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Never Grow A Wishbone

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It’s early summer when Draco returns from an extended business trip to Germany. So when there’s a guest at the manor door, he’s expecting it to be any number of acquaintances wanting a piece of his time now that he’s back in Britain. Someone who wants his money, who think he owes him money, someone under his family branch needing his help, or maybe even just one of his friends. But instead one of his house elves, Milly, pops into his rooms and says, “Headmistress Minerva McGonagall to see you, Master Draco.”

He stares at her for a moment, hoping that maybe she’ll say she misspoke, but she doesn’t. McGonagall in his house can’t be anything good. At least his parents are in France. “Show her to the sitting room,” he orders, and Milly disappears with a pop. He’s twenty four years old and it’s absolutely ridiculous of him, but he still checks his hair and appearance before going out to meet her. He’s stopped wearing black robes since the war, so the dark green will have to do, regardless of the pointed comments it always gets about his house allegiance. McGonagall wore green robes throughout most of his schoolyears, so hopefully she won’t have anything to say about it.

He adjusts his cufflinks as he steps into the sitting room. She looks the same as ever – all thirteen years he’s known her, and she hasn’t changed at all. “Mr. Malfoy,” she greets, inclining her head.

“Headmistress,” he returns, crossing the room to stand in front of her. Neither of them move to sit, and he doesn’t suggest it. “To what do I owe the pleasure? I usually just get an owl when it’s time for alumni donations.” 

She almost smiles, and true alarm starts to build in his chest. “I’m afraid I’m not here for something so small. Professor Roberts has resigned.”

A no name halfblood who had been five years ahead of Draco in school. He can’t say he’s surprised – the curse on the Defense Against the Dark Arts position may have died along with Voldemort, but ever since keeping the potions position filled has been almost as difficult.

“Good,” he says honestly, “he was hardly qualified, either as a Potions master or as head of house. I’m not sure what exactly that has to do with me.” She just stares at him. He raises an eyebrow. “Would you like a list of suitable alternatives? I know a number of competent potions masters abroad, but you’re going to have to hire another professor to act as the Slytherin head. I’m afraid you’ve dried up all the half decent Slytherin potions masters.”

“Not all of them,” she says quietly.

He blinks. She can’t be serious. “You can’t be serious.”

“Gravely,” she says, “Mr. Malfoy, I am not above begging.”

What the bloody fuck. “I don’t even like potions!” If he was going to take any position, he’d much prefer it be Flitwick’s.

“That didn’t stop you from getting formally recognized as a Potions master,” she says, “nor listing it on your letter head.”

“My family deals with plant trading,” he snarls, hating how quickly she’s managed to rid him of his calm façade, but unable to do anything about it. “Since I wasn’t about to start giving a fuck about herbology, I needed to be a potions master! Look, Headmistress, I’ll be lucky if I get a seat in government by the time I’m forty, and the war did a nice job of putting a significant dent in the fortune my family has been building for hundreds of years. Not to mention half the morons supervising our stocks and business trades got themselves killed in the war, so I’ve spent the past seven years managing the Malfoy estates on my own.” He glares and crosses his arms, “So I really, truly don’t have time to play teacher at Hogwarts.”

She hasn’t looked away this whole time, still with that same unnervingly even gaze that he remembers from school. “This past year we only had four first year Slytherins. If something is not done soon, I’m afraid that number will go down to zero. I don’t just need a Potions master, Mr. Malfoy. I need a Slytherin. A real Slytherin.”

“There hasn’t been a Slytherin head of house born from a Slytherin family in over fifty years,” he tosses back, even though his heart is thudding in his chest. Only four first years? “Slughorn was fine, but he didn’t come from an old family. He faked it well enough, he did his job, but he wasn’t one of us. Snape wasn’t either, of course, and he was only barely serviceable. Nothing need to be said of the string of disasters you’ve hired since. You lot have done this to yourselves.”

“I know,” she says, and for the first time since he’s known her she looks older, “I know. Draco, you were a leader at school and a leader during the war,” that’s a generous description for what he was during the war, “and I need you to be a leader with this. They need you. Don’t abandon them now.”

“I fought on the other side of the war in case you’ve forgotten,” he says acidly. He doesn’t appreciate poor attempts at emotional manipulation, and frankly he expected better from her. “I’ve spent the years since the war returning my family’s reputation to what it once was, and while abroad the Malfoys are what they’ve always been, I don’t think anyone in Britain will be thrilled with my appointment.”

“I don’t care,” she says, and it’s a struggle to keep the surprise off his face. “I do not care. No one else can do this, and it needs to be done. Please.”

Draco only barely keeps himself from sneering. “Headmistress, the war may be over, but if something isn’t done there will be another one. When this war ended it was about torture and power and killing one annoyingly unkillable boy. But that’s not how it began.”

“The Blood Laws,” she says, and surprise colors her voice. “You support them?”

“Don’t you?” he throws back, “If they’d been passed, Voldemort not only wouldn’t have come to power, he wouldn’t even exist. But thanks to this war, no one can touch the Blood Laws without getting the accusation of Death Eater hurled at them. It will do what it always does, building and getting worse until someone snaps, and then we’ll have another war.”

“And you think you can stop it?” she asks, and she’s looking at him differently, like he’s not what she expected. Which is her own fault, really – Draco’s always considered himself to be rather transparent. Unfortunately.

He shrugs, “I think I’m the only one who can. Old blood will follow old blood, and who else is going to do it? Those of us who survived the war are still hurting, and aren’t exactly eager to fight again. And those of us on your side won’t risk their position by trying to reintroduce the legislation in an environment where they know it won’t pass. I’m going to spend the rest of my bloody life trying to get a seat in government that without the war I would already have. So, once again, I really do not have the time to play teacher at Hogwarts.”

He expects that to be the end of it, that McGonagall will write him off for a lost cause like she always has and Draco can go back to the exhausting work of trying to singlehandedly restore his family’s position.

Instead, she nods in that sharp, exact manner she has, and says, “Very well, Mr. Malfoy. If you accept my offer and become head of Slytherin house and our potions master, I will personally recommend you for a seat at the Wizengamot this time next year.”

Draco’s eyes widen. If she supports him, if the purebloods in power and the moderates who stand with him know that they won’t be demonized for confirming his seat, then it’s almost certain he will get it. “You – you’re serious?”

“I’ll take an Unbreakable Vow,” she says, and this is possibly the strangest day of Draco’s life. “Accept my offer, Mr. Malfoy.”

He runs a hand through his hair, messing it up thoroughly. Being a professor at Hogwarts is a prestigious, sought after position, and it will do more to repair his reputation than all the last seven years combined. But it’s also going to be difficult and miserable, and he doesn’t actually like children. “Fine,” he bites out, “on one condition.”

“I’ve already talked to Filius,” she says promptly. “He’ll be delighted to take you on as an apprentice.”

He blinks. “Is the all knowing thing something that gets passed on when you become head of Hogwarts?”

She smiles, and he hadn’t noticed the tension she was carrying until it was gone. “It’s always been your favorite subject, and you’ve registered over a dozen new charms with the patent office since graduating.” She hesitates, but says, “During the Triwizard Tournament, those dreadful buttons you made had Filius nearly floating he was so excited. He said it was the best charms work he’d seen from a fourteen year old since he himself was that age. When I say that he’ll be delighted to take you on, that is in fact a direct quote.”

Draco resists the urge to rub at his temples. At least it won’t be a total loss. He really does love charms. Besides, he would endure much worse for a Wizengamot seat. “Very well, Headmistress. Consider me hired.”

“Please,” she says, “call me Minerva. We are colleagues after all.”

~

Because McGonagall is far more cunning than she seems, the very next day the Prophet runs a story about his upcoming appointment as Potions master and the head of Slytherin house. If he truly is to do this properly, he’s going to have to thoroughly attend the party circuit this summer, and not just hit the usual ones. At least Pansy will be happy.

“HAVE YOU LOST YOUR BLOODY MIND?” Pansy screeches.

Pippy discreetly appears at his elbow and hands him four fingers of Scotch. Maybe all these blasted house elves are good for something. “Not exactly, no.”

Blaise is standing at the other end of the room because he’s a coward. “She’s got a point.”

“I thought you liked our arrangement,” he complains. “Twice the parties and dinners means twice the amount of stupidly expensive dresses I pay for.”

Pansy crosses her arms and scowls, “Being your marriage deterrent is in fact one of the highlights of my social career. That doesn’t mean I’m willing to send you off to Hogwarts like a lamb to the slaughter.”

“Don’t you think you’re being a touch dramatic?” he asks, “Just a smidge?”

“No,” she answers. “I’m really, really not. You’ll be the only Slytherin professor, and everyone knows what you did during the last war. You won’t have your business contacts, your international friends, even your damn money won’t do you any good in those halls. They’ll tear you apart.”

“Well, I can’t have that.” He downs half his glass in one go. “There were only four Slytherin first years last year.”

“Total?” Blaise says, incredulous. Pansy’s mouth is parted in surprise.

“Total,” he confirms, and the weight of the mess he’s agreed to clean up makes him want to say fuck it and hide in France with his parents. “I’m a Malfoy and a Black, and I have a duty to fulfill to my blood. I will fulfill it. The only question here is,” he turns to address the both of them, “Are you going to help me or not?”

Blaise rolls his eyes. “Of course we are, don’t be daft. Are you sure you want the goblins running your businesses and stocks again? There’s a reason your grandfather took over the account from them. They’ll take a fortune in fees.”

“I can afford it,” he says dryly. When he’d found out he’d been named the heir to a half dozen dark families, it had surprised him, but it shouldn’t have. They’re all related somehow, and leaving everything to the Malfoys, a family that has weathered the brunt of over a dozen wars, must have made sense to them. “Besides, it’s worth it to know my business isn’t being mishandled in my absence.”

Pansy runs a hand through her hair, forgetting she’s braided it and having to yank it out halfway down. “Fine. You’ve clearly already made up your mind.”

Blaise smiles the beautiful, empty smile that he learned from his mother.  Draco hates that smile. “Let’s go to the ball.”

~

Draco attends every dinner and dance he’s invited to, either Pansy or Blaise on his arm. If he’d had any doubts about his decision before, he doesn’t now. Families who’d been downtrodden by the war speak to him with a gleam in their eyes and a centuries old confidence falling over their shoulders once more. He’s introduced to a number of his future students, and they’re all wary of him. For some, he’s the third head of house they’ve been introduced to.

What sticks out to him, what really sticks out to him, is meeting young Raina Lestrange. He’d inherited a Lestrange manor from Bellatrix and a couple of house elves, and he’d offered the lot back to the head of the family, the ancient Lady Rosamond, but she’d refused.

She hadn’t been the only one. Smart families didn’t want properties that had belonged to infamous death eaters. If they’d been ancestral homes that would have been different, but no one was foolish enough to leave Draco any of those properties, thank merlin.

He’s at a garden party taking place at the Lestange Castle, old and well maintained. War or no war, the Malfoys and Letranges had been allies since before their families moved to Britain, and Draco always accepts any invitation from them if he’s in the country. It wouldn’t do any good to allow the war to break family ties that have been in place for over a dozen generations. Pansy is busy so Blaise is his date to this event, wearing pale lilac robes that are a stark contrast to his dark skin. Draco cannot pull off pastels with his complexion, so he he’s in navy robes that offset the light purple perfectly. Every eye in the room is drawn to them, Blaise especially, and Draco can’t blame them.

He mixes and mingles, and these sorts of parties are casual and exclusive enough that he doesn’t have to always be on his guard, that he can actually enjoy the good food and wine and conversation. “Draco,” a smoke rattled voice says from behind him, and his smile is entirely genuine when he turns to face Rosamond Lestrange. There’s a girl hiding behind the older woman, and all he can see of her is one dark eye and black hair.

“My lady,” he greets, inclining his head. “A delight, as always. I trust you know my companion, Blaise Zabini?”

Blaise, the dramatic flirt, beams and kisses the back of Rosamund’s hand. She’s too smart for that to work, but she is amused by him, so Draco supposed she’s charmed either way. This is why he brings Blaise places.

“Of course,” she says. She’s older than Dumbledore, but there’s nothing but razor sharp intelligence in her eyes. “I just wanted to say how absolutely delighted we all are with your recent career move, Draco.” Before he has the chance to thank her, she pushes the small, pale girl with inky black hair in front of him. “This is my grand nephew’s daughter, Raina. She’ll be a third year.”

Draco is not good with children, but he’s not a barbarian, so he smiles and drops on a bended knee so he can look up into the girl’s in the eyes. The least he can do is give her the height advantage since she’s clearly nervous. But when he gets a good look at her, she seems afraid of all things, and he’s so taken aback by it that he forgets to say anything. But she swallows and says, “Hello Lord Malfoy. It’s very nice to meet you.”

“You as well,” he says, recovering and making his smile gentle. He leaves his hands crossed over his knee where she can keep an easy eye on them. “There’s no need to call me Lord Malfoy, however, I must insist on Draco. Although I suppose once the school year starts it’ll have to be Professor.” He winks at her and her lips turn up into something that’s almost a smile.

“It’s really true then?” She takes a step closer to him, “You really are coming back to Hogwarts? Even though – with – with everyone else that’s there?”

He knows who she’s referring to. “It’s hard to fear someone when you’ve seen them at eleven falling off their broom,” he says dryly, and it’s a lie, but it’s an important one. “Yes, of course I’m returning to Hogwarts. It’s time someone of merit was in the position, don’t you think?”

“Yes!” she says, so excitedly he’s surprised by it. She’s beaming at him, a very different girl than the one he met a few moments ago. “I’ll study very hard for the rest of the summer, and I’ll be your best Potions student,” she promises, and something hard settles at the base of his throat.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he says, and he knew what he was, a direct line from Black and Malfoy, old blood, Slytherins for generations on both sides. He’d known what that would mean to everyone else, but he hadn’t considered what it would mean to the children.

She curtsies to him and her aunt, and then scampers away back over to her parents, talking quickly and pointing over to him. “You understand?” Rosamond asks, looking at him intently.

“Yes,” he answers, and he doesn’t resent her for this. It was a necessary lesson, delivered in the kindest and most effective way she could. “Thank you.”

The rest of party moves quickly after that, adults and cautious children alike coming up to congratulate him on his appointment. Blaise remains a charming and supportive presence at his elbow.

At the end of the night, he walks Blasé back to their carriage, a proprietary hand on the small of his back. “I can’t just quit after a year or two,” he says grimly. “If I’m going to actually make real change, I’m going to have stick around. Damnit.”

There are still people watching them, so Blaise leans against his side and kisses his cheek before allowing Draco to help him into the carriage, using their closeness to say quietly enough that no one else can hear him, “Looks like you’re fucked, mate.”

Draco restrains himself from laughing until he follows Blaise into the carriage, but only barely.

~

Draco has spent most of his day arranging his accounts and signing them over to the goblins, and this morning he’d finally popped over to France to inform his parents of what was happening. His father was doing better, but hadn’t really understood.

His mother hadn’t said anything. The war had stolen something from all of them, but sometimes Draco feels like it’s his mother who lost more than his father. Narcissa had been the youngest of the indomitable Black sisters, gorgeous and educated, and she’d married the heir to the Malfoy family, a man who’d been handsome and powerful and had treated her with a kindness that their marriage had not required he provide. She’d been a society queen, every bit as cunning and intelligent as Lucius, and ferociously in love with her life, a perfect wife and doting mother. With Bellatrix in Azkaban and Andromeda married to a muggle, she must have felt like she’d escaped some terrible fate.

Narcissa had done everything right and fought to keep her family safe throughout it all, and she wasn’t unhappy in France with his father, but she wasn’t happy either. But she refused to return to Britain, refused to run the Malfoy Manor as would be her right until he married.

Between that visit and negotiating with the goblins, he’s beyond exhausted and just wants to collapse into bed. So, of course, that’s when Milly appears besides him and says, “Excusing me, Master Draco, but you have a visitor.”

“It’s nearly midnight!” he snaps. Milly’s ears droop, and he takes a deep breath before asking, “Who is it?”

“It is Mistress Lovegood, Master Draco,” she says quietly.

Of course it’s Loony. Who else would come knocking at his door in the middle of the night without a care in the world? “Let her in,” he says wearily. He’s not going to bother making himself presentable for her. She had attended family dinners until her mother died, after all. It’s not like she’s going to care if his robes are ruffled or his hair mussed.

By the time he walks into the sitting room, Luna is sitting upside-down on the couch with her legs thrown over the back and her long blonde hair piled on the floor. A cup of tea floats besides her, still faintly sparking with elf magic. “Cousin!” she greets, beaming at him.

She’d stopped calling him that before their Hogwarts years, and had only started again after the war. He wishes she’d stop. “Sit like an adult,” he says, too tired to sound more than vaguely disapproving. “What are you doing here?” He asks hopefully, “Do you want your mother’s house back? The house elves have been taking care of it but, I must reiterate, I truly have no use for a house in Japan.” He doesn’t even do business there.

“Oh, no, you can keep it. Sell it if you don’t want it,” she somersaults over the edge of the couch so she’s standing in front of him. “McGonagall told me that you’re going to be the Potions professor! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I can’t sell the house,” he says, offended on behalf of Pandora, a woman he honestly hadn’t even liked all that much while she was alive, and he’s pretty sure the feeling was mutual. He has no idea why she’d left it to the Malfoy family and not – well no, he doesn’t suppose he’d trust Xeno with a family home either. “Four generations of your mother’s family lived in that house, don’t be ridiculous.”

“Fine, keep the house,” she shrugs. “Cousin, you’re coming to Hogwarts! We’ll be able to see each other every day!”

Merlin, he regrets this decision already. “I suppose,” he says. “Also, McGonagall released an official notice of my appointment to The Daily Prophet over a month ago. It hasn’t exactly been a secret.”

“You know I don’t read the Prophet,” she says reproachfully. “You should have sent me an owl!”

“Luna.” He can already feel a headache building behind his eyes. She has, for the record, always been this exasperating. “Is there a reason you came here in the middle of the night? I can’t imagine any of your friends are happy that you’re here. Is there some duty as head of the family you need me to perform? Would you like a house in Britain? I have enough of them.”

She quiets, her dark blue eyes going soft with hurt. Talking to her has always been a minefield – she hadn’t been hurt when he’d teased her all through Hogwarts, not really, but here they are having a perfectly normal adult conversation, and now she’s upset. Honestly. “We are family, aren’t we?” she asks quietly. “It shouldn’t matter what my friends think.”

“Your father can’t like it either,” he says, feeling quite out of his depth. He really doesn’t understand why she bothers talking to him. Her father has always been happy to pretend his mother hadn’t been born a Malfoy. She keeps staring at him, air tinged with sadness, and he rolls his eyes. “Yes, Luna, we’re family. I’d hardly let anyone else into the manor uninvited and unexpected, now would I?”

She smiles at him, too large and ridiculous, and he quirks his lips back in return. She may be ridiculous and crazy, but she’s also his cousin, and in between all the crazy she’s almost nice to be around. “Do you want to hear about the interesting students?” she offers. “Since they’ll be your students too.”

He is exhausted and he’s sure all of Luna’s information will be spectacularly unhelpful, like what their favorite colors are and which ones are being stalked by creatures he doesn’t believe exist. “I’d be delighted,” he says, snapping his fingers. In the next moment there’s a cup of steaming tea in his hands, and he kicks off his shoes to curl up at the end of the couch. Luna follows suit, tea still floating and growing cold beside her while she gesticulated wildly and begins a story about what sounds like a very strange Hufflepuff fifth year.

~

It’s two weeks before the start of the school year. He’s ordered the elves to pack up and deliver his belongings to his rooms, which he thinks is rather straightforward, but there’s a hesitant tugging on his pant leg. “Excuse me, Master,” Bip says, ears and eyes downcast. These are good elves, they never speak without being spoke to. Especially Bip – he was one of the Lestrange elves Draco had inherited.

“Yes?” He looks down at the elf, “What is it?”

“We was just wondering,” he keeps his eyes lowered, “if there will be anything you’ll be needing us elves to be doing while you’re gone? Anything at all?”

Fuck. He hadn’t thought about the elves. The Malfoys have always employed about a dozen elves to manage their properties, but after the war he’d inherited about fifty more. Granted they also came with numerous properties, but one elf per property was more than enough if it wasn’t being used. To be honest, it was overkill. One skilled elf could easily maintain five out of use properties with time to spare. There was enough latent magic around the manor and some of the other homes he’d inherited that they weren’t in any danger of starving, but they’d need something to do. Something around people –

Or children. Messy, demanding, hungry children.

“Bip, gather all the elves that can be spared from general duties,” he commands, “You’re all coming with me to Hogwarts.”

The poor thing looks so excited Draco’s almost worried he’s going faint. “Yes, Master Draco! Right away, Master Draco!”

He rubs the back of his neck, then goes to go draft a letter to Minerva. He’s sure there’s going to be plenty of parents pissed about this latest decision, but he really can’t find it in himself to care. The only thing worse than a happy house elf is a morose one – he had met Kreacher, after all, and that was the saddest excuse for a house elf he’d seen since they’d employed Dobby.

~

He trusts the elves to make his rooms livable, but Draco’s going through the potions classroom. He’s sure there are a few of them familiar enough with the art that they could clean it without killing themselves, but he’s not willing to risk it. It’s one thing to hit an elf for failing its duty, and quite another for one to die for following orders while under his employ.

If he wasn’t convinced that the previous potions professors had been worthless before, trying to get the classroom in order would have done it. The ingredients are stored in completely the wrong sequence. What moron kept lion’s mane next to murtlap essence? If something spilled, then the whole thing would explode. Before he can even begin to deal with that mess, he has to clean the whole classroom. There are numerous potions stains, and if he knew what they were then he could use magic to get rid of them, but he doesn’t. It’s not like he can just leave them there – all it takes is another potion spilling on the stains, and the wrong combination will end in an explosion. People truly underestimate how often potions end in explosions. So, unless he wants to risk blowing himself up, he’s going to have to do it by hand like a peasant. He snaps his fingers, and Milly appears in front of him. “A pail of water, boiling hot. Another pail, and at least three dozen rags.” She nods and his requested items appear besides him. “Very good. Dismissed.” She disappears, leaving him alone to his work.

He rolls up his sleeves and resigns himself to burning these trousers. With a swish and a flick, all the desks and chairs in the room rise to the ceiling. The water’s temperature never falls below steaming. Hours later, he’s completed about two thirds of the classroom, his hands have turned some horrid yellow color, and he’s identified at least seven of the failed potions on the ground. Lovely.

“Draco,” an amused voice says behind him, “I hope we’re not interrupting.”

He doesn’t look up from his scrubbing, “You are, actually, Minerva. What kind of morons did you have in here? Or are all the students as competent as Longbottom? It’s the only explanation for how the floor is this much of disaster.” He pauses. She’d said ‘I hope we’re not interrupting.’

He looks up, hoping it’ll be Flitwick. He’s not nearly so lucky. “Harry was quite insistent he greet you as soon as you arrived,” McGonagall says dryly. She hadn’t told Draco about the meltdown Potter had on hearing of his appointment, but Draco is confident he had one.

Harry is staring at him like he’s never seen him before. He looks good, the bastard. His gorgeous copper skin is the darkest it’s ever been, and it’s a lovely contrast to his bright green eyes. His stupid muggle clothes doing nothing to hide he’s just as fit as back when they were on the quidditch pitch during school. Not that Draco isn’t, but he’s also on his hands and knees scrubbing the floor like a servant and absolutely filthy. “Potter,” he says, raising an eyebrow. “While I’m touched that your heart’s all aflutter over my presence, I am quite busy at the moment.”

“Uh,” he coughs, then flushes. “I – yes, I – sorry,” he finishes with before turning on his heel and – Draco cannot believe this – running away.

He stares and then slides his gaze over to Minerva. “What the hell?”

 “That went quite well, I think,” she says.

He points an accusing finger at her, filthy rag still clenched in his fist. “Don’t you start scheming too. If that’s a tradition, it’s one you should break.”

She just smiles at him. It’s a new expression, and he’s still getting used to it. Draco doesn’t think she’d ever smiled at him before this whole mess began. “You know, heavier objects are harder to levitate, especially over time.”

He crosses his arms, and his crisp white shirt is covered with stains. It’s getting burned along with the trousers. “Yes, Minerva, I did pass my first year charms class, thank you for asking. There’s a reason children start out with a feather.”

She looks up at the ceiling, “How long have those been up there?”

He follows her gaze. All of the room’s furniture is still hovering toward the ten feet in the air. “I don’t know, however long I’ve been imitating a house elf. A couple of hours?” He scowls, “I am actually an accomplished wizard, in case you’ve forgotten.”

Draco expects her to snap at him for his attitude, but she just keeps smiling. “I haven’t forgotten,” she promises, then leaves him to his classroom.

What the fuck.

It takes him another hour to finish cleaning the floor and walls of suspicious stains. He lowers the furniture and intends to get started on it, but after a thorough once over he’s not sure it’s worth it. The tables are stained and scratched, with burn marks and strange splotches. The chairs aren’t in much better condition.

He taps his wand against his chin. He’s a fair hand at transfiguration, although it’s not his specialty. He could always call Pansy, who does rather have knack for it. But he’s also one of the richest wizards in the world, and half the reason he’s in this dreadful place is to make a statement. So he’ll make a statement. He snaps twice and two of his house elves appear before him. “Get rid of it,” he says, pointing to the furniture that his magic has neatly stacked against the wall. “Burn it, give it away, dump it in the ocean for all I care. But get it out of here.”

“Yes, Master,” they say as one, and in the next instant his classroom is bare. He’ll deal with that tomorrow. For now, he tackles the storage cupboard, which is going to take up nearly as much time as cleaning the bloody floor did. He has to entirely reorganize it, and half the ingredients are expired. No wonder there were so many potions stains. It’s a miracle any of them managed to make a complete potion with this to work with. At the end of it, his classroom is clean and the potions ingredients that are worth keeping are organized in a way that won’t kill anyone. It’s also nearly dinner time, so he goes to his own rooms next to the Slytherin dorms.

He steps inside and can feel the tension that had built up in his back loosening. It’s decked out just like home with smooth, ancient lines and a surprisingly pleasing palate of silver and deep purple. A house elf appears at his side, and he looks down and realized it’s Bip. “Very good,” he says, and the little thing puffs up in pride. “The potions classroom should be safe now. Give it a thorough cleaning, but if you see anything unusual, get me immediately.”

“Yes, Master Draco,” he squeaks before disappearing. The hearth is crackling pleasantly, casting a warm, cheery glow over the rooms. It’s not his country manor or his townhouse in France, but it’s not a bad place to call home.

The shower feels luxurious after the day cleaning. He steps out from under the warm spray of water and dries himself with a flick of his wand. He stands in front of the wardrobe, tapping his wand against his arm. Well, the elves did decorate his quarters in purple. Might as well keep with the theme. He slashes his wand forward, then pulls it quickly back. His wardrobe opens, revolving sets of clothes twirling past. He chooses what he wants with quick flicks of his wand, and when he leaves for the great hall he’s in a purple robe so dark it almost looks black and soft grey trousers.

He takes a deep breath before entering the great hall. Into the lion’s den he goes.

“Draco,” McGonagall says as soon as he enters, like she was waiting for it. “You’re looking much better.”

“Well it would be difficult for me to look worse,” he answers, wry. “By the way, I got rid of all the furniture from the Potions room, I couldn’t possibly work with something that outdated. I’ll arrange for replacements tomorrow.”

She raises an eyebrow. “Very well. It is your classroom.”

Draco feels like that was too easy, but it’s not like he wants to argue with her either, so he just nods his thanks and lets his eyes glide over the table. Potter, Granger, and Luna he expected, but not the man avoiding his eyes next to Pomona. “Longbottom,” he greets, gracefully taking his seat next to Filius, who winks at him. He hates himself for finding it comforting. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“He’s my apprentice!” Sprout says cheerfully, “He’s just finished his studies with the McCains, and came seeking an apprenticeship. How could I refuse?”

Draco wrinkles his nose, unable to stop himself. Granger pounces on him instantly, all bushy brown hair and dark brown skin and flashing brown eyes. “Something to say, Malfoy?”

“The McCains are morons,” he answers readily, addressing Longbottom instead of Granger. The other man won’t meet his gaze. It’s like he’s talking to a house elf. “I’d do my best to forget whatever they taught you and just go by Sprout’s word.”

“They were a great help during the war,” Granger says archly, like that has any bearing on the conversation.

“That’s nice,” he says blandly. “Their gardens refuse to be tended by them anymore, so it’s only a matter of time before they go out of business. If they’re smart they’ll sell to someone who can salvage it before they become destitute.” He pauses, thinking for a moment, and then addresses Longbottom again. “Given your well known proclivity for the subject I assume they were all too eager to throw you at the problem. Much like smacking a bandaid on a stab wound.”

Granger’s red in the face, all ready to defend a family he’s sure she’s never had more than a quick conversation with. He fatalistically braces himself for impact, but instead of Granger’s yelling, Longbottom finally deigns to speak. “Well,” he says, almost smiling, “I did learn a lot.”

"That’s a fair point,” Draco says after a moment's consideration, “Did you end up setting the singing tulips on fire? That’s what I recommended when they came to me.”

“Why would the McCains go to you?” Granger asks. On one hand, he appreciates the older professors letting them have their little dick measuring contest without interfering, but on the other hand, he’s hungry and this is boring.

“They tried to sell their estate to me,” he answers. “Unfortunately, I mostly deal abroad and have neither the time nor the inclination to maintain a greenhouse domestically. Too much fussy temperature work when you can just grow the stuff locally and smack a preservation charm on it.”

“Preservation charms aren’t as good as fresh product,” Longbottom says, and at least now he’s looking at him.

“No, of course not, but the difference is negligible most of the time. When it isn’t, people can always pay for a portkey transfer.” Longbottom winces. Portkey shipments don’t come cheap since the charm is such a pain to apply.

Granger inserts herself in the conversation. Again. “What about people that can’t afford the portkey fee?”

He raises an eyebrow and drawls, “Well, if they can’t afford the portkey transfer, then they certainly wouldn’t be able to afford the giant markup on product I’d have to make to maintain profits if I was also staffing enough herbologists to keep a tropical greenhouse in the middle of winter.” She opens her mouth to say something else irrelevant to the conversation, he’s sure, so he doesn’t give her the chance. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I for one am starving.” He snaps his fingers rapidly, five times a row, and by the time he’s done the food is set out and steaming in front of them.

Minerva takes a quick sip from her goblet to hide her laughter. Draco pointedly ignores everyone but Flitwick for the remainder of the meal. Luckily for Draco, he’s more than willing to be dragged into a conversation about the minutia and limitations of the portkey charm.

He feels the weight of someone’s gaze on him throughout the whole meal. He assumes it’s Granger, but when he looks up she’s deep in conversation with Longbottom.

However, out of the corner of his eye, he does see Potter jerk his head down so he’s staring at his plate.

Interesting.

Chapter Text

Diagon Alley is a step away from becoming muggle London at this point, so Draco doesn’t even waste his time by going there.

He takes the Floo straight to Borgin and Burkes, his highest quality robes sitting perfectly on his shoulders. They’re a blue as dark as the night sky, and the buttons all up the front charmed to give a subtle twinkle. If anyone were to look closely, different constellations can be seen chasing each other on the robe’s hem. It had been his mother’s, a family heirloom passed onto her from Great Aunt Walburga on her wedding day. His name is written in the stars like all the other Blacks, and he has as much of a right to wear this robe as any of his ancestors.

Also, his mother now rarely wore anything with a hint of color to it, instead choosing to cultivate an exclusively black wardrobe. He’d appropriated her wardrobe not long after the war ended, and she hadn’t said a word. He hasn’t yet been able to gather to courage and ask what, exactly, she was mourning.

“Lord Malfoy.” Borgin comes forward, a steeped old man whose eyes look too big behind his glasses. Draco reaches inside his cloak, fingers brushing against his wand so that he can banish the ash from the soles of his shoes.

“Borgin,” he greets, and the little old man unbends himself just a little, standing that much straighter as he blinks up at Draco. “I need some custom work done. I’m sure you can oblige? I’ll need Burkes’s expertise as well.” They may run an antique shop, but the couple also had a talent for magical craftsmanship. Borgin did the actual material shaping, while his husband was particularly skilled at seamless integration of opposing materials and locking and protection spells. It’s impossible to make a living off that, however, as even noble families bought things that were made the muggle way and then just charmed the finished product. It was exponentially cheaper, although the quality of course just wasn’t the same.

Draco pulls out his wand and summons the plans from his rooms at Hogwarts. It’s unnecessary and a waste of magic, but it’s not enough to just display his family and his wealth. Power is important too. Borgin glances through the schematics, eyebrows rising nearly to his hairline. “Of course, Lord Malfoy. However, it will be quite costly.”

“As superior arts should be,” he sniffs, and the sudden wash of pride looks good on Borgin, it makes him look like what he is – a powerful and respectable pureblood. “I need sixteen of them, and they must be delivered to me at Hogwarts by the end of the month. At the absolute latest.”

Borgin blinks, and Draco resists the urge to smirk. The end of the month is ten days away. To create sixteen of the desk in that timeframe, Borgin and Burkes will have to close the shop and work straight through. Draco estimates the whole thing will cost more than all the Weasleys make in a year, combined. Good.

“Absolutely, Lord Malfoy!” he says, displaying an enthusiasm that Draco doesn’t remember seeing in him since he was a child. “We’ll get started on this right away!”

“Excellent,” he says. “The goblins are handling my accounts.” Another way to display his wealth, since few people have the money to hire the operators of Gringotts. Fools, in Draco’s opinion. They were goblins, and somehow always managed to almost double his profits even after taking out their monstrous fee. He doesn’t know what his grandfather was thinking when he’d fired them. It’s not like they’d come under hard times. “Send the bill their way at your convenience.”

“Thank you, Lord Malfoy,” Borgin says, and it’s a touch too sincere to just be about Draco placing a large order.

Draco tucks his wand back in his robes, “Believe me, Borgin, the pleasure is mine.” He apparates out of there before the man can do something horrid, like smile at him.

He may be rich, but he’s not insane, so he orders the stools from a reputable craftsman in the upper alleys – hand made, but not magic made, and set to be delivered to his classroom in three days. He’s just considering if he should put in an appearance somewhere for lunch or head back to Hogwarts when an excited voice calls out, “Cousin! – Ow, Mum, I mean, Lord Malfoy!”

“Draco is fine,” he says dryly, turning on his heel to see Diane Goyle with a long suffering look on her face and surrounded by four children. He assumes the two are connected. Diane is his great aunt’s youngest daughter on his father’s side, if he’s not mistaken. Not that it matters – after a certain point, everyone just gets relegated to cousin to avoid the headache, and the only time anyone bothers to get specific is when arranging a marriage. “Diane, a pleasure.”

“Lord Draco,” she smirks, going into a neat curtsey that the children – including the boys – attempt to copy with varying levels of success.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” he says, because Diane is a brat. Lucius had complained more than once that she and Draco were too similar for their own good. “School shopping?”

“Cousin!” He looks down, and Diane’s son Markel grabs his hand, tugging it until he obligingly bends enough to look him in the eye. “You’re going to be my head of house, that’s so cool!”

Draco frowns, “You’re not old enough for Hogwarts.”

Markel scowls and pokes Draco in the side with his very bony fingers, and Diane laughs because she’s a traitor. “I’m eleven!”

“Since when?” he demands.

“You were out of the country at the time,” Diane says, amused. “In Russia, I believe.”

“Oh, yes. That.” A patch of Devil’s Snare had become temperamental and started attacking its herbologists, which honestly is what they’d deserved for putting Devil’s Snare in the same plot as the gillyweed marshes. It had taken him two weeks to sort that mess out and hire a whole new team of herbologists that weren’t going to make his plants revolt against him. He says to Markel, “You better be on your best behavior. You’ll be representing both the Malfoy and Goyle families.”

“Marilyn can represent the Goyles,” he scoffs. “I’ll take the Malfoys.”

A tall girl that Draco knows to be the Goyle heir smacks Markel upside the head. It doesn’t faze him, so Draco assumes it’s a common occurrence. “You’re a disgrace to both families,” she tells him, “You’re lucky Uncle Warren doesn’t lock you in the basement like a squib.”

“Dad would never,” Markel declares. “I’m his only son! His precious child! The light of his life!” A boy Draco is pretty sure is Luca Greengrass raises both his eyebrows, and he has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling.

“Didn’t he threaten to attach you to the ceiling with a permanent sticking charm if you didn’t stop flying your broom into the rose bushes last week?” asks a girl Draco doesn’t recognize, although based on the stormy grey-blue eyes alone he assumes she’s an Ollivander.

“Listen,” Markel says passionately. “There is no reason for us to have ten foot tall rose bushes. None at all. They’re eyesores, just – just a blight on our good name. I was doing him a favor, really.”

Draco’s almost certain he made that exact same argument to his mother after one (or three, or four) too many run ins with the weeping willows on the property, which unlike muggle ones actually did weep, and did so extremely loudly after Draco would fly into them and get caught in the branches. He trades a look with Diane, because she was a beater during school, and he would be shocked if she didn’t have a similar story. They have to quickly look away from each other before they burst out laughing.

“I was just heading out to lunch,” he says, interrupting the kids before a full scale argument can break out. “Would you like to join me?”

The children turn their faces up at him, like sunflowers. Then as one, they turn to Diane, who’s back to looking long suffering. “We’d be delighted,” she answers. Draco intends to offer her his arm, but instead Markel and Marilyn each grab one of his hands and drag him forward. Markel launches into a story about his latest flying excursion, causing Marilyn to roll her eyes. Luca interjects whenever he feels Markel is stretching the truth a little too much, but the Ollivander girl doesn’t say anything at all. She just keeps glancing at him with those oddly piercing eyes her family has.

Of course, as soon as they step out of Knockturn Alley, Diane’s face smooths out to ice, no long his older mischievous cousin, but Mrs. Goyle, a woman who may not have served Voldemort directly but certainly knew people who did, and did nothing to stop them.  The kids’ smiles slip from their faces and they let go of his hands, falling silent as they rearrange themselves so they’re walking a half step behind the adults.

Draco did the same as a kid, remembers clearing his face of emotions and walking in between and just behind his parents whenever they were out in public. But Draco did it out of a place of arrogance, was more than happy to stand there looking down at people older and taller and more powerful than him because he was the Malfoy heir.

It’s not the same.

~

He means to part ways with them after lunch, but somehow ends up getting dragged around the rest of the day to help with the kids’ school shopping. They do it all in Diagon Alley, and Diane doesn’t say anything, but Draco is sure before they bumped into each other that she was planning to do her shopping in Knockturn.

He doesn’t return to the castle until the moon is high in the sky. His robe is most beautiful at night, the constellations that sparkle along the hem during the day aren’t so confined under moonlight. They dance and twirl gorgeously across the rich blue fabric, and Draco is sure he looks like an idiot standing in front of the castle looking at his robe, but he can’t find it in himself to care. It’s the work of Aquila Black over three hundred years ago, and one of the most impressive charms he’s ever come in contact with. She’d spun the thread herself and had made the dye from burning tulips harvested on a three quarters moon, and then she’d woven the robe as a single garment from that thread. There wasn’t a single seam or stitch on it. The robe had over a hundred interlocking charms on it, so perfectly merged that even after three centuries not a bit of the spellwork had started to erode or fade. It was honestly easier to make an invisibility cloak than to replicate everything Aquila Black had done to make this robe.

Draco goes to his classroom, a reignited determination burning inside of him. History is important, family is important, and he’s not about to let a few pointless wars get in the way of over a thousand years of tradition.

~

A soft chiming noise wakes Draco up, low enough not to be jarring but persistent enough that he can’t ignore it and go back to bed. “Milly,” he groans, flinging an arm over his eyes, “I told you not to wake me up today.”

“I is very sorry, Master Draco,” his house elf whispers, and he forces his irritation down because one of the worst ways to start a day is with a crying house elf. “But Headmistress McGonagall sent a message. You be having a meeting, Master Draco?”

“Not until eleven,” he says, and he wants to snap at her, but doesn’t. Maybe he should start having Bip wake him up. The older house elf wasn’t as nice about it, but he didn’t get upset over Draco’s morning attitude.

“It is eleven fifteen,” she says.

Draco throws off his comforter and grabs his wand, cursing. “Milly! You should have said that in the first place!” She looks at him with big liquid eyes and twists her ears back, and Draco wishes not for the first time that it was possible to use his magic on his own elves as he slaps her hands away. “Stop that. Make my bed and prepare my robes.”

Milly could complete both of those tasks with a single snap of her fingers, but instead she does it by hand while he quickly applies charms to his face and hair so he doesn’t look like a barbarian. He almost yells at her for wasting time before remembering she had been one of the Flint elves. They had a reputation of being rather – harsh, with their elves. There was a reason most of the creatures refused to work for their family anymore.

She lays out his silk Slytherin green robes, which are probably overkill for a staff meeting, but everything he does is overkill, so Milly probably has the right idea. “Very good,” he tells her before running out the door. He sees her wilt in relief out of the corner of his eye. Good.

He bursts into the meeting twenty five minutes late, robes billowing out behind him. “How nice of you to join us,” Minerva says, and before he would have taken it as a slight and said something acidic in return, but now he’s very aware that she’s laughing at him.

“Don’t you start,” he says crossly, taking the empty seat between Filius and Luna, “I’ve been up until dawn the past two nights gathering mourning thistles.”

Pomona raises an eyebrow and Longbottom gives him an odd look. “It’s the new moon.”

“Yes, that’s the point,” he huffs, snapping his fingers. A steaming cup of tea appears in front of him and Granger throws him a disgusted look. What’s the point of house elves if he has to make his own tea?

“Mourning thistles become poisonous when picked during the new moon,” Longbottom continues, like Draco is a simpleton. “That’s why they’re called mourning thistles. If you prick yourself on them, you’ll die.”

“Well, unfortunately for you lot, I’m not planning on it,” he says. “Dried mourning thistles picked on the new moon can then be crushed into powder. Which, when left in a golden bowl covered in an unbroken spider web under direct sunlight for thirteen days, becomes –”

“Poor Man’s Faerie Dust,” Longbottom finishes. “Merlin, that’s a lot of effort to go to. Doesn’t your family sell the stuff? For that matter, I know the Malfoy land has faeries on. You could gather the real thing easily enough.”

Granger’s looking back and forth between them so quickly he’s surprised she hasn’t given herself whiplash. Potter just looks confused. “If by easily enough you mean by trading my weight in blood for it, maybe.” Didn’t Longbottom get on with the half-giant oaf? No way Hagrid would have ever have suggested someone gather faerie dust alo – then again, he did smuggle a dragon and the acromantulas onto school grounds, so maybe he did. “Believe me, I would love nothing more than to sign a great big check on behalf of Hogwarts to myself for potions ingredients, but I’d be slapped with a lawsuit before the ink was dry. It’s a toss up whether it’d be for extortion or money laundering.”

“Why don’t you just continue buying them from wherever Hogwarts usually gets their ingredients?” Potter asks.

Draco sniffs, but before he can say anything, Pomona interjects. “And sign a check to his competition instead? I think not, Mr. Potter.” She looks to Draco, curiosity in her narrowed eyes. “Are you planning on growing all your own ingredients?”

“All the ones I can,” he says, doing his best not to show his surprise at her reaction. “I don’t sell frog livers or unicorn hairs and the ilk myself, so I have no problem buying them. There will be a few ingredients that I’ll have to buy outright simply because of time constraints, but I’ve already created an account with a supplier in Japan.”

“Why Japan?” Granger asks, and at the very least she doesn’t look like she has plans to murder him in his sleep anymore.

“Because I don’t sell in Japan, so at least I’m not giving money to my competition,” he says. “I can see the headlines now – ‘Malfoy Doesn’t Use His Own Product – What Dark Secrets Are His Peach Trees Hiding?’ It would be a nightmare.”

Someone snorts in laughter, and Draco is almost impressed when he realized it’s Longbottom. When he realizes everyone’s staring at him, his ears go red, “It – peach trees, get it? Because peach pit paste is the binding agent in the potion that – that sneakascopes get soaked in?” Longbottom looks at Draco, “That was the joke, right?”

“Yes, Longbottom, that was the joke.” Luna is looking at both of them and beaming. He wishes they were still kids so he could just steal her shoes whenever she got annoying.

Actually. He casually touches his hand to the wand hidden in his sleeve, and this charm is tricky to pull off without the wand movements, but – almost – and with a pop of magic Luna’s big eyes blink and she lets out a pleased laugh while Flitwick claps his hands. “Very well done, Mr. Malfoy!”

“What did he do?” Granger asks.

Luna twists herself in an improbable position so her feet are high in the air, “He vanished my shoes!”

Malfoy,” Potter hisses, a glare replacing his look of confusion, which at least makes him look more like a proper pureblood and less like a dunderhead. “Can you try and not to be a jerk for five minutes?”

He’s not about to justify or explain his relationship with his cousin to anybody, least of all Saint Potter. “Well I could try,” he drawls in the most obnoxious way possible. He addresses Minerva before anyone else has a chance to start yelling at him. “I submitted my lesson plans last week, have you had a chance to go over them?”

“They’re perfectly acceptable,” she says. “Although, weren’t you planning to make the sixth years make the Poor Man’s Faerie Dust next month?”

“I was,” he says, “but I couldn’t be sure some of them wouldn’t poison themselves on purpose out of spite. They’ll get the boring potions until I’m sure they’re not willing to maim themselves.”

She gets a pinched look on her face, and he knows she wants to say that he’s being ridiculous, but he’s really not. He’s certain there’s a Gryffindor student stupid enough to risk their own life if they think it’ll get him sacked, and he’s not eager to give them the opportunity. Before the silence can become awkward, Pomona pipes in with, “Well, I think growing and harvesting the ingredient yourself is a lovely idea! It’ll give the students a real sense of responsibility. We should partner up and see if the herbology classes can grow some of those for you.” She turns to Longbottom, “Neville dear, do sit down with Draco and figure out a schedule for what he needs, and when he needs it.”

Longbottom looks like he’s being sent to the gallows. Draco is more amused than anything else, which is a new development.

~

Draco is seated in front his vanity with his lesson plans spread out all around him and Theodore Nott glaring at him from his mirror. “I really don’t see what the problem is,” Draco says. His mother would be appalled if she could see the state of his hair, but Theo’s seen him scrambling to get ready for class in his underwear, so that air of mystery has been gone between them for about a decade.

“The problem,” Daphne says, pushing Theo out of the way so she takes up the majority of the mirror, “is that you didn’t tell us.” Honestly, the oddest relationship to come out of the war had been those two. Theo was the son of a sadistic Death Eater and Daphne was a Greengrass. So strange.

“I don’t see why I would,” he answers. “Do you care if I spend my days teaching snot nosed children how to make pepper up potion?”

“My family still has a Wizenmagot seat,” she reminds him, glaring. “If you’re preparing to take office, you should have told me! We can start softening up the other members for you.”

Daphne had always been able to see through all his bullshit. It’s one of the reasons he’d purposely not hung out with her much during school. “Why go through the effort? Neither the Greengrass nor the Nott families have an alliance with the Malfoys.”

“It’s not the twelfth century anymore, Draco,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Not everything is down to alliances and life debts.”

“Well, what is it down to then?” he demands, absently switching a couple lessons around to give the herbology students some room for error.

“Blood,” she says. Draco looks up sharply, because those are dangerous words without any context. “You do support the Blood Laws, don’t you?”

“Obviously,” he says.

She shrugs, “Good. Great Aunt Eliza does too.” Lady Eliza Greengrass is beautiful and scary – her and Rosamund had gone to Hogwarts at the same time, about thirty or so years before Albus Dumbledore. “Draco, give it fifty years and no one will care about this silly war. But you are Lord Malfoy, and with that titles comes a reputation and power that my family simply doesn’t have.”

“The Greengrass family has been a part of the House of Lords and Ladies far longer than the Malfoys,” he says, but she simply raises an eyebrow at him and he almost grins. “All right, I understand, I’m just saying.”

Theo squeezes back into the mirror to say, “Look, it’s not like anyone cares where you come from or when your family came over from France. You’re the son of Malfoy and Black, and when you speak people will listen. We did.”

“We were children, and I was an obnoxious pain in the ass,” he throws back. “Flattery doesn’t work when your target knows you’re lying.”

“You were an asshole,” Daphne agrees, and Draco rolls his eyes. “But you were fun, too. You were clever and ridiculous and charming and powerful. You still are. That’s more than enough reason for people to follow you.”

Draco stares at her for a long moment. Daphne has always been able to see through all his bullshit. He hadn’t expected her opinion to be anything close to positive. “Okay,” he says, and he has to clear his throat before he can continue, “flattery does work sometimes.”

Daphne’s grin is wicked. Underneath all the lace and manners, she is one of them, after all. “Now, we obviously can’t push for the Blood Laws immediately –”

Pip appears next to him with a quiet crack. “Master Draco,” she whispers, “Professor Potter is here for you.”

He sighs deeply. Maybe if he ignores him, he’ll go away? No, that’s never worked for anyone in twenty four years.

“Getting abandoned for Potter,” Theo says. “Now I really do feel like we’re back in school.”

“Sod off,” he grumbles. “We’ll talk later.”

“Looking forward to it!” Daphne says cheerfully before dragging Theo out of the mirror’s frame. Draco cancels the two-way charm and summons a sheet over the mirror for good measure before going to answer his door, charming his hair smooth as he goes.

He’s not sure what he’s expecting, exactly. Accusations of being an evil, a curse to the face, or maybe even for Potter to throw a punch. What he’s definitely not expecting is Potter awkwardly shuffling outside his door and fiddling with his shirt cuffs. “Hey, Malfoy,” he says, smiling automatically before remembering they don’t smile at each other and quickly forcing his face into an exaggerated frown. “I mean Draco – I mean – Professor?”

Honestly.

“Don’t hurt yourself, Potter,” he drawls, leaning against the door frame. “Call me whatever you like. You’ve never needed permission before.”

“Right,” he says, running his hand through his hair. Has he never heard of a grooming charm? Granger at least always manages to look respectable, and she has enough hair to make sweaters for several small impoverished countries. “I have a question.”

Draco waits. Potter continues standing there looking like he’d rather be anywhere else. "Yes?"

Harry rubs the back of his neck and won’t meet his eyes. “I wasn’t trying to see – it’s just, when you were cleaning floor, you had your – your sleeves were rolled up.”

Draco stares. Is Potter trying to tell him he’s aroused by his forearms?

“I saw your arm. There’s – are you using a charm to hide it?” Draco keeps staring. Harry gives an embarrassed shrug, “I didn’t think you could cover it is all.”

“Potter,” he says finally, “would you like to try that again, in English? Or French, or German, or Latin. My Japanese is pretty rusty, but we can get Luna in here if it means you’ll start making sense.”

“Your Dark Mark,” Potter snaps, flushing, and merlin, why couldn’t he have said that in the first place?

Draco sighs and neatly rolls the sleeve of his left arm up to his elbow, “Satisfied?”

Potter’s mouth parts in surprise. He absently takes Draco’s wrist in one hand and him closer so he can raise Draco’s arm up to see it better. He runs careful fingers over his unblemished skin, and Draco doesn’t consider himself to be overly pale, but there’s such a stark contrast between his colorless skin next to Potter’s.  “I saw it,” he says quietly, more to himself than Draco.

“It was just a muggle tattoo,” he says, and Potter’s eyes finally flicker up to his. They are standing far too close for propriety. “Just a needle and ink. My mother convinced Voldemort that it would be too much of a risk during our sixth year for his magic to be on me, and then he just – forgot, I don’t know.”

“Did it hurt?” Potter asks.

He’s probably asking about getting it, but he says, “I cut it out myself with a silver dagger as soon as we got home from the Battle of Hogwarts, because I’m an idiot. My parents aren’t well versed in healing spells, so I ended up brewing a healing potion myself that night. Dax was pissed.”

They are undoubtedly standing too close. “Dax?”

All it once it crashes down on Draco that this is Harry Potter, so of course he doesn’t know the name of the elf that’s served Malfoy Manor for three generations. He doesn’t know anything. He’s a selfish, pathetic excuse for a pureblood, and the last thing Draco needs to do is forget that even if they’re not enemies, they’ve certainly never been friends.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says, stepping back with his head tilted up just enough that he has to look down at Potter. “Is your curiosity satisfied? May I return to my work?”

“Oh,” he blinks, hastily stepping back as well. “Yes, of course. Sorry.”

Draco slams the door shut with an imperious eye roll, then leans back against it.

Must not forget that for all his other virtues, Potter is still a blood traitor. Must not forget.

~

Milly pops in front of him and says, “Misters Borgin and Burkes for you in the Great Hall, Master Draco.” It’s the day before the students are set to arrive, so they’re cutting it rather close. But he supposes that they managed to make his deadline at all is impressive enough.

“Excellent,” he says, grateful to shove aside the giant tome on spell theory Flitwick has assigned him. If he has to read another sentence about how wand movements correlate to voice volume, he's going to gouge his eyes out.

He sweeps into the great hall, but pauses at the entrance way. Borgin and Burkes are standing there in their best robes, spines straight and sneers on their lips, as they should be. But that certainly doesn’t explain why every other professor is standing there as well. “Did any of you need anything?” he says, and everyone’s eyes land on him.

“You didn’t say you were getting the desks from them,” Minerva says, and he can tell she’s two seconds away from throwing up her hands and walking out. This is her own fault. She knew exactly what he was like when she hired him.

“You got desks from an antique shop?” Granger questions.

Longbottom starts, “Oh, Hermione, no –”

“My husband and I,” Burkes says, glaring down at her, “are makers of magical objects, which is the service Lord Malfoy has employed us for.”

“This is brilliant!” Pomona beams. “What a wonderful addition to the castle.”

Borgin and Burkes soften. Pomona has that effect on people, and Draco doesn't even think she does it on purpose.

Draco is about to tell them all to scram, but, well, Borgin and Burkes could use an audience. It’s been too long since they’ve had one. “Very well,” he turns on his heel and walks away. “We best get started.”

