory spells and manorial spells, but lost Harry somewhere around his recitation of ‘nulle terre sans seignor’, which was all French to him.
Draco sighed theatrically, making a big show of picking crumbs from Harry’s sandwich off of the floor between them. “How can they expect an Auror with absolutely no experience of these kinds of properties to investigate them?”
“I’m not sure if you’ve heard of this thing called learning,” Harry said, eating the last of his sandwich. “It’s the hot new trend in human experience.”
Draco leaned back against the cabinets, eyebrows encroaching his hairline. “And what exactly have you learned, then, Potter?”
An inexplicable attraction to posh gits with condescending manners, apparently. “I bet you…” Harry dug through his pockets. “Three sickles and a crumpled-up receipt that I know the names of everything on this floor.”
“Nearly everything,” Harry substituted, in case there were any more secret rooms.
Draco snorted. “All right, I look forward to my sudden windfall.”
They walked through the ground floor as Harry pointed at rooms and corridors, staircases and closets. He forgot the name of the long room off of the Great Hall, but made no more mistakes as they moved around the house clockwise.
“Small Library. Muniment Room,” Harry said as they completed the loop, and Draco nodded. “Porbus Room. South Drawing Room, and through there the Stone Court. Down there…” Harry wrinkled his nose. “That corridor with the portrait of the knight that only speaks Old English, and then the kitchen.”
There was a sort of light in Draco’s eyes when he smiled at Harry now, and Harry gravitated towards it like a snake towards a hot lamp. “Well done, Potter.”
“So you admit I’m right?”
“You missed three names,” Draco said, and he turned round and began to walk back the way they had come.
“Ethelred Passage, Colonnade Room, and…”
“We did the drawing room,” Harry said, and as he spoke he realised what Draco had meant. Draco had led them not towards the South Drawing Room, but into the front hallway, straight up to the heavy oak doors that were always closed. “Do you ever go in there?”
“No,” Draco said. He pushed the bronze doorknobs open to reveal a large room with peeling, dark purple wallpaper. The crystal chandelier, repaired since Dobby had sent it crashing to the floor, hung with spiderwebs. The sumptuous marble fireplace looked grey with dust, and the burnt husk of a long table stretched the length of the room. A jumble of furniture had been pushed up against one wall and never removed.
Harry felt seventeen again, the phantom pain of a stinging jinx coasting over his face.
“When you left,” Draco said quietly, “The Dark Lord arrived.”
Harry suppressed the urge to say yeah, well what did you expect? He thought about what Pansy had said at the pub. It wasn’t as if the house had a choice. But Draco had had a choice. He had let Death Eaters into Hogwarts, and then he had not identified Harry at the Manor. Then his mother had saved Harry’s life, a little. Harry had made a choice, once, in a dark bathroom when he was sixteen. They all made choices, little ones and big ones, over and over again, and who was to say which were right?
“I can see your face doing that.” Draco shot him a faintly amused look that soon went cold and distant. “I know. I know we deserved it.”
“I wasn’t thinking that you deserved it,” Harry said truthfully.
“I did the wrong thing, Potter. You wouldn’t have, would you? I got what was coming to me.”
Harry shrugged. “I did what I thought was right, but a lot of the time I also just did what Dumbledore thought was right. Mostly I didn’t think at all. I don’t know how different that is to you, in the end.”
“That is oddly philosophical of you,” Draco said, surprised. “Though I don’t know if it’s nihilism or pragmatism.”
“Also, I don’t think whatever Voldemort did was what you deserved.”
Draco still flinched at the name, his eyes darting around the room as if by reflex. “He stood there,” he said, and pointed at the fireplace. “He would stand there and we would have to come up, one by one, and answer to our crimes.”
“You were seventeen. You were a kid.”
“I had made my choice. I had made it. I got what I deserved.” Draco held his inner left forearm with white knuckles.
Harry sat down in the middle of the wood floor. He felt like this was a sitting down sort of conversation. “You were seventeen, you made a mistake and you got a mass murderer living in your house, alongside a whole host of other psychopaths. That’s what you deserved?”
“The other Death Eaters, when they weren’t at their own homes. My dear Auntie Bellatrix. A pack of werewolves, on occasion,” Draco said. He stood by the fireplace, looking thoughtfully into the ashy remnants of a long-gone fire. “Fenrir Greyback and a handful of others. They made a den in one of the second floor bedrooms; it smelled like you cannot even imagine.”
“You’d think they’d have gone outside, since they were so big on the call of the wild.”
“Mm, apparently winter was the point at which they decided to accept hospitality.”
“Your mother wanted you to go to therapy.”
“My mother could hardly pronounce the word,” Draco said. He looked at the space in front of Harry like it might turn on him, but knelt and sat down, cross-legged, mirroring Harry exactly. Dust swirled in the space between them, catching the light from the long windows. “Hermione wanted you to go to therapy.”
“I mean, I probably ought to go,” Harry admitted. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m kind of a mess.”
“You’re just an idiot,” Draco said. “Therapy can’t fix that.”
“Cheers,” Harry said, and caught Draco’s warm eyes. “You should go to therapy, too.”
“Talking,” Draco said with disgust.
“You talk to me.”
Draco leaned back on his hands, tilting his face up to the ceiling. “And now I am experiencing immense regret about that.”
“What are you going to do with the house?”
“What are you going to do about your job?”
They stared at each other, knees almost touching, eye-to-eye in the dusty room. Harry wanted to touch Draco’s face, just along the curve of his cheekbone and feel the sweep of his long eyelashes. He had such an odd, harsh face, but Harry thought he looked so good.
“Stop that,” Draco said in a strangled sort of voice.
“Your face,” Draco said. He was looking at Harry like he could not help himself. “Doing that.”
“Fine,” Harry said, and kissed him.
Draco made a shocked sound. For a second, Harry thought he was just going to stay there, frozen, but then Draco’s mouth opened and Harry could not think at all.
Draco wound his fingers in the long hair at the back of Harry’s head, and pulled. Harry could not help the whimper that escaped him. He would have been embarrassed if it weren’t for the hot flare of desire that sent shockwaves through his body and puddled at the base of his spine. Draco broke away, looking almost startled, staring at him with his hand still tight in Harry’s hair.
“This is a bad idea,” Draco said, but he was still clutching Harry’s hair, and then he kissed him again. “This is the worst — the worst idea.”
They were horizontal now, which was brilliant. Draco straddled his lap and when he shifted Harry could feel — he could feel that Draco was hard. Harry was hard too; blindingly, blazingly hard. He did not know how Draco had been able to form actual words because all he could do was feel, and feel, and feel.
“We’re in the horrible drawing room,” Draco said, fumbling for Harry’s trousers. His eyes darted wildly down Harry’s body.
“Stop talking,” Harry said. He took his glasses off, put them off to the side and pulled the blurry shape that was Draco back down.
Draco spoke into Harry’s mouth, his tongue against Harry’s lips like he couldn’t pull away. “Forever now, when I walk through the house, it’ll be like: that’s where I broke my arm, there’s where Pansy found the flying mouse, there’s where the Dark Lord tortured people and that’s also where I fucked Harry Potter.”
“Sounds like an improvement,” Harry gasped, as Draco’s hips ground torturously over his own. “I want to suck your cock.”
“What the fuck,” Draco said, and Harry took advantage of his surprise to flip their positions. Draco sprawled on the floor and tilted his head back, exposing a long line of pale neck. “What the fuck.” Draco covered his eyes, breathing hard.
“I like how you say fuck,” Harry said, and sucked a bruise into Draco’s skin. “It makes me want to fuck.”
“Merlin strike me dead.” Draco yanked Harry up by the hair and kissed him again, hungrily. Every scrape of his teeth sent shockwaves through Harry’s whole body. “Have you done this before? With a man?”
“Yes.” Harry was very interested in what was going on beneath Draco’s jumper. He wanted them both naked. He was so overwhelmed that it almost didn’t matter that the Manor was freezing cold at all times.
Draco grabbed Harry’s thighs and pulled, grinding their cocks together so that they both gasped. “Whoever he was, he’s probably horrible.”
“They weren’t,” Harry said, and hid his smile in Draco’s neck. “But it’s all right if you think so.”
“You really don’t think this is a terrible idea.”
“You’re protesting a lot for someone whose hands are down my trousers.”
“Who am I fucking kidding, you love terrible ideas.” Draco pulled his hands from Harry’s jeans, which he was about to protest until he moved them up Harry’s torso, taking his jumper with him.
Harry sat up, still straddling Draco’s lap, and extricated himself from his jumper. He did not care where it landed. It could burn up for all he cared at the moment.
“Oh Merlin save us all,” Draco breathed, looking up at Harry. He ran his hand down Harry’s chest and hooked his thumb on one hipbone. “Fuck. It’s a good fucking thing you don’t know what you look like.”
“I have a mirror,” Harry said, turning his attention to a patch of skin below the jut of Draco’s jaw.
“And no self-esteem, which is probably why this is — oh fuck.”
Harry had pulled Draco’s trousers below his hips and slithered down to get his mouth around his cock, licking messy and obnoxious around the head.
Draco threw his head back until it hit the ground with a thunk. Harry stretched one arm across his torso and pressed at the centre of his chest, holding him to the floor. Draco covered Harry’s hand with his own. Harry could not suppress a gasp, a moan — Draco was moaning too, they were both making too much noise and this was a room that had held so much, suffering and death and tragedy and centuries upon centuries of life before that. Incredibly, sacrilegiously, this felt like the most important thing that had ever happened between these walls: Harry, kneeling over Draco and taking him into his mouth.
Harry palmed his own cock, nearly humping Draco’s shin with the thrill of it, which was probably hopelessly un-erotic but he could not help himself. He took Draco down now, down to the hilt.
“Fuck, fuck,” Draco panted, and wound his free hand in Harry’s hair. “What the shit is happening.”
Harry popped off of Draco’s red, red cock. “It’s called a blowjob,” he said, smirking, his voice hoarse.
“I will — I will —” Draco did not seem to have words for what he would, which was in itself a record. He sat up instead, pulling Harry up with him until their chests were pressed together.
“You’re still wearing your jumper,” Harry mumbled into Draco’s mouth.
“Shut up, Harry,” Draco said, and got his hand around both their cocks.
Draco’s hand was spit-slick but it wasn’t enough. There was almost too much friction; it did not matter. They moved together, gasping. They kissed until they were too overcome to kiss anymore and then they breathed against each others’ mouths. Draco’s eyes were clear grey and fixed on him, wide with those impossible eyelashes.
“Shit, shit,” Draco hissed, “I’m going to —”
The hot wet surge of Draco’s come landed on Harry’s stomach, spilled over to his thighs, coated his dick. Harry’s vision went blurry. “Fuck, oh god, Draco,” he babbled, and came. Draco held him through it, cupping the back of his neck and stroking gently until Harry finally went still.
