The Manor hadn’t changed much since the war. The walks were a little more unkempt, and no one came to answer the front door, so Harry had to go round the house trying doors, all of which refused to open for him. One of them, with a gargoyle holding the knocker in its mouth, scowled and tried to bite his fingers. “Mather ith in the workshop,” it hissed at him. Harry turned and spotted a thin line of smoke going up in the back of the property. He had to go through the formal gardens and make it past a hedge gauntlet before he finally found the place, an old stable.
He pushed the big door open and stepped into the dim dusty space, a cavernous hayloft overhead and empty stalls on either side. There were noises coming from deeper in. His footsteps thudded on the wood planks as he walked around the corner and came into an open space that had probably been a smithy once: there was still an anvil and bellows and a giant furnace full of coals.
Draco was there, doing something to the innards of an enormous old grandfather clock, its opened-up face like an angry moon and a mouth shut tight. It glared at Harry as he came close. “Potter,” Draco said over his shoulder. “To what do I owe the pleasure? An accusation of Dark magic practices this time, or is it just another civil suit? You’d think people would have given up by now.”
Harry would’ve given a lot to be here with a writ. He had one last try at convincing himself he didn’t have to do this. Malfoy’s clothes made no concessions to the work: he was wearing a long black leather coat embossed with silver over a white shirt, a full cravat at the neck, and matching boots that came over the knee. He looked like the definition of a dilettante.
“Maughren Lane said I should come to you,” Harry said reluctantly.
“Mm,” Draco said, without looking round. His hand kept moving: he looked like he was waving the tip of his wand back and forth over a couple of the gears. “In the habit of taking his advice, are you?”
“So did Philemona, D’Artois, and Borgin.” So had a lot of other people: Harry had gone to lengths before gritting his teeth and coming.
“It’s always nice to have the respect of one’s peers,” Draco said. He made a sudden rapid twisting jerk of his arm, a flash of red light and a bang: Harry’s hand was on his wand, instinctively. Then Draco put down the wand and shut the clock face up again. “Now let’s see,” he said to the clock, which scowled at him, too, but then spun its hands round and round until it hit noon. Suddenly it opened its mouth and a golden bird flew out, singing, flew in a circle round the whole clock, whose eyes followed it, and then darted back inside. The clock shut its mouth, now beaming.
Draco turned round, wiping his hands clean—on a silk handkerchief—and leaned against the workbench. “And what did they say you should see me about?”
Harry slung down the sack from his shoulder, turned it upside down on the ground and stretched the mouth wide, then pulled it straight up and up and up until the whole iron gate was uncovered, held between its two stone posts. Draco came off the bench and towards it at once, his eyes narrow and glittering, and put his hands on it lightly, going all round, touching the carvings in the posts, running his fingers over the ends of the twisted and bent ironwork. “Seventh century, the Vigilant Smith’s circle for certain, quite possibly by her own hand,” he said. “I’ll need to examine the secondary aurae to be certain. Where did you dig this up? Her work doesn’t normally turn up outside Finland, and I follow all the auctions.”
“It did turn up in Finland. A Dark witch tried to use it in a ritual there on the solstice,” Harry said. “We’re not sure what she was doing exactly, we think she was trying to open a portal to somewhere—”
“Oh, ‘open a portal to somewhere,’” Draco mimicked in an irritating whine. “What did you think, she wanted to use it to go on holiday? She was trying to raise the dead, obviously.”
“What? How do you know that?” Some of the other experts had mentioned the Vigilant Smith before, but none of them had suggested that.
Draco crooked a finger at the ceiling, and one of the lights high above floated down, shrinking into a tiny blazing-bright ball. He brought it over to the topmost iron bar over the gate. It was bent nearly double and blackened with smoke, but in the bright light Harry could just see there were worn-down runes etched faintly into the metal. “The Vigilant’s gates go to the land of the dead, Potter. Someone who translated the inscriptions literally would undoubtedly get the incorrect idea that they could bring the dead out of them. It’s just the sort of stupid mistake an incompetent Dark witch would make.”
“What makes you think she was incompetent?”
“She got caught trying, didn’t she?” Draco said. “How do you come into a Finnish investigation?”
Harry said slowly, “She died in the spell she was casting, so they couldn’t question her about what she was doing. But when they went through her things, they found—a lot of stuff of Voldemort’s.” Draco stiffened. “Bits of magical things he made, letters he wrote, even an old schoolbook.”
“So she was trying to bring the Dark Lord back,” Draco said. “Planning to question him about Dark spells, how he gained power, no doubt. Brilliant. Well, good riddance she’s gone. Pity about the portal, but why do you want me to look at it? I doubt you could use it properly even if it wasn’t a twisted wreck; the rituals have been lost for centuries. Put the thing in a museum and be done with it.”
“We can’t,” Harry said. “They sent it over to our office to see if we could work out what she was doing, and Hermione took charge of it. She couldn’t tell what the witch was trying to do, but she realized it was a portal, and she was trying to get it open—”
“Potter, are you working up to telling me Granger actually managed to send herself to the land of the dead?”
“We need to get her back!” Harry said. “And no one can work out how to fix it.”
Malfoy, the utter bastard, actually laughed at him for a solid minute. “Have you finished?” Harry said tightly.
“Of course not,” Draco said. “You can’t expect me not to enjoy this properly. The great hero come begging the pariah’s help, to rescue none other than the pride and joy of the Muggle-borns. It’s more satisfaction than I’ve looked for in years.”
“You seem to be doing just fine, Malfoy,” Harry said.
“You’d be amazed at the number of places that won’t take my money these days,” Draco said. “Not to mention I’ve had to sell off half the woods to pay the legal bills—I believe there’s some sort of hideous mass development in the works.”
“Look, can you fix this thing or not?”
“Certainly I can fix it,” Draco said, with an airy wave of one hand. “But it’s going to cost you.”
Harry’s breath went out of him in a sudden sharp release, almost dizzying. He hadn’t known until Draco said the words how desperate he’d been to hear them. He’d been in the conference room talking with the head of the Finnish investigation team when he’d heard the bang from down the corridor and gone running through the smoke, shoving past the coughing crowd gathering at Hermione’s door. Her two assistants had staggered out, sooty and eyes running, and they’d gasped out what had happened: the sudden flaring of grey light, the sucking vortex pulling at her—
He’d gone to every magical artificer in London. None of them had known how to fix it. Borgin had been the first one to come out with Malfoy’s name, tentatively: “I hesitate to mention, Mr. Potter, but—under the circumstances—”
“What?” Harry had said, staring grimly down at the portal.
“An artifact of this age and complexity is rather beyond the usual round,” Borgin had said. “I am afraid there is very little money in repairing such antique things—the contrary, in fact. It can only be a labor of love. Very few people have the opportunity to do enough of it to form what one might call an expertise…”
“Do you know someone?” Harry had seized on the opening instantly. Then he hadn’t wanted it, of course, but over the last three weeks he’d tried every reputable craftsman in London, Edinburgh, and Paris, and some others beyond, and after the fifth time someone had half unwillingly said something like, “—of course, it must be admitted that Monsieur Malfoy does have a wide knowledge of older artifacts…” he’d known he wasn’t getting out of coming here. He just hadn’t expected he would get anything he wanted.
Now he was sorry he hadn’t come sooner. “Yes, fine,” he said. “How much?”
Draco snorted. “I’m not reduced to penury. I want something considerably beyond money, and I rather think you’re the only one can give it to me.”
“You want the Invisibility Cloak,” Harry said, flatly. He’d half expected as much; it was the only thing he had that Draco could want—
“Don’t be stupid, Potter,” Draco said. “I want my reputation back.”
Draco ticked off the bizarre demands on his fingers: a meal together somewhere in public, twice a week until the repairs were done. Conspicuous meetings at Harry’s office at various hours of the day, where Harry would make a point of dropping whatever he was working on to meet with Draco. “And I want you to get your good friend Arthur Weasley to submit a land-use bill to the Wizengamot, restricting the sale or lease of all territory that has been held continuously by wizards for more than twenty generations only to other wizards, and requiring any building upon that land to pass approval from the Historical Preservation Society,” Draco said. “You can call it the Preservation of Magical Britain Act or something of the sort.”
“What?” Harry said, baffled. “Why?”
“I’m not having a Muggle housing estate built on my doorstep,” Draco said. “And the bill obviously doesn’t affect anyone but me.”
“How do I know that’s true?” Harry said suspiciously.
“Because that’s the point,” Draco said. “If Arthur Weasley puts a bill to the Wizengamot, your crew of slavish admirers will hop on board, and if that bill has no effect whatsoever except to prevent the vultures who bought my woods from leveling them and selling them off in parcels, everyone will understand that the Malfoys still have power, after all.”
“They’ll know we’re only doing it because we need your help,” Harry said.
“Nobody will care why,” Draco said. “I’ll still have managed to get my worst enemies to read in a bill entirely for my sake. The toadlickers will be delighted to fall back into line after that.”
