“Are you listening to a word I’m saying?” Draco demands, and there’s an edge to his tone that pulls Harry’s attention away from his languid examination of the pattern on his empty cup.
“Yeah, of course I am,” he lies, stretching and smiling at Draco from the second best chair by the fire.
Draco arches an eyebrow. “Oh, really? What did I just say to you?”
Harry fidgets, attempting to pull the answer out of thin air and succeeding only in waking Stanley, who has for the past hour or so been sleeping nicely on Harry’s legs. He tacks loudly, flaps his wings and tumbles to the floor with a thomp. Harry leans down and sets him back onto his feet.
“You were saying that the homework was bad. Really bad,” he says triumphantly, but Draco just rolls his eyes.
“Well, isn’t that delightfully vague,” he sighs, throwing down his quill and raking both hands through his hair. “I’m fairly certain I’ve been saying that in various ways for what feels like the entire afternoon. Why are you looking at me like that?”
“No reason,” Harry lies again, looking at Draco’s dishevelled hair and cross expression and deciding to keep his smile and his fingers to himself. At least for now. “Is it really that bad?”
“Harry, it is abominable. It is woeful. It is so ridiculously, egregiously terrible that I’m starting to think the entire class is playing a trick on me,” Draco says, leafing through the parchments in front of him, expression flickering between rage, confusion and despair.
“Is that likely?” Harry asks, making a face at the window where the rain is now hammering against it with such force that the outside world is no longer visible.
“They are children, Harry, anything is possible.” Draco yanks a parchment from the stack and waves it in Harry’s direction. The movement draws a tack from Stanley and he hops to be picked up again. “Listen to this – ‘Kearn’s second law of energy conservation teaches us that larger mammals must not be poked with sharp objects prior to transfiguration, lest they explode’.”
“‘Lest’?” Harry laughs, picking Stanley up. “Lest they explode?”
Draco drops the parchment and leans back in his chair. “That’s the part you would focus on? Not the sharp objects and the exploding mammals?”
Harry shrugs. Suddenly feeling devilish, he blinks at Draco in feigned innocence.
“I don’t know. Will they explode, Professor Malfoy?”
Draco takes a long, slow breath and turns back to his work without a word. Harry grins. And waits.
For several minutes, the room is silent but for the savage scratching of Draco’s quill and the crackling of the fire. Harry strokes Stanley’s shell and watches the rain, willing it to slow at least from deluge to shower so that he can round up the Gryffindor Quidditch team and get them in the air for some practise. The last few days have been awash with rain and gale force winds, and as Sunday afternoon creeps on, he is more and more aware that there remains less than a week until their game with Slytherin.
He knows he has Draco to thank for pulling the team together when he was lying immobile in the hospital wing, but he also knows that Draco will have no mercy on him should the Slytherin team triumph. Apart from any amount of teasing, he is pretty sure that he has agreed to bath Stanley for a month if his team loses. Not that he minds bathing the little bugger, but it’s about honour, and a little bit about teaching people who make bets when other people are mostly asleep a bit of a lesson.
“Do you really think I’m in the business of teaching children to blow up animals?” Draco says suddenly, the words coming out in a rush as though he’s been fighting to keep them in.
“Yes, Draco,” Harry says calmly. He sets Stanley on the carpet and prods him gently with his foot in the direction of the table. “Why don’t you go and help?”
Tack-tack-tack! Stanley clicks, scuttling to Draco with enthusiasm. He navigates the piles of books and parchments in his usual fashion, scrambling over anything in his way and knocking small items flying as he goes.
Draco watches wearily as the beetle knocks over an open ink pot, sending dark green ink flowing in spidery tributaries all over a stack of empty parchments.
“Just because you can’t go outside doesn’t mean you have to create havoc inside,” Draco says, and Harry isn’t sure which of them he’s speaking to so he just stays quiet and watches Draco vanish the ink. “Bad beetle,” he adds after a moment.
Draco picks up another set of parchments and settles back into his red armchair. After a moment, his brow furrows and he reaches for his red ink. Idly, Harry gazes at the other, rarely-used pots of ink that dot the floor around Draco’s chair. All the pots are almost full, and he has green, blue, black, and even a rich sort of purple that glows warmly in the light from the fire. Amused, Harry thinks of the chewed ballpoint pen that sits in his jacket pocket and creates the spidery handwriting that makes Draco want to murder him a little bit.
When Stanley bumps against his legs, he glances down at him and has to stifle a sound of surprise. Chewing on his lip, Harry lets his eyes drift over Draco’s stack of blank parchments, the carpet, and the front cover of Intermediate Transfiguration (volume two), all of which are strewn with tiny, green beetle footprints.
“Stanley!” he mouths silently, and the beetle swishes triumphant antennae through the air.
He glances at Draco, relieved to see that he is still scribbling and muttering to himself, and then turns back to Stanley, not quite in time to prevent him from scrambling onto his lap and covering his favourite old jeans with little green footprints.
“You little horror,” he whispers, but any attempt at crossness is swept away by the blindingly obvious pride that is making Stanley almost vibrate in his lap, the shiny little eyes and the soft, rhythmic tacking that is loud enough only for Harry to hear. He can’t help feeling that Stanley is thrilled with his efforts and that already, Harry has been selected as co-conspirator. Of course, he wonders if perhaps he shouldn’t aggravate Draco when he’s already so livid about the homework… but at the same time, he’s learned that being aggravated is sometimes exactly what Draco needs.
Tack-tack, Stanley clicks, bumping against his chest, and Harry can almost hear him saying, ‘Come on, come on, let’s do some things!’