He doesn’t look behind him, but he knows they’re all following him. He opens the door to potions classroom with a swish of his wand.

He’s spent the better part of the past week getting it ready, and the looks of surprise and admiration on everyone’s faces make it all worth it. The stones have been scrubbed until they gleam, and the floor is covered with a thin layer of magic to protect the castle’s stonework from absorbing any more spilled potions. It had taken Draco and Filius that better part of three days to work out the correct incantations, and every couple minutes the floor would spark and glitter with their magic. He’s banished all the candles and sconces, which had always been completely inefficient at providing enough light to work by anyway.

Instead, scattered across the ceiling are glass orbs containing suspended lumos charms, so a steady soft light fills the room. He’d sacrificed the entire left wall for a glass storage case to contain the dry ingredients, while the wet ones are kept in cabinets of darkly polished wood. The right wall is a series of intricate shelves that contain everything from the gold cauldrons needed for advanced potions, to motar and pestles, to the different stirring spoons and vials needed for varying potions. Draco has shoved all the unused books in the old storage closet and installed a safe in the very back for the truly dangerous ingredients, something he wouldn’t have thought to do if he hadn’t remembered the ridiculous polyjuice situation that Granger had gotten involved in during their second year.

He’s turned the dark and dank room into something bright and beautiful and glittering. Even Pansy had been impressed when he’d taken her mirror around. “Everyone up against the wall,” he commands. “Give them some room.” He temporarily cancels his and Filius’s charm on the floor to prevent it from interfering. They can recast it once this is over.

Everyone shuffles against the wall at the front of the classroom, doubling up when they run out of room. Borgin goes to one end of the room, and Burkes to the other. Burkes removes a stack of papers from inside his robe, and with a dramatic twirl of his wand all sixteen of them are arranged in neat rows on the ground. He raises his wand, “On my count. One, two –”

“Three,” Borgin finishes, and as one they move their wands in a complicated design, golden fire trailing from their wands. Each one of them is sketching one half of a celtic knot. Once it’s complete, they fling their wands forward and back like fishing poles so the designs collide into each other, and the force of their combined magic is so powerful that the castle shakes. The papers burn and expand, twisting until they become perfectly polished rectangles of obsidian. The sparks lengthen and grow until delicate threads of shining iron curl under the blocks of obsidian and raise them from the ground and grow into dainty legs. Once they stop expanding, the last sparks dance along the legs and sides of the desk top, inscribing runes into the surface.

Draco walks down the center aisle, running critical eyes over the desks. They are more beautiful than he imagined. He looks to the craftsmen and says, “Excellent work. As I expected.”

They give him shallow bows, “Thank you, Lord Malfoy. It’s always an honor to service the Malfoy family.”

“As it is our honor to be so serviced by those of unparalleled skill,” he returns. He casts a wordless summoning charm, and the matching stools he’d commissioned appear alongside the desks. Perfect.

“Wonderful,” Pomona says, “absolutely wonderful! Come with me, boys, I’ll show you two out.”

They leave with Sprout, the older woman still heaping compliments on them as they walk out the door. “That was amazing,” Longbottom says, and Draco decides to stop being surprised by Longbottom. At this rate, it can only become exhausting. “My gran has a china cabinet that’s magic made, and a few other smaller things. But sixteen desks! Incredible.”

“They’ll probably outlive all of us,” Draco agrees. “At least we won’t have any more life threatening potions accidents.”

“What do you mean?” Granger butts in, her fingers twitching like she wants nothing more than to run her hands over the desks. “What are those runes?”

“Protection,” Minerva says, and once again she’s looking at Draco like he’s not what she expected. “The obsidian and iron absorb excess magic to prevent it from affecting the potion, as well as acting like a low level cleansing charm so objects or ingredients that have been tampered with won’t be affected. The runes are for neutrality and protection. Should a potion explode, the magic of the explosion will be contained by the desks themselves.”

“But not the potion itself,” Draco points out. “Pomfrey will still be healing burns every week.”

“That’s really impressive,” Potter says earnestly. Granger elbows him in the side, and he winces but doesn’t look at her.

Filius pats Draco on the arm, which is the highest part of him he can reach. “Truly a work of art, Draco. The students will be thrilled.”

The students. Who are arriving tomorrow.

Right, brilliant. Draco can do this. He can handle a few hundred children.

It’s going to be fine.

Chapter Text

Draco wears his silk Slytherin green robes to the sorting. He knows the kind of attention it’ll draw, but he’s not ashamed of who he is, and he won’t allow his students to be either.

“This is my favorite part,” Filius says, straining to get a better look at the line of first years nervously walking into the great hall. “I love beginnings!”

He rolls his eyes. Flitwick may be brilliant, and one of his coworkers that he genuinely likes, but he’s also more than a bit odd. Draco scans the row of first years, and he has no problem picking out his cousin Markel who’s walking next to Marilyn, their heads held high. They’ll go to his house, no doubt. Luca Greengrass and the Ollivander girl follow behind, and Luca will likely be Slytherin as well. Every Ollivander since Hogwarts’s founding has gone to Ravenclaw, but that’s fine. Their family is loyal to the magic, and it always had been. No matter what side of the war they fall on, they never forget their duty.

The Flint twins will be sorted into Slytherin, of course. They’re impeccably mannered vindictive little brats, if Draco’s memory serves him correctly. There’s a Patil down there, and they’re always a wild card. There are two Brown cousins, and they’ll go to Gryffindor of course. He goes through the rest of the children, mentally ticked off family ties and house allegiances as he goes.

There are six children he doesn’t know. Halfbloods then, or muggleborns. There’s a boy that reminds him strongly of Pansy, but he knows all the Parkinson children and he would have heard if one had gone rogue and shacked up with a muggle, so he dismisses that out of hand. However, the Parkinsons and Carrows do share a common ancestor, and he wouldn’t be surprised at all if one of latter lost their marbles and got attached to a muggle.

“Pay attention,” Luna says, elbowing Draco as Pomona begins reading off the names.

There aren’t any surprises. The Patil goes to Hufflepuff, and Slytherin gets the Goyles, the Flints, Luca, plus three more children from respectable families and one of the kids he doesn’t recognize. Nine is a small class, but not reprehensible, he can work with nine – they’re only halfway through the sorting, but he’s not expecting any more. All the others are either allied directly against them, or too loyal to their family’s house to stray.

“Andrea Ollivander,” Pomona calls out, and Draco doesn’t even look up. She’ll provide a strong alliance for his snakes in Ravenclaw. She and Marilyn have been friends since they were toddlers, and it’s unlikely that either girl will throw that friendship away now.

“SLYTHERIN!”

Draco whips his head up. He’s not the only one to do so. The hall goes so silent you could hear a pin drop.

Andrea calmly takes off the hat and hands it to a wide eyed Pomona. She looks straight at Draco and inclines her head while going into a deep curtsey. Draco nods in return, mouth dry, and he cannot believe this is happening. This has never happened before. Ollivanders go to Ravenclaw, they always have. Marilyn shoves Markel down the bench to make room for Andrea, and at that the whole house comes alive, clapping to welcome to their new housemate. It sounds especially loud since everyone else has barely remembered to breathe.

“Merlin’s balls,” Luna says. “Even I didn’t see that coming. And I’m the divinations professor.”

“Oh, knock it off,” Granger snaps, and Draco glances at her and Potter. Neither of them understand what just happened, but it looks like at least they understand that they don’t understand. He’s not going to be the one to explain it to them. Let Longbottom take care of that.

Luna raises an eyebrow, “There are mystical forces beyond our control, Hermione. It does not do to be a disbeliever of the universe.”

Ever since she was a little kid, Luna has been able to say the stupidest shit with a completely straight face. She’s not clinically insane like Xeno, so Draco doesn’t know how much of the crap coming out of her mouth she actually believes. But, he knows his cousin well enough that’s it’s obvious to him that she’s messing with Granger right now. Granger doesn’t know that though, which makes it extra hilarious.

The rest of the sorting doesn’t go as expected. He gets two more of the unknown students, and one of the Abbott cousins, which is a surprise. They’re more flexible with their house allegiances, but they almost always end up in either Hufflepuff or Gryffindor, bringing up the total of his first year class to thirteen. That’s almost as many as they used to have before the first war.

Draco looks down the table at Minerva, and she seems incredibly pleased with herself. All the Slytherins keep glancing up at him like he’ll disappear if at least one of them isn’t looking directly at him.

Luna nudges him in the ribs and he almost smiles at her. It is, tentatively speaking, a massive success.

~

He strides into the Slytherin common room after the feast, and the seventy three students he’s now directly responsible for are assembled in neat rows. His thirteen new first years are in front and a group of decidedly unimpressed seventh years in the back, including one girl who’s outright glowering at him. He can’t decide if he’s impressed or offended.

“Hello,” he says, folding his hands behind his back. None of them respond, but he hadn’t expected them to. “Everyone from a noble house step to the other side of the room.”

There’s a moment of confused stillness, but then half of his students shuffle over to one side of the room. “Everyone who’s a pureblood step to the left wall.” Most of the rest walk over, leaving fourteen nervous children, including the three first years he hadn’t recognized. “Halfbloods to my left, muggleborns to my right.”

Six muggleborns, and eight halfbloods, but only four years shared between the muggleborns. He turns to address the halfblood group. “You will be judged for the actions of your parents. It’s unfortunate, and can’t be helped. But you are here now, and you are of magic. You were born to be right here, in this world and with these people.” He rubs the back of his neck, and it’s a sign of weakness, but it’s one that makes the kids instantly relax, which had been the whole point. “You know the line you walk better than most. Which is why it’s your job to help your muggleborn classmates. They’re being thrown into this world blind, and it is you alone who can explain it to them. You know both the world they come from, and the world they’re now a part of.”

Next, he looks to the noble children. He knows all of them of course, knows their parents and their lords and ladies. “We must not allow our muggleborn and halfblood brethren to fall behind and disgrace our house. They must be educated, because Slytherins are educated, and they’re one of us now. I require four volunteers to give up two hours a day three times a week.”

“I’ll do it!” Raina Lestrange says, determination in every line of her body.

Markel and Marilyn share a considering glance before they both step forward. “We’ll help!”

“Me as well,” Liam Parkinson says, subdued. He’s probably only doing it because he knows if he doesn’t, his Aunt Pansy will kill him. Draco understands the feeling intimately.

Draco inclines his head in thanks, then makes a sweeping gesture. “All of you back in one group.” They listen, mixing together once again, but more than a few of them are giving him strange looks. That’s fine. “Blood is important,” he says seriously, and the halfbloods and muggleborns flinch. “It is the very foundation of our society, the support structure to which our culture relies on.” He looks at all of their angry and scared faces. “You are all here by right of blood. Magic runs through your veins and makes it home in your heart. Some of you answer to Lords and Ladies who guard your family’s magic, some of you are from families who’ve always fulfilled your duties, and some of you have no ancient blood in your veins, are new and alone, adrift at sea.” He makes certain to look every muggleborn in the eye, because the halfbloods may know this, but he doubts the muggleborns do. “You are magic’s gift to this world. You were born of it and you will die by it, and there will always be a place for you here. But magic doesn’t come free, it doesn’t come cheap. It will take, and you must be willing to give.”

The purebloods are looking at him, something solemn and ancient in these children’s faces, because they have never forgotten their place in this world. Their families know their debt. Marilyn, the heir to the Goyle family, looks like she’s a moment away from crying, and Markel takes her hand.

Magic isn’t pretty. It’s isn’t nice. It isn’t easy. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention. The muggleborns and halfbloods don’t understand, not really, but that’s okay.

They will learn. Draco has no more patience for blood traitors, for betrayers, for those who take and do not give. Slytherins have always guarded the ancient ways, and no matter what those muggle loving fools like to think, they are needed now more than ever.

~

“How’d it go?” Pansy demands, crowding into his mirror. Draco twitches because his back is to the mirror and he’s mostly naked. He’s certain he’d left a sheet over his mirror for this very reason. “Did Liam behave?”

Well, it’s not like Pansy hasn’t seen him naked before. “It went fine,” he sighs, turning around. He freezes and glares, because Pansy isn’t alone in his mirror. “Hello, Lord Parkinson.”

“Lord Malfoy,” William says. He’s Pansy’s cousin (great uncle once removed, technically), and the old man is definitely laughing at him. He tries to decide what would be less dignified, scrambling into some clothes or continuing this conversation in his underwear. “I trust the children are well?”

Whatever. He’s pretty sure Lord Parkinson changed his diapers at some point anyway. “As well as can be expected, I suppose. We have thirteen first years.”

Pansy beams and a slow look of surprise and pleasure comes over William’s face. Draco’s glad to see it. He’s only a decade or so older than Lucius, but the cheerful man had begun to look worn since the war had ended. Things had gotten so much harder for them all after the war ended. “That is very good news.”

“We got an Ollivander,” he says. Pansy shoves her cousin up against the mirror in her excitement, and he can’t help but laugh at her.

“You’re lying!” she accuses, but her face is as bright and happy as he’s seen it since they were children. Pansy is remarkably pretty when she smiles. “They always go to Ravenclaw!”

William carefully pushes himself away from the glass and throws Pansy a fondly exasperated look. “Who is it?”

“Andrea, the wandmaker’s niece if I’m not mistaken. She’s the, uh,” he frowns and looks to Pansy. She knows the Ravenclaw families better than he does.

“Third cousin twice removed from Lady Ollivander, and a second cousin once removed to Lord Brown,” she answers promptly.

Both Draco and William stare at her. “The Ollivanders and Browns intermarried?”

“Third cousins, the youngest of their families at the time,” Pansy says dismissively. “Nothing to cause a scandal, unfortunately.” Pansy did love a good scandal. It’s probably why she's even better than Draco at tracking family lines. “Anyway, she’s not a prominent member of the Ollivander family, unless they plan to marry her to the son of the heir. Which rumor says they are, but nothing has been announced yet.”

“Oberon?” Draco says, raising an eyebrow. Future heir or not, Oberon is a funny looking kid. Nice, though, and he knows the Ollivanders are into that sort of thing.

Pansy must know what he’s thinking, because she smirks and says, “Now now, the Ollivanders are a wonderful, if strange looking, family.”

“Just the men,” William says dryly. “The women have always been quite lovely.” He gives Draco an appreciative once over, “We can’t all be Malfoys, after all.”

Draco does a little twirl, and Pansy dissolves into peals of laughter. “Being this pretty is a burden, but I suppose someone must bear it.”

William rolls his eyes, “Good night, Lord Malfoy.” He taps his wand to the glass and it shimmers like throwing a stone in a lake before it’s simply his mirror once more.

“Good night, Lord Parkinson,” he says, although the man is no longer able to hear him.

For the first time in a long time, things are looking up.

~

Draco can’t help but be smug when he swans in the next day and sees how exhausted the other heads of house look. The students from the other houses in varied states of harried sleep deprivation. His snakes, on the other hand, look perfectly presentable.

“Why are you so chipper?” Potter mutters, resting his chin on his hand in a horrible attempt to hide the fact that he’s moments away from falling asleep at the high table. “You must have been up half the night with your students like the rest of us. Or do Slytherins consider it beneath them to celebrate returning to school?”

His good mood is instantly halved. He takes his traditional seat between Luna and Filius. “Most things are beneath us, or so I’m told.”

Potter’s too tired to do more than glare at him, but it’s not like he’s the sharpest tool in the box to begin with. A strong hand grabs Draco’s wrist, and his eyebrows raise nearly to his hairline as twists and watches Longbottom press Draco’s hand to his face. “Neville!” Granger says, appalled.

Longbottom ignores her and looks down at Draco accusingly, still holding his hand hostage. “Cinnamon and mandrake! You rotten cheat!”

He smirks. “Oh, is intelligence cheating now? I suppose that’s why you’ve always been so honest.”

Potter snarls, but Longbottom only holds out his other hand. “Malfoy, Lord or not, if you don’t share I will drag you onto the grounds and strangle you. Custom be damned.”

This is the best conversation he and Longbottom have ever had. He should make sure he’s sleep deprived more often, “Did the ickle Hufflepuffs keep you awake all night?” As Pomona’s apprentice, Longbottom has rooms right next to hers, and therefore right next to the Hufflepuff common room.

“They were bloody screaming until four in the morning,” he confirms, glaring. “Hand it over!”

“Neville, what are you talking about?” Granger demands.

Luna leans her elbows on the table and shakes her hair over her shoulders to hide her grin. “Well, Draco is the Potions Master, isn’t he?”

“The bastard made pepper up potion for his house,” Longbottom explains.

Draco scoffs. “Don’t be ridiculous. I had the fifth years do it. They were more than happy for a jump on their extra credit.”

Draco,” Longbottom says warningly.

He rolls his eyes, “All right, all right, there’s no need to be so dramatic.” Filius snorts and Minerva develops a sudden cough, which Draco ignores. He reaches into his robs with the hand Longbottom isn’t holding onto, and with a twirl and pull of his wand, a vial drops out of the air and into Longbottom’s waiting hand.

He uncaps the it and downs it all in one long gulp. He instantly looks refreshed. “That was three doses,” Draco feels the need to point out.

Longbottom finally lets go of his hand and returns the vial, which Draco vanishes back to his classroom. “Excellent. Now I just might be able to make it to lunch.”

“Sure, Longbottom,” he says, finally reaching for his teacup. “Just don’t come crying to me when you cough smoke for the next week.”

Longbottom frowns, and the man is well on his way to attaining a herbology mastery. He should be well aware of the effect of consuming too much powdered bicorn horn. “Call me Neville,” he says, jutting up his chin like he’s daring Draco to refuse. “We’ll save the last names for when we’re serving in the House together.”

He stares, and it’s not like it’s a bad idea. Draco’s on a first name basis with the man’s grandmother after all, and, despite appearances, Augusta can’t actually live forever, so one day her grandson will take her place and become Lord Longbottom. But Augusta knows better than to let a war get in the way of tradition. Then again, there’s war and there’s years of petty bullying, and oddly Draco figures one is harder to get over than the other. Look at Snape.

Actually, comparing him to Snape is a disservice to both of them so Draco puts the whole idea out his head and says, “Don’t be ridiculous, Neville. Augusta is going to outlive both of us.”

~

Draco arrives late to his first class of the day because he can, and to be honest he just wants to see what they’ll do when they’re left alone for fifteen minutes. It’s Gryffindor and Slytherin third years, so he’s half expecting his classroom to be destroyed when he walks inside.

Instead it’s dead silent. The houses appear to be having a staring contest, which is ridiculous, but at least not destructive. He can’t tell if he’s disappointed or not. “Gather your belongings and stand up,” he orders. The Slytherins obey instantly. The Gyffindors take three times as long, but Draco doesn’t give them the satisfaction of repeating himself. “One Gryffindor and one Slytherin to a desk. You have thirty seconds to pick your seats before I pick them for you.”

There’s a moment of stunned silence from both sides.

He raises an eyebrow. “Now you have twenty seconds.”

Raina runs to the middle desk in the front row, uncaring of who sits beside her. The rest of his Slytherins exchange quick glances, then they all take the left spot on the desks. The weakest of them sit in the front, and strongest to the back to keep an eye on the rest. There’s a reason Draco sat at the back of every class, and while he wishes this wasn’t something his students felt the need to do, he’s glad to see that they’re still looking out for each other. The Gryffindors, as expected, spend fifteen seconds looking indignant and then randomly throw themselves into whatever seat’s available at the last moment.

“Congratulations,” he says, “The person sitting beside you is your lab partner for the rest of the year.”

Raina looks horrified. She turns to glare at the cringing redheaded boy next to her, who is obviously a Weasley, and it would be completely unprofessional for Draco to laugh at her, but he’s sorely tempted.

“Now,” he claps his hands together, “I’d introduce myself, but you all know who I am. To start,  put your cauldrons away, and take out a notebook. Potions isn’t charms, or transfiguration. It’s dangerous and one wrong move could end in you blowing up my classroom. I will be very cross if you blow up my classroom.”

Gryffindors and Slytherins alike are glaring at him, so that’s a start. All except Raina, who sits with her quill poised and ready.

He’s sending Rosamund a fruit basket. Thank merlin for the Lestranges.

~

He has a stack student schedules in front of him, trying to figure out a period of time that works for all of them. He considers adding in the halfbloods, but it’s not worth the effort. They grew up with it, at least in part, so he’ll let them know they’re allowed to sit in on the lessons, but won’t require it. Once a week he’ll lead the lesson, and the other two sessions he’ll leave up to the purebloods to tell the muggleborns what they think they ought to know. Considering all the purebloods who volunteered are also from noble families, it’ll be a good test of their leadership skills.

He considers opening it the other houses, but decides against it. The Gryffindors will be sure sabotage it, and it’s not like he can allow everyone but them to join. He may recommend to Pomona and Filius that they consider starting one. It’s foolish to think children will pick up on traditions and duty on their own when there a plenty of adults that don’t follow them.

He’s still turning it over in his head when he sits down in the great hall for lunch. He leans around Luna to ask Minerva, “Are there any empty classrooms I can take over?” He doesn’t want to hold it in his potions classroom because they shouldn’t get used to doing non-potions work there and risk them getting careless during class. Being careless around potions ends in explosions.

She sighs, and he doesn’t know what he’s done to evoke that reaction. “Any particular reason?”

He considers lying, not because he thinks Minerva will care, but because he knows Granger’s going to kill him. Well, she had to find out about it eventually. “I’m holding classes for the muggleborns.” Granger manages to hold herself back, but they’re going to have this argument anyway, so he tacks on, “They’ll never marry into good families if they stay ignorant.” Which isn’t untrue. The best thing a muggleborn can do is marry into a noble family. Back before these ridiculous wars that’s exactly what they did, and the families were more than delighted to accept new blood into the line. Fuck, it’s what Lily Evans did.

“Excuse me?” Granger spits, and at least they’re having this argument where there are a couple hundred witnesses. She probably won’t Avada Kadavra him in the middle of lunch.

Neville is a future Lord, so Draco knows he understands the necessity of educating the muggleborns, but he slinks down in his seat anyway, shooting Draco an utterly betrayed look. Honestly, if he’d thought Draco had become any less of an asshole, then that’s his problem. “I won’t have uneducated children in my house, and parents can’t teach them what they need to know. Besides,” he sniffs, “that’s what Muggle Studies used to be before Dumbledore made the brilliant decision to switch to it to being about teaching wizards about muggles, an utterly worthless pastime.”

“Knowing about muggles isn’t worthless,” she insists, glaring.

He prepares himself for an argument. Whenever he’s around Granger, he should probably be prepared for an argument. “What can I, an adult wizard, learn from muggles?”

“Electricity,” she says, “Inventions, ingenuity, science – biology! There’s so much wizards don’t know, and you stand there, so smug in your ignorance, and have the audacity to call us the uneducated ones!”

Luna and Neville won’t look at either of them, and Draco doesn’t blame them for it. Granger is their friend, but she’s also wrong. Surprisingly, it’s Pomona that says, “Marina de la Cruz froze a lightning bolt out of the sky and used it to develop the first stages of the lumos charm in the year three hundred forty five before common era.”

“The first complete mapping of the human body was done by a mediwizard in the year two hundred seventeen common era,” Fillius adds, a single bushy eyebrow raised, “What is it, exactly, that you believe your own kind to be lacking in?”

“Because just to be clear,” Draco cuts in firmly, “you are not a muggle. You’re a witch. In case you’ve forgotten.”

Granger’s gone from red faced to pale, and that can’t be healthy. By the look in Potter’s face, this is all news to him too. Despicable. The son of James Potter doesn’t know anything about who he is, about his family or his world. This is precisely why they need the Blood Laws.

He takes a deep breath and gentles his voice, because for once he’s not actually trying to be cruel to her. “There’s a lot that you don’t know, Granger. Because no one thought to tell you. Sure, you read about the history of Hogwarts, were probably the only one to pay attention in history of magic. But goblin wars and the history of witch burnings are interesting, and important, especially if you’re planning to go into politics.” Which he’s fully aware Granger intends to do. They’ll probably end up serving on Wizengamot together. “Do you know why your boyfriend and I never got along?”

“Husband,” she corrects acidly. “Because you’re a self centered, cruel hearted bastard who cares for no one but himself?”

“Miss Granger!” Minerva says, appalled, but Draco raises a hand to silence her. Granger doesn’t know the insult she’s delivered, so he won’t hold it against her. Besides, Granger is vicious when she feels attacked. If she’d been marked as Voldemort’s nemesis, the dark lord would have been dead by the time they took their OWLS.

He leans his elbow on the table and sets his chin on his hand, “We have a three centuries long blood feud. On top of that, the Weasleys are officially recognized as blood traitors.” He directs his next words to Neville, “I’m surprised Augusta allowed you to be friends.”

Neville glares at him for dragging him into this, but Draco only raises an eyebrow. He’s going to be Lord Longbottom someday; he has to at least acknowledge his odd alliances. The House will eat him alive otherwise. “She said that we had more pressing concerns besides blood,” he says reluctantly, “and that they were still purebloods besides – it’s not like they married muggles or anything.” As soon as it comes out his mouth, he goes red, “Hermione, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Don’t apologize,” Draco commands, “She’s not a muggle, why should she be offended?”

“My parents are muggles!” she says, pushing herself to her feet with her wand gripped in her hand. The students are going to start noticing if she doesn’t calm down. “There’s nothing wrong with being a muggle!”

“Of course not,” he says, and she’s so surprised that she actually sits down again. Good. “There’s nothing wrong with dogs being dogs either, or dragons being dragons, or centaurs being centaurs. But it is what they are. It’s the way they were born and the way they will die. And you, Granger, are no different. You were born a witch and you will die a witch and its high time you started acting like it.”

There’s a dead silence at the table, and everyone is looking at him. Bloody hell, he’d just wanted lunch. “Is there a classroom I can use?” he repeats, looking back to Minerva.

She hesitates, but nods. “There’s a spare room at the base of the East tower. Feel free to use that.”

“Thank you.” He looks down at his roasted duck, but everyone’s still starring at him, and honestly he’s not even hungry anymore. “Excuse me,” he says, getting to his feet. “I’ve lost track of time.”

He can feel their eyes on him as he walks away just as clearly as he can feel a headache building behind his eyes.

He needs a drink. Thank merlin it’s Friday.

~

Draco makes it through the rest of the day. As soon as his last class lets out, he floos Blaise, who is his friend for a multitude of reasons, but mostly for the way he takes one looks at Draco’s face and says, “Get back,” before stepping through the flames.

“I just wanted to talk,” he says but Blaise pulls him into a tight hug. Shit. He must look miserable. “It’s not that bad.”

“Muggles got you in a mood?” he asks, pressing a kiss to Draco’s temple. Blaise is rarely that affectionate in private, so he can’t help but smile.

“It’s not the muggles,” he says, “If only.”

Blaise pulls back and throws another handful of floo powder in the fire. “Pansy Parkinson.”

“This really isn’t necessary,” he says, but he’s ignored.

Pansy’s head appears in the fire, and she gives them both a quick once over before saying, “I expected this,” and stepping through his fire with two bottles of high quality firewhiskey in her hands.

“This really isn’t necessary,” he tries again, but Pansy bites the cork off of one of the bottles and hands it to him while walking over to bounce onto his bed. The bottle is smoking. Blaise takes off his shoes and jacket before following her.

It would be impossible for him to count the days he’s spent lying around his rooms, both at the manor and Hogwarts, in a messy pile of limbs with Blaise and Pansy, and they haven’t done it in a long time. So, he puts aside any other protests he can drudge up and shoves Pansy over so he can fit onto his own bed.

He snaps his fingers and Milly appears in front of him. She smiles at the sight of them all before she schools her face into a neutral expression. He won’t hold it against her. He’s aware they look ridiculous. “Yes, Master Draco?”

“Two bottles from my private stock,” he orders in between swigs of the firewhiskey. “Dax will know the ones, he’ll show you.”

“Yes, Master Draco,” she says before disappearing.

Pansy rolls over so she can hook her chin over his hip, “How’s your army of house elves?”

He groans and charms the firewhiskey out of the bottle so he doesn’t embarrass himself trying to drink from it while lying down. Blaise pokes at his side impatiently, so he directs the stream of smoking alcohol in his direction first. “Lovely, actually. Having seventy three spoiled, needy brats to care for is the best thing that’s ever happened to them.”

“I’m sure all the latent magic around here doesn’t hurt either,” Blaise says dryly, lifting his wand to direct the stream over to Pansy.

Draco pouts, but she only shifts enough to take two unreasonably large swallows of the firewhiskey before finally allowing Draco his turn. “Well, they certainly haven’t complained.

“They’re good elves,” Blaise says approvingly, “Very loyal, especially now that they have a Master worth being loyal too.”

Draco drinks instead of responding to that, and Blaise sighs but doesn’t push.

Milly returns with two bottles of iceberry wine. “Nice,” Blaise says, and snags both bottles. “Very good,” he tells Milly, who beams before vanishing.

“Have you been holding out on us?” Pansy demands, twisting herself upright so she can steal one of the bottles from Blaise. “I’ve been in your wine cellar, and I would have remembered these.”

“They’re from Russia, I got them the last time I was there,” he says. “They came highly recommended.”

She uncorks the bottle, and wine needs to settle they aren’t barbarians, except Pansy apparently is, because she tips back the bottle and takes one long gulp. Draco’s appalled, but Blaise just looks impressed. “That’s delicious,” she declares, then snatches the other bottle away from Blaise, “These are mine now.”

Draco and Blaise catch each other’s eyes and grin. They discovered Pansy’s weakness at her seventh birthday party, and are fully prepared to take advantage of it to reclaim their wine.

They attack with tickling fingers, and she curses them out loudly enough that Draco’s grateful he thought to put silencing charms on his rooms.

~

It’s well past midnight and all three of them are thoroughly sloshed when Bip appears next to them and says, “You is having a visitor at your door, Master Draco.”

“Is it a student?” he slurs, because he’s enjoying being drunk and he’s not going to cast a sobering charm if he doesn’t have to. Also, he’s lost his shirt at some point during the night, and he’s going to have to try and find it if it’s a student.

Bip shakes his head.

“Excellent,” he continues, standing up and then grabbing onto the side of his bed for balance. Pansy laughs at him, but he ignores her. He’s assuming it’s Luna, because coming and irritating him in the middle of the night is one of her favorite pastimes. It’s a good thing he doesn’t need a lot of sleep.

He flings the door open, “Luna, do you ever sl-”

It’s not Luna.

“Hello, Draco,” Granger says stiffly, face flaring red. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to – to interrupt.”

He waves a hand and leans against the doorway, “Don’t worry about it. You didn’t interrupt anything.” He wonders if she can see Blaise and Pansy from the doorway, and if so how long it will take the rumors to start floating around again – well, no, again would imply that they ever really stopped. “What do you want?”

She swallows, clearly steeling herself for something, and dread pools in the bottom of Draco’s stomach. “I want to join your muggleborn classes.”

He blinks. That hadn’t been what he was expecting. “What?”

“You say I’m uneducated,” she bites out, “so educate me. I love learning, I’ll pick it up. Teach me.”

Of all the – “You love knowing, not learning, those are two different things,” he says, because he’s heard a hundred people say Granger should have been a Ravenclaw, and every time he’s thought that none of those people could have possibly met her. “Also, are you insane? I’m busy enough as it is. Have Neville teach you, he knows it all.”

He moves to close the door on her, and she shoves it back open. “Neville won’t do it! Or he will, but he’ll be too worried about hurting my feelings, and him and Ron are the same, they don’t know what I don’t know, what I’m missing. They just assume that I have all the same knowledge they do, but I don’t.”

“That was my point,” he says, and not for the first time he understands how this woman helped end the war. She’s terrifying. “No talking back to me in front of my Slytherins. If you think I’m being a bigoted prick, and I assure you that you will, you keep it to yourself until we’re alone. Understand?”

“Yes,” she says, and she looks so unbearably smug that Draco instantly regrets giving in to her. She turns on her heel and walks away without another word, head held high.

Draco sighs and closes the door. Blaise and Pansy are staring at him. “Making deals with the devil?” Blaise asks.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Draco grabs the nearest bottle, intent on draining it. “The devil’s far more reasonable than Hermione Granger.”

“Amen,” Blaise mutters, and it’s so ridiculous, the words so foreign on his tongue and in the air that they all break down laughing.

It’s going to be fine. Everything will be fine. He survived Voldemort in his home, he can survive Hermione Granger.

Chapter Text

Draco wishes he could say he’d seen this coming.

“What the hell is this?” he demands, looking at his sixth years with just enough despair that they shuffle and look at their feet. Liam doesn’t, but then again he had at least managed an Acceptable mark. “I know over half your families, and I know they’ve been training you in the dark arts, which certainly means they’ve trained you in the defense of them as well.” He’s a step away from channeling his mother and tapping his foot.

“None of do well in Defense, Professor,” Nikole says eventually, and he’d always been bull headed and stubborn enough that if his family line wasn’t so loyal to Slytherin, he would certainly have been a Gryffindor. “Well, the mudbloods do all right, but the rest of us – not so much.”

“Language,” he says absently, because he’s an absolute moron, of course his snakes are failing Defense. He supposes he should count himself lucky that they’re not doing the same with Arithmancy. He crosses his arms and huffs, “This is unacceptable.”

“Yes,” they all say at once, because they know. He assumes this is a problem his whole house is having. This is really a conversation he should be having with all of them.

He considers talking to Potter about it for half a second, but dismisses the idea just as quickly. Self-centered, dunderhead Scar Head will only make matters worse. “Okay,” he says, more to himself than them. He can’t do this on his own. If he tries, it will inevitable cause some other part of his life to fall to pieces. “I’ll figure something out,” he says. “Spread this to the other years, all right? Make sure one of you is attends class and takes diligent notes, but beyond that I don’t care if you bother to show up. Make sure I receive a copy of all these notes. Understand?”

“Yes sir,” Liam says. They’re all looking at him again, the same way the old families have started looking at him, and it makes the back of his neck itch.

He gives them a sharp nod and leaves, head spinning.

Given the choice, he’d get Millicent Bulstrode to do it. She’d always been right behind him in terms of marks, and was terrifying enough that none of his snakes would dare step out of line. But he doesn’t even want to think about how much of a headache it would be to get permission to be on the grounds without either Granger or Potter catching scent of it.

Instead, he stomps his way down to the greenhouse, scowling. He bangs open the door and says, “I need a favor.”

Neville looks up at him and wilts. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“Well,” Draco considers, “It will give you more chances to ogle my cousin. Something I’ve been politely ignoring, by the way.”

Neville turns bright red and flings the Strangling Vine in his hands at Draco, who quickly ducks out of the way and out of the greenhouse.

He’ll take that as a tentative yes.

~

Maybe it’s a mistake to ask Neville to teach his Slytherins, but he doesn’t think it is. Neville, like Potter, fought in the war and against many of the old families. Neville, unlike Potter, is a respected Heir who doesn’t give off the same razor sharp energy, the same – Potter probably likes to think he’s a pacifist, and he is, in a way. But the years he spent as an Auror are legendary. He did everything with a single-minded intensity that was both impressive and terrifying, from all accounts.

Of course his snakes can’t concentrate in Defense, of course they check out and don’t pay attention and skip class. How many of them have family that died in the war, how many of them heard the rumors of how the Slytherins were treated and demonized, how many of them experience the brunt of that very same prejudice even now?

Draco knew Potter back when he was nothing more than a goody-two-shoes brat, he knows what he looks like spitting up pumpkin juice and after losing a match, remembers him with ink stains on his face from falling asleep on his assignments. He knows that Potter is, at his core, an annoyingly powerful wizard who means well, but is, ultimately, a moron.

But the kids don’t know that. All they know is how they and their families have been treated, all they know is the stories they were told. So of course they don’t want to sit in a classroom and be taught defense by Potter. Each of them believes the man would be equally willing to turn his wand on them as he was Voldemort.

Never mind that Potter was never all the eager to face Voldemort, all the way to the bitter end.

They are children, and children hardly thrive on logic. They belive that one of their professors not only cares nothing for them, but perhaps even wants them dead. It certainly explains Raina’s reaction when he’d first met her at the party. Draco knows that it’s not true, that at his very worst Potter is just an idiot. He’s not malicious, especially to kids.

But these children are under his protection now, so he needs to fix it. Since he can’t go and have an honest conversation with him about this, he almost wishes Potter would take his title like a proper pureblood so he could challenge him to a duel and be done with it. In lieu of that, there’s showing them that not all Gryffindors, not all war heroes, are Harry Potter.

If he could, he’d show them that Harry Potter himself isn’t even that terrible, that spiteful.

But maybe he’s wrong. It’s been a long time since they shared a classroom, and people change.

Draco certainly did.

~

The night of the first muggleborn class, he and Granger arrive at the classroom at the same time. He holds the door open for her, and she glares at him like it’s a trick.

It’s not. He’s just holding open a door, for merlin’s sake.

“After you,” he says pleasantly, “I insist.”

She rolls her eyes but steps inside. He just barely restrains himself from sighing.

“Children,” he greets. Liam snorts. His four purebloods and six muggleborns are already there. Excellent. “Professor Granger will be joining us for the foreseeable future. Please speak freely. While she is in these lessons with us, she will neither issue detention nor take away points. Isn’t that right, Professor?”

“Yes, Professor Malfoy,” she says, nose upturned just the slightest bit at him. It’s a pity she hates them all so much. She’d have fit in quite well with her attitude. “That is correct.”

“Excellent,” he says, and looks to the purebloods. “Now, which of you will be leading today’s lesson?” Markel and Marilyn blanche and Raina looks worried, but Liam slides down in his seat because he knows what’s coming. “Liam, thank you so much for volunteering.” That’s what the brat gets for showing him attitude. The kid was born when Draco was a first year, and he remembers Liam’s mother shoving the baby into his hands at one of Narcissa’s garden parties and then laughing at his panicked fumbling. Payback is sweet.

Liam drags himself to his feet, managing to give the impression of slouching even while his back remains perfectly straight. There’s a vague possibility that the kid picked that up from him, actually. “Where should I start, Professor?”

“Wherever you think is most relevant,” Draco says. Just because he’s an adult doesn’t mean he’s not an asshole.

Liam narrows his eyes like he agrees, then lets out a long sigh. The muggleborns look apprehensive, all except fifth year Georgiana. She looks like she wants to spit on him, which he approves of in theory. If she actually did it, then that would be a different matter. “Very well then,” he says. “I don’t suppose anyone has any questions I can address?” Granger’s hand shoots into the air. Liam blinks, clearly having not expected that, and Draco doesn’t laugh at him. “Uh, yes, Professor?”

“What’s with this whole lord thing?” she demands. “I tried looking it up, but all I could find was that they were the heads of powerful families.”

“Well, that’s it really,” Liam says. “If you’re the head of a family that’s part of the House, then you’re a Lord. Or Lady.”

“House?” she asks. “Like Hogwarts house?”

Liam stares. “No. The House of Lords and Ladies. It’s uh,” he frowns, “it’s like the Wizengamot if the Wizengamot fails, you know?”

Draco is so glad he never has to grade any of Liam’s essays.

“That’s a terrible way to put it!” Raina glares. “Before we had the Ministry, we had Lords and Ladies who cared for us. We pledged our allegiance to them, our land and our blood, and in return they gave us their protection.”

“So it’s an old government system?” Niles asks, a second year muggleborn who had the highest marks in Divination in his year. Draco doesn’t know if that’s because he actually has a talent for it, or if it’s just because Luna like him.

Liam winces and Raina looks appalled. Draco decides to put them out their misery. “All right, sit down,” he says, rising to his feet and taking Liam’s place. He pulls his wand from his robes, “That was an excellent question, Professor Granger, and a solid place to start.” She glares. He isn’t being sarcastic. “The muggle world is a world based on a system of laws that are decided upon by muggles and then enforced by other muggles. As such, this system of laws and the manner in which they are decided varies by culture, time period, and place.”

He drags his wand across the air and five small golden people appear. “The magical world has never functioned this way. We have different languages, different cultures, different spells, different values. But across the world our underlying political system has been the same.” He flicks his wand, and the five golden figure bow, “We all have a House of Lords and Ladies, although it goes by different names. Heads of noble families used to perform the same role Wizengamot currently does. We would convene to discuss issues, vote on laws and regulations, and put on trial those who break our laws. That changed a couple hundred years ago.” He doesn’t bother to keep the contempt out of his voice, “We were replaced by the Wizengamot. For a long time, all Lords and Ladies were guaranteed political seats, as is our due. Albus Dumbledore spearheaded and passed a law so that we would have to be voted into our positions, which was of course the beginning of our downfall.”

“What do you mean?” Granger asks. “Isn’t that a good thing? Why should people be given political positions just because they were born?”

“Most of the muggle world relied on a familial monarchy system for a few thousand years, if I’m not mistaken,” he says dryly. “But Lords and Ladies must do more than simply be born.”

She scoffs, “Like what? Bow all nice and pretty and not upset your parents, and you too will get to be rich and successful?”

“You’re wrong,” Marilyn says, and Draco raises an eyebrow. The eleven year old is glaring at Granger, and Marilyn may be fairly outspoken within the family, but not in front of strangers. “My father is Lord Goyle, and I am the Heir to our family, but I might not become Lady Goyle. That’s not something me or my parents get to decide.”

“Who decides then?” Granger asks, softening her voice now that she’s speaking to a student.

Draco holds out his wand, “Did you choose your wand, Granger? Did you pick one up and declare that this was the one for you and take it home?”

“Of course not,” she snaps. “The wand chooses the wizard. Or witch.”

“Yes,” Markel says. He’s speaking to her like she’s stupid, which isn’t appropriate behavior, but it’s funny so Draco’s not going to call him on it. "Exactly. The magic chooses you. Just like the magic chooses our Lords and Ladies.”

What? That doesn’t make any sense!”

The purebloods look at her, then slowly slide their gazes to him, disbelief on their faces. “Be nice,” he admonishes, “they didn’t grow up like we did.” He turns to Granger, “My father is still alive, yet I am Lord Malfoy. Because the magic rejected him.” His father, who attended every meeting, who guarded their traditions, who taught Draco to ride a broom and read him bedtime stories , and who the magic declared unworthy. It’s not like he doesn’t understand why, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. “It chose me,” he says, and he knows this is hard for outsiders to understand, but it’s so simple to the rest of them. “The magic chose me, and here I am. Just as it chose James Potter, just as it chose Augusta Longbottom, just as I’m sure it will choose Neville to take her place. It’s extremely likely that Heirs will become Lords, but it’s not a guarantee. “

Granger is staring at him, but says nothing. Finally, Niles asks, “But what does being a Lord mean?”

“Borrowed, not given. Earned, not taken,” Liam says, looking serious for the first time. “Magic isn’t nice. It’s dangerous, and people like to pretend that it’s only dark arts that lash out at you, but that’s not true. The root of all magic is the same, and it can all turn its back at you. If you, if any of you did something,” he looks to the muggleborns, “if you made the magic mad, summoned something that shouldn’t have been summoned, or made an inadvisable oath, you would be the one who would suffer the consequences.”

“Purebloods are protected from that,” Raina says quietly. “We suffer magical injuries, of course, but nothing truly terrible, nothing that would curse our children, nothing that would mean the end to our lines, our land, or our blood.”

Georgianna throws up her hands, clearly fed up with all of them. “Why?”

“Because Lords and Ladies paint great big targets on our backs,” Draco say, and everyone shifts to look at him. “We are the root of our family’s magic. Should someone under my protection, be it someone that shares my noble blood or simply a member of a family who has sworn fealty to my family, incur the magic’s wrath, then I will be the one it attacks. I have the strength of my family’s magic, of generations of excellent breeding and tradition and sacrifice on my side, and it is likely that I will survive it while those under my protection would not. But surviving it remains my burden, not theirs.”

“I’m a Goyle and a Malfoy,” Markel says quietly, eyes bright, “I’m doubly protected. If for some reason I made the magic mad and Lord Goyle couldn’t protect me, Professor Malfoy would.”

He can see they still don’t understand, can see Granger thinks they’re off their rocker, so he says, “If Potter had had a Lord when Voldemort tried to kill him, he wouldn’t have gotten that cursed scar. James Potter would have gotten the backlash, and it probably would have killed him, but Harry wouldn’t have it, understand? Those types of curses are the things having a lord protects you against.” He considers this, and the prophecy has become common knowledge in the years since the war, so he doesn’t feel bad about adding, “That’s probably why Voldemort didn’t go after Neville, actually.”

Granger’s so frustrated she’s red. He can’t even enjoy it because they’ve said it so plainly, how can she not understand? She stands and slams her hands on the counter, “What are you talking about?”

The children jump, and trade little grins, because if nothing else seeing their cool and calm Arithmancy professor lose her temper is absolutely worth the lost hours from their afternoon.  Draco takes a deep breath, and forces himself to try being patient for once.

“Voldemort,” Markel says, surprising Draco and speaking with a renewed urgency, “explain it to them using Voldemort.” One of his favorite things that have happened since the war is that people aren’t afraid to use his name anymore.

Marilyn stares. “Cousin?”

“Tell them what he wasn’t,” Markel says, “so they know what we are.”

Raina and Marilyn trade confused looks. “What are you talking about?”

He looks to Draco, who raises a hand, “No, I understand.” It’s not something they like to talk about, any of them, but Markel is right.

Lord Voldemort,” Granger says, considering, “Heir of Slytherin.”

Draco’s lips thin, but he nods. “Yes. Now – now okay,” he waves his wand and a dozen silver figures pour out from the end of it. “There is a connection, between lords and their vassals, right?” Silver strings connect the silver figures to one of the gold figures. “It’s a one way connection. I know when they die, and it’s by this connection that my magic can protect them if, and only if, they do something to initiate the,” he pauses, because there has to be words for this, language for something that Draco has carried with him his entire life, but he can’t think of it.

“It’s like the protective wards around Hogwarts,” Liam says. “They’re always there, but they’re inactive until something triggers them. A lord’s magic won’t affect anyone it’s connected too unless that person’s magic triggers it. Then all it does is protect that person. That’s how the connection between lords and vassals is supposed to work.”

Draco nods his thanks. “Yes, exactly. Voldemort was not a lord. He did not serve in the House of Lords and Ladies, he had no vassals, and, most importantly, blood of Slytherin or not, the magic didn’t choose him. People could swear fealty to him from dawn until dusk, and the magic still wouldn’t take notice. So, what he did was he created the dark mark. Something that’s almost like the connection shared by lords and their people, except for all the ways in which it is nothing like it, of course.”

“Voldemort wanted to be a lord really badly,” Raina says quietly, “but the magic knew, it knew better than all of us, and it was never going to recognize him.”

The muggleborns looks solemn and even Granger has gone contemplative rather than combative. “What does being a lord really mean?” she asks. “Politically speaking.”

Oh, merlin. All the purebloods slump in their seats, and Draco points his wand at them. “Don’t even think about it, up you go. I’m not writing out the family trees and alliances of all the pureblood families on my own. Think of it like a pop quiz.”

The four of them are glaring at him, but they drag themselves to their feet and begin drawing out the current blood maps. Draco could conjure the self-updating one he has in quarters, but the last thing he needs is a reputation of being nice.

It’s easier after that. Explaining alliances and duties and blood feuds are something they’re all used to doing. Those concepts that change and have to be re-explained so at least there’s a language for it.

Granger doesn’t say anything else for the rest of the lesson, letting the muggleborn kids ask all the questions. She does keeps staring at him however, which is more than a little unnerving.

~

When he wakes up at three in morning to someone sitting on his legs, he doesn’t even have to open his eyes to check. He knows exactly who it is. “Luna,” he groans, arm thrown over his eyes, “couldn’t this have waited until dawn? At least?”

“Hermione came and told me about the lesson you gave,” she says, which means the answer to his question is a very firm no. “I’d never thought of it, before, but – my mom never declared fealty to your family, did she?”

He lowers his arm and opens his eyes. It’s too dark to see her face, and he can’t reach his wand without her getting off of him, which she clearly doesn’t plan on doing. “No,” he says, “she didn’t.”

“And she’d renounced her family in Japan,” she continues, and Draco really wishes he could see her face. “So she didn’t have a lord or lady, did she?”

“No,” he repeats, “she didn’t. But Luna, my father did consider her family, as did I. Just because she didn’t swear loyalty doesn’t mean she wasn’t one of us.”

“The magic didn’t, though.” It’s hard to tell just from her legs on his legs, but he thinks she might be shaking. “The magic didn’t think she belonged to anyone. Is that – is that why she,” Luna pauses and takes a deep breath. When she speaks again she sounds like when she was four years old, back when they were kids and before the second war tore everyone apart all over again. “Do you think if she’d had a lord she still would have died?’

Draco closes his eyes. He wants to say yes, to say nothing on this earth could have spared her mother, wants to spare Luna the wondering and the wanting. “I don’t know,” he says, keeps his voice quiet and gentle in the darkness between them. “I don’t know what spell she used, if it was something that our family magic could have saved her from, or if it was just something small, something that was terrible enough to kill her but not something that would have triggered our protective magic.”

“Oh,” Luna says, then sniffs, and dear merlin he hates it when she cries.

He pushes himself up and pulls her into his chest, tries to hug her like his father used to hug him. Lucius was tall and strong and safe. For all his other faults, his father loved him and protected him, and maybe his home life wasn’t always easy, but he never doubted that he was loved. He tries to hug Luna like that, tries to let her know by his arm around her waist and hand cradling the back of her head that she’s not alone.

He doesn’t know if he’s successful, if that’s still something you can say with a hug when you’re not children anymore, but she clings to him even as her tears drip down his neck, so he figures it’s not a total loss.

~

He should be using his free period to grade the truly awful potions essays his fourth year Ravenclaws had submitted.

(“They’re entirely accurate!” Byron had promised. They were also twice the length requirement and went into so many offshoot tangents that Draco wanted to rip his hair out. Only a Ravenclaw could start at the uses for dragon scales and end up at thirteenth century German immigration law.)

Instead, Potter has just stormed into his office. He knocks his inkwell to the ground, causing it to shatter rather dramatically, and then shouts, “What the bloody hell do you think you’re playing at, Malfoy?”

It’s just his luck that Potter finally goes off the deep end and knocks his inkwell off the desk instead of on it. If Potter had spilled ink all over those exhausting essays he may have just kissed him. “Good evening, Potter.” He considers the ink and broken glass on his floor. A repario and scourgify would take care of it, but honestly what’s the fun in that? “Nice weather we’re having.”

“Malfoy,” Potter thunders, but Draco holds up a hand to shut him up. Miraculously, the Gryffindork falls silent.

He’s just gone over this charm with Fillius. It’s difficult and requires too much energy. Wasting the magic on something so small would be just about be criminal. He pulls out his wand and waves it in quick, neat circle over the spill that leaves a trail of bright red sparks behind. “Tempus!” he casts. The magic leaves him in a rush as the inkwell and ink come together again and fly back onto his desk. Before the spell can go any further he shouts, “Finite!”

Draco slumps back into his chair, grinning. He should probably take a shot of pepper up if he doesn’t want to fall asleep in the middle of his five o’clock class, but that was awesome.

“Are you crazy?” Potter demands, crouching down in front of his chair so he can look him in the eyes. “What spell was that?”

“Controlled time travel,” he yawns. “It’s the predecessor to the time turner, an incredible waste of energy, and comparably quite ineffective since it’s impossible to cast on yourself.” He looks at the inkwell and smirks, “It’s bloody cool, though.” Potter almost smiles at him. Draco doesn’t want to address that at all, so he asks, “Didn’t you come here to yell at me for something?”

“Well, you were always excellent at ruining everything,” Potter says wryly. He’s about to respond with something caustic when Potter balances with one hand on Draco’s knee and presses his other hand against Draco’s forehead. “Are you sure you’re all right? It looks like that spell really tired you out, which isn’t an easy thing to do.”

Because Draco’s mind is a traitorous bastard, it conjures up a bunch of ways that Potter could tire him out. Since Draco is an adult, damnit, he pushes both those thoughts and Potter’s hand aside. “I’m fine, it’s just an advanced spell. Not all of us have endless wells of magic like you.”

Potter’s hand is still on his knee. “I spoke to Hermione. And Luna, and Neville.”

“Okay?” He has no idea where this is going. “I would assume you all speak fairly often, considering.”

Potter rolls his eyes, but it almost seems more fond than irritated, which is a terrifying thought. “I know about the defense classes Neville and Luna have been running, and the lessons you’ve been giving Hermione, and I wanted to be mad, I am mad, but Neville kind of explained it to me, and even Hermione said maybe I should listen to you.”

Draco stares. “What? Are you talking about the defense lessons? My kids are scared of you, I’m pretty sure if you made them face a bogart, half the time it would turn into you. How can anyone learn that way? Look at Neville. He’s not actually that horrible at potions, it’s just Snape terrified him.” Potter’s paled, likely at the comparison to Snape, which was probably unfair of him, considering. “It’s not your fault, he says. “Mostly. They just can’t trust you, and they’re certainly never going to like you.”

“That’s not what I –” he pauses, “Wait, why can’t they trust me?”

Draco snaps his mouth closed. He doesn’t know how to say it without this ending in a duel or a punch to the face, how to tell Potter that he’s the worst kind of blood traitor when Draco’s half sure he doesn’t even know it. There was no reason to tell him as a kid, and after war he’d made it more than clear he had no plans to follow the ancient ways. “It’s complicated,” he says finally.

“Am I a lord?” he challenges, eyes sparking.

“You are not,” Draco hisses, standing so Potter’s hand finally slides off his knee. “You are barely an heir, at best.” Indignation wells up inside of him. He remembers Potter ignoring his outstretched hand at eleven because he was an ignorant excuse for a noble that knew nothing of their traditions. “You know what, Potter, what you are is a disgrace. Do you think your family crossed the sea and settled here so you could turn your back on everything they bled and died for? Screw you, you shouldn’t even be able to call yourself a noble, you’ve honored no alliances.” He thinks back to that day and seethes, because Draco was a Malfoy and he was a Potter, and even if they hadn’t been friends they weren’t supposed to have been enemies, not then, not in those peaceful years between the wars when alliances were supposed to matter. “You’re barely even a pureblood.”