It all stank, of course, but when Hermione’s life was on the line, Harry was ready to hold his nose. “But if you don’t fix it, after all,” Harry said grimly, “you had better believe I’ll find a way to take it all back.”
“Oh, I’ll fix it,” Draco said. “However, it’s still going to be on your hands to figure out how to use it properly. I told you, the rituals have been lost, and I have not the slightest intention of taking a jaunt to the other side myself.”
“Fine,” Harry said. “I’ll talk to the Finnish wizarding enforcers. They should be able to get me something.”
“Splendid,” Draco said. “Now run along, Potter, it’s going to take me the rest of the day just to work out what this is going to involve. I’ll see you at my club tomorrow at noon. And don’t be late.”
Harry walked out of the building and then paused, cast a Silencing Spell on his shoes and swung on the Invisibility Cloak—he’d brought it along with him, thinking Malfoy would demand it on the spot before he’d start working. He slipped back into the stable and crept along to the workshop. He half expected to find Malfoy laughing at Harry’s gullibility with one of his Slytherin pals over the Floo.
The workshop looked like it had been hit by a demented gang of pixies in the three minutes since he’d left. Malfoy was intently dusting the gate with half a dozen different kinds of colored powders out of sacks, and they’d gotten everywhere—all over his cravat and his fancy leather coat. Even his hair was pink and green and yellow with them. He impatiently swiped some dust out of his eyes, smearing more colors across his forehead and his sleeve, and grabbed his wand. “Now we’ll see what you’re made of,” he told the gate, a gleam in his eye. “Incantio Aurelis Revelio!”
A spark shot from his wand and set off all the powders in a huge explosion of smoke. Harry backed away hastily: he’d be a conspicuous empty space if the clouds hit the cloak. The smoke billowed all around the gate, different layers and colors shimmering, a wild smeary pattern like a child working with finger paints. “Ahh, there you are,” Draco said, going up to the whole mess and running his fingers through an odd layer of shimmering green-blue, with the kind of smirk he’d used to wear in first year when he’d just got in some really good tormenting. “I thought it was you.”
The smoke was drifting over the floors, and Harry had to make a dash for the door.
Harry arrived for lunch at the Old Whissing club at the stroke of noon, not a moment earlier. He’d never been before: it was a Wizengamot crowd, mainly a lot richer than anyone he knew. He knew Percy still marked his invitations there like counting coup or something. The footman at the door looked surprised to see him, and the butler materialized instantly—Apparition so seamless he didn’t even make a pop—and held his hand out for Harry’s coat. “Welcome to Old Whissing, Mr. Potter. Will you be dining in the main room today?”
“Er,” Harry said. “I’m not sure—”
Draco came in through the doors just then. The butler looked over and stiffened. “There you are, Potter,” Draco said, all genial tones, like they were old friends. “I didn’t keep you waiting long, did I? Hello, Wheedle, how have you been? We’ll take a table for two, in the Oak Gallery.” He swung off his cloak, glittering buttons flashing, and tossed it over the butler’s arm.
Wheedle looked at Harry and back at Draco. The footman at the door had stepped up behind Draco and had a hand half reaching for his arm, but he was looking at the butler, as if for instructions. Harry didn’t have any idea what was going on, but suddenly Wheedle said, “Very good, Mr. Malfoy,” in firm tones, and handed the coats on to the footman. “If you will be so good as to follow me.”
The Oak Gallery was through four sitting rooms and up a staircase, with tables set in alcoves that overlooked the main dining room. Heads turned all over, watching them walk through the club, and more than one person turned round to peer up at their table once they were seated. “What was that all about?” Harry said, after they were alone.
“The members didn’t like to go so far as a formal blackballing, I dare say,” Draco said, flipping his hand. “Too many of them were a bit vulnerable in their own turn. But I’m sure the senior members had a word with Wheedle, and I would have been quietly encouraged to leave if I’d shown up under more ordinary circumstances.” He threw a brooding look over the room. “All the clubs in town are waiting to see which one you’ll pick, of course.”
“I’m not going to pick any of them,” Harry said. “I don’t want a club where people have to be voted in or something. It’s all a lot of old-fashioned nonsense.”
Draco rolled his eyes. “Potter, you want to be Minister of Magical Enforcement in three years when Fancieul retires, don’t you? There are seven different wizards and witches we walked past with significant influence over the appointment and confirmation process who would instantly give you their votes if you joined this club. Oh, yes, very sordid,” he sneered at Harry’s expression. “Try not to be stupid. Your disdaining old-fashioned nonsense means none of them know you or have any sense of who you are, other than the dread slayer of the Dark Lord, bringer of light and all that is good, righteous hater of the corrupt and venal—which is not a recommendation. Shall we have the ’86 Montrachet? I think we shall,” he added, as a waiter appeared.
Harry had meant to eat quickly and be done with it, but that pretty clearly wasn’t meant to be in the cards when the four-course menu appeared. He would’ve put his foot down, but Draco took the menu out of his hands and handed him a fat scroll instead, which when Harry opened it said Preliminary Notes and had a dozen diagrams of the gate inside, so he didn’t lift his head or even bother to listen as Draco ordered for them both. He didn’t care what the food was: he mostly ate takeaway at his desk for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There weren’t enough hours in the day, and he didn’t have anyone to eat with anyway, really—he and Hermione had got each other in their respective breakups, and though they did eat together often enough, they just did it at his desk or hers.
They had used to, anyway. “You can fix it?” Harry said urgently, finally looking up from the scroll as the first plates were cleared—he’d eaten whatever it was without really noticing, still reading through. He’d vaguely registered the food was good, but it couldn’t match the feeling of going through the notes and starting to believe Malfoy wasn’t lying, and he could fix the thing. Because if he could, he was going to, if Harry had to stand over him and hold a wand to his throat. “How long will it take?”
“At least three months.”
“Sorry, did you think this was going to be like mending a broken cauldron?” Malfoy sneered, taking back the scroll and rolling it up again with a flick of his wrist. “Most of the work can only be done on the first night of the new moon, and I’m going to have to forge new iron for the entire gate, with ore extracted from the same place as the original, which is going to be a delight to track down, since the Vigilant Smith used ore from six different mines. If you don’t like it, find someone else. Oh, that’s right, you’ve already tried! Bad luck there.”
“And what’s happening to Hermione in the meantime?” Harry said through clenched teeth.
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” Draco said. “Probably she’s talking the dead to death all over again.”
“I swear, Malfoy, I could just—”
Draco leaned back in his chair and raised the scroll meaningfully between them, inviting Harry to continue with a condescending eyebrow. Harry swallowed the words and glared at him. “You’re such a bastard.”
“I realize you’re used to everyone in the wizarding world falling over themselves to demonstrate their adoration, but don’t expect me to fawn over you, Potter,” Draco said. “Ahh, the quail. I’ve missed this.” New plates had just appeared in front of them.
“How d’you even find all this about the gate?” Harry said, scowling down at the innocent food. “And why couldn’t anyone else tell me about it?”
“Examining that gate already cost more in Aureal Powders than Borgin and Burkes make in a month,” Draco said. “And who wants anything like it? People always want the shiniest new toy, not the old one, particularly your Muggle-loving lot.”
“Why did you learn to do it?” Harry said. “Repairing old clocks and magical antiques—bit of a low hobby for a Malfoy, isn’t it?”
Draco’s face twisted. “The hours have to be filled somehow,” he said. “That takes more doing when no one’s inviting you to any of the right parties. Besides, nothing’s low as long as it costs you money to do.”
They ate in silence for a bit. Harry started out just stabbing his fork at the plate in frustration, but the quail really was good. Then Draco said abruptly, “Did you ever find out how the Death Eaters got into Hogwarts, sixth year?”
Harry looked up at him. “The Vanishing Cabinet you fixed.”
“The only thing that wasn’t nightmarish about that year was actually working on the thing. It was so hard that when I was in the middle of it, I could forget why I was doing it and what was going to happen if I didn’t succeed. Merlin, that still ranks as the worst year of my life,” Draco muttered.
Harry stared down at his plate, juices pooled red around the bones, and for a moment his stomach turned over, remembering—the spurt of arterial blood, Draco’s terrified face as he’d slipped to the floor, his hands trying uselessly to press at the wounds, the feeling of Dark magic crawling over the back of Harry’s neck. He swallowed, cold, and shook it off. “I’d probably have to go with seventh year, myself,” he said roughly.
“Not that much to choose from, either one,” Draco agreed, draining his wineglass. “Ugh, I need something stronger.”
He ordered them both a cocktail that came to the table smoking and tasted like a bomb going off. Harry felt a bit woozy after the first swallow, and kept going, gratefully. By the pudding course, he was complaining to Malfoy about the same thing he complained to anyone who’d listen, the do-nothing crowd in the Ministry and how they dug in their heels at every single reform proposal.