Harry rested his forehead against Draco’s shoulder, dazed and almost shocked. “Huh,” he said, reeling.
“What,” Draco whispered, his hands shaking a little on Harry’s bare lower back.
“I think we should do that again,” Harry said, biting lightly at Draco’s neck. “Like, quite soon I think.”
“Oh,” Draco said. His hands pressed against Harry’s back.
“Was that —” Harry pulled back to examine Draco’s face. His eyes were wide, almost fearful. “Was that all right?”
“All right?” Draco blinked at him.
“Yeah, I mean — was that okay with you?” Harry felt very cold all of a sudden. He did a quick wandless cleaning charm and looked around for his glasses. He found them off to the side and slid them on.
“Was that okay with me,” Draco repeated, voice faint. His cock was still out and his shirt was rucked up. He hadn’t moved at all.
Harry put his jumper back on and buttoned his jeans, feeling foolish. “Yeah. I mean, we don’t have to —”
Draco’s hand covered Harry’s. “Yes,” he said, very clearly. “Yes, that was okay with me. Merlin and Morgana both, Potter.”
Harry caught Draco’s eye, starting to smile. “Really?”
“You are a complete gibbering ghoul if you think otherwise.” Draco yanked his trousers up over his hips again, then looked around the drawing room like he had never seen it before. “Oh, good, for a second I thought I had left some portraits in here.”
Harry could not help his snort of laughter. “Kinky.”
“I can do kinky, but my ageing relations don’t exactly do it for me.”
“Sorry, I stopped listening on ‘I can do kinky.’”
Draco shot him an amused look. He was starting to look like his regular self again. He adjusted his jumper, getting slowly to his feet. “Come on, Potter,” he said, “We’re still on the clock.”
“And when we’re not anymore?”
Draco’s ears went pink. “We’ll see.”
Life was such a strange and unpredictable thing. Harry didn’t know how he got to this point, but he wasn’t complaining. He felt good. He felt happy.
A silvery streak of light shot through the window and plummeted towards them before winging round their heads in a lopsided circle. The crow spoke with Morag’s voice. “Got him. Meet at Edinburgh Apparition Point Six immediately.”
Harry did not feel good anymore. He felt a bit sick. “Right,” he said. “I’m off, then.”
“Potter — Harry —” Something was struggling through Draco’s expression, though Harry could not tell exactly what.
“Will you keep hold of my bag? It’s in the Muniment Room.” Harry checked the floor for any discarded clothing and made sure his wand was in his pocket. “I’ll be back later.” He looked at Draco for a long, nauseous minute and then, focusing on Edinburgh Apparition Point Six, whirled away from Wiltshire.
Draco’s pale face played in Harry’s mind as he met Morag, and did what they had to do. Fishleburn and his associates had holed up in the cellar of an old house that had been converted into flats. In the midst of the blood and the screaming, the things that they found and the horrors they tried not to see, something was twisting in Harry’s brain. He pushed it to the back of his mind, and did his job.
Draco sat in the middle of the floor by the Petworth Staircase, sorting discarded sporting equipment into ‘Muggles might’ and ‘absolutely not’ categories. The floorboards looked even worse up this close: scarred and pitted, with chalk profanities scattered here and there. The lamp above his head had burnt out but he was too ornery to fix it. He did not like the thought of Potter out there somewhere, seeing yet more horrible things. Hadn’t Potter seen enough horrible things? Hadn’t Potter’s life been a succession of horrible things interspersed with applause?
He did not know what time it was. There was a pleasant solitude to the house when he was like this, anxious and heartsick and completely relieved to be alone. This passage didn’t even have any portraits: the walls were bare but for tatty blue fleur-de-lis wallpaper and wainscoting that had once been white and now was a sort of ecru. The house, yawning and empty around him, felt like protective coating.
“Master Draco!” Coote’s querulous voice reverberated through the house. “Master Draco!”
Draco dropped an enchanted tennis racquet into the ‘no’ pile and clambered to his feet. “Coote? Is there something wrong?”
Coote appeared around the corner, her white hair in disarray around her enormous ears. “Master Draco! It’s Master Harry.”
Draco felt as if someone had hit him with Petrificus Totalus. “What is it,” he demanded, one hand on a low bookcase for support. “Is he —”
“He appears not entirely injured,” Coote said, breathless, “But he is in the entrance hallway, Master Draco, and he is not looking very well, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“No,” Draco said faintly, starting forwards in the direction of a staircase that could actually get him bloody anywhere useful, “No, that’s fine. Excuse me.”
Draco barrelled through passages and doorways, halls and state rooms until he finally reached the Great Staircase. There, at the base, stood Potter.
“Who did this to you?” Draco demanded, hurtling down the stairs.
Harry looked down at his clothes, as if he had not noticed until just now that he was covered in blood. “It’s not mine,” he said.
“Great. Great, that’s less horrifying, although not by much.” Draco pulled Harry into the light so he could examine him properly.
“We caught him.” Harry watched Draco check him for injuries with a detached sort of interest.
“You get a gold star. Is this bandage aesthetic, or should it be properly closed?” Draco pulled the fabric tighter around Potter’s waist. “We need to go to St Mungo’s.”
“Morag thought I was going there,” Harry said, looking up at the ceiling.
“You fucking —” Draco could not think of an insult that could encompass both the horrible hot balloon swelling in his chest and the impulse to smack Harry very hard about the head.
“I’ve had worse. I don’t feel that bad, really.”
“I do not trust literally anything you say about your physical well-being, Potter.” Draco could not help himself; he ran his hands along Harry’s cheeks, and into his hair. Something sticky greeted his fingers and he brought his hands from the mass of curls to see blood glinting red on his skin.
“You —” Draco grabbed Harry’s arm hard enough to hurt. “I’m taking you to hospital.”
Draco held tightly to Harry as they Apparated away from Malfoy Manor, landing dizzily in the centre of a large brick alcove.
“Move along, move along,” said a pink-haired nurse in pale blue robes. He stopped, getting a glimpse of Harry’s face. “Is that —”
“No,” said Harry.
“Yes,” said Draco. “Urgent treatment, immediately. With your best Healer.”
“Ugh,” Harry muttered. “I’m fine.”
“You shut up,” Draco demanded, and turned to the nurse. “Only the saviour of the whole bloody world, no need to wait around instead of getting him the help that he very clearly needs. I’m sure that would go over very well in the papers.”
“Oh,” the nurse said, eyes wide. “Of course, sir, I’ll be just a minute, come this way.”
The nurse led them through reception, past double doors into a narrow corridor where witches and wizards with lime green robes stopped and stared, right at Harry and Draco. Draco was not sure why they were so taken aback; clearly Potter was not an infrequent visitor. They turned through another pair of double doors and into Accident and Emergency.
The pink-haired nurse approached a Healer and had a furiously whispered conversation that seemed to involve the words procedure and Harry Potter, as well as a healthy dollop of public opinion. Draco kept a hold on Harry, just in case, and prepared himself to do a full Malfoy at the entirety of St Mungo’s if there were any delays.
The Healer finally gave a huff of defeat and strode up towards them in fit of forced politeness, clutching her clipboard. “Name,” she said, and looked them both up and down.
“Really,” Draco drawled. “You want to know his name.”
“Harry Potter,” said Harry. He was looking quite grey.
Draco drew himself up to his full height. “Listen, Healer — what, exactly, is your name?”
“Pennifold,” the Healer said, with pursed lips. “Rose Pennifold. And I will take it from here, sir.” She managed to make ‘sir’ sound like something one were to call a stroppy toddler. “I have quite a lot of experience with Aurors, and I doubt your having a hissy fit will do anything to expedite this young man’s treatment.”
Healer Pennifold efficiently detached Draco’s hands from Harry’s arm. “The Visitors’ Tearoom is on the fifth floor; I can have Nurse Nakamura keep you abreast of Mr. Potter’s treatment. Now, if you will excuse me.”
Draco, feeling as if he had been chastised by Coote or his childhood nanny, watched as Healer Pennifold led Harry through yet another pair of double doors, speaking to him in a low voice. He was not sure what to do. He thought standing very still might be sufficient, only he had begun to feel the press of quite a few eyes on his back.
In a cold rush, Draco realised that this was the first time he had been anywhere public in the wizarding world since the war. He had briefly stolen into a couple of apothecaries when he needed supplies, and Pansy had taken him to various small clothing boutiques, but for the most part he had Coote do the shopping and confined himself to the world of the Manor. Charity balls did not count, as he would be surrounded on all sides by people he had known since he was an infant: the Browns and the Parkinsons; the sad figure of Mrs. Crabbe who always touched his shoulder and told him it was not his fault, even though it had been.
Everyone here knew who Draco was. Everyone here knew what he had done.
Or, possibly, they had just seen him with Harry Potter. Really, it could go either way.
“Hey,” said a raspy voice, and Draco whirled around to see Morag MacDougal with her hands in her jacket pockets. “Thanks for bringing him in.”
“Er,” said Draco, scanning the room. He could see a few familiar faces, although he didn’t know where they were from. His trial? Hogwarts?
Morag rolled her eyes. “Right, I’m buying you a coffee. Come on.”
They took the rickety stairs to the fifth floor. Knots of people sat at tables with cold cups of tea and picked-over pastries. There were a few curious glances, but for the most part everyone seemed distracted by whatever, or whomever, had brought them to St. Mungo’s in the first place. Draco could relate. He followed Morag like a man in a dream.
“I’m fine, by the way, thanks for asking,” Morag said conversationally. “Also I accept your congratulations for arresting a demented fuck and keeping him off the streets.”
“Forgive me, but I don’t really give a damn about that at the moment.”
Morag snorted. “You two are fucking hilarious, honestly. He’s fine, Draco. He’s sustained worse.”
“That’s what he said, and it didn’t sound any less deranged then, either.” Draco stopped in front of a display of pre-made sandwiches. “You haven’t called me Draco since we were kids.”
“Well, our parents started to avoid each other and then you were an arsehole for a while.” Morag waited for the previous customer to receive their tea, then stepped in front of the counter. “Two coffees, please.” Morag reached into her pockets and pulled a handful of knuts, a hair tie, and what appeared to be a tulip bulb. “My girl is all about the gardening life,” Morag told the bloke at the till. She refilled her pockets, took the coffees and strode away without so much as looking at Draco.
Draco caught up quickly. “Gardening?”
“I like it too,” Morag admitted, sitting at a small table near the window. “The one thing that great bloody house left in me was an appreciation for a good garden.”
“How is the MacDougal estate?”
