“It’s positive,” Harry heard a weak voice say from the other side of the bright red bathroom door. Well, it was either weak or muffled, Harry wasn’t entirely sure. Then he decided that due to the context it was probably both, actually.
“Are you--” Harry grimaced and cut off sharply, quickly trying to search his brain for a word that wasn’t positive. Because that would be fucking awful. “Are you sure?” he tried hopefully, “Do you want me to come in?”
He heard a short scream of frustration and stepped back from the door hastily, almost slipping when he caught his heel on the corner of the rug behind him. It was actually far too early in the day to get involved in a pregnancy scare, Harry decided, and then thought maybe that there wasn’t really a good time of day for that sort of thing. “I wanted you in here when I was peeing on the fucking thing, Harry. But no. We’re far too modest for that,” Bébhinn said angrily.
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes, it’s a fucking yes,” she said, sounding as though her hands were over her face, which Harry didn’t think was a good sign. He pushed the door open warily, thinking back to the last time he’d opened a bathroom door too quickly in this house. It had taken an entire two weeks for the base-of-a-shampoo-bottle shaped bruise to fade.
“Are you alright?” Harry asked, stepping onto the tiled floor and pushing the door partially closed behind him. Bébhinn was sitting on the toilet, clutching a blue pregnancy test in one hand and, rather inexplicably, a tub of Vicks vaporub in the other. She wasn’t alright, he knew that without having to ask and wondered for a second why he’d even bothered.
“Oh,” she said, “I’m just fucking peachy. I’m pregnant, I don’t know if you knew, but other than that I’m having a wonderful morning.”
Harry made a little movement towards her as Bébhinn slumped over a bit, the side of her head pressing against the pale pink walls of the bathroom, still slightly damp from where Moran must have taken a shower earlier and forgotten to open the window, like she always did. He pulled his hand back, not sure if she would take well to being touched right now. Harry thought that if he was in her situation he might not want to be.
“Can I see the test?” he asked, more for something to say than because he had any real interest in holding something that someone else had just pissed on. She handed it over reluctantly, with a small shake of her head. Harry grasped it, gingerly, and stared down at the little clear window for a few seconds before saying “I actually have no idea what I’m looking at.” He tried to pass it back.
Bébhinn rubbed her thumb over her bottom lip and tore off a strip of loo roll from the holder beside her arm, folding it a couple of times. She wrapped it around the stick as she took off him and Harry barely refrained from rolling his eyes. She couldn’t have done that before she had given it to him? He immediately felt guilty about thinking that because it was actually pretty clear she was having quite a large crisis.
“Two lines means pregnant,” she explained, looking down at the bright red lines, stark against the white plastic.
Harry was lost with this one. He had grown unfamiliar with crises in the years since the war, and he had never been very good at offering comfort. Neither had he ever really become used to receiving it. “Are you sure it’s not a food baby?” he asked, trying for a joke, hoping it might lighten the mood.
Bébhinn narrowed her eyes and tightened her fist around the jar of vaporub. “You did not just quote fucking Juno at me. Tell me you didn’t just do that.”
Right. That had had the exact opposite effect from what Harry had been aiming for, God he was shit at this sort of stuff. “No,” he lied, shaking his head a little and taking a tiny step backwards at the look in her eyes. Pure anger, was what he would describe it as. Pure and unbridled rage. “Definitely not.”
“I should have known,” Bébhinn said, “I should have known because I’ve been eating really weird stuff.” Harry thought about last week and when he’d walked in on her watching T.V. from the floor in front of the sofa, eating pickled onions out of the jar. And he was reasonably sure that they didn’t just keep pickled onions lying around the house, which meant she’d gone out and bought them. He felt like maybe he should have realised.
“It’s just that sometimes I skip a period and apparently that’s normal so I didn’t really think about it too much when it happened last month,” she continued, and Harry thought she’d sort of forgotten he was there.
“Okay,” he said.
“It’s normal,” she protested, as if he had argued with her.
“Listen,” Harry said, trying very hard to be gentle. “Do you want me to get your sister?”
“Get me for what?” a cheerful voice piped up from behind him, making him jump a little in a way that he would probably deny later. “Why are we all in here? Why wasn’t I invited?” Moran asked, making her way over to the medicine cabinet above the sink. Her hair was still damp from the shower and she was already in her school uniform, some sort of horrible pleated skirt in a shade of brown that made Harry feel sick just looking at it. Brown the colour of rust. The colour of blood, dried on a wrinkled t-shirt.
“What are you doing?” Harry asked, instead of giving her an answer, watching her as she took down a shiny box of plasters from the top shelf.
She turned and leant against the basin, crossing her ankles. “Getting a plaster,” she replied absently, searching through the box. “One of the guinea pigs bit me, again, the little bastard.”
Harry blinked. “Heal it,” he said tiredly. “You’re a witch. Heal it.”