“All the active-duty Aurors are with me,” Harry said, spilling a little of his drink—it might have been the second one—as he gestured. “But everyone higher up, it’s ludicrous. I can’t even ask for—for ink pens to be added to the supplies without an argument.”
“Well, naturally, Potter,” Draco said, lolling back in his deep chair, waving a hand a little unsteadily with the dregs of his own drink. “Everyone knows you’re a crusader who doesn’t care about your own look-out, much less anyone else’s. Anything you suggest, they can’t trust. Maybe the ink pens are the first step towards the guillotine, they haven’t any idea.”
“If only,” Harry muttered.
“You haven’t any idea how to go on at all as soon as you can’t blast away with your wand, you never have,” Draco said. “You’d better just marry some pureblood witch from a proper family and let her sort it out for you. It’s just a matter of cornering the right person at tea, saying wistfully how nice it would be to have ink pens, such a convenience, and find a way to make it worth their while to help you.”
“I’m not going to do that!”
“Then get used to quills,” Draco said. “And most likely dying in disappointment. You’re never going to change anything while sneering at everyone who isn’t up to your standards of heroism.”
He stood up while Harry was still speechless with indignation—he wasn’t the one who sneered at people!—but there was an old stooped wizard tottering up to the table, in long embroidered red velvet robes and a pointy red hat, leaning on a stick. “Hello, Malfoy,” he said, very loudly.
“Hello, Master Gobblegrack. Won’t you sit down, sir?” Draco said.
“No, no.” He waved Draco away from the chair. “I’m heading to the mediwizards. Not much better than vampires, the lot of them. Good to see you. Heard about your father: condolences. Is your mother well?”
“Yes, sir, thank you,” Draco said. “She’s in the South of France. Do you know Harry Potter?”
The old wizard turned his rheumy eyes on Harry. “We haven’t met. Could have guessed you, though, boy. You have a look of your grandfather. Good man! Terrible business with your father, terrible. Glad he didn’t live to see it.” The old man wagged his head. “Well, it’s all a long time ago now. A long time ago. But I’m still doddering along.” He reached out with the stick and poked Draco’s arm. “Hey? I’m still here. Glad to see you here, too. Don’t let the gnomes nip at your ankles.”
“I don’t intend to,” Draco said, bowing, and the old man crept along and left them. Harry watched him go, bemused: he’d never really thought about his grandparents—obviously he must have had some, only they seemed to all have disappeared along the way without his ever noticing. He vaguely remembered Aunt Petunia going on obligatory monthly visits to a home somewhere, to her mother, but that had stopped before he was seven years old. The Dursleys had left him with Mrs. Figg when they’d gone to the funeral. It hadn’t occurred to him that of course, he’d had wizard grandparents, too.
“Did our grandparents know each other, do you think?” Harry said to Draco.
“Of course they did,” Draco said, dropping himself back into his seat heavily and reclaiming his drink. “We’ve got photos from your grandparents’ wedding in my house. My grandmother was in the wedding party. We’re third cousins or some such, actually.”
“That’s just weird,” Harry said blankly.
“What’s weird is how you’ve deliberately severed all ties to your wizarding relations,” Draco said. “I suppose it comes of being forced to grow up among Muggles.” Then he stared at Harry with a suddenly odd expression.
“What?” Harry said.
“He did it on purpose, didn’t he,” Draco said. “Dumbledore.”
“Yeah,” Harry said. “There was a charm on my mother’s blood. As long as I lived in their house—”
“No,” Draco interrupted. “I mean he left you to the Muggles on purpose. So you wouldn’t know any of your family, anyone who might have intervened in your charming destiny. He really did fatten you like a calf for the slaughter, didn’t he.”
“He didn’t!” Harry said.
“I’ll have to learn to think better of my father after all,” Draco mused aloud. “I don’t think he deliberately planned to hand me over to Voldemort’s tender mercies before I had reached the age of majority.”
Harry wanted to have the fight with him, but he couldn’t: it was the fight he’d had with Hermione, a dozen times and more. There was a lump in his throat, hearing it. Not to mention it felt somehow uncomfortably closer to the truth coming out of Draco’s cynical mouth. He went sideways instead, asked Draco what he knew about the Potters, which was a lot: it turned out their families had intermarried several times.
Draco ended up telling him a raft of maliciously funny family stories from the last three centuries. He’d always had a gift for mockery, and Harry could actually enjoy it when it wasn’t meant to torment anyone. And the thing was, Draco wasn’t fawning over him. Or even just being especially polite. Harry hadn’t realized how used he was to people speaking to him in respectful tones these days, or for that matter how off-putting it was. But you couldn’t make friends with someone calling you Mr. Potter, sir, like he was the doddering elderly wizard. Not that he was going to make friends with Draco, but it made a change.
Harry went back to the office afterward still tipsy and full of quail and pudding and relief. Three months was too long, but it was better than never, and Draco might really be able to do it. Harry sat down at his desk and put his head in his hands and just breathed for a bit before he got back to work: the first time he’d been able to even look at anything on his desk in the last three weeks.
He was almost eager for it the second time, later that week: he was hoping for more details about the repair. Draco took him to a posh restaurant down on Sosiet Alley, where the back-and-forth at the front of the house played out again with a similar ending: they got taken to the best table, without even a reservation. A couple of people stopped by to speak to Draco, too, just say hello really, and he looked intensely triumphant by the end.
“But why do you even care?” Harry said. “What do you want with people who’ve proven they’ll just drop you if you’re not on top?”
“It’s like you have this bizarre idea that the only useful people are true friends,” Draco said. “The head waiter doesn’t have to be my boon companion to give me the table I want. If I relied on true friends, I’d never talk to anyone.”
“What about all your crowd from school?” Harry said.
Draco snorted. “Which of them were you thinking of? The ones who tried to kill me for being an insufficiently enthusiastic Death Eater, the ones who ignored me after the trials started, or the ones who didn’t come to my father’s funeral?” He tossed his napkin down and looked at Harry. “Do you want to come to the Manor and see the progress so far?”
“Yes,” Harry said instantly.
The workshop had been tidied back into pristine glory, and not a single tool was off the hook, but the gate was standing in the middle of the floor, and faintly glowing magical lines in different colors were floating inside the ironwork. “What are all these?” Harry said. “What are the colors for?”
“Because I like a festive atmosphere,” Draco said. “Honestly, Potter, you can see that the ironwork’s all hideously deformed, I trust? Vision working properly? Fine, now do tell me how you would position the bars.” He pointed to a yellow arc and a green arc, both within inches of each other and a badly-kinked bar that crossed them both. “Either path would fit the sockets for this one.”
Harry stared at it in dismay, understanding the problem. And— “There’s fifty bars in the thing!” Nearly all of them had some damage.
“Why, who knew, Gryffindors can count,” Draco said mockingly. “Fortunately, there are some constraints: the paths have to relate to one another properly. The yellow path here can’t go with the green path over here,” and he touched the arc for a different bar, next to the kinked one. “It can only go with this yellow path.”
“So wait, every color is—”
“Another set of possibilities,” Draco said. “As I find the options, I can throw some of them away until I’ve found the one solution that makes them all work.”
There were at least twenty different colors so far at a glance. “What if there’s more than one?” Harry said.
“Then I take my best guess and you see if it works or if it blows you up,” Draco said. “If it does neither, I’ll try the next one. What did you think? It’s not as though there’s anyone to check the answers with.”
“Right,” Harry said, grimly.
“Assuming you do manage to put together the ritual, that is,” Draco added.
Harry let his hands drop. “I’ve got half a dozen possible fragments from the Helsinki Archmagisterium. I’m going to try to put them together into some sort of order.” It was the sort of thing that Hermione did as easily as breathing. He’d just have to do his best. He barely knew where to start—he’d been spending all his nights staring at them, trying to piece out connections. He hadn’t made a lot of progress. He sighed. “Thanks for letting me see it,” he said, turning round.
Draco was leaning against the enormous forge on one elbow, arm on his hip. He looked at Harry with that considering expression again, then said, “You did realize that ‘come to the Manor and see my work’ was a euphemism, didn’t you?”
Harry discovered that he had realized, actually, even if he had successfully pretended to himself he hadn’t. He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. “Yes,” he said. “I did.”
They had sex in Draco’s bedroom. Harry spent most of the time wondering what he was doing, until it became inescapably clear, and then he could relax because it was too late to change his mind. The room was a vast sprawl with a four poster bed hung with medieval drapery and full of odd magical knickknacks, some of them wandering around on their own. Draco undressed carelessly, tossing clothes over a screen. Harry unbuttoned his own robes, staring down at the small squirming glossy brown thing inching its way determinedly along the windowsill.
“It’s a querrel—old spying tool from the Third Goblin Wars,” Draco said. “Goblins don’t see things that move like earthworms for some peculiar reason.”