“Oh, ruled over by an iron fist, as usual.” Morag shrugged. “Absolutely nothing has changed, it’s practically preserved in aspic. I think my mother still lives like it’s the eighties, and my father does whatever she tells him to do.”
It was entirely irrational, but Draco could not help the clench of envy in his chest. He could remember those years: Vince and Greg ruining their starched shirts climbing trees in the garden; his parents in their evening best, kissing him goodnight; the reassuring rules and predictability. He knew now that there had always been a dark underbelly, a rotten core, but it had been his childhood. He had been happy.
“Oh my god.” Morag leaned back from the table, her eyebrows stretching to her hairline. “Do not tell me you are one of those purebloods who are always on about the ‘good old days’, fucking Christ.”
Draco didn’t correct her; it seemed like too much effort. “Muggle swearing? Your mother must be furious.”
“It’s the lady in my life,” Morag explained. “Half-blood.”
“I’m sure Alcyone Burke MacDougal loves that.”
“She had us for dinner last week.”
“How was it?”
Morag pursed her mouth, considering. “Subtextual.”
Draco’s laugh was weak, but it counted.
“You know, she wouldn’t care that I was with a woman, since it’s not like I’m inheriting, but since Matilda isn’t…” Morag shrugged. “You get it, right? Narcissa can’t be pleased about —”
“My rampant homosexuality? No, I don’t think she’s exactly thrilled. Although she cares less about the perpetuation of the Malfoy name than she does about the fact that the Black name is extinct now.”
“Potter is a good wizarding name,” Morag said, over the rim of her cup. “Not Sacred Twenty-Eight, but you can’t have everything. Most of those families have died out by now, anyway.”
“It’s not like that,” Draco said. He did not think about the horrible drawing room and the decidedly not horrible things that had happened there.
“Sure,” Morag drawled, clearly not believing a syllable he said. They drank their coffees and looked out the window at grey London, drizzle streaking the glass.
Nurse Nakamura weaved through the tables like a hot pink beacon and came to an abrupt stop in front of Draco and Morag. “Mr. Potter is in the Auror Ward,” he told them, “You can see him now.”
“That was fast,” Draco said dumbly.
“I told you, he’s fine.” Morag reached across the table to punch Draco’s shoulder hard enough that he struggled not to fall out of his chair. “Thanks, nurse.”
Nurse Nakamura shot a suspicious look Draco’s way. He clearly expected more high-handed behaviour, but Draco was a little busy being relieved. When it became obvious nothing else was forthcoming, he nodded awkwardly and left almost at a jog.
After a momentary pause, Draco spoke up. “Aurors have their own beds?”
“Hitwizards and Hitwitches have their own personalised beds,” Morag said. “The Auror Department has about seven on reserve for whoever’s been nearly killed recently. The Hitwizards think this makes them more heroic. I think this make them fucking stupid.”
Draco was very glad that Potter was not a Hitwizard. He had once thought it would have been a better fit for Harry’s Gryffindorian propensity for hurtling himself into danger, but now he saw that it would have been a terrible choice for him. He would clearly have died.
They weaved their way through the tables towards the staircase, then headed downstairs to the fourth floor. Spell Damage contained a large complex of wards, two of which, apparently, were devoted purely to the DMLE. Draco spotted Healer Pennifold at the end of the corridor, and walked as quickly as he could without outright running.
“He’s fine,” Healer Pennifold told them as they halted in front of her. She ticked something off on her clipboard. “Scrapes and bruises, the tail-end of a hex and a concussion. We can release him in an hour, so long as someone stays with him.”
“I will,” Draco said immediately.
Morag snorted quietly.
“I’ll have Nurse Nakamura come back in the designated time,” Healer Pennifold said. She fixed him with a deeply unimpressed look, then seemed to wash her hands of the whole business and walked away.
“Charming,” Draco said, and went into the ward. The line of narrow beds was largely unoccupied except for a sleeping witch at the very end by the window and Harry, propped up in a bed near the door.
“Hey,” said Harry, with a flash of a smile.
The trouble with Potter wasn’t just his cheekbones, or his hair, or his body. It was his jutting knuckles, the glimpse of brown neck beneath his messy hair, the way he pulled his mouth to the side when he was concentrating. The trouble with Potter was that Draco would be used to him, immune to it all, and then Potter would turn around and smile at him and he would look so beautiful that Draco could not speak for a minute.
“Hi,” said Draco, once he had recovered.
“Oh boy,” Morag said. She looked between them, eyebrows raised. “I’m off. See you.”
“Bye,” said Harry, not looking away from Draco.
“So,” Draco said, sitting gingerly at the foot of Harry’s narrow bed. “How was your heroic and potentially lethal work event?”
Draco had not realised just how sweetly open Harry’s face had been until he closed it all off, turning his face away like a candle snuffed out. “I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Of course not,” Draco huffed. He twined his hand in Potter’s bedding. St Mungo’s really ought to invest in higher quality coverlets. “What shall we talk about, then? Stocks? The weather?”
“I know things,” Draco said wisely.
“Your solicitor,” Harry guessed.
“He says I should try stocks.” Draco leaned back against the end of the bed. The iron footboard pressed uncomfortably against his spine. “I think they sound even worse than cheques, or paper money.”
“Bank-notes,” Harry said. His messy head lolled a bit against the pillows, and he smiled at Draco in a sleepy sort of way.
Draco glanced at the witch by the window. She was sleeping, but it was still too much company for what he wanted to do to Potter. He didn’t want to fuck him — well, he did, but not immediately — it was much, much worse. He wanted to kiss his forehead. Draco could not bear himself.
“I had another visit from a poltergeist,” Draco told him, instead of doing anything incriminatingly soppy.
“Oh?” Harry frowned. “There was something… What happened just before you saw it?”
Draco tried to recall. “I was in the Muniment Room sorting papers. I had just been handling one of the ledgers. The binding was falling apart; I repaired it.”
Harry’s eyes went wide. “Draco, who made your wand? Not the old one. The new one.”
“Chap called Herodotus Smethwyck, why?”
“No, I thought it would be a bit crass, considering the several months in the late nineties he spent locked in my cellar.”
“Oh,” said Potter, face falling. “The motive…”
Draco frowned. “He’s one of his apprentices.”
Harry had a look on his face Draco did not like. “Do not,” he began, but it was too late. Harry had struggled to his feet and was staggering towards the door. Draco raced after him and caught him under the elbow. “Absolutely not. You have a concussion.”
“Barely,” Harry said, not paying any attention. He pulled them both forwards towards the door. “We’ve got to catch Morag before she leaves. Right now, Draco, right now.”
Draco looked incredulously down at Harry. “Do a bloody Patronus, Harry.”
“Oh,” Harry said, falling back. “Oh, right.” He pulled out his wand and sent a silvery stag racing out of the ward.
They sat on the edge of an unoccupied bed until Morag came strolling through the doorway like she was in no particular hurry. Draco had no idea how Harry had not known she was a pureblood. “You called,” she drawled.
“I know what’s wrong with Malfoy Manor,” Harry said, and Draco stared at him. “It’s the wand — the Lord of the Manor Wand. It’s tied to the property, right? And to the owner? There’s something wrong with the enchantments.”
Draco pulled out his wand and stared at it. He had never liked this wand, not really. It didn’t feel friendly to his fingers but he’d always chalked that up to reservations about the old wand, the one that had been in the family a thousand years before the Dark Lord wrest it from his father’s hands. “Oh,” Draco said softly. Herodotus Smethwyck. He hadn’t even really known him, but he’d come to the Manor, made the wand from the family wand tree and performed the ancient rituals. He’d made jokes about the gargoyles. Draco would never have suspected that he’d hated him all along.
“Oh, all right,” Morag said, looking deeply uninterested at the clear lack of gore and/or blood. “Rogue wandmaker’s not exactly a huge Dark Wizard, is it? I’ll let the Hitwizards know. They can handle him.”
“Take the wand, too,” Harry said. “Don’t use it — I don’t know what it will do. Have the Artefacts Division look it over.”
Draco looked down at his wand. He didn’t want to hand it over; it was his. Even more than that, the Manor wouldn’t be his without it.
Harry pried the wand from his fingers impatiently, then handed it to Morag. “We’ll get you a new wand once we figure out what Smethwyck did to this one. It’ll be all right. It’s not so bad.”
Harry was holding his hand. Draco looked down at their fingers and tried not to feel like something had been taken from him, some part of his identity. He didn’t know if he could even go back to the Manor without his wand. Would the doors even open for him?
“‘Kay,” said Morag in a bored sort of voice. She glanced at their hands. “Not like that, huh, Draco?”
“Come on, Morag,” Harry said. “This century, maybe?”
“Okay, okay,” Morag said, holding her hands up. She pointed at Harry with Draco’s wand, which was — very unpleasant. Draco remembered every time he had pushed her into Hinkypunk Stream as a child. “You have mandatory leave tomorrow, so don’t come in.”
“Bye,” Harry said baldly.
Morag rolled her eyes, saluted them both and then disappeared into the corridor, taking Draco’s wand with her.
“If you say one thing about what you deserve,” Harry began, but Draco cut him off.
“I don’t know if.” He took a breath, forcing himself to finish the statement. “I don’t know if the Manor will let me in without the wand.”
Harry didn’t make fun of him, or call him land-obsessed, or needlessly sentimental. “We can go back to mine,” he said instead. “I’ll owl Ollivander tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Draco said, and they sat together, holding hands, until Nurse Nakamura cleared Harry to leave
Under interrogation, Herodotus Smethwyck readily admitted to tampering with the wand-binding spell. As he told it, he had been playing a rather hilarious joke on a nasty piece of work; it was hardly enough to repay Malfoy Manor for what it had done to Ollivander, to the country, to himself. He was made to pay a fine and do twelve hours of community service, and within an hour of their leaving St. Mungo’s all of this was relayed to Harry via a firecall from a very bored-looking Ginger Assistant.
“You could go to what’s his face, Gregorovich’s successor,” Harry said, in his bedroom in Grimmauld Place. He was lying in bed because Draco had forced him to, with an charmed cooling flannel on his forehead that Kreacher had foisted upon his face the second he was horizontal. Every half hour he was to have a sip of foul potion, and he wasn’t to tax his brain, whatever that meant.
Draco looked appalled. “Holzknecht? I think the house would chuck me out entirely. British wand-makers only, I would have thought that was obvious.”
“Well there are other British wand-makers,” Harry said. “There’s that bloke in Manchester, isn’t there?”
“No,” Draco sighed. “Tacky or not, I think I have to do the honourable thing.”
“I have to…” Draco took a deep breath. “I have to apologise.”
“How do you think that’ll go?”
“Oh, probably terribly.” Draco looked at him with an odd sort of look on his face, like the rest of the world was not something he particularly cared about at the moment. “He has other apprentices, when he declines.”