“Yeah,” Moran said slowly, “ Or I could put this plaster on and then it’ll be a talking point when I get to school. Did you hear about Moran’s plaster? A guinea pig bit her.”
Harry sighed, not really knowing which of those things to address first. He just stared as Moran carefully applied the colourful plaster to her index finger, her tongue sticking out of her mouth in apparent concentration. She looked up after she was done and finally caught sight of Bébhinn, still sitting on the toilet and staring down at the pregnancy test as though it might spontaneously decide to transfigure itself into a negative one.
“Oh,” Moran said quietly, because she was smart and had realised immediately. “Oh fuck.”
“Yeah,” Bébhinn said, “I know.”
Harry felt like he was intruding a bit and wanted to back out of the bathroom and leave them to it, but his way was blocked by Moran and then he also felt that might be a completely shitty thing to do.
“Bébhinn’s pregnant,” he said, even though everyone in the room was pretty well caught up at that point.
“Are you sure?” Moran said apprehensively, “Sometimes they’re not totally accurate.”
“I’m pretty fucking sure,” Bébhinn told her, before standing up and pulling her t-shirt over her belly. Harry had the sudden urge to avert his eyes, but he didn’t. “Look,” she said, poking at the taught skin, “I’ve swelled.”
Harry didn’t really know what her stomach looked like normally but even he had to admit it did look… well. Swelled was probably as good a word for it as any.
“Feel it,” Bébhinn moaned, “It’s all hard. I’m fucking growing something.”
“I don’t really want to?” Harry said, feeling queasy, “I definitely believe you though.”
“Ugh,” Moran said, “Men.” She then proceeded to curl a hand over Bébhinn’s stomach with a little frown on her face. “Yep,” Moran declared, “Feels pregnant to me.”
“How do you know what pregnant feels like?” Harry asked, both wanting and not wanting to know the answer.
“One of the girls in my class got pregnant last year,” Moran said, breathing deeply, her eyes closed and her hand still on Bébhinn’s stomach. “She’s had it now but her stomach felt like this at the beginning.”
“Oh Christ,” Bébhinn whispered, “I need to go and lie down for a bit.”
“You’re driving me to school,” Moran protested, then she paused for a second when Harry and Bébhinn’s eyes both snapped onto her. “Okay yeah, I see how that sounded bad.”
“I’ll drive you, I don’t mind driving,” Harry volunteered. “Are you going to be alright here by yourself?” Harry addressed this to Bébhinn, who had pulled her top back down and was now shivering a little bit, her feet bare on the cold floor. She looked utterly different from her sister, all pale hair and long limbs, in direct contrast to Moran’s sturdy frame and the hair so dark it looked as though she’d dyed it, so dark it seemed like something that couldn’t ever occur naturally.
“Mallaidh’s got to be around here somewhere,” she replied dazedly, “If you see her on your way out will you send her in to me?”
“Yeah,” Harry said, “Of course.” She seemed unusually fragile, looking around herself as if this wasn’t really happening. Harry gave in to the urge to pull her into a firm hug, wrapping his arms around her body tightly. She rested her head on his shoulder. “It’ll be alright,” he assured her. “Seriously, it’ll be fine.”
“I’m going to be an aunt,” Moran said happily.
“You’re going to be such a shitty aunt,” Bébhinn said, “I’m not letting you near this poor child.” Her mouth was crushed against the collar of Harry’s soft shirt.
“Right,” he said, aiming for rallying but possibly just achieving stern. “Moran, get your shit together and then we’ll go. Bébh, you go back to bed and I’ll come check on you as soon as I’m back.”
“I feel like you’re not allowed to order me around,” Moran mused, but headed for the door anyway.
Harry let go of Bébhinn, who shook her head sharply, as if clearing it. “I panicked there for--” She cut off abruptly and tilted her head, listening for something out of the range of Harry’s hearing.
“Guys,” Moran’s voice came shouting from downstairs, “There’s a strange man in our kitchen.” She didn’t sound nearly as put out by that fact as she should be, Harry thought, as he was overtaken by panic.
It had been years since he’d really felt it, but that familiar spike of adrenaline at the merest hint of danger came back to him so quickly it was almost as if it had never left. Harry hurtled down the stairs, his feet thumping loudly on the wood and his hand skimming along the banister. He would probably pay for that later, in splinters. He could hear Bébhinn close behind him.
The kitchen was in chaos, everything that wasn’t tied down or glued down (which happened to be absolutely nothing, obviously) was floating a few feet up in the air. Moran was standing in the middle of it, her steady gaze fixed on Draco Malfoy, who was backed up against the stable door that led out to the herb garden with his hands up. Harry’s mind went red hot with anger and before he knew it his wand was out of the waistband of his trousers, trained on Malfoy, barely even shaking in his outstretched hand.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Harry spat, literally not caring one bit about the answer, thinking instead about how he had managed to get through the wards. Nobody got through the wards. “Get the fuck out of here.”