He went on telling Harry about the expensive repair involved to the thing while he stripped the robes down off him from behind and then put his hand on the back of Harry’s neck and slid his thumb along the line of his throat in an experimental way that made Harry gasp and shudder. “Oh,” Draco murmured, like he’d figured something out, and started kissing his neck while he worked on Harry’s belt, and eventually Harry ended up leaning on the windowsill wide-eyed and gulping for air as Draco fucked him ruthlessly for twenty very solid, very good minutes, before dragging him stumbling over to the bed to finish off.
“I wouldn’t have guessed at you taking it,” Draco said conversationally, stretching next to him like a self-satisfied cat, licking his lips. “But you do it magnificently. Do you want to stay the night? We can go again in the morning.”
“Yeah, okay,” Harry said, after a momentary inward struggle. He wouldn’t really have guessed at himself taking it either, much less from Draco Malfoy, but he wasn’t going to argue with results. It had been—a really long time.
“And next time I’m taking you dancing,” Draco added. “The Prophet is sure to land us on the society pages for that.”
Harry opened his eyes for that and glared at him. “I’m still here, actually!”
“You already know I’m using you,” Draco said. “Besides, what did you have in mind? I’m certainly not going to be your dirty secret.”
Getting laid the next morning went a ways to reconcile him to his fate, though. He was barely awake when Draco pushed him onto his stomach and worked into him with a maddening and fantastic leisurely pace. “Yes, that’s right,” he purred, as Harry gasped and squirmed, trying to get taken over the edge. “That’s right, show me just how badly you want it, and maybe I’ll give it to you,” which shouldn’t have been a turn-on, and yet.
Harry went to the office still flushed and feeling—brighter, more alive. Also vaguely ashamed of himself, because it seemed wrong to jump into bed with Malfoy at all, much less to have enjoyed it this much. But the last time Harry’d had a go, with a perfectly nice and friendly witch he’d met at the pub, he’d just felt guilty and rotten the entire time. He’d already half known in the back of his head he wasn’t going to get around to making a second date. And before that—well, he hadn’t been able to give Ginny the kind of time and attention she wanted and deserved either, had he. At least with Malfoy, he didn’t need to feel bad for not calling the next day.
There was just so much to do. Voldemort was gone, but half of the hidebound rules still needed to go. There were a thousand things that needed doing, fixing, changing, and ten thousand obstructions in the way. So many restrictions supposedly for the protection of wizards were really an excuse to let whoever was in power point the Aurors at whoever they wanted. The people in power liked it that way, and they didn’t want to shift.
So it wasn’t enough for him to say, right, he’d do his part, everyone else could pitch in their fair share. The wizard who’d killed Voldemort could force through the necessary changes no one else could, get things moving forward faster than anyone else who stuck their neck out.
And he wasn’t being some sort of martyr, either, he wanted to do the work. It was more satisfying than anything else he could do, as hard and frustrating as it was. He was making things better, making the wizarding world open its doors and let the light into the dark corners. Only—without Ginny pulling him away once in a while, he’d ended up going too far—at his desk till all hours, barely seeing anyone outside of the office. It had been ages since he’d so much as gone out for a coffee, much less a two-shag…well, date didn’t seem like the right word for what he’d done with Draco, but he hadn’t had anything closer in the last three years.
Of course that meant the Daily Prophet probably was going to be all over it, if Draco had meant it about the dancing.
Draco had meant it about the dancing. Harry wasn’t much of a dancer, even aside from the anticipation of making a public spectacle of himself, so he went in braced for a night of tedium and embarrassment alleviated only by strong drink. Then halfway round the floor the first time, people not even trying to hide their stares, Draco leaned in. “Have you ever been had in a carriage before?”
Harry twitched. “What?”
“It’s a particular challenge, if the winds are as high as they are tonight,” Draco said. He whirled them into a turn. He’d insisted on leading, and Harry hadn’t planned to argue, he hadn’t the faintest idea how to do it, except he was reasonably sure you weren’t supposed to put your thigh hard between your partner’s and turn him so he ended up sliding against it, only his body wasn’t complaining, and then Draco was whispering, “Not slipping out, you realize,” in his ear, and Harry had a horribly vivid image of lying back across Draco’s enormous velvet-plush carriage seat with Draco gripping onto him and working to stay inside, the whole thing rocking under them—
“Right,” Harry said, strangled. “Let’s go.”
“But we’ve only just started to have fun,” Draco said, which was when Harry realized he was in fact in for a night of malicious torment, and strong drink wasn’t going to do anything whatsoever to help.
Although thankfully that proved wrong, because after the second drink Harry lost his temper and forgot to worry about the Prophet or anyone else watching and dragged Draco bodily out of the club behind him. He all but shoved Draco into the carriage and climbed on top of him, tearing away his clothes, and banged him right there in the back seat. It was a challenge, but Harry still kept in flying trim, and he’d always been good at balancing. Draco took just as well as he gave, too, laughing breathless and mocking underneath him.
That was some consolation when the Daily Prophet featured a full spread of them in the society pages the next morning. They even had quotes from a couple of unnamed sources saying that Draco was consulting with the Aurors on confidential matters, thanks to his particular expertise with ancient magical artifacts, and romance had bloomed. “Where did they even get this stuff from?” Harry said incredulous.
“I think that bit about romance blooming must have come from Blaise, that’s his idea of a turn of phrase,” Draco said, buttering a crumpet: they were at breakfast in his bedroom. “He called me the other day after seeing me on Sosiet Alley, and I dropped a hint or two. The other one was me, of course, by anonymous owl.”
Harry wanted to be angry, but Draco was so smug, which really wasn’t attractive except for how it put him right into the mood, and when he tossed the paper aside and crooked a finger and said, “Come here, Potter, I’m going to suck your cock before you go to work,” Harry really couldn’t think of anything to say but “Yes, please.”
Although he reconsidered as soon as he got to the office and the Howler in his office started yelling at him in Ron’s voice to CALL ME THE INSTANT YOU GET THIS HARRY WHATEVER MALFOY’S GOT ON YOU I’LL HELP YOU WHY DIDN’T YOU CALL ME IN THE FIRST PLACE and then went into a repeating flashing circus routine of CALL ME CALL ME CALL ME! until Harry managed to get the Floo open over the noise.
“He’s not blackmailing me into it!” Harry yelled into the fire.
“Hermione wouldn’t want you to do this to yourself, Harry!” Ron said.
“Has he Imperiused you?”
“No! Ron, look—” Harry stopped and blasted the Howler with an Incinerating Hex; it scorched up with one final rising yelp of call meeee!
“Right, I’m coming over there with George and Percy and a sack of bezoars,” Ron said. “We’ll get you straightened out, Harry, don’t you fret.”
“Oh, for—Ron, I swear I’ll revoke your clearance for the building,” Harry said. “I’m fine.”
“Give me one convincing reason you’d start shagging Draco Malfoy of your own free will!”
It seemed like a good idea at the time, except that wasn’t true, it had seemed like a bad idea at the time, only the sort of bad idea that ended in orgasms. “Would you accept a moment of weakness?”
“That doesn’t explain why you’d keep on!” Ron said.
Harry muttered, “He’s brilliant in bed.”
“So he’s drugging you,” Ron said morbidly. “Bet it’s Eromotentica. Are you feeling feverish yet?”
Harry finally had to turn the fire extinguisher on the Floo to get rid of him, and he left the Auror Department that night in the Invisibility Cloak—just as well, since Ron really was lying in wait for him with George, and a Snatching Sack at the ready.
“I can’t believe you!” Harry said, taking the cloak off after he’d yanked the Sack away from them and fired it straight into the trash devourer’s pen.
“Sorry, Harry,” George said cheerfully. “I told him you’d probably just got mentally ill from overwork, but he wouldn’t have it.”
“Yeah, thanks loads,” Harry said. George gave them both a wave and Apparated away. Harry glared at Ron. “Seriously, a Snatching Sack? You could get a year in Azkaban just for having one!”
Ron folded his arms, mulishly. “D’you expect me to just sit by while Draco Malfoy does something horrible to you? And don’t try to tell me it just happened, and it’s nothing to do with Hermione going missing. Merlin on toast, Harry, I know we haven’t talked properly lately—I know it’s been rough. But you can’t think I wouldn’t die sooner than leave you in trouble! Or Hermione, for that matter!”
“I don’t,” Harry said, his throat tight. “Really I don’t, Ron. I know you’d do anything for us, either of us. It’s just not—” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Look, come round and have a drink and I’ll try to explain. As long as you promise not to try to Imperius me out of it or something.”
“Fine, let’s go,” Ron said grudgingly. “But no promises.”
“So I gather Weasley didn’t have you abducted and shipped to New York,” Draco remarked, sliding onto the stool next to his: it was Monday night, and they were back to Old Whissing for drinks at the bar. Evidently Draco hadn’t had any trouble at the door this time. “I thought it was even odds.”
“Worse than that, probably,” Harry said, scowling. “Pleased with yourself?”