“Hm,” Harry said, rolling to his side so he could watch Draco properly. He had torn his gaze from Harry and gone back to pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace. He had done this almost nonstop since they’d got in, only stopping to advise Kreacher on dinner, or to peer irritably out of the window as if the small square would produce an Auror carrying his restored wand. “I could talk to him, if you want.”
“Absolutely not,” Draco said, as Harry suspected he would. “Honestly, Potter.”
“Just wanted to offer.”
“Take your potion,” Draco said, glancing at his watch. “It’s been a half hour.”
“Really?” Harry sighed, braced his tastebuds, and grimaced as he swallowed. “What time is it?”
Before Draco could answer, a high voice rang up through the house. “Harry? Where are you?”
“Oh,” Harry said, hand to his forehead. The flannel slipped from his face. “Pub night.”
“Pub night?” Draco went quite rigid. “Thursday. Ah.”
“Harry?” Hermione’s voice was closer now, and footsteps echoed from the stairs. “Harry, Ron said you’d been let out of hospital so we thought we’d — oh. Hello, Draco.”
Hermione stood in the doorway to his bedroom, with Ron right behind her.
“Hello,” Draco said. He was facing Ron and Hermione with his hands held behind his back; Harry could see that his knuckles were white.
“They said you’d gone with someone, but I thought it’d be Morag,” Ron said, blinking rapidly.
Harry snorted, which hurt his head a bit. “Really? Morag, give up the opportunity to do a good, old-fashioned interrogation?”
“Oh Harry,” Hermione said, starting forward. “What happened?”
“Got a little hexed,” Harry said. “Nothing serious. It’s honestly nothing, please don’t fuss.”
Hermione rolled her eyes and turned to Draco. “What really happened?”
“Concussion and the tail end of a hex,” Draco said, a little stiffly. “The Healers sent him off with a stabilising potion for his head, but you know those take time.”
“Nothing,” Hermione repeated, in disgust. “Harry.”
“He tried to tell me he didn’t need St Mungo’s.”
“He would.” Hermione shook her head, and hair flew everywhere. “Did you make him go, then?”
“Had to Side-Along him myself.”
“Well thank goodness for that.” Hermione moved the flannel back to Harry’s forehead with an irritated flourish.
“Is this weird for you?” Ron asked, leaning in the doorway. “‘Cos it’s pretty weird for me, mate.”
“It’s pretty weird,” Harry agreed. Hermione and Draco were now animatedly discussing aftercare procedures and the latest in stabilising potions.
Ron warily crossed the threshold into the room. “Malfoy,” he said.
“Weasley,” said Draco, turning away from Hermione with a face like he had been plunged into a bath of moralising eels.
“Thanks for, uh. Getting this arsehole to hospital.”
Draco nodded stiffly. He glanced back at Harry as if he was looking for his next line.
“You’re welcome,” Harry prompted.
“You’re welcome,” Draco said.
“Now you can apologise for being a wanker at school, and then we can all have dinner.”
Draco shot Harry a slightly panicked look and then faced Ron again. “Sorry for. For being a wanker at school. To both of you,” he said, looking at Hermione. “Really.”
“Thank you for the apology, Draco,” Hermione said, looking almost touched.
“That’s all right,” Ron said, scuffing his foot on the carpet.
“I should, er. Tell Kreacher about the change of numbers,” Draco mumbled, and fled from the room as decorously as he could manage, which apparently was not very. He almost ran.
“I think he was so busy being an arsehole that I never noticed he was incredibly weird,” Ron said thoughtfully.
“Yeah,” Harry said, grinning. “He really is.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Full speed ahead?”
“You could call it that.” Harry leaned back against the pillows, and began to fill Hermione and Ron in about the wand, and Herodotus Smethwyck.
“Well if you had just mentioned a family wand I would have figured it out straight away,” Hermione huffed. “Rather a salient detail, don’t you think?”
Draco returned after fifteen minutes with Kreacher in tow, carrying a silver tray that was clearly meant for Harry. They transfigured the nightstand so that it was big enough to hold a massive tureen of onion soup and a plate of crusty bread. Ron had even brought beer — “None for you, Harry,” Hermione informed him — and the effect was rather like a a bedside pub. A bedside pub that was extremely, awkwardly silent. Harry chewed his bread, feeling like his teeth were producing a deafening sound in the silence.
“I would have figured it out sooner, Draco, if I’d known about the wand,” Hermione said, after half a pint. “I really would have.”
“Oh,” Draco said.
“So are you going to have to have the wand redone? You need a manor wand to run the estate, correct?”
“I would absolutely love a chance to see one of the ceremonies. They’re terribly ancient, and almost never happen anymore — at least not here.” Hermione made appealing eyes in Draco’s direction. “Would you mind terribly if I sort of observed?”
“I wouldn’t mind at all,” Draco said.
Silence fell again. Wet, cold, terrible silence. Perhaps it had something to do with Harry’s enchanted flannel, which did not feel enchanted any longer.
“So,” Ron said, “Malfoy. Harry says you go to a Muggle pub.”
“Sometimes,” Draco said. He stared at his bowl and then said, like he was forcing himself, “There’s a pub in the village that we’ve gone to a few times.”
“We go to Muggle pubs,” Ron explained. “On account of the whole conquering hero shite, you know.”
“Yeah.” Ron ate a spoonful of soup. “You ever noticed how weird their games are?”
Harry loved Ron, he really did. He loved him so much that he would never tell him, except when they were drunk, because Ron would prefer that.
Draco tilted his head and looked, for the first time, directly at Ron. “I have, actually. You’d think they’d be deadly dull, what with nothing moving, but —”
“But they’re all right, aren’t they?” Ron took an enthusiastic bite of bread. “Bloody hilarious. I like the ones that you pull the stick, and they fall over.”
“I’ve tried the one where you swing the ball at the cylinders,” Draco said, “I find it so odd — the cylinders only fall down. They don’t even slightly explode.”
“There’s one with little people and you have to spin them around and around at a ball,” Ron told him in a confidential voice. “It is bloody. Brilliant.”
Hermione leaned towards Harry. “Jenga and table football, but what’s Draco talking about?”
“Table skittles,” Harry told her.
Kreacher bustled into the room and went straight for Harry’s forehead. “Kreacher has brought a fresh cloth, Master Harry,” he informed him, whisking the old one away.
“Thanks, Kreacher,” Harry said, awkwardly submitting himself to the ministrations.
“Good,” Kreacher said, finally, surveying Harry. “Now Kreacher will clear the table.”
“Oh, I can help with that,” Hermione said anxiously, stacking bowls.
“No, no,” Kreacher said, gently pushing her hands out of the way. “Kreacher has it, Kreacher has it.” Bowing vaguely to the four of them, Kreacher retreated from the room.
“He really has come a long way,” Ron said. “Remember when he used to smell of manure?”
“I only wish he could have stayed at Hogwarts,” Hermione mused. “That way he could at least have been with the other house-elves.”
“Are you mad?” Draco’s eyebrows shot up towards his hairline. “Sorry, I mean, no — Kreacher has always worked here, in this house. He’d hate being banished from it. He’d think of that as punishment. This is his house, as much as it’s Harry’s. Sorry, Harry.”
Harry lifted his hands in surrender. “No apology needed. I know Kreacher runs this place.”
“Oh,” Hermione said, looking at Draco with a sort of soft look. “Oh, I suppose that’s true.”
“She’ll be prescribing you therapy, next,” Ron said, motioning at Draco with his glass. “Watch out.”
“Draco,” Hermione said, “Would you mind having a word with Kreacher about holiday time? Only, I don’t think he takes it well from me and Harry won’t say anything else about it since he refused to make treacle tart for a month the last time.”
Draco shifted in his seat. “I can try,” he said, like a question.
Hermione beamed. Draco, under the full effect of Hermione’s smile, looked very young and rather pleased.
When Hermione and Ron finally left, stumbling slightly down the stairs to roars of laughter, Draco shrunk the circular table back to its usual size and surveyed the room. “Well. I suppose you must have some form of guest room —”
“I think we should be dating,” Harry said, before he could finish. “I think we should be dating, and I think you should stay here tonight. With, er. With me.”
Draco’s sharp intake of breath seemed to loosen something in his face, something holding all the points together. “Do you,” he said faintly.
“I do,” Harry said. He was not sure if he was getting any better at ‘emotional honesty’ or ‘clear communication’ like Hermione often talked to him about, but he was going to give it a damn good try. “I also think you should take your shirt off.” Emotional honesty really was very important.
Draco rolled his eyes, but he pulled his jumper over his head and began to unbutton his shirt. “Listen, Potter, you didn’t get a chance to see before, but I have scars. Don’t let’s have an emotional guilt-ridden scene about it, all right?”
“Scars,” Harry repeated, frowning.
“If you have an emotional guilt-ridden scene about it, I will keep my shirt on all night.” Draco stopped unbuttoning and looked him right in the face. “Don’t test me.”
Harry couldn’t stop staring. “I can’t promise anything.”
“Fine,” Draco said, and resumed unbuttoning. Silvery scars were slashed across his pale chest, slightly raised above the grain of his skin. He held his arms out as if to display them. “Let’s get this bloody over with. I don’t entirely blame you, we were idiot children, etcetera, etcetera. Are we done?”
“Wow,” Harry said. “I can really feel the effect of all that therapy you’re not having”
Draco stepped out of his trousers and climbed into bed before Harry could really get a proper look. “I think that just about covered everything, and it saved time.”
Harry reached out to run a hand over Draco’s chest. The dark bathroom, water glinting from the floor, blood spilling over tiles. There had been so much blood, dark and red and wet, and Harry had thought —
“I said not to have an emotional guilt-ridden scene, you tosser,” Draco said gently. He removed Harry’s hand from his chest.
“I don’t know how not to,” Harry admitted.
“Well, let’s give this a try,” Draco said, and slid down between Harry’s legs. He eased his pyjama bottoms down and over his ankles, then flung them off to one side. “How’s this for terrible ideas?”
Harry had a retort, but all the blood in his body was rushing violently south. Draco was running his hands up and down Harry’s thighs, growing closer and closer to his cock with every pass. “Go on,” he said hoarsely.
“If you insist,” Draco said, and swallowed him down.
Harry had expected Draco to be a slow and surly waker, but he had been wrong. Although at first Draco moaned and clung to the duvet, at a certain point he seemed to make a sudden choice, and then he became almost irritatingly awake. Harry was still groggily acclimating to the morning, but Draco was already rushing downstairs to make coffee and start on breakfast.
“We have to go back to the Manor,” Draco said, sliding his hands over the kitchen table. “We have to tell Coote and make sure the house isn’t… That nothing’s gone wrong.”