“Brilliant,” Malfoy drawled, his accent as crisp and clipped as it had ever been. “This is exactly the reception I expected. Thank you, Potter, for being so fucking predictable.”
Harry frowned. “I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about,” he said, seething as Malfoy just slowly rolled his eyes towards the yellow ceiling. There was a leaf caught in his hair, and two bright grass stains on the knees of his grey woollen trousers. “Did you not hear me say get the fuck out, or should I repeat myself?”
“I heard,” Malfoy sighed, plucking a pine needle out of his thick jumper and flicking it disdainfully onto the floor. He seemed unwilling to elaborate.
Harry tightened the grip on his wand. It had been so long. So long since Malfoy, so long since the Battle, so long since he’d used his wand for anything like this, anything confrontational. He felt sick at it, all of it. “Malfoy,” he started, but then stopped when Moran let out a small choked gasp from behind him. Harry turned, minutely, unwilling to take his eyes off of Malfoy for even a second. “What?” he said, and surprised himself at how rough his voice sounded.
“Draco Malfoy,” Moran said, her eyes wide in shock, using that voice she used when she didn’t want to tell someone something. “I forgot to tell you.” Harry watched as all the floating objects wavered in the air for a second, before gently settling right back into their proper places. “This is the guy.”
“What guy?” Harry asked. Malfoy snorted and Harry had to almost physically restrain himself from cursing the smug wanker’s fucking face off.
“The guy,” Moran repeated. “The potions guy.”
“Oh,” Bébhinn said, as if that meant something to her. “The potions guy. I totally forgot about the potions guy. ”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Harry asked them, hating the way his voice sounded like he’d gone back in time several years, back to when he was vicious, every minute of every day, because he’d had to be.
“Alright,” Moran said, “I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to swear in front of me.”
Bébhinn laughed at that, until she was almost breathless, still holding the pregnancy test tightly against her chest. “Shut the fuck up Moran, you swear like a fucking sailor half the time.”
“You are both terrible influences on me,” Moran pointed out, frowning half-heartedly.
“Hey,” Harry said lowly, “Not to bemoan the issue, but can someone tell me what the fuck is going on?”
“You’re using that word incorrectly, Potter. Great to see you’re still just as clever as you were in Hogwarts, which, of course, is to say not at all,” Malfoy said smoothly, now fiddling with the corner of his jumper, apparently totally unconcerned by the entire proceedings.
“Woah,” Moran said, “That’s a bit far isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Harry echoed, “That’s a bit fucking far, Malfoy, you utter fucking piece of shit.”
“That’s also pretty far,” Moran said, apprehensively, “To be totally fair.”
“Well I’m going back to bed,” Bébhinn said, sounding much perkier than she had before, “Make yourself at home Draco. Harry you have like, thirteen minutes to get Moran to school on time.” She turned on her heel and disappeared out of the room with almost no ceremony whatsoever.
“Um,” Harry said, “How about maybe don’t make yourself at home, Malfoy.” Moran snorted and picked up her backpack. “What the fuck is going on?” he asked nobody in particular, not really expecting an answer.
“Oh lower your wand, Potter,” Malfoy sighed, “We all get it, you hate me. And you could hex me if you really wanted but I think everyone here knows you’re not going to.”
“Is that a challenge?” Harry asked, really wanting it to be a fucking challenge. Really wanting any excuse to just curse Malfoy into next week.
“No,” Malfoy said, shaking his head in wonder. “Merlin. Why would that be a challenge?”
“He’s here to do his potions mastery,” Moran said wearily, apparently sick of the bickering going on in their corner of the room. “Some sort of thesis research project, I’m not sure.”
“Why wasn’t I told about this?” Harry asked, which he thought was a perfectly reasonable question. Moran shrugged and made a face.
“Dunno,” she said, “I already said I forgot to tell you. It sounded really boring so I didn’t care.”
“Thanks,” Malfoy said dryly. “School sounds boring. Have a great day.”
“I’m going to have a shit day,” Moran said feelingly. “But I doubt it’ll be any worse than being stuck here with Harry for six hours.”
“Hey,” Harry said, wounded, at the exact same time as Malfoy said touché. “Moran,” Harry continued calmly, nearly managing to ignore Malfoy altogether, “Can I remind you of something?”
“Yep,” Moran said, shoving paper into her school bag, “Go ahead. Actually, is it my chem homework? Because I already know that I forgot to do it. Oh also that reminds me, I’m going to get a detention today so I’ll be home late.”
“It’s not that,” Harry told her, before lowering his wand with considerable effort. “It was just that you’re supposed to be on my side.”
Moran laughed airily. “Harry,” she said, “There are no sides in a Democracy.”