“Delighted,” Draco said blandly. He beckoned the barman over and ordered a Wicked Grace.
Half a dozen people stopped by to talk to Draco, over totally trivial things, and several others traded nods with him when they saw him from a distance. Harry rolled his eyes as Draco radiated satisfaction. “Fine, now explain to me what good any of it does you. You ought to take up stamps or something, they’d store easier than people.”
Draco snorted. “Come along, then, if you need a demonstration,” he said, and leaned over and took Harry’s favorite Ball Roller out of his satchel.
He took Harry on a bizarre progress through four different wood-paneled sitting rooms where he picked out a perfectly random witch or wizard in each one, nobody Harry even knew, and struck up a conversation. After five minutes of chit-chat he’d say, “Harry’s been showing me this new kind of pen Muggles have invented, the poor creatures. Have you seen it? A simple Inexhaustible Ink charm, and it would really be quite usable. You’ve been wanting to make a switch at the Aurors’ Office, Potter, haven’t you?” Then he’d scribble a bit with it and hand it over for examination, and five minutes later he’d make an excuse and they’d move onward to the next random victim.
“Did something happen that I’m missing?” Harry said after the fourth one, when Draco headed for the cloakroom with the demonstration apparently over.
“Infinitudes, apparently,” Draco said, swinging his cloak back over his shoulders. “If that wasn’t obvious enough, you’ll just have to wait for it, Potter, I haven’t time to explain tonight. I’ll drop in at the office later this week: perhaps you’ll have worked it out by then.”
“Wait, you’re not—oh, right,” Harry said hurriedly, just barely managing to cover for the fact he’d assumed they were going back to the Manor together. He turned away to put his own coat on, telling himself firmly he wasn’t disappointed, he wasn’t anything like disappointed, and he didn’t wonder at all what Malfoy preferred to shagging him senseless again.
“Oh, have I disappointed you?” Draco said, sounding gleeful. Harry gritted his teeth, Ron was right, what was he thinking, he was out of his mind— “You do realize it’s the first night of the new moon in twenty minutes.”
Harry jerked round to stare at him. Draco was watching him with a cat-in-the-cream smirk, but Harry didn’t give a damn about that anymore. “Do you need any help?”
“If you could help, you could do the work yourself,” Draco said. “Don’t be glum, Potter. I’ll put you over your desk Wednesday and make it up to you.”
Then Draco caught him by his coat and pulled him in and kissed him, and whirled out the door, all before Harry had a chance to get out the like hell you will.
Wednesday morning Harry pretended to himself he was shaving both ways just because he liked it, no other reason whatsoever, and he was distracted at work because he was waiting for Malfoy to come and tell him how the first round of repairs to the portal had gone, and he wasn’t looking at the clock or—
He came straight up in his chair at the knock on the door, but when he cleared his throat and called, “Alohomora!” it only swung open to reveal Raymond Gurley from the postroom with four fat padded envelopes for him, along with a faintly lavender-scented envelope in creamy heavy stock. “Special delivery or something, Harry?” he said, dropping them on the desk.
“Er, I suppose,” Harry said, baffled. “I didn’t order anything.” He didn’t recognize any of the return addresses, either.
“Did all four of them manage an entry?” Draco said, and Harry’s head jerked up involuntarily as he came in, exchanging places with Gurley’s cart. He came over and perched on the edge of Harry’s desk, peering over at the envelopes. “It’s nice to know initiative is alive and well in the Empire.”
“Wait, what are these?” Harry said. “Did you order them?”
“No, Potter, you did,” Draco said, ripping the largest of them open and dumping a double handful of faintly glittering ink pens on Harry’s desk, along with a letter from the chairman of Quinchley Quills, Ltd., So lovely to see you at Old Whissing the other day, Auror Potter. I wonder if you would care to try this new product and let us know your thoughts. We take our responsibility in supplying the Department of Magical Enforcement with the finest writing implements available most seriously, and going on a while in that vein.
“They were all quill manufacturers?” Harry said, looking through all the letters. There were a dozen different sorts of pens in the lot, some closer to the Rollerball than others, and there were varied special features trumpeted in each.
Malfoy sighed noisily. “Potter, when you wanted ink pens, I suppose you asked the Ministry to bang in an order with Amazonia or whatever the thing is called? And nevermind the loss of business to wizarding companies that pay tax to the Ministry and buy lunches for senior Ministry officials, et cetera?”
“Er,” Harry said.
“Well, Quinchley et al will be delighted to slap a cheap charm onto an even cheaper bit of Muggle junk for you, if that’s what you like,” Draco said, flipping a pink pen across at him with a twist of his fingers. “And the Ministry will be delighted to buy them for you when the manufacturers offer them at half the price of hand-cut quills plucked from wild geese. Still care to go on at me about the uselessness of cultivating the right people? You could stand to do a little of it yourself.”
Harry compressed his jaw. “Right, and it’s worth the time, is it? All you had to do to get these pens was to know so many people you can recognize executives from four quill manufacturers on sight without even looking them up, then spend the better part of an hour chatting them all up, in a club you had to drag me to just to get let in again, and I don’t even want to guess what to be invited to in the first place—”
Draco’s eyes narrowed. “Malfoys have been senior members of Old Whissing for three centuries, I’ve been on the rolls since birth. And the pens are your personal stupidity, it’s not about the pens. It’s about getting what you want.”
“Yeah, and nevermind if that’s good or not,” Harry said. “I don’t want to manipulate people into doing things my way, Malfoy. I want them to do things my way because I’ve convinced them it’s the right way!”
“Yes, of course,” Draco sneered. “It’s not enough for people to do things for you, you want them to acknowledge your moral superiority.”
“That’s not what I mean!” Harry said, standing up, and then the door swung open again.
“Harry, the analysis just came back in the Wynchblighter case—oh!” Hannah Abbott stopped short in the doorway, going red in the face, staring between them like—well, like she’d read the two-page spread in the Daily Prophet. “S-sorry,” she stammered, starting to back out. “I’ll just—”
“No, it’s all right,” Harry said hurriedly. Behind her out in the office he could see the entire secretarial pool doing one of the worst jobs he’d ever seen of pretending to work.
“Yes, no need to flee, Abbott,” Draco said. “A little afternoon delight is all well and good,” Harry glared at him as Hannah went dangerous levels of crimson and even the feeblest attempts at faking work outside ceased entirely, “but it’s not gone eleven yet, and I am actually here to consult.”
“Oh—oh?” was the best Hannah could manage, squeaking out.
“Yeah,” Harry said flatly. “Malfoy’s going to look through the Unidentified Artifacts Archive for us. Why don’t you take him over there, I’ll look over the analysis.”
Draco threw him a narrow look, but swept out behind Hannah without a protest. Harry slapped the door shut behind him and sat down and glared at the analysis in his place, and got about as far with it. It took him half an hour of concentrating before he could hold the names in his head again, and another half an hour after that before he actually processed anything in the report. Then he had to sign off on a sheaf of search warrant applications for the magistrate court and then Neville showed up to ask him a few questions about another recent case, and Harry got lost in work for a while and only remembered about two hours past lunchtime when he absently found himself writing something with the pink pen.
He put it down and stuck his head out. Hannah was at her desk working on getting the victim’s Astronomy charts drafted up. “Malfoy left, yeah?”
She looked up. “Oh—sorry, Harry, I don’t know. I left him in the archive. Probably, by now?”
Harry went down to the basement and to the massive storeroom full of the odds and ends no one could make any sense of, evidence in cases or possibly dangerous things acquired from criminals. The door stood ajar. Draco hadn’t left. He was sitting at a worktable, his coat off and thrown over the bench, his sleeves rolled up past the elbow and his tie discarded, his gaze gone axeblade-sharp and narrow, so focused he didn’t even notice Harry come in quietly behind him: in his left hand he was holding a small globe cupped, opened in half and full of tiny gears. There were a dozen more of the gears scattered over the table, none of them bigger than a little fingernail, and with his right hand, he was picking them up one at a time with a fine grey cloth, rubbing them clean and untarnished, then setting them carefully back into the globe, the left hand never even twitching.
Harry stood, caught by it, until Draco put the last one in and blew on the gears, whispering something, and they shivered and started to move. He tenderly closed up the globe with the tips of his fingers, the whole thing starting to hum and glow, and held it on his palm smiling at it: the kind of smile Harry had never seen on his face, a real one, illuminating, nothing like the smirks and smugness.
Then he suddenly looked over. He sprang up, his lips pressing together like Harry had found him naked, not working on a device. “How long have you been standing there?” he said, a little coldly, and Harry wanted to say wait, bring it back, smile like that again, smile like that at—
“I didn’t want to interrupt,” Harry said. He cleared his throat. “Do you want to go get some lunch?”
“What?” Draco said, and then took out his watch and looked at it. He stuffed it back into his pocket hurriedly. “We’re for the Venable Bar tomorrow, Potter.”