“I’m not a pureblood,” Potter grits out, hand already reaching into his robes for his wand, probably unconsciously. “My mother was a muggleborn, in case you’ve forgotten.”

Oh merlin, please tell him that Potter isn’t basing the social status of his mother on an argument they got in as teenagers. “Lily Potter was also Lady Potter, your family’s preference for informality non withstanding, and she was a respectable witch who married into a noble family. Your assumption that her blood in your veins would make you anything less than pure is an insult to her memory and her sacrifice.” The first war had changed things, changed language and prejudices, but no war was powerful enough to change power and blood. He might not have understood that as a kid, but he certainly does now.

He walks away after that, furious at the both of them, and shockingly Potter lets him.

That was a stupid argument to get into, one he’s kept himself from having for years, and he’s absolutely certain he’s going to regret it.

He’s certain Potter is going to make him regret it.

Chapter Text

He’s woken up at one in the morning by a forceful knocking at his door. Considering he’s just gotten into an explosive argument with Potter, it could anyone. Luna, to sigh at him but call him cousin anyway. Neville, to come and look at him in a vaguely disapproving fashion. Granger, to rip the skin from his face and set him on fire.

What’s he’s not expecting is to open his door and find Ronald Weasley standing there with two bottles of firewhiskey.

“Those aren’t as flammable as you’d think,” he says immediately. “All commercially sold alcohol has fire dampening spells applied to it. Too many drunken accidents.”

Weasley blinks. “I wasn’t going – I’m not Hermione!” He looks down at the bottles consideringly. “Do they really?”

“My grandfather spearheaded the legislation personally. Our family has had to rebuild more than one greenhouse because of it.”

Weasley stares. “Why didn’t you just tell your employees to stop getting drunk on the job?”

“What makes you think it was the employees?” he retorts. “By historical record, my great aunt Vela personally blew up one greenhouse and two potions labs. During her school years alone.”

“Huh,” Weasley says, and thrusts a bottle of firewhiskey at him. Draco stares at it, uncomprehending. “Are you going to take it or not?”

“Why on earth would I?” he asks, but accepts the proffered bottle.

Weasley uncorks his bottle and takes a long pull, smoke oozing out of his ears. “Because we’re going to ignore the fact that our families have a three centuries long blood feud and have a frank, adult conversation with no cursing or malignant comments towards each other.”

“Merlin’s balls, Weasley,” Draco says faintly, uncorking his own bottle. “Why?”

He points his bottle at Draco, cheeks already flushed with alcohol. “Because Harry has been bloody moping all over our place. I’m having flashbacks to fifth year, and that’s just not on, do you hear me, Malfoy?” He pauses, and then sighs. “I’m going to call you Draco. If we’re going to get smashed and discuss politics, we might as well be on a first name basis.”

“This is my worst nightmare,” Draco informs him, taking a large gulp of the burning liquid. He’s going to need send an elf to his private stores by the time the night is through.  

Ron pushes past him and looks around his sleek and opulent living quarters with a faint look of disgust. “I understand completely.”

~

He and Ron are sitting on the floor, their backs braced against the couches and bottles littered on the table in front of them.

Draco has an intense urge to drink until he dies. “He can’t have no idea about his duties. He’s a Potter! The Potter Heir!”

“He’s the last Potter. Who was going to teach him?” Ron asks. “Our family doesn’t do that stuff anymore. Honestly, I probably don’t even know the half of it.” Draco picks up on the trace of longing, and oh, isn’t that interesting. “I know it’s important, or whatever, to you lot. But the rest of us don’t really get it.”

“You can’t feel the magic anymore,” Draco says, his body numb. He tries to keep the horror off his face, but by Ron’s grimace he’s not the successful. It makes sense, too much sense, all of the purebloods asking themselves what was wrong with the lot of them, and this was it.

Ron sighs and takes another long drink before saying, “I don’t even know what that means, Draco. So, no, I guess not.”

He’s still staring at Ron, and it’s probably gone past the point of rude into unsettling, but he can’t stop. He knows the weight and taste of his family’s magic, can sense a Lestrange at fifty paces, feels the ancient magics of the castle humming beneath his feet, the whole grounds nearly pulsing with the combined family magic that has been sunken into the earth generation after generation.

“Your family’s magic feels like fire,” he says, and he shouldn’t be saying this, alcohol non withstanding they still have a blood feud, and it’s considered rude regardless. Families say it’s the hair or the nose that’s their defining characteristic. But the truth is it’s the feel of magic in the air. “It’s crackling, almost. Like embers. Sparks. It feels like the color of your hair, and candle fire on your fingertips.” Ron is the one staring now, mouth open and firewhisky forgotten. “My great great grandfather once wrote that meeting the lord of the Weasley family was like stepping into an inferno.”

The empty bottle falls from Ron’s loose fingers and rolls across the floor. He clenches his hands and says. “What – why – do you know why our families have a blood feud?”

“You don’t know?” he sputters. That would certainly explain a lot, but how can a whole family just forget the start of a blood feud?

“Everything from that time was lost,” Ron says. “It’s in our old manor, supposedly.”

“The one none of you can enter,” he rubs at his temples, and shit like this is what happens when oaths don’t get honored and alliances are broken. “I’m impressed it’s still standing, honestly.” He pauses, and it’s really shouldn’t still be standing, actually. “Has anyone tried to enter it?”

Ron scratches the back of his neck, “A great uncle, I think? But the wards killed him as soon as he stepped foot on the grounds, so no one was ever able to get his body.”

“What isn’t sacrificed willingly will be taken unwillingly,” Draco says grimly. Why does everyone think magic is all fun and games? It’s blood and pain, and anyone who thinks differently is an idiot.

Ron throws a cork at his head. “Saying vague and creepy stuff like that is why no one trusts you guys, you know.”

“Oh, is that all?” He flicks the cork back over. and Ron catches it before it can hit him in the face. “I thought it was the dark lords we kept following.”

“That doesn’t help,” Ron concedes, “but it’s mostly the ominous statements.”

He rolls his eyes, and it’s really none of his business, but if someone doesn’t tell them something, someone else is going to end up dead. “The Weasley line pre-dates the founders, Ron. It’s going to takes more than a handful of generations for the magic to forget you. It considers your debt overdue, and what you don’t give it will take. Your ancestors knew that when they broke their line. That’s why they closed up your manor to begin with.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Ron says, eyes focused. “Why do our families have a blood feud?”

It’s considered impolite to bring it up. If they’ve truly forgotten, he should get an intermediary like Neville or Pansy to deliver the terms of their feud. But that’s a lot of pomp and circumstance that he doesn’t have the energy for. “Our families had been allies for a long time. Never close, but amiable since we came over from France. A marriage contract was set up between my great grandfather and your great great aunt Rea, if I’m not mistaken. Days before the wedding, your lord announced that he would no longer be following the old ways and that your family would live as simple witches and wizards forever more. To have a lord marry your aunt regardless would have been an insult, so the engagement was annulled. Rea killed herself the next day. My great grandfather blamed your lord, your family blamed mine for annulling the engagement, we blamed you for entering into an engagement under false pretenses, you blamed us for being pompous, we called you arrogant, and then the next day my great grandfather – reportedly brokenhearted – enacted the blood feud.”

Ron continues staring at him for a long moment. “Bloody hell, what a mess. Why did we leave the House of Lords and Ladies so suddenly? It certainly doesn’t sound like we were planning on it.”

He points at Ron with his bottle. “That, I’m afraid, is a secret buried in your manor. No one knows, and the only way you’ll find out is by going there. But considering the magic is more interested in blood than playing nice, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“Bloody hell,” he repeated, more mournful this time, and continues drinking.

Draco pulls his leg to his chest and rests his chin on his knee. While they’re talking about uncomfortable subjects, he has something else he wants to discuss, even if it gets him cursed. He’s not sure how to bring this up, because if he’s wrong it’s the equivalent to calling the man’s wife a simpleton. But he doesn’t think he’s wrong. He sends a prayer to his ancestors and barrels forward. “You know, Granger’s been coming to my muggleborn classes, and she’s been perfectly civil, and she’s quite smart, obviously, but I think, and don’t curse me for saying this, I think she may not know what blood is.”

Ron rolls his eyes, and doesn’t even move to hit him, which is nice. “She obviously does, what are you talking about?”

“I’m serious,” he says. “I thought it was obvious, that I was just misunderstanding her, but I also thought all purebloods could feel magic, so I’m clearly capable of being wrong. It’s the way she keeps insisting she’s one of the muggles.”

“They did raise her,” Ron points out.

He shakes his head. “The Dursleys raised Potter, but that doesn’t make them one of us. I think Granger thinks she’s one of them because they raised her. I think she thinks our word for blood means the same as their word for it. Like,” he stops, struggling, because he doesn’t have words for this, for something he didn’t think needed to be explained.

Ron frowns, but then his face clears, and he’s apparently much smarter than Draco ever game him credit for. “Oh – oh you mean – no, I mean – well, I can see how she’d be confused,” he says defensively. “She didn’t know she wasn’t theirs until she was eleven. And they did raise her Draco, they love her, they are her parents. Even if they’re not her real parents.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Draco insists. “She doesn’t understand that when we say blood we mean magic, because our magic is our blood. It’s family ties and alliances and literal blood soaked into the earth, bone buried in foundations. Blood isn’t blood. It’s magic. I bet she doesn’t know that most of the wizarding world doesn’t consider her birth parents her real parents because they may share the muggle concept of blood, but they don’t share magic.  I think that she thinks that we don’t differentiate. She thinks that when I say blood I mean the same things muggles do, the stuff flowing in our veins and genetics and all that rot.”

“But you don’t,” Ron says, eyebrows dipped together. “Obviously, you don’t. You mean the lines of magic, family magic, all of it.” He leans forward and puts his head in his hands, “She’s going to be so mad when she finds out she didn’t know something!”

Draco pats him on the back consolingly. An angry Hermione Granger isn’t a fate he wishes upon anyone. “You know you’re going to have to explain this to Potter too, right?”

“Harry doesn’t know either?” he asks, looking longingly toward one of the unopened bottles.

Draco hands it over. “If the cleverest witch of our generation hasn’t figured it out on her own, what makes you think Harry ‘Dunce’ Potter has?”

Ron slaps himself on the forehead and pulls out the cork with his teeth. It’s a good thing his wife’s parents are dentists.

~

He skips breakfast the next morning and drags himself to his first and favorite class of the day, banging open the door in a suitably dramatic fashion. His seventh year NEWTS class looks nearly as dead outside as he feels inside. “I am so hungover I want to die,” he announces briskly. “I’m going to sit at my desk and try not to vomit. The first team who brews me a successful hangover cure is exempt from homework for the rest of the semester.”

There’s a moment of complete stillness before they all start huddling together and flipping through their textbooks. Mariana, a Hufflepuff muggleborn who’s notorious for her late night parties and early morning study sessions, already has a flock of eager students surrounding her.

He’s a little disappointed someone didn’t just throw a bezor at his head and call it a day, but on the bright side they may actually learn something about designing potions from scratch.

~

He’s on his way to the kitchens for lunch in an honestly humiliating bid to avoid Potter and his posse for a few more hours when he’s cornered by three fourth year Ravenclaws girls. The manic look in all their eyes makes him slightly concerned for their wellbeing in addition to his own. “Ladies,” he greets, raising an eyebrow. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“We heard about what you did with the seventh years this morning,” she says. “We want to experiment making our own potions too!”

“What.”

Dacia Zabini pouts at him in a way she almost certainly learned from her aunt, “Could you start a potions club, pretty please, Lord Malfoy?”

“With all my spare time?” he snaps.

The girls are unfazed. “We’ll do all the work ourselves,” the first one continues, “we just need you to supervise us in the potions lab. You can do your grading while we work. Please, Lord Malfoy?”

“It’s Professor Malfoy in these halls,” he corrects, and he can already tell he’s going to regret this decision. “Very well. On one condition. You must open your club to all years and houses. Understand?”

He’s going to take all their jumping around and high pitched squealing as agreement.

~

Draco is flung out on the couch in his quarters, reading his first quarterly reports on his holdings from the goblins. It’s in very neat, small handwriting and so overly complicated he has the urge to call up Terry Boot and whine at him until he puts his arithmancy mastery to use and explains it to him.

But goblins are fickle, and proud, and a bunch of assholes. Draco can respect that. They’ll never take him seriously if he can’t understand his own accounts, regardless of how convoluted and unnecessarily detailed their reports are. Milly pops into existence next to him, “You is having a visitor at the door, Master Draco.”

“Who is it?” he asks, because if he stops in the middle of auditing the main business account then he’ll have to start over again from the beginning, and it’s painful enough only doing it once. If it’s someone he can get away with ignoring, that would be preferable.

“Heir Longbottom,” she says. “Shall I be telling him you is busy, Master?”

Bloody hell. Well, best to get it over with. “No, that will be all Milly. Very good.”

She gives him a pleased little bow and vanishes. He pushes himself up and onto his feet. He hopes that Neville won’t challenge him to a duel. The Longbottoms and the Potters have never held an official alliance, and since Neville is an Heir, and Draco doesn’t currently have one of his own, he’d have to fight Neville personally. He’ll never admit it out loud, but that’s not a duel he’s confident he could win.

He opens the door, bracing himself. “Finally,” Neville says impatiently. “Can I catch a ride with you to the House? Gran’s finally taking me to one, and she was supposed to pick me up in the carriage, but she got tied up in a meeting and told me to meet her there. But she gets irritable if I take the floo to official functions, and merlin forbid I fly there like a commoner.”

Draco stares. “What the bloody hell are you talking about?”

“It’s the full moon?” Neville returns, eyebrow raised.

There’s a moment when they just stare at each other, and then Draco goes, “Fuck!” and slams the door in his face. He opens it again a moment later to add, “Yes, you’re welcome ride with me. I’ll meet you at the front of the castle in,” he checks the grandfather clock next to the fireplace, and at least Neville had come to ask early so he’s not completely screwed, “an hour.” He closes the door again, pauses, and opens it, “You’re not wearing that, are you?”

“No,” Neville says, lips twitching, “I am not wearing my teaching robes to a formal meeting.” Draco scowls at him and shuts the door a final time.

He cannot believe he forgot tonight was the full moon, and therefore the monthly meeting of the House of Lords and Ladies. This is what getting into fights with Potter and drinking with Weasleys does to him. He sends Bip to the manor to prep the carriage, but there’s still the matter of his date.

He already knows neither Pansy nor Blaise are free this evening, and likely each think the other is going to the meeting with him. He tells Milly to set out his robes since she has a good eye for it, then goes striding to the professor’s common room. He doesn’t show up stag, as a rule, and he’s not about to start now. He bursts inside and commands, “Loony, attend the monthly congregation with me.”

There are only four people in the room. Luna blinks at him, blue eyes so dark they almost look black. “Don’t you usually go with Blaise?”

“He’s busy,” he says, unwilling to say he’s an idiot who forgot that it was today. By the way Flitwick and Minerva are studiously focused on their chess game, he bets they’ve both guessed that already. He thinks he liked it better when they couldn’t read him so easily.

Granger crosses her arms. “What are you on about? Also, you could be nicer about asking Luna to do things! You can’t just go ordering people around!”

“He can, actually,” Luna says mildly, and gives an odd half smile. Dread pools into the bottom of Draco’s stomach. She looks like her mother when she does that, and Pandora was, among many other things, a devious woman. “Of course, cousin. But perhaps you should take Hermione instead?”

Minerva’s head snaps up, staring at Luna in horror. Filius doesn’t look up from the board and moves a piece perilously close to her queen. “Why?” he and Granger demand at the same time.

“You keep saying the books and theory aren’t good enough,” Luna says to Hermione, “and this is a formal meeting of the House of Lords and Ladies. When will you ever get a chance to attend again?” She looks from Granger to him and adds, “She might learn something.”

This is such a bad idea. This entire day is apparently dedicated to bad ideas. “Fine,” he snaps, then addresses Granger. “If you want to walk among the natives, you best act like one. No arguing, no causing trouble. You can throw a fit about it all when we get back if you must, but while we’re there you treat it like the muggleborn classes. Understand?”

“I understand,” she says, glaring at him, and this is going to be such a miserable evening.

“You don’t have anything to wear,” he says.

“I have–” she begins.

He holds up his hand, “That wasn’t a question.” He snaps his fingers, and Milly appears beside him. “Professor Granger will be accompanying me this evening. Find something suitable in my mother’s closet and help her get ready.”

“Yes, Master Draco,” Milly says, and disappears in the middle of her curtsy.

Granger is already purple in indignation. “Save it,” he says. “We work together, it’s not like you’re low on opportunities to yell at me. Luna, help her out,” he adds, and waits for his cousin to nod before sweeping out of there as suddenly as he’d came.

Why does he keep allowing these things to happen? Everything was so much easier when he and the Gryffindor crowd spent the years after the war pretending the other didn’t exist. This is exhausting.

~

When Draco descends the steps of Hogwarts, Granger is already there and waiting for him. Her hair is shining and tumbling down around her, longer than he last saw it, but it’s possible it’s just an effect of her curls being looser. When he sees what Milly chose, he has to grin. “You look like a proper lady,” he greets.

She rolls her eyes, but not even her stubbornness can hide her fascination with her borrowed clothes. She’s wearing a fortune, a tight bright red acromantula silk gown and thin outer robe, clasped only right below her sternum to show off the dress with a solid gold broach. The outer robe is delicately crocheted and thin enough that its nearly transparent, though a powerful warming charm was integrated into the thread as it was spun, so that the wearer will remain pleasantly cozy no matter the weather. Walburga Black developed that particular spell herself.

“Sorry I’m late!” Neville yelps, running down the steps, “I was talking to Harry – wow,” he says, wide eyed, “Hermione, you look great! You’re going to give everyone a heart attack wearing that dress though,” he adds, but he sounds more approving than anything else.

Granger looks down, forehead wrinkling. “Why?”

“My mother wore that dress on only a few occasions,” Draco says, smiling. “It meant she was cross with someone in the House, and that she and my father were out for blood. I imagine Milly chose it so you’d feel more comfortable in your house colors, but some of the old crowd has very particular memories associated with that dress.”

Before Granger can do more than frown at him, Neville adds, “She’s missing something. Earrings?”

“What the point? They’ll get lost in her hair unless she puts it up,” he argues, but concedes Neville has a point. He touches his wand in his sleeve, and in the next moment he holds out a necklace of gold and polished obsidian. “This belonged to my great grandmother on my father’s side. It has a preservation and unbreakable charm on it, but be gentle none the less.”

“Thank you,” she says, taking it from him with cautious fingers and clasping it around her neck. “Luna said we were taking a carriage?”

“Status symbol,” he explains, because there’s no reason not to speak plainly and turn this into a learning experience for her. “It’s looked down upon to arrive in anything but a family carriage because it implies there’s something shameful about the state of yours. The more impressive the carriage, the more impressive your family.”

“Is yours impressive?” she asks, but there’s no malice in the question, only curiosity.

Neville answers before he can, “Very.” He bounces on the balls of his feet and admits, “I could have hitched a ride with someone else, but I’ve been dying to ride in your carriage.”

Granger crosses her arms, suspicious. “What’s so special about it?”

Draco raises his hand and snaps twice. Almost immediately the air is filled with the sounds of pounding hooves as his carriage rounds the corner and stops in front of them. It’s a very well crafted carriage, black stained mahogany, with the Malfoy family crest carved into the doors, and gold detailing spelled to shine even in the dimmest of lights. That’s not the interesting part though. That would be the creature pulling it.

The midnight black horse is normal enough looking, tall and strong with a dark coat that gleams almost blue. Except, of course, for the enormous wings protruding from his back. The pegasus tosses his head and stands even taller under their eyes. This is the first and only time he can honestly say he’s truly shocked Granger. She’s wide eyed with her mouth hanging open. He takes a moment to savor it before saying, “Meet Nox. It’s not a terribly original name, I know, but I did name him when I was a child. He’s worked for my family for over twenty years.”

“Sections of the Malfoy land are preserved for pegasi mating and birthing grounds, and are warded off against poachers as well as some other unpleasant predators,” Neville explains, eagerly holding out a hand for Nox to inspect. After a moment of deliberation, he nudges his large head in Neville’s hand and allows the wizard to pet him.

“As such, one pegasus from each generation works for my family in exchange for this protection,” Draco finishes. “Their natural lifespans are about three times that of a witch or wizard, so they’re not separated from their flock forever, if you were worried about that.”

Granger closes her mouth. He doesn’t know for sure that she was going to go on tirade about him enslaving creatures, but if so he didn’t want to hear it. Nox is an incredibly powerful and incredibly intelligent magical creature. If he didn’t want to be working for the Malfoy family, he would have flown off long ago. Honestly, that’s why he'd had such little patience and was such a brat when it came to care of magical creatures in school. He was accustomed to magical creatures that could take care of themselves.

“He’s beautiful,” she says softly, fingers twitching towards him.

Draco gives them both a couple more minutes to admire and pet Nox before clapping his hands and saying, “Come on. If we’re late, Augusta will be cross with me, which is never pleasant.”

He helps Granger into the carriage first, then Neville, and climbs in after both of them. The door swings shut on its own. Nox takes off at a full gallop, knowing where he needs to take Draco on a full moon.

“Wait a minute,” Granger says nervously. “If Nox has wings, does that mean–”

She doesn’t have the chance to finish that question before the carriage is lifted off the ground, Nox beating his powerful wings to propel them into the air. Neville squashes his face against the window while Granger stays determinedly in the center of the seat.

“Don’t worry,” he says. “Once he’s gotten us high enough, it’s a smoother ride than it would be on land.”

“Delightful,” she says, and carefully edges her way to the window to watch Hogwarts become smaller and smaller below them.

Draco hides a smile. Slowly, painfully slowly, he thinks she’s discovering that not all aspects of pureblood tradition are repugnant to her.

Of course, that’s likely to all be destroyed after a full night in the House, but he can enjoy it while it lasts.

Chapter Text

The flight is short. Pegasi can only be reliable out-flown by dragons, after all, and Nox is talented enough that the carriage lands smoothly. Draco steps out first, then helps Neville out, then Granger. Nox gallops off into the air, likely back to his manor until he calls for him again.

“Stonehenge?” Granger asks, tilting her head to the side. The massive, ancient structure looks almost silver in the moonlight.

“Not quite,” Neville says, beaming. He claps Draco on the shoulder. “Thanks for letting me come with you. I’ll see you on the other side.” He heads around to the opposite curve of the circle, careful not to step too close until he finds the right spot.

“Where’s he going?” She frowns, “Where is everyone?”

He holds out his arm, and she takes it, stepping up beside him. He leads her to the stone doorway in front of them, “Come now, Granger, haven’t you learned anything about our world yet? Nothing is as it seems.”

She opens her mouth, probably to yell at him, but they step into the stone doorway and a wall of black flames bursts to life behind them, and a wall of white flame surges up in front of them. They’re boxed in, stone on two sides, and flames on the others. “Malfoy?” she whispers, her grip bruising. “What’s going on?”

“Don’t panic,” he says. “You’ve faced something like this before, haven’t you?”

She relaxes slightly. “In first year, it was Snape’s challenge. Do we have to solve a riddle? I’m good at riddles.”

He shakes his head. “Snape had never been here of course, but he’s heard of it. Trying to recreate what he could never have. Pathetic.”

Draco presses his hand against the rough stone, feeling for a sharp edge. Once he finds one, he leans against it and slices open his palm. “Draco!”

“It’s fine.” He reaches forward and pushes his bloody hand through the fire. His blood slides from his skin into the flames, and the white fire turns red, spreading out from his hand until the whole of the flames are a bright, natural red shot through with orange. “There. It’s just a normal fire now. Would you like to take care of it? Or perhaps throw me into it?”

“Occidere!” she casts, rolling her eyes. On one hand, it’s over-kill to use the predecessor to the avada kedavra curse to put out a fire, but on the other hand, it’s incredibly cool to watch the pale green smoke enfulge the flames and eventually dissipate. She slides her wand back into her sleeve and tosses her hair over her shoulder, giving him a look that puts her right at home with a bunch of snobbish purebloods.

“Excellent,” he grins and winks at her, and before she has a chance to respond to that, he leads her through the entrance. He watches her face, watching for the moment she sees through the illusion.

The area within Stonehenge is much, much larger than it appears on the outside. It’s not abandoned dirt, but instead a gorgeous, manicured garden. They aren’t alone. Couples are stepping through the stone doorways of Stonehenge. Lords, Ladies, and Heirs rubbing at their hands even though the magic heals them as soon as they step through. Neville is already at Augusta’s side, an attentive and handsome presence at her elbow as she leads them up the garden path.

“That’s a castle,” Grange says, looking up at the towering structure that the long stone paths leads to.

“A small one,” he agrees. “No one lives there, after all. It’s mostly just used for these meetings.”

She matches his pace as they walk towards it. “It looks old.”

“Helga Hufflepuff singlehandedly constructed this castle over a thousand years ago after the previous structure was destroyed in a magical backlash. It’s a little older than Hogwarts. She built this first, which is why she was the architect for the Hogwarts castle.” He nearly trips when Granger stops in her tracks, and he looks back to see her giving him the strangest look he’s ever seen. He hopes she’s not planning to set him on fire. He gently tugs her forward and attempts to push his smirk into a smile in case she curses him for it. “Not everything is in Hogwarts, A History. If you can go the whole evening without embarrassing me, I’ll show you the West Tower. That’s where the library is.”

“I’m holding you to that,” she says, carefully lifting her red silk gown to walk up the steps of the castle. “What happens tonight?”

He leads her past the great hall into a side chamber. This castle wasn’t built for beauty or splendor. It was built for practicality, it was built in need, in desperation, it was built singlehandedly by a young witch who had nothing but her name and refused to let it die.

The meeting room is the largest in the castle. In the center is a large oval table, large enough to sit five hundred people.

Of course, far less than that are here tonight.

“We’ll convene for our meeting here first. Once it’s in session, don’t speak. Only Lords and Ladies may speak – if an Heir has something to contribute, they may tell their Lord or Lady, and they will choose whether or not it needs to be said. But everyone else will simply listen. Understand?” Granger nods. He pulls out her chair for her, then sits beside her. No one says anything, quietly going to their seats. Draco may not be allies with all these people, but he knows them, of course. “After, there will be dancing and drinks. You may speak then, although I would strongly advise that you do not relax. The social aspect of these meetings is often more treacherous than the actual session.”

Lord Parkinson is the last to arrive, his daughter and Heir sitting down beside them. Paige Parkinson is like Pansy condensed – all the terrifying power and airheaded demeanor pushed into a razor sharp reputation. Paige reminds him of Blaise’s mother, and he adores her, but he also stays far, far away from her.

Rosamund stands. As the eldest Lady present, she begins and dismisses these sessions. Many people hate the Lestranges, but it’s one thing to hate someone in the privacy of your own mind, and quite another to stand against a woman who was rumored to best Dumbledore in the ring until he refused to duel her any longer, back when they were very different people in a very different time.

“I, Lady Rosamund Lestrange, hereby call this meeting of the House of Lords and Ladies to session. All those in favor of continuing with these proceedings, say aye.”

“Aye,” Draco and dozens of others say.

Rosamund lifts her wand, and with a flick all the torches along the walls glow a little brighter. A large scroll appears in front of her, and she unrolls it with an intimidating snap of the parchment.

“So mote it be. Let’s begin!”

~

Granger listens with rapt attention, but most of the meeting must be boring, at least for her. It’s minutia about alliances, Rosamund pulling up a blood map and all the lords confirming their alliances have been maintained. A couple people have new alliances to add, but that’s not terribly surprising. The war pitted many people against each other, and after the dust settled, contracts were drawn up and Lords and Ladies took on new families who wished to publicly associate themselves with more favorable nobles. Draco hadn’t had to deal with that, thank merlin. He did quietly take a couple of families from the Notts, but the less said of that the better.

Next is the slate for the upcoming round of Wizengamot voting. Lady Eliza Greengrass rattles off a list of the upcoming bills, and gives a short summary of each. There’s heated debate over the newest wand tracking spell that’s being submitted as a required component of all future wands. Lord Ollivander is against it of course, although Lady Patil points out that it doesn’t do much more than the registration of magic required to get an appiration lesson. Ollivander nearly goes purple in the face at that, and goes on a twenty minute rant that involves a lot of gesticulating. Draco has a sturdy grasp on advanced arithmancy, he has to, if he ever plans on taking the formal examinations to become a charms master, but everything Ollivander is saying is flying way over his head.

Granger is practically vibrating in her seat, biting at her lip. Draco shakes his head, and she relaxes, although the grip she has on the edge of the table is a little concerning.

“Lord Ollivander,” he says, “I’m afraid most of us aren’t up to your level of mastery. Perhaps a simpler explanation would suffice?”

The old man turns his piercing blue eyes on him and cracks his aging face into a grin. “Ah, the young thief speaks.” Draco stiffens, because he has no idea what he’s talking about, he’s never crossed the Ollivanders. Their families have amiable for generations. “I do hope my niece is causing you as much trouble as she causes us.”

Oh. He’s talking about Markle’s friend, Andrea, the first ever Ollivander to be sorted in Slytherin.

His heart rate settles back to normal and he grins. “She’s a model student, I’m afraid. She clearly didn’t take after you.”

Ollivander barks out a laugh, “Oh give her time, give her time. She’ll be your worst nightmare before you know it.” The old man scratches at his beard and says, “All right, this new spell is a terrible bloody idea because it interferes with the wand’s natural magic, which is one thing when you’re our age and with our power, but for a kid? One just starting out? It will be a disaster. Additionally, I don’t care that the Ministry can track us anyway. They shouldn’t have a nice easy way to do it. If history has taught us anything, it’s that when evil comes knocking, the Ministry is the first to fall. They don’t need any help hunting people down the line when the next war comes.”

When the next war comes. Not if.

There will always be another war.

Sometimes it feels like being a Lord is just spending a lifetime preparing for a war you pray you won’t live long enough to see.

“Well, that’s very true,” Lady Nott says, the youngest lord or lady in the room besides him. She’s still twice his age, but he likes her anyway. She was a second cousin to the Lord before the war. After the war, with Lord Nott dead, she was chosen as the next head of the family. Draco thoroughly approves. “Who is in favor of it? It sounds like a brilliant mix of stupid and unnecessary to me.”

“It’s well intentioned,” Augusta says, speaking for the first time. “Although horribly misguided. It’s meant as a safety measure against crime. Of course, that assumes that a criminal would be stupid enough to use their own wand, knowing it could be traced back to them by spell residue alone, even without this additional tracking in place.”

“Well, if Lady Longbottom is against it, I am too,” Lord Brown says, giving the woman a saucy wink. Augusta tilts her nose in the air. Neville looks very uncomfortable.

“Motion to stall and block the bill?” Rosamund asks. Everyone agrees, although some are more enthusiastic about it than others. “Excellent. Those of us with Wizengamot seats will vote against the bill, but if it passes the first level of votes we’ll set up a lobby system. Minister Shackbolt is so annoyingly straight laced. You can’t bribe that man! Believe me, I’ve tried.”

“Almost makes you miss Fudge,” Lady Abbot says wistfully. “He was a train wreck, but for the most part he was an easily contained train wreck. He responded particularly well to blackmail and bribery.”

Everyone grumbles in agreement, and Granger looks positively scandalized. He supposes she believed that the supposedly ‘good’ families like the Abbots and Longbottoms and the Browns wouldn’t do something like bribe and blackmail government officials.

He’s almost disappointed. She was willing to do all manner of horrible things to achieve her ideals, was ruthless in her goal of peace. Why wouldn’t they be?

The rest of the meeting proceeds in a similar fashion, and once the list of upcoming bills has been exhausted, there’s talk of the new businesses that are being started and the ones that are, unfortunately, failing. Then the official business of the night ends as it always does. A silver dagger appears beside every Lord or Lady.

Draco suddenly remembers that Granger has no idea what’s about to happen. “Don’t panic, and be silent about it if you must panic.”

He picks up the silver knife and drags it vertically down the length of his arm, and the confusion leaves her eyes and is replaces by horror. He glares at her, shaking his head when she opens her mouth. His blood flows into the center of the table, and the table looks and feels as if it’s perfectly level, but all their blood mingles and pools together until there’s a thin layer across the table. He’s just getting lightheaded at that point, and it wasn’t always like this. There was a time when each of them only had to give a few drops to fill this table, to keep the wards intact.

It was a time far in the past, but it existed. Now they all lose over a pint of blood each, Draco even more because he’s young and he can stand the loss. If things keep progressing as they are, they’re going to have to go back to ancient times and conclude every meeting with a human sacrifice.

The blood sinks into the table, and there’s a blinging flash of light as the wards are renewed and strengthened, as the magic takes what is given.

All else may fall, but the House of Lords and Ladies must stand. If every other bit of their culture and history is doomed to be overrun and forgotten, then this must remain.

This castle, this circle, this library, this magic. They give more blood than they can spare because the necessity of this place has never been more dire, because their history has never before been so close to being lost.

When the light dims, his arm is healed, not even a scar to show where he’d cut himself.

Scars are how the magic gives a warning. If anyone leave the House scarred, they would be smart to never return, lest they never leave it again.

They’re silent now, and Draco rolls his sleeve back down and offers his arm Granger. “To the garden,” he says, “and then you may speak.”

Heirs and wives and husbands pretend they’re not supporting the weight of the person they came with, pretend that this is normal when it is not. He won’t allow himself to lean against Granger, but as soon as they leave the castle he reaches into his sleeve and downs a blood replenishing potion.

“Do you have more of that?” Neville asks from right behind him, and Draco turns, cursing himself for not noticing.

“She won’t take it,” he warns, dropping a small vial in to his hand. “She never does.”

Neville shrugs, eyes pinched around the corners, “I might as well try. Thanks, Draco.”

He runs a hand through his hair then looks down at Granger, surprised at her continued silence. “You can speak now, you know.”

She’s staring him, lips pressed into a thin line and eyes narrowed. “I’m not sure where to begin,” she says finally. “I have no idea what just happened in there. I mean. the discussions I followed, more or less, although I had no idea you all kept such a close eye on everything. I’m shocked anything happens without you knowing about it.”

“It doesn’t, generally,” he says, and he can already see Lord Flint heading towards them. “Look, the social aspect is actually rather important. Can this wait until the dancing starts?”

Granger frowns, but gives a half-shrug that Draco is going to take as agreement. Lord Giles Flint comes up to them, a man who’s as large as his wife is tall. Draco has never liked him, ever since he was a small boy who was forced to be polite to him at his parents’ parties. “What are you doing all the way over here in the corners, my boy? It’s quite unlike you,” he booms, looking only at him and not addressing Granger at all.

“My apologies, Lord Flint,” he says, forcing himself to smile. “I had not intended to disappoint.”

“Can’t be helped, I suppose,” his wife says, her eyes barely flickering over Granger.

He wraps his arm around Granger’s waist and pulls her against his side, praying she doesn’t smack him for it. She doesn’t, instead leaning into him so Giles has no choice but to look at her or awkwardly turn his face halfway to the side, and Draco does his best to smother his amusement.

She really does fit in scarily well with his sort with that reckless pride of hers.

Muggleborn, wife of a blood-traitor, and Gryffindor or not, Granger is still his guest. She’s on the arm of Lord Malfoy, and Draco isn’t going to let anyone get away with disrespecting her, mostly because that means they’re disrespecting him.

Giles curls his upper lip in disgust. Draco asks, “Is there something in particular you wanted to discuss with me, Lord Flint?”

 “Yes, unfortunately,” he says. “I was hoping to ask a favor of you?”

“Of course you may ask,” he says pleasantly, and if this was Rosamund or even Augusta he would agree without question, but this is neither. The Flints are a strong, pure family who have never wavered in their devotion to magic itself. That doesn’t mean the family isn’t bursting with the nastiest sort of people Draco has ever had the misfortune of dealing with, and Giles is as rotten as the rest of them.

“One of the lesser families pledged to me has a daughter who whelped a mudblood child,” he says. “The mother has died, unfortunately. It is, of course, my duty to raise the child in my own family. Perhaps you could offer some advice? You have taken in several similarly tainted children, I understand.”

By some miracle, Granger keeps her mouth shut. “One must get new blood where one can,” he answers, “but then, the Flints have been so fortunate as to not suffer low numbers, unlike my own family.”

He hates this, and he hates himself, but he wants the same thing Flint wants. The unfortunate thing is Flint knows he wants it, and will force him to practically beg to relieve him of a burden he doesn’t care for to begin with.

This is why wars are started, he thinks, there comes a point where no one can stand the bloody politics of it all anymore.

“The Malfoy clan is looking a little thin, isn’t it?” Giles asks, his smugness practically rolling off of him. Draco wants to strangle him.

His wife laughs and lays her hand on her husband’s shoulder like a pale, glittering spider. “Oh, but Lord Malfoy, surely you could take care of that problem with a well timed marriage? You are getting on in years, after all.”

He is twenty four years old, and his parents may have gotten married the very summer after his mother graduated Hogwarts, but their marriage had been orchestrated by their parents, and besides that they’d actually liked each other. The only one of high enough standing he thinks he could tolerate being married to would be Pansy, and they’d figured out that was a horrible idea by the time they were fourteen. “Unfortunately, it’s not currently in the cards. It seems I must expand my family by more … unconventional means.”

Twenty minutes and seven more pointed remarks about his family line later, it’s decided that Draco will take charge of the toddler, and she will become a member of his House. He’s trying to figure out which cousin he can convince to take the child on when Granger kicks him in the shin.

“Ow!” he hisses, “What was that for?”

“I would like some explanations now, please,” she glares. It’s not a request. Light music fills the air, and there is a spaced cleared for dancing.

“You could have just asked, there was no need for violence,” he grumbles, leading Granger onto the dance floor in the middle of the garden. It’s early in the night, and there aren’t that many people out there, everyone instead sequestered in small groups with glinting glasses of wine in their hands. He feels a stab of envy, but he’s pretty sure if he doesn’t answer some of Granger’s questions soon he may just feel stabbed, period.

He’s pleasantly surprised to discover she knows the waltz. He wonders if she learned it for her wedding, since he can’t think of why else she’d know it. She certainly hadn’t known how to dance when they were kids at the Yule Ball. “What was the bit in the end, with the blood and the light?”

“This is a sacred place, Granger,” he twirls her around. “Can’t you feel it? It’s been around for over five thousand years. This has been a place of magic and harmony and sacrifice for that long. It has been maintained as such because Lords and Ladies have given back what the magic has given us in the first place. We meet more often now, give more now because so much of us are afraid, but we truly only need to renew the wards once a year. Everything else is extra. Insurance, if you will.”

“Barbaric insurance,” she mutters.

He grins, all teeth. “Of course it is, Granger. Magic is barbaric. Nothing so beautiful comes for free.”

She’s silent for a while after that, and Draco clocks everyone around them as he turns them across the dance floor. They have a few confused or surprised sets of eyes on them, but nothing truly hostile, which he’s grateful for. He doesn’t think anyone would be stupid enough to start a duel here, of all places, but he’s certainly not willing to find out.

Granger huffs, seemingly at herself, and says, “I don’t understand. Flint said one of the witches he protects had birthed a muggleborn. But that’s impossible. By definition, muggleborns are born of muggles, not witches.”

“Ah,” Draco spins her again, thinking. “Well, no that’s not what he said. He said she’d had a mudblood. Flint’s rather old, and he was around for Grindelwald’s war, and his vocabulary hasn’t ever really updated. Nowadays, ever since Voldemort’s initial rise to power, mudblood has been used as an insult against muggleborns. But that wasn’t always the case. Up until then, mudblood was a slur not against muggleborns, but against magical children with a muggle parent and a magical parent.” She’s looking at him, brows furrowed in concentration, so he dips her while he thinks he can get away with it. “It makes more sense, I think, that way. Muggles dirtying the bloodlines, and all that, getting in the way of the magic. Muggleborns, on the other hand, are born of magic itself. Nothing dirty about that.”

“That’s not very nice to half-bloods,” Granger says. “I don’t think we should use it to refer to anyone.”

“I suppose not,” he agrees, “but that’s what Flint meant. Half-bloods are almost worse than squibs to the older generations. He may have made me grovel for the privilege of taking the child into my family, but the last thing he wants is a half-blood running around with the name Flint.”

“You’ve done this before?” she asks, “He said you had.”

Draco shrugs, uncomfortable with the way she’s staring at him. “Many people lost children in the war, my cousins included. When I show up with a child at their door, they’re amiable enough to raising them. I am their Lord, these are children, and the Malfoy line is rather on the small side, comparatively. Besides, one good thing about Voldemort’s rein is that I didn’t grow up with that particular prejudice. My parents were much more concerned with raising me to hate muggles and muggleborns than they were half-bloods.”

He expects her to yell at him for that remark, but instead Granger is still just starring at him in a way that makes his shoulder itch. He very much wishes she would stop.

“May we cut in?” a hoarse voice asks, and this isn’t quite the rescue he’d been hoping for, but he’ll take what he can get.

“Of course, Lady Longbottom,” he smiles, bowing to her.

Augusta ignores him completely and takes Granger’s arm, leading her to the other side of the dance floor. Draco blinks after their retreating backs, and barely catches sight of Lord Brown looking after Augusta longingly, likely because the old Lord is certifiably insane. Augusta Longbottom terrifies him. He has no idea how Lord Brown continues to nurse his frankly baffling crush on the woman. Then again, if Augusta was truly adverse to his advances, Draco figures she would have let Lord Brown know in some sort of suitably horrifying and painful way.

“Sorry about that,” Draco pulls his gaze to Neville who grins sheepishly and shrugs. “Want to dance?”

“Might as well,” he sighs, and he’s sure Neville was forced to attend all the same formal dancing lessons he was, so he’ll actually be able to do more than a half dozen steps with the man.

He loses track of Granger after that, and he’d be worried about it except that every time he catches a glimpse of her she’s at Augusta’s side. The rest of the evening is a blur, like it always is. He discusses the progress of over dozen children in his house with various Lords and Ladies, which is new, but the business talks and subtle interrogation over the state of everyone’s treasuries and family trees is old news. It’s nearing the end of the night when Augusta deposits Granger back at his side without saying a word. Granger looks rather dazed, which he thinks is only fair.

“Ready to go?” he asks. He’s already talked to everyone he needed to, and also he’s afraid that if they linger any longer someone will make a pointed comment about his guest, and then Granger will set something on fire.

“You promised me a library if I didn’t embarrass you, and I didn’t. I want to see the library,” she says crossly, but she’s also swaying on her feet, so Draco figures there’s room for negotiation.

“If we can leave now, I will unleash you on the Malfoy family library and I promise to take you back here and leave you in the library at some point.”

She narrows her eyes at him. If she insists on the library, he supposes he can find a comfortable table to sleep on top of. “Very well,” she says. “I accept your terms.”

“Thank merlin,” he sighs, and almost smiles when she laughs at him.

The Longbottoms have already left, and Draco quickly says goodbye to everyone else he cares about before he and Granger step through the stone arch and come out the other side, this time without any fire. Granger turns to look behind them, but Draco doesn’t bother. He knows what she’ll see. An empty monument, the same as the muggles do, with no indication of what lays behind them. “Fascinating,” she breathes.

He raises his hand and snaps his fingers. Nox and his carriage lands mere moments later, and he barely has the presence of mind to help Granger into the carriage before following her in and collapsing on the seat. On the surface, spending an evening dancing and talking shouldn’t drain him this much, but he always leaves these things feeling exhausted. “Well? What did you think?”

She turns her head from the window, and he takes a small moment to feel gratified that she’s decided the carriage is safe enough that she can look out the window without fear. “I think I have more questions than ever, but that was quite … informative. Thank you for taking me.”

She seems earnest, so Draco smiles at her like he means it, like she’s his friend. “You’re welcome, Granger.”

“Oh, you might as well call me Hermione,” she says. “Everyone else does.”

“In that case, I don’t suppose I can stop you from calling me Draco, can I?” he asks, and this is a much better outcome than he was expecting. Although, it was probably exactly the outcome that Luna was hoping for, the meddlesome brat.

“No, I don’t suppose you can,” she says, satisfied.

They land on Hogwarts grounds, right in front of the castle. He’s just helped Hermione out of the carriage and Nox is already in the air back to the manor when he turns around and sees two people waiting for them on the palace steps.

Draco is instantly offended. “What, you didn’t think I would return her in one piece?”

“Don’t look at me,” Ron says, grinning. “This wasn’t my idea.” Draco glances at a glowering Harry Potter, then quickly looks away. Ron jumps down the steps and grabs his wife’s hand and twirls her around like a ballerina. “Look at you, done up all pretty. I’m jealous.”

Hermione looks to Harry then rolls her eyes. “As you should be,” she informs him, throwing herself at Draco so he has no choice but to wrap his arms around her or risk her falling to the ground, which he certainly isn’t going to allow while she’s wearing his mother’s dress. “I want a divorce. I’m in love with Draco, this one night has changed me forever. I’m sorry.”

“I understand,” Ron says easily, which at least makes one of them. “But consider this. We stay married, and instead we just share Draco?” He gives him an over exaggerated wink, and it’s physically painful for Draco not to roll his eyes at them. “I don’t normally go for blokes, but you’re so pretty that it doesn’t really count, does it?”

“It definitely counts,” he says dryly. “Will you take your wife? What are you even doing here?”

“I don’t know.” Ron turns and yells up the steps, “Hey, Harry, what are we doing here?”

Potter is giving them the kind of scowl that makes it clear that not only did he kill a dark lord, but he spent years after the war hunting down the darkest and most dangerous of wizards from the darkest and most dangerous parts of the world. Draco is almost alarmed. Potter doesn’t actually think he’d do anything to Hermione, does he? Ron doesn’t seem worried, and he’s her husband.

“You two,” Harry grounds out between clenched teeth, “are a couple of no good, back stabbing traitors.”

He stomps away after that in a melodramatic fashion reminiscent of their Hogwarts days. Is this about the argument they had? Since no one else seemed upset at him, he’d assumed Potter wasn’t that upset either, but he must have been wrong.

Draco starts to ask about it, but Ron only claps him on the shoulder and says, “Don’t worry about it. He’s just cross because we’re doing what we told him not to do.”

“Which is?” he asks, blinking.

Hermione and Ron share a look that oddly reminds him of his parents and all the silent conversations they used to have. “Don’t worry about it,” Hermione says, echoing her husband.

He stares, completely unimpressed and just as confused as before.

Gryffindors. Honestly.

Chapter Text

There are very few things Draco enjoys about his third year Gryffindor and Slytherin class. Although, to be fair, it takes place on Mondays at eight in the morning, so they’re already at a disadvantage.

What does bring him enjoyment is watching Raina glare young Albert Weasley into being a half decent Potions student. Before, he’d barely been scraping by with an Acceptable, but the last two potions he and Raina had turned in had earned them two Outstanding marks. They sit front and center, so Draco knows it’s not just that Raina’s doing all the work and then slapping Albert’s name on it. She makes him do half the work, but pushes his hand away whenever he’s about to do something wrong. Maybe if Raina had been around to help Neville back when they were in school, he would have fared better on his Owls.

“If your potion turns a pale blue color, then you’re doing fine,” he says, walking in between the rows of desks. “If it’s a darker blue, you can fix that by lowering the heat and stirring counterclockwise for about two minutes.”

“Er, Professor?” asks Parker. He’s the most powerful Slytherin in his year, which doesn’t do him much good in potions. “What if it’s white?”

Draco rushes to the back of the classroom. He manages to push Parker and his partner Sarah back from their desk, but doesn’t get there in time to stop the potion from exploding.

The runes along the edges of the desk flare golden. The potion doesn’t leave the confines of the desk, stopping and sliding down midair as if they’ve hit an invisible wall. The explosive components of the potion are channeled through the iron legs and into the castle’s stonework, as intended.

Unfortunately, none of that prevented the wall of flames from leaping up and burning his entire left arm and side. It’s incredibly irritating that any fire preventative spells he could apply interferes with the fire spells the students need to cast in order to heat up their cauldrons. He really needs to find a work around for that.

He grits his teeth against the pain. It’s hardly the worst he’s experienced, and he manages to put the fire out almost as soon as it appears. Because it was a magical fire, that still means he’s dealing with second degree burns, which is less than ideal. “Professor!” Sarah exclaims. “Are you okay? I mean, you’re not okay, I’ll go get Madame Pomfrey–”

“Sit down,” he says. Sarah’s eyes narrow, but instead of letting her argue, he just points at her seat. She’s still glaring at him as she sits down. Parker is as pale as a ghost. “Parker, you too.”

He drops into his seat like he’s made of stone, staring at Draco’s burned left side and his blistering skin. Honestly, Draco’s more upset about his robe than his skin. One of those will heal, and the other cost him a hundred galleons. “Why did your potion explode?”

“I’m sorry,” he blurts out, “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone!”

“That’s not what I asked. Why did your potion explode?” he repeats.

“I really think you should go to the hospital wing,” Sarah says.

His eyes narrow. “Are you deaf, or being purposely obtuse? Answer the question.”

He can see a couple people raising their hands in his peripheral vision, but he doesn’t call on them. He knows they know how not to explode their potions, because they didn’t do it. Parker and Sarah did. They need to answer his question.

“We used the wrong ingredient?” Sarah tries.

“Is that a statement, or a question?”

She glares at him, but turns to the board. She looks between their ingredients and those listed in the instructions, and frowns. “We did not use the wrong ingredient.”

“No,” Draco agrees, “you did not.”

He turns his eyes from Sarah to Parker, and waits. He swallows, then says, “Maybe, maybe we, uh, put them in the wrong order?”

“No,” Sarah says confidently, scanning both the board and her notes. “We didn’t. We put them in the cauldron in the right order.”

Parker stares into the distance, silently counting something off on his fingers. Draco sees the exact moment he figures it out, his face clearing. “The fire! It wasn’t hot enough!”

“Why would that make something explode?” Sarah asks, wrinkling her nose.

“Ashwinder scales explode if they’re not kept warm enough,” he says. “That’s why they’re the main ingredients in fireworks. And we had powdered ashwinder scales in the potion.”

“But the flesh eating slugs are supposed to stabilize them,” she argues. A moment later she twists to read the board, then scowls. “We didn’t mix the scales and slugs together before putting them in the potion like we were supposed to. Instead, we just added them at the same time. Which would have been fine, if our heat wasn’t too low. But it was. So, it exploded.”

They both turn to look at him, and he’d clap if he wasn’t in so much pain. “Very good. Five points each to Gryffindor and Slytherin for being able to analyze and deconstruct an unexpected result.” He turns and looks at the rest of his class. “If you go beyond basic potion making, you’ll learn that being able to figure out what you did after the fact to get the result you did is just as valuable as doing it correctly in the first place. Understand?”

All the kids nod.

Albert raises his hand. “Er, Professor Malfoy, should you maybe go the hospital wing now? Your arm looks kinda awful.”

Raina is glaring at him, which means Draco is definitely going to get a letter from Lady Lestrange. She’s going to make fun of him mercilessly, and it will come up at the next meeting of the Lords and Ladies.

“Everyone put a stasis charm on your potion, bottle it up, then vanish the rest,” he orders. “I’ll grade you based on what you’ve already done. You get out of class early because I have to go get yelled at by Pomfrey. Don’t get used to it.”

~

Few injuries or sicknesses are perilous enough to require more than a day or two spent in the infirmary. Pomfrey ruins all the fun of being sick, so as long as they’re not actively vomiting, kids tend to prefer to just get healed and go back to class. Not even wizards have been able to cure the common cold, but they can’t treat the symptoms to the point that most people forget that they’re sick. Up until the spells wear off, and then they crash and sleep for twelve hours. That had happened to Draco more than once while he was studying for his mastery.

Seeing as it’s Monday morning, Draco isn’t expecting anyone else to be in the infirmary when he steps inside.

“Draco,” Potter says, green eyes wide under his ridiculous glasses. “What happened to you?”

“What happened to you?” he retorts, walking towards Potter since he’s already seen him, meaning he’s lost his chance to run. He’s shirtless and sitting on one of the beds, something that Draco would probably find more distracting if it wasn’t for the large diagonal cut starting from his sternum and curling over his hip. It’s not deep, barely oozing blood, but Draco doesn’t understand how he got hurt in the first place. “Is there a dark wizard running around the grounds that you couldn’t resist the urge to capture? Or perhaps Hagrid has gotten a giant cat to accompany his giant dog. How many heads does this one have?”

Potter rolls his eyes so hard Draco’s surprised they don’t pop out of his head. “I teach an extra curricular dueling class in the mornings. One of the kids got lucky. It was a lot worse before Pomfrey got her hands on me.”

“Which kid?” he asks. “I may make them a plaque. ‘More Competent than Voldemort.’ In gold. Aren’t you supposed to be some sort of badass auror? How did a kid get the drop on you?”

If looks could kill, Draco would be dead on the floor. “I was showing them the wand movements and he cast it on accident. What was I supposed to do? Cast a knock back jinx on a student?”

“Protego exists, and unless this kid is the second coming of Merlin, it would have held,” Draco points out. “Seriously. Which kid?”

“Whenever I cast protego, the spells just bounce off. I didn’t want it hitting someone else!” He runs his hand through his hair, reopening the wound across his chest and causing it to start bleeding anew. He doesn’t seem to notice. “Oberon did it. Don’t bring it up, though, he feels awful.”

“Are you joking?” Oberon, the great grandson of the Ollivander lord, has the look of a Picasso painting and reminds Draco painfully of Neville when they were kids. “I’m going to owl his grandfather immediately, he’ll be so proud.” He’s not joking. Lord Ollivander might actually get the kid a plaque. “Also, your shield charms repel spells instead of absorbing them because you overpower them. Knock it off.”

“You sound like Kinglsey,” he grumbles. “It never works, no matter how little power I put into them. Even when I barely use any magic, everything bounces off anyway.”

Draco doesn’t roll his eyes, but it’s a near thing. “That’s because your definition of barely any magic and everyone else’s differs to laughable degree. But I suppose it’s only fair that you suffer some downsides from being more powerful than Dumbledore.”

“I’m not,” he insists, and Draco gets the impression that he says that a lot.