“What?” Harry asked, utterly stumped by that one, “Wait, what? Yes, there are. Who told you there weren’t ?” Malfoy started laughing, quietly, and Harry just really wanted more than anything to punch him right in the neck.
“Luna,” Moran said, as though it made perfect sense. Which, Harry supposed, it actually did, now.
“She’s wrong,” Harry protested, then quickly rethought the whole lecture he had been ready to give. “Shall we just go, actually? I want to get as far away from this fuck as I possibly can,” he said, nodding his head towards Malfoy.
“Charming,” Malfoy said, “Absolutely charming. ”
“Shut up, yeah?” Harry replied, smiling in a way he knew sometimes scared people. Malfoy did not seem deterred, to Harry’s consternation.
“Who’s in charge around here?” Malfoy asked, straightening a little now he didn’t have a wand pointed at his throat. He folded his arms, and his white hair glinted suddenly and sharply in the sunlight streaming through the half-open door.
“Nobody’s in charge,” Harry sighed, suddenly incredibly tired.
“Actually,” Moran contradicted, “Technically Mallaidh’s in charge. But she’s out so you’ll just have to hang around until she gets back.”
“Alright,” Malfoy said slowly, “Could you point me to my quarters?”
Moran burst out laughing, and even Harry managed to crack a slightly mean smile when he saw Malfoy’s cheeks stain a deep red. “Quarters,” she said, “This is fucking priceless. This isn’t a fucking ship. ”
“I’ll take that as a no,” Malfoy muttered.
“Take it however you want,” Harry told him, “Stay in here and don’t touch anything.”
“I’m making myself a cup of tea,” Malfoy warned him.
“You know how to do that?” Harry retorted. Malfoy didn’t reply, just pulled out one of the wooden chairs and sat down at the paint-splattered kitchen table, looking with disgust at the remains of Moran’s breakfast, and at the sewing machine Harry had been using to mend a pair of his jeans, and the knives Mallaidh had been sharpening but just left out as if Harry wouldn’t eventually forget they were there and cut himself on them.
“Harry we now have six minutes to get me to school,” Moran reminded him from the doorway, “So can you stop watching him suspiciously and come and turn a seventeen-minute journey into a five-minute one?”
Harry slammed the door of the dark blue jeep closed, determined to use this small amount of time not to think about Malfoy, before he arrived home and had to not only think about him, but also look at him, and inevitably talk to him. He grabbed the car keys from where Bébhinn always left them behind the steering wheel, rifling through several empty Tayto packets before he found them.
“So,” Moran said, from the seat next to him, as she arranged her skirt around her knees. “Old friend?”
Harry laughed, once, shortly, before he said “I don’t really want to talk about it.”
Moran grumbled for a second and sounded as though she had something else to say about the matter, until she caught sight of the clock on the dashboard light up as Harry turned the car on.
“Oh fuck me,” she said, “I’m so late.”
Harry glanced over at the red digits. Her school started at quarter to nine, and it was twenty-three minutes to now. “Yeah,” he said, and grimaced. “Sorry about that.”
“I’m not repeating this year,” Moran said decidedly, “I’m not spending one more year in that fucking hell-hole.”
Harry snorted. “It can’t be that bad,” he said, looking over his shoulder as he reversed the car around the front of the house. His teeth started chattering as they bumped their way down the pothole-riddled driveway through the forest.
“Go as fast as you can without getting us into a crash,” Moran advised. “And it is that bad. The other day some guy in my class tried to make fun of me because I didn’t have a mobile phone. A mobile phone.”
“Wow,” Harry said, raising his eyebrows, definitely not bringing up the fact that that sounded like a fucking holiday compared to most of the stuff he got up to when he was at school. “Sorry about that.”
“You’re making fun, aren’t you?” Moran asked suspiciously. “That’s not very nice.”
“I’m not making fun,” Harry protested. “It just sounds really ridiculous.”
“Yeah,” Moran said slowly, “I know it sounds ridiculous. That’s why I’m telling you. Everyone’s so weird. That guy especially, but also everyone.”
“Just don’t talk to him,” Harry suggested.
“Brilliant idea Harry,” she replied, “It was already the plan, but it’s good to know that when you’re going to ignore another person entirely that it has at least one other person’s approval.”
Harry laughed. “You’re in your last year. It’s literally a matter of months before you never have to talk to any of those people again if you don’t want to.”
“I won’t want to,” Moran muttered darkly, then brightened considerably when she said “Shall we talk about your problem now, since I think we’ve just about covered the fact that I’m utterly friendless.”
“What’s my problem?” Harry said, because she’d caught him off guard at a junction where he really had to concentrate, so he wasn’t listening as well as he should have been.
“The one sitting in our house,” Moran elaborated. “Pale and blonde, not unlike my sister. Also mean, not unlike my sister.”