“I won’t count it,” Harry said. “I’m just hungry. What is that thing, anyway?”
Draco tossed it to him: Harry caught it in his hands, a small warm living weight, almost like a Snitch. “It’s a Secret Bringer, Potter. Tell it a secret, and it carries it forward to the one who can use it as the owner desired. I assume someone smashed it to keep the secret from getting out.”
Harry gave it to Aurelia Jones as they walked out: it was from one of her old investigations. As soon as she took it, the Secret Bringer rang like a bell and started—well, not yelling murder, but singing it out in a high chiming voice, with details, so there was one cold case solved.
It was four o’clock when they finished lunch. “I, um,” Harry said, looking at the clock on the Gringotts’ tower, after they’d come out into the street. “Can I have a look at the portal now?” There wasn’t much point in going back to the office at this hour.
“Auror Potter knocking off early for a shag? Whatever will the public say,” Draco said.
Harry blushed. “Just call the carriage, Malfoy.”
Malfoy’s owl woke Harry up the next morning, dropping a package with a loud bang on the floor of the bedroom, and Draco sat up straight next to him and was out of bed in a flash, ripping it open and making small triumphant noises over whatever it was, which turned out to be small lumps of iron. “Ore samples,” Draco said, flicking his owl a gobbet of raw steak from a plate of treats. “Well done, Bellerophon. The Venable will have to wait, Potter. I’ll Owl you when I have time.”
He Apparated off with the sack instantly, leaving Harry, a bit bemused, alone with the owl, which only turned its head round at him and hooted when he looked at it. “Right,” Harry said, and got out of bed and went to wash up.
He didn’t hear a word from Draco for six days, not even when the Conservation of Magical Territory Act had its first reading in the Wizengamot and made a noticeable dent in the third page of the Daily Prophet.
The astute readers of this journal may recognize the extremely limited bounds of this Act, which can be relevant to but a handful of the most ancient wizarding estates, some of which have lately been reduced as a consequence of expenses arising from the Second Wizarding War. It is curious that Arthur Weasley and the progressive wing of the Wizengamot should interest themselves in the welfare of these estates, save perhaps if one remembers that Mr. Weasley is a close associate of the Chief Auror, Mr. Harry Potter, who has lately appeared in the Society pages of this paper in the company of a notorious wizard of ancient lineage.
Harry was glad, reading it: he’d hoped people would put the blame on him. Arthur had been reluctant to put in the bill, and Harry couldn’t blame him, but—it was Hermione. “I know it stinks,” he’d said. “But you’ve got to. He wouldn’t budge without it. Will it actually hurt anyone?”
“Only the expectations of several land speculators,” Arthur had said. “But Harry, those speculators bought the Malfoy land precisely because they expected to be able to use it. Passing this law makes it nearly impossible for them to do so. It’s legalized robbery—letting Malfoy take their money and effectively keep the land. In fact, they’ll probably end up selling the parcels back to him for a fraction of what they first paid: he’ll be the only buyer.”
“I’ll offer to buy it from them myself,” Harry said. “I don’t know if I can pay as much as it’s worth, but they can have whatever I’ve got, I don’t care. Please, Arthur.”
Reading the article made Harry irritated with Draco all over again: he couldn’t just have helped, could he. Harry wrote the letter to the speculators from his desk the next morning, apologizing and offering to buy the property, and he’d just sent it off by owl when Draco sauntered into his office like he owned the place, hands in his trouser pockets and fine grey robes sweeping behind him. “Keeping busy, Potter?”
“Yeah, you could say that,” Harry said, a little coldly. “What about you, Malfoy?”
“With this and that,” Draco said. “The reforging’s done.”
“Wait, all of it? I thought you said to had to reforge all the bars!”
Draco waved a hand airily—Harry noticed abruptly there was a faintly red mark along the side just peeking out from under the cuff. “I was in the mood to finish it off. And you’re in luck: I’ve got ahead of schedule. I’ve looked into it and I think I can use the first night of the full moon to finish off the last sealing spells, after all. Next week should do it.”
“Next—” Harry reared up from his chair and grabbed him and kissed him, ignoring Draco’s muffled exclamation and the open door behind him. Draco nearly toppled off the desk into Harry’s lap, and then he twisted around and braced himself and kissed him back. Harry blindly grabbed for his wand and waved it vaguely at the door, which closed with a thump. The blinds all zipped down obligingly as Harry climbed up onto the desk, shoving at Draco’s robes.
The next morning, the Daily Prophet ran a gossip item about sexual escapades in the Auror Division and an editorial by Rita Skeeter condemning the exchange of sexual favors for political ones. It comes as no surprise to this writer that those who most loudly rail against corruption and influence are those who succumb most thoroughly when temptation crosses their own path, which Harry figured would make Draco happy. He was counting on it, really: if he was going to get raked over the coals in the press, he was looking forward to having the whole thing made up to him, except instead Draco scowled fiercely at the paper over the breakfast table.
“That witch needs a lesson in picking her targets,” he said.
“Wait, didn’t you want us written up?” Harry said, baffled.
“I’m not interested in coming across as a tart, Potter!” Draco said, which didn’t make any sense to Harry, since last week Draco had been perfectly happy for everyone to think he was shagging Harry into submission. “Don’t worry, I’ll soon settle her,” Draco added, ominously, and sadly, it looked as though there wasn’t a morning shag in Harry’s future after all.
“Are we having lunch today?” he asked.
“No,” Draco said, still brooding vindictively over the paper. “Not after this rubbish. I’ll take you to the symphony tonight instead. Wear a proper suit—do you have a proper suit?”
Harry couldn’t help noticing the sidelong and unhappy looks all over the office as he went to his desk. He was sorry for it—he wanted to apologize, wanted to explain, only he couldn’t, because it wasn’t actually any less corrupt for him to trade Draco political favors for his help saving Hermione than it would’ve been to do it for the sex. The law wasn’t for him to barter, and he knew it, but he couldn’t do otherwise. Telling people he was doing it for Hermione—that was like making her an excuse, when the truth was Harry knew flat-out that Ron was right: Hermione wouldn’t have wanted him making any kind of dirty under-the-table deal with Draco, sex or no sex, not for her sake.
But he couldn’t bear to lose her, and he wasn’t going to lose her, not as long as he had the least scrap of a chance. He didn’t care what happened to his reputation. He’d give his life to make things better, to make things right, but he wouldn’t give Hermione’s. He wouldn’t.
He kept his head down and worked steadily the whole day. The backlog had piled up and was still piling up, but he’d made a dent in it after the last week left to his own devices, and around midmorning he made it back as far as the ink pens and the lavender-scented envelope. He hadn’t even opened it yet: he knew the type, letters from old biddy witches who wanted Harry Potter, only, to deal with their difficulty, which was usually that they’d put a piece of family jewelry somewhere and forgotten it, except for that one time when a witch had plaintively said, “It’s Basil, I just know he’s round here somewhere, and he’s got my wand,” which Harry had assumed was a cat or something and turned out to be her good-for-nothing nephew. He’d become still less good for anything after he was turned into a vampire, and when he’d come looking for a snack, she’d staked him through the heart with her wand. That hadn’t been quite large enough to do the job, though, so he’d managed to stagger away and kept waking up during the night and shambling around the big old house before falling over into a different dark corner again at dawn.
These days he usually foisted those requests off onto junior Aurors with the posh voices, but when he opened the letter, he noticed it felt oddly familiar—like Draco’s stationery, he realized after a moment, a kind of thick heavy parchment that caught the light and shimmered if you turned it sideways, with a picture coming visible at the right angle. Draco’s was a dragon, twisting around itself; this one was a wide-branched tree covered with fruit and flowers. The letter itself wasn’t out of the usual way, just a, Dear Chief Auror, I should be grateful for the favor of a visit if it were not inconvenient, to consult you upon a matter relating to my family. With regards, Emmeline Fawley Garridge
Harry looked at it a moment and then got up and poked around the halls until he found Maisie Greenwalker, one of the interns, whose family were all posh pureblood; she took one look at the note and her eyebrows flew up. “Oh, lord, you’ve been summoned to the presence, have you?”
“Er, have I?” Harry said. “Who is she?”
“Who is—” She stared at him, then said, “Right! Well, she’s a Fawley, of course, and she married Hepzibah Garridge—not quite old enough a family to be Sacred Twenty-Eight, but close enough for respectability—and she had twelve daughters before he passed away. Emmeline’s Dozen. They kept trying for a son, you see, because the estate was entailed. Anyway, all of her daughters married into wizard families, and all of them had at least six children, and those children had any number of children, et cetera, and by now you can’t throw a rock in Diagon Alley without hitting one of her descendants. She has the whole clan together on Boxing Day every year and they need to take the Expansive Ballroom at the Grand Surrey Hotel. You’d better go, you know. If you treat the matriarch with disrespect, you’ll get the whole lot of them down on you.”