He holds Stanley still and looks around, waiting for inspiration to hit him. His eyes settle on Draco’s inkpots and he smiles. Putting a finger to his lips, he reaches for his wand and slides lower in his chair, letting his arm drop and casting as carefully as he can. He holds his breath, waiting for Draco to look up and ask him what the actual fuck he is doing, but as the lids slowly unscrew themselves from the pots, his eyes don’t leave his marking.
“I ought to set the lot on fire and have done with it,” he mumbles, apparently to himself.
Harry holds onto his spell, smile turning into a grin. He thinks that between them, he and Stanley might be able to go one better. Finally, he ends the spell, leaving the lids fully loosened but resting gently on top of their jars. Letting out his breath, he hides his wand and lowers a squirming Stanley to the floor.
“Off you go, then,” he whispers, pulse speeding in anticipation. “You know what to do.”
Stanley trundles towards the jars with purpose, knocking off the lids with his antennae and bumping into the glass jars one by one, each hitting the carpet with a soft thud-swoosh gentle enough to evade Draco’s attention completely and leaving Harry free to watch with delight as Stanley capers back and forth in a multicoloured ocean of ink.
He scuttles back and forth in pure joy, spinning in circles and skidding from one end of the hearth to the other, tacking quietly but almost continuously as he skitters onto a sheet of parchment, decorating it with blue and purple footprints. Apparently thrilled with this achievement, he runs back to the point where the four colours have swirled together and then scuttles back onto the parchment at speed. When he looks up at Harry and flaps happily, he covers his laughter with the back of his hand and knocks several of the horrendous essays into the beetle’s path. When Stanley immediately resumes his splashing and printing, Harry allows his inevitable twinge of guilt to be washed away in the rebellious rush of it. If Sunday afternoons can’t be for Quidditch, they should at least be for mischief.
Stanley runs onto another page of homework, creating an impressive swirling pattern by turning in chaotic circles, and it takes a moment for Harry to realise that he has managed to step in blue ink with his left three legs and green with his right.
“Good job,” he whispers, impressed by the coordination on display.
Stanley jumps, flaps his wings and lets out a resounding TACK.
Draco looks up, startled.
Harry closes his eyes. When nothing happens, he opens just one and finds Draco staring down at the inky chaos on the floor with a staggered expression.
Tack tack tack! Stanley says, and climbs up onto Draco’s lap. Slowly, Draco looks at him, at the waving antennae and the ink-spotted shell and the little multicoloured footprints all over his trousers.
“What in the name of all that is holy have you done, you… you devil beetle?” Draco demands, and this time, Harry can’t quite stop himself from laughing out loud. Draco’s eyes snap to him. “Have you been here this whole time?”
“Erm… yes, I suppose I have,” Harry says, attempting to look surprised by this fact.
“Are those my essays?” Draco asks, dislodging Stanley and picking up several inky pieces of parchment. He stares at them, horrified, and then at the floor, and then at Harry.
“They were,” Harry says brightly, taking them from Draco. “Now they’re art.”
“Art?” Draco repeats, pushing his hair out of his eyes and managing to smear purple ink across his temple. “Why would you… hold on… how did he open the…”
He pauses, frowning, and Harry ducks behind the arm of his chair just in time to miss the Stinging Hex that Draco throws with impressive speed.
“You opened the bottles.”
“I loosened them,” Harry corrects. “Stanley wanted to be an artist and he needed some help. Everything else he did all by himself.”
Draco blinks. At last he looks properly at the parchments in Harry’s hands, the ones scattered across the floor, and then at Stanley, who is hiding underneath the coffee table looking uncharacteristically subdued.
“Well, Stanley,” he says after a moment, “I think you’re rather talented.”
Harry grins at him, flooded with love for both of them, and watches as Draco retrieves some mint from the tea cupboard and lures Stanley out. He picks up the beetle, barely seeming to notice the inky smudges on his clothes, and looks over the decorated parchments on the floor.
“We should display your work,” he says, smiling when he sees that Harry is already piecing the sheets together with a spell.
“Over here?” Harry asks, indicating the wall where Rosa’s picture of Draco, Professor McGonagall’s Christmas card and his own drawing of Stanley hang in pride of place.
Draco nods. “Would you like some paints, Stanley? And a canvas, perhaps?”
“You say that like you think those essays are going to get any better,” Harry laughs, sticking Stanley’s masterpiece to the wall.
“They will,” Draco says grimly, but he sets Stanley down and gathers up the rest of the homework parchments. “I think it’s better to destroy all of these if I want to keep teaching.”
“At all,” Draco says, and he throws the lot into the fire. “As for you,” he says, turning to Harry, “My inks are from Scriveners—I’ll make you a list. And the next time you try that, I will let Stanley paint all over you.”
“Sounds like a very weird promise,” Harry says, grabbing Draco by the wrist and yanking them both into the red armchair.
Draco sighs and curls up, half beside him and half on top of him, resting his head on Harry’s shoulder.
“You’re a nightmare, do you know that?”
Harry says nothing, just presses his face to Draco’s neck and inhales the warm, Sunday afternoon scents of tea and lemons and lots and lots of ink. Never one to be excluded, Stanley clambers up and insinuates himself between them with a lot of contented tacking.
“I’ll clean the floor in a minute,” Harry says, suddenly feeling sleepy and not like playing Quidditch at all. The drum of the rain against the window has become soothing somehow, and he can’t think why he would want to be anywhere else.
“You can give Stanley a bath, too,” Draco mumbles.
“Okay,” Harry says easily.
“It’ll be good practise for when you lose the match next week.”
Harry opens his mouth to retort but Draco is already kissing him, and he thinks he’ll leave it alone.