“Malfoy isn’t a problem,” Harry grunted, wrenching the car into a higher gear. It felt as though it was on the very verge of breaking down completely. “He’s a non-issue. And Bébh isn't mean.”
“Good word,” Moran said approvingly, “But he didn’t seem like a non-issue when you were pointing your wand at his face.”
“Yeah,” Harry sighed, “Well he caught me off guard.”
“What was that?” he accused, glancing over at her.
“What was what?” she replied innocently.
“That noise. That hm.”
“Oh,” Moran said, “It just--” she clucked her tongue and cut off, as if searching for the right way to put it. Harry sat there and waited, warily, because it wasn’t as though he could escape. Being as though they were in a moving vehicle. “It just seemed like a pretty strong reaction. Not really a caught off guard reaction, more of a die now or I’ll make you reaction.”
Harry snorted. “It was maybe both,” he admitted. “Malfoy and I were on pretty bad terms when I was at school.”
“You never talk about your school,” Moran said, “Does this mean you’re going to start?”
Harry was silent. It was just that it made him so sad sometimes, thinking about what his life used to be like before the war, before he had killed people, before he started having dreams every night that used to bleed into his waking hours, before he started flinching every time a wand was raised in the wrong way or at the wrong angle and he’d find himself back there. Surrounded by Death Eaters in the crumbled remains of Hogwarts. He shook his head sharply. “Do you want me to tell you something about when I was at school?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Moran said eagerly, turning to him. “Can you tell me about the ghosts? I can’t believe I’ve been alive for eighteen years and have never seen a ghost before. Does that sound fair to you?”
“Every house had one,” Harry said, “Like, they used to come and say hello at the feast of the beginning of the year.”
“What,” Moran laughed, “That is wild. What was your ghost like?”
“His name was Nearly-headless Nick,” Harry told her, utterly expecting the peal of laughter he got in response. “And he was nearly-headless.”
“Yeah,” Moran said, breathlessly. “I got that bit. What the fuck.”
“He was quite nice actually,” Harry said, and then got a little bit sad when he realised he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen him.
“He sounds lovely,” Moran said, “He sounds brilliant. He sounds like he’d have the best fucking stories.”
Harry squeezed his eyes shut for a second, before opening them again and wincing for a second at the harsh light. “I don’t know,” he said, “We’re almost there.”
“Right,” Moran said, looking at him oddly, he could feel it, right at the back of his neck. “Are you picking me up? Or will Bébhinn be here?”
“Oh my God,” Harry said, widening his eyes. “I forgot about Bébhinn. She’s fucking pregnant.”
“I know,” Moran agreed, “It’s ridiculous. We’ll never hear the end of it.”
“I can’t believe I let Malfoy distract me from the fact that your sister is somehow now pregnant,” Harry lamented, shaking his head. “What a prick.”
“Ah,” Moran said, through a wide smile. “This is going to be brilliant. I’m genuinely angry that I have to go to school and miss out on all the fun. Do you think you could persuade Bébh to tell Mallaidh about the baby once I’m back?”
“Probably not,” Harry said apologetically, pulling up to the front of Moran’s school, a tall, grey building that apparently used to be a nunnery. It looked like it, Harry thought, all imposing and supposed-to-put-the-fear-of-god-into-you . “I’ll tell you all about it though. And I don’t know who’s going to be here this eve, but someone will I’m sure.”
“Ugh,” Moran said, getting out of the car and hiking her backpack onto her shoulder. “I’m jealous. School’s the worst.”
“Someone’s got to go to college, honey,” Harry said, and then grinned when she put up her middle finger.
“Fuck you. Don’t quote Blue Crush at me as if it’ll make me feel better,” Moran responded, unable to keep a smile off her face. “Have a great day with the potions nerd,” she called over her shoulder, walking backwards towards the building with her finger still extended.
Harry was about to put the car back in gear when he heard a knock at his window. “Forget something?” he asked, rolling it down.
“No,” she said, “I just realised that it might have seemed like I was making light of the fact you’re upset about that guy being here.”
“Oh,” Harry said, “It’s--” He stopped talking and blinked.
“It’s not,” Moran said, and her face looked serious, “I’ve never seen you like that before.”
“Sorry,” Harry said, before he could take it back.
She laughed. “It’s not something you have to be sorry for. I just… I don’t know. You seemed scared.”
Harry put his hands in his lap, slowly, and clasped them together as if they weren’t shaking. “Only for a second,” he admitted.
Moran thumped her forehead on the door of the car, gently, then looked at him again. “I thought it was funny and I’m starting to see that it’s really not.”
“No,” Harry agreed. “But it’s alright, I think we all reacted badly.”
“What did he do?” she asked.
And Harry didn’t think she would appreciate being told the whole answer so he said “We were on opposite sides, during the war” and watched her eyes get bigger and her eyebrows raise and her forehead wrinkle in shock.