“Got it,” Harry said, and he went back to his office and put the letter on the side of the desk, determinedly ignoring it for the rest of the morning, because it wasn’t real work, it wasn’t, but when the lunch hour came, he put on his robes and Apparated to the house. It wasn’t like Malfoy’s place or even 12 Grimmauld Place, just a nice sensible cottage, although the garden was especially beautiful, walled with stone and full of magic herbs and flowers and a small running brook. A tall middle-aged woman was working on one of the beds; she pushed her hair back off her head when Harry came up and said, “Can I help you?”
“Hi, I’m—I’m Harry Potter,” he said. “Mrs. Garridge asked for me.”
“Oh! You are, aren’t you,” she said, looking at his face. “Come inside, then.”
The house was like the garden, beautifully tended without being ornate. The woman led Harry to a sitting room in back where a very old witch, white-haired and with almost translucent skin, was sitting by the window reading a book. “Granny, it’s Harry Potter to see you.”
She looked up and blinked at Harry, her green eyes a little filmy over the half-moon reading spectacles. “Hello, dear,” she said. “Do sit down. Thank you, Eleanor darling.”
Harry sat down. Mrs. Garridge just looked at him in total silence for a long while, until he finally ventured, “Was there something I could help you with, ma’am? Have you lost anything?”
“In a manner of speaking, I suppose I have,” she said. “Would you be so kind as to bring me down that chart there on the top shelf?”
It turned out what she actually wanted him to do was have him bring her one massive genealogical chart after another, starting with her own daughters—thirteen of them, not twelve, so it had evidently been a baker’s dozen. Harry dutifully laid out the second and third generations on top, gritting his teeth and trying not to glare at the smiling pen-and-ink faces peering back at him with interest.
The thirteenth daughter’s picture didn’t stir, though, and her husband didn’t come with a two-generation tree of his own like all the others had, full of pureblood wizarding names. George Herbert Wrixton just appeared unceremoniously out of nowhere to take the hand of Lillian Rose Garridge and produce one daughter, before dying young.
“Do you want the next?” Harry said, trying to be polite.
“Yes, thank you, perhaps one more,” Emmeline said, and Harry got it down: Lillian’s daughter Emma, her picture also still and unmoving, with a marriage to another obscurity named Peter William Evans—
Harry stopped unfolding the chart. He lifted his head and stared at Emmeline—at the green eyes, twinkling at him now, behind her spectacles, and then he slowly finished laying out the chart to find a son named Richard Evans, with two daughters, named Lily and Petunia.
He wasn’t much use at work the rest of the day, feeling pretty dazed. He’d gone from having no family at all to having apparently all the family there was. He’d sat with Emmeline—“Call me Granny, Harry dear, everyone does. There’s no sense bothering with all those greats”—for nearly an hour, and six or seven people had wandered in and out of the house—on errands for her of one sort or another, or just to say hello or bring her flowers, and all of them were his, his cousins and aunts and uncles. Somewhat removed, maybe, but perfectly willing to own him and welcome him.
Draco appeared at six to take him to the symphony, and Harry let himself get towed along and sat through the music without really hearing anything. “Shall we have a drink?” Draco said afterwards.
“Something really weird happened to me today,” Harry said, when they were sitting at the bar together. “Do you know Emmeline Garridge?”
“Of course I do, Potter, everyone knows the old battleship,” Draco said. “What about her?”
“She’s my—” he had to stop to count it, “great-great-great-grandmother. On my mother’s side. It turns out her youngest daughter was a Squib, and…” he trailed off, because Draco was staring at him like Harry had just set himself on fire and was turning cartwheels. “What?”
“You’re one of the Horde?” Draco said. Then, warily, “Am I in trouble?”
“Er, what? Why?” Harry said, baffled.
“For taking advantage of you!” Draco said. “Just so we’re clear, Potter, if you’re going to sic that crowd on me, I’m right out.”
Harry stared at him. “What are you talking about, Malfoy? She’s just a nice old lady!”
“Oh, yes, sitting quietly by the fire in her tidy little cottage. Fell right for the window dressing, didn’t you,” Draco said. “Emmeline Garridge married twelve daughters of dubious ancestry into the Sacred Twenty-Eight, and none of them had so much as a Knut in dowry! She’s the most terrifying strategist in the entire wizarding world, and she has an army larger than Voldemort’s at her command.”
“Draco, you’re mental,” Harry said.
After the rest of the week, where Harry found himself at the cottage three times without completely meaning to, he started to think maybe Draco wasn’t entirely wrong about Emmeline. It wasn’t like she demanded he come round, but her owls seemed to unerringly catch him on his way out the door, exactly the right moment when he could stop by without interrupting something else, and the requests were always something small and reasonable—she hoped he might come by with a photograph of his mother and James when convenient, so she might invite them into the chart; perhaps he ought to stop in that evening and meet his third cousin Adler Griffin, who was having trouble with Dementors on the border of his estate; that sort of thing.
He didn’t mind—it was nice, even, having someone interested in him personally, wanting to know him in a familial way. But there was something a bit firm and determined about it, too, and when he came by with the photograph that weekend, Emmeline managed to get him to stay for tea, and while the cups were pouring she said, “Harry, I hope you will forgive an old woman for prying a little about this business of yours with that Malfoy boy.”
“Um,” Harry said, feeling his face go red.
“The family’s very old, of course,” she said, sipping her tea. “In fact, Lucius Malfoy courted one of my granddaughter’s girls while at school. We did not quite think it an appropriate match.” She paused and peered over her spectacles at Harry intently. “It must be quite difficult for you to meet anyone, with your work. I don’t imagine you would like anything formal, but perhaps you might permit me to introduce you more widely? Our family has a wide acquaintance.”
“No, that’s all right, thanks,” Harry said hastily. “I’m—I’m fine. Draco’s all right?” he added, which he weirdly found he meant. Draco was odd and and an absolute maniac about his social standing and wasn’t anything like heroic, but he had stayed all right, somehow, even with his horrible dad and Voldemort breathing down his neck. Harry had a brief flash of that moment down in the archives, the look on Draco’s face as he’d smiled at the Secret-Bringer; he swallowed.
Emmeline studied him narrowly a moment longer. “Of course,” she said, a small frown creasing her forehead as she turned back to the tea sandwiches. “Why don’t you bring him for dinner tomorrow, then,” she added. “I’d like to meet him. These articles in the Daily Prophet have certainly been unfortunate, but perhaps I’d best form my own opinion.”
“I should never have let you on the grounds,” Draco said flatly. “You’re trouble and you’ve always been trouble. Why couldn’t I remember that?”
“Hey!” Harry said, indignantly. “She just wants to meet you, Malfoy. I’d think you’d be glad of a chance to make good with her, if she’s you think she’s so powerful.”
“She doesn’t want to meet me, Potter,” Draco snapped. “She wants to vet me, and if she decides I’m not up to snuff, she’s not going to have any of your scruples about fairness and justice and all that rot, she’s just going to have her entire clan work on hounding me out of the country, and my position is not strong enough to handle them yet! What am I going to wear?” He went to his wardrobe and flung it completely open, the eighteen folding cabinets going the full length of the room.
He also insisted on going to get flowers, but not just any flowers, they had to visit six different shops before he collected adequate examples of the four extremely specific blooms he wanted, which then had to all be unwrapped and combined with another particular kind of leafy thing, and wrapped again in special paper—“Draco!” Harry said finally. “Why don’t you just get her a diamond necklace or something.”
“Inappropriate and vulgar,” Draco muttered, still frowning and fiddling with the knot. “All right, there, that’s adequate.”
Emmeline took the bouquet with a restrained smile. “How thoughtful,” she said, and immediately gave it to her granddaughter Olivia without giving it so much as a second glance. “How is your mother, dear? I haven’t seen Narcissa in some time. Of course I wasn’t quite up to attending Pansy’s debut.”
“It’s kind of you to ask after her. I’m afraid she’s gone abroad. The healers recommended a change of climate—my father’s final illness took a great deal out of her,” Draco said. Harry had never heard him sound so polite before, not even to professors at Hogwarts.
Dinner wasn’t elaborate, just half a dozen of the family around a simple table in a cozy dining room—nothing like the level of the Manor, which liked to serve breakfast as a three-course meal on Ming-era porcelain if Draco didn’t hurry things along. It wasn’t the warm noisy chaos of the Burrow, either; everyone had good manners and one of the small boys at the table was gently corrected when he bellowed for pudding, but it was friendly and easy, everyone passing dishes and chatting about other relatives, the day’s news. Draco stayed excruciatingly correct and formal all through the meal—he anyway had the kind of manners that made you surreptitiously check you weren’t doing something wrong yourself, and apparently being nervous made them come on full display. He was also, Harry realized, vaporizing some of his wine every time he took a sip, like he was afraid to even finish a single glass.
The rest of the family peeled away after dinner as the plates began to disappear and they all stood. “Why don’t we go into the sitting room and be comfortable, unless the men want port,” Emmeline said.