The last time they had a conversation that touched on tradition, it ended in a yelling match. So far, they’ve been managing to talk almost normally, and he’s strangely reluctant to ruin that. But not saying anything almost feels like cowardice, and he got his fill of cowardice during the war. “You are. You shouldn’t deny that. Dumbledore’s power and yours are different. He wasn’t born with all of his, he borrowed some of it, but you were, and you didn’t. All of your power is your own. It’s impressive, and rare, and you should be proud of what you are. Even if what you are is strange and different from everyone else.”

Potter has a strange look on his face that Draco can’t place, but at least he doesn’t seem angry. “So you’re saying I’m a freak, and I should be proud of it?”

The way he says freak makes the hair on the back his neck stand on end, and he can’t say why. He doesn’t like the turn this conversation has taken, but for an entirely different reason than he was expecting. “Well, you’re no more of a freak than the rest of us. You were given a gift.”

There’s more he could say if Potter knew about his heritage, about their traditions. He could say that it’s all borrowed in the end, and he should enjoy it since he has it. He could tell him that his ancestors paid in blood for his magic, that they would be pleased to know their sacrifice wasn’t in vain. He could say that he’s from an ancient and noble line and that comes with certain privileges and responsibilities, and magic is a tool to help him in both.

But he can’t.

Because Potter may be the most powerful person to walk the earth in a long time, but he doesn’t know where that power comes from, what it costs. What it’s cost those who came before him.

Terrible, but great. That’s how some people described Voldemort, but it was a stolen phrase, one that’s been around a long longer than the dark lord, longer than Hogwarts itself.

Terrible, but great, is how young children are taught to think of magic. Before they learn anything else, they learn that phrase.

They learn that nothing so beautiful comes without a price.

But Potter doesn’t know. All the other purebloods know, Ron knows, blood traitor or not. But Potter doesn’t. The Heir to the Potter line doesn’t know, and Draco doesn’t know what to do about that. He doesn’t know if there is anything he can do about that, at least not without it ending in a duel, one he’ll most certainly lose unless he gets lucky.

They’re just staring at one another, the silence stretching between them and become more awkward by the second, but Draco refuses to be the one to break it.

“All right, Harry, this should take care of the – MR. MALFOY!” Pomfrey screeches. He turns to see her coming out her office with a healing potion in her hand. Her eyes are narrowed in fury. “What on earth happened to you?”

“A couple of third years blew up a potion. I got in the way. I can heal it myself if you’re busy,” he adds. He’s decent at healing charms, and considering all her healing potions are ones that he brewed, he hardly needs her for that. But whenever he heals himself, he always ends up messing it up in some way, and he’s rather not to do that, obviously.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she snaps. She shoves the healing potion at Potter, “Drink this.” He obeys without question. She taps her wand against Draco’s back, and what’s left of his robe and shirt vanishes, leaving him in nothing more than his trousers. It’s a good thing he stuck his wand in trouser pocket on the way here. Harry chokes on his potion, and starts coughing, his face red as he pounds on his chest. “Really, Mr. Potter, I hardly think it tastes that bad.”

Pomfrey mutters a long string of Latin at his back, and there’s a cooling sensation all over his left side, causing him to instantly relax. “It’s supposed to taste like mint and strawberry,” he tells Potter, “It’s made to be drank by literal children.”

“It wasn’t the taste,” he says defensively, done coughing but still red. Draco would have thought his dark skin would help with that, but Harry’s face is nearly the same color as Ron’s hair, which can’t be healthy. “I just swallowed wrong.”

Honestly, it astounds him now that Potter survived the war since he can’t even swallow a potion properly. “All done!” Pomfrey announces. Draco looks down, and his skin is fully healed and back to being pale and unblemished. “Now, if the two of you could keep from getting hurt by your students, I so would appreciate it.”

She doesn’t wait for their answer, instead just turning around and walking back to her office.

“Am I supposed to walk back to my room like this?” Potter asks plaintively.

Draco considers his naked torso. “It’s been a while since you’ve graced the cover of Witch Weekly, hasn’t it?”

Potter is glaring at him, but it doesn’t have any bite to it. “That’s not funny.”

“I disagree,” he says, pulling out his wand. He summons a button up shirt from his wardrobe, pulling it over his shoulders and quickly doing up the front buttons. If Potter’s trying to hide his look of longing, he’s doing a terrible job of it. It’s Potter’s own fault for not being controlled enough in his magic to summon his own clothes. He runs a critical eye over him, and he’s fit, he know he looks good, but Potter has the type of muscles and width that come from spending four years hunting down dark wizards, and Draco’s not sure he has anything that will fit. He could try and transfigure something, and while he’s sure it would be serviceable, transfiguration is far from his best skill, and he doesn’t want to embarrass himself.

He summons a sweater from his closet that’s a couple sizes too large, and hopes that Harry won’t reject it on principal. “Here.” Potter looks at the green sweater in confusion. The little silver snakes patterned across it probably don’t help. “You wanted something to wear, didn’t you?” he asks impatiently. “It’s the only thing I have that’s might be your size. Unlike you, I wear clothes that fit.” Only after he says that does it occurs to him that he could have summoned a normal shirt and just cast engorgio on it.

“Then why do you have this?” Potter asks, taking the sweater like it might bite him.

Draco considers not answering him, or lying. For some reason, he still can’t get Potter’s expression when he’d called himself a freak out his head. “It’s nice to wear on chilly days if I’m not leaving the house.”

He braces himself for laughter or mockery, but instead Potter just smiles at him. “I used to steal Ron’s sweaters for that. He finally just told his mom to start making my Christmas sweaters a couple sizes too big.”

Draco has no idea how to respond to this piece of unsolicited personal information, so he just says, “Return it whenever,” and walks out of the hospital wing.

~

He’s picking up the halfblood baby from Lord Flint on Saturday morning, which means he can do the adoption ceremony sometime in the afternoon. Which only leaves the question of who’s going to raise the kid. His family tree is spread out on his desk, and they’re running short on living branches who haven’t intermarried with another pureblood. This kid is being given to the Malfoy family, so he wants them raised as a Malfoy, not a Malfoy who’s a Goyle or a Nott or a Brown by marriage.

Diane’s younger sister, Annabel, got married to a Rosier a couple years ago, an upstart auror who works long hours. Nora probably doesn’t have the time for a baby, but Annabel might, and he’s pretty sure she likes kids. She likes her sister’s, at any rate.

He calls her on the mirror he keeps on at his desk, and when she answers she’s in the middle of putting up her hair. Based on that and the angle, he assumes she’s speaking to him from her vanity. “My lord,” she greets cheerfully, carefully pinning her mass of hair in place. “What can I do for you?”

“We’re getting another baby,” he says. “I’m pretty sure if I try and give Randolph any more kids, he’ll revolt.” The old man loves kids, but he'ss currently raising three of them, and although Draco’s pretty sure he’ll continue happily taking them until his house is bursting at the seams, his wife can only handle so much before she snaps and tracks Draco down to strangle him.

Annabel’s whole face lights up, which is a good sign. “Yes! We’ll take him. Her. Them. Absolutely.” He hadn’t expected it to be that easy. He must look surprised, because she says, “We’ve actually been talking about it. I told Nora when she proposed that I wanted a lot of kids, but she doesn’t feel like it’s a good time because she’s not home often enough. But unless her career tanks, she’ll never be home often enough, so there’s no point in waiting as far as I’m concerned. I’ll check with her, but she already agreed in theory.”

“Why didn’t you talk to me?” he asks. “Just because I’m a professor doesn’t mean I’m slacking on my duties as the family head.” He hopes it doesn’t, at least. Have people been saying something?

She shrugs, “Honestly, Nora still wants to wait, but if there’s a baby in need of a family, then we’re not going to turn them away. Let me talk to my wife. I’ll call you tomorrow.” He nods, and she adds on, “No one thinks you’re shirking your duties. We know you’re busy. But we also know you’ll come if we need you.”

Oh, that’s good. He should really work on seeming less transparent. “Talk to Nora, and let me know.”

“You should consider taking one of the kids,” she says, “You don’t have an Heir, you know.”

He wrinkles his nose. His life is more than enough of a disaster without adding a child to it. That’s a later problem. “No thanks. Keep it up, and I’ll name Luna the Heir.”

“She’d be great at it, and Xeno would be furious, which is always a plus,” she says, then blows him a kiss. His mirror shimmers as she disappears from it. He marks down a couple more possibilities, and then taps the family tree with his wand, banishing it back to the manor.

He’s halfway through Dacia Zabini’s proposal for the potions club when Milly pops into existence next to him. “Professor Granger is being here for you.”

On one hand, he’s legitimately busy, but on the other, he doesn’t want Hermione to think he’s avoiding her, which can only end in her attempting to set him on fire. “Let her in.”

By the time he steps out his office, Hermione is sitting cross legged in one of his chairs by the fire, a thick scroll held in her hands. “I have some questions about the House,” she says, bushy hair pinned in a bun on top of her head.

“It’s only been two days, how do you have that many questions?” he asks, looking at her scroll in trepidation. She’s in his quarters, it’s too late to run, so he just sits on the edge of his couch closest to her. He snaps his fingers a couple of times, and by the time he’s done a steaming pot of tea and two cups are on the table.

She glares at it, but seems to decide to pick her battles, and says, “Actually, I wrote this the night we got back, but Ron said I shouldn’t ambush you the next morning. So, I gave you two days. Aren’t I nice?”

“Your kindness is appreciated,” he says dryly. He pours himself a cup of tea, then says, “Okay, go ahead.”

“Why all the secrecy?” she asks. “What’s the point of hiding everything?”

Now he’s just confused. “What secrecy? The House has been meeting once a month on the full moon for over a thousand years. Everyone knows. Besides, someone takes notes of what’s discussed at every meeting, as well as how much blood was spilled, and it’s stored in the library archives. In triplicate. It’s no more of a secret than the Wizengamot meetings.”

“I didn’t know it was happening,” Hermione points out, “Neither did Harry.”

“But Ron did, and Neville, and Luna, and a whole bunch of other people,” he says. “Muggle raised folk are the minority in the magical world. It’s not our fault you don’t know what’s going on. When Dumbledore proposed that Muggle Studies be altered to be about muggles in the early nineteen hundreds, most of the House was against it.”

“But you let it happen,” she says.

He rolls his eyes, “Contrary to popular belief, we don’t actually control everything that happens. We just try and know about it and influence it. That doesn’t mean we succeed.”

“So, what, for nearly a hundred years you let muggleborns remain ignorant? You let them be hunted down and prosecuted, for what, exactly? Because Dumbledore changed the curriculum, so you all threw your hats in and gave up?” she asks angrily.

He raises a hand. “Being against muggleborns is a new prejudice. That didn’t start until the fifties, at least on a large scale. Of course, people have always held prejudices, the Flints practically seem to collect them, but there’s a difference between a few people being assholes and a social movement. So, you’re right, we did nothing. We didn’t think a few people not being raised knowing about the world would break us. The House thought they would learn. That even if there wasn’t formal classes about it, that it would be impossible not to pick up. We were wrong,” he says firmly. “Maybe if Voldemort hadn’t come to power, then everything would have worked itself out, then it would have gone like the House thought it would. But he did, and it didn’t. Ignorance was bred on both sides, and anger, and Voldemort used that to make the war into something other than how it started, and our whole society suffered for it.”

“So it’s Voldemort’s fault?” she asks, lips pressed in a tight line.

He’d love to say yes. He’d love to lay all the blame at the madman’s feet, dust off his hand of the mess, and walk away. But he can’t. “No. Voldemort came to power because people let him. Ignorant people will always exist in one way or another, but people not knowing any better isn’t an excuse for a thirty year guerilla civil war. Everyone should have known, and someone should have stopped him.” This hurts to say, but he has to say it, it’s only fair. “If my father had been a Lord true to his oaths to protect magic, he wouldn’t have followed Voldemort. He should have known better. He should have tried to stop him. And maybe he would have died trying, but that was his duty as Lord. To die for our people, and for the magic. But he didn’t.”

“You’re talking as if the war started over something other than blood purity,” Hermione says, “but it wasn’t. All the history books say the same thing. Voldemort initially gained power championing blood purity and the exclusion of those who were not pure. How could anyone support that and not be awful?”

“Because the modern notion of blood purity and the historical one are different,” he answers. “Blood is magic, remember. Magic purity. What that war began as, what every war before it was about, was keeping the muggles away from us and away from our world. When Voldemort’s war began, it wasn’t about muggleborns, or torture, or any of that. It was about isolationism. The muggles were in the midst of their own terrible war, using weapons so powerful that even we feared them. People wanted to retreat, to hide, to go deeper and closer to one another where muggles couldn’t unknowingly hurt us with their war. More than a few wizards died from bombs dropped across London.”

“They were already so separate,” she says slowly, “it wouldn’t have been that much of a stretch to retreat even further apart.” She has an odd look on her face, and Draco can only assume it’s occurring to her that wizards have watched muggles face inhumane atrocities throughout history, and done … nothing. At least as a society.

He nods, “Most people were in favor of it. People didn’t see why they should have to die for a war they weren’t apart of and hadn’t started. But there were a few problems. We weren’t a totally separate nation. Halfbloods and muggleborns existed, and they had a connection to the muggle world, had families they wanted to protect, that they couldn’t abandon. But in refusing to either leave them behind or stay with them in the muggle world, they placed the rest of the wizarding world in danger. They wanted the wizards to get involved in the war, to help, to fight. Some purebloods agreed and were of the opinion that we stop hiding and help, while others were opposed, and said that if we had to brake the secrecy laws it should not be in the middle of a muggle war that threatened to wipe us out entirely.” He rubs the back of his neck, and glances into the fire because he doesn’t want to chance looking at her face. “That’s how the war started. Halfbloods have been looked down on due to their parents’ choices for a long time, but it wasn’t this violent, and muggleborns were considered pure, a gift of magic. That’s how it began. This is how it ended.”

“Well, how it ended is crap, and since you lot have so much power, you should do something about it,” Hermione says, fire in her eyes.

Draco can’t even say he’s surprised. This is the woman who champions the rights of house elves, for merlin’s sake. “What do you want done?”

Surprise flickers over her face, like she expected him to argue with her. “Reinstate the original muggle studies course, for one thing. Dumbledore’s been dead for eight years, and nothing’s changed. Your study group is helping, but only the kids in Slytherin, and it’s not enough.” She bites her bottom lip, “I still think wizarding kids learning about the muggle world is valuable, though. There’s so much of it. There’s not needing something, and then there’s putting your head in the sand and ignore the other ninety nine percent of the world.”

He initially thought Hermione was going to attempt to murder him for holding the classes, and now she’s actively supporting them. His life is so strange. “Keep the muggle studies class as is. Do I think learning about muggles is inherently valuable? No.” She glares, but this can’t be new information to her. “But I don’t think Ancient Greek is inherently valuable ether, and it’s still an elective.”

“So we add a new class, a required one,” she says, “for the muggleborns. Or even muggle raised.”

“Potter is a rarity, but yes, I agree,” he says. “However, I feel the need to point out that introducing students to these concepts as first years is more useful to them than leaving them to flounder for two years and then forcing them to take it.”

“It’s also unfair that muggleborns gets one of their elective choices taken away,” Hermione admits. “I agree they need to know it. But we need to make it fair.”

Draco thinks the fair part is that they didn’t have to grow up memorizing family trees until their eyes felt like they were bleeding, but he knows Hermione isn’t going to buy that for a second. “Replace History of Magic. Or alter it, I guess. Instead of being about goblin wars that no one cares about, have it be about the actual history of magic, the house and our traditions, all of it.” She opens her mouth to argue, but Draco says, “Be honest, how useful was Professor Binn’s class?”

She sighs and admits, “Not very. Fine, say we alter the curriculum so History of Magic is about wizarding tradition and society. The purebloods and other kids who already know it won’t want to take it, nor should they have to. Now they’ll have a gap in their schedule.” She sits up straight with a gleam in his eyes he knows he’s going to grow to hate. “They should take Muggle Studies as a required class instead.”

“No,” he says immediately, “Absolutely not.”

“It’s perfect,” she insists. “All of your sort want the muggleborns educated about wizarding society, and all my sort want the wizards educated about muggle society. Those in the middle don’t care, and you’re right, absolutely no one is attached to History of Magic as is, except maybe Binns.”

The thing is, she’s right, but he hates it. And he’s considered to be a moderate as far as the house is concerned. “It will never pass.”

“It’s the only way it will pass,” she insists. “We’ll have it so taking one of the two classes is a requirement for the first two years. After that, they can both be electives.” He’s scowling, but she only shrugs. “Look, intended or not, Voldemort’s war turned an ignorance about muggles, muggleborns, and halfbloods into a hatred that ended in thousands dead on both sides. Maybe you and I didn’t make this mess, but we have to fix it. This will fix it.”

“This will get the other Lords and Ladies out for my head,” he glares. Then, reluctantly, “Giving the kids three electives to choose from will be popular, at least. You’re not the only one who thought having only two was unfair. My mother just paid for a tutor over the summer, but not everyone has that.”

“Especially the muggleborns,” Hermione says. “They can’t do that, it’s not even an option, regardless of money. This will work, Draco.”

He can already feel a headache building at the base of his skull. He regrets becoming friendly with Hermione Granger. “Fine. We’ll work on it. You work on a proposal for a revised Muggle Studies class, I’ll do one for a revised History of Magic, and we’ll turn them into something that both sides won’t spit back in our faces. If we can get an organized proposal together by the holidays, there’s a slim chance we can push it through in time for the changes to take effect next year.” Lord Flint is going try to poison him. Lord Brown will support it, at least.

“How long should it be?” she asks. “I’ve never introduced new legislation before.”

“About three feet to start, then we’ll go from there.” He eyes the scroll in her hand, “How many questions did all that answer?”

“Three,” she says. Draco’s face drops, but she gets to her feet. “We can shelve the rest for later, I have a proposal to work on.”

He stands to walk her to the door, but she waves him aside, and he drops back down. “How considerate of you.”

“I saw Harry this morning, by the way,” she says, doing a very poor attempt at seeming casual. “I liked the sweater he was wearing. It looked good on him.”

There are times when Hermione’s obviously a genius, and then there’s now, when he thinks she has to be insane. “That’s nice?”

It’s not until she’s out the door that he remembers that he lent Potter his sweater this morning. It’s a good thing there’s no one around to see how his whole face turns an unbecoming shade of red.

Chapter Text

Draco is pretty sure that Filius is full of crap. “Wand movements aren’t necessary for summoning charms, they’re just strongly recommended.”

“They’re necessary if you’re to do it safely and well,” he answers. “Just because you’ve been playing with fire since your school years by vanishing your cousin’s shoes doesn’t mean that’s behavior we like to encourage.”

He spends his mornings studying Flitwick’s office, because his evenings are quickly becoming cramped. He has the muggleborn classes, and he can let Liam take the reins on that mostly, but he still has to make an appearance at least once a week. Then there’s Dacia’s potions club, which he doesn’t want to approve and supervise, but he just knows that the alternative involves them brewing dangerous potions anyway, just without him to keep an eye on them. Plus all the prep and grading for his own classes, and keeping on top of account.

All of that, of course, pales in comparison to having Hermione barging into his rooms at least twice a week to yell at him about magic and politics, like he has anything to do with it besides being the product of it. He’d be more irritated, but apparently she’s doing the same to Neville and Luna, so he supposes he’s getting off light, all things considered.

Draco could really use a time turner, though. He’s getting to the point where he’s willing to straight up commit murder if meant getting twelve straight hours of sleep.

“The twist at the end just gives it a path to follow as it vanishes,” he argues. “If you don’t care where you’re vanishing something to, then it doesn’t matter at all. And if you do care, then just concentrate and don’t get distracted, it’s not that hard.”

“Just concentrate and don’t get distracted,” Filius repeats, amused. “Well, that covers nearly all magic, so not incorrect advice, I suppose.”

Filius is mocking him. Draco’s going to banish the stack of books he’s standing on right from beneath his feet, and then maybe he won’t be so mug. Draco’s not even going to use the wand movement to do it, either.

“Did you finish the essay I assigned?” Filius asks before he can put his plan into action.

“In all my spare time?” he drawls, but, well, he did. He taps his wand against the air, and a thick scroll falls into Filius’s hands.

He weighs it in his hands then break out in a smile. “Very good, Draco.”

When he starts smiling at receiving the same praise he gives his house elves, it’s probably a sign that his life is spiraling violently out of control, and he should do something about that.

He thinks he likes it, though. This whole professor thing isn’t turning out to be nearly as bad as he thought it’d be.

The kids are all right, as far as kids go, and his coworkers aren’t nearly terrible as he thought they’d be. Hermione is actually one of the more tolerable people he spends his time around.

If only he could get some sleep, then he supposes he wouldn’t have too much to complain about, really.

~

His elves don’t even bother telling him that Hermione is here anymore. They just let her in and get out her way, because they’re smart elves.

“I have a question,” she says, pushing open the door to his office. He’d try a locking charm, but he’s pretty sure it wouldn’t work, and would just make her mad.

“I’m shocked. Stunned. This is unprecedented. I don’t know if I’ll ever quite recover,” he answers, not looking up from the fourth years’ potions quizzes. They did surprisingly well. Either he’s a better teacher than he thought, or they’re all a bunch of cheaters.

He’s going with the latter. But he didn’t catch any of them in the act, so he’s tempted to let it slide. Banding together to cheat on his assignments isn’t the inter-house unity he was looking for, but he’s not about to take it for granted either. Maybe if he makes the tests ridiculously hard on purpose they’ll keep doing it, and keep working with each other? Or they’ll just have a nervous breakdown in the middle of class.

Either is sure to be entertaining, so he doesn’t have much reason not to do it.

Hermione glares at him, hardly a new experience, but the way she glares at him is different than it used to be. She rarely looks genuine angry when she’s talking to him now, there’s always an edge of warmth to temper the exasperation, and he has no idea what to do with it. “You’re doing the adoption ceremony tomorrow, right?”

“Yes,” he answers. His cousin must have managed to get her wife on board, because Nora had been the one to call him back the next day to tell him that they’d take the child.

“And you’ve taken other halfblood children into your family before?”

“Yes,” he answers again. “And muggleborns, and pureblood children who’s families hadn’t made it through the war.”

She takes a seat across from his desk and pulls out her scroll. “Does anyone ever have a hard time adjusting? With being a Malfoy but being a halfblood?”

Well, that’s easy. “No. They might have trouble adjusting for different reasons, but there’s no doubt about their place as a Malfoy.” She taps the desk to get him to stop writing and looks at him dubiously. “You’re still thinking like a muggle. Stop that.”

“Oh, well, if you insist, I’ll just erase eleven years worth of memories while I lived as a muggle,” she says, rolling her eyes.

“That would be ideal,” he answers, then, before she can yell at him, he continues. “It’s a blood adoption. A magical adoption. A bit of the family magic will be transferred to the child. They’re a Malfoy from that point on, no matter what else happens after that, just as if they’d been born into it. They get a place on the family tapestry just like everyone else.”

“Family tapestry?” Hermione asks eagerly. “Can I see it?”

He sighs. He wants to say no almost just so she doesn’t have anything else to ask more questions about, but he doesn’t think that will work. “It doesn’t leave the manor.” He bites his bottom lip, considering, and maybe Hermione’s spending too much time with him, because she’s not arguing. She can see he’s thinking of something, and is giving him the space to do it.

She’s not a member of his family, so he can’t give her unrestricted access. He trusts her, which he hadn’t expected, but trust doesn’t have anything to do with it. It’s just … something he can’t do. Tradition, expectations, precedent, or some combination of all three.

But he can bend the rules a little.

“Dax,” he says, “a moment.” There’s crack so loud that Hermione jerk to cover her ears, but by then there’s not point. He should have warned her, but it hadn’t occurred to him that he’d need to.

Standing in front of him is a house elf, old and sturdy, steady in a way most house elves aren’t. But most elves aren’t as old or as experienced. “Lord Malfoy,” he greets.

“This is Hermione Granger,” he says, and Dax inclines his head. Hermione does the same after a moment, stiff and uncertain. He also should have probably told her that Dax was part of the older crowd, although he doesn’t know if that would have meant anything to her. “I want her added to the wards. She’s allowed access to the sitting room, kitchens, and the library. Understand?”

“Of course, Lord Malfoy,” Dax says. If he’s surprised by this request, he doesn’t show it. He snaps his fingers, and a silver dagger appears along with a small smoky quartz bowl. “Miss Granger, if you don’t mind.”

He holds out the items to her, but she hesitates to take them. “Am I supposed to bleed into that?”

“Dax needs your blood to add you to the wards,” he answers.

“Just an ounce is fine, Miss,” he says, offering the dagger to her handle first.

She still doesn’t take it. “If I give you my blood, am I agreeing to fall under your lordship or house?”

He’s too impressed to be insulted. “Clever. But no. That’s a more formal affair. Besides, you can’t be sheltered, you’re the wife of a blood traitor, which means you’re a blood traitor too,” he points out, which isn’t a hundred percent accurate, but he doesn’t want to get into the nitty gritty details of it right now. He just wants to finish grading his papers. She gets a look on her face that he’s fast becoming familiar with, one that says she’s thinking of more questions than he can possibly answer. “Blood first.”

She rolls her eyes and finally takes the dagger. She makes a shallow cut along her upper arm and lets the warm red blood drip and splatter across the sides of the bowl. That’s how she stays for nearly a minute until Dax says, “That will do, Miss,” and snaps his fingers.

The wound on her upper arms closes and heals like it was never there. Dax nods at them both then disappears with a crack. “He didn’t call you Master,” Hermione says.

“Dax isn’t under contract,” he explains. “After a hundred years of service, we just assumed he wouldn’t try and scratch our faces off if we forgot to leave milk out.” She keeps staring at him, so he clarifies, “That was a joke. The elves harvest their own moon orchids these days, and Dax has been with the family since before contracts were standard affairs.”

She just keeps staring at him, and he really does have to finish grading these quizzes, so he wishes she would hurry this all up. Instead, she asks, “What the hell are you talking about?”

He really doesn’t have time for this. “Ask your husband.” He doesn’t even know what she’s confused about this time. She knows all about the contracts, it’s what she keeps protesting whenever anyone brings them up around her. Keeps on insisting that flowers aren’t appropriate compensation for indentured servitude, or something. He doesn’t know, it’s not like he bothered to pay attention to her before she steamrolled herself into his social circle.

“I’m asking you,” she says.

Merlin’s beard. He likes Hermione, but he has grading to finish, and, as she pointed out, an adoption ceremony to officiate tomorrow. He’s on a tight schedule. “Expecto patronum!” A silvery lynx pours out of his wand. “Go get Luna. Tell her that Hermione has some questions and won’t leave me alone.” She twitches her whiskers, then goes bounding away and through the wall. “I have to get this done, but you can ask Luna. I don’t know why you’re so reluctant to ask your friends these questions.”

“I do ask them, but they worry too much about hurting my feelings, and I like making you do it,” she answers, then sits down across from him and takes half of his remaining quizzes. “Here, I’ll help you grade until she gets here.”

He eyes her suspiciously, but she was always right behind him in potions, and right above in everything else except charms, so he has no reason to doubt her. A few minutes later, Luna pushes open the door to his office, but she’s not alone. Neville is behind her, which means he was probably with her when she got the message and isn’t that interesting.

“Hello, cousin,” she says cheerfully, sitting on the corner of his desk. Neville, a normal human being, takes the chair next to Hermione. “What questions?”

“Is Dax under contract?” he asks.

She snorts. Neville is appalled. “Careful where you say that! Remember what happened to my Great Great Uncle Simon?”

“May he rest in peace,” Draco says solemnly.

“Pieces,” Luna corrects. “That’s what he gets for trying to negotiate with his elf.”

Hermione, irritated, knocks her knuckles against the top of the table. “What are you guys talking about?”

“We had a family elf,” Neville explains, “she’d worked for us for a few generations, with no contract, and then my uncle tried to talk to her about getting her a bigger garden since she’d worked for us for so long. She tore him apart for the insult, and we haven’t seen her since. My grandmother was only a little girl when it happened, and she was heartbroken. She loved that elf.”

“No contract,” Hermione says. “How can an elf be attached to a family without a contract? I thought that was the whole point.”

“I mean, these days uncontracted elves are a bit of rarity,” Neville says. “But Dax has been serving the Malfoy family for what – three hundred years? Four hundred? A contract at this point would just be insulting. And insulting your house elves ends in death.”

Draco is back to grading, but he’s still keeping half an ear on the conversation around him. He’d tell them all to get lost and to let him suffer in peace, but it’s … kind of nice to have people around while he works.

Not long after, his door opens, and he looks up just in time to see Potter frozen in his entryway with his borrowed sweater clutched in front of his chest like a shield. “Er,” he says, looking at everyone with wide eyes. “I just, uh, I wanted to,” he holds out the sweater in Draco’s direction.

Potter is a disaster. Also very, very dangerous. Not because of the whole famous auror, dark lord killer thing, although that’s impressive and all. But because he’s standing there looking like an idiot, clearly embarrassed as he holds out the borrowed sweater, and Draco, for some inexplicable reason, feels fond of him.

Dangerous.

He flicks his wand, and his sweater vanishes out of Potter’s hands and back to his rooms. “Thanks, Potter.”

“Uh, yes,” he says, green eyes wide behind his ridiculous glasses. He takes one cautious step back, but then Neville leans back in his chair, grabs his wrist, and drags him over to join their odd semi circle. Draco doesn’t think he deserves this. He was just trying to get some grading done, like a responsible professor.

Luna transfigures a paperweight into what a farsighted person might describe as a stool, and Neville pushes Potter into it as Hermione scoots her chair over to give him more room. Potter catches his eyes, looking uncertain and uncomfortable, and it’s not like Draco’s the one who dragged him into this, it’s not his problem. “What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation?” he asks sarcastically, and Potter relaxes, just like he knew he would. “Although, wouldn’t it be easier for you all to go somewhere else, maybe?”

They ignore him, like it’s not his office they’re in and his desk they’re crowded around. Whatever. Don’t they have some actual work to do? All of them except Neville are professors, and he’s an apprentice, so he should be up to his ears and work. Draco became a Lord and begin his potions mastery at the same time, and that was one really terrible year. Not quite as bad as Voldemort living in his house and torturing him and his family on a regular basis, but pretty up there. They can sit around him and talk about whatever they want, he has actual work to do.

He just drowns out what they’re saying, and has gotten mostly through the quizzes and is just considering if he has the energy to tackle the sixth year essays when Luna says, “They’re brownies, Hermione, not children.”

He really hopes he’s missed some part of the conversation, or else he’s going to have to stop directing Hermione to Luna for questions. “What did you say? Don’t tell her we eat them!” That certainly won’t help her deluded campaign.

“The muggle myth,” Luna says, reaching over to flick him in the forehead. It barely even stings, but he’s still offended. “Brownies. Little folk who enter the homes of muggles and clean at night, can become invisible, and who expect milk or cream left out for them for their efforts.”

Oh, right, he forgot the muggles used to know about them. Back when things were less - divided. They used to know about a lot of things.

“Those were house elves?” she asks. “Or were they just like them?”

“No, they were house elves,” Neville says. “You can probably find some that are still around from then, who might have served a mixed house.”

“Mixed?” Hermione asks, and he doesn’t miss the way her eyes dart over Harry.

Luna doesn’t either. “Not mixed like me, or like Harry. Mixed as in muggle and magical people in the same house. House elves only appear from magical homes, but one or two witches or wizards was enough to qualify back then.”

“Wish it hadn’t been,” he grumbles, “If we hadn’t had as many house elves then, maybe I wouldn’t have so many now.”

Neville laughs at him, but joke’s on him. His family has almost as many house elves he does, Augusta just spreads them out more. One day it’s going to be Neville’s problem to manage all of that, and then it will be Draco’s turn to laugh.

“But they’re not slaves in the myths!” Hermione protests. “Or as good as. I don’t see how an eternal bond is worth some flowers.”

“And they don’t get milk like they did in the myths either,” Luna points out. “It was always the moon orchids. We just used to harvest them for the elves. We stopped because a couple finally got around to saying we were awful at it and doing it all wrong, so we just grow them and let them to what they want with them. Also, the bond isn’t forever, just as long as we keep providing moon orchids. If we stop providing orchids, then they’re free to kill us. Isn’t that nice?”

Harry scrunches his face up, and Draco thinks adorable before he reign his thoughts back. “I don’t get it. Why do elves care so much about some flowers?”

“They eat them,” Hermione says. “They can survive on a variety of magical plants, or latant magic if there’s enough of it, but there usually isn’t. Moon orchid is their favorite, but it’s difficult and expensive to grow. It’s usually only found on the grounds of wizard’s homes and in the forbidden forest.”

“They can grow other places,” Neville objects. “But the elves won’t eat them. At that point, they’re just pretty flowers. Besides, the whole reason we have this house elf problem is because the magic’s dying to begin with. Before, it didn’t matter. Moon orchids could be grown from almost any flower seed as long as it was planted in soil that had been mixed in a witch or wizard’s blood.”

“Why would someone do that?” Harry asks, appalled. Hermione’s too invested in the answer to be grossed out. Typical.

Luna shrugs. “House elves would just show up and start working. Once an elf decided it was cleaning your home, you had two options. You could either start growing moon orchids as a way to graciously return their kind favor, or you could slowly let your sparkling home spiral into chaos as the house elf got more and more upset that you weren’t feeding it and didn’t want it’s obviously superior help cleaning your home. Sometimes angry elves would just cause mischief, sometimes they would break things or hurt people. Sometimes people died.”

“Which wasn’t a big deal to the house elf, because there were far more wizards than there were elves, and they’d eventually find someone who was down for cleaning in return for some flowers,” Neville continues. “But then the witch trials happened. Or, well, got worse, because they’d pretty much always been happening. And the magic shrank, for lack of a better term, and average wizards and witches couldn’t make their own moon orchids anymore. So the elves went to those who still could. Which was those with ancestral homes. Now, we’re stuck on too many elves, not enough wizards, which is how we got to contracts. The elves do as they’re told and don’t destroy our homes or kill us, and we continue to provide moon orchids.”

“I have a whole acre dedicated to the damn things,” Draco says. “Since the manor is the ancestral ground for my family, all the elves go to the Malfoy grounds to collect theirs.”

“What was going on with Dobby, then?” Hermione asks suspiciously. “He wanted to be free.”

Draco snorts. “He didn’t want to be under contract, which my family wasn’t going to do. Notice the first thing he did was come work for Hogwarts, where he could have his fill of moon orchids.” He hesitates, but so far being honest with Hermione hasn’t backfired on him, so he says, “Dobby was the strangest house elf I’ve ever seen, and no one was upset to see him gone. He routinely caused twice as many problems as he solved. But my father’s method of trying to beat the disobedience out of him was ineffective, and cruel. He didn’t want to free him because he was trying to prevent Dobby from turning into a boggart, but that’s not an excuse.”

Neville is looking at him strangely, and Luna is grinning so wide her face looks like it’s going to break in half. They should both stop that right now.

“From turning into a what?” Hermione demands, and merlin, is there never any end to her questions?’

“Unattached, morose house elves turn into boggarts given enough time,” Harry says impatiently. “I’ve seen it happen. But, not that is isn’t fascinating and all, but can we go back a bit? Wizards and muggles lived together?” he asks, incredulous. “But we’re so separate now! Why did we stop?”

Everyone goes quiet, and Draco knows Harry’s an idiot, but he can’t be this stupid. The reason’s a little hard to miss, even for a dunderhead. “The witch trials,” Hermione says. “All the books say it. After the witch trials, everything changed.”

“Not,” Luna clears her throat, “not exactly.”

“Things have never been easy, historically speaking,” Neville says. “Instances, of course, have been positive. Pockets of peace.”

“Which always gives morons false hope that we’ll have it again,” Draco says acidly. “That it’s sustainable and practical and won’t end up with more dead wizards and more magic lost.”

“We might. Just because it’s never been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done,” Hermione argues.

“Well, keep me and mine out of it. If you want to kill what’s left of our society forever, you won’t be using my people to do it,” he answers, glaring.

She’s not actually trying to start a fight with him, so she just sighs and rolls her eyes. “We keep having our own wars and killing ourselves every few decades, I’m not sure why you think there’s that much of difference. Not that I think it would necessarily all fall into war, mind you.”

“That’s different,” Luna says before he can. “When we kill each other, the magic stays. When they kill us, it’s gone forever.”

He doesn’t even have to look at them to know Hermione and Harry have no idea what they’re talking about. “Borrowed, not given. Earned, not taken,” he says, echoing what Liam said at the first Muggleborn class. “It’s not who kills who that matters. It’s what’s done with the bodies.” He swallows, looks at Harry, and says, “If nothing else, never forgive Dumbledore for what he did with your parents’ bodies. Leaving them to rot in a muggle cemetery was despicable. They were Lord and Lady Potter, and should have been treated accordingly.”

Harry doesn’t seem mad at him, which is nice, but Draco doesn’t think he really understands him either.

“That’s how you give it back,” Hermione says, eyes alight. “Isn’t it? Bodies.”

“Not pretty, and not free,” he answers. He wants to hit himself. He’d known she hadn’t known the specifics, but he’d assumed she’d known the basics, because everyone knew the basics, but clearly they didn’t and he really needed to stop assuming they did. “Wizards don’t have graveyards. We just have ancestral homes.”

“From the earth we came, and into the earth we go,” Luna quips. “We have graveyards now, but it’s still on ancestral earth, so it amounts to about the same. It’s just that it doesn’t stay within one family anymore.”

Neville shrugs, “Which isn’t so bad, really. Less Lords and Ladies, which isn’t ideal, but still magic, still wizards and witches, so it’s different, but it’s there.”

“But not those killed in the witch trials,” Draco says. “Burned or drowned, most of the time. Hanging, which gave us a chance, because sometimes those bodies were buried. But that meant opening up a fresh grave and stealing the body, all without being caught. And it’s not like we knew who exactly was a witch or wizard, and who was just an unlucky muggle caught in the crossfire, so it’s very possible that even if someone managed to steal the body and rebury it in time, it might not even be a witch or wizard, just a muggle who’s not going to do any good besides fertilizer. Tracking charms weren’t as good back then.”

Neville adds, “Some people say that anyone with magic could just escape, but that’s just not true. Back then, we were split up, and those that lived among muggles were the only magical person, or one of a half dozen or so in the village. Cities were safer, but not by much. So a witch could only escape if they had their wand, and no one was looking, and they had a place to go. Which meant many of them never escaped at all. They just died.”

Potter seems horrified, but Hermione is fascinated. “Explain that all again, but slower, and more.”

“We weren’t born,” Neville says with patience than Draco has. “Witches and wizards were made. Some ancestors long ago struck a deal with some forgotten gods, or gathered magic for willow trees, or the sun cracked open and we swallowed what came out. The details are all different, but the core of it is the same.”

“We were muggles once,” Luna says. “The magic we have is borrowed. It doesn’t belong to us, and we won’t be getting any more of it. So once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”

Or so they say. It’s a at the intersection of myth and religion, and Draco doesn’t know which it is, and he doesn’t care. He just knows the numbers add up, so how exactly they got here doesn’t matter much. It just matters that they’re here, and that the rules they’re living by seem to work.

“Where do you think all those empty seats in the House came from?” Draco asks. “There are ancestral lands all across the world. Legends say they’re the places where the sun’s touch first fell, or where the first magic users were buried. It doesn’t matter why. We each contain magic and the ability to control it. When we die, that magic has to go somewhere. If we’re buried in the right land, we get to keep it. Another magical child will be born, and magic will live on. But if not, if our bodies are not put back in the earth in the right way, before a certain time, the magic is just - gone. Forever.”

“How do you know if it’s before that certain time?” Hermione asks, eyes wide.

Luna says, “Tracking spells work on corpses for about the first week after death, because the magic is still there. Once it’s gone, then there’s no point. It’s just a body. We’ll bury it, and we’ll mourn, but the magic won’t come back.”

“Unless it’s a battlefield,” Neville says grimly. “Ancestral lands can be made, with enough blood. Maybe they were all made, and we’ve just forgotten.”

Draco snorts. “With enough blood, you can make anything.” He gestures to the floor, “Hogwarts was built on the ancestral lands of Helga Hufflepuff and Godric Gryffindor. Their land bordered each other, so when it came time to make Hogwarts, the stuck it slap dab in the middle of their property line. The Gryffindor common room is on the side that used to be Hufflepuff’s land, and the Hufflepuff common room is on the Gryffindor side.”

“Diagon Alley is ancestral land,” Neville says, “all the graveyards, and most of the pureblood families have some too. It’s their ancestral homes. With some runes, dedication, and, well, enough blood, it’s possible to keep it in the family, so to speak.” He turns to Draco, “When your family came over from France, how many feet down did you bring over?”

“Twenty feet down, across about ten acres,” he answers. “Refilling the place we’d left in France with muggle earth apparently took weeks.”

Hermione frowns, then asks, “Do moon orchids only grow from ancestral lands?”

She really is the cleverest of them all. It’d be irritating if he could stop being so impressed.

“Do moon orchids only grow from earth that contains wizard’s bodies and who knows how much blood?” Draco asks. “Yes.” Neville makes a face, because there are a few ways to make them away from ancestral lands, but none of them are worth the trouble.

“So right below us, and below all the old homes, and even Diagon Alley,” Potter says slowly, “are … bodies?”

“No coffins, no preservation, just a death shroud,” Luna says. “Hundreds of thousands of them. Because magic isn’t free.”

“So, what, if people aren’t buried in the proper place, we just lose magic?” he asks. “That seems … How do we know that’s how it works?”

Draco wants to be irritated with him, but can’t quite bring himself to do it. Like he said, dangerous. Potter is dangerous. “The empty seats at the House. The lower birth rates. The dozens of empty classrooms in Hogwarts alone. There used to be more of us. And we can’t just all agree to have a lot of kids for a few generations and call it a day. The magic is gone. At a certain point, we’ll just end up as squibs.”

Luna twists her body over his desk to elbow him in the side. “It’s not quite that dire. Yet. We’d have to continue on for about a thousand more years just as we are to die out completely.”

“But if we do continue on, just as we are, then we will die out?” Hermione asks. “That can’t be right. Magic is - there’s so much of it. We can’t just lose it.”

“We’re running out, and we’re running low. There’s only one source of new magic we have, and this past war nearly destroyed it,” Draco says.

Hermione gets up from her chair to glare down at him. She can only get the height advantage while he’s sitting. “Well, what is it then?”

He tilts his head back and looks up to meet her angry brown eyes. “You.”

Her mouth falls open. It’s clearly not what she was expecting. She has to swallow before she can say, “What?”

“You,” he says again. “Muggleborns are the only new source of magic we’ve been able to find. Your magic doesn’t feel like anyone else’s. It’s new. People have tried everything - inadvisable congress with magical creatures, dark rituals, the worst sort of potions made out of the remains of - well, you get the idea. For hundreds, probably thousands, of years, people have been trying to find a new source of magic, because it’s been steadily declining for that long. But we’ve only found one. Muggleborns.”

“Not like us,” Luna says, smiling, “The first of us were made. Supposedly. You were born. You’re special.”

“A gift from magic,” Neville adds. “That’s how muggleborns used to be thought of. It’s how they should still be thought of, or at least their new magic should be acknowledged, considering how desperately in need we are of it.”

“But then there was this war. And the hundred before it, and the witch hunts, which may have gone under different names all across the world, but they still happened all across the world. So we kill each other, the muggles kill us, and we kill the only ones who can save us,” Draco says. “All this killing, and sooner or later, we won’t be able to do it anymore. We’ll just be dead.”

There’s a long, somber silence.

Why can’t they ever have normal conversations, about their students or quidditch or even the weather? He really needs to hang out with Pansy and Blaise. These people are just depressing.

Chapter Text

Dacia Zabini is going to make a fantastic potions master one day. But only if she manages to get through Hogwarts without blowing herself up.

“No!” he cries, swishing his wand to prevent her from dropping the powdered unicorn horn into her cauldron. “Why would you do that?”

“I want to see what would happen,” Dacia answers, unrepentant.

Raina looks more intrigued than horrified, which isn’t exactly comforting. Albert makes up for it though. He takes three steps away and is about thirty seconds away from ducking underneath a desk. Which isn’t really necessary, but it’s nice to see someone showing some decent judgement. No one else in Dacia’s ridiculous club does.

Draco thought that opening up the potions club to everyone would be a simple way to help facilitate the interhouse unity that Minerva is always harping on about. One the bright side, he was right, but on the less bright side, it turns on that the potions club is a wildly popular idea. Dacia is far from the only one interested in potions, and apparently the lack of competent professors over the last couple of years means anyone with even the slightest bit of interest is desperate for more instruction than they get in the classrooms. There are three students to every desk, meaning his classroom is about as full as it can be while potions are being made without it becoming a safety hazard.

Although, he’s pretty sure Albert is just here as part of Raina’s crusade to turn the boy into a half decent potions maker. There are at least three Gryffindors that Draco thinks are only here to make sure Raina doesn’t poison him, which seems like a wasted effort. If a Lestrange wanted to kill someone, they wouldn’t do something as subtle as poisoning.

“What would happen is that everyone would die,” he says to Dacia, and breaks the spell that’s holding her arm frozen. She puts down the unicorn horn, but she doesn’t look happy about it. “You’re trying to make a healing salve. Why did you think that would work?”

“I didn’t,” she says, “I just figured it might do something interesting. I couldn’t find any reference to someone doing it before, and I thought it might be cool.”

“There is reference to it, just not in the healing books, because it doesn’t heal anything. It is a fantastic base for a bomb, however, if that’s what you’re trying to do. Dungbombs contain trace amounts. Not a whole tablespoon, mind you.” He looks pointedly at the large dollop of powdered unicorn horn that’s still holding.

Mariana raises her hand. He loves Mariana. She’s just quietly making illegal moonshine in the corner like a reasonable student, and not trying to kill them all. “In her defense, if she’d wrapped it in a bit of acromantular silk first, it would have made a really nice protective shield. Which is the opposite of an explosion.”

Dacia is ignoring all of them. “Healing bomb,” she breathes, then looks up to Draco. “Can I make one of those?”

He has no idea how that would – okay, he has a couple of ideas, maybe, but they’re going to have to get Neville or Sprout involved. “Make a healing salve without killing anyone first, and we can talk about it.”

Why does she look so put about that? She’s going to give him nightmares.

Cory, a fifth year Gryffindor and one of the few people in his year who isn’t buckling under the pressure of the impending Owls, waves him over. “Hey, professor! I was trying to make a face cream, but it seems like it might be poisonous? A little? But, also very moisturizing, so there’s that.”

Just a place to practice, Dacia said. They would only need a little supervision. He could get some grading done while they worked.

What a load of shit. Every time he takes his eyes off them for two seconds, they’re either almost killing themselves or others.

~

Draco hates to do this, because it’s just not very fair, but it’s not like he was ever interested in playing fair anyway.

“You’re my best friends, aren’t you?” he says to his mirror, where Blaise is taking up one side, and Pansy the other. “You have my back when I need it, even when it’s unpleasant, because you care about me and you know I’d do the same for you?”

Blaise is glaring at him. “I hate when you do this.”

“It’s not even going to be something fun, is it?” Pany asks. “Want us to kill some people? Take over a small county? Run away together to a tropical island and watch as society collapse in on itself while we drink alcoholic beverages with little umbrellas in them?”

The specificity of that last bit is a little concerning, to be honest. Pansy seems to enjoy helping Paige run the family affairs, but it might just be a front. Pansy’s good at those. Maybe they should take a vacation somewhere? “I need help grading.”

“Oh, fine,” Blaise says. “Do you have a key or a rubric or something? You know I’m crap at potions.”

How could he forget? He corrected almost all of Blaise’s potions homework for seven years. Or just did it, when they didn’t have the time for Blaise to be wrong first. “Yes, I have a rubric.”

Pansy wrinkles her nose, “I guess. Why can’t you ever ask us to do anything interesting? First snubbing us both to take Granger to the meeting, now this? These are grave insults, Draco.”

“Don’t try that with me, you both hate going to the meetings,” he says. “It wasn’t planned, it just happened, and she didn’t even curse anyone over it.”

“The Flints were pissed,” Blaise points out.

He rolls his eyes, “When aren’t they pissed? They’re so grumbly and unpleasant.”

“That’s because whoever isn’t a raging dick gets disowned,” Pansy says wryly. “Are we coming over now? Or do I have time finish typing out my will and testament before I die of boredom?”

“I’m coming through the floo in your quarters,” Blaise says, then vanishes in the next moment, his side of the mirror blurring with his absence before it settles.

It’s just Pansy taking up the other half of his mirror, and he doesn’t want to say something presumptuous or untrue and make her mad, but he still feels like he should say something, otherwise he’s just a crap friend. He’s only gotten as far as opening his mouth when she says, “Sorry, I don’t mean to be a bitch.”

“You’re not a bitch,” he says, “or, well, you’re not being one right now. Generally, it’s pretty up in the air.”

She rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling too, so he counts it a win. “I know that it’s important work and someone needs to do it. I just don’t know if I want that someone to be me.”

“Neither William not Paige will make you help if you don’t want to,” he points out. “If you want to do something else, they won’t be mad.”

“The problem is I don’t what know what the something else I would do is,” she says. “I just know I don’t think I want to do this, or politics, or go back to school, or – well, anything.”

Draco wishes he could say something helpful or inspiring, but he just can’t relate. He’s known what his role in life would be since he was a toddler, and he knew exactly what he would have to do once he got there. It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing, what with the war and all, but he still loves his position and his family and loves being Lord Malfoy, even when it exhausts and frustrates him.

He’s always known what he was going to be. He hopes Pansy is talking to someone that isn’t him or Blaise, because they’re both useless at stuff like this. Blaise is just comfortably living off the small fortune his mother has accumulated from her seven dead husbands, which she may have killed herself, but hey, that’s neither here nor there. He hadn’t felt the need to get any sort of gainful employment, and doesn’t have to. Pansy doesn’t need to either, really, her Lord and Heir would let her coast by on being a professional socialite. It’s good for a prominent family to have a couple of those anyway, so it wouldn’t even be a hardship.

“Worst case scenario, you can always marry for me for profit and take over my house?” he offers.

“If you think I’m touching the responsibilities that come with being your wife with a ten foot pole, you’ve got another thing coming,” she says dryly. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll figure something out, and until then I’ll help out Paige. I’m coming through the floo to help you grade your awful papers.” The mirror shimmers, then Pansy is gone.

He walks out into his living room to see Blaise already seated with a stack of papers in front of them. “Did you talk to Pansy?” he asks without looking up.

Now he just feels like a dick. “Has she been feeling like this for a while?”

“Just on and off for the past decade,” Blaise says dryly. Oh. Well, he sucks. “Don’t worry about her, she’ll figure something out. Pansy can have whatever she wants, and she knows it. She just has to figure out what that something is.”

“I guess,” he says, but he loses the chance to talk about it further when Pansy steps thought his fireplace.

She’s wearing a shimmering, tight dress with a faintly sparkling white robe that just barely makes the whole thing decent, and he’d only been able to see her form the shoulders up while she was in her mirror. “Where you going out? I didn’t mean to ruin your night, you can leave me and Blaise to suffer.”

“Shut up,” she answers, sitting on the other end of the couch and snapping her fingers. A cup of tea appears in front of her, then disappears a moment later to be replaced with an ornate crystal glass and a bottle of firewhiskey. Milly’s doing, Draco assumes. She likes Pansy.

He does need the help, so he shuts up, sits in between his two best friends, and gets to work.

~

Draco watches his first years file out of the room and drop their potions at his desk as they go. At some point the Hufflepuffs decided they liked him, because he didn’t eat them, or something. He doesn’t know. But the Hufflepuff and Slytherin first years are one of the highlights of his week, not only because it contains his cousins, but watching Andrea wrangle two houses into listening her while looking like she’s doing nothing at all is scarily impressive. He hopes she does end up marrying Oberon, because she’d make a fantastic Lady. Or, at the very least, she goes on to work in the ministry.

Markel and Marilyn are the last in line, but they don’t move on from his desk. “Are you coming to lunch today?” Marilyn asks suspiciously.

“We’ve missed seeing you there,” Markel adds, elbowing Marilyn in the side.

He’s been taking a few meals a week in his rooms so he can use the extra hours to read up on the reports the goblins and supervisors send him, because unless he can get his hands on a time turner, he only has so many hours in the day. He was planning to do the same today, actually, but Markel is pulling some seriously impressive puppy dog eyes. It’s no wonder he keeps getting away with flying his broom into the rose bushes.

“I’ll put in an appearance,” he says. “Now shoo. I have to put the samples away.”

Marilyn looks like she wants to argue, but Markel says, “Okay!” and cheerfully drags her away.

They’re both such a pain. He kind of likes them, though.

He lied, just a little. The first year potions are simple enough that he can grade them just based on color, and they’re all already out, so he might as well just do it now. It shouldn’t take that long, almost everyone got a perfect score.

He’s about halfway through marking down everyone’s scores when there’s a knock. He’s in his classroom, and the door is open, there’s no need to knock. He looks up, and there’s Potter hovering in his doorway, and oh, okay, it was actually nice of him to knock, all things considered. “Hey Draco,” he says. “Do you have a second? Can we talk?”

“How ominous. Let me guess. You’re breaking up with me?” he asks, leaning back in his chair. “It’s so sudden, so unexpected, and I’m just not prepared. I thought we had something special.”

Potter rolls his eyes, but seems to take that as permission and comes inside. Even though his classroom is full of perfectly good chairs, he sits on the edge of Draco’s desk. What has he ever done to deserve this? That whole Voldemort business clearly wasn’t it. Talking back to his mother as a kid, probably. “I’m afraid it’s not that simple. You see,” he pauses for dramatic effect, “I’m pregnant.”

Draco laughs out loud, at least half because he wasn’t expecting it. When did Potter get a sense of humor? “Well, fuck, guess we’ll have to get married. My mother will be appalled. How do you look in white?”

“I look great in white,” Potter says, grinning, and Draco bet he would too, all that dark tan skin against white silk and those ridiculous green eyes under his stupid glasses. Potter would probably look fantastic in white, and he needs to stop thinking about this, right now, immediately.