“Are you okay?”
I have to be, Harry wanted to say, I have to be, I’ve always had to be, I always am, but it was kind of a lie. “Dunno,” he lied, echoing her words from earlier, “I suppose we’ll see.”
Harry wanted to cry after she'd gone but couldn’t because he had to be able to see to drive home. Instead he just sat there for a second and thought about how he had been keeping himself so safe out here, in the wilderness, with the animals and the sea and the mountains, and how all of it might just be lost now. Made unsafe by the appearance of an unsafe person. And also about the way that his heart had beat faster when he'd seen that shock of blonde hair, and how the muscles in his arm had remembered how to threaten someone with a wand, and how his body was flooded with a hatred he'd mostly forgotten and now wanted to forget again. He'd felt helpless, uncontrollable, wild. He felt like that now, even, and was so worried it would somehow become a permanent state that he was having difficulty breathing. He put his head onto the steering wheel and tried to think about the way Hermione's voice sounded when she read out loud from a book, soothing and clear and familiar. It had always calmed him down and it did the trick now, sort of, and Harry pressed his forehead against the leather with his heart thudding in his chest for a long time, until a car beeped from behind and forced him into movement.
Draco sat at the kitchen table and bemoaned the fact that this was where his life had ended up. Which was the correct usage of the term. He made a mental note to tell Potter about it as soon as he got back from dropping a strange teenager off at school. It had been five years since they’d seen each other last, since Potter had spoken at Draco’s trial quite without either his approval or foreknowledge, and Potter hadn’t become any less weird in all that time, apparently. Draco couldn’t even imagine what had brought him all the way out here in the first place, to a strange country and strange women. Draco tried to picture Potter turning up here in the middle of nowhere, and what the inhabitants of this house must have thought when they’d seen The Boy Who Lived on their doorstep, and why they’d allowed him to stay. It confused him, all of it, and since Draco had never taken very well to being confused, he decided to stop thinking about it.
Draco yawned widely and stretched out a cramp in the base of his neck, the one he always got after across-seas Portkey travel. He ran a hand through his hair, smoothing it down a little, and was dismayed when he found a leaf that had apparently been there the entire time he’d been talking to Potter, making a fool of him.
Draco frowned at the crisp, brown foliage and rested it gently on the table in front of him. The journey up here had been absolutely ridiculous and Draco had never experienced anything like it in his entire life. The Portkey had dropped him off in some sort of abandoned laneway, where grass was growing tall in the wheel-ruts and the hawthorn in the hedgerows obscured any view there might otherwise have been. Trees had been growing a little further back, old and gnarled, and they’d reached across the road to touch one another, forming an arch over his head. The light that had filtered in had been green and pale and watery. Draco had looked one way down the road, and then the other, utterly unsure of which way to turn. Eventually he had just sort of tossed a mental coin and turned right, picking his way gingerly over large puddles and through patches of thick nettles, tiny bugs floating around his face silently.
He had reached a well after a while, obscured by rushes and surrounded by a thick cloud of midges, and as he stooped to look inside it he caught sight of a flash of yellow, glimpsed through a gap in the trees. He had straightened, maneuvering himself around for a better look, and a thorn had caught in his jumper, scratching a long red mark into his neck. Wincing, Draco had peered through the leaves to see an ivy-covered house in the distance with a bright yellow door, right on the edge of a dark forest of pine trees and sycamore trees and oak trees. He was in a valley, Draco realised, deep and wide, and the track cut right through the middle of it like a river. Reluctantly, Draco had been forced to accept the fact that there was no path leading up to the house, and also that the said house might not even be the one he was aiming for. Determinedly, though, since it was his best option, he had cut through the foliage until a gap had appeared, big enough for him to climb through. It had been humiliating, and all Draco could think as he crawled on the floor like a bloody house-elf was that he was just lucky there had been nobody around to see it.
He had arrived at the house, slightly dishevelled and very out of breath, bemoaning the fact that maybe he wasn’t quite as fit as he’d used to be. Which was another correct usage of the word, and another point in Draco’s favour as far as he was concerned. The house wasn’t quite a ruin, but it wasn’t in brilliant condition either, Draco had realised, as he’d stood at the front door, in between that and the huge pond that was filled to the brim with giant lily pads. He had looked up, at the ivy trailing around the huge windows, and the chipped paint on the doorframe, at the weeds growing in the gutter, at the grey stone. It was a shameful way to treat a house such as this one, Draco thought sadly, one that could be so lovely with a little care and a little money invested into the upkeep.