Harry would much rather press Draco up against the cupboards and see what happened next, but he agreed anyway. After perfunctory pieces of toast they bid farewell to Kreacher and Apparated into the country lane just outside the boundary of the estate.
Well, Harry Apparated there. Draco was nowhere to be found. “Draco?” Harry called, walking up ahead, looking out for a white blond flash in the green landscape.
Draco was standing just outside the gate, looking irritably back at Harry. “I can’t get through the bloody gate,” he snapped.
The gigantic iron face of the gate seemed smug. “State your purpose,” it clanged.
Harry should not have enjoyed doing the little serpentine wand thing that dissolved the gates, but he did a bit. Draco lapped him on the way up to the entrance, looking deeply offended when the doors remained entirely shut.
“The doors don’t… They don’t respond to me now.” Draco frowned. “They should swing open.”
“Many people knock.”
Draco rolled his eyes in Harry’s direction, which served to make him look less peaky. He rapped his knuckles against the enormous door, as a funny expression twisted his mouth into unhappy shapes.
Harry looped his arm around Draco’s lower back. “Still your house,” he said. “Wands aren’t everything, you know.”
“You’re gearing up to a lot of jokes about dildos, aren’t you,” Draco said dryly.
The door swung open, and Harry halted any dildo-related humour immediately.
“Master Draco! Oh, and Master Harry, Coote is very happy to be seeing you.” Coote waved them in hastily, nearly yanking the coats from their back as they entered the hallway.
Harry stopped short just inside the door. Rows and rows of drooping pale faces drowsed in the low light. Each painting appeared almost hazy, as if covered by a thin film of fog. Every single portrait in the front hallway was asleep, and in their original frames — Harry couldn't recall a time he had not seen two or three interlopers crowding into someone else’s frame for a better look at the action.
“This is what it was like after the Dark Lord broke the Lord of the Manor wand,” Draco said, with almost detached interest. “The first one, that is. Good that the portraits weren’t witness to any more destruction to the house, I suppose.”
“Yes, yes, the portraits,” Coote said. She looked distracted, stowing coats under one arm and looking around the hallway like she was expecting visitors. She didn’t even force Harry to remove his shoes for cleaning.
“Coote?” Draco looked down at her, eyebrows furrowing. “Is everything all right? Nothing’s closing up, is it? It shouldn’t — after last time, we tried to —”
“No, no,” Coote said, “No, it is Mistress Narcissa.”
“Did she firecall?”
“No,” Coote said, looking shellshocked. “Mistress Narcissa is taking her tea in the Violet Parlour, sir. She is here.”
“Here?” Draco looked around like Coote had, as if Narcissa could materialise through walls. “Mother is here?”
“She would like Coote to send Master Draco up at once.” Coote glanced at Harry. “And it would be against proper etiquette to dismiss Master Harry, of course.”
“Master Harry,” Draco echoed. He glanced at Harry and his face collapsed into a nervous kind of snort. “Oh, Merlin preserve us. This ought to be a treat.”
“It’s nice that your mum’s come to see you,” Harry attempted. Draco was looking slightly manic.
“Nice. Yes. Narcissa Black Malfoy, very nice.” Draco looked down at his clothes and winced. “I’d better change. You too. Come along.”
Draco avoided the Great Staircase and the main passages. He led Harry up narrow staircases tucked away in forgotten corners, winding their way up into the house at breakneck speed until the staircase spat them out in front of the doorway to Draco’s room.
Draco reached for the doorknob and stormed inside, leaving Harry trailing in his wake.
“Dress robes,” Draco muttered, “Or — no, country attire. Casual, but not too casual.”
Harry realised that Draco’s room was actually Draco’s rooms: a series of chambers nested into each other. The first room was a small sitting area with books scattered on all surfaces. Towering stacks of parchment butted up against ancient leather-bound tomes, and Harry noticed more than a couple well-worn paperbacks with lurid covers and titles like My Centaur, My Love.
Harry followed the sound through an arched oak door into a cluttered bedroom.
Draco turned round, arms akimbo. “Potter, you cannot wear those trousers to — what?”
Although the carved oak four-poster bed looked like it could have once held Elizabeth I, the grey and white duvet was decidedly high street. A small desk was pushed underneath one window; the wood had been disfigured entirely by circular cup marks. Bits of the sumptuous bed-hangings had been chopped away as if by a small child creating a patchwork quilt, and one of the bronze wardrobe handles had been replaced by a bright blue elastic band. The lamp on the nightstand was partially obscured by a large green t-shirt that read ‘Slytherins do it in the dungeons’.
Draco, holding a tweed blazer in his hands, slowly began to blush.
Harry took the blazer gently from his hands, put it on the bed, and kissed him. Slowly at first, and then faster, until Draco was moving into it properly.
“My mother,” Draco mumbled into Harry’s mouth.
“Ugh,” Harry said, pulling away. “Your dirty talk needs serious rehab, mate.”
“Do not call me mate,” Draco said. “I am not your mate, we’re shagging.”
Draco’s ears went pink again. “Well. Yes.”
“Your mother,” Harry reminded him.
“Shit. Right, we have to dress, quickly, come on.” Draco shoved a pair of trousers and a jacket at Harry, then went rummaging in his wardrobe again.
“Your bed is really tall,” Harry said, ditching his jumper and shimmying into the new one.
“When I was a child I had invisible steps, to get in,” Draco said, emerging from his wardrobe with a tweed waistcoat.
Harry buttoned up his borrowed trousers. The chill of Malfoy Manor lessened dramatically in Draco’s clothes, and he examined the lining of the tweed jacket. “What’s this fabric made of?”
“Warming charms are weaved into the cloth,” Draco explained, buttoning up his waistcoat. “It’s the traditional method. Only way people can survive in these drafty old places; I have no idea how Muggles do it.”
Draco shot him a perplexed and slightly irritated look, which was not far from his customary expression around Harry. He yanked on some oddly long and soft leather boots that turned down below the knee, then chucked a similar pair at Harry’s head.
“Handy we’re about the same size,” Harry said, pulling the strange boots over his calves.
“Yes, you have two inches and three months on me, Draco, truly your wisdom is superior.” Harry squinted at the boots. “Am I doing this right?”
“No,” Draco said, and knelt down to help. He kept reaching for his wand and scowling, then adjusting the leather by hand as if it had personally insulted him. Eventually he stood, wiping his hands on his trousers. “Acceptable.”
Harry looked in the long ornate mirror. Someone he did not recognise stared back at him.
“You look a bit like your grandfather,” Draco said, looking over his shoulder. “Less drunk, of course.”
“He was drunk?” Harry pushed his hair back. He still looked a bit ridiculous, and let it flop back over his forehead.
“You couldn’t tell?” Draco wrapped his arms around Harry’s torso to adjust his waistcoat. “Sozzled, I’m afraid. Perhaps the lack of alcohol tolerance is also genetic.”
“Arsehole,” Harry said, elbowing Draco’s side. “By the way, where’s your wand?”
Draco frowned. “Is your head all right? You finished your potion, this should be —”
“Not that one,” Harry said, “The hawthorn wand. You can at least use that, can’t you? Until we get your new one?”
“It’s in the desk somewhere,” Draco said, and began rummaging through the top drawers. “It doesn’t really respond like it used to, but I suppose… Ah, here we are.”
The wand that finally defeated Voldemort was wrapped in a Slytherin scarf and buried in the top drawer of Draco’s overfull desk. Harry remembered all the requests to put the thing on display somewhere, and was doubly relieved he gave it back instead.
Draco tucked the wand into a thin pocket inside his jacket that had to be specially made. Harry transferred his wand to the identical pocket within his own jacket, and Draco examined himself in the mirror, making a face. “Acceptable,” he said, finally. “All right. Let’s go see Mother.”
“You say that like you’re going off to war.”
“Got it in one,” Draco said, and led Harry out of his rooms and into the rest of the house.
The carved wyverns that Harry had repaired not a fortnight ago had gone entirely still. He looked around the ornate staircase and saw that nothing was moving: not a wyvern nor a snake nor a leopard.
Harry ran a hand over a phoenix’s beak, trying to feel the magic that had moved in the wood. “It’s so strange. It’s not just that they’re not moving, it’s sort of… Like everything’s in a fog.”
“We’re lucky the house isn’t actively trying to chuck us out,” Draco said, rounding the corner. “The last time it did. Really pleased the Dark Lord, I can’t tell you.”
They came to a stop in front of a pair of oak doors, and Draco’s spine immediately went rigid. He took a deep breath, and pushed the doors open.
A tall blonde woman sat in the Violet Parlour, gazing calmly out the window. She held a teacup of such fine porcelain that the sun shone through the sides. “Good afternoon, Draco,” she said, and turned towards the door.
Harry could spot the moment that Narcissa Malfoy caught sight of him, because her posture became even more rigid. “Auror Potter,” she added, voice as crisp and cold as frost-covered grass. Narcissa had very similar tells to her son.
“What a surprise, Mother,” Draco said, his shoulders so tight you could crack an egg on them. “I didn’t know to expect you. I’m terribly sorry, your rooms are still closed for the season.”
“I’ve already instructed Coote to open my rooms, thank you, Draco.”
Harry did not know a lot about parents, but he did think Narcissa and Draco were speaking to one another more like business partners who didn’t particularly get on, but also didn’t want to trod on any toes.
“Please, sit down,” Narcissa said, and motioned at a pair of chintzy lilac armchairs.
Draco was unable to entirely suppress the face he made at that, but he covered by sweeping his hair back on the way to the chairs. Harry sat to his right, hoping that these armchairs were not as prone to collapse as the ones in the library. A cloud of dust rose from the cushions. Everyone genteelly ignored it, except Harry, who sneezed.
“I have been made aware of some troubling rumours, Draco.” Narcissa hovered a cup of tea towards her son, and then another towards Harry.
Harry plucked it from the air and tried not to immediately crush the delicate porcelain. What on earth was the point of a teacup this fragile? He imagined Narcissa holding the enormous ‘Quidbitch’ mug Ginny had got him last Christmas, and suppressed a laugh.
Draco was definitely not thinking about mugs. Draco was entirely focused on his mother. “Have you,” he said. It was not a question.
“Yes.” Narcissa took a delicate sip of tea. “Poltergeists, Draco? Trouble with the wand enchantment? You know, I told you that was a very delicate ceremony and that you ought to have a more experienced overseer. Someone who has been running their estate for a few decades, at least. That bungling could have cost us quite a bit, darling. Coote tells me the portraits had been acting up; any experienced lord of the manor would know that was an indicator of mismanaged foundation enchantments.”
“An overseer,” Draco drawled. “Which did you have in mind, Mother? Gladiolus Brown? His estate is hopelessly mismanaged and everyone knows it. Benedict Parkinson? He’s entirely dotty. Or were you thinking we’d pop one of the others out of Azkaban and have a little jaunt to Wiltshire?”