“Did you come here for something in particular, or just to tell me about our future spawn?” he asks.

Potter hesitates, never a good sign, then says, “Don’t get mad.”

Oh, he doesn’t like the sound of this at all. “Okay.”

“I mean it,” he insists. “Just – let me finish before you get mad.”

That’s a more reasonable request, and one he can stick to. Hopefully. Maybe. Best not to make any promises, actually. “Sure.”

Potter is looking at him suspiciously, which is only fair. “Alright. So. About the supplementary defense classes that Luna and Neville are leading.” Draco tenses, but doesn’t say anything. “It’s just not tenable to keep doing this. Luna has her own classes, and Neville has his apprenticeship, although to be fair he’s handling that pretty easily, which I don’t understand. I wanted to die every day of auror training, but he’s getting plenty of sleep and Spout is thrilled with his progress, I just don’t understand, I’d say it’s magic, but I have magic, and it didn’t do me any good. Anyway. I gave them the syllabus for all seven years so that’s not really an issue–”

“You did?” Draco asks, surprised. Potter didn’t say he couldn’t interrupt, he just said that he couldn’t get mad. He’s not mad.

“Of course,” he says, blinking. “They’re my students, I want them to succeed. But they’re my students, and I should be the one teaching them. This is a stopgap measure at best. It’s working, you were right, their test scores are improving and their spellwork is better, and according to Neville they’re actually even better when I’m not watching them. But this is absurd, and there has to be a better solution. My students shouldn’t be afraid of me!”

He nearly shouts that last bit, chest heaving and cheeks flushed pink. He doesn’t look like a dunderheaded Gryffindork right now, or like the famous former auror. He looks like – Draco doesn’t know. But he likes it.

“They’re not afraid of you,” he says. He’s smiling, and he doesn’t want to be, but he can’t quite make himself stop either. “They don’t know you. You’re not scary. They just know rumors. They think you loved hunting down evil wizards, and that you think all Slytherins are evil wizards, and that all the evidence they’ve seen to the contrary is just faked sincerity. Don’t be too broken up about it. It’s not about you. It’s about their perception of you.”

“But I don’t!” he says, sliding off of Draco’s desk so he can pace in front of it. “I never have – I just wanted Voldemort gone! I wanted people to be safe! I wanted – I wanted them to be safe too, so they wouldn’t have to make the same choices that we did. I know not all Slytherins are evil! Pettigrew was a Death Eater, and he was a Gryffindor–”

“I know,” he says, and Potter stops in his tracks, looking over at him with those piercing green eyes. “I was there, remember? I know what you’re like, and what you wanted. I’m not afraid of you. I know what you are.”

Potter’s not even blinking as he stares at him, and Draco should probably find that unnerving, but can’t quite bring himself to be bothered by it. “What’s that then? What am I?”

“An annoyingly powerful wizard who means well, but is, ultimately, a moron,” he answers, but he’s still smiling, and none of it is actually comes out sounding like an insult, which is good, because he doesn’t mean it as one. “Anyone who knows you also knows that you’d save the whole world if you could, regardless of its contents.”

Potter has never wanted for kindness. Some situational awareness and a couple brain cells to rub together, maybe, but that’s been true since they were kids.

“Oh,” he says, like that’s not what he was expecting. Draco doesn’t know why, he’s an asshole, not blind, and Potter wears his heart on his sleeves. It’s not exactly hard to figure him out. He’d wondered once if Potter had changed, if maybe he’d become something different than the stubborn, loyal boy Draco had known in school. But he hasn’t. He’s just the same. “Well, how do we get the kids to think that way, then? Or at least have it so that they don’t think I’m walking around ready to throw around unforgivables at the drop of a hat.”

“I’ll talk to them,” he says, and he’s already dreading that conversation. He knows some of them are going to have an awful lot to say about – well, a lot of things he’s been doing lately. Better to address it now before it boils over. And, hey, better to address it first with the kids so he’s got some practice when people start flinging accusations at the House. He has an idea, and almost doesn’t say it, but, “Now it’s your turn not to get mad.”

“Okay,” he says instantly. Which, what? Okay then.

He rubs the back of his neck, and says, “It – it wouldn’t hurt. If you would – maybe consider opening the Potter House? You don’t have to live there, or anything, or let anyone go inside, and it would mean officially being recognized as an heir, although you can probably stave off the Lord bit, I think. But you might not. You can renounce it even, and if you do it properly it would actually help things. People don’t like change, usually, but it’s better than just ignoring it. You know?”

Potter stares at him for a long moment, stone faced and silent, and just, great, one step forward and a dozen steps back, as usual. He shouldn’t have said anything, and now telling his snakes to maybe give Potter a chance is going to be a lot more awkward now that they’re back to barely being on speaking terms.

“The Potter House?” he says. “Do you mean in Godric’s Hollow?”

He blinks. “What? No. That was just – a house that your parents lived in. I mean, normally Lords and Ladies are expected to live in their ancestral homes, but there was a war on and everything. Exceptions can be made.”

“I was told my family’s property and belongings had been destroyed during the war,” he says. “Wouldn’t that include whatever ancestral home the Potters might have had?”

It’s a good thing Draco’s sitting down for this conversation, because he feels a little faint. “No, it – no. Your family and mine have an alliance. Or, well, had, I guess. Our families mutually agreed to ignore it during the war, and then there was no one left to change the status of that. But your ancestral home is in Wiltshire. It’s not destroyed. It’s just locked up.”

“Okay,” Potter says, and this has to be a huge shock for him, but he just rolls back on the ball of his feet, and says, “Okay. So, I have a house. Why would unlocking it make me a lord if I’m not one already?”

If Draco was in Potter’s shoes, he’d need a minute or so to process this at least, but okay, they can go straight to the practicalities. “You’re not a lord because you’re the last of your family, and you were made the last of your family when you were a baby. A baby can’t become a lord. So, when that happens, everything – kind of gets put on hold. In stasis. Until such a time that the child is grown and ready to move on. Your family didn’t lock up the house before they went into hiding, they didn’t need to, it has just as many wards as the manor does, so anyone without the appropriate magical signature that was there without permission would just get killed, which would make it a great place to hide during the war, but only if they planned to stay there and never leave until it was over, which they didn’t. It locked itself up the day your parents died. So, you’re the heir, but only – only in theory. Because it’s all still on hold, or in stasis. Only you can break that, and move forward, or move on. If you want.”

Potter is frowning, and Draco has no idea what he’s thinking, or what he’d be thinking in his place. “Okay,” he says finally. “I don’t know what I’ll do with it. But sure. It’s my family’s home, and I want to see it, if nothing else. How do I do that?”

“You just need blood, which you have,” he says. “Maybe bring along some people just in case anything nasty is waiting for you inside, but I think it should be fine. Bring Neville, and maybe Hermione. Ron too, for safety.” Not that Draco thinks he’ll need it, but he could probably use the friends. There aren’t many things that are more depressing than going through his dead family’s home that’s been empty for over two decades. It’s not something that anyone should do alone.

Potter nods and swallows, then turns to face him fully. He opens his mouth, closes it, then says, “Will you come too?”

All Draco can do is stare. What?

“Please?” he tacks on, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

“If you want me,” tumbles out of his mouth before he can stop it. Seeing Potter look uncertain like that makes his stomach turn. “But why?”

“So if there’s anything nasty in there, I can feed you to it,” he answers.

Draco laughs more out of relief than anything else. How has this conversation turned – not serious or tense even, just – heavy. It feels heavy. “Sure, Potter, if that’s what you want. It’ll give me a chance to pop over to check on the manor. At this rate, Hermione is going to be there more often than I am.” She’d taken his invitation and ran with it. She was rather cross that the library wouldn’t let her take out more than one book at a time, so she’d taken to spending long evenings reading there instead, and then taking whatever book she hadn’t finished.

Potter’s smile slides off his face. He leans forward on the desk, and there’s still a good foot of space between them, but now they’re much closer than Draco thinks is wise. “One more thing,” he says, and Draco can’t help but notice his lips are chapped, which is ridiculous. They have salves for that, or spells, they are wizards after all. Why is he walking around with chapped lips? “You don’t have to. But could you call me Harry? You call everyone else by their first name, and you don’t seem to mind that I call you Draco. So, you should call me Harry.”

Dangerous, dangerous, dangerous. This whole thing is dangerous, and if Draco’s not careful, he’s going to fall right off the edge into something terrifying and forbidden, something he can’t have no matter how much he wants it, just like he did when they were kids. Absolutely not. He can’t do that, it will only make the rest of it so much worse.

“Okay, Harry,” he says, still looking up at him, still with only a foot of space between them.

His grin lights up his whole face, and this isn’t the worst decision Draco’s ever made, but it certainly feels like it’s up there.

He can’t quite bring himself to regret it though. Not while Harry is smiling at him like that.

~

Draco has set up an interactive map of his Slytherin’s class and practice schedules, and there’s about an hour after dinner in two days where it looks like they’re all free. He can use that to give his speech about maybe facing their problems instead of slithering around them, which is going to go terribly. He could hold it tonight and just demand they all show up for a half hour regardless of what they’ve got going on. But they’re going to be angry anyway, he doesn’t need to start this meeting with them pissed at him for interrupting quidditch or whatever club they’re in.

Milly appears next to him with a crack. “Heir Longbottom is here for you, Master Draco.”

“Now?” he says, glancing at the clock. It’s not quite midnight yet, but it’s still far too late for anyone to show up at his door. Except Luna, who treats the passage of time like it’s an intellectual curiosity rather than something she’s expected to live her life by. He’s shocked she manages to arrive to her own class on time, although he suspects that has more to do with Hermione than any sense of punctuality of urgency his cousin may have developed.

Milly blinks. “Yes, Master Draco.”

That was almost something that could be considered sarcasm. She must be hanging around Dax. “Well, let him in, I guess.”

She’s gone with a crack, and Draco waves his wand to open his bedroom door so that Neville can find him rather than going out to meet him. He’s still looking at the student schedules. Something here seems off.

“Draco!” Neville shouts. He ignores him. It’s a straight line from his front door to his bedroom, it’s not like he can get lost. “Draco, I know you’re here, what are you–”

He assumes from the increase in volume and the footsteps that Neville is standing behind him. “Yes?”

“Nice use of the copying and projection charm,” he says, apparently distracted from whatever he came in here yelling about. “I’m going to use this, it’ll be much easier to keep track of the plants feeding schedules this way. Pomona just has a hundred different alarm spells, and she knows what they’re all for, but I don’t.”

“Sure,” he says. “You know, my farms use an alarm system and enchanted parchment, so the ones that need attention start flashing. One of my herbologists managed to charm it so it sends a howler if anything goes more than an hour without being fed. I promoted her for that.”

“I want that spell,” Neville says, glaring, and Draco cracks a grin. “But that’s not why I’m here. The Potter House is still standing?”

“Obviously. It’s only been locked up for what, twenty years? The Weasley Manor is still standing just fine, and that’s been locked up for three centuries.”

Neville rolls his eyes and says impatiently, “Yes, well, we can still see the Weasley Manor, but there’s nothing where the Potter House used to be. I just assumed it collapsed in on itself when James and Lily Potter died. So did my grandmother. It would hardly be the first.”

He has no idea what conversation they’re having. “The Potter house is still there, clear as day. The grounds are overgrown, of course, but that’s only to be expected.”

They keep looking at each other in confusion, because they’re both certain they’re right. But Draco has seen the Potter House with his own two eyes, he can still sense the magic it gives off. It’s definitely there.

Neville’s eyes widen, and he hits himself on the forehead. “Your family had an alliance with the Potters!”

“So?” Draco says. “You don’t need an alliance to go see someone’s property. Anyone can stroll up to the Malfoy Manor for a look. They can’t cross the property line, but they can see it.”

“Yes, but your manor wasn’t put in an emergency stasis triggered by the death of the last adult wizards in your family,” Neville points out. “Who else had an alliance with the Potters?”

Okay, maybe Neville is onto something. It at least explains why someone would have told Harry that it was destroyed, when it clearly wasn’t. “The Ollivanders and the Prewetts. Maybe the Fawleys.”

Alliances were usually either matters of business or marriage, not just getting along. The reason the Malfoy and Potter families had and alliance wasn’t because they liked each other, but because they’d been doing business together since before the Potters came over from India, and since before the Malfoys came over from France. Once they were on the same soil, an alliance just made sense. The Malfoys grew it, and the Potters sold it. Even as their business models and the businesses themselves changed, they still kept up the alliance.

The Potters’ alliance with the Ollivanders was due to business as well, what with them being wand makers and the Potters being merchants, but the one with the Prewetts was because of marriage. Their fringe family members had intermarried enough that they’d set up an official alliance about two hundred years ago. Which was probably why everyone spent years speculating that Harry was going to marry one of Molly Weasley nee Prewett’s children.

They Fawleys dealt in magical creature trading, so it would make sense for the Potter’s to have a business alliance with them, but Draco can’t remember off the top of his head if they actually did.

Neville has a strange look on his face. “Do you think – if we’re right, and houses under emergency stasis disappear to everyone but those they’re allied with, that maybe there are still houses and land out there that we thought were lost, but aren’t?”

Ancient ancestral land, ancient ancestral homes, all hidden from view. “Even if they were, we wouldn’t be able to get in, we’d just get killed.”

“Probably,” Neville agrees, even though there’s no probably about it, they would just die. “But aren’t you curious? Don’t you want to know if they’re there? Come on, let’s go to the House. All the ancestral homes are recorded, we can see what ones went missing. Maybe they’re still there!”

“Right now?” Draco asks, appalled. “It’s midnight!”

“They invented pepper up potion for a reason,” he says cheerfully, tugging on the back of Draco’s robe like a child. “Come on, let’s go. It’ll only take a couple of hours.”

This is insane, and hardly pressing. But Neville’s right. He is curious. “Fine, but we have to go get Hermione. I promised to take her to the House’s library, and if she finds out we went without her, she’ll set us on fire.”

Neville shivers, because Draco’s right and he knows it. “Yeah, okay, that’s fair.”

He doesn’t have a morning class tomorrow, which is clearly going to be a good thing. He’s pretty sure this is going to take more than a couple hours.

Chapter Text

Draco should have probably taken a nap or something before doing this, because he’s even more exhausted than usual. He’s spent every spare moment of the past two days pouring over dusty records with Neville and Hermione. Which has been illuminating and interesting, but means he’s roughly at the point where he’s willing to commit murder just to take a nap. His grading has managed to once more pile up to the point where he’s considering banning essays in his classroom just to save himself the headache.

So he’s in a great state of mind and mood to have this conversation. Not.

“Are you fucking with us?” Georgianna asks, and he’d call her out on her language, except that he doesn’t care. Besides, she’s managing to rally a study group together between all four houses without killing anyone, which is by no means an easy thing, so he’s inclined to give her some leeway. Granted, it’s mostly because Oberon and Andrea show up to every meeting and refuse to let it devolve into in-fighting, but he’s comfortable giving Georgianna the credit anyway, since he knows it was her idea to invite the two Ollivanders.

“Do I look like I have the energy to fuck with you?” he returns. A couple of the first years are delightfully scandalized, which is nice, because the rest of them are too mad to get a kick out him swearing at them. “If you have a solution that doesn’t involve half our house hiding like cowards, I’m all ears.” A couple of them open their mouths. He tacks on, “Murdering Harry is off the table.” They all shut their mouths. Typical. Should he be worried that his house in unimaginative? Murder shouldn’t be their first and only solution to their problems. Even if it works. Maybe especially if it works.

“Harry?” Liam repeats, and he’s trying for snide, but it’s a little too obvious that he’s delighted. He’s going to tell his aunt, then Pansy is going to find him so she can laugh at him to his face. “That’s new.”

“Professor Potter,” he says, because if they want to be like that, fine, he doesn’t care, “approached me a few days ago with concerns over the extra curricular classes. While I’m loathe to agree with him about anything, he does have a point. After a year, Longbottom’s apprenticeship will be over, and we can hardly expect Luna to continue them on her own. She has her own classes and duties to worry about. This is not sustainable.”

One of his third years scowls and crosses his arms. “So, what, Potter comes and yells at you so you just roll over and play dead? I thought you weren’t afraid of him!”

“There was surprisingly little yelling. No one is playing dead. And no one with any sense is afraid of Potter,” he adds, just to watch half of them squirm. “You don’t like him, fine. You don’t have to like him. There are plenty of students that don’t like me, and they show up to my class anyway.” He takes a deep breath, and he wants to just be an asshole about this, because it’s easier, and he would really appreciate it if something was easy around here. But if he tries to be a complete hardass about this, he’ll just do more harm than good. He forces his voice to soften when he says, “He’s hardly going to curse you in the middle of class. Potter has always been an idiot with a quick temper and little to no ability to know when to give up. But he does not easily lend himself to cruelty.”

Raina raises her hand, biting her lip. “I – doesn’t he hate us, though? He’s not like us, and he doesn’t like us, doesn’t like who we are. He thinks we’re all like Voldemort.”

Yes, well, it’s possible that she’s right. Or that she was right, and isn’t any longer. He’s warily poking at the overdue realization that it’s possible Potter wasn’t so much as rejecting his heritage as entirely unaware of it, and while that’s still insulting, while it’ll still make all the stuffy Lords and Ladies of the House ruffle their feathers and let out small, scandalized gasps, it’s still a very different thing than what they all spent more than a decade thinking he was doing.

He doesn’t get into any of that. If this conversation is tiring him, one about the accountability of Potter’s ignorance is sure to lull him straight to sleep. Which sounds kind of nice, actually.

Merlin, he misses sleeping.

“He’s reopening the Potter House tomorrow,” he says.

They’d been pretty quiet before, but now this is a different kind of silence, a heavier one. Draco raises an eyebrow, waiting.

“That house disappeared with James and Lily Potter,” Andrea says eventually, once it’s clear that no one else is interested in saying anything, her head tilted to the side.

“Not to the Malfoys.” Or the Prewetts, as they’d discovered when Hermione had convinced her mother-in-law to look in at the supposed plot of Potter land. Hermione hadn’t seen anything but a field, but Molly confirmed that she saw the same thing Draco did – the Potter House, dusty and disused but very much standing. What Draco found most interesting wasn’t that Molly could see it, but that her children could too. Ginny and Percy had both confirmed they could see the house, and wasn’t that fascinating, that the Potter House still considers the Weasley children to be Prewetts. Which has so many interesting implications for just a bit of wiggle room as far as the magic is concerned. Magic almost never affords anyone any wiggle room, so it seems a shame to waste it while they have it. He just has to figure out a way to tell the Weasleys that without getting hexed. “The house has been under a glamour. But it’s there, and once Potter opens it, everyone will be able to see it.”

Marilyn is tugging on her ponytail in frustration, and Draco really wishes she’d develop a nervous twitch that didn’t give him sympathy pains. He doesn’t even like it when his hair gets caught on one of his rings, and he can’t imagine that what she’s doing is much better. “I don’t understand. I thought he didn’t want to be a Lord?”

“After he’s opened it, he may decide to permanently close it and relinquish his connection to his blood,” he says, even though it makes his stomach queasy just talking about it, “as is his right as the last remaining member of a noble house.”

When the Weasleys did it three hundred years ago, it was a scandal. They were a robust and ancient family, who’d been part of the House for thousands of years. Because Harry is the Boy Who Lived, any decision he makes will cause a scandal. But outside the eye of the press, Harry relinquishing his nobility isn’t an unacceptable choice, even to the staunchest members of the House. Unless he’s planning to find a wife and having her pop out a dozen kids, then being the sole bearer of his family’s magic is a burden that many people wouldn’t be interested in carrying.

“He’s not perfect,” he says. “He’s Harry Potter. The man’s a walking disaster, even at his best, and he’s almost as ignorant now as he was as a wide eyed eleven year old. But he means well. He won’t curse you, nor say anything about your family or allegiances. Voldemort died seven years ago. Even at his most idiotic, Potter isn’t stupid enough to blame a child for the actions of his family. None of you have done anything to earn his reproach, so you won’t have it.”

“What if we do?” Georgianna asks, and Draco’s surprised she’s the one asking. She’s a muggleborn. He’d think that she has less reason to be suspicious of Potter than the others, but there’s a fury about her that’s begging to bubble over. “What if he hates us?”

“Has he done anything to give you that impression in the last two years?” he asks. “What little of his class you’ve bothered to attend, of course.”

She shrugs. “He hasn’t done anything to give us the impression he doesn’t. If we can hide our distaste, then why should we trust that he’s not hiding his?”

He knows it’s not the right thing to do, but he can’t help it. He literally laughs out loud at that. Georgianna’s girlfriend grabs onto her arm, which he’s pretty sure is all that keeps him from being cursed. “Sorry,” he says, and she seems to believe he means it because her shoulders loosen. Nadine Carrow, a stuck up sixth year who’s ancestors must be turning over in their graves due to her dating choices, is giving him a glare exactly as nasty as he’d expect from anyone in her family. He wonders if Georgianna gets her attitude from Nadine, or if Nadine sought Georgianna out specifically because she was attracted to her ever flowing well of anger. “Potter doesn’t have the emotional capacity to be two faced. If you can’t trust in his sincerity, then trust in his incompetence. If I’m wrong and he’s terrible - well, he’ll be a Lord then. I can challenge him to a duel and we can do this properly. Satisfied?”

“We’ll give him a chance,” Andrea says, and Draco is still beyond impressed at how a twelve year old is managing to make seventeen year olds listen to her.

Liam nods, then glares at Georgianna until she sighs and says, “Fine, we’ll play nice with Potter. But at the first hint of him being malicious, I’m blasting him through the castle wall. You’ll be paying my barrister fees.”

“That’s fair,” he says, grinning, and holds out his hand. She stares at him suspiciously, but takes it. Everyone relaxes at that, as if Georgianna was the one bartering for all of them.

Andrea and Georgianna are startlingly different in every possible way, except for how they both hold incredible sway over Slytherin House.

Raina raises her hand, “Uh, no offense Professor, but maybe you should go take a nap?”

He stares at them.

“Or at least add some glamour spells,” Nadine adds.

Georgianna shrugs, “Concealer works too.”

He summons a mirror. The bags under his eyes are particularly dark, which just won’t do. “If I go sleep for two hours, do you think the lot of you can manage not to start a revolt?”

The moment of considering silence isn’t comfortable at all. Then someone starts laughing, and the remaining tension from his conversation with them drains away. This was much easier than speaking to the House is sure to be, but probably only because his students aren’t quite comfortable enough to call him an adulterous mudblood fucker to his face, which is apparently the insult of choice that Lord Flint is tossing around. He has four Flints in front of him, and he assumes they’ve all gotten wind of it, even the eleven year old twins. He’s not sure if they didn’t bring it up because they respect him, or because they think the others like him and don’t want to risk their social position. He’s leaning towards the latter.

“I’ll get some sleep tonight,” he says, but only because he has to. If he wants to be even a little bit useful tomorrow when Harry reopens his ancestral home, then he can’t be working on three hours of sleep. Also, he’s pretty sure he’s gotten to the point where his elves are going to refuse to retrieve pepper up potions for him, since last time he’d asked he’d gotten herbal tea instead, which he wants to be upset about, but is probably a little fair. “Go, shoo. Brush up defense before Monday so you’re not an embarrassment to the house.”

Most of the older years flip him off, which definitely isn’t behavior he should encourage, but he’s still laughing as he leaves the common room.

~

Draco has a small mountain of potions to grade, but he also has to figure out this deaging charm by next week for Flitwick. Maybe he should get a teacher’s aide. It’s too bad Raina’s only a third year, because she’d love it, and she’d be good at it. Mariana, maybe. Under all the charm and faked disinterest, she’s incredibly smart. Actually, she reminds him of Blaise’s mother in all the worst ways, and it absolutely keeps him up at night.

On one hand, it’s a little unusual to take on an aide as a first year professor, but on the other hand, most first year professors aren’t running a multilevel international business and acting as the sole head and Lord for their family, so anyone who wants to make any snide comments can stuff it. He’s starting to understand all the pointed remarks about him taking a spouse. He’d love to share at least some of these duties. It’s a pity Pansy detests the work, because she’s great at it, and his mum loves her. He’s always gotten along with Lord Parkinson, and knows that the man would be pleased to see a link between their families.

His mother could have kept her title as Lady Malfoy until he married. The magic doesn’t treat spouses the same way, just because it rejected Lucius doesn’t mean it rejected Narcissa too. He doesn’t blame her for not holding onto it, merlin knows his mother’s been through enough that she shouldn’t be expected to help him manage the family on top of it, but - he just doesn’t understand why she doesn’t want to. His mother loved being a Lady, was always proud of the match she’d made and the position that marriage got her.

Maybe she’s not proud of that anymore. His parents’ marriage had been arranged, something to solidify the alliance between the Black and Malfoy families. But he’d thought they’d grown to love each other. She must love him, otherwise why would she be in France with him, instead of here with Draco?

The truth is, he doesn’t know if his mother is avoiding Britain out of shame, or staying with his father out of love, and he doesn’t know how to ask. Maybe it’s both.

None of which is the point, of course, and he really needs to get some sleep so he can focus. Trying to perform a complicated charm right now might just end with him turning his skin inside out, or something equally horrifying, so grading potions it is.

“Bip,” he says conversationally, and with a crack the house elf is standing in front of him. “Grab me a dose of pepper up.”

Bip doesn’t move. “That is not being a good idea, Master.”

“I wasn’t asking your opinion,” he says. “Pepper up. Now.”

He disappears with a crack, and a moment later a steaming mug of hot chocolate appears in front of him. A second after that, a handful of mini marshmallows are dropped into the mug by an invisible hand.

Short of going to go get the potion himself, he thinks that’s as good as he’s going to get. Which he could do, but maybe he should just listen to his elves. He sighs, picks up the mug, and summons his grade book.

After a couple hours he’s nearly done with the fourth year plant growth potions, which he’d added to the curriculum as a way to thank Sprout for all the ingredients her students are growing for his class. They’re mostly fine, and perfectly acceptable to give to Sprout. Except Dacia’s. He wonders if she’d be offended if he moved her to the front of the classroom so he could keep an eye on her. The thing is, the potion is the wrong texture, color, and smell. However, when he puts a couple of drops of it on a sunflower, it causes it to grow three times larger than everyone else’s had managed.

It is a plant growth potion. It is not the plant growth potion he assigned, and he’s honestly baffled how she made it in the first place. Why is this girl determined to make his life difficult? Doesn’t he suffer enough as it is? He’s tempted to call Blaise up and complain about his cousin, but he’ll only laugh at him.

“Draco?” He looks up from his grading, and Luna is standing in his doorway.

He wants to tell her to go away, because if he doesn’t get through these potions tonight there is quite simply no hope for him. But the fact that she hasn’t just walked into his office and started chattering on about ridiculous things means that she’s feeling nervous or vulnerable, or some other soft emotion where she might actually be hurt if he’s mean to her, which has never been the point of being mean to her. “Can I grade while we talk?” If she says no, he’ll listen, but he also might cry.

She grins, but it’s a Luna grin, so it’s only a little bit with her mouth and mostly with her eyes. Good, whatever she’s upset about can’t be that bad. “Sure. You give too much homework.”

“You sound like my students,” he grumbles as she sits crosslegged in the chair in front of his desk. He’s assuming she doesn’t sit on his desk only because she wants to avoid knocking over any of the several dozen vials covering its surface, which he appreciates. “I’m trying to make up for years of differing potions professors of various competence.”

He’s had to almost entirely scrap his lesson plan for the second years. Their foundational knowledge is so patchy that he’s having them do a lot of first year potions which are designed to teach and reinforce the basics, which they’re less than pleased about, but he doesn’t know what else to do. After the first quarter, they’ll hopefully be up to scratch, and he can switch them over to the curriculum he’d originally designed for them. But he’s either going to have toss out some of the potions or push them through a year’s worth of material in six months. Or maybe have half the class make one potion, and the other half make the other? That way they’ll at least be aware of all the potions, even if they don’t get the chance to personally make them.

Luna rolls her eyes, “I just assign them to divine muggle lottery numbers.”

He chokes. “Luna! That’s not fair! You know the Ministry puts up blockers around that kind of stuff.” The last thing the economy needs is wizards using magic to divine the muggle lottery, or any other way of unfairly profiting in the muggle world, and then exchanging the worthless muggle money for gold. There’s a reason Gringotts has a limit to how much muggle currency can be exchanged in a calendar year, and it’s exactly that. Nicolas Flamel wasn’t the first person to figure out how to use magic to turn lead into gold, and just because wizards have ways to notice the trick didn’t mean the muggles do.

“Yeah, I know, I told them that anyone who manages to get it right gets an Outstanding for the rest of the year. They try everything under the sun, and end up doing more divination practice on their own than I would ever assign, and I don’t even have to grade anything.”

“Why divination?” he asks, something he’s been wondering ever since Luna took the position four years ago, but hadn’t wanted to offend her by asking. Because, well, as far as he can tell the class is useless. He’s pretty sure she won’t be offended now. “You’re not even a little bit psychic.”

“Neither are most of the students,” she points out. “We can’t teach kids to be psychic. Either they are or they aren’t. But we can teach them to use the tools of divination to guide their choices or to help them unveil the truth. Or even just to be able to tell when someone’s trying to use divination to pull something over on them.”

Well, that’s fair enough. “What do you do if you get a kid that’s actually talented?”

“I can still teach them, even if I can’t do it myself. If it’s beyond my scope, which has happened twice so far, I send them to Firenze. He hates it, but he hasn’t turned them away, so it can’t be that bad.” She gets tired of sitting almost properly and twists so her legs are over the arm of chair and upper back is over the other, her long blonde hair trailing to the floor.

He rolls his eyes, uncapping the next potion. The color is off, but the consistency and smell is good. It makes the flower grow about three inches. It wasn’t heated for long enough before being bottled. “You’re going to get killed going in that forest.”

“Hagrid usually comes with me,” she shrugs.

Well, there’s that, at least. He almost asks what she’s doing here, what exactly the problem is, but if he presses her, she’ll just change the subject and push her feeling down as far as they’ll go, so he restrains himself. They sit in silence, Luna staring at his ceiling and him going through his potions.

He hasn’t been keeping track of how much time has passed, but he’s just getting starting on the sixth year potions when Luna asks, “Have you ever been in love?”

His fingers go numb and potions falls and spills across his desk. He curses, and pushes himself back from his desk, flinching back from the layer of dry ice that covers everything. “Incendio,” he casts, keeping the fire low and contained to melt the ice from his desk without setting anything on fire. Luna hadn’t flinched, and is still looking at him expectantly, and still upside down. “Why are you asking me that?”

She shrugs.

“No, of course not,” he answers, and maybe the fire is a little too hot, because his throat’s so dry it’s hard to swallow. Surely the closest he’s ever come to love was his one sided infatuation with Blaise when they were eighteen, which had thankfully cooled the same year it began. Blaise is his best friend, and they love each other, but Blaise has little to no interest in romance or sex, and since Draco is very interested in both those things, it obviously wouldn’t have worked out. Plus, he might have lost one of his dearest friends in the process.

She frowns, and that clearly hadn’t been the answer she was looking for, but he’s not sure why she would expect anything else. It’s not like he’s keeping some secret paramour tucked away for safe keeping. “Are you sure?”

“I think I might have noticed,” he says dryly. He cautiously sits back down at his desk and picks up the next potion. He makes sure to have a better grip on this one, so that if Luna asks any more heavy questions he won’t turn his desk into an ice block. Again.

Luna just hums in response, and what is that supposed to mean, anyway? “I think I might be in love with Neville.”

He freezes, but he doesn’t drop the vial. He does carefully set it down, because he feels like he’ll regret it if he doesn’t. “Excuse me?”

“But I’ve also been sleeping with Ginny,” she continues, “so it’s all very confusing.”

“You what?” he demands, appalled. “Weasley?” Like there’s another Ginny they know. Why is she even telling him this? He’s the head of the family, technically he should do something about that, but it’s not like he has any interest in dictating his cousin’s sex life, and honestly if he did that’d be pretty weird.

“Especially because I’m a Malfoy,” she continues, apparently deciding to ignore his outburst. Or it’s possible that she’s just so lost in her own head that she hadn’t even noticed. “And say I do fall in love with Neville, then what? We get married? I wouldn’t be able to be a Malfoy anymore, not if I marry the Heir of another family, and he has to marry eventually, so if it’s not me, it will be someone else. I suppose I could be his mistress. That could be fun.”

He snaps, “If he ever dared suggest it, I’d skin him alive.” Luna’s self esteem issues are complicated and confusing enough without her playing second fiddle to Neville’s theoretical wife.

She takes a moment to smile at him, then continues, “Then there’s Ginny, who I like rather a lot, and who is very pretty. All that professional quidditch playing keeps her very fit, you know.” He did not know, and he does not want to know, and he wishes she hadn’t told him. “But that’s confusing too, because she’s a Weasley, so we technically have a blood feud, and if I wanted to marry her I would have to sever my connection to the Malfoy family, which I don’t want to do, because it’s my family too. So, again, we could just not get married. But I think I would like to get married. I want to be someone’s wife.”

He is so unprepared for this conversation. If he didn’t think he’d fall asleep at the first sip, he’d summon something alcoholic from his rooms. “You know that you’ll always by my cousin, even if you sever the magical tie between us. Even if you’re not a Malfoy, you’re still family.” He’s pretty sure she cares more about the family part than the Malfoy one, since the only time she’s taken advantage of her privileges as a Malfoy was to foist her mother’s house on him and to use their box seats at quidditch matches. Which, if she’s sleeping with Ginny Weasley, she doesn’t even really need. What’s the point of sleeping with a professional quidditch player if she has to pay for tickets?

“I know,” she says, but she does push herself up from draped across his chair, pulling her legs to her chest and resting her chin on her knees. “But I don’t know what to do. Or if I need to do anything at all. Maybe Neville and Ginny won’t grow to love me that much, and it will all just fade, and I won’t have to make any decision at all.”

He doesn’t know anything about his cousin’s relationships, obviously, he just knows Neville keeps looking at her like she’s carrying the sun, and the only other time he’s seen that look on his face is when –

“Uh,” he clears his throat, “didn’t Ginny and Neville date?”

Luna nods, and she’s usually pretty good about acting nonchalant, but even she can’t keep the flash of anxiety from crossing her face. “They broke up. Obviously. But – what if – I’m just guessing here, is all, I haven’t asked the runes or looked into a crystal ball,” it’s worryingly obvious how desperately she wants to however, “but I wonder if they just broke up because his gran didn’t like it.”

“Why would Augusta care?” he asks, then almost immediately adds, “I take that back.” She may be one of the more liberal members of the house, so she doesn’t take her blood purity all that seriously, but she does care about the integrity of it.

Meaning no muggles, and no blood traitors. He knows for a fact that the no blood traitor part is a bit of soft stance when it comes to the more extended parts of the Longbottom family, but if Neville, her grandson and Heir, wants to marry a blood traitor, he’s going to have to wait until Augusta is in the ground to do it.

Luna on the other hand – well, Japanese wizards don’t consider purity the same way they do, but Pandora came from an old family, and Xenophilius is a pureblood. Luna’s been attached to the Malfoy name her whole life, and she only strengthened that connection after the war was over.

From Augusta’s point of view, Luna is a more than acceptable match for Neville, and she and Draco are friendly enough in the House that she could count on him to approve of it. Not all marriages of his family member require his approval, but this one would, because it would be a member of his family relinquishing their hold on his name and blood. Or, well, Luna could defy him and marry Neville even if he refused, and there wouldn’t really be anything he could do about it. But tradition would dictate that he and Augusta enact a blood feud over it, even if they didn’t particularly want to, which would be a hassle. And it wouldn’t happen anyway, because he has no interest in standing in Luna’s way.

“I don’t think Neville is interested in you just because Augusta is pressuring him to make a suitable match,” Draco says, hopefully addressing the thing she’s actually upset about it. “What does Ginny gain by sleeping with you? Nothing. So I can only assume she’s doing it because she wants to.”

She better be, is all he’s saying. It’s … nice, being on almost friendly terms with Ron and the others. But he won’t hesitate to destroy all of that if it turns out Ginny is being cavalier with his cousin’s heart.

Luna nods, but doesn’t say anything. Okay, so he didn’t quite get it right. He rubs the back of his neck and tries again, “You’re not a placeholder. You’re nothing like Neville or Ginny, so them trying to replace each other with you would be ridiculous.”

She flinches. That’s what it is. “What if I stop seeing them,” she says quietly, “and then they start seeing each other again? Then they’ll have each other, and I’ll have no one.”

“Neville wouldn’t do that to you,” he says, and actually he’s pretty sure that Ginny wouldn’t do that either, but he doesn’t know the girl nearly well enough to make any sort of assertation like that.

“But what if he does?” she insists.

“Then he’s an asshole, and I wouldn’t have allowed you to marry him anyway,” he says. “Because you’re my cousin, you’re a Malfoy, and that means you’re not a placeholder. You are second best to no one. If anyone treats you like you are, destroy them.”

She stares at him for a long time, and he stares back, no idea what she’s looking for in his face, but hoping she finds it. She smiles, and it looks sad, but it looks real too. “Thank you.” She points to the potions still scattered across his desk. “Do you want help grading those?”

Yes,” he says, unsure if he he’s more relieved at the prospect of getting this done in time for him to get to bed at a decent time, or at being able to finally stop talking about his cousin’s love life.

Luna smirks at him like she knows exactly what he’s thinking, but she doesn’t call him on it.

Thank merlin for small mercies.

Chapter Text

Draco’s starting to think that there’s a vague possibility that he may have been cursed.

He’s tired. He’s more than tired. He’s been pushing through bone deep weariness for what feels like weeks, he’s the level of exhausted where it seems like just sitting and breathing is too much for him.

But he can’t sleep.

He’s in bed, staring at his ceiling, unable to settle enough to rest. Tomorrow morning he’s going with a bunch of idiotic Gryffindors to open a noble house that’s been locked up for over twenty years. He needs to go to sleep.

That doesn’t really change the fact that he can’t seem to do that, however.

He pushes himself out of bed, silk pajama bottoms swung low on his hips as he stuffs his feet into his shoes, grabbing his sleeping robe from over the bathroom door and pulling it over his shoulders. He almost puts on a shirt and gets dressed properly, but he doesn’t plan to be out that long. He goes to the fireplace in his living room, and it roars to life with a vicious stab of his wand.

By the time he thinks to second guess himself, because he’s an adult and this is ridiculous, it’s too late and he’s already stepped onto the other side of green flames. He almost turns around and steps back through, but a house elf pops into existence in front of him. “Master Malfoy,” Flora squeaks in French. “We was not expecting you. You father is asleep. Would you like us to wake him?”

I’m not here for my father,” he answers, following her lead and sticking to French. “I assume my mother is awake?” She always went to bed after his father, she always has, even before the war and what the war turned them all into.

Flora nods. “Should we be telling Mrs. Malfoy that you are here?” Mrs. Malfoy, not Mistress Malfoy. Because they don’t answer to Narcissa anymore, not truly. They obey his parents because he told them to, not because they’re bound to them anyway.

When Draco was named Lord and got all the duties and privileges that came along with it, the elves had known, without anyone needing to tell them. They were very good at knowing who controlled the magic, who truly had the power.

He shakes his head, and Flora curtsies and disappears with a crack. He passes by the library, but it’s empty, so he goes out the back door and into the garden. At first he thinks it’s empty, and he really will need the elves to find her. Then he cranes his head up, and there she is, nearly obscured by the branches of a tree on the other side of the yard. She’s about halfway up the tree, seated on a long, thick branch and leaning back against the trunk. Her hair is loose and falling down around her shoulders, her limbs pale and bare in the moonlight. She’s not wearing much, just sleep shorts and a shirt. “It’s cold,” he says, and she startles, wand in her hand before she gets a proper look at him.

“Draco! What are you doing here? Is something wrong?”

He shakes his head, and he’s not sure if his mother levitated herself or climbed, but it looks easy enough. He grabs onto the first handhold, heaving himself up until he reaches her, managing to swing onto the branch in front of her without needing her to move. All those years of quidditch were clearly good for something. “It’s cold,” he repeats, and his mother’s skin is raised with goosebumps. “What are you doing here?”

“I should be asking you that,” she murmurs, and she looks tired. She always looks tired.

He shrugs off his robe and hold it out to her. She starts to shake her head, but he says, “I can make it an order, you know. I can do that now.” He says it like he’s teasing, but he’s serious. He doesn’t want his mother getting sick because she’s running around half naked in the middle of the night.

Narcissa huffs and takes his robe. “Now you’re even less dressed than I am.”

Clearly he should have grabbed a sweater before leaving, but he didn’t expect his mother to be hiding up in a tree. Luckily, he’s a wizard, so he summons one. It’s not until he’s pulled it on over his head that he realizes it’s the same one that Harry borrowed. It smells like Harry’s body wash. But it’s not like he can take it off again without explaining why to his mother, and that’s not a conversation he’s interested in having. He doesn’t know why. It wouldn’t even be a conversation, really, and why is he even thinking about this, it’s not why he’s here. Although, he doesn’t even know why he’s here, besides a childhood desire to go crawling to his parents whenever anything has gone wrong. “Is everything okay? Do you need anything? How’s Dad?”

She sighs, and runs her hand through his hair, pulling it over his shoulder and finger combing it. “Everything’s fine, darling, you don’t have to worry about us. What’s wrong with you? It’s a little odd for you to come visiting in the middle of the night.”

“Why did you marry Dad?” he asks, and she stops moving. He didn’t know he was going to ask that until he’d done it, and now it’s hanging in the air between them. “I know he was probably the highest ranked man who offered, but was there – was there anything else? I know you had other offers.” She must have, she was a beloved Black sister and gorgeous and smart.

Her face is carefully blank. “Why are you asking me this now?”

Thoughts of Luna, Neville, and Ginny rush through, and for some reason he can’t make himself stop thinking about Harry wearing his sweater, which isn’t at all relevant. “I don’t know. No reason.”

She hums like she doesn’t believe him but doesn’t push. She doesn’t push about anything these days. “Lady Black wanted me to marry into the Lestrange family, actually, and had already set up an engagement contract by the time I was sixteen.”

“What?” he says, then, “You never told me that.”

“You never asked,” she returns, and there’s a beat of silence where it’s clear she’s waiting for him to explain, but he still doesn’t have anything to say, and she only sighs. “Your father and I weren’t engaged. He was promised to Paige Parkinson before she was selected as the Heir.”

“But then how did you two get married?” he asks. “How did you both renegotiate your engagements?” It’s complicated and expensive and Draco doesn’t know how they convinced their Lord and Lady to do it.

“We ran away.”

There’s a long stretch of silence where Draco can only stare, mouth hanging open. Narcissa smiles and leans her head back against the trunk of the tree, looking away from him and up into the sky.

“I tried to speak to Walburga, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Lucius’s father beat him bloody when he talked about breaking his engagement with Paige. So we ran away, to this very house,” she says, fond. “Lucius was the Heir, so he didn’t need a representative of his family present, and had Rabastan Lestrange and Paige stand as his witnesses. She wasn’t interested in getting married at all, and had no problem with aiding Lucius, and your father and Rabastan were close during school. I had Rodolphus as my witness, because having our fiances present was so important when it came to actually getting away with this. But I needed a representative from my family present to make this acceptable, and one that didn’t mind going against Walburga.”

“Andromeda?” he asks, because the eldest Black sister had always had a tumultuous relationship with her aunt, so she wouldn’t have minded causing more trouble. It makes sense.

But Narcissa shakes her head. “She’d already run away from home, and hated Lucius besides. Even if she could have helped me, she wouldn’t have. It was the only nice thing Sirius ever did for me.”

“Sirius Black was a witness at your wedding?” he blurts. Harry’s godfather?

“He was just barely seventeen,” she continues like he hadn’t said anything. “The war was just beginning to bubble over. But he was still the Heir, regardless of getting burned off the tapestry, and we needed that veneer of respectability if we didn’t want to ruin the social standing of both our families. Which we didn’t, of course. He was furious and uncomfortable the entire time, and clearly one wrong move away from cursing everyone there and getting the hell out. Lucius was trying so hard not to upset him, because he knew that we needed him, I would have thought it was hilarious if I wasn’t so nervous.”

Draco can’t believe this. His prim and proper parents, who have followed the traditional ways so strictly, ran away and eloped. “How did you – wasn’t everyone mad?”

“Walburga was furious. Lucius’s mother never spoke to him again after that, although after you were born she softened towards me a bit. She loved you,” she says, bopping him on the nose so he goes cross eyed. “It was – really bad, for a long time. But I loved Lucius, and he loved me, and we thought it was worth it.”

“Was it?” he asks, and instantly regrets it. He doesn’t think this is a conversation he’s ready to have. He doesn’t know if it’s one he’ll ever be ready to have.

He’s half expecting her to close off, to become cold towards him, but she only twists her hands in his. “I still love your father. I don’t love all the choices he made, but – but he’s still the same man who I married, underneath all the rest of it. And even if I didn’t, even if I’d fallen out of love with Lucius, it would still have been worth it. Because we had you.”

He squeezes her hands, forcing a smile. He could leave it here. He should leave it here. But he asks, “Is he still the same man?”

His father’s never quite recovered from the torture he suffered at Voldemort’s hands. He’s quiet and confused a lot, and he seems scared so often. Most of the time he’s almost completely normal, just a bit scattered, but there are other times when he looks at Draco and doesn’t seem to recognize him, and each time that happens is a thousand times worse than any crucio Draco’s endured.

“Last night he woke me up, frantic, because he couldn’t find you,” she says, steady. “He was confused. He thought you were still a baby. He went through the house searching for you, and couldn’t find you, and was terrified when he came back to bed and woke me. I eventually convinced him you were with my parents, and he fell back asleep. He didn’t remember when he woke up the next morning, but he asked me if you were visiting soon, if we’d heard anything since you started teaching.”

Draco doesn’t realize he’s crying until his mum wipes his tears away. “I – sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll visit more. I’ll write.”

“You’re busy,” she says, and it’s not judgmental, it’s kind. But she’s making excuses for him, the same way she used to make excuses for his father when Draco would cry into her skirts about Daddy never being home and never playing with him. Which wasn’t even true, because he knows there were nights when Lucius came home exhausted and still tucked him into bed, or woke early to go flying with him before he had to go into the office. But it had never seemed like enough when he was a kid, even though Lucius was trying, it always felt like his father was leaving.

The tables have turned in a way that would be funny if it didn’t make his heart clench in his chest.

“I’ll be better,” he promises. “I’ll be a better son.”

“You’re a wonderful son,” she says, and it sounds like she means it. “I know you’re busy, that you truly are busy, and I know how sometimes it’s hard for you to see your father.”

He doesn’t want her making any excuses for him. He doesn’t want there to be a reason for her to make excuses in the first place. “I’ll be better,” he repeats.

Narcissa sighs and leans forward, pressing her lips against his forehead, like she used to do when he was a kid. “Go and get some sleep. You look exhausted.”

He kisses her on the cheek before he climbs back down and goes back into the house. It’s not until he’s inside that he realizes she didn’t answer his question, not really, but now it doesn’t seem important enough to go back and ask again. He means to go straight to the fireplace but makes a detour without really meaning to. He pushes open the door to his parents’ room and silently walks inside.

Lucius is curled up facing Narcissa’s side, a hand stretched out across the bed like he woke looking for his wife only to find her missing. His father is barely fifty, and he doesn’t look old, exactly, but he does look tired. Both his parents always look tired. He doesn’t know how to fix it. He thinks maybe it’s something he can’t fix. It’s late, he has to get back to Hogwarts, but he leans down and kisses his father’s cheek. He whispers, “Sorry.”

Lucius starts to stir, and Draco’s not a Gryffindor, he’s fine with being a coward. He backs out of the room before he can get caught and hurries back to the fireplace.

He’s not sure what he would be caught doing, exactly, besides seeing his father, but he’s too tired to examine that thought too closely.

This time when he crawls into bed, he falls asleep almost instantly.

His sweater still smells like Harry.

~

Draco didn’t get nearly as much sleep as he should have, but when he wakes up he feels oddly well rested, like he hasn’t in a long time.

He goes to Harry’s office, and blinks at the assembled people. “Am I late?” he asks, even though he knows he isn’t.

Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville are already there. “No,” Harry says, and he seems distracted, rubbing his thumb against a curved white scar across his wrist. It’s a nervous gesture that he hasn’t noticed before. Well, he supposes it’s only inevitable that Harry will have developed new neuroses since their days as students. “I’m just – I just didn’t want to be late.”

“Hermione dragged me here,” Ron yawns. “I could have met you guys there, you know.”

“It probably would have better if you did,” Draco says, not unkindly.

Neville wrinkles his nose. “Oh, yeah, we’re taking the floo to your manor, right? We could take the carriage. Or fly. Or go to Hogsmeade and apparate.”

Draco rolls his eyes and waves a dismissive hand. “What good is being the Lord of the Malfoy family if I can’t bring a blood enemy onto the grounds when I feel like?”

Ron blinks, “Er, sorry. I didn’t think of that.”

He shrugs. “If anyone finds out, maybe they’ll stop saying your wife is cheating on you with me. Instead you can both be sleeping with me in some sort of torrid affair. Won’t that be nice?”

Harry chokes on air and starts coughing. Ron rubs his back, and seriously, how is Harry even alive?

“Are there rumors that we’re sleeping together?” Hermione asks.

Draco stares. Has she really not – well, it’s not like she hangs around a lot of purebloods, and even the crassest of students aren’t stupid enough to cross Hermione. He heard a rumor that she once cast a heatless fire spell on a Ravenclaw student that called her a mudblood just to watch them panic before realizing it was harmless, and he hasn’t really had an opportunity to ask if it’s true. He kind of hopes it is, because that would by awesome. “You showed up to the House meeting in my mother’s dress. Half of them think I’m trying to steal you away from Weasley as part of the blood feud.”

Ron is completely unperturbed by this information. Hermione taps her bottom lip. “Can I come as your date again for the next meeting? And can I borrow another of your mother’s dresses?”

“Why?” he asks warily. “Can you not cause trouble for me? Trying to introduce the curriculem reforms is going to be difficult enough as it is. I’m going to get poisoned.”

“I’m not going to cause trouble!” Hermione protests. Ron isn’t nearly fast enough at hiding his skeptical look, and his wife elbows him in the stomach. “I won’t. I’m just curious. And Augusta was so nice as to introduce me around, I just wanted to continue some of the conversations I was having, is all.”

Neville frowns and meets Draco’s eyes. He knows they’ve both had the same thought, which is the frankly terrifying possibility that Augusta introduced Hermione around specifically to people who would assume the worst about her coming as his guest, and what her motivations for that could be, exactly.

Augusta looking to cause trouble is an even more horrifying possibility than Hermione looking to cause trouble, which is saying something. He’d prefer if neither of them caused trouble. Or, if they absolutely must, he was at least made aware of it so he could plan for it.

In which case, it’s probably to his benefit to keep bringing Hermione with him to the House. “Sure. Please save the activism until you’re not on my arm. I have a reputation.”

“As an asshole,” she points out, and he can’t even get mad at her for it.

“Yes. Don’t ruin it. Being a moderate in the house is enough of a pain in the ass without you making it harder. I have alliances with a large portion of the conservative families, and I do not want the hassle of having to dissolve them because they’ve decided I’ve lost my mind.”

“Don’t worry, it’s better for me if you’re viewed as a moderate,” she says, like that’s comforting in any way and not a proof that she’s planning something, and also planning to get him involved in some way.

Ron claps his hands together. “Not that is isn’t super interesting and all, but. Potter house?”

“Don’t touch anything in the Manor,” he warns Ron. “I’m sure there’s some stuff that’s cursed and tied to the family magic. Also, ignore the portraits. They will yell at you.”

“Rude,” he says, then before Draco can snap at him he says, “Got it.”

Hermione has seen the Manor of course, his library has practically become her second home (or perhaps third home, considering the flat she shares with Ron in Hogsmeade), and Neville has been here a few times for official functions that his Gran dragged him to. But Ron and Harry haven’t seen it, not really, because when Voldemort and his supporters had descended upon it certainly hadn’t counted. It had been dull and stripped bare and dark.

It's not like that now.

Hermione ends up pushing her husband along in front of her as he looks over the elegant and sunlight filled manor, with its delicate moving wallpaper and polished marble floor. The portraits aren’t even yelling, which he’s pretty sure has more to do with his presence than his ancestors spontaneously developing decorum. They’re halfway across the room when Draco realizes they’re missing someone, and he looks back to see Harry standing in the middle of his sitting room and staring at the ceiling like an idiot.

He doubles back and grabs Harry’s wrist, and he immediately looks down at him. “Come on,” he says, tugging him forward, “I’ll give you a tour some other time.”

“Okay,” he says, his cheeks red, and he better not be getting sick, this is so not the time for Harry to catch a cold.

They’ve made it outside by the time he realizes he’s still got his fingers wrapped around Harry’s wrist, and he lets go, face burning. Why hadn’t Harry said anything? Maybe he didn’t notice. He’s probably just nervous and distracted about opening up the Potter House.

It’s about two miles away from the Malfoy Manor, but they won’t be able to apparate there until they get onto the road and off his land. He and Hermione can apparate out of here, but the rest of them can’t.

Soon enough they’re standing at the edge of the Potter property line. “You really don’t see anything?” Draco asks Neville. Both he and Hermione shake their heads.

Ron claps Harry on the back, “Your ancestors had a weird definition of what a house was, mate.”

Draco wants to be offended on behalf of the Potters, but even Harry looks skeptical. Honestly. “That’s not the Potter House! We’ll have to walk through to get there.”

There’s a path from the edge of the property that leads up to a huge dark red pyramid-tower structure with detailed carvings on each level, with a dome on top of the massive construction. “Why do I feel like I’ve seen this before?” Ron mutters.

“Probably because you have,” Draco answers. “It’s based on the Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur. When the Potters immigrated to Britain, they saw no reason why they couldn’t take India with them.” Everyone turns to stare at him. He resists the urge to fidget. “What?”

“Why do you know that?” Harry asks, a look on his face that Draco can’t quite map.