He’d knocked firmly on the front door, and the paint had felt sort of sticky against his knuckles. When there had been no reply he had walked around the side, past the bay windows at the front that were wide open, past a closed side door that wouldn’t budge when he’d tried it, down a tiny path through a tidy herb garden to the back door, the bottom half shut and the top half swinging outwards loosely, the scent of roses in the air. He had pushed it open, calling out into the echoing kitchen, and the next thing he knew a young witch was wandlessly levitating everything the room except him, and a wild-looking Harry Potter had emerged from somewhere and started flinging threats all over the place. It had been a tiring morning, and as Draco folded his arms on the table to rest his forehead on top of them, he thought he could probably go to sleep right where he was.
Draco had been dozing lightly for a few minutes and listening out for the sound of a car returning, the warm sunlight on the side of his face making him sleepy and at ease, before he heard someone say a quiet “Hello,” and he jerked upright. There was a woman standing in front of him surrounded by dogs, tall and dark skinned and beautiful, and she was looking at him curiously. “Are you Draco?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, wriggling his shoulders a little and trying not to yawn. He held a hand out for her to shake, which she did, firmly. “Draco Malfoy, you must be Mallaidh?”
She nodded and rubbed a finger over her lip. “I’m sorry I didn’t send someone to get you at the Portkey drop-off,” she said apologetically, “I forgot that today was supposed to be the day you were coming, to be perfectly honest.”
“Oh,” Draco said, “It’s alright,” even though it had actually been quite a large inconvenience.
“You got past the wards okay?” she asked. Draco frowned.
“I hadn’t even noticed coming through any,” he admitted, because he hadn’t, had pretty much just assumed there weren’t any at all.
“I had Bébhinn change them as soon as I found out you were coming,” she said, with a smile that Draco literally could not help returning, “I knew I’d forget otherwise.”
One of the dogs started to edge towards him and Mallaidh clicked her tongue against her teeth disapprovingly. It sat back down again, thumping its tail against the dark wooden floorboards.
“He thinks you have food,” she told Draco, who thought maybe that he hadn’t woken up after all, that maybe he was still dreaming right now.
“I don’t,” he said, after a slight pause.
“Hm,” she said, “Have you had breakfast?”
“Yes,” Draco told her, bewildered.
“Good,” she said seriously, “I hope it was a big one.” It had been porridge, actually, but Draco was a little afraid to tell her that.
“Um,” he said instead, totally forgetting his manners. “This is a lovely house, I like the colours you’ve picked.” They both looked around the kitchen for a second, as if reminding themselves of what it looked like. Draco hadn’t been lying when he’d said that, actually, because the kitchen was lovely, if in a state of disrepair, much like the outside of the house. It was bright and airy, with huge windows on two sides and a view of the forest to the back, a little glimpse of the steep valley below them to the left. There were potted plants everywhere, and dried herbs hanging from the ceiling, and copper pans piled onto shelves beside the kitchen sink. There was a cookbook on every single flat surface Draco could see, there was more crockery than four people could use in an entire lifetime, and there were colourful drawings stuck to the red refrigerator with what looked like little buttons, the kind of colourful drawings that a child might do. It was utterly different from the house he himself had grown up in and Draco for a split second envied the person who had spent their childhood here, surrounded by this warm clutter.
“Thanks,” Mallaidh said, and Draco had almost forgotten she was there. “It belonged to my parents.”
“Oh,” he said. Belonged. The past tense was never a pleasant one. “I’m sorry.”
She sighed, “They just moved away, but thanks anyway.” One of the dogs started moving for Draco again, and he held his hand out before she could call it back.
“Do you mind?” he asked, when it started licking his hand. “What’s your name?” he said to the dog, smiling when it’s tongue got sort of trapped outside its mouth and turned into a very long, slow lick.
“Dagda,” Mallaidh said, “Like the god. Moran named her.”
“It’s a lovely name,” Draco said, staring down at the black and white face looking up at him eagerly. “What breed is she?”
“Border Collie,” she replied, “She’s a sheep herder.”
“Really?” Draco asked, pleasantly surprised for no real reason. “You have a job,” he told the dog. “ I don’t even have a job.”
“You can come and watch her do it sometime,” Mallaidh suggested, “A lot of the farmers around here never really bother training sheepdogs anymore, so she gets a lot of business.”
“Do they all do it?” Draco asked, oddly touched by the offer, glancing across at the other four dogs lying at her feet.
“Yeah,” she said, looking down at them fondly, her eyes softening. “They make themselves useful.” Draco was struck with the distinct impression that the five dogs would be here even if they didn’t make themselves useful. “So you’re doing your potions mastery,” she said, changing the subject, her voice firming again. “It’s your last year?”
“Yes,” Draco said, grimacing. “Year five.”
“God,” she said feelingly, “That’s forever.”
“It’s been a long time, yes,” Draco said, laughing a bit, “But it’s almost over. A couple of months of research and then I get three months to write the actual paper at the end.”