“Really,” Narcissa sighed, “There’s no need to become dramatic.”
“That’s like asking a kelpie to give breathing air a go,” Harry said.
Draco’s mouth twitched, but Narcissa just watched Harry as though he were a deer who had wandered in from the park by mistake. A rude deer, with terrible manners, by whom one would be understandably a bit disgusted. She still looked, just then, as if she was smelling something terrible. Perhaps the deer.
“Additionally,” she said, as if Harry had not spoken at all, “I find it strange that I have to hear about all of this from Alcyone MacDougal, of all people. You couldn’t send an owl?”
Draco shrugged one shoulder. “Well, she is your first cousin.”
“Once removed, Draco,” Narcissa said, nose tightening.
“And your third cousin.”
“Also once removed,” Narcissa said. “From where has this sudden interest in genealogy sprung?”
Draco darted a glance at Harry so brief that he thought he had imagined it.
Narcissa must have seen something that Harry didn’t, because she rounded on her son. “Darling. Shall we have a private chat? It’s hardly appropriate to discuss this in front of… company.”
“Harry is not company, Mother.” Draco glanced at Harry for longer this time. His grey eyes were wide and slightly panicked, although the rest of his face was a smooth mask. “We’re… Seeing one another.”
“Dating,” Harry added helpfully.
“Dating,” Narcissa repeated. The word was forced from her mouth like an unexpectedly sour lemon. Perhaps this was how she tried to say therapy.
“It’s going quite well, thanks,” Harry said.
“Dating,” Narcissa said again. She leaned back in her chair. “Well, I can’t say I am entirely surprised.”
“You’re not?” Draco frowned. “Why not? Why are you not entirely surprised? This ought to be very surprising information.”
“Darling, there were several summers during which you would hardly go a paragraph without mentioning Harry Potter. Let us not pretend otherwise; it’s simply unbecoming of us all.”
“Ah,” Draco said.
“Ah,” Harry said, grinning.
They drank their tea. Harry could not figure out how Narcissa and Draco did it; they managed to be utterly silent with every swallow. Harry felt every gulp reverberate out of his throat.
“I don’t quite like this china pattern, darling,” Narcissa said, after what must have been at least seven years of awkward sipping. “I’ll instruct Coote to switch to the bluebell pattern for spring.”
“Okay,” said Draco tightly.
“Don’t say ‘okay’, darling. All right would be sufficient.”
“All right,” said Draco, even more tightly.
Narcissa smiled blithely and turned to Harry. “I must say, Mr. Potter, I hardly expected to see you in traditional wizarding attire.”
“I’m training him,” Draco said. “Is that all, Mother? We have several errands to finish today.”
“I do hope you organise the wand ceremony as soon as possible.” Narcissa tilted her head to watch her son. “I would be happy to owl an appropriate person to advise you.”
“I won’t put you through the agony of terrible options,” Draco huffed. “We’ll be going now, Mother.”
He sounded about fifteen. Although Draco actually at fifteen had been horrible, Harry couldn’t help but find it endearing.
It was as if all of Fugglestone St Peter, Malfoy Manor and the acres of Malfoy land had been contained within a filmy bubble that the outside world could not pop. Draco did not feel like Draco Malfoy, and Harry did not feel like Harry Potter. Now, with his mother occupying her customary rooms, it felt as if the world had come forcibly to the door.
When Draco told Harry that they had to pay a visit to Diagon Alley, he was honestly not sure which of them was more reluctant. Luckily, they were both doing an all right job pretending to be brave about it. Harry might actually have been being brave. Draco was just attempting not to run away.
“I’ve got to go to Ollivanders and I don’t want you coming with me,” Draco told Harry in a low voice as they left the Apparition point.
The crowd gave them a wide berth, as if for a dangerous pair of hippogriffs.
“I’ve got to go to check in at work anyway,” Harry said glumly. “I’m off today but they’ll expect me to testify about Fishleburn.”
“Then why did you Apparate here instead of to the bloody Ministry?”
Harry shrugged. He slouched along, face grey, eyebrows pulled down over his eyes. Just that morning he’d been singing some horrific Muggle pop song to his coffee.
“Well get going, you arsehole.” Draco gently touched Harry’s elbow. He wanted very much to kiss him, but they were very much in public. “Come to mine after? I can almost guarantee you won’t see my mother.”
“Romance,” sighed Harry, and went behind a cart filled with green jars of grindylow eggs to Disapparate.
Draco looked up at the sign above the narrow shop: Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC. It was comforting that some things were older than his damn family.
As he stepped inside, a thin man with sharp pale eyes looked him up and down with a pursed mouth. “Father? We have a… customer.”
“Ginden?” Garrick Ollivander emerged slowly from a back room, leaning heavily on a gnarled cane. His face was gaunt and deeply lined, although he had regained colour since Draco had last seen him. Not being confined to a cellar would be helpful for one’s complexion, Draco would imagine. “Ah. Mr. Malfoy. Thank you, Ginden.”
Ginden Ollivander scowled at Draco but left the main room, leaving Draco to his probably excruciating fate.
“Hawthorn and unicorn hair, ten inches.” Ollivander observed him with a still, unreadable face. “Reasonably springy,” he added, after an interval.
“That’s right,” Draco said. “Although I’m sure you’re aware of the Malfoy custom.”
“The Lord of the Manor Wand, yes.” Ollivander hummed to himself, staring at a point above Draco’s left ear. “Many of the old families adhere to that tradition.”
“I came to ask if you would perform the ceremony.”
“Did you,” Ollivander said. “How interesting.”
Draco swallowed hard and tried to imitate one of his more composed ancestors. “I also wished to extend my formal apology to you on behalf of the family, and myself, for our actions during the war. I know Malfoy Manor cannot hold positive memories for you, and if you don’t wish to revisit the scene I of course understand, and would ask only that you recommend another wandmaker.”
“Hmm,” hummed Ollivander, wandering away towards a towering stack of boxes. Draco was not sure if he was meant to follow. He stared after him. “How interesting that you would choose today. How interesting indeed.”
“Er,” Draco said. “May I inquire why?”
“I know who sent the house-elf to the dungeons with the blankets, Mr. Malfoy. The food, the chamber pot. A small music box on one occasion, as I recall.”
Draco could not look at Ollivander. He stared at his shoes.
“I will do this ceremony,” Ollivander said finally. “Although not for you, Draco Malfoy. A Lord of the Manor Wand is a delicate instrument and requires extremely subtle enchantment. No apprentice, no matter how many years they are into their training, could ever have been expected to perform it to the necessary standard.”
Draco got the impression that Ollivander thought Herodotus Smethwyck had just made an elementary mistake rather than actively fucking it up, but wasn’t about to correct him. “Thank you.”
“Oh, hello Draco,” Luna Lovegood said. She stood in the doorway from the back room wearing a strangely proportioned dress of diaphanous floral print. “Did I hear you were having a ceremony?”
Draco boggled at her. Luna tended to look unlikely anywhere she set foot, as if she had wandered there almost by mistake, but that did not make her appearance any less surprising.
“At the new moon,” Ollivander said, turning his attention to a large book of parchment. “We shall begin at dawn, and end at dusk.”
“How lovely,” Luna said. She turned to Draco. “May I attend?”
“Er,” Draco said, glancing at Ollivander. “Yes, if you would like to.”
“I would like to,” Luna said placidly. “I just said so.”
“Right.” Draco wondered how best to extricate himself from this shop without being confronted by more of his past. Surely there wasn’t an ornery goblin in the back room as well.
“You can just leave,” Luna told him. “I wouldn’t worry about bowing, or anything.”
Draco could feel himself growing more horrifically posh with every breath. “Yeah, yeah, absolutely,” he said, sounding as vowelly as that pillock Cormac McLaggen. Of course, he could feel himself start to think, McLaggen’s family is rather nouveau — oh no. That would not do at all. Draco was not that person anymore. Not even in his head.
“Is he all right?” Ollivander asked, not sounding particularly interested.
“I think so,” Luna said. “Draco, if it’s wrackspurts, try to think positive thoughts.”
“Ha ha,” Draco said faintly. He had to leave before he regressed any further. Perhaps it was the shop. Did it make them into a version of themselves at eleven? Luna at eleven apparently was very composed, and had odd taste in footwear. “I’m off, then. Bye-bye.”
Draco left to the sound of the tinkling bell, and winced. “Bye-bye?” he asked the air, and hurried to find somewhere to Disapparate.
Draco was not proud of himself for hiding in his rooms ever since he got back from Diagon Alley, but really he couldn’t face his mother coming around an unexpected corner and asking him if he still hadn’t repaired the ceiling in the Blue Bedroom. Since he had no idea where Narcissa would be at any given point, he felt the safest option was utter retreat.
“It’s your house,” Draco reminded himself, face pressed to a sofa cushion. “It’s your bloody house now.”
The sofa cushion remained quite silent on the matter. It probably still pledged fealty to his mother. Merlin. Not even his old wand felt like his anymore.
Draco’s stomach gave a violent plea for sustenance and, after checking the desk drawers for secret stashes of sweets, he cracked open his door and peered around. No one. He took the back stairs to the ground floor, ducking under narrow ceilings that had been intended for house-elves. The kitchen was a clear shot from the Ethelred Passage, and Narcissa rarely entered this part of the house unless there was a party she had to oversee preparation for.
Too irritated to even consider cooking charms, Draco made due with a hunk of cheese and an apple. Coote was dozing at the other end of the table, her white head pillowed on an overturned pewter bowl.
Draco hated the house like this, still and painful like dead tooth. It felt like it had during the war. Before his father’s wand had been destroyed, the portraits warned him if the Dark Lord or his creepy giant snake or wild-eyed Auntie Bellatrix was nearby. He could hide in remote corners of the attics and trust that the staircases would divert any pursuers. He could climb out onto the roof and watch the gargoyles preen, stare at the sky and imagine that his house was safe. After the wand was gone, it had been like losing an ally.
Coote jumped up like she had been shocked. “Someone is here,” she said.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Draco said, looking back towards the rest of the house. Normally a bell would ring, or a portrait would let them know that the replica gate in the drawing room was demanding attention.
Coote sniffed. “Master Draco ought to clean his ears.”
“Master Draco’s ears are fine,” Draco muttered. “You’re barmy.”
“Cheek,” Coote said, pointing a long finger at him sternly. She bustled away with an aura of irritation.
Draco ate the rest of his cheese out of spite. He wasn’t sure how aggressive chewing counted as spite, but it did make him feel better.
Five minutes later, Coote returned with Harry in tow. “There. Coote will be seeing to Mistress Narcissa now.”
“Don’t tell her we’re here,” Draco said.