“No, that’s fine,” Harry said, after a quick glance at Draco, who just gave him a jerk of a nod. Once they were ensconced, Emmeline asked Draco a lot of completely innocuous questions, Draco gave a lot of completely innocuous answers, and Harry started to have the feeling he was watching a tennis match.
“The two of you went to school together, of course,” she said. “Were you very close in those days, Harry?”
“Close to murdering each other, maybe,” Harry said, because there really wasn’t any other way of describing it, and Draco coughed and said smoothly, “We were rival Seekers, of course,” like you could roll up six years of violent hatred and landing on opposite sides of the war into a game of Quidditch.
“How interesting that you should have become so friendly since,” Emmeline said, with a faintly disapproving look, where what she clearly meant was, how odd that you should have started letting Draco Malfoy shag you into the papers.
One of her granddaughters called over the Floo, and she stepped into the other room to take it. Draco sprang up from where he’d been reclining easily on the sofa next to Harry and went pacing round the room in circles like a mechanical doll someone had wound up too tight. “Are you all right?” Harry said. Draco glared at him and jerked his head towards the other room, as if to say, shh! “You could just relax a bit, you know.”
“Just listen to you,” Draco hissed, barely audible. “You can relax. You’re the high hero of the wizarding world, you’ve a fortune and a pedigree: they’re delighted to claim you. Three weeks ago I couldn’t get into my club.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Fine, fret yourself sick if you want to. I’m going to the loo.”
He came back after a few minutes and found Emmeline standing in the other doorway looking in a bit perplexed at Draco. He was perched on the edge of the piano bench, and he’d got hold of one of the curios off a shelf: a worn old wooden toy of some sort, it looked like a little wizard figure sitting on a box with a tiny door cut into it, although it was almost more keyhole than door. He’d opened up the underside and was glaring into it narrow-eyed, and then he muttered, “Oh, I see,” and took out his wand, waved it with a mutter, and floated out a single tiny glass bead.
He reached in and tapped something else with his wand, murmuring a charm, then he shut it up, turned it over, put it on the piano. “Go on, then,” he told it. The wizard sat for a moment, stirred jerkily, then slowly raised up its arms—it had a tiny stick-wand in one hand—and squeaked, “Alohomora!” The tiny door sprang open, and a spray of tiny blue-and-pink butterflies erupted out and flew across the room and out the open window.
Draco sat back, looking enormously pleased with himself. Then nearly jumped out of his skin when Emmeline said, “Good heavens, have you really fixed that old thing?” from behind him.
He jerked to his feet stiff as a block again, but Emmeline had stepped past him and picked up the little wizard box in her hands, something changed in her face, a half-unwilling softness creeping in. “Why, that hasn’t worked since—oh, since my third was still a baby,” she said, a tiny catch in her voice. “My dear grandfather bought it for me when I was just a child.”
“From Warrant’s Wonderful Emporium?” Draco said. “It has rather the feel of their work.”
“Why, yes,” Emmeline said, turning to him, and Harry spent the next two hours following along bemusedly while Emmeline led Draco all over the house and into the attics and they poked over at least fifty different things all of which were at least a hundred years old. By the end of the night she let Draco kiss her cheek as they left. Harry turned to him in the carriage. “So that didn’t turn out too,” he started, and that was the last thing he had a chance to say for some time.
Harry had to take off the next day and spend it at the solicitors’ signing contracts and the largest cheque he’d ever written in his life. It was a bit of a gulp to look at all the zeroes. Even after getting it, though, the speculators looked glum. “Could’ve subdivided it into a thousand lots,” one of them said to Harry mournfully.
“If it’s not enough,” Harry started, but his lawyer, an old bewhiskered wizard named Rowley whom he’d inherited along with Sirius’ estate, cleared his throat loudly and said, “I believe we’ve finished, gentlemen,” and ushered the speculators out.
“Don’t you let them make you feel guilty,” he told Harry sternly. “They got that land for a song to begin with: I dare say Malfoy hadn’t any idea what prime land on a direct commuter line to London is worth these days. And in my opinion, that law was a fine bit of work, whatever the Daily Prophet likes to say about it. A thousand acres of untouched magical woodland, cut down for Muggle town houses? Outrageous. Outrageous! Why, do you know the Malfoy woods are the only place in Britain where one may still find the Sparkling Red-Crested Gollup?”
“Er, really?” Harry said. He hadn’t any idea what a Sparkling Red-Crested Gollup was, but Rowley evidently did, by his firm nod.
“Why, even Muggles wouldn’t let them do it, you know,” he said. “The lands are disguised as a hazardous-waste dumpsite to keep out trespassers, otherwise they’d be protected by Muggle law, too. That’s why those scoundrels wanted them. You ought to be proud of balking them.” He harrumphed in indignation again. “It’s good to know you and Weasley aren’t only bent on trampling all tradition,” he added abruptly, to Harry’s bemusement—Rowley had always done his work with rigidly thorough precision, but this was more words than he’d ever said to Harry about anything else. “There’s enough that needs mending without letting people knock down things that don’t.”
“D’you know what a Sparkling Red-Crested Gollup is?” Harry asked Draco that evening, when they got back to the Manor after dinner at Quaffley’s Salon. The moon was a little more than three-quarters full, shining through the bedroom windows from above the trees.
“It’s something like a bat,” Draco said absently. He was stretched out on the bed and going through his large heap of mail with murmurs of satisfaction. “There’s a kind of tree in the woods they live in. Every spring during mating season, they put up a wild racket and set off little fireworks for three days in a…row…” he trailed off, jerking an envelope out of the pile from under six other messages: a large deep blue envelope with his name and address handwritten across the front, with shooting stars going across the face at regular intervals. It looked vaguely familiar: Harry remembered he’d found one on the stoop himself, yesterday, and chucked it in with the rest of the mail from strangers that he only opened once a month.
Draco just held it in his hands a moment, gone still, and then he turned it over and opened the flap, carefully, his mouth pressed tight as though he was almost afraid of what was going to be inside. He drew out a stiff card, which flung up another burst of stars that spelled out the words THE FAVOUR OF YOUR PRESENCE IS REQUESTED AT THE 893RD ANNUAL MIDSUMMER FESTIVAL OF STARS.
“Is that something important?” Harry said.
“Everyone goes, Potter,” Draco said shortly, still staring at it. His jaw was tight. “If they can. We haven’t been able to get on the guest list since my father was sent to Azkaban.” He looked at Harry with a frown. “You must have been invited.”
“Er,” Harry said.
“You didn’t go,” Draco said resignedly.
“I didn’t go,” Harry said.
“Well, you’ll go this year,” Draco said, holding the card up to the window. “With a new set of robes: I’m sending you to my tailors.” He actually laughed aloud, jubilantly, and pulled Harry in to kiss him. “You’ll even enjoy yourself: it’s spectacular.”
He tossed the card with a quick flip over to stick directly to the mirror on his wardrobe, and shoved the rest of the mail off the bed. Harry brightened, watching the letters slide to the floor, and then Draco was climbing into his arms, pushing him back into the pillows, kissing his breath away.
Thursday morning, Harry came to work and found Draco already there and waiting for him in his office, staring out the window with his hands clasped behind his back. He was wearing plain black robes, and there were faint circles under his eyes. “Everything all right?” Harry said, half reaching out to him.
“It’s done,” Draco said.
Harry froze. He cleared his throat. “When can I try it?”
Draco didn’t answer for a moment. “Whenever you like,” he said finally.
Harry had put together his best shot at a ritual and he’d run it past half a dozen of the top wizards and witches in Finland: they all thought it was as good as it was going to get. His hands were shaking a bit as he packed up his notes, and then he scribbled a final quick letter. Ron, I’m going after Hermione. If I don’t get back, the house and everything’s yours, but do me a favor and give the woods back to Draco. Sorry, I know you’ll be angry—don’t blame him, he only did what I asked. Love, Harry, and folded it and left it on the top of the desk. Someone would find it, going through his things.
“Right, let’s go,” he said, and they Apparated back to the Manor.
Draco had moved the portal outside, into a clearing just a little way from the house, with a stone ring around it. It looked worlds different: the heavy iron bars balanced each other out now, so the whole design looked somehow delicate, and everything had a faint silvery shimmer to it that extended even to the empty space in the middle, almost like an opalescence laid over the world.
“Are you sure about this, Potter?” Draco said. “I realize insane heroics are your stock in trade, but it’s not going to do Granger any good if you just rip yourself apart with an imbalanced vortex.”
Harry looked at him. Draco didn’t meet his eyes: he was looking at the portal, unsmiling. “This isn’t going to make an imbalanced vortex, is it?” Harry said quietly.
Draco looked over at him, his jaw tight. “No promises,” he snapped, but then he looked away. “Not unless you do something more stupid than usual. That still doesn’t mean it’s remotely safe