He shrugs. “The Potters and the Malfoys have an alliance, and the war was over. We – I just – my family assumed,” he finishes, and shrugs. The war was over, and the Potters and Malfoys had been allies if not friends, had been neighbors if nothing else. If Harry had been raised by James Potter, he would have learned all about the Malfoy family history and estate. “Come on, spill and get this show on the road.” Draco summons a silver dagger and offers it to Harry hilt first.

Ron pushes Harry’s arm down before he can pick it up. “Wait. Draco, this isn’t going to kill him, right? How do we know the magic isn’t mad?”

“It’s only been twenty three years,” Neville answers, “That’s not nearly enough time to cause a problem. Besides, the house has been closed up and under stasis, not abandoned. There’s a difference. The magic doesn’t have a reason to be mad.” He pauses, “Also, I can’t see anything, so I have no idea what you guys are talking about. Harry, please, I’m begging you. I’m so curious.”

Harry takes the dagger, looking from it to the looming temple. “So, what? Do I just stab myself?”

Hermione snorts and Neville rubs a hand over his face. Draco grabs him by the shoulders and twists him so he’s facing his grounds. Harry has really nice shoulders. “Walk forward until you can’t anymore. Slice your hand on the dagger, then press it against the air until you hit something. Don’t stab anyone, yourself included, but especially me, if you’re taking requests.”

When Harry doesn’t move, Draco lets go of his shoulders and pushes him. Harry stumbles, looking over his shoulder to glare, but Draco only shrugs, unrepentant. They’re burning daylight.

Harry drags the dagger across his palm, not even flinching as blood wells against his skin. He walks forward, then pauses. Draco can’t see anything, but he assumes he’s reached the barrier. Harry reaches his hand out, and presses, leaning into it.

There’s flash of light that leaves him temporarily blinded, and then a sound like glass shattering, but loud enough that it leaves his ears ringing. When he regains both his senses, the grounds look different. They seem manicured and taken care of, the outside of the temple is spotless, and there’s a large white stone path leading to the doors of the temple.

“Wow,” Neville breathes, then frowns. “Did it look like that before?”

Hermione runs forward and clutches Harry’s arm. “This is amazing!” Then she looks down and grabs onto Harry’s hand, who’s too busy staring at his family’s ancestral home to notice. “There’s a scar! Draco, you didn’t get a scar when you cut your hand at Stonehenge.”

He and Neville move at the same time, but Draco gets their first. He pulls Harry’s hand up to his face. Sure enough, there’s a thin white scar from where Harry just cut himself. “At least it healed,” Neville says, but he doesn’t sound happy. This isn’t good.

“What?” Harry asks, “Is something wrong?”

“Your grass is cut,” Draco says.

He blinks, looking at the lawn and then back at him. “Yes? Is that a problem?”

“I don’t suppose the Potters decided to start contracting their elves and just didn’t tell anyone?” Draco asks, but he’s not talking to Harry. He’s asking the universe at large.

“Probably not,” Neville answers, and pulls out his wand. “All right everyone, keep your wands out.” He trades a look with Draco, then takes a couple steps back. “Harry, you should lead, but keep Draco close. I’ll take the rear.”

Draco would have preferred to be the one at the back of the group, actually, but he’s not going to cause a fuss over it.

“Why?” Harry asks. “Why does my family’s grass being cut matter?”

“Because it means there’s someone or something who cut it,” Neville says. “Something that’s stuck around for twenty three years.”

“Probably a house elf,” Draco clarifies, because he knows the others won’t make that connection on their own.

Ron raises an eyebrow. “And we’re scared of house elves?”

“No,” Draco corrects, “We’re terrified of house elves.”

Unbound house elves who’ve had the run of the house for twenty three years, who haven’t seen Harry since he was a baby if they ever did meet him, who stayed when they didn’t have to. They’re either very loyal, or very possessive.

If they’ve decided the house belongs to them, they may not want to give it up.

Chapter Text

Draco follows a half step behind Harry as they walk down the stone path. He refuses to acknowledge that he’s comforted to have Ron rather than Hermione at his back, because she’s brilliant, but Ron has always been the stronger caster. Besides, he’s still an active auror, so doing stupid shit like this is literally his day job. Hermione follows behind her husband, and then last in line is Neville.

It’s a bright, cloudless day, but as soon as they pass through the threshold of the temple they’re plunged into darkness. The temple hadn’t had a door when they entered, but Draco is unsurprised to find their only visible exit closed off when he turns around.

No one even has the time to panic before there’s a steady light up ahead, and Draco peaks over Harry’s shoulder to see a house elf holding a flaming torch and wearing a bright orange outfit that almost looks like a sari, but is far more casual. She’s old, even by house elf standards, and Draco feels a shiver go down his spine. She smiles, her teeth bright white and pointed. Unbound house elves are terrifying. His own family’s unbound elf would be scary, except for the way he loves them all

Maybe he should have brought Dax to negotiate on their behalf? But no, Dax is polite as needed, but has no patience for diplomacy. He would have probably just started a war or a massacre or something else equally messy.

The ancient house elf tilts her head to the side and speaks in a melodic language that he hasn’t studied in thirteen years.

When she finishes, the silence stretches on until Draco pokes Harry in the back. “Well? You’re up.”

“Uh,” he says, “Up with what? I can’t understand her.”

The elf’s eyes narrow. She doesn’t like that.

“You don’t speak Tamil?” he hisses. He hears the sound of someone slapping themselves in the face. He assumes it’s Neville. “That’s important information!”

Harry almost turns around to talk to him, but those years as an auror must have been good for something, because he stops just short of taking his eyes off the elf. “Why would I? I was raised by white muggles.”

Oh, right. Merlin, Harry’s life is so fucked up.

He places his hand on Harry’s shoulder, getting as close as he can without putting himself in front of him, which means basically plastering himself along Harry’s back. Great. Awesome.

Son,” he tries, jerking his head to Harry. The language feels unfamiliar and awkward on his tongue after so many years. “Potter. Son of Lord. Heir.

Harry feels like he’s so tense he’s going to snap, but mercifully remains silent.

I am Tay,” the house elf says, and her eyes look red thanks to the light of the flames. Or maybe they’re just red. It’s hard to tell. “Who are you to speak?”

She’s using easy to understand, simplistic phrases, and she hasn’t tried to eat them yet. That’s good. She’s trying to help.

Maybe they’ll be okay.

“Um,” he bites his bottom lip. Who is he to speak to her in Harry’s stead? He’s not family, not even a friend, just a co-worker and childhood enemy who happens to know enough about this house to be useful to bring along. Oh – wait, that’s who he is! “Lord Malfoy.” Their families have an alliance. He’s an ally.

Young,” she comments, and he doesn’t respond, because he doesn’t know what to say. He is young. “Why do you come now?”

Young,” he echoes. A glint of something that might be amusement shows in her eyes. Or maybe it’s hunger. He hopes it isn’t hunger. “Here now.”

She hums, rocking back on the balls of her feet. “It’s been too long, even for a lost son,” she says in English. He’s not surprised, she’d clearly understood them earlier. “If you want access to the house, you’ll have to earn it.”

“It’s his house,” he says stubbornly.

“He’s a Potter in name alone,” she counters. “No language, no heritage, no memories. Not born in this house and barely born of it.”

“He’s a Potter by blood, by magic,” he snaps, “Not even you can ignore the rules of magic. He’s a Potter. This land is his. This house is his.”

“I am not his,” she counters, and Draco swallows. “I care for the land. I care for the house. If he wants the house, he must take it.” She sighs, and stares at Harry for a long moment. “He does have his father’s face, at least.”

“That’s because he is his father’s son and he should be treated as such-”

She raises a hand and snaps her fingers, plunging the narrow hallway into complete darkness. Her voice echoes all around them, bouncing off the stone walls, coming from no direction and every direction all at once. “Blood cake, blood cake, make me a man. Make me one as fast as you can. Pat it, prick it, make it of the sea. Put the trespassers in the oven for you and me.”

Her voice fades away, and the silence lasts until Neville says, “Fuck.”

“What the hell was that about?” Ron demands.

“I cannot believe we got a blood cake curse put on us. What is this, the fifteen hundreds?” Neville asks.

“Be grateful,” he says, finally stepping away from the searing heat of Harry’s back. “She could have just eaten us. Now we have a chance.”

Hermione pushes past Ron so she can glower up at him. It’s a good glower. He’d be appropriately cowed if the situation wasn’t so dire. “Draco, if you don’t start making sense, I’ll strangle you.”

Well, that’s rather uncalled for. “We need to find the blood cake before either the curse or her homunculus kill us. On the bright side, if the curse kills us, we probably won’t get eaten. If the homunculus kills us, we’ll definitely get eaten. By it and by her.”

“We should probably get moving,” Neville suggests. “Waiting around here for this thing to find and kill us seems foolish.”

Draco pokes Harry in the back. “Cast a lumos charm and pick a hallway. You have to lead, and it’s probably not a great idea for the rest of us to cast magic right now if we can help it.”

Harry turns around, and now he’s glowering at him too, which is just unfair. “You speak Tamil?”

“Barely. If us getting out of here depends on my fluency, we’re screwed. I stopped taking lessons when I was eleven. I would have kept it up if you hadn’t been such a complete prat.” This close, he can still see Harry’s face, even though it’s almost entirely dark. It twists, like it’s trying to look offended and confused at the same time, but it just ends with him looking like an idiot. “Stop that. If you’d been raised properly, you would have grown up learning French and all about my family. We’re allies and neighbors. Obviously I was taught to speak Tamil. My dad speaks more than I do, and my grandfather was fluent, as was my great grandfather. Not really sure past that. When terms between our families are good, we learn Tamil, and you lot learn French.”

“So your parents expected terms to be good between us?” he asks.

Draco shrugs, thinking of how different things could have been if Harry had taken his hand, if there’d been no war to escalate their stupid schoolyard rivalry into something worse. “The war was over, and you had to come home someday. We were the same age, so – well, by the time you came of age and were able to open the Potter House, Dad expected us to be friends.”

“Well, he got that part right,” Harry sighs, then swallows. “Didn’t he?”

Are they friends? They barely know each other. Except for all the ways they know each other too well, of course.

“Guys,” Hermione says. “Explanation, and also not sitting around and waiting for something to kill us, maybe?”

Harry silently casts lumos, the tip of his wand illuminating the space between them, and his bright green eyes are looking at him, into him even, and he feels pinned in place. This is so unfair. “Right,” Harry agrees, turning his back to Draco, who feels relieved and disappointed all at once. “She made a homunculus? House elves can do that?”

“Not on their own,” Neville says.

“Your ancestors suck,” Draco interrupts helpfully. Or, well, he thinks he’s being helpful, but Ron flicks him in the back of the head.

Neville does a poor job of turning a cough into a laugh. “We’re under a blood cake curse, like we’re back in the days of muggles murdering witches and wizards for fun. Some families were more proactive than others. They would make a blood cake and hide it in their own homes. Or, depending on the purpose, entrust it to a friend.”

“Or a house elf,” Draco grumbles.

“Or a house elf,” Neville agrees. “When someone other than the makers of the blood cake steps in the house, it enacts a curse. This was supposed to prevent the very muggles who killed them from being able to claim their property, but was also a way to ensure family could still manage to claim the land and property. Or even that other wizards who weren’t family could, if needed.”

Ron makes a considering sound in the back of his throat. “When you say blood cake, do you mean blood as in blood, or as in blood blood?”

“Both,” Draco answers, “and Harry is going to have to eat it. Because finding the cake and eating it is the only way to break the curse.”

“Yuck,” Hermione and Ron say together, then grimace. “Sorry Harry.”

“Hold a on a minute,” Harry says, pausing his walk down the hallway until Draco pushes him forward, but even then he only stumbles forward a couple more steps. Harry’s clearly a disaster, but he should still be able to manage walking and talking at the same. They really shouldn’t linger in one place for too long. Harry takes a few more hesitant steps. “I’m going to have to eat a cake made of blood?”

“Legend says they’re sweet?” he offers. “But yes. It’s, uh, a sponge cake. That’s enchanted. And it’s soaked up your ancestors’ blood.”

Ron snorts. “Like a sponge?”

“Yes,” Neville says, because it is, that’s part of the spell, that’s the whole reason sponge cake is used in the first place. So many soft crannies for intent magic to settle into. “Once Harry eats it, the magic will recognize him, then Tay won’t have any more claim onto the house, and she won’t have any reason to deny Harry. Which I’m not sure she really wants to do anyway. Blood cake curses are a pain, but if her honor’s been slighted then this is probably the most reasonable course of action.”

“Unless we’re killed by a homunculus,” Ron says cheerfully.

“No one is getting killed by anything,” Harry says, but he’s stopped walking again, which really runs counter to what he just said. Staying still just makes them a target. Harry survived the war and worked as an auror for a handful of years, Draco seriously doesn’t understand what he’s doing right now. “How did an elf make a homunculus anyway?”

“Elves that have been entrusted with a family’s blood cake can use its power,” Draco says impatiently. “Evidently your ancestors were fond of Tay. What are we doing? Why have we stopped walking?”

Harry shrugs, and Draco’s going to kill him. “I just – does this this wall seem odd to you?” He reaches out to touch it, and Neville makes a strangled sound, but Draco’s the only one close enough to do anything.

“Don’t!” he shouts, grabbing onto Harry’s shoulders just as he presses his hand against the smooth red stone. He means to pull him backwards, but instead they both get pulled forward, stumbling into the hard wall and passing through it. When they fall out the other side, Draco has to cover his eyes and blink a few times, eyes watering at the sudden bright light. “I guess this place was used as more than an entranceway. I really shouldn’t be here.”

“Don’t leave,” Harry says automatically, looking around the room, wide eyed. “Where are we?”

They’re in a tall, windowless tower. Based on the outside of the temple replica, and assuming this exists in the same plane of matter, it has to run right up the center of it. The light comes from thousands of interlocking symbols floating in the air in front of them, some clustered so thickly together that they’re impossible to tell apart. They cover the whole tower, all the way to the top from what Draco can see from tilting his head back.

Merlin. The Potters didn’t come to Britain until the eighteen hundreds, but this is way more than a couple hundred years old. This looks – maybe thousands of years old.

Maybe this isn’t a replica of the temple. Maybe the temple is modeled after this one.

No, that’s crazy. Just because this tower is that old doesn’t mean the rest of the structure is.

“The wards room,” he answers finally. “Ours is under the basement. That’s a secret, by the way.” It’s actually a huge secret, he absolutely shouldn’t be telling its location to anyone outside the family. But he’s in the Potter wards room right now, an ally but still an outsider, and it’s wrong. He has to level the playing field at least a little, even if it makes his stomach roll. “Although I suppose no one can be mad at me for getting chatty with the family secrets during my final moments.”

He’s trying hard not to panic, to keep a calm head, because as soon as he sinks into the fear clawing its way up his throat, he loses, he’s dead, and that’s just the end of it. So he can’t panic. But it’s very, very hard.

“What?” Harry snaps, looking down from the wards to stare at him. “What are you talking about? Are you hurt?”

He’s already reached a hand out towards him, but Draco shakes his head, and he lets it drop. “I’m not – it’s usually a lot harder to get into a wards room, you know, you have to do a bit more than touch a wall, this isn’t exactly like catching the Hogwarts Express.”

Harry’s eyebrows dip together. “Okay? Is that supposed mean something? If you’re trying to tell me something, you should just come out and say it, I don’t think we have the time for you to be vague and unhelpful.”

“I’m not–” He cuts himself off, frustrated. He’s not vague and unhelpful on purpose. He always thought he was being clear, it’s not his fault that Harry was raised by a bunch of ignorant muggles. “Tay put a blood cake curse on us, which might potentially end in all our deaths, but could also mean that we all get out of this alive with no injuries, and she didn’t have to do that. She could have just killed and eaten us, and we’re strong, but there’s a good chance that a house elf of Tay’s age is probably stronger. So murdering us wouldn’t necessarily be difficult for her. But she didn’t do that.”

“Would she really eat us?” Harry asks, for a moment looking as green as his eyes. “Wouldn’t we – I mean, we’re a lot bigger than she is.”

This really isn’t what Draco wants him to be focusing on. “Well, I’m sure that somewhere in your mansion you have a freezer, or even if you don’t then your powerful unbound house elf could probably manage an ice spell. They get power from eating flowers made of magic. We’ve got magic in our blood, and she would use that blood to make moon orchids. She’d drain our bodies of bodies of blood and feed our flesh to her homunculus. So she could and would eat us, and we’d taste delicious. But that’s not the point here.”

“Er, right, sorry,” he tilts his head for Draco to continue.

He resists the urge to sigh. It seemly oddly right that he spends some of his last moment being exasperated by Harry. “Tay gave you a task that you have a chance of winning. Walls give way to bring you to the innermost part of this temple. Tay wants you to succeed. The magic wants you to succeed. But it also wants you alone, I wasn’t supposed to be here, it was just an accident. Which means the next time I touch a wall or step on the wrong set of flagstones of something equally ridiculous, the house is going to push me to be somewhere else. Alone. Everyone else is together, but I’ll be alone, so the homunculus will almost certainly kill me first. Or maybe something else will. Who knows, it’ll be a fun little surprise.”

Or maybe he’ll be fine, and nothing will happen, and he’ll just have to wait around for the rest of Harry’s friends to come find him. That would be nice, but he’s not holding his breath. He’ll still be wandering around alone in unopened wizard’s house, and he’s sure there are plenty of traps waiting to catch him unaware and murder him.

Harry is staring at him with his mouth hanging open. It should be a crime against humanity that he manages to look attractive even then, even acting like an absolute moron. “I don’t want you to die!”

“Thanks,” he says dryly, “We’ve really progressed since our school days.”

Harry scowls and steps forward to grab his hand with same force as if he were punching him. Draco stares at their intertwined fingers uncomprehendingly. “There. Now no magical force can come and snatch you away without grabbing me too, so if you get taken, it will have to take me too, and you won’t be alone. We’re alone together or not at all. Happy?”

Absolutely not. “Did any of that make sense as it was coming out of your mouth?” he demands. “Let go of me.”

“No. I don’t want you to die, and I don’t have any idea what I’m doing, so I’m going to continue holding your hand, and if anything comes for you, be it that house elf or the homunculus or magic itself, it will have to get through me first,” Harry says firmly. “So stop worrying about that, and help me figure out where this blood cake is. Which is gross, just so we’re clear, this whole ancient magical ritual business includes far too many bodily fluids for my comfort.”

There’s absolutely a joke in there to be made about comfort and bodily fluids, but since it looks like Harry’s determined not to let him die, and their friends are in danger, now is a horrible time to proposition him. Not there’s ever a good time to proposition him, because Harry is … he’s … an idiot, right. There are plenty of reasons that Draco has for not falling for Harry Potter, he made a list once, it’s just rather hard to think about what those reasons are when Harry’s holding his hand and going on about being willing to fight things for him.

“Right,” he swallows. “Okay. Um, well, the magic wants you in the wards room.”

“So the cake is somewhere in here?” he asks, looking around like there’s going to be some sort of convenient pedestal with a cupcake on it.

“Unlikely. But if the magic wants you in here, it either wants you fix something, or it wants,” he pauses, frowning, “well, something else that it definitely doesn’t want, so don’t worry about it.”

Harry glares at him. “Considering how my luck has been running my entire life, whatever horrible thing you just thought of is what’s going on, so you might as well just tell me now.”

“It’s kind of,” he searches for a word that won’t freak him out, then gives up, “gruesome. Also, I promise it’s not what’s going on. If it was, you’d already be dead, so we shouldn’t waste time talking about it.”

Harry stares at him, hard, for several long moments, but he doesn’t flinch. “Tell me later then. How are we supposed to fix it? Can you read Tamil?”

“Poorly,” Draco admits, looking at all the interlocking symbols and spell work. “But that’s not Tamil. It’s Sanskrit. If I thought the house was going to pull you here, I would have told you to bring a Patil. They’ve been doing all their warding and spell building in Sanskrit for generations. The prestige of attending Hogwarts might outweigh our use of Latin and Greek based spells, but only barely, according to Lady Patil.”

“Well, if neither of us can read it, how are we supposed to fix it? Should I bleed on it? That’s how you lot solve your problems, isn’t it?”

Draco wants to be offended, but bleeding on it does actually solve a lot of magic based problems, assuming it doesn’t kill you. “No, just – look, it would absolutely be easier if either of us could read Sanskrit, but this is your family’s magic. It’s your magic. Just grab it, and look for a missing link.” He looks down at their hands. “Which would probably be a lot easier to do with both your hands.”

“If I let you go, is there a chance something will happen to separate us?” Draco doesn’t answer. “Yeah, no. If I let you die, Luna will cry, and Luna crying is actually the worst thing in the whole world.”

“If you take too long to figure this out and find the others, they might all die, so maybe you should prioritize a little bit?” he suggests. Why is he trying to talk Harry into letting go of him and risking his death? Maybe Harry isn’t the only idiot around here. Well, he’s been far worse things than a hypocrite.

“Hold on to my waist, and then I can use both my hands,” Harry says. Draco blinks at him. Maybe he’s already dead and it just happened so quickly that he didn’t notice. “Also, I have no idea what you mean by just grab it. Grab what? The floating glowing symbols?”

“Yes,” he answers. “What, am I supposed to just hold on to you while you’re doing this?”

He shrugs. “You can look over my shoulder and tell me when you see whatever this supposed missing link is.” Draco doesn’t think he can be serious, because this is insane, but Harry turns around and then tugs him forward until he stumbles into his back. He wraps Draco’s arm around waist, then impatiently reaches for his other hand when he just stays frozen against his back. “Come on, you were the one just saying we’re under a time limit.”

“Right,” he swallows, and clasps his hands against Harry’s stomach, pressed up all against him. He’s not quite tall enough to hook his chin over Harry’s shoulder, so instead he awkwardly presses the bottom part of his face into his shoulder, so he can still breathe and see what’s happening but he doesn’t have to go on his tip toes. Harry’s warm and solid and smells vaguely of some sort of lemon soap or shampoo, maybe both. “Well, grab it.”

Harry turns his head to glare at him, and he’s flushed a bright red. Well, good, he’s glad that Harry thinks having Draco draped over him like this is embarrassing. It was his idea, and Draco shouldn’t be the only one suffering because of it. “Seriously?”

“If I do it, it will kill me,” he says, “so I can’t demonstrate. Just grab one a random, the rest will figure themselves out. Trust me.”

He regrets saying that as soon as it’s out of his mouth, but Harry doesn’t argue anymore. He reaches out for one of the glowing Sanskrit characters and as soon his fingers touches it, the rest of them light up. Draco hides his face in Harry’s back to get away from the glare, only peeking back over his shoulder when it subsides. Harry’s still blinking, trying to regain use of his eyes. “Ow.”

“Sorry,” he says, “mine don’t do that, but I touch it pretty frequently, so.” The wards have come together like some sort of gossamer thin floating ribbon, spiraling all around them and up to the top. Harry slides his fingers across it, and Draco can feel the way he shivers at the touch. “Just keep doing that, until your reach the end, or you find a problem.”

“How will I know if there’s a problem?” Harry asks, but he’s already doing as Draco said. As soon as he pulls the ribbon through his hands, the part he’s touched disintegrates, allowing the glowing Sanskrit to float back up to its proper place around the tower.

Draco’s wards burn his hands when they need repair, but he knows that’s not a universal concept. At least a few of the Irish families’ wards let out angry bagpipe noises, and others feel wet, and he’s heard of a few who tickle. “You’ll know.”

Harry sighs, but doesn’t argue, which is a small miracle. It’s unfortunate that Draco’s the only one to witness it and that no one will believe him.

The Malfoys are relatively new family to the House, considering, and it’s only in the last half century or so that they’ve bothered to maintain family wards like these, instead of just relying on natural defenses and the Lord’s own wards and magic. They’re all in French, and they float along the wall in lazy pattern, shifting and changing, interlocking and breaking apart as needed. It’s planned, precise and masterful and graceful.

The Potter wards aren’t like that.

It’s mostly Sanskrit, but every now and again he catches glimpses of something familiar, small sections of Tamil or Hindi or some other language he doesn’t recognize. It’s not graceful or small or pretty. It’s huge, easily a hundred times the size of the Malfoy wards, and Draco can’t even pretend to be surprised that there’s something in need of repair. These wards are so old that it’s a miracle that the magic hasn’t eroded in spots, but there are places where he can almost guess what something is for. Instead of taking out and replacing a new section of wards when needed, the Potters had simply added to it, refusing to erase any of their ancestors' handiwork. Instead, it’s more complicated, it’s languages tumbling over each other and commands contradicting each other and fighting against one another, pulling and pushing and none of it ever fading, the magic pulsing thick and strong in this tower.

It's not delicate, not pretty. But it is beautiful. And powerful. Even if someone managed to undo or outsmart one section of the wards, there’s at least a dozen more just like it, waiting for the chance to burn bright and gold.

“Here,” Harry says, and Draco focuses. It’s a bit of Sanskrit, and it doesn’t look any different from the others to Draco, but that’s why he’s not the one doing this. “It’s broken.”

“So fix it,” he says.

Harry sighs with his whole body, and Draco doesn’t bother to hide his smile since Harry can’t see it. “I don’t know Sanskrit, Draco. We just went over this.”

“Well then why don’t you focus and tell me what it’s connected to, and I’ll tell you how to fix it,” he suggests. “It’s your magic. Sanskrit or no Sanskrit. Tell me what it does.”

He’s silent for a long moment, and Draco hopes he’s actually listening to him and not just standing there being an idiot. “It’s … connected to the garden? The – the flowers. It’s the magic that goes into the flowers?”

He groans and hits his head against Harry’s back. “Well, that explains Tay, at least.”

“Draco, I swear if you don’t start talking like a normal human being,” Harry begins, irritated, then pauses. Draco drudges up what little patience he has and waits. “Wait. It’s not just any flowers, right? Normal flowers don’t need magic. It’s the moon orchids. Ever since this was broken, whenever that was, the moon orchids haven’t been growing.”

“Maybe you’re not as much of a dunderhead as I thought,” he says, but Harry only snorts. “Right. So if Tay’s stuck around, she’s owed a debt of magic. Which is probably why you scarred when you opened the grounds, and let me tell you, that’s actually a huge comfort. I thought it was going to be something way worse and harder to fix.”

“But why do I owe her a debt?” Harry protests. “I didn’t ask her to stay! There’s nothing to keep her here!”

He rolls his eyes. “Don’t say that where she can hear you. It doesn’t matter. She’s a house elf, it’s not like you get a choice about it. You can either fix the wards, apologize for the horrible circumstances she’s found herself in, commend her loyalty, and then offer her all the magical flowers she can eat. Or you can insult her and then we die.”

Harry frowns. “That doesn’t seem like much a choice at all.”

“Yes, exactly,” He nudges his chin into Harry’s shoulder, and has to bite back a laugh when he tries to squirm away. “Come on, hurry up and fix the wards.”

“How many times do I have to tell you that I don’t know Sanskrit?” Harry snaps. “I can’t fix it.”

Draco wants to snap back, but takes a deep breath instead. “You don’t have to do it in Sanskrit. Some of these are in Tamil or Hindi.”

“I don’t know those either,” he says, something quiet that might be misery in his voice, and Draco’s suddenly itchy all over.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says. “Wards aren’t like spell building, where it’s all arithmancy and precise language and wand movements. Wards are as old as magic itself, so they existed long before we had any of that. You just have to speak and have intent and focus, you have to use your own personal magic to add to and alter the wards, and it’ll work. All magic was in the beginning was intent. Do it in Latin. Do it in English. It really doesn’t matter. You’re a Potter, and the magic knows you and responds to you, and that has nothing to do with what language you speak to it in.”

“Any language?” he asks, looking down at the strip of ribbon wound between his hands.

“Any language,” Draco confirms. “So you’ll be the first Potter to add English wards, who cares? That’s not the important part.”

Harry hums, distracted, then says, “I’m not going to do it in English.”

Draco frowns, because he’s pretty sure that Harry isn’t fluent in Latin, but well, it’s not like fluency is required, at least at Harry’s power level. He could pretty much say a bunch of gibberish, and as long he focused enough, the magic would find a way to make it work.

Harry opens his mouth, but it’s not Latin, and it’s not English.

It’s a low, hypnotic language that’s not quite words, but isn’t just hissing either. The ribbon of wards snaps apart, spinning around them and glowing the longer Harry speaks. There’s a heavy weight in the air, and Draco should have specified, he should have told Harry that this isn’t a problem he has to push every spare bit of magic at. But he didn’t, so the room gets warmer and warmer, the air thick as syrup with magic, and all Draco can do is tighten his arms around Harry’s waist and hope this works.

It does.

A chilling breeze pushes through the room, and the written version of Parseltongue looks a little like Tamil, all soft curving characters, The newest bit of the wards glitters brighter than the rest of it.

“See?” he says, ignoring the way it comes out sounding breathless, because who could blame him really. “It wasn’t that hard. You did great.” Harry slumps backwards, and Draco tightens his grip to keep them both upright. “Harry? Harry!”

“M’fine,” he mumbles, turning in the circle of Draco’s arms. They’re so close. Too close. He should let go of Harry now, it’s probably safe. His eyes are hazy, and Draco thinks that they might also be glowing a little, which he doesn’t think should be happening. His eyes don’t glow when he alters the wards. “You smell nice.”

“What?” he asks, and it absolutely doesn’t come out as a squeak.

Harry presses against him, so Draco takes a step back, then another, then another, until he has nowhere else to go. He has the cold stone wall to his back, and Harry warm against his front, and he hasn’t always made the best choices, but surely he’s never done anything to deserve this level of torture. “I’ve always liked your eyes.”

“You what?”

Harry lets go of Draco, and he only has one insane moment to miss the feeling of his arms around him when Harry’s pressing his hands flat against the stone wall on either side of his head, leaning impossibly closer. They’re already so close, how could they get closer?

Draco doesn’t get to find out, because at that moment he falls backwards through the wall, the same way they entered. Harry follows, and he ends up on his back with Harry on top of him. That probably would have hurt more, except that Harry had cupped the back of his head so he hits Harry’s hand instead of the floor.

 “Um. Guys?” Draco tears his eyes away from Harry, and notes that they’re in a completely different hallway than the one they disappeared from. Ron is standing there with Neville unconscious on his back, and Hermione is next to him. They all look a little singed, and at least half of Ron’s shirt has burned away revealing a painful looking burn. Hermione’s clothes are intact, but she’s covered in a worrying amount of blood. 

“Neville?” Harry asks, looking away from Draco, his voice high in worry. But he still doesn’t get off from on top of him.

“He’s fine,” Ron says. “He helped Hermione kill the homunculus, and I found the blood cake.” He pauses, looking at them significantly. “So, while we’ve been fighting for our lives and finding the way to break this curse, what have you two been getting up to?”

“Or going down on,” Hermione mutters, almost quietly enough that he can pretend he didn’t hear it.

Almost.

Maybe it would have been better if he’d just let the homunculus eat him. There’d be more dignity in that, at least.

Chapter Text

Neville regains consciousness in time to see Harry holding the blood cake, which is roughly the shape and color of a brick. Draco waves at his unfocussed gaze, and he only feels a little bit guilty at how grateful he is that Neville didn’t see Harry pressed down on top of him, because that means Augusta won’t hear about it.

Well, actually, she probably will, what with Hermione determined to accompany him to the House meetings and Augusta determined to have all her allies make friendly with her favorite muggleborn. “You gotta eat it,” Neville says, his voice only a little slurred.

The rest of them startle, since they hadn’t noticed him waking up, and Ron asks, “How you doing there Neville?”

“I’ll be fine. Eat the cake,” he insists.

Harry blinks, eyes still glazed. He’s clearly understand even less of what’s happening around him than usual, so Draco explains, “Once you’re the Lord of the house, Tay will heal Neville if you ask. So the sooner you eat that, the sooner all this is over with.”

He looks at it dubiously, like it might attack him. “I’m not a vampire.”

Draco is going to take that cake and smash it into Harry’s face if he doesn’t hurry up. “No, you’re a petulant, absent Heir, and Tay is doing us a favor but not directly challenging you for ownership of this house, so accept her olive branch and eat the cake.”

Hermione winces and Ron sighs, but Harry is unbothered. “You’re cute when you’re mad. I used to love riling you up in school just because I like the way your nose scrunches.”

“Merlin above,” Ron mutters, horrified.

“Um?” Neville says, voice annoyingly high pitched. “Is Harry drunk?”

“The idiot overpowered the wards and channeled enough magic that he’s gone mad,” Draco snaps, grabbing his wand to transfigure one of his buttons into a fork and going to stand next to Harry. He digs the fork into the corner of the blood cake, lifting it into the air and shoving it in front of Harry’s mouth. “Now shut up and eat the bloody cake before you say anything else that you’ll regret.”

Harry keeps looking at him with those bottle green eyes, too dark to be emeralds, but something else, like moss, like something clean and good and useful. Draco has his father’s eyes, grey like a rainstorm or gravestone. Harry opens his mouth and leans forward enough to close his lips over the form, sliding off slowly and swallowing.

“What’s it taste like?” Hermione asks.

Harry doesn’t look away as he says, “Sweet, but tangy too. Like barbecue sauce.”

“Your ancestors’ blood tastes like barbecue sauce?” Neville demands.

He shrugs, then opens his mouth again, waiting.

“You can’t be serious,” Draco says flatly. Harry raises an eyebrow, a challenge, and he’s always been a stubborn bastard determined to ruin Draco’s life, so he should even be surprised really. He wants to be stubborn in return, but one of them has to be reasonable, and it’s clearly not going to be Harry. So he stabs another piece out of the cake with the fork, then shoves it into Harry’s mouth, glaring.

His eyes crinkle at the corner, like he wants to laugh at him. He makes Draco feed the entire blood cake to him, piece by piece.

When they get out of here, Draco’s going to kill him, alliance be damned.

He’s barely swallowed the last bite when everything shifts, and Draco hadn’t realized how dark the hallway was until it was lit up, bright and cheerful, and the whole think expands, no longer narrow and confining, but rich reds and golden picture frames and side tables. Fucking Gryffindors.

Tay appears beside them, no longer quite so terrifying as before, sharp teeth tucked away and red tinted eyes only looking brown in this light. “You’ll do,” she says to Harry, who grins, like he knows how important that is, how valuable her praise is, no matter how faint. She turns to him and says in French, sly, “Ally, are you? Is that what they’re calling it these days?” Neville chokes, because he mastered the language by the time he was nine, and Hermione smirks at him in a way that is incredibly uncomfortable, and oh great, he hadn’t known that she spoke French, just fantastic. At least Harry and Ron look confused.

It’s not like that,” he responds, irritable, stepping away from Harry, which makes him frown at him. “He didn’t channel the ward magic properly, that’s why he’s like that.”

“You keep saying that,” Harry says, eyes narrowed. “I don’t think–”

“Isn’t there something you’d like to say to Miss Tay?” Draco interrupts.

Harry purses his lips, but sighs and turns to the house elf. “Thank you for continuing to watch over the Potter home even after the flowers stopped growing. I am honored by your loyalty to my blood. I owe –” Draco and Neville flinch, and Harry pauses, then says, “In return for your kindness, I would like to gift you as many moon orchids as you desire, to show how grateful I am to have you in my house.”

Tay cackles, pressing her hands to her thighs and inclining her head in Harry’s direction. “You can be taught, it seems. Don’t worry, you have shown your appreciation most thoroughly.”

They must all look confused, because Tay raises her hand and snaps her fingers. In between one breath and the next, they’ve moved, no longer inside the house, and instead in the front yard. Draco hadn’t even felt the magic moving them. He vows to never piss Tay off, because she’s scarily powerful, even for an unbound house elf.

At first, Draco thinks the front yard has been covered in a blanket of snow. The stone path leading to the front door is the only place left untouched by the layer of white, but after a closer look, he’s sees it’s not snow, but flowers.

Thousands upon thousands of moon orchids stretch across the Potter land, so densely packed together that it’s impossible to see the ground underneath them.

“You carry your family’s magic, their blood is your blood, and this house is your home,” Tay says, then holds out her hand. “Come, Harry Potter. It is time for you to open this house and take your place as Lord of the Potter line.”

Harry reaches for her hand, and they both disappear.

“Harry!” Hermione shouts, and Ron’s wand is already in his hand.

“It’s okay,” Neville says before Draco can, finally sliding off of Ron’s back. He lifts his shirt, revealing his completely intact torso. “If she healed me, she must be confident he’ll survive it.”

Draco gestures to the moon orchids, “Of course he’ll survive it! Do you see this?”

“Survive it,” Hermione repeats dangerously. Ron places a hand on his wife’s arm, but he looks as angry as she sounds. “What are you talking about?”

“Don’t worry, he’ll be fine,” Neville says. “She’s probably taking him to the ward room. Blood to blood. He’ll bleed on some stuff, the magic will accept him as Lord Potter, and everything will be fine.”

“What if it doesn’t accept him?” Hermione demands, “What if it demands he sacrifices more than blood for the privilege of his magic?”

Draco tries and fails to bite down on a smile. She really is the cleverest witch of their age. That sentence would have sounded like nonsense to her a few months ago, but now she says it easily. “It won’t. Harry hasn’t given it a reason to.”

“Because magic always listens to reason and makes sense and doesn’t sometimes act bloodthirsty and ruthless for no bloody reason,” she hisses.

“Uh,” he takes a step back and considers hiding behind Neville, “it doesn’t? There’s always a reason, even if we don’t agree with it. But you really don’t have to worry, weren’t you listening to Tay? Harry belongs to her now. She’s exchanged ownership of the house for ownership of him.”

Ron’s face twists. “We own elves, not the other way around.”

Neville snorts and Draco makes a so-so gesture. “Depends on the elf.”

“There used to be a whole etiquette about kidnapping because of house elves,” Neville starts, and Hermione looks fascinated, but Draco’s heard about this a thousand times and he doesn’t want to hear it again. As the only child of the head of the Malfoy family, he would have been prime kidnapping and bargaining material, except no one was ever quite stupid enough to go against both his parents and Dax.

Before Neville can get to into it, there’s a ripple in the air, and the hair on Draco’s arm stands straight while Neville goes deathly pale.

For a moment, it’s like his blood is freezing in his veins, like all the warmth has been stolen from his lungs and like he’ll never be warm again. Then it’s gone, and his fingers are tingling with warmth. Ron and Hermione only look confused, but, well, they’re not members of the House.

“Did you feel that?” he asks Neville, even though the answer is obvious. He nods, rubbing his arms, as if trying to chase away that phantom chill. “Well, the good news is you’re almost certainly going to be made a Lord after Augusta. Isn’t that nice?”

“Fantastic,” he says, dry, looking towards the house, his eyebrows dipped together.

He’s clearly thinking the same thing that Draco is. If he felt that, then the other members of the House must have felt it too. They were trying to be quiet and controlled about this, but that’s just been thrown out the window.

Oh, shit.

“The kids,” he says, eyes widening. “I told the Slytherins. I don’t think I mentioned anything to Filius, did you tell Pomona? I don’t even remember if the Hufflepuffs have any heirs. Hermione, did you tell the Gryffindors?”

Neville curses, shaking his head, and Hermione frowns. “No, why would I?”

“We have Heirs at Hogwarts right now – even more than usual, since Lords and Ladies try and coordinate that type of thing for alliance purposes,” Neville says. “If I felt that, there’s a chance they did too. Except they’ll have no idea why, just that the magic did something strange that hurt, so for all they know something terrible happened.”

“Fuck,” Hermione says, reflexive, “Okay, right, let’s go,”

She turns to Ron, who only raises a hand. “I know. I’ll stay here with Harry until he’s done doing … whatever the hell he’s doing. You go take care of the kids.” His blue eyes sweep over them, and for a moment Draco is uncomfortably reminded of his mother. “That goes for all of you.”

Draco thinks it’s fine, he doesn’t think there’s anything to worry about now that Harry’s a Lord (Merlin’s sagging ball sack, Harry Potter is a Lord) but he doesn’t know, and Ron may be a pureblood, but he’s been removed from this stuff for so long he’s nearly as useless as Harry.

“I’ll stay,” Neville says, stepping back so he’s next to Ron. “You two go. Make sure you check in on the Hufflepuffs for me.”

“I will,” he and Hermione say at the same time, and he kind of hates himself. He grabs her hand and pulls her into a side long appiration to the manor, and he should have given her a heads up before doing that, but he had to get out of there before Ron said something horrifying and true, and Hermione’s too good to splinch herself anyway.

She shoots him a dirty look when they arrive, but then the fireplace is filled with bright green flames, and they have more important things to do, so she steps through them, Draco barely a step behind her.

Georgianna is pacing in his living room while Milly wrings her hands in the corner of the room, large eyes even wider than normal. “Master Malfoy! I know I is not be letting students inside, but it is an emergency, but Mister Dax is saying you should not be being bothered-”

“It’s fine,” he says, cutting her off before she can work herself up any farther and focusing on Georgianna. “What happened?”

“Everyone’s fine,” she opens up with, and he can’t decide if that’s comforting or not. “We knew what was happening, so we told everyone. Sorry. But everyone was freaking out.”

“What happened?” Hermione demands. “Where are the heirs? Are they okay?”

“I said everyone was fine. They’re in the great hall,” she answers.

Draco blinks. He can understand wanting to keep an eye on them, but that seems a bit much. “Why not the headmistress’s office? Or the hospital wing?”

“Because they wouldn’t all fit in there,” she says, raising an eyebrow. “Aren’t you wondering why I’m the one here, in your private rooms, and not someone who’s at least related to you?”

That’s an excellent point. “Well, I am now.”

Georgianna sighs, walking towards the door. “Come on, you can explain to everyone what’s going on.”

He resists for a moment, but then Hermione kicks him in the shin, so he followers her out. “You know, sometimes I get the impression you don’t respect me.”

“I set Roberts on fire,” she says shortly.

Hm. Well, in that case. “I rescind my previous complaint.”

She grins over her shoulder before pushing the door open to the great hall.

It’s one of the strangest things he’s ever seen, which he thinks is really saying something considering the day he’s had. The hall is too warm, and he’s instantly hit with a wave of heat. Most of the school is there, but half of them are in shorts and tank tops, while the other is buried in blankets, mugs of steaming drinks in their hands as their non temperature challenged friends hover around them. When they enter, it’s like watching a ripple across the water. The kids closest to the door stop shivering and look towards him, shedding their blankets and putting their mugs aside. Then it spreads like a wave, until all the kids are tugging off layers of clothing and rushing forward, everyone talking all at once and over each other so it’s impossible for him to hear anyone at all. He can see Luna at the back of the hall, with her arms around two Ravenclaws who are doing their best to burrow into her side like a pair of nifflers. She looks worried. He doesn’t like it when Luna looks worried.

He’s too taken aback to respond, but almost immediately Markel elbows his way through the crowd, his arm hooked with Marilyn’s so he can drag her behind him. Her eyes are worryingly glazed. “Cousin!”

Draco reacts without thinking, opening his arms so they can press their faces into his robe. “Are you two all right?”

“Marilyn is acting weird,” Markel answers, his voice muffled. “Weirder than normal.”

She scowls, and when Draco looks at her again, her eyes seem clearer, somehow. “It – you felt it too, don’t give me that!”

You felt,” he starts, but then Hermione places her hand against his back.

“Draco,” she says softly, “they’re all nobles.”

He doesn’t understand at first, then he looks back over the crowd of students, and it clicks. She’s right. All the kids who’d been bundled up had been those from noble families. That’s why Georgianna was in his rooms instead of Markel, or any of his other numerous distant cousins currently attending Hogwarts.

“Professor Granger. Professor Malfoy,” McGonagall says, her voice managing to both cut through all the yelling and quiet it. Draco would be more impressed if she wasn’t saying their names like shed to when they were students. “Did it go well or poorly?”

What? What is she – oh. His snakes told everyone where they were and what they were doing, and they know something big happened with the magic, something big enough that all the noble children felt it, but they don’t know what. Maybe what they’re feeling is the violent destruction of one of the noble houses.

“Lord Potter is in the process of reopening the Potter House,” he says, pitching his voice like he’s at a House meeting. “He’s accompanied by Tay, the house elf who’s maintained the home in his absence, and Heir Longbottom.” He doesn’t mention Ron, because he doesn’t think mentioning that the newly anointed Lord is with a blood traitor is going to help anything.

The relief that sweeps through the hall is nearly a palpable thing.

~

After they get the students sorted and back to their respective dorms, Draco goes back to his rooms. He’s standing in front of his mirror, tapping his wand against his palm, because he just knows that this isn’t going to be an enjoyable conversation.

Well, he can’t avoid it forever.

Pansy answering his call almost immediately isn’t that unusual, she does spend a lot of time in front of the mirror, but when she answers, her face is bare, her hair’s in a lopsided bun, and there’s a dreadful scowl on her face. He considers hanging up on her, but then she’ll kill him, and Blaise will absolutely help her hide the body. “Draco, darling, is there something you would like to tell me, perhaps? Something to do with your favorite moronic Gryffindor, perhaps, just in case anything slipped your mind?”

“If I’d know that everyone even remotely connected to the House was going to feel it when he became a Lord, we would have done the press release first,” he says. He also wants to object to Pansy calling Harry his favorite Gryffindor, but he does still have some self preservation instincts. “It’s personal. It was supposed to be private. His mum and dad’s house. It wasn’t my business to tell.”

He’s not off the hook, but she does soften slightly. “Like that’s ever stopped you before. You do have a press release planned, don’t you?”

“Hermione’s off with a Daily Prophet journalist right now. One of the Brown cousins, so it should be fine.”

She wrinkles her nose. “Candy or Charlie?”

“Candy,” he answers, and doesn’t say that Charlie is perfectly good at her job, and that Pansy is just bitter that she trades in cash rather than favors like every other half decent journalist. Personally, gauche or not, Draco much prefers handing over a sack of gold to being strong-armed into introducing someone to someone else or having to speak out against a bill he doesn’t particularly care about. “I need a favor.”

“Of course you do,” she sighs. “You’re lucky you’re so dear to me, otherwise I’d replace you with someone who wasn’t quite so inconvenient.”

“I have bought half your wardrobe,” he reminds her, because all the annoying things he has her do come with benefits. “I need you to accompany Harry to the next Lords and Ladies meeting. It can’t be Blaise because he’d eat him alive, and if he doesn’t bring someone respectable the House will destroy him.”

Pansy doesn’t deny it. “Why not Luna?” He only has a moment to flounder before Pansy grins, wide and all knowing. “Oh, I see, you want someone who will protect him.”

Luna would protect him by distracting everyone, by making herself the center of attention, by opening herself up to scorn and laughter to keep their scrutiny off of Harry. That’s not what he wants. It’s one thing when he makes fun of Luna, it’s quite another when anyone else does it. “Please.”

She shrugs, “Well, you know I do live for the drama. You’re buying my dress, of course.”

“Of course,” he echoes, smiling. “Thank you. I don’t suppose you want to come over?” This whole professor thing makes seeing his friends kind of annoying, since he can never go to them.

Pansy doesn’t answer, but she does blow him a raspberry and then disappear from the mirror. He calls Blaise next, and his friend’s face shimmers across the glass. “What the fuck was that about?”

“Hi Blaise, nice to see you too,” he says dryly. “I saw the inside of the Potter House and Harry put his hands all over me. Pansy is going to come over and drink my sorrows away. Want to join?”

He tilts his head to the side like he’s seriously considering it, then says, “Well, at least you’re not denying your huge embarrassing crush on Potter anymore. That’s an improvement.” He hangs up before Draco can respond, but he takes that as an agreement. He’s just changed into sweatpants that are slightly too big and a long sleeve shirt that he thinks must have belonged to Pansy at some point, because it’s tight across his chest. Actually, on second thought, it’s entirely possible that these sweatpants used to belong to Blaise and Draco just stole them during their schoolyears.

He makes way too much money to be stealing his friends’ clothes. Clearly he should put a pause on buying stupidly expensive robes and invest some gold into loungewear.

His fireplace roars to life with bright green flames, and clearly they got the memo without him having to say anything at all, because Blaise is in shorts and a too large sweater, while Pansy is in leggings and one of his old quidditch jerseys from, merlin, when he was thirteen, maybe. It does make him feel better about the clothes stealing.

They both have bottles of alcohol clenched in each fist. Being best friends is knowing when someone want to get lazy drunk without them having to say it. “Do you think we should develop healthier coping mechanisms?”

Blaise pulls the cork from one of the bottles with his teeth. “No.”

Well, okay then. Good talk.

~

Draco really must be cursed. It’s the only explanation as to why there’s someone knocking at his door in middle of the night after he’s consumed over a bottle of alcohol. Why does this keep happening to him? Maybe it’ll be Hermione again. They’ve progressed in their relationship, he could probably just summon her a bottle and be done with it. If it’s not Hermione, it’ll be Luna, and she’s absolutely brilliant to drink with, so either way it won’t be terrible.

Unless it’s a student. He really doesn’t want it to be a student.

“Milly!” he calls out, and with a crack his house elf appears. “Is it a student?”

“No, Master Malfoy,” she says, her face scrunching up the way it does when she’s doing her best not to laugh at him.

“Wonderful,” he says briskly, forcing himself to stand and only swaying a little. Or maybe a lot, considering the way Pansy is giggling into his throw pillow and Blaise is judging him with his eyebrows.

He walks over to the door, flinging it open, grin already on his face.

It’s neither Hermione, nor Luna.

“Er,” Harry says, eyes wide. “Am I, uh, interrupting something?”

“Why do you keep getting midnight visitors from Gryffindors?” Pansy calls out, stretched on his couch in his old jersey while Blaise stands next to her, dangling some grapes above her lips. He’s also shirtless, for some reason. Where did his shirt go? Did he spill something on it?

“Shut up,” he says to Pansy, then leans against the doorway. “How did the rest of the day go? Is something wrong?”

“Uh, it was, I mean, no, you don’t have to,” he cuts himself off, frustrated, glancing over Draco’s shoulder to Pansy and Blaise with a look Draco doesn’t quite understand. He’s seen Harry direct friendlier faces to Voldemort. “I didn’t know you’d have company. I – sorry.”

He turns to leave, but Draco reaches out without thinking, curling his fingers in material of his shirt. “Don’t worry about it, they don’t count as company anyway.” Okay, now Harry is glaring, which just seems very unfair, Draco hasn’t done anything to deserve a glare, at least not recently. “Is everything okay? How’s the house? How’s Ron?”

“Fine,” he says, the edge coming off his flinty stare. “I just wanted – I was going to say–” He looks over Draco’s shoulder again, which seriously, what is he doing, he knows Pansy and Blaise aren’t that interesting. “Never mind. It can wait.”

“Okay,” he says, and he thinks he’s too drunk for this conversation, he feels like he’s missing something, but the world isn’t one hundred percent upright right now, so analyzing Harry’s behavior is a little outside his depth at the moment. “Do you want to join us?”

He shakes his head, rocks back on the balls of his feet, then gives Draco a wooden smile before leaving his doorway and walking down the hallway. Draco closes the door, feeling far more confused that before he’d opened it.

“Draco,” Blaise says with uncharacteristic seriousness. “How could you not tell us about this?”

“This is big news! We should have been the first to know, I’m offended,” Pansy says, which may be true, but she looks far too gleeful for him to take her seriously.

“What are you guys talking about?” Maybe he should have stopped drinking earlier.

Blaise crosses his arms across his broad chest and scowls. “Why didn’t you tell us that Potter finally wizened up and figured out he liked you back?”

“He doesn’t, don’t be ridiculous,” he says firmly.

Pansy and Blaise don’t look like they’re letting this go. He’s seriously weighing the indignity of fleeing his own rooms against talking about his embarrassing twelve year crush on Harry Potter.

There’s not enough alcohol in the world for this conversation.

Chapter Text

Harry isn’t avoiding him. It’s impossible for Harry to avoid him, because they barely saw one another to begin with, and any of his feelings to the contrary are him just being a self absorbed twat.

“Why is Harry avoiding you?” Neville asks. Luna scoots down so he can squeeze in next to her at the head table. “Did you say something awful again? Not that that’s ever given Harry much pause in the past, mind.”

If he wasn’t in full view of all his students, he’d let his head drop forward into his mashed potatoes. “No. I don’t think so.” Neville raises an eyebrow. “After Harry opened the Potter House, Pansy and Blaise came over and we got drunk. Harry came looking for me, but it’s all a bit blurry. I asked after his house and if he wanted to join us, but then he left. I don’t think I said anything terrible. Is he secretly some sort of prohibitionist or something?”

“Not if the stories about him at the auror parties are true,” Neville answers, which obviously piques his interest. He hasn’t heard any wild stories about Harry during his stint as an auror, which is bullshit, he has a couple cousins in that department. “Really, you offered him a drink and he said no?”

“Maybe he hates Pansy and Blaise?” he tries, even though as far as he knows Harry doesn’t have much of an opinion about them beyond them being prats, which, well, they are.

Luna sighs and gives them both one of her disappointed stares. Draco’s skin starts to itch and Neville’s shoulders hunch. “You’re both wrong.”

“Well, what is it then?” he asks, but Luna just kisses him on the cheek before getting up out of her seat and leaving. Neville looks jealous he didn’t get a kiss on the cheek too.

~

“Please don’t blow anything up,” Draco begs, sitting cross legged on his desk in green pajama bottoms and a black long sleeve. It’s a quarter hour before midnight, he’s not doing this in his teaching robes. They’re lucky he doesn’t just nap in the corner and leave them to their fate.

The potions club is all huddled around a massive cauldron, ignoring him completely. He could fall asleep on top of his desk and they wouldn’t even care until they needed him to answer a question.

He loves these kids.

“Is it supposed to be this color?” Raina ask anxiously. “Should we add more beetle wings?”

“Only if you want to create noxious gas that will kill us all,” Albert answers, mostly hiding behind her shoulder like the potion might gain sentience and kill him anyway, no beetle wings needed. Raina throws him a proud look that makes him puff up a bit, and Draco has to muffle his laughter. A Lestrange and a Weasley being friends. Clearly times are changing.