Coote shot him a knowing look. “Perhaps if Master Draco hadn’t spoken to Coote in such a fashion…” She sighed theatrically, walking slowly to the door. “Left his manners at the doorstep, I see.”
“I didn’t leave my manners anywhere,” Draco grumbled, although not loud enough for Coote to hear.
Harry looked grey and tired. He collapsed onto a long wooden bench and put his head in his hands. “Long day,” he said.
“You were there for about four hours, tops,” Draco pointed out.
“Was I? Felt longer.” Harry sighed and looked up. “We had to close Fishleburn and file all the evidence. There was…” He looked off to the side. “Never mind.”
“There was what, Potter?” Draco moved to sit astride one of the benches, getting up close so he could make Harry look at him.
“You don’t want to know.”
“I just asked, so clearly I do want to know.”
Harry stared down at his bitten fingernails. “You shouldn’t have to hear about that sort of thing.”
“I can assure you, I’ve seen worse.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Harry said, and got up. He walked towards the fireplace, rubbing his forehead. “Where’s your mum?”
Draco shrugged. “I’ve been avoiding her.”
“I don’t blame you.” Harry ran a finger along the frozen mantlepiece. “She’s no picnic.”
Draco bristled. “She’s my mother, Potter.”
“She doesn’t act like it,” Harry muttered.
“What was that?” Draco got to his feet, stomach twisting.
“What?” Harry turned back towards him. “She’s no picnic? She’s not. Your mother left you here with all this. After the war she just fucked off, and now she’s back and all she does is harass you about china patterns?”
“Not everyone has to show affection like your Weasleys,” Draco spat. “You don’t know the first thing about my family.”
“You do not get to start about the Weasleys,” Harry said fiercely.
“You started on me!” Draco threw up his hands. “This is ridiculous. You wouldn’t be acting like this if you hadn’t just experienced whatever hellscape spawned from that nightmare cubical factory you call a job.”
“Spawned from?” Harry’s mouth dropped open, which was still an appealing sight even in high rage. “That whatever hellscape goes on whether we’re there to stop it or not, Draco. I’d rather be there to stop it.”
“Would you. Would you really.”
“Yes,” Harry very clearly lied.
Draco threw up his hands and made a silent plea to the ceiling. “You wouldn’t! You fucking wouldn’t, you’re lying, Harry, don’t you think I know what you look like when you’re lying? You’re an awful liar, horrific, your mouth does this twisting thing and your eyes aren’t in it and the whole thing is an absolute mess. I’ve known every bloody time you’ve lied in front of me since we were eleven which is, all right, kind of fucking depressing, but we’re not talking about me — ”
“Shouldn’t we be?”
“No, Harry, we are having a fight about how much you hate your job.”
“I thought we were fighting about your family.”
“That was ages ago. Keep up.” Draco folded his arms across his chest. “You need to leave your job. It’s killing you.”
“No,” Harry snapped. “They need me.”
“They do not need you, Potter,” Draco hissed. “Don’t be so full of yourself. I’m sure you’re helpful in some respects, but the Department of Magical Law Enforcement existed just fine before your first breath on this terrible fucking planet, and it will exist just fine after you shuffle off this mortal coil, etcetera, so get off your high hippogriff and listen to reason.”
“You aren’t being reasonable!” Harry strode away from him and nearly careened into a portrait of Athanasia Malfoy. “Risk is a part of the damn job, Malfoy, and I don’t mind it. I like it.”
“Yeah, because you have some weird adrenaline thing!” Draco followed him across the room. “That isn’t the only reason why you need to leave the damn Aurors. If you read an article called, say, ‘Thirteen Reasons To Resign’, it would read like a catalogue to your fucking life.” Draco ticked off points on his fingers. “You wake up every morning with a feeling of doom. You’re bored all the time, although in your case you’re bored three-fourths of the time and in adrenaline mode for the remainder. You feel like you never win, you just solve a case and move on to the next pile of fun pain and exciting torture. You probably never laugh at work, or even smile. You don’t sleep well. You’re stressed, and anxious. Am I ringing a few bells here?”
“Draco,” Harry said evenly, “Have you read articles about quitting your job as research?”
“No,” Draco lied.
Harry looked like he was about to smile, but his slightly upturned lips drew almost immediately back into a frown. “You’ve never even had a job. What the fuck would you know about it?”
“We’ll just gloss right over running the estate, shall we, because you’ve seen what I do here,” Draco snapped, feeling like that was not actually a very good argument but saying it anyway. He sold potions on occasion? When he was a child he used to address his father’s post and got paid in knuts? “But moving right along, all of those things I just said — do you know how sad you look sometimes? Most of the time? Whenever anyone brings up your bloody job? That’s not normal, Potter! That’s not all right!”
“This is what I do,” Harry bellowed, turning away. “It’s what I’ve always done!”
“You’re not just a weapon!” Draco would be more embarrassed about how his voice cracked on the last word if he were less furious. “I don’t fucking care what Dumbledore taught you —”
“You don’t get to talk about him!” Harry whirled around, eyes blazing, cheeks red. “You don’t know Dumbledore; you don’t know what he had to do!”
“To be perfectly fucking honest, Harry, I do not care what he had to do. He left you with those Muggles, those cretins. He acted for the entirety of your life like he was there to protect you but when, when exactly were you protected? Sure, he cared about you, like in the way you care about the deer you cultivate in your park to hunt. Sure, they’re cute, and you make sure no one offs them, but that’s because one day you’re going to kill them!”
“That is the poshest and most idiotic metaphor possibly in the world.”
“It was a simile,” Draco said stiffly.
“I can’t be here right now,” Harry muttered, and Disapparated straight out of the kitchen.
Draco was not sure if he was more irritated at the impropriety of Potter Disapparating inside his house — honestly, had no one ever taught the boy basic etiquette — or at how clearly he himself had bungled that conversation.
“Well, shit,” Draco said.
No tart remark or admonishment followed: the portraits slept on.
“Draco?” His mother paused in the doorway to the kitchen, one long hand on the stone wall. “Did I hear voices?”
“Harry just left.” Draco put the kettle on. Let his mother be scandalised that he didn’t call for Coote; he didn’t care.
His mother’s nose tightened at the sight, but she said nothing. She glided in and took a graceful seat at the long kitchen table. Draco had never seen her sit there, not ever. That table was for house-elves, help and children.
“That sounded like quite the row, darling,” she said.
Draco chose the pine-patterned china out of sheer orneriness, and added the milk without being asked. “It was,” he said, and hovered his mother’s cup of tea towards her.
“You found your old wand, then?” His mother plucked the teacup out of the air. “I was going to ask if you would rather borrow mine again.”
Draco was torn between irritation at her obviously employing maternal guilt in her arsenal of tricks, and feeling actual guilt. “That’s all right, Mother.” He sat across from her. It was always strange seeing her, like drenching up an old lake. He never knew which parts of himself would turn up.
“Harry Potter,” his mother said slowly, with a smirk playing about her mouth. She wrapped her hands around her teacup. “I can’t tell if this is very good for the family, or very bad.”
“What, are you weighing out the disadvantages of our inability to breed with his status in the wizarding world?”
She shot him a disapproving look. “Of course those are considerations, Draco, but you do me a disservice. They are far from the first concerns that come to mind.”
“Oh,” Draco said, staring down at his tea.
“I am concerned first about your well-being, Draco. That sounded like quite the volatile conversation, and between you and I, this house has held quite enough conflict for the time being.”
The kitchen was one of the only rooms in Malfoy Manor where the stone walls were not obscured by tapestry or panelling or wallpaper. They bared the truth of the building: the heavy, unlovely weight of it. Those stones could hold any amount of conflict. Those stones held the Dark Lord and they were still bloody standing. “It was my fault,” Draco said. “Well, it wasn’t entirely my fault, but I could have handled it better.”
“I assume he could have handled it better as well.”
“It’s the trauma,” Draco said, with a quirk of his mouth.
“Do not make me suggest…” His mother’s mouth puckered. “You know. Although I still think it would be… beneficial.”
Draco flapped a hand at her dismissively.
“Do not wave at me like you’re flagging the Knight Bus, darling.” His mother sipped her tea, making a slight face at the sight of the pattern. “I’ll stay the remainder of the month in my usual rooms, but of course I won’t overstay my welcome. I have a Portkey from London on the first of April, and I’ll be spending the summer in Italy.”
Draco had spent the entire afternoon hiding in his rooms, devoutly wishing his mother would just bugger off already, but at the first sign of an exit plan he almost wanted to beg her to stay.
“I’ll return in September.” His mother reached across the table and placed her hand gently over his. “I think you have — I think you have done very well with the estate so far, Draco.”
Draco swallowed, throat dry. “Thank you.”
His mother withdrew her hand. “Aside, of course, from the absolute broom-crash of the wand situation.”
Draco snorted. “Of course.”
His mother would never care about Malfoy Manor as much as he did, but in a way he thought that was probably better. He loved his mother, but there was no denying that without her living here full time there was room for him to create something new; something Narcissa Black Malfoy would not normally stomach.
Draco was not sure if the provisions of the Statute of Secrecy would consider his situation an emergency, but he decided to risk it anyway. He Apparated straight into the small square of Grimmauld Place, hoping that the late hour, heavy rain and his mother’s Disillusionment Charm would be sufficient to avert any curious eyes.
Hidden behind a large tree, he removed the charm and made his way across the street. The yellow windows of numbers eleven and thirteen reflected on the wet pavement, and Draco watched as number twelve forced its way out of hiding. Draco climbed the stairs and stopped just in front of the door. He stared at the serpent door knocker, a vivid memory igniting of being very small and having someone lift him up to reach it. His mother, perhaps.
“Right,” Draco told the door. “Right, fuck it.”
Draco lifted the serpent and let it go. A few moments later, Harry opened the door.
Draco did not know what he looked like, only that his hair hung lank and wet over his forehead, and he was clutching an enormous portrait frame. “Would you let me in, you inhospitable oaf?” Draco attempted to toss the hair out of his eyes with no hands, and failed utterly. “I put an Imperturbable Charm on this thing but I’m not sure how much it took.”
Harry stepped back to let Draco through, and shut the door behind him.
“I brought this for you,” Draco said.
“Is it a present?”
“It’s yours,” Draco said, and turned the portrait around. Fleamont Potter slept in his gilded frame.
Harry stared down at the portrait, absently touching his lower lip. “But — the Potioneer’s Parlour. It’s some sort of collection.”
Draco shrugged. “Sod the collection.”
They watched Fleamont snoring into his open cauldron. “Sorry for yelling at you,” Harry said.
“Honestly, if you hadn’t I would have worried that you were being Polyjuiced.” Draco wiped his wet hair from his face. “You’ve changed, Potter, but not that much.”