“Well,” she said, “We’re happy to have you with us. I think we should wait to go over scheduling stuff until everyone else arrives home, though, just so you don’t have to explain it over and over. Because I don’t know what exactly you’ll want to do and it’ll be good to get everyone’s suggestions for things we should show you.”
“Alright,” Draco said, ready to agree to pretty much anything after the morning he’d had. “I think… I’m sorry, I don’t know her name, but the woman who wasn’t going to school, she’s still here.”
“Bébhinn? Is she?” Mallaidh said, looking upwards to the ceiling, as if she could see through it. “Huh.”
“Can I ask where I’ll be staying?” Draco ventured, after a few moments of silence. Mallaidh snapped her gaze back to his.
“Of course,” she replied.
They made their way through the house slowly, the dogs padding behind them, Mallaidh pointing to closed doors and quietly telling Draco what the rooms were used for. Uses he promptly forgot all about since there were about a thousand rooms in this house. He peeped inside the downstairs bathroom on his way past, the only door that had been open so far. It was filled with plants, just like the kitchen, hanging off the dark green walls and from the shower rail. There was a claw foot tub painted in black and red patterns, and white tiles on the floor that Draco could almost feel against his feet.
They went up a flight of stairs to the first floor, lit in golden sunshine from the windows in the stairwell. Draco peered down the hallway and caught sight of a window seat with a buttery yellow cushion, and several stacks of books on the floor beside it. All through the house were these chipped floorboards, rounded at the middle like they’d been worn down over the years. Mallaidh pushed open a door and went up another flight of stairs, this one darker and a little more rickety, without even a handrail to hold on to. At the very top she put her entire weight against a white wooden door and shoved hard, spilling inside when it burst open. This room was paler than all the others he’d seen, with sporadically dusty floors as though only certain spots had been swept, and three double beds scattered haphazardly throughout the room. It was the attic, Draco realised, with its high walls and sloping roof, converted into a huge bedroom, filled with antique looking armchairs, and about five writing desks, and several expensive-looking patterned rugs.
“This is you,” she said, “I hope you don’t mind sharing.”
Draco’s stomach sank, and he shook his head but the truth was he did mind sharing if it was going to be with Harry Potter. He inspected the bed farthest away from the door, piled high with knitted blankets like the ones Draco had seen in Luna and Ginny’s apartment. There was a Quidditch broom lying on the ground, battered and old and looking it as though it had been very well used and not treated with the appropriate amount of care. Draco picked a book up off the floor and absently read the title. It was Muggle, he didn’t recognise it. All of a sudden Draco could imagine Potter in this draughty room by himself, reading Muggle books in a space meant for ten people, and he felt overwhelmingly sad for a split second before mentally rolling his eyes and brushing it off.
“No, this is fine,” he said, and made his way back over to the door, past the furniture and over the rugs, before setting his shrunken bag down on the bare cover of the bed furthest from Potter’s. There was a skylight directly over where his pillow would go, and Draco leaned over until he could see the blue sky and the occasional tree branch waving overhead. “Where can I find the laundry cupboard?” he asked, looking around the room and happening across nothing of the sort.
Mallaidh shrugged apologetically. “You’ll have to ask Harry about that I’m afraid, he does all the washing and there’s some sort of system to it now that I don’t really understand. Or Bébhinn might know, actually, but I think she’s probably asleep right now.”
“Right,” Draco said weakly, and sank onto the bed. He had been hoping in a vague sort of manner that there might be some way to get out of talking to Potter, unless it was possibly a life or death situation. Apparently that wasn’t going to be the case. “That’s fine.”
“I’ll get out of your hair,” Mallaidh said, “When Harry gets back will you ask him to come and find me? The vet wants to see him. You can come as well actually, it might be good for your research.”
Draco agreed, nodding his head, unable to talk. When Mallaidh was gone, after disappearing down the stairs and shutting the door gently behind her, he allowed himself to curse Luna just a little bit, just the tiniest bit. She had assured him that this would be easy, that Potter was much more quiet now than he used to be, that he would probably barely even notice Draco in the first place. He didn’t know if she had been lying or if she’d genuinely not known, but it was clear to Draco that while Potter may have changed, in one respect he had stayed exactly the same. His hatred of Draco was exactly on par with how it used to be, and Draco’s shoulders crumpled a little at the idea of living here for three months in the same room as Potter, being able to sense disdain pouring off him in waves every time Draco walked into a room. It wasn’t a pleasant thought and it almost had Draco giving up. Almost had him heading down to the owlery to order a Portkey out of there, back to his peaceful little flat in London, one with almost no inconvenient plants, and no dust, and no former schoolmates who had once wanted him dead. Still did want him dead, for all Draco knew. Which he could foresee being a problem.
He wouldn’t go back though. He couldn’t. Draco was so fucking close to having the life he had worked so hard for, and he would be fucked if a little inconvenience like Harry Potter was going to ruin everything all over again.