Cory scowls, leaning dangerously close to the flames. “She’s right about the color though. Not beetle wings. Uh – unicorn horns?”

“Oh, because that’s less volatile,” Raina snaps.

Marianna is curling her hair with her wand as she thinks, just like he’s seen Pansy do a thousand times before. “Something powerful enough to stabilize the mermaid scales, but not explosive enough to – well, explode.”

“The sixth years just finished making the Poor Man’s Faerie Dust,” Dacia says. “That would work.”

They all wince. “It should.” Marianna agrees. “Poor Man’s Faerie Dust acts almost exactly the same as normal faerie dust.”

“Almost,” Albert echoes darkly. Draco’s constantly impressed that a Weasley has self preservation instincts. Clearly it skips a generation.

Raina twists to glare at him, like she’s just remembered he’s there. He rests his chin his hand to hide his smile. “If only someone had access to real faerie dust. Just a pinch would do, really.”

The rest of kids pause, then turn to look at him, eerily in sync. He raises an eyebrow. “Are you talking about Hagrid? I don’t think he’s awake right now, but you can certainly try.”

“Midnight is in fifteen minutes!” Dacia snaps. “We don’t have time for that.”

He shrugs, because he could be sleeping right now, but no, these kids are out to ruin his life.

“Cousin,” Raina says, and she’s trying for pleading, but ends on reproachful.

He snorts, caving in under all their glares. “Alright, alright, put down your pitchforks.” He snaps his fingers, “Milly.”

There’s a crack, and his house elf is standing there. “Yes, Master Malfoy?”

“Grab a half cup of faerie dust from my private stocks back at the manor,” he says. “Ask Dax if you have any trouble, he may have put some sort of protection spell on it, he does that sometimes.”

She nods and then disappears.

The kids are still staring at him, although this time they just look a mix of confused and shocked. “Half a cup of faerie dust is … a lot,” Cory says finally.

It’s worth about a hundred galleons, and truly a ludicrous amount to use for anything.

Except.

“Two weeks ago you guys added in a ground femur of a bear. You were only supposed to use a clavicle,” he says. “Adding in this amount of faerie dust is about the only way to salvage this potion.”

They all curse, using language that he should absolutely give them detention for, but he’s too busy laughing.

“Why didn’t you tell us!” Dacia cries. “We could have fixed it if we’d known when we did it!”

Albert asks the important question. “Why didn’t you stop us?”

“This isn’t a class. It’s a club, where the purpose is to experiment and do things differently,” he shrugs. “You won’t learn if I never let you get anything wrong. I’m here to make sure you don’t end up in the hospital wing, and I guess to act as your living encyclopedia, since none of you can be bothered to look anything up yourself. But the rest is up to you. The only reason I’m helping you now is because I refuse to do this again. We all have class in the morning, and we won’t be done until two if we’re lucky.”

Also, he has a paper due for Filius in a couple days that he should absolutely be working on, but it’s not like he can tell the kids that. They’ll either start listing off the couple dozen projects they have to do, like it’s a competition he’s definitely losing, or they’ll tell him to stop assigning so much homework if he wants more free time. It’s a lose-lose situation.

“I’ll kill you,” Dacia says with the type of calm confidence that only a Zabini has when contemplating murder.

There’s two loud cracks. “What could you possibly need a cup of faerie dust for?” Dax demands, Milly standing behind him and wringing her hands nervously. “Are you using a sleeping potion on the whole castle? Making a portal to another realm?”

“That can be done?” Marianna asks, more contemplative than he’s entirely comfortable with.

“Hello Dax,” he says. He points to the giant bubbling cauldron in the middle of the room. There’s another crack, and Dax is standing on Albert’s shoulders, peering down into the cauldron. Albert sighs, like he’s used to people climbing all over him. He must have younger siblings.

“Terrible, just terrible, who made this?” he asks.

The kids all guiltily raise their hands.

Dax turns enough to glare at him, and Draco shrugs, “Hey, it’s not so bad. It might even work.”

“Faerie dust isn’t a commodity,” he scolds. “You can’t just use it to fix your problems at the last second.”

Draco has been pressing his luck with Dax since he was a toddler. There’s no reason for him to stop now. “I mean, technically, I totally can.”

Raina looks horrified. Her great grandfather was murdered by an unbound elf.

That’s because her great grandfather was an asshole.

Which, well, he is too, so maybe her concern isn’t totally unfounded.

Dax scowls and disappears, reappearing a moment later with his arms full of ingredients, still on Albert’s shoulders. He mutters angrily under his breath, “Stupid, foolish children mucking about make a mess of everything, oh, just throw some faerie dust at it, who cares if it’s done incorrectly, never mind centuries of brewing technique, let’s just throw things together like savages.”

“Um,” Albert says tentatively, “I could transfigure you a ladder, or something, if you like?”

“You’ll do,” he answers, “just stay still.”

Draco bites his lower lip. Dax had made an effort to appear at least slightly deferential in front of Hermione when he first met her, but he doesn’t bother with the kids. Most of them have their own house elves, but they’re all bound, they’re paid servants rather than caretakers and family members. Watching them react to Dax is hysterical.

Dax scowls, looking down at the potion, which is now a pale, glittery silver. Draco genuinely has no idea how the house elf did that. “I need – I’ll be right back, don’t touch anything.”

As soon as he’s gone, his kids turn to him and glare. Cory even raises his hands in a clear what the hell gesture. Not laughing is the hardest thing he’s ever done. “What?”

Raina opens her mouth. There are twin cracks. Dax is back, but he’s not alone.

“Tay,” Draco greets, inclining his head.

She grins at him, all teeth, “Young Lord Malfoy. I haven’t seen you around the house. Are you avoiding me?”

He snorts. “I’m not the one avoiding anyone.”

Oh, shit, the kids are way too smart for them not to pick up on that. Fuck.

Tay cackles. Dax tugs on her arm impatiently. “Stop harassing my boy and be useful.”

“I can do both,” she says, but there’s another crack. Dax is back on Albert’s shoulders, while Tay is on Raina’s. She tsks disapprovingly. “What a mess.”

“Midnight is in two minutes, can you fix it or not?” Dax demands, speaking to her in a way that Draco would never do personally, because he values his life.

“It would be shame if I took that as an insult,” she says, grinning.

Sometimes, Draco wonders how much of the Malfoy-Potter alliance is because their families decided it was mutually beneficial, and how much of it is because their unbound house elves are friends.

The Potter land used to be part of the Malfoy estate, all that time ago. They’d dug the earth out themselves, proudly presenting the Potters with a huge crater to call their own, and ceding some of their power to keep them close.

Their families’ history might run a lot a little deeper than Draco’s revealed to Harry. It’s not like it’s a secret, he could ask Neville or Lavender or his own damn house elf, considering she was there for all of it. But somehow telling him how close they used to be is – embarrassing, considering how far apart they’ve drifted.

They were enemies during the war, even though they were allies. It’s not the first time it’s happened, but never quite so badly, never quite so final, as this last time. Then again, Draco supposes that’s what happens when a noble house is all but obliterated, when the only one left is a baby raised as an outsider. And it’s not like the purebloods have anyone left to blame but themselves at this point.

Tay sprinkles something into the pot, and it all turns a bright golden color, faintly glowing in the giant cauldron. Dax and Tay seem satisfied, but for the first time Draco is concerned. “Uh, guys? What did you make?”

“Timeless youth,” Dax answers, “obviously.”

“What else?” Tay asks. “Isn’t that what you were trying and failing to create?”

Draco rubs at his forehead. The kids are wide eyed, looking at the cauldron like it’ll disappear if they blink. That potion should technically only be made by Masters, and its distribution is tightly controlled. The side effects are … unpleasant. “I – no. How did you even make that without unicorn blood?”

The main ingredient of the potion is another reason it’s not commonly made.

“How does one make a philosopher’s stone without unicorn blood?” Tay shrugs. Draco can’t tell if it’s a riddle, a philosophical query, or a real question.

Dax crosses his arms. “What were you trying to make?”

“We wanted to see if we could combine wolfsbane with a slow acting healing potion,” Raina pipes up. “We were making a big batch so we could test how it reacted during different moon phases.”

“Oh,” Dax and Tay say together.

Tay snaps her fingers and the potion disappears. Draco’s not stupid enough to think she got rid of it, but at least it’s not his problem anymore. “Well, in that case, I apologize for ruining your potion.”

“We forgive you,” Draco says, like they have any choice. “However, if you’re interested in being helpful is some other manner…”

Dax rolls his eyes, but Tay almost smiles. “I’m listening.”

“Clearly, you know more than I do,” he says, because of course they do, he doesn’t even know why he bothered getting his potions mastery. Dax can do everything he can do, except better. “If you’d perhaps be interested in teaching a class or two…”

“A class taught by a house elf?” Tay asks, eyes sparkling, “What will the old crowd say?”

“If they have their own unbound elves, I imagine they’ll say nothing at all, and if they don’t, well, perhaps they need some reminding about what you are, exactly.” He pauses, and adds, “Maybe the new crowd does too.”

They’re not slaves, but after inheriting so many house elves – it’s clear some families have abused the binding spell, and obviously Hermione’s initial idea to just free all of them is insane, but it’s possible the arrangement of their relationship could use a little reworking. He’s dreading saying so to Hermione, because he just knows she’s going to be unbearably smug for days about the whole thing.

The House will throw an absolute fit, but he wants the goblins to do it. They’re one of the few creatures that can take an unbound house elf in a fair fight, and they’re more particular and detail oriented than any other species. Also, it’ll be pretty impossible to find any wizard barristers that will manage to be both impartial and informed, so using another species is their best bet. He definitely doesn’t want the centaurs to do it, then it will just drag on forever.  

“Very well,” Tay agrees magnanimously, then turns her suddenly red eyes onto the kids. “Shouldn’t you be asleep already?”

Draco’s never seen his classroom clear out so quickly.

“What are you going to do with that potion?” he asks, now that they aren’t surrounded by a bunch of eavesdropping ears.

Tay just blinks innocently, like she has no idea what he’s talking about. Dax scowls and pokes him hard in the thigh, causing Draco to squirm away from him. “Young lords should be asleep along with their even younger pupils.”

“I’m an adult,” he tells Dax, but because he’s not an idiot, he heads out the door.

It still takes him a long time to fall asleep, his mind turning over a question he’s never thought to ask before.

Is the house elves’ long lives natural or artificial?

~

Whatever is making Harry avoid him doesn’t seem to be affecting anyone else. He grabs Hermione before lunch and pulls her back into her classroom, shutting the door behind them.

“You know, the hallway was full of students who saw that, and this really isn’t going to help the rumors that we’re having an affair,” she points out, but she doesn’t seem that bothered by it.

“I’m not married, it’s not my problem you can’t resist me,” he shoots back.

A few months ago he would have gotten punched in the face for that, but now she just laughs. “What did you want to talk about?”

“The House meeting is tomorrow,” he says.

She grins. “Good. Am I allowed to wear my own clothes this time?”

“Not unless you’ve recently gone on a very expensive shopping trip,” he answers. “Luna can handle it, if you don’t want to borrow my mother’s clothes then you can wear hers. Or I can just pay for your clothes, I do it for Pansy.”

She rolls her eyes. “That really won’t help the rumors about our affair.”

“Neither will you wearing my mother’s dresses, so pick your poison,” he says. “Anyway, that’s not the point. Harry has to go to the House meeting.”

Hermione’s smart, so it only takes a moment for the smile to slide off her face. “He’ll have no idea what he’s doing, and those people are vicious. Can Luna or Neville–”

“He’s an Heir, he can’t escort anyone but his Lady,” he answers, ignoring the part about Luna. “I already asked Pansy to do it. I was planning to tell Harry about it, but I haven’t had the chance.”

She blows out a breath, crossing her arms. “Oh, lovely, Harry is always so thrilled when people make decisions for him about his life and don’t consult him first.”

“He did this to himself,” he snaps, “I would have told him earlier if he wasn’t avoiding me like a child. But he is, so can you tell him? Pansy will meet him on the front steps of the castle I already cleared it with Minerva. Tell him to have Tay send his carriage. I think my dad said it used to be pulled by horses, so those if he has them. We didn’t get a chance to check the stables so who knows if Tay bothered to keep that stocked. If not, there are spells for that, Tay will know the ones, and Harry’s certainly powerful enough to cast them.”

“Like Cinderella?” she asks, like it’s a joke.

If only. “Exactly like Cinderella.” Ella had been one powerful muggleborn, even if she hadn’t known she was a witch at the time, having been raised by muggles. It’s lucky for all of them that the prince had also been a wizard, and recognized her as being far too powerful to lose, even after just a night of dancing.

She blinks. “You’re shitting me.”

“Once upon a time, wizards and muggles lived differently. Most muggle fairytales have a grain of truth in there somewhere,” he answers.

Her eyes gleam in a way that has him edging towards the door. “About that–”

“Have to meet Filius, got to go,” he says, slipping out the door before she can trap him in another exhausting conversation.

He should probably go find Filius, actually. He’d finished his essay, even if his penmanship near the end is a little horrible. He’d been falling asleep while writing it, so he counts himself lucky that it’s even legible.

Filius isn’t in his office or his rooms, so Draco tries the teaching lounge next. He’s there, along with Minerva and Pomona, all of them bent over a large piece of parchment and scowling. “Having a head of house meeting without me?” he asks, but it’s mostly a joke. He’d just left Hermione in her classroom, after all.

They all look up at him. Draco doesn’t think he’s ever seen them look guilty before. It’s a bit of disorienting moment. Filius taps his wand on the parchment, and it folds itself up and disappears. “Ah, Draco, hello.”

It’s a good thing Dumbledore hadn’t tried to make Filius act as a spy during the war. He may be a dueling master, but he’s an atrocious liar. Then again, the man had sent Hagrid to be a spy, so clearly nothing had been beneath him. “What was that?”

“How are the mourning tulips my fourth years made for you working out?” Pomona asks, all dimples and sunny disposition, like he didn’t just catch the three of them acting very suspiciously. “The poor dears were buried under too much ash I fear, but I think the color turned out quite lovely anyway.”

Oh, that would explain the vibrant purple color of the petals, he’d wondered – wait, no, focus. “What was that parchment?”

Minerva opens her mouth, but Pomona continues, “Oh dear, did the ash cause a problem? I rather thought it was just a cosmetic thing, but we can have the third years give it a hand if you need it?”

“What, no – it’s perfectly fine, I’ll just warn the kids the color of their potions will be a little off from the textbook,” he says. “But what were you–”

“Glad to hear it, glad to hear it,” she continues, walking over to hook their elbows together and walking them out the door. He wants to resist, because he knows exactly what she’s doing and he’s not amused, but also if someone takes his arm, he should escort them, to do otherwise would be rude. He’s perfectly fine with being rude in all sorts of ways, except for the ones that would make his mother disappointed in him. “I just got an order in of venomous lemon plants, if you’d take a look. Seems to me like they’ve got a few too many teeth, but I thought it just might be because it’s a local strain, and I certainly don’t want to complain if it’s local strain. You’ve got some experience with Russian herbologists, don’t you? I’ve heard their plants can be a bit aggressive!”

They’re already halfway down the hall, the teachers’ lounge behind them. He sighs, giving in. “A bit, yeah. What are you going to do with venomous lemons? They’re so finicky.”

“Oh, I just thought they’d brighten the place up a bit,” she says. “Besides, they do make the best lemonade! Good thing they’re venomous and not poisonous,” she nudges him in the side, smiling.

“Good thing,” he agrees.

He hadn’t even had the chance to give Filius his essay.

~

Draco’s just finished fiddling with his cufflinks when there’s a knock at the door. He swings it open and leans against the side, eyebrow raised. “Augusta using the carriage again?”

“Yours flies, ours doesn’t,” Neville says. “You’re going there anyway, you might as well take me with you.”

“What if I’d said no?” he asks, because he was just about to leave. Neville’s cutting it a little close.

He shrugs. “I would have caught a ride with Harry. Or just flown there and endured Gran’s disapproving look.”

“I wish that on no one,” Draco says, because he doesn’t. He pulls the door shut behind him and walks with Neville to the courtyard. “Was it your idea to get the venomous lemons?”

Neville’s face lights up as he talks about them, because he’s insane. He’s the herbology equivalent of Hagrid. Next he’s just going to start keeping deadly snares around the castle for the atmosphere. Well, on second thought, that would still probably be less hazardous than the moving staircases, which no one has bothered to do anything about in a thousand years, so.

Wasn’t there a rumor that there was a deadly snare in the castle during their first year? He wonders if it’s still around.

“Finally!” Hermione exclaims, her bushy hair pulled back into a high ponytail so there’s nothing to get in between them and her scowl. “We’re going to be late.”

“We’re not going to be late,” he says, giving her an appreciative look up and down. She’s wearing a clingy burnt orange robe that’s just barely appropriate to wear to a House meeting, only made so by the snowy white outer robe that’s made of some sort of velvet. “Nice dress. Who’s is it?” It’s not his mother’s, and he doesn’t think it’s Luna’s either. He’s been to most of the same formal events she has, and he doesn’t ever remember her wearing it.

“Mine,” says a familiar voice, and Draco’s already smiling by the time he turns around, grabbing Pansy’s elbow and pulling her close enough place a delicate kiss on her cheek, careful not to mess up her makeup. He knows better. He steps back and blinks, thrown by her appearance. She winks at him. “I’d bought it for the meeting, but clearly I didn’t need it.”

She’s wearing a long, sparkling dress that isn’t exactly a robe, but isn’t exactly a sari either. It’s a deep green color glittering with sparkling threads and embroidered gems, with her hair soft and curling around her face. “Where did you get that?”

“My mother’s closet.” Draco looks up the stairs, and his sarcastic comment about Harry finally deigning to speak to him dies on his tongue.

Harry has on a long shirt with a high collar and that matches Pansy’s outfit, but the accompanying bottom half, a dhoti if he remembers his lessons, looks like loose fitting pants and is a soft cream color that’s divine against his dark skin. He’s pretty sure there’s a proper term for the top part of Harry’s outfit, but he can’t remember what it is, and he can’t figure out a way to ask without looking like an idiot.

Hermione whistles. “Wow Harry, you look great!”

“Thanks Hermione,” he says, but for some reason he’s not looking at her, for some reason he’s looking at Draco, and he can’t make himself look away, feels trapped by Harry’s eyes. They’re the same color as his shirt.

Pansy kicks him in the shin, and he manages to unstick his tongue from the roof of his mouth. “You clean up nice, Potter.”

He frowns, continuing to walk down, but instead of going towards Pansy, he goes towards him, until they’re far too close. The last time they were this close was in his house. “I thought it was Harry now?”

Fuck. Right. “You look nice, Harry,” he says, and he means for it to come out sarcastic or mocking, but instead it’s soft, a little too appreciative for him to get away with. Damnit.

He’s supposed to be irritated with Harry for ignoring him, not telling him how attractive he is.

“Um, guys?” Neville says, then a moment later, “Ow!”

Draco takes a step back, frowning as he looks over. Did Hermione step on Neville’s foot?

“Er, right,” Harry says.

Draco raises his hand and snaps his fingers twice, and almost immediately he hears the sound of hooves in the distance. “Does your stable still have horses?” he asks.

Harry flushes. “Not quite.” Before Draco can question him, he licks his lips and whistles, low and piercing, almost sounding more like an owl than a human.

There’s another set of sounds like an animal running, but it doesn’t quite sound like hooves hitting the earth.

Their carriages arrive at the same time, Nox pulling up and tossing his head proudly as he looks down at the Potter carriage.

Which isn’t exactly a carriage. It’s a gorgeous red and gold palki with intricately carved windows, and instead of having the poles for bearers to carry it, it just floats about three feet off the ground.

Harnessed to the front of the palki isn’t a horse or any sort of reasonable beast.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he says flatly.

Harry nudges him in the side. “I’m sure he doesn’t even remember you.”

Buckbeak snaps his beak in a way that makes it very clear that he does remember him, and is absolutely ready and willing to go for a round two.

“Brilliant!” Neville says, wide eyed. “Which one do you think is faster?”

“Nox, of course,” Draco says at the same time that Harry answers, “Obviously Buckbeak.”

They narrow their eyes at each other. Draco only barely restrains himself from putting his hands on his hips.

“Well, there’s only one way to settle this,” Neville says gleefully. Pansy groans. “A race!”

Harry grins, and Draco doesn’t want to smile back, but he can’t seem to help himself.

“No,” Hermione says sharply.

He points out, “You were just complaining that we were going to be late.”

“No,” she says again, but she sounds more resigned than angry, which means he’s won.

“Loser owes the other dinner?” Harry offers.

This is such a bad idea. He should have listened to Hermione. “Okay.”

This is either a lose-lose situation, or a win-win one. He’s having a hard time deciding.

Chapter Text

“That was cheating!” Harry shouts, jumping out of his palki as soon Buckbeak hits the ground.

“It’s impossible to cheat at a contest that lacks predetermined parameters,” Draco says smugly.

Hermione kicks him in the shin. She’s so violent. She’s not yelling at him, he assumes, because she’s still worried about throwing up on him, since her hand is pressed against her mouth and she’s looking a little green around the edges. Or, well, probably more worried about throwing up on Pansy’s dress. She’d probably find throwing up on him to be rather satisfying.

“How did you do that?” Neville asks, stepping out after Harry and helping Pansy out.

“Shortcut,” he answers succinctly, and this time he takes a step away in time to avoid Hermione’s abuse.

Harry scowls. “What kind of bloody shortcut-”

“Lord Potter.”

His mouth snaps shut, and his face turns an unhealthy shade of red as he turns around. “Hello Augusta.” Draco sighs and Neville shakes his head. “Er, I mean, Lady Longbottom.”

Augusta looks up at Harry while still giving the impression that she’s looking down at him. “It’s nice to have your family back at the table.”

“Thank you,” he says after a beat, and it doesn’t come out as a question, so there’s that at least.

Augusta nods, then flicks her gaze over to her grandson. Neville winks at them before going forward to offer her grandmother his arm and escorting her inside.

“You’re going to get killed in there,” Draco says in the ensuing silence.

“Pansy said murder wasn’t allowed!” he says, offended.

She shrugs. “It’s not. The magic is the only one allowed to kill in there. But surely you know there’s more than one way to die?”

Harry’s starting to look genuinely panicked, and Draco must be losing his mind, because he steps forward and places his hand against his back. “Relax, you’ll be fine. Pansy will be right there, and you have friends in there.”

“And you?” he challenges, and his panic is gone, but Draco doesn’t like this focused, serious look any better. At least not when it’s directed towards him.

“I’m Lord Malfoy. We’re allies,” he reminds, “and that’s more valuable than friends.”

Harry doesn’t say anything, and Draco can’t read his face.

“Come on,” Pansy says, slipping her arm through Harry’s. “We’re going to be late.”

Hermione doesn’t so much as take his arm so he can escort her than she grabs him and drags him towards the stone circle. For a moment he’s worried Harry won’t know where to go, but he only hesitates a second before he and Pansy head to the opposite side.

When they step through the smoke, Hermione once against having great fun with extinguishing the flames,  it’s just in time to see Pansy and Harry do the same. Already some people are moving towards him, and in fact had probably been waiting for him, since, really, they should all be in the castle by now. They’re trying to say hello or at least catch his attention, but he doesn’t pay attention to any of them, instead heading straight for them. It’s Pansy who makes the appropriate acknowledgements as they cut across the lawn. Harry doesn’t seem to even notice the huge castle in the center of the stone circle that hadn’t been there before.

“Not a great start,” he says when Harry’s in hearing distance.

“What?” he says, eyes unfocused. “Is there a river around here?”

Draco blinks, then turns, as if a river could spontaneously appear after a few hundred years of being absent. “No. What?”

“Oh,” he says, disappointed, which, seriously - what the blood hell. Why is Harry always so strange?

Hermione yanks on his arm even as she glares at Harry. “We’re going to be late!” she says, and, okay, she’s right, they should get going.

Once they’re inside, everyone’s eyes are on Harry. He doesn’t hesitate a second time, instead walking over to two of the chairs that have been empty ever since Draco’s been allowed in the House and pulls one of them out for Pansy.

He wonders if Harry realizes the last people to sit in those chairs were his parents.

Rosamund stands, and if she’s curious or upset of feeling any sort of emotion about Harry at all, she doesn’t show it. “I, Lady Rosamund Lestrange, hereby call this meeting of the House of Lords and Ladies to session. All those in favor of continuing with these proceedings, say aye.”

“Aye,” Draco and the other Lords and Ladies echo.

Rosamund makes a flamboyant swish with her wand, and all the torches in the room flare to life. The scroll of parchment in front of her unrolls with a satisfying thwack, and she lifts her head to stare at them, her smile all teeth. “So mote it be. Let’s begin.”

“Mr. Potter,” Lord Flint says, almost before Rosamund has finished speaking, which, okay, Draco wouldn’t risk his life that way because he values it, but if Flint is eager to be murdered by the Lestranges, Draco certainly isn’t going to be the one to get in the middle of that. “What a pleasure it is to see one of your line in these halls again after you’ve been away for so much longer than expected.”

This is the part Draco’s worried about the most. Pansy can’t speak here, she can only look at the Flints like they’re something stuck on the bottom of her shoe. Which is a nice touch, but not helpful in a direct sort of way.

Harry seems taken aback for a moment before his eyes narrow. “It’s Lord Potter. And I imagine this seat would not have sat so empty for so long if perhaps we could go more than a generation or two without getting in another bloody squabble.” He deliberately lets his eyes sweep over the other empty chairs. “It seems to be a rather empty room tonight.”

Draco wants to bang his head against the table. Pansy is pulled between looking supportive of her escort, furious at him for having less than no tact, and her obvious urge to laugh right in the Flints’ face.

“I agree,” Lady Greengrass says, and Harry blinks, startled. “We have war after war, and for what? Just to do it all again in a handful of decades. Enough is enough.”

Oh, merlin, no. Not tonight. Not this conversation again.

“Oh, wonderful idea Eliza, it’s not like anyone’s thought of that before,” Lord William Parkinson gripes. “We’ll just all mutually decide not to get into any more blood ending fights about magic, and all of our decedents will listen to us forever, and everything will just be wonderful. It’s so easy, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before!”

Rosamund smacks her hand against the table. “Enough, we’re not wasting valuable House time to get into this debate for the hundredth time.”

“Why not?” Augusta challenges, and Draco slumps into his chair. Hermione is obviously curious, but he just shakes his head and taps his finger to his lips, a quick remainder that she’s not allowed to speak here, no matter how much she might want to. Not for the first time, he wishes they could just get rid of that rule. Blaise and Pansy make much better companions when they’re allowed to talk. And if he keeps bringing Hermione, she’s going to end up bursting a blood vessel. “We all know how to fix it, how to stop all these wars and death and all of it, but we don’t, and inevitably another dark lord rises, and our numbers fall once again!”

Lord Ollivander scowls. “We can’t do it, you know we can’t, and you know why.”

“I do not,” Augusta snaps, “we can go back to the old ways, we’ll do it better this time. We don’t even have to enchant logs, we’ll just exchange a muggle child for a magical one. The muggles have orphanages full of them, we’d be doing a good thing. A magical child grows up with a magical family, and a muggle child gets a family, what’s the problem?”

“Kidnapping is frowned upon, generally,” Lady Ollivander says blandly.

“So is child abuse and neglect,” Lord Brown returns. “And raising a magical child in a muggle home can hardly be called anything else.”

Draco holds his hand open flat on his knee, even as he continues looking around the room with bland disinterest. There’s a beat, and he’s just about pull away when Hermione slides her hand in his with a bone crushing grip.

Pansy’s hand is on Harry’s shoulder, but it’s not doing much good. “Hold on!” he shouts, and the room quiets. “What the bloody hell are you all talking about?”

“The Blood Laws!” Augusta snaps.

“Not that we can ever decide what those are,” Lady Nott grumbles.

“The original Blood Laws, not all the nonsense since then,” Augusta says. “It was working fine until we decided to ruin it.”

Lord Flint rolls his eyes. “They were not. Not that I have anything against the In Between spell, but you could drain us all dry and there still wouldn’t be enough blood to do it.”

“Well, they didn’t just use blood,” Lady Abbot points out. The room groans. “They didn’t! Not according to the stories. With enough planets in alignment–”

“There are never enough planets in alignment, or a meteor shower gets in the way, or there’s some other reason the spell won’t work,” Lord Ollivander cuts in gruffly. “It won’t work. Even if we could do it, it still wouldn’t work, and you know it. The muggles are different now. They don’t respect the earth the same way, and there’s not enough of it left untouched even if they did. So stop suggesting it.”

William rubs at his forehead. “And say we do enact the old Blood Laws, and go back to child swapping. What do we do with the muggleborns who are already here? What of the muggleborn children currently enrolled in Hogwarts? No one’s allowed to suggest murder in a way of anyone as a solution.”

Too many people look put out by that suggestion for Draco’s comfort.

“We’ll do nothing at all,” Augusta says. “It’ll be on a going forward basis. The muggleborn children can be given leave to visit their muggle relatives if they so desire. They’ll stop visiting at some point. They always do.”

Draco’s pretty sure Hermione’s nails have drawn blood, but he can’t bring himself to pull away.

Harry looks confused and angry. It’s just like seeing him as a teenager all over again. He demands, “Someone explain to me what these blood laws are.”

“They’re a set of laws,” Lord Brown explains, and it sounds like he’s being patronizing, but that’s just how he talks. “They dictate the relations between muggles and magic folk.”

“They’ve changed over the years,” Augusta says, “becoming more lax and strict over time at each renewal period. But they’ve always been in place.”

“Until the Wizengamot took over. They’re too worried about losing their seats to vote one way or another, so they lapsed, and now we’re here dealing with – whatever the bloody hell this mess it is,” Eliza scowls.

Lady Nott says, speaking mostly to Harry, “The Blood Laws were always enforced and maintained by the House. But since the House isn’t in power anymore, we can’t do that. Not that all the families have ever agreed on the best way to go about it,” she allows, “but at least we could vote and do something. Instead of just adhering to the statue of secrecy in the loosest way possible with absolutely no room for special circumstances.”

“You’ve been awfully quiet, Lord Malfoy,” Rosamund says, “especially considering your companion.”

Oh, fuck. He sighs. “We need the Blood Laws. The way things are now is intolerable. That said, Grindelwald made the last set of laws implausible, and they’re in need of an update.”

“Surely you’re not suggesting we get involved in muggle affairs?” Lady Flint asks, wrinkling her nose. “Why should we have to clean up their own mess? I’d rather not be the living version of their little bomb.”

“We should interfere sometimes,” Lord Ollivander says, “we can’t just keep standing by and doing nothing-”

“That’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Augusta says. “You think what they do to each other is awful? Imaging what they could do with us. No, we stay away, and we don’t get involved. They have enough weapons of mass destruction without adding our magic to it. All we would do is make the death toll climb even higher.”

“Not everything is war,” Lady Ollivander protests.

August sneers. “Of course it is. Haven’t you been paying attention?”

Draco takes a look around the table, but none of the other Lords or Ladies look interested in jumping into the conversation. Probably because they value their sanity. “Look,” he sighs, “we’ve been debating the Blood Laws for the past century, and it’s not something we’re going to solve tonight. Even if we did, it would never pass in the Wizengamot. So why don’t we discuss something we can affect?”

“You never did say your stance,” Lord Flint says, eyes narrowed. “Of course none of us agree. But what would your Blood Laws look like? At least in regard to the muggleborn children.”

Now everyone staring at him, Hermione and Harry included. Great. Just great. “I – Lady Longbottom, I’m sorry, but stealing children probably isn’t our best bet. We’ve done it before, and they inevitably find out we took their child, or replaced the child with an enchanted inanimate object, and then they hate us even more. Changeling children are not the solution.” He pauses, “That said, we do both the parents and child a disservice when we leave them to their own devices until the child’s eleven, and then we just spring it all on them.”

“You think we should tell them sooner?” William asks.

He nods. “We know if a child has magic from the moment it’s born. There’s no reason not to tell the family immediately, and to offer them a choice. They can keep their child, who will grow up with abilities they’ll never have and one day enter a world they’ll never know. Or. We take the child, place them in a good magical home, and we offer the muggles a replacement child and a memory charm. If they decide to keep the child, then they’re required to socialize them with other magical children, and we don’t take their memories. If they give up their child, we take away the memories of it, as well as their knowledge of the wizarding world.”

Hermione hasn’t let go of his hand, but she’s leaning away from him. He breaks propriety, and turns, looking at her instead of the House. Her eyes are wide and she’s frowning, but she doesn’t look angry.

He continues, “Every child deserves to grow up in a home that understands them. Muggle parents may love their magical children. But at the end of the day, we live in different worlds. Most muggleborns fall out of contact with their families by the time they’re adults. It’s all just too strange and different for them. We won’t steal children away in the night like criminals. But there’s no reason for them to grow up isolated if they don’t have to, and no reason to force muggles to raise a child they can’t understand or handle if they’re not prepared for that. Magical children are difficult. We just are. We break things and make them float. When I got upset as a baby, my cries would age the wood around me until it turned to dust. My parents were magical, so they just had to look up some time reversal charms, or use a few reparos, or they could have just lined my nursery with stone and given me a crib of iron if they didn’t want to keep repairing things. But they had solutions to those problems. Muggle parents would have just lost a whole house just from having me in it. They don’t have magical solutions, and so it’s not fair of them to be forced them to deal with magical problems.”

“But it’s their children,” Neville says, following his lead and breaking propriety. Heirs are allowed to speak, technically, but they’re expected to speak only to their Lord or Lady, so as to not speak over or contradict them. But Augusta doesn’t snap at him, so he continues. “What if they want them anyway? Some will give them up. Maybe even most, when they learn their kids can start fires with their nightmares and summon rattlesnakes under their cribs. But what of the parents that don’t care about any of that, and want their child anyway?”

“They’ll keep them,” he says. “But they have to agree to keep them involved in the magical world from a young age. None of this throwing them into the deep end when they’re eleven crap. I’m supervising an independent muggle studies class, and the muggleborns are picking it up, but it’s not stuff they should be learning in a classroom, when there’s already so much they’re trying to master. They should learn early, like the rest of us.”

“And if they refuse?” Neville presses.

Draco shrugs. “How can they? Where can muggles run that wizards can’t find them?”

“What if the child is a squib?” Paige asks. William sighs, but doesn’t protest. Obviously she wasn’t going to stay silent once Neville started talking. “We can track when a child with magical blood is born, but what if they’re a squib? No one’s managed to create a spell or potion or anything that’s able to test a baby’s ability to manipulate the magic inside of itself, instead of just having it with no business to access it.”

Okay, now here’s the really hard sell, which, honestly, it’s entirely the Gryffindor crowd’s fault that he’s started thinking this way. “Does it matter?”

“Excuse me?” Lady Flint says.

“Does it matter?” he repeats. “Squibs aren’t muggles, and they shouldn’t be treated like they are. They’re still magic. They see the things we see, and feel the things we feel. Even if they don’t attend Hogwarts, there’s no reason for them to remain ignorant of the world they come from. How many squibs raised as muggles have seen or felt things they couldn’t explain, and thought they were insane because of it? They’re part of our world, whether any of us like it or not, and they should know that our world exists.”

There’s about ten seconds of absolute silence.

Then everyone starts screaming at each other. About the Blood Laws, about changelings, although mostly about squibs, and about whether or not they really have a place in their society, or if they should all just be slaughtered in their cribs to save everyone the trouble. No one’s quite stupid enough to say that last bit out loud, but there are a couple of families that are heavily implying it.

He slumps back in his chair with a sigh. Hermione raises an eyebrow, and he shrugs. “After,” he promises, and she nods.

Man, they should learn sign language or something. Although he’s pretty sure everyone would be pretty irritated if they started ignoring the spirit of the rule, even if they followed the letter of it.

The meeting takes twice as long as it normally does and Harry manages to set off three more slightly less intense arguments, although Draco’s pretty sure that at least two of them are on purpose. By the time it all draws to a close, everyone’s cranky and hungry, and honestly he just wants this meeting to be over. A silver dagger appears in front of every Lord and Lady, and Draco’s never been so grateful to slice himself open. Harry rolls his eyes as he does it, but dutifully drags the dagger up his arm, his blood sliding down his hand onto the table and pooling with everyone else’s. The light flashes as the blood sinks into the table, and he runs a hand up and down his arm, trying work some blood back into it ever as he stands. He hadn’t thought having Harry here would make that much of a difference, but it does, he feels like everyone’s blood stretched just a little bit further than it normally would, and he doesn’t feel quite as light headed as he normally does.

He slips Neville an extra dose blood replenishing potion on the way out, because if he can get Augusta to take it then that’s better for everyone. They’ve barely stepped back into the garden when Hermione opens her mouth. “One second,” he says, then takes his own dose of blood replenishing potion. He then twists his wand to summon one of the glasses of wine on the tables into his hand and says, “Okay, go.”

“What the fuck was that?” Harry demands, and Draco turns to see Harry glaring at him.

Pansy takes his glass of wine from his hand. “Hey!”

“I need it more than you do,” she says, then tilts her head back and drinks it all in one long swallow. So, okay, maybe she does.

Draco summons another for himself rather than attempting to reclaim his back from Pansy. “Harry, you’re going to have to be more specific.”

“Kidnapping?” he asks.

Hermione waves her hand. “Changelings have to come from somewhere, I suppose. What’s the In Between spell?”

“Have you ever met an Icelandic wizard?” Pansy asks. Harry and Hermione start to shake their heads, but she continues, “Of course you haven’t, it’s a saying, or a joke, or whatever. It means like – I don’t know, it means something that doesn’t happen. Like if someone asked me if I was wearing polyester, I’d ask if they’d ever met an Icelandic wizard. Because no one has, because they cast the In Between spell like a thousand years ago. Or two thousand. It’s been a while..”

“Okay,” Hermione says slowly, “but what is it?”

Pany must give up on explaining, because she takes his drink from his hand. Again. He sighs. “It’s – it’s what a lot of people would like to do. I’m not quite sure if it’s worth it, or perhaps a good idea at all, but like Lord Ollivander said, it’s a moot point anyway.” Hermione’s eyes narrow. “It’s – okay, so when we create unplottable land and houses and things that are bigger on the inside, we have to fold them into the nearest dimension to get them to fit, right?”

“What?” Harry asks at the same time that Hermione goes, “Of course.”

“The In Between spell is like that,” he says, “except instead of putting part of an object in a different dimension, you can put a whole person there. Or many people, several mansions, and a whole society. You just – shift everything, a little bit. Everything moves over into the space between atoms, so you’re still there, but not. That’s the In Between spell.”

“You know what atoms are?” Hermione asks, impressed.

He rolls his eyes. “Who doesn’t?”

“Hold on,” Harry raises his hands in front of him. “All of magical Iceland just stuck themselves in the nearest dimension?”

“They don’t have any more problems dealing with muggles,” he says, “mostly because the muggles know they’re there and even try and protect them. They call them Huldufolk. One of the problems of moving a whole society like they did is that it still needs to be anchored to our dimension to remain stable. Which means they needed someone on the outside to make sure certain landmarks and natural formations that were intrinsic to the spell’s makeup weren’t altered.”

“I still don’t get how they got the muggles to do it for them,” Pansy says, “it’s the strangest thing. Even more muggles know of them than before, but since they’re their friendly dimensional hoppers, they suddenly treat them like they’re benevolent?”

Hermione blinks. “Wait, are they trapped there?”

Pansy shakes her head. “No, but they can’t leave the barrier line without becoming disconnected from their sideways dimension completely. So they can only influence things within a specific area. They help families out in exchange for the families promising to keep that land protected.”

Harry’s face scrunches up. “Sounds a bit like house elves to me. What do they do about muggleborns? Do they kidnap them?”

Draco means to answer that, but his mind’s still caught on what Harry’s just said. It does sound a bit like house elves, actually.

“Worse,” Pansy says before she taps her chin, considering. “Or better, actually, depending on the way your look at it.”

“It’s definitely worse,” Draco says, pulling his attention back where it belongs. “The muggles will just leave kids they think belong to them over their barrier. Kids that are strange or do things they can’t explain.”

Harry shrugs. “That sounds better than kidnapping?”

“Except that not every strange or talented child is a magical child,” Hermione says, looking the appropriate amount of horrified. “What do they do with the muggle children?”

“They don’t take them,” Pansy says. “It would be cruel if they did. That whole dimension is structured around the existence of magic. Sometimes up doesn’t even mean up – it means down. Muggles wouldn’t survive there. Or so the rumors say.”

Draco adds, “Not to mention, muggles have gotten the property lines wrong in the past. Or just been plain stupid. So they leave their kids alone in the wilderness, and magical or not, if they’re not in the right place, the Huldufolk can’t go get them even if they want to. Or they’ll just toss their kids in the stream because they think the magical people are below the surface. They’re not. Which is how they end up with a lot of dead muggle kids, since magical kids can sometimes use magic to save themselves. The muggle ones just die.”

“That’s horrible!” Harry says.

Pansy nods. “No system anyone’s worked out seems perfect. The problem is muggleborns,” she says, looking at Hermione apologetically. “Otherwise we could just hide ourselves and leave the muggle world to crumble. But we can’t detach ourselves completely. Because we need some way to be able to get the muggleborn kids.”

“The problem and the solution all at once,” Hermione sighs. “Lovely.”

“LORD POTTER!” Someone shouts, and they all jump. Draco looks over Harry’s shoulder to see Lord Selwyn striding towards them. “Lovely to see you my boy!”

Merlin, but Lord Selwyn is obnoxious. Judging from Harry’s panicked look, he knows this first hand, Draco assumes from his time as an auror. “Well, see you later, Harry,” he says hastily, offering Hermione his arm even as he backs away.

Harry twists to grab the edge of Draco’s cloak, preventing him from running away. “You’re not leaving me alone with him.”

“Let go,” he hisses, trying to pull himself free without making a spectacle of himself. Hermione and Pansy walk quickly over to Neville and Augusta, the absolute traitors.

“Ah, Lord Malfoy,” Lord Selwyn enthuses, all bright shiny teeth and an equally bright shiny bald spot. “It’s been so long, we really must catch up. Have I told you about the singing tulip strain I’ve been cultivating? I’ve taught them to sing the Weird Sisters!”

“Fascinating,” he says, and if it was anyone else it probably would be, but anyone else would give him a five minute explanation and let him be on his way. If he gets pulled into a conversation about herbology with Lord Selwyn, then he’ll spend the rest of the night stuck listening to boring minutia that he doesn’t even care about when his managers are telling him about his own greenhouses.

“We’d love to hear about it,” Harry enthuses, and Draco really will murder him, “but Draco owes me a dance, so if you’ll please excuse us.”

Lord Selwyn’s eyebrows rise to his forehead. “Oh, ah, I suppose if he – owes you a dance that’s. That’s fine.”

“Thanks!” Harry says brightly before hooking his arm with Draco’s and dragging him over to the dance floor.

“That was really the best you could come up with?” Draco hisses. “Why did I have to be involved at all? I’ve been successfully avoiding him for years!”

Harry rolls his eyes. “Oh, shut up.”

“Do you even know how to dance?” he whines.

They step onto the dance floor, and Harry pulls him close, pressing his hand against the small of Draco’s back and grabbing his hand with the other. He easily pulls Draco into the middle of the waltz the instruments are playing, not stumbling or missing a beat.

Draco raises an eyebrow, impressed. Harry’s leading, and he’s good at it. “When did you learn how to do this?”

“We have to take dancing lessons as part of auror training,” he admits. “I wasn’t half bad at ballet, actually.”

He laughs, and he’s the one the misses a step, causing him to press himself even closer to Harry. He tries to take a step back, but Harry doesn’t let him, modifying the dance so they don’t get in each other’s way. “Harry. Everyone is watching.” They really are, he can see them out of the corner of his eyes. He’s had far too much attention on him these past couple House meetings, and he’d like it to stop.

“So? I’m dancing with my friend. Nothing interesting at all.” Draco gives him a flat stare because he’s dumb, but he’s not that dumb. He cracks a grin. “Let them talk. What’s the worst they can say? Everyone knows you came with me to reopen the Potter House, and our families are allies. They should be happy that we’re getting along.”

“I suppose,” he answers, because he’s not wrong about anything, but. “I don’t usually dance this close with Blaise and Pansy.”

Harry smiles at him, something different about it than usual. Something softer. “That’s because they’re your friends.”

“You just said we were friends,” Draco points out exasperated.

“We are,” Harry says, “we are friends.”

Draco wants to ask what the difference is, then, why Harry is oh so close, and why he’s looking at Draco like that. Is he trying to kill him?

He wants answers, but he doesn’t want to ask any questions. At least not yet. He doesn’t want to ruin it yet.

So he lets Harry hold him close, dancing with him in front of the whole House of Lords and Ladies, and leaves questioning and poking at it for another day.

Chapter Text

Draco opens his door in the morning, and finds four children on the other side, arms tucked behind their back and smiling at him. He considers just backing into his room, closing the door, and hiding their for the rest of the day, but he’s pretty sure they can smell weakness.

“Can I help you?” he asks, eyebrow raised. He steps out and closes the door. He walks in the direction of the great hall. He’s taller than all of them, he’s pretty sure he could outrun them.

Curse his need of dignity.

Markel pokes him in the side. He sighs, and Andrea laughs, while Lucas and Marilyn just roll their eyes. “We spoke to Aunt Pansy, who talked to Aunt Paige, and she said that you and Professor Potter were real cozy during the House meeting.”

Why is Pansy gossiping with first years? No, she probably told Lyle, who then told everyone else, because he likes making Draco’s life miserable. Joke’s on him, because Draco’s going to assign him to make a potion with the most disgusting ingredients he can think of. And maybe beg Pansy to stop gossiping about him with his students.

“We’re allies,” he says calmly.

“Is that what they’re calling it nowadays?” Andrea asks, and he nearly trips. What a brat.

“I have no idea what you’re implying.” Andrea prizes her innocent, demure reputation, and he’s pretty sure she won’t jeopardize it to make fun of him. But who knows, twelve year olds are vicious.

Marilyn frowns. “But you’re both Lords now. I didn’t think you could do that.”

“Lords and Ladies are often friendly with each other,” he points out. The only way this whole damn system works is if they manage to tolerate each other. He still thinks Dumbledore pushing them out of the Wizengamot was stupid, but he can admit, if only to himself, that a governing system built on mutually assured destruction isn’t the most stable of things.

“Not that kind of friendly,” Lucas says.

Draco sighs. If he’d for some reason lost his last bit of common sense and decided Harry was worth pursuing, and if Harry had gone insane and decided on the same - well, that was for sure off the table now.

Any relationship between them would have to be a dalliance, at best. What adults do behind closed doors is entirely their business, but it’s unacceptable for two heads of a family to … court, for lack of a better word, since it’s impossible to combine families’ magic through marriage, so it can only ever be a fling. Unless, of course, one of them is tossed aside by the magic and found unsuitable to be a Lord or Lady, and then they could marry, but that would be so disgraceful to whoever still remained in power that it would pretty much never happen.

Of course, Potter is in a unique position, what with him being the last of his family and adored by all, so if anyone could get away with shutting down a noble house unscathed, it’s him. Best not to think about that though.

“If pressed - which you are clearly doing - I will say Professor Potter and I are friends. But that’s something I’m sure you’re all clever enough to figure out on your own.”

The kids don’t look impressed. He’s seriously considering running.

“Professor Malfoy!” Saved by McGonagall.

He turns, smiling at her as she charges down the hall. “Hello Headmistress.”

“Apprentice Longbottom has need of you,” she says curtly, pointedly not looking at the students.

Draco doesn’t like the look around her eyes. What the hell could possibly have happened to Neville, and why is she coming to him of all people? “Okay,” he says calmly. He taps Markel on the shoulder. “Go tell Professor Granger she might have to cover my morning class. Tell her to grab Marianna or Raina if she needs an assistant.”

Markel nods, and Andrea asks, “Is Heir Longbottom okay?”

McGonagall doesn’t answer, instead turning on her heal and walking away. That’s. Not good.

Draco nods at the students before following her, and he waits until they’ve turned the corner to ask, “What’s going on?”

“Not here,” her eyes dart around, glancing over a couple students who are laughing as they pass them. What the hell? He’s never known McGonagall to be paranoid before. What could be so bad that she won’t even whisper it to him in a hallway where no one is paying attention to him?

They had up to her office, and once the statue swings shut behind them, he tries again. “Okay, seriously, what’s going on?”

She doesn’t answer, instead entering her office and immediately collapsing in the chair behind her desk.

Neville is pacing the length of the office, and Augusta is seated in front of McGonagall’s desk. They both look fine. They’re not dead or hurt. “Augusta,” he greets. “Neville.”

Neville glances at him and away, then continues pacing.

Augusta turns to face him. She looks perfectly calm and composed. That’s good. If something had managed to ruffle her, he was planning to run in the other direction of whatever it was first and ask questions later. “Draco. Tell me something. When your father was rejected as a Lord, what happened?”

He would have been less surprised if she took out her wand and threw the killing curse at him. “Excuse me?” They don’t talk about it. No one talks about it. Draco had gone to his first House meeting at seventeen with his mother at his side, exhausted and scared and unprepared, and no one had said anything about it. They’d all known what it meant, of course, but they hadn’t said anything more than greetings. They’d been manipulative and conniving, but it was just the same as they’d been to his father, just the way they are to him now.

“You know I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important,” she says.

Okay, well, that’s true. Augusta can be exhausting, but she’s not - she wouldn’t break the rules or propriety without a good reason, not with how tightly she herself clings to those rules. “It was the scar,” he says. “He still - Voldemort wouldn’t let him attend meetings, as you know, not towards the end, but it was the night of a full moon. Of a meeting. He woke up screaming, and he - his entire arm was covered in scars.”

They hadn’t thought that missing the meeting would matter, in the long run. Lords and Ladies have been imprisoned before, and the magic hadn’t really seemed to care. People have done far worse things than his father ever did and retained their position, but he does his best not to dwell on it too much. What’s done is done.

“What kind of scars?” she presses.

He scowls, crossing his arms. “Does it matter?”

She pushes her sleeves up to her elbows. So faint that they can barely be seen are scars, spreading across her skin like tree branches.

“Lichtenburg figures,” he breathes, rubbing at his arm in sympath. The pattern of scars people get when they’ve been struck by lightning. Or been sent a warning from magic itself. “Look, my father’s were much deeper. You’re old, I know you’ve been struggling to give the amount of blood needed for years, it’s probably just because if you stayed in your position it would kill you. Maybe it’s better this way, you can still assist Neville and he’s not stuck with mourning your death and becoming Lord Longbottom at the same time.”

There’s a beat of heavy silence that he doesn’t understand. Then Neville says, “I’m not a Lord.”

Ah. What? Draco had been so sure. He’s been a good Heir and a good grandson, Draco can’t think of why the magic wouldn’t have chosen him. Then again, it’s not really his place to question it. “I’m sorry,” he says, “but it’s not something that can be reversed, you’ll just have to accept whoever the new Lord or Lady Longbottom is.” Or they could arrange for them to be murdered, which had certainly been done in the past, but Draco doesn’t think they’ll be eager to accept that option. Or at least Neville won’t, he wouldn’t put anything past Augusta.

“That’s the problem,” Neville says bitterly, “we don’t have one.”

Draco blinks, uncomprehending. “What?”

“I’m still the Heir,” Neville says, “but no one in our family has inherited the rank of Lady. Or Lord. How long did it take for you?”

“It happens at the same time, just like when a Lord or Lady dies. You’d know,” he says, eyes sliding to Augusta. Like being a monarch. As soon as their predecessor took their last breath, the Heir took their place. It was like being hit with a sledgehammer, the sudden rush of magic and information, and it hadn’t made him stronger, really, because none of that magic was his to use, but it was there, heavy on his shoulders and warm against the back of his neck, a constant reminder of who he was and what he had to do.

It wasn’t exactly a pleasant sensation.

Neville rubs a hand over his face. “Well. Fuck.”

“Language,” Augusta says sharply, but Neville only waves a hand at her. “We’re certain this has never happened before?”

McGonagall blinks.

“No,” Draco answers. “The House has been around for - fuck, at least a thousand years, and we have records for all of it. The ones from before Hufflepuff built it in the middle of Stonehenge are a little dicey, but they exist.”

“Never mind every other country’s version. We could always convene an international meeting to ask,” Neville says.

Draco nearly chokes. “Not - not that I don’t understand the severity of the situation, because I do, but doesn’t that seem a little extreme?”

“It’s not just us,” Augusta says quietly. “It’s Rosamund too. Maybe others.”

He can still feel them, all of them, but he has to yank his sleeves up to check, just in case. His skin is clear of anything. “You know if we announce this to the world, that our House is, uh, weakened,” he decides on, instead of using the word he’s thinking of, which is crumbling, “we’ll get the full attention of the worldwide magical community on us, and I’m not entirely certain if that’s what we want.”

Neville opens his mouth to argue, but Augusta sighs. “He’s right.”

“Gran!” he snaps.

Augusta shakes her head. “No. We need to at least know what’s happening before we announce it to the world, if that’s what we decide to do.”

“We don’t have to tell the House yet,” Draco says, and three sets of eyes land on him. For some reason McGonagall’s feels heaviest of all. “We have time. The next meeting isn’t for another month. That’s a month to figure out what’s going on, to try and fix it, before we send everyone into a panic. Which is exactly what would happen, and you know it.”

“Do you have a suggestion?” Augusta asks. “Trying to comb through such a high volume of records is going to takes us more than a few weeks.”

Well. That depends entirely on who’s doing the combing. “We should put Hermione on this.”

For the first time, Augusta shows an emotion besides resigned calm. She’s looks angry. “That girl’s a muggleborn and the wife of a blood traitor, and you want to trust her with this, and send her digging around for even more secrets?”

“She’s the cleverest witch of our age, and if you want to figure out what the hell is going on, she’s your best bet,” he says firmly. “Put her under an unbreakable vow if you have to, but she’s the person you want on your side.”

Augusta looks furious. Neville asks, “Does this mean our family and those pledged to us aren’t protected?”

Oh, fuck.

“You’re still an Heir, right?” Draco asks. Neville nods. “Well. It’s - it’s theoretically in place.”