“I’m all about consistency.”
Draco winced down at Fleamont and then looked back up, looked Harry right in the eye. “I’m sorry I yelled, too. I don’t take any of it back, but — you know. I should have said it better.”
Harry snorted. “Again, the wonders of not-therapy.”
“I could read a self-help book,” Draco said. “You don’t know.”
“You’d chuck it across the room in about five pages.”
Draco shrugged. “I’m only human. Now come on. Let’s find some place to put this.” Draco heaved the portrait back up and walked into the house, trusting Harry to follow.
They hung the portrait in the drawing room. There was a large blank space above the sofa, across from the bookshelves that clearly hid the Black family tapestry.
“There are absolutely Potters on that family tree, by the way,” Draco informed him, fastening the portrait properly to the wall. “Don’t kid yourself thinking you’re safe.”
They stood back to take in the full picture. Fleamont jolted awake with a snort, blinking his wide dark eyes out at them. “Hello, young friends,” he said, beaming. “Having a pleasant evening? I must have had a little snooze, there! I feel quite rested now.”
Fleamont Potter was very like an elderly Harry, aside from his eyes. Draco hoped that when Harry was Fleamont’s age, he’d have those same deep smile lines.
“I guess the portrait’s part of this house now,” Draco said. He adjusted the frame slightly so that it was level. “I had wondered how long it would take to switch allegiances.”
“Let’s go upstairs,” Harry said.
Draco frowned at him. “Something wrong?”
“There are some things I don’t want to do in front of a painting of my grandfather.”
“Oh,” said Draco. “Oh.”
Nothing felt entirely real in Harry’s dim bedroom: not the intoxicating scent of Harry’s skin nor the hungry way he chased Draco’s lips whenever they parted for breath. Draco had never had anything like this before. The naked tenderness in Harry’s eyes almost burned and Draco had to shut his eyes before he did something horrific like cry, or tell Harry to never leave him.
“I think we should have sex,” Harry said.
“I thought that was the plan,” Draco said, his eyes still shut. He fumbled his hand up Harry’s chest to hold his jaw, finger the hinge of bone under his ear.
“I mean, I think we should have penetrative sex.”
“Oh,” Draco said, and opened his eyes.
Those green lanterns Harry called eyes were wide and earnest and Draco just wanted to fully chuck himself out of the long window to his right.
“I’m not sure which position you prefer,” Harry said.
Draco shrugged. “I don’t know,” he admitted.
“Oh,” Harry said, looking at Draco with something quite like wonder.
“I dabbled at school,” Draco said defensively. “ I’ve just been — busy. And, well. There aren’t a lot of options in the grand metropolis of Fugglestone St Peter, so… It’s been a while.”
“I think you should fuck me first,” Harry said, and continued on as if he had not just shorted out Draco’s brain entirely, “We can work up to you.”
“Work up to,” Draco began indignantly, but Harry was kissing him, he had straddled his hips and was kissing him deep into the mattress.
“This takes a lot of communication and teamwork,” Harry said, as he slicked his fingers and drove them into himself.
“You are fucking yourself with your fingers and you sound like you’re a bloody Quidditch captain doing the rousing pre-match speech.”
Harry laughed and fell to the side, his gorgeous head flung back on the pillow. His cock was red on his belly; he added the tip of a third finger. “Oliver Wood had a speech I think could be relevant.”
“I can’t believe you’re talking about Oliver Wood at a time like this,” Draco said. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from Harry. He thought he was going to combust from the inside.
“Okay, men,” Harry said, pushing Draco back on the bed. “This is the best team Gryffindor’s had in years.”
Draco’s squawk of protest shifted dramatically into something faintly humiliating as Harry climbed over him.
“This is it. The big one.” Harry reached beneath himself and positioned Draco’s cock. “The one we’ve all been waiting for.”
“I really wish this wasn’t working for me as much as it is,” Draco admitted.
“We’re going to win,” Harry said, “I know it.” He lowered himself slowly onto Draco, taking Draco inside of him, what the fuck.
Draco’s voice, when he spoke, was unapologetically strangled. “I want a nice, fair game from all of you,” he said.
Harry’s forehead wrinkled, and Draco stroked his hands up and down his thighs until it went smooth. “Okay,” Harry said, when he was ready. “No promises, though.”
Draco surged up to take Harry’s face in his hands. Terrifying feelings rose in him like a tsunami, threatening to break free at any moment. He kissed him and tried to make the kiss feel like everything he couldn’t say yet.
When they were both dazed and sated, lying sweaty on the sheets, Harry ran his open palm across Draco’s chest, tracing the scars down to his belly. “You’re right,” he said, “I need to leave the Ministry.”
“Oh thank Merlin,” Draco said, thunking his head back against the pillow. “I mean — I support whatever choice you’re making. It’s your call and I support that… call. Etcetera.”
Harry snorted and slapped Draco’s hip lightly. “Yeah, well.” He put his head down in the valley just below Draco’s shoulder and spoke into the skin. “I’ve known for a while. I guess I just needed a… Push.”
“Or an incredible know-it-all yelling at you in his kitchen,” Draco reasoned. “Oh, no. I’m the new Hermione.”
“Nah. Hermione is emotionally mature.”
“You’re a complete and utter wanker,” Draco said, but he couldn’t keep the laugh from his voice. “But it’s a fair cop. By the way, do you want to come to my weird wand ceremony? Luna Lovegood’s coming too, and Hermione, of course. I think my mother’s invited Greg and Pansy so there could be thrilling tension.”
“How could I miss out on the thrilling tension?” Harry’s smile could drown entire continents in terrible feelings. Draco never, ever had a chance.
Ollivander arrived before dawn to begin negotiations with the wand-tree. He did this differently to Herodotus Smethwyck: slower, more stately, and he did not at any point make any sort of joke.
As the sun moved across the sky Ollivander began to craft the wand, and observers began to trickle onto the grounds. A small procession followed Draco and Ollivander as they moved from the Grand Hall to the Great Staircase to the South Banqueting Hall, harnessing the threads of the house into the wand. Draco’s mother, Harry, Hermione, Luna; even Ron Weasley had come. Pansy and Greg arrived late, long after the last of the carving had been completed.
Ollivander did not stop to eat, or use the lavatory, but Coote set up a table of food in the garden and lit the hanging lights, set the heating charms. By the time Ollivander got to the laying on of the lord’s hands, they had moved onto the lawn. The sun cast a red glow over the grass and the peacocks, the trees and the audience. Draco could see Morag out of the corner of his eye now, and a redheaded girl he supposed was Matilda. His mother mouthed posture, and Draco stood up straighter, lay his hand over the wand and said the ceremonial words. He could feel the magic rush into him, like the first time Ollivander had handed him his hawthorn wand when he was eleven.
The sun dipped below the trees, and Draco waved the new wand in a serpentine pattern. A stream of silver sparks shot from the end, fizzling like fireworks in the dim air.
There was a faint smattering of applause — Luna, clapping wildly, and his mother, a polite and approving patter — and then Ollivander gave a faint bow to his audience.
“We are finished,” he told Draco quietly. “Eleven inches, elm and unicorn hair.”
“Thank you,” Draco said, looking down at his wand. “The last wand — the last two wands were dragon heartstring.”
“Well,” Ollivander said, smoothing his robes. “I suppose times change.”
Ollivander declined the offer of food, said farewell more to the wand than to Draco, and Disapparated with a crack that startled the peacocks.
“That was absolutely fascinating,” Hermione said, as the cluster of people crowded around to have a look at the freshly carved wand. “I’ve never seen a wand being made at all, let alone such an intricate ceremony.”
“So much Latin,” Pansy sighed. “It was like being a child again.”
“Did you all have to do Latin?” Harry did not touch Draco directly, but he stood close enough that Draco could feel the warmth of his skin.
“I didn’t understand any of it,” Greg said glumly.
“Mum tried with Bill, Charlie and Percy, but gave up around the time the twins were old enough to throw things,” Ron Weasley told them. He eyed Greg and Pansy with some misgivings, but stood his ground admirably.
“Pansy, have you met my girlfriend?” Morag motioned to Matilda, who looked rather bored.
“Charmed,” Pansy drawled, attempting to out-bored her.
“Oh my god. It’s Ginger Assistant,” Harry breathed in Draco’s ear.
“What?” Draco shot him a look. “She has a name, you know. It’s Matilda.”
“Matilda,” Harry repeated, as if the name were the key to a mystery.
Draco’s mother was observing this spectacle from a discreet distance. “Shall we adjourn to the garden?” she asked, clearly straining to act composed and not like she was utterly shocked at what her life had come to.
They ate finger sandwiches, drank wine and listened to the faint warbles of a violin from a thoughtfully-placed wireless. Later, as people began to leave, Draco would take Harry further into the garden and kiss him, touch his face and possibly say one or two of the horrible things he kept stopping himself from blurting out. First, though, they talked about the house.
“I really think historical tours would be wonderful,” Hermione insisted. “I’m sure some would come for the more, er, grisly facets, but they’d leave learning an awful lot of other parts of wizarding history, which is more than we can say for a Hogwarts education, truth be told.”
“Better to have the teen fascists spend their money at the Manor,” Harry said to Draco, with a smirk. “You can keep an eye on them.”
“Could have some brilliant Quidditch games on some of those fields,” Ron said, nodding off towards the land. “You’ve got a lot of land here. Maybe a youth league, something like that.”
“You could make a killing on fashion shoots,” said Matilda.
Morag made a face. “May as well do a full hunting weekend, Draco. Invite my dad, he’d pay through the nose.”
“Mine too,” said Pansy, “Although my apologies if you actually had to speak to him.”
“I think you should farm more,” Greg announced. “We do that.”
“Perhaps a lovely rock concert,” Luna said thoughtfully. “Or a festival. Muggles have festivals and they’re not nearly so good at sound amplification.”
“Opening the house to the public,” Draco’s mother said faintly. “Merlin preserve us.”
Coote watched them all with wide, judgemental eyes. “Coote is also not being sure about these new fashions, Mistress Narcissa.”
Draco looked up at the vast stone house and thought about the pale-faced portraits that had his nose, or his eyes, all waking up and shaking off the dust. His father’s portrait, a warped mirror of his own face, resigned to an unused room for now. His predecessors had looked out of those windows and made love in those rooms, duelled in the galleries and hexed each other within the walled garden. Malfoy Manor had been close to ruin before, and likely would be again: Draco found it comforting that in a century, maybe, his story would not be so badly remembered. Yes, the Dark Lord had slept and shat and eaten inside those stone walls, but so had hundreds of others.
“So what do you think?” Harry’s arm pressed gently up against Draco’s. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to get you alone,” Draco told him, low into the brown coil of his ear. “Then we can take it from there.”