“I’m an Heir, which means I’m protected, not a protector,” he says. “What happens if someone does something stupid in that month’s time? If they need our help in a magical way, and not just a financial one? We don’t have anyone capable of taking those blows, of shielding them.”

“I can take some of them,” he says, but his voice comes out sounding more doubtful than not. He’s strong, he’s got a large family and a lot of magic under his disposal. But so do the Longbottoms. To take their whole network under his wing overnight, to not build up to it slowly like these things are usually done - that might be out of reach for even his family and magic.

McGonagall speaks for the first time to ask, “What did the Weasleys do?”

They all turn to look at her. “What?”

“What did the Weasleys do?” she repeats, frowning. She’s speaking like she’s thinking it through, like she’s not totally sure what the next words out of her mouth are going to be. “This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, at least. The McGonagalls used to be pledged to the Weasley family. Now we’re not under anyone, but no one in my family has ever fallen under a curse, or gotten ill.”

“That’s impossible, you must be under someone’s protection,” Augusta says. “You’re hardly the first person to experimenting with spells, Minerva. If you really didn’t have anyone protecting you, the magical rebound should have killed you ten times over.”

“Yes,” she agrees. “Yet I’m still here. Why? What did the Weasleys do? Or, barring that, what did everyone else do after the Weasleys left the House? My family doesn’t keep those types of records. We have some family diaries, and there might be some from that time. I’ll look, but you should ask around. We weren’t the only family under them.”

Neville rubs the back of his neck and says, “The House library has all the old blood maps and records in it. It shouldn’t be that hard to find.”

“No,” Draco says slowly, “but you know were we could definitely find that kind of information? Where information about the Weasleys would almost certainly be, if anywhere?”

Neville knows him best, so he picks it up first. “Oh, absolutely not, no one is going to be okay with that. What are you going to do, just send the whole family to the slaughter until their manor lets them in again?”

McGonagall shakes her head, and Augusta says, “It’ll never work.”

“Did you know,” he asks gleefully, “that the magic recognizes Molly and Arthur’s children as being Prewetts?”

~

“It will kill them!” Molly shrieks, and Draco resists the urge to duck and hide behind Ron. Merlin, this woman is scary. He wishes someone besides the Weasleys was here with him. But Hermione is holed up in the House library, Harry has class, and Neville is covering his class while Luna covers Hermione’s, so here he is, alone.

Luna had apparently decided to just combine her divination class with transfiguration. McGonagall had been appalled, which had been hilarious, but in all honestly Draco has no idea what his cousin is doing. It’s entirely possible she’s just making all of this up as she goes.

Charlie rubs his chin. “It might not kill us too.”

“Oh, well in that case,” Arthur snaps. “No, absolutely not. I’m sure our ancestors had a good reason for shutting down our manor and leaving the House, and we’re not going to go causing trouble by mucking about in a decaying manor.”

Decaying is a bit of a strong word. The paint is peeling, but underneath is redwood, undamaged and clearly just in need of a good polish. Although, all the windows are broken, and not a single thing is growing in the yard. There is a skeleton in the front yard, however, just over the property line. The cousin who tried to get into the manor, he presumes. It’s not the most welcoming picture.

Bill looks just as dubious as his father. “Look, as someone who deals with cursed and locked away things for a living, even we know better than to mess with blood magic.”

“That’s because your blood wasn’t connected to any of those curses,” Draco says. “This is different.”

Ginny picks up a stick and throws it over the barrier. Nothing happens. Because it’s not alive. What kind of test is that? “What’s your crackpot theory again? That because we’re Prewetts the magic will only kill us halfway? That’s still half dead.”

Draco ignores her. “Your family has been here a long time. This earth must be your family members for a mile down. Nothing should be dead here, not without that much currency in the ground.”

“Do you think we moved them?” Percy asks, adjusting his glasses.

“The bones, maybe,” George says dubiously. “Noble families don’t use preservation charms.”

He wrinkles his nose, and then does his best to smooth out his expression before they notice. What a waste. Those charms don’t last forever, and just interfere with the magic being reabsorbed into the earth, just delays the body returning to the earth. The body will decay and break down eventually, just the same as if the preservation spells had never been applied at all. In the meanwhile, it’s just something taking up space in the earth, and not doing anyone any good.

Wasteful.

“If you had, you’d have a blood feud with more than my family,” he says, “It’s one thing for you lot to just turn your back on the house, it makes you blood traitors, but pulling magic up from the earth, even your own earth? People would have rioted.”

“Okay,” Ron says dubiously, “so why does our yard look like we’ve spent several years dousing it with weed killer?”

“Can we go back to the plan, and how it sucks?”  Ginny asks. “Seriously, just walk over the magic line and see if it kills you, which you know, it’s killed our family members before.”

He pulls out his wand and stabs it into the air. “I’m not saying you should go in empty handed.”

“A jar,” George says dubiously, looking at the glass container that’s suddnely hovering in front of Draco.

He’s going to pull something from rolling his eyes this much. He summons a half dozen more jars, except these are all filled with a dark, thick liquid.

“We have a blood feud,” he reminds everyone, dragging his wand down his wrist so his blood pours into the container. Arthur looks a little green around the edges. “If you want a peace offering to your angry, murderous mansion, Malfoy blood isn’t a bad way to go.”

“Gross,” Ron says, grabbing one of the floating jars out of the air. “Is this all yours?”

“Do I look drained dry to you?” he asks, healing his arm before reaching into his pocket to pull out a blood replenishing potion. “No, I made some house calls last night, and grabbed some from Luna this morning. Let me tell you, people get really concerned when their Lord knocks on their door at six in the morning asking for blood.”

Percy is looking uncertainly between them. “This is a big deal, isn’t it? This is a lot of blood. A lot of Malfoy blood.”

“This is a huge deal,” he says, glad at least someone is understanding the breadth of this. “I’m ending our blood feud. We’ll have to have some sort of reparations between us, like a wedding to replace the one that didn’t happen a couple hundred years ago,” he doesn’t look at Ginny, but he can see her perk up out of the corner of his eye. Luna had been delighted when he told her what he was doing.

It didn’t help Neville at all, since this little snag notwithstanding he was still going to be a Lord one day, and Ginny will still be part of a family of former blood traitors, and Luna is still unwilling to relinquish her claim on the Malfoy family, so. But at least Ginny and Luna can be together, if that’s what they want. At least Luna can be the wife to someone she loves, if not all the people she’s in love with.

Arthur looks gobsmacked, and Molly has her hand pressed to her mouth. “You’re really - just like that?”

“Just like that,” he says. “You end a blood feud by exchanging blood. This isn’t a gift. It’s a loan. If this doesn’t kill you, you’ll have to come to the Malfoy Manor and poor your blood on our lands, and the feud will be considered wiped from our ledgers.”

“If it doesn’t kill us,” Ginny echoes. “And you think because the magic thinks we’re also Prewetts, who are still part of the House, and we’re carrying your blood, that it won’t?”

He’s kind of glad Hermione isn’t here for this. The lack of logic, the gamble, the faith needed for this would drive her mad. “Yes.”

The Weasley family is old. So much magic, so much blood, must have seeped into this ground that’s it’s practically impossible it’s barren like this. It should be lush and overgrown, an unmanageable mess, sure, but bursting with contained life and magic. Maybe it just needs a nudge along.

Molly shakes her head. “No. Draco - Lord Malfoy - thank you. But it’s too much of a risk. We can’t.”

Ron says, “Too late.”

They all turn, and he’s across the barrier, alive. His hand is bleeding, having opened the barrier the same way as he saw Harry do it. He’s poured blood onto the ground, and it sits there, heavy and congealed. It doesn’t seep through the ground.

But Ron’s alive.

“Is it supposed to do that?” he asks.

“No,” Draco says, wondering if it’s worth having a heart attack when that worked, but seriously, he could have waited for some protection spells, at least?

“RONALD WEASLEY!” Molly shouts. “What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing!”

Ginny grabs a jar, hops over to the other side, and dumps the blood on the ground. It reacts the same as Ron had. The rest of the Weasley siblings look at each other, shrug, and do the same. Molly and Arthur jump to go after them, to stop them or pull them back, but Draco fists his hand in the back of their robes and yank them back. “Stop! You don’t have their protections.”

“I’m a Prewett, aren’t I?” she spits. “If that’s why they can go across, then I should be able too.”

“No,” he says firmly. “The only reason this is working is because they’re both, because they’re Weasleys and Prewetts. If either of you try to go in there, you’ll die.”

“Mum, it’s fine,” Percy says, leaning down to inspect the blood. It’s not absorbing into the ground at all, like they’ve just poured it on glass instead of dirt. “Does this mean we still have a feud?”

“No,” Draco says, “but it does mean you have to get tilling.”

“I like gardening,” Ginny says.

“Does it think we stole it?” Ron asks. “Is this like the creepy ritual used in fourth year to get a body back? One of the ingredients was blood of the enemy forcibly taken. So intent must matter.”

Merlin, he forgets how smart Ron is sometimes. “Intent changes the magic,” Draco confirms. “But this was all willingly given, and I made sure I went to the more liberal members of the family for this. If absolutely nothing else, my blood should have worked. And Luna’s.”

Bill frowns. “How many blood feuds have you ended?”

“None,” Draco says. “And neither has anyone else in recent history. Most people don’t end blood feuds. They just wait for one of them to die out.”

“That’s morbid,” George comments. “So, it’s possible we’re missing a step here, right?”

“Yes,” Draco admits, “but I don’t know what it could be.”

Percy taps his wand against his hand a couple of times. “Well, bleeding on it usually solves the problem, right?”

Draco wishes people would stop saying that. They’re right, but it really downplays all the important cultural bits. “Not exactly. I don’t really recommend it.”

He shrugs then drags his wand down his arm and blood wells up from the deep cut. Arthur growls, “Percy!” but he just tips his arm to the side so his blood mixes with the Malfoy blood.

There’s a moment where nothing happens, and Draco’s about to tell him to knock that off before he passes out. Then there’s a shift, and the ground is moving and rumbling beneath them. Draco takes several hasty steps back.

He’s expecting something dramatic. But it settles, just the same as it was before, only now Draco can smell it. He hadn’t realized he couldn’t until it was filling his nose, something stale and old and far enough past rotted to just be dust. The Malfoy blood has sunken into the earth, and where it was is a scattering of green grass and young moon orchids. Everything else is just as dead as before.

“At least there’s probably not any murderous house elves in here?” Ron offers. “I’m pretty sure you can cross if you want to.”

Well, if it will let anyone cross, it’ll probably be him, with his and his family’s blood in the earth. He hopes this doesn’t kill him, Luna will be pissed. He steps across the barrier.

Nothing.

He lets out a breath. “Oh, good. This still isn’t right. It feels – it feels dead here. It feels like there shouldn’t even be enough magic here to have maintained the wards. But that’s ridiculous. A family as old as yours doesn’t go from being an inferno to a spark just over a couple hundred years.”

“I have no idea what you’re saying.” George says, “but wasn’t the whole point of this to go get answers? Why don’t we stop standing around here talking about it, and go inside the manor and poke around.”

It was one thing when he was with Harry doing that, when their families have been allies and neighbors for generations. But to go sticking his nose around the Weasley manor, when they’ve only just gotten rid of the blood feud – it’s the very definition of improper.

His emotions must be all over his face, because Ron snorts and claps him on the back. “Go on and help Hermione research. I’ll send a patronus if we need the help."

Oh, thank merlin. “Good luck,” he tells them all seriously.

Ginny flips him off, and he sticks his tongue out at her before apparating away.

Chapter Text

Hermione is passed out, her head pillowed on her arms over and open book on the blood lines in the thirteenth century. Draco summons a blanket to drape over her shoulders and doesn’t hold it against her, and also doesn’t wake her up like she’d demanded the first time she’d fallen asleep in the middle of a book. She’s been here for hours longer than he has, and last he checked her husband and the rest of the Weasleys were still in the middle of rifling through their manor, so he feels slightly responsible for making sure she doesn’t exhaust herself.

“Hey,” someone says, voice soft, and he looks up to see Harry leaning against the doorway to the library. Draco and Hermione have been the ones up researching for the past couple of days, but for some reason Harry looks even more exhausted than he feels.

He also takes a moment to appreciate how weird it is to see Harry in the House, even though he’s a Lord now and he has every right to be here. Standing there in his muggle jeans and messy hair, a Chudley Cannons long sleeve that looks like it used to belong to Ron loose around his neck.

“If you’re looking for Hermione, she just fell asleep,” he says. “Is everything okay with the Weasleys?”

“Last I heard,” he answers, running a hand over his face.

Draco crosses the room, stepping closer even though it seems dangerous, in the quiet, in the silence, with Harry looking so tired and soft, looking approachable and touchable in his too big shirt and stupid ill fitting jeans. He’d give anything if Harry would let him take him to his tailor. “What’s wrong?”

Harry looks at him, biting his bottom lip, white teeth pressing into soft pink flesh, and merlin, this is such a horrible idea, being around Harry is such a horrible idea. “I - you’ll think I’m crazy.”

“Well, I already think you’re crazy, so I’m not sure how that will change anything,” he says. Harry glares at him, but he ignores it. “Tell me.”

“Can you really not hear it?” he asks, glancing around the walls.

He doesn’t say anything for a long moment, trying to listen for whatever has Harry so agitated. All he can here is the cavernous silence of the house and Hermione’s soft breaths. “Hear what?”

“The river ,” he snaps, except it doesn’t really have any bite behind it because he looks so distressed.

This again? “Harry, there is no river.”

“There is! I heard it when I was in the Potter House, but it was - I don’t know, quiet, easy to ignore. But ever since I came here I’ve been able to hear it, and I can’t get any bloody sleep because of it, and I’m going to snap if I don’t get at least a couple hours of uninterrupted rest,” he finishes.

Draco blinks, taking a second to parse through all of that. “You can hear the river you think is here from the Potter House and Hogwarts?”

“No, well, yes, but it’s - it’s the same river,” he says, “just. Bigger. It runs under Hogwarts too.”

“But there’s no river under Hogwarts,” he says gently, “You know that. And there’s no river near our lands. The Malfoys built our ward rooms beneath the earth, we would know if there’s a river.” He thinks about other things that Harry can hear that no one else can. “Is it a snake? Like hissing that sounds like running water?”

Harry gives him a flat glare. “If it was a snake, I wouldn’t hear hissing, I would hear English.” Oh, right. “See, I knew you’d think I was crazy.”

“I don’t think you’re crazy. Well, any more than I do normally. I just think you’re wrong,” he says.

“Then what am I hearing then?” he demands.

Draco has no idea. He’d suggest that Harry’s been cursed with some sort of hearing jinx, but he’s pretty sure he’s already thought of that and checked for it, considering his years as an auror and all. “Let’s go find out.”

“What?” He seems startled.

Draco doesn’t understand what part of what he said is confusing. “You said it’s louder near here, so theoretically it’s close. So let’s go find it. Or find nothing, and you can stop thinking there’s some sort of river that we’re keeping from you. I could use a break anyway.”

Harry doesn’t look as excited at this prospect as Draco thinks he should. “It’s, um. It’s not near here.”

“But you said it was loudest when you were outside-”

“Not near here,” he emphasizes, “but right here. I didn’t know where the library was, I was just - trying to follow the noise.”

“And it’s strongest here?” he demands. Okay, maybe there’s something to what Harry is saying. Helga Hufflepuff made this house, who’s to say that she didn’t - he doesn’t know, booby trap it? Stick some sort of hidden water system in the walls? It would explain why Harry heard it in Hogwarts too, since Hufflepuff also built that castle. It wouldn’t explain why Harry seems to think he hears something by their lands, but he supposes they’ll just have to handle one mystery at a time.

Or, well, several mysteries at time, considering they’re literally right in the middle of researching the House and Longbottom and Lestrange debacle. A maximum on the amount of mysteries they’ll have at one time, then.

Well, first things first is proving to Harry that there’s no river. Then they can try and figure out what it actually is.

“If you heard it here, why did you go up?” he asks. The library is on the top floor. “A river would be down, in the ground, right?”

Harry’s face twists. “Yes, but - I couldn’t find the basement. I’d gotten to the point where I was just trying to find anything, really.”

How long has Harry been here poking around? He’s afraid to ask, so he decides not to. “Come on, I can take you to the basement. But it’s not the deepest level, that’s the dungeons, not that anyone has bothered to go down there in, I don’t know, at least a few decades.”

They don’t talk the long trek down the stairs, and then as they’re about to sink lower, Draco grabs one of the torches off the wall and hands it to Harry. “Forgot how to cast a lumos charm?” he asks.

Draco huffs. “No, but don’t go throwing magic around down here. Keep it to a minimum.”

“Why?” he asks, then answers himself, “Is this whole place booby trapped? What is it with purebloods and leaving traps everywhere? I’ve been strangled by at least four coat racks on raids, you know.”

“Well, they must not have been very efficient coat racks,” he says. “We’re both Lords, it shouldn’t cause a fuss, but you never know.”

Harry frowns. “If it’s only not going to try to kill us because we’re Lords, should we have have left Hermione alone?”

“She’s asleep, how much trouble can she possibly get into?” he asks. Harry’s look of alarm is pretty fair, actually, now that he thinks about it. “She’ll be fine. Try not to knock anything over.”

“Knock over wha-” he starts, then Draco pushes the door open, and he falls silent. “Ah.”

“It’s possible,” Draco says generously, “that there’s a river underneath all this crap and it’s just no one’s see the bottom in a couple hundred years so we’ve all forgotten.”

The basement is overflowing full of stuff , centuries worth of things crammed in here, stacked and shoved and almost certainly magiced into place, regardless of conventional wisdom on why that’s a terrible idea.

“Is that a sarcophagus?” Harry squints.

Draco raises his torch a little higher. “Hm, what do you know, I think it is. Do you suppose there’s a river in there?”

“Is there a mummy in there?”

He looks at it, considering. “Maybe. Possibly we stole it so we could grind it up and eat it, and kept the outside because gold is pretty. Or cursed.”

“Grind it up and-” he stops, takes a deep breath. “Is cannibalism common practice then? I’m going back to the muggles.”

He rolls his eyes. “Hey, they did it too, and it didn’t even do them any good, they’re just dumb. Besides, cannibalism, while technically true, doesn’t really seem to fit the spirit of the thing, you know?”

Harry turns to him, big green eyes wide. “Draco. For the love of merlin - what the fuck?”

He snorts. “Ancient Egyptian mummification not only preserved the body, but preserved the magic as well. Something to do with what they filled the body with, the purification salt, and the spells that were slipped beneath their bindings. The magic didn’t release back into the earth, or even get lost to the air. It stayed trapped within the body. The muggles found the muggle mummies. We didn’t care for those ones. We’d already managed to steal all the magical ones by then. Well, theoretically. They think there are still more, hidden under a few thousand years of cloaking spells, but so far no one’s had much luck finding anything.” He pauses and reconsiders. “Except for that Carter fellow, but then they all got cursed and died, and no one even got to eat Tut’s body anyway, so it was a bit of waste for all involved.”

Harry looks like he’s going to throw up.

Draco’s used to this, and if it makes his stomach roll to talk about it, well, he’s had a lot of practice. “Which part is upsetting you most, currently? The grave robbing or the cannibalism? Or is it the desecration of a corpse?”

“Isn’t - didn’t - that’s illegal?” he tries. “And gross. What is the point of eating people, exactly?”

“Oh yeah, we had a whole war about it in the seventeen hundreds,” he says. “We only opened our borders to each other this past century, and even then it’s pretty touch and go. Bill’s a pretty big deal over there, actually, and he’s done a lot these past couple decades to patch things up. Maybe I’ll even get to visit Egypt without the threat of imprisonment some day.”

“Ron and his family went when we were kids,” Harry points out.

Draco rolls his eyes. “Yes, well, when you’re the family of one of the Egyptian government’s favorite curse breakers, I imagine that’s a little easier to swing. Although how he even managed to get them to allow him in the country to climb to that position baffles me. And considering by the last estimation the Malfoy family owes - let’s see if I can remember it off the top of my head - oh, thirty seven mummified corpses to the current regime, I don’t see that happening. But if Bill can get them to lighten up a little on the reparations, that’d be nice.”

“You ate people?” Harry asks, but he’s asking it suspiciously rather than incredulously, like he already knows what the answer is but has to ask just to double check. “Also, please explain the eating people thing to me. Do ground up mummies taste especially delicious?”

Ew. “No,” he says. “Not that I’ve ever eaten one myself, mind, because that’s super gross. It started off a cure for squibs, and it’s the only one we’ve ever found. Well, that and unicorn blood, but most squibs choose a magicless life over a half one. And the blood sucking, and no sunlight and all that. By ingesting the mummy, they ingest their magic, and they can become almost like a normal witch or wizard.” He shudders. “Of course, they tend to die rather young, for magical folk. Most don’t even make it to hundred.”

“That’s old for muggles,” Harry points out. “You had thirty seven squibs in your family?”

Draco sends him a flat eyed glare. “Do you think my family has really managed to piss the magic off enough times to get a squib thirty seven times? No of course not. It also makes extremely potent fertilizer, especially for magical plants.”

There’s a long, terrible silence. “Draco,” Harry says, “that’s one of the most amoral, disgusting, and horrifying things I’ve ever heard of.”

“Yeah,” he says, and Harry blinks, surprised. Was he expecting Draco to disagree with him? Harry’s a Lord now, there’s no farce of perfection to maintain. “My great great great great grandmother was ah, how do you say, a giant fucking bitch. She claims she didn’t know where the fertilizer was coming from, only that it was very expensive, but that’s a crock of shit.” He thinks back to what he said earlier, and clarifies, “I don’t actually think it’s unfair of the Egyptian government to demand back replacements for the bodies we stole, even if I personally find it disgusting and upsetting and sometimes get nightmares about the whole thing.” Hm, that was honesty than he’d been intending. But what self respecting pureblood wouldn’t get queasy about their bodies being taken from the ancestral earth? The Egyptians might have had a different culture and reasoning behind their anger, a different way that they processed their magic, but it didn’t make it all any less horrifying to Draco, personally. Their ancestors were so fucked up.  “It’s just that it’d be nice if I got to visit the place where so much of my business takes place. Besides, I’ve heard it’s beautiful. I’d really like to visit a talking tomb if nothing else.”

Harry raises an eyebrow.

It probably says something about him that that’s all it takes for Draco to launch into another explanation. They’re wasting a lot of time talking. Didn’t he used to find Harry’s ignorance annoying? But he does like talking about this stuff, and he likes Harry, so. “We learned how to make talking portraits from them, only they’ve been doing it for much longer and are much better at it than we are. Their hieroglyphics are brought to life and can speak on their own. That’s the voices muggles sometimes claim to hear, if they’re particularly sensitive to that sort of thing. It’s part of their magical conservation, and it’s cool as hell.” He hopes Harry doesn’t ask him to explain the particulars, because he doesn’t know. He just knows that it sounds fascinating and wonderful and wishes his great great great great grandmother had been a little bit less of an opportunistic psychopath.

“Okay,” Harry says at length. Then, “Does my family owe any bodies? Whatever that means. I’m assuming it’s not literal, considering how protective you all are over your corpses.”

Why is it that whenever Harry describes their practices, he makes them sound weird? Like, it makes sense to be concerned of magical containing corpses and what happens to them, thank you very much. “We’d have to check the records, but I don’t think so. If you did, it was probably in the transport and trading, and you wouldn’t be on the hook for anything in that case. They decided to come down on those who’d ended up with the things rather than the middlemen.” Harry makes a face he can’t read, so he doesn’t even try. “Come on, let’s go find your theoretical river.”

“This is a lot of sass from a cannibal,” he says, and Draco has to look over his shoulder and catch the glint of amusement in Harry’s eyes before he’s totally sure he’s joking.

Harry’s such brat.

They hang the torches from the wall, and it takes them close to an hour to push their way through the sea of priceless junk, which is really the best way to describe all of this stuff.

“You’re really sure that you can’t just throw all this stuff out?” Harry asks, the muscles of his back shifting under his shirt as he hauls a box of clinking, enchanted china onto a high shelf. Draco considers helping, but he’s finding watching to be the more preferable activity. “It doesn’t belong to anyone anymore, really, right?”

“It belongs to the House,” Draco says, “we’re allowed to borrow what we need, so long as we sign it out first.”

The floating magical scroll has begun to trail behind them, waiting to be used. He doesn’t actually plan to take anything though, so the poor thing is going to be dissapointed.

Harry turns and glares at him, wiping sweat from his brow. “Really? You need this? Just in case?” He reaches out and grabs the closest artifact to him, which ends up being an ancient Mongolian bow with delicate characters curving up the length. “And if you did, what’s to stop you from just taking it? It doesn’t look like anyone’s done a proper inventory of this place in a decade.”

“It’s all cursed,” Draco says, and really, Harry should know better. He was an auror for years. Everything is cursed. It’s why he’d been so nervous about having Ron in his house, worried about how many things around the manor had some latent malevolent magic, just waiting to be poked awake by a man with a blood feud between them just casually walking the halls.  “Here, look, we made it.”

He unceremoniously shoves a person sized vase aside, finally revealing the door to the dungeons.  Harry walks over, absently reaching for his wand before remembering not to do that. “Is there a reason we couldn’t just apparate there?”

“You can’t apparate beneath the earth,” Draco reminds him.

Harry’s nose scrunches up. “Why not?”

“Because you can’t. The layer of magic in the earth always interferes,” he says, then stares. “You haven’t, have you?” If Harry just casually breaks through the type of barriers that have been dictating their apparation for hundreds of years, he quits, he quits right now, and Harry can go searching for his imaginary river on his own while Draco goes and takes a nap.

“I’ve never tried,” he admits. “Wait, you mean you can’t apparate into any basements? Ever?”

“No!” he exclaims, “Not unless you want to go get splinched. Merlin, how did you pass your apparation exam?”

Harry is silent for a long moment, then rubs the back of his neck and looks at the ceiling.

Oh, merlin above.

“You didn’t take your exam?” he demands, unsure why out of all the rule breaking and bullshit Harry’s done through the years, this is the thing that scandalizes him. “What, you’ve just spent the last eleven years apparating around the planet without a license?”

“No one’s ever asked?” Harry offers.

Unbelievable.

“Whatever,” he shakes his head, tugging on the dungeon door. Then tugging it again when it refuses to budge. He steps back, and he doesn’t see a lock, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

Harry leans forward, wrapping his hand around the handle and trying to pull it forward. Draco can’t help but smirk when he fails. “What now? Should we bleed on it?”

“No!” he snaps. “Why would we do that?”

He shrugs, unrepentant. “It usually helps.”

Draco ignores him, running his hand down the center of the door, feeling with the pads of his fingers for any indents or rough patches. He finds one, then another, and then his fingertips are awkwardly pressed against the door. They look normal, but feel rough and also slightly spongey. He reaches up, searching for something else, but when he finds them he lets out a frustrated breath. There’s a set of divots in the center of the door, and another set up top, but he can’t reach both at the same time. Did the person who set this up have freakishly long arms or something?

“Here,” Harry says, grabbing his wrist and pulling it away before reaching up and fitting his hand into the divots near the top of the door. “Now what?”

He’s barely finished asking when there’s a soft click, and both their hands start to sink into the door. “Fuck! This is your fault, Harry!”

“Mine?” Harry demands, more offended than afraid as their bodies are absorbed into the door. He tries to pull back, but it’s too late. The more force that he uses to pull away, the more force is used to tug him forward and through, until he pops through the other side.

The first thing he notices is how clean it smells. The dungeon is underground, but there’s has to some sort of access to the outside.

Harry pops through beside him a moment later, apparently not having put up much of a fight so the door had taken longer to pull him through. “That wasn’t so bad,” he says cheerfully, patting him on the back.

He throws Harry a furious look. “How is that you can be eaten by a door and not even panic a little?”

“I find panic to be unhelpful,” he says.

Draco finds Harry to be unhelpful. “Lets just hope that there’s another door to get us out of here.”

Harry hums and nods. They don’t have to talk about it, they both felt it. The magic sucking them forward and through, the feel of soft, cool molten rock rushing over their skin. Magic like that tends to only work in one direction. They can try to use the same door to leave as they had to enter, but Draco isn’t sure how successful they’d be. Actually, he is, and it’s not at all, actually.

“Think we can cast a lumos without blowing this whole place up?” Harry asks. “I can’t see anything.”

Draco blindly reaches up the wall, feeling for the bracket and then the smooth, soft wood of the torch. He’s almost certain that he’s right, but he takes several moments to trade the runes burned into the wood to double check. He says, “Incendio,” but doesn’t reach for his wand or his magic or anything at all.

There’s a sound like a groan, and then the torch he’s touching flickers to life, a clear, cheerful little flame crackling at its end. There’s a half second delay, and then the rest of the torches along the wall are lighting themselves, providing a warm orange glow all down the corridor.

“No spell?” Harry asks, frowning.

Draco shrugs, removing his hand and resisting the urge to rub at his palm. It’s tingling, like he’d just cast a too powerful spell while holding his wand, but it’s probably just a phantom sensation. “They’re inscribed with the symbols for the eternally burning flame. You just have to tell them what to do.”

“You can make spells just with runes?” he asks, stepping closer and pearing more closely at the torch along the wall.

Draco uses Harry’s distraction to shakes out his hand, trying to get rid of the strange phantom sensations. “Well, I can’t, and neither can anyone else these days. It’s probably like warding, you know, using inscriptions to guide the magic rather than wand movements and words. Only there’s some sort of trick to it we haven’t been able to figure out. And yes,” he adds before Harry can ask, “we have tried bleeding on it.”

He snorts then looks around him. He runs his hand over the stone and asks, “How long has it been since someone’s been down here?”

“A while?” he tries. “Most people don’t bother. There’s nothing here. We can’t use the dungeons for prisoners, there aren’t any cells, just rooms. I suppose we could use it for storage.” Maybe clear out the cavernous basement and set up some sort of reasonable system. He thinks that might just encourage more Lords and Ladies to dump too-powerful and unwanted artifacts onto the House to get out of having to deal with them.

It’s too bad he couldn’t ask Arthur and Bill Weasley to come deal with it. Between them, they’d wrestle the whole place into order, and might even enjoy it. But since Draco likes having his head attached to his neck, he’ll let someone else suggest that. Maybe Harry. It’s not like he can get any more controversial than he already is.

Not that Draco will tell him that. He’ll take it as a challenge.

“Are you sure about that?” Harry asks, holding up his hand.

His clean hand.

Draco frowns and runs his hand over stone. There’s no dust or dirt, and more than that - these stones don’t look old or forgotten. They’re so smooth they almost feel polished.

The air feels fresh, it feels good to breath it. Nothing stale or wasted or anything like that.

“Huh,” he says, reaching for his wand. “Okay. Maybe there’s an eternal cleanliness spell around?”

“Sure,” Harry says agreeably, “because if such a thing exists, that’s where I’d put it. The dungeons. And not, say, the main hall. Or any sort of other well trafficked area.”

Draco doesn’t understand how someone hasn’t strangled Harry by now. Then again, maybe they’ve tried and failed. “Okay, and what, you think someone is just living down here and cleaning it?”

“Does the House have any house elves?” he asks, and then a strange look crosses his face. “Hey, uh - so the house part of house elf is like, generic, right? Not specific?”

What? “I swear you’re speaking English, and yet I have no idea what you’re saying.”

Harry rolls his eyes and opens his mouth to clarify, but before he gets the chance, there’s a thunderous, echoing crack. Draco grabs Harry’s arm and pulls him back, sure that they ceiling is collapsing, or something else equally terrible.

It’s not the ceiling.

“How did you get in here?” Tay snarls, her teeth looking extra sharp and eyes especially red in the flickering light of the torches.

Harry answers her, but Draco’s not paying attention.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Dax informs him severely, and Draco’s so confused. “Humans are not meant to be in here.”

“Maybe it’s time for them,” Tay says, “if the door let them in.”

“The door let them in because your boy is too powerful for his own good, and mine’s too smart for his own good, and they should both leave if they know what’s good for them,” Dax scowls, glaring at Tay with a look that would have sent Draco ducking for cover.

She’s uneffected. “Well, unless you want to obliviate them, I don’t see what choice we have.”

“Knowing what’s good for me isn’t exactly my specialty,” Harry says, wry, and Draco suddenly feels itchy all over. “Which one of you is going to explain what the hell is going on?”

Tay and Dax lock eyes, each silent and glaring at the other, and Draco raises a hand to rub at his head. He has a feeling this will take a while.

Chapter Text

Draco can’t actually follow most of whispered argument between the house elves, but it ends with them leading him and Harry to the end of the hallway, down a long winding staircase, and into a deep unground cavern.

He has a healthy fear and respect for unbound house elves because he’s not idiot and he likes keeping all of his internal organs inside his body, nice and warm and right where they belong. He doesn’t argue with Dax, not about anything serious, not about something that matters, because no matter how old or powerful he gets, not matter how clear it is that Dax loves him, deep down he’ll always be a little boy on his father’s knee, hearing horror stories of offended elves tearing a home down from it’s foundations.

But this is too much.

“I told you there was a river,” Harry says, the pale light reflecting onto his face.

Deep below the House, flowing far beneath the earth, is a river.

But it’s not water. It’s silver and giving off a fain glow, darker in some parts than others, but rushing past too quickly for him to make out anything else.

He reaches out to touch it but Dax grabs his wrist before he can. “Don’t.”

“Is it unicorn blood?” Harry asks, then shakes his head. “No, it can’t be, there aren’t enough unicorns in all of Britain to make this.”

“And unicorn blood evaporates after being exposed to the air for more than a couple of hours,” Draco points out, tugging his hand out of Dax’s grasp but not trying to touch it again. “You – this is why the magic has been disappearing? You’ve been hoarding it?”

This is magic in it’s brightest, purest form. He hadn’t know it could be a liquid, hadn’t know it could or would take a physical form. It looks like unicorn blood because unicorn blood is full of such concentrated magic that it’s as close as magic having a physical form as it’s possible to get.

Or so he thought.

This is so huge he doesn’t know how to comprehend it, he isn’t really, he sees it and he understands what he’s seeing, but it’s all – it’s too much.

Dax pinches him in the thigh, and he jerks away from his strong fingers. “How would we even do that? How can we pull magic from the air and bottle it? Don’t be foolish.”

“You can’t pull it from the air,” Harry says, eyebrows dipped together. “But you can pull it from the ground.”

Tay grins, looking more like a proud parent than a deadly house elf, and at first Draco has no idea what Harry’s talking about, and then it clicks.

“The moon orchids,” he says, numb. “You made all this with moon orchids?”

How many flowers must have this taken? Over how many years? How many house elves? They all knew they were giving magic to their house elves, but not likes this, not for this.

“We don’t need them to survive, and we don’t eat them,” Tay says, and yeah, no shit.

“Did you ever?” Harry asks, and Tay shakes her head.

Merlin above. Every house elf, for hundreds of years, collecting their due and bringing it here and somehow turning it into this –

“How does one make a philosopher’s stone without unicorn blood,” Draco says suddenly repeating the question that Tay had asked him in his classroom. He’s such an idiot, why didn’t he think to question it then? Instead he’d just shrugged it off and moved on, when, really, he should have demanded an answer to her question. Since the answer, apparently, is this.

Dax snorts. “Philosopher’s stones are child’s play. They’re nothing to this.”

Harry’s frowning as he leans over the rushing river of magic, and Tay edges a little closer, hand halfway outstretched to pull him back in case he gets too close. “Why? Why did you do this?”

Tay and Dax freeze, and Draco feels a chill go down his spine.

What couldn’t they do with this much magic?

They’re silent for a long time, long enough that Draco wishes he could pick them up and shake them until answers fell out. Harry at least looks calm and patient and not like he’s heard the most earth shattering news of his life. Then again, Harry doesn’t know so much that finding out earth shattering pieces of information must almost be par for the course for him at this point.

“We knew it would happen again,” Dax says finally, and Tay glares but doesn’t move to stop him. “Magic ebbs and flows, but it’s not a renewable resource, exactly. To make magic, one must have magic, and to make it stick – magic can’t just be thrown out in the world and expected to stay. It leaves, soaking into the earth or floating into the air. And yes, there’s a benefit to that, to bringing life back to a dead thing, but it doesn’t help us. Our community gets smaller, our people less, and if we want the magic to stay,” he stops, hesitating.

“It needs a container,” Tay finishes. “It needs something that will grow it, and nurture it, and claim it for it’s own. And not just anything will do. Not just anyone will do. We’ve been testing it.”

“Testing it,” Draco repeats faintly. He really wishes there was something he could sit down on.

Dax is staring at him as he says, “You were taught that muggleborns are magic’s gift to the world. That’s wrong. They’re our gift to magic.”

“About a cup of this in the local muggle water supply is usually all it takes to get a couple wizards and witches born that year,” Tay adds.

Harry rubs at his head. “Wait. Stop. You make muggleborns? You poison the water supply to make muggleborns?”

“Poison is rather harsh,” she says, “it’s not like the muggles get hurt.” She pauses, looking to Dax for confirmation. He shakes his head, and she repeats, firmer this time, “The muggles don’t get hurt.”

It – it can’t be. Can it? Muggleborns, the only thing keeping the magic afloat, their only source of new magic, aren’t just born. They’re made.

By house elves and their super secret magic river.

Please, merlin, let this be a bad dream or some sort of strange reaction to a healing spell.

“Why do you care?” Harry presses. “You clearly don’t need us as a source of moon orchids, or magic, or anything really. Why use this to help us? You don’t need us, and if anything it seems like you’d all be better off without us.”

That’s a very good question, actually.

They’re both hesitating again, and it takes Harry reaching out and pressing a hand against his back to keep him from snapping.

This time it’s Tay who breaks first. “Weren’t you listening? Because there’s no us without you. We are the same people.”

He blinks. “Like – bonded house elves? But if we died the bond would snap, and you don’t even need us anyway, Harry’s right about that.”

“No,” Dax says, glancing at Tay before continuing, “when the magic dipped too low, when our extinction seemed inevitable and the collapse of our society a surety, Helga built this castle, gave the House a home. She nearly bled herself dry on Stonehenge and pulled magic up from the earth, from all the grave mounds of this area and jump started it all over again. And made it so we’d have insurance against it ever happening again.”

“The blood sacrifices of the Lords and Ladies,” Draco says, because there’s a reason they bleed during every full moon. A reservoir of magic, to keep the House standing and have some sort of protection for people even if every Lord and Lady fell. It was supposed to be going to maintaining the wards and protection spells around the castle, so they’d outlast them, so people would have a place to go to shelter them from magic’s storm if the Lords and Ladies weren’t there to do it for them.

That’s what they’d all been told. But it was a lie.

“No,” Harry says slowly, “no, Draco, you’re not listening to them. Our extinction. Our society. So we’d have insurance.”

It’s so obvious, so glaringly obvious, and even still it takes a long moment for it to click into place. It’s the most ridiculous thing he’s heard all night. “That’s insane.”

“You knew Hufflepuff personally?” Harry asks, apparently skipping right past the impossibility of it all.

Draco doesn’t care if it ruins his robe. He sits down on the cold floor, digging his fingers into his temple like it will make all this start making sense.

“We all did,” Tay says, “We knew the sacrifice when we crafted this spell, when we drank that potion. Breaking the cycle of magic wouldn’t come without a price.”

“No one knew, except for those who took our seats of course. They couldn’t know. This whole plan wouldn’t work if they knew, people would just panic or try and claim the river for themselves. So we had to find a way to get people to give us their magic without them questioning it, without them knowing we were making something powerful with it. Besides, that wasn’t their burden to carry. It was ours,” Dax adds.

Draco finally lifts his head, because clearly ignoring this all won’t make it go away. “You were a Lord?”

“I was,” he says gently, peering into his eyes. “Not all of us were, although we all did it willingly. The magic wouldn’t work if we weren’t willing.”

“I was a squib,” Tay volunteers.

Harry crouches down next to Draco, so he’s at eye level with the rest of them. “What happened? How did you go from a Lord to – this?”

“It was fine, for the first few hundred years,” Dax continues, “We were House elves, and we looked like this, and we couldn’t use our wands anymore. But the way we were able to interact with and affect magic had changed, we could now squeeze it out of things and store it for our own. Then age took its toll on us, or maybe it was the magic backlashing against our thievery after so many years. Some of us became – vicious, with the families we worked with, with our people. House elves had never been nice, mind you, becoming like this had made us harder and meaner almost overnight, but we weren’t cruel. But then we were forgetting why we’d done this, were becoming bitter and angry and lashing out. We were hurting the very people we’d given up our humanity to save.”

“You’re soft,” Tay says, “we didn’t do this to save people. We did it to save a community. Killing some rude wizards didn’t slow anything down. Their bodies always got buried in the right place.”

Dax rolls his eyes. “You’re cold. Most of these people are our descendants, or related to them in some way. Some of us were fine with the bloodlust, learned to temper it and control it,” he gestures to himself and Tay, “while others – couldn’t. So they chose a different path.”

Tay shudders. “Worse than what we did to ourselves with Helga if you ask me. I’d rather have my head cut off.”

“Dead House elves gather no magic,” Dax says, “and gathering magic, if nothing else, is why we did this.”

Draco can see where this is going. He’s seen bound house elves all his life, grew up with them, saw how they were and how they acted compared to Dax, and always, always found them lacking. “The bound elves-”

“It was their idea,” Tay says. “Mad, if you ask me, but no one did.”

“We didn’t have to,” Dax sighs. “You made your opinion very clear. That didn’t stop you from helping me brew the potion.”

She shrugs. “I wasn’t going to drink it. Am not going to drink it,” she looks towards Harry, eyes narrowed. “I like you, but I’m not opposed to some recreational wizard killing, got it? I’m not drinking that bloody potion.”

“Okay,” Harry says, “keeping in mind, I have no idea what you guys are talking about.”

“What would you do,” Dax begins, and for the first time he looks sad, “if you could feel your mind slipping, if you found yourself hurting those you wanted to help and with no way to stop it? If your death would be just as harmful as continuing to live and lash out?”

“Get ahold of yourself and move on,” Tay says, but only sighs when Dax turns his sad eyes on her. “Bound elves did that to themselves too. House elves were the ones to propose the bond. Because it forces us to continue the task we set out to do, even after our mind is gone. All house elves know what do to with moon orchids and where to bring them. But many of them no longer know why. The know longer know who or what they once were.”

Bound house elves had trouble speaking. They were easily frightened and easily confused, the only thing that ever seemed to make them happy was cleaning and being left alone, he had always thought they were so simple compared to the terror of unbound elves. Sure, bound house elves can kill them if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain, they can sever the bond themselves if they really try, but he’s never heard of one doing so, of an unbound house elf taking advantage of those loopholes and provision in the binding that were there specifically for their benefit –

- and now he knows why.

“They’re lobotomized,” Harry says slowly, “and they – they did it on purpose?”

“Even we did not know how bad it would get, when wizards no longer had any reason to fear them, to respect them,” Dax says, “and even if we did, it wouldn’t have mattered. We’d already sacrificed so much to get this far. What’s our humanity, in comparison?”

Humanity. Because they were human, even like this, even a thousand years old and twisted into different shapes and different powers and all of it – they were human. They were Lords and Ladies and regular wizards and even squibs, both the protectors and protected, who had sacrificed more than everything. Because everyone in the House took death as a risk for carrying the family magic, but this is worse than death, longer, more painful, more humiliating, and Draco can barely comprehend it. He clung to his pride by his fingernails when he had nothing else, and the idea of sacrificing that hurts in a way nothing else ever has.

“Merlin,” Draco says, ragged, dragging his hand down his face. “And we all just-”

“None of that,” Tay says sharply. “If you didn’t care before, you don’t get to care now. They are still living beings, they have emotions, they understand pain and they understand kindness. Finding out they used to be just like you, finding out that they did it for you shouldn’t make a difference at all. It doesn’t change anything.”

“Why not?” he demands. “It changes everything!”

Dax shakes his head. “It shouldn’t. You know better. Tay is right. If you didn’t care before, there’s no reason for you to care now.”

“I didn’t know they didn’t have a bloody choice!” Draco explodes, and if he were less messed up from all of these revelations he wouldn’t be doing something as stupid as yelling at a couple of unbound house elves, but he’s furious and shocked and so desperately sad for all those people a millennia ago that made a sacrifice they never should have needed to make. “We knew – look, okay, fine, some families, by which I mean quite a lot, have twisted the binding spell to be abusive, okay? My family did it, I did it until I grew up and figured out how not to be the same kind of terrible as my parents, and that’s fucked up of us, of all of us. But we didn’t know they couldn’t leave! Or wouldn’t. There are other magical plants out there, if they wanted to break the bond we thought they could! It’s set up for in the fucking binding, they just can’t harm us after. That was the whole point of this to begin with, that’s what we thought it was, a bargain with the deadly creatures who wouldn’t leave us the fuck alone, a way for us to coexist without literally killing each other. We didn’t know they couldn’t leave and fuck you and every other unbound elf for putting the both of us in this position, because you knew, and you didn’t say anything!”

His chest is heaving, because they’re right, his terrible treatment of house elves, and his family’s and other people’s treatment runs the gambit of poor to absolutely horrendous, and there’s no denying or excusing that, and he has no idea if it would have made a difference to anyone if they’d known where their house elves wouldn’t leave them no matter the abuse heaped on them. Plenty of them tortured and killed muggles and muggleborns because it was the fashionable thing to do, so it’s not like they’re dealing with the best of people here or anything. But maybe they would, and they should have known, someone should have told them.

Tay’s eyes flash red, and her pointy teeth shine in the light from the river. “Careful there, boy.”

Dax is pissed too, but he still glares at Tay when she says that, so at the very least the family house elf isn’t going to turn on him. Who’s actually some sort of transformed wizard, stockpiling magic for the day that it runs low once more.

There’s not enough alcohol in the world to deal with this.

“Okay, enough,” Harry says sharply. “Maybe the purebloods shouldn’t have been a bunch of power tripping assholes, and maybe the unbound house elves should have done more to protect the bound ones. But us screaming and threatening each other over it isn’t going to solve anything.”

Tay scowls, but she looks a little bit less monstrous in the flickering light.

“And how are we going to do solve anything? Tell everyone? We’ll be in the thick of another war by breakfast,” he snaps, because it’s true, because Dax and Tay are right. “We can’t tell anyone about this river, they’ll tear themselves apart to get to it, and we won’t be able to stop them.” Harry opens his mouth, and Draco continues, “And even if we could, it wouldn’t matter. Someone will always be after it once people know about it, and we won’t always be around to protect it.”

“You’re not going to solve anything,” Dax says. “It’s not up to you. This isn’t your decision.”

Draco gapes while Harry pinches the bridge of his nose. “Then why even tell us? Why risk showing us this? Unless you do plan to kill us.”

Tay points to the river, “Look, can’t you see? It’s too high. It’s nearly at the banks. If we don’t do something it’ll flood, and then it’s a waste.”

“So dig another river?” Harry tries. “It already flows under Hogwarts and most of the pureblood homes. Can you just make it bigger?”

They both shake their head. “No. We’ve gathered this magic for all this time, but it’s enough. We’ve gathered enough, done enough. The House rejecting so many of the Lords and Ladies is proof of that.”

“Enough for what?” Draco snaps. “And what does what happened to Augusta and the others have to do with this?”

“Why do you think Helga built that castle, why do you think she turned the House meetings from something that was about little more than updating alliance charts and gossiping to something that was about power and politics and influence and blood?” Tay asks. “Helga was a good woman. A fair woman, if nothing else. Do you truly believe she would have asked us to sacrifice so much, to take on so much, and offered to do nothing to help?”

“The blood we give at every meeting,” Draco says, because he’d already figured that part out.

Tay nods. “We would do our part, and you all would do yours. Each family had a debt to pay, a certain amount of magic they had to contribute. By taking families under your protection, you took on their debt. The larger and more powerful a Lord or Lady and the vassels, the more blood the House would demand. Not that Helga told anyone this, of course. The whole point was to do it in a way where people wouldn’t know that we were gathering the magic.”

“So the Longbottoms and the Lestranges paid their debts?” Harry asks, “and they get kicked out of the House for it?”

“That’s what Helga turned the House into,” she says, and now even Tay looks sad. “A way to collect magic, and a way to protect people from the magic as they did it.”

Draco rubs at his temples. “Wait. Are you saying – is the magic not always like this? Not always so-” Cruel seems too harsh a word, and demanding too soft. “Deadly?”

“No,” Dax says, “but that’s what happens when you steal the magic. When it’s not borrowed, not given, not earned. Only taken. It’s mad, as much as non-sentient thing can be mad. It’s feels the loss, and it’s trying to get it back any way it can, trying to restore the equilibrium any way it can. We’ve taken magic, and so the magic takes it from us if we’re not careful, if we don’t protect ourselves.”

“But once a family’s debt is paid, once they stop actively taking magic, it – settles. They fall off the radar, in a way. The magic doesn’t see them anymore, and so doesn’t target them,” Dax explains. “There’s nothing to do for those families who lost their seat, because there’s nothing wrong with them. Harry joining the House brought a tremendous amount of power to the table and into the river, except unlike the other Lords and Ladies he doesn’t have several hundred vassals to cover, so his magic was used to complete the debt of members who were close to completing it on their own. The only reason it didn’t just reject him is because the Potters themselves aren’t even one of the families that owes magic, and so they don’t have a debt to fulfill. But once the river if full, the castle will push everyone out, regardless of their family history.”

Harry slaps his hand against the wall, and it startles Draco so much he jumps at the sound, but Harry isn’t looking at them. “The Weasleys!”

Tay smiles. “Yes. Precisely. The last Lord Weasley discovered all this, and was horrified by it.  By continuing to give blood, to hoard magic, he was making his family and all those he’d sworn to protect targets. But at the same time he understood that the debt needed to be paid, that we were gathering all this for a reason. He funneled all the magic of his manor and the family graveyard into moon orchids, so Saji, his unbound House elf, could convert it to the river. It paid his family and their vassals’ debt, but he couldn’t return to the House, and he had to cover up what he’d done. So he made a big fuss of leaving the House and of boarding up his ancestral home, so no one would notice that it was dead inside, that all that had made it ancestral, all that had made it matter, was gone. The wards you broke through weren’t made by magic, but by him and his wife, to ensure that no one would stumble across the truth, including his decedents. But you just had to go and be clever about it. For the record, it was your blood that got them across the barrier and ending the blood feud that took down the wards for everyone else.”

That explains so much. Why the Weasley’s left the House so suddenly, why their manor was reacting so oddly, why they’ve managed to go without being attacked by the magic for so long. Why it felt so dead and empty, like an echo.

“But it’s open now!” Harry protests. “Won’t people figure it out?”

“Maybe,” Dax says dismissively, and this really doesn’t seem like they type of thing they should be dismissive about, “but it doesn’t matter. The river is nearly full. Others will start being pushed from the House, until there’s no one left, until every family has done their part to contribute.”

“The House was not born with Helga Hufflepuff,” Draco snaps, “this doesn’t make any sense, it’s been around – forever! It just can’t end now because we’ve given the blood this river needed!”

“The House as it exists now was created by Helga, to fill a need that we had to preserve our magic and our people,” Tay says. “Before it wasn’t – it wasn’t this. It was a governing council. It was made up alliances and property lines and protection spells. We worked with magic, we were of it and for it and because of it, and the House was gentler. Weaker. Less than this. Helga created the House anew so it would have power, because power was what we needed. But soon that power will serve no purpose.”

“There will be another war,” he says bitterly, because people love power, and now it’s going to get torn away from them.

He can barely even think about this properly in terms of himself. So much of his identity is twisted up in being a Lord, it’s what he was raised to do, and it’s not like he won’t have magic and money and influence without it, but it’s so – integral to the society to was raised in, to the person he was raised to be, that he’s not sure, exactly, who he is if he’s not Lord Malfoy.

Or well, he supposes he’ll still be Lord Malfoy, he’ll still be a member of the House, but it won’t mean the same thing anymore. And maybe that’s a good thing, it probably is, if it means people stop having to suffer magical backlashes, if it means they don’t have to bargain their blood away for just the idea of hope. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

And he’s basically a liberal these days, and he cares about his people more than his power, and that’s not exactly a common attitude in the House, no matter their political leanings. They can’t just pull out their whole system of existence out from under them and expect them to take it gracefully.

He doesn’t know if he’s even capable to taking it gracefully.

“Why do you think we’re showing this to you?” Tay asks scornfully. “Once the river is full, then all this is over, and everything will change. You need to lead this change. It has to be both of you. You’re the only one they’ll all listen to, both sides. If just Harry does it, he’d just someone new and ignorant tearing down what he doesn’t understand. If just you do it, then you’re a power hungry Slytherin who’s doing this to weaken the rest of them. But if you do it together, you might be able to avoid war. If you two are the ones that tears the castle to its foundations, then maybe all of you get to survive this.”

“Tear the castle down?” Draco yelps.

Harry’s eyes narrow. “Wait. What happens when the river’s full? You keep talking about it, but you haven’t said what it means, what you’ll do with all this.”

“Yes we did,” Tay says calmly. “We release it into the muggle water supply. Not just some, not just a cup here and there. All of it. And magic runs strong again, our people survive, and there’ll be no turning back after that.”

“Your blood laws are going to need another update,” Dax says. “Because there’ll be no hiding the wizarding world when it doubles in size, when muggles everywhere have magical children. Helga thought the In Between spell was cowardice, thought hiding was cowardice, even if it was a necessary evil while we built up this river, while we had to protect ourselves against muggles who were actively hunting us. It’s the only thing her and Salazar ever agreed on.”

Even Harry looks gobsmacked. Even Draco couldn’t guess at the expression on his face right now. “You can’t be serious.”

Dax ignores him, because of course he is, of course he’s serious. “This isn’t just going to be the end to the House as you’ve always known it. It’s going to be the end of the statue of secrecy, of society as you’ve always known it. Muggleborns are our only source of new magic. So in order to survive, we’re not going to be able to hide ourselves away from the muggles any longer. The cost of this is going to be high, but we’ve paid our price. Now it’s time for you to pay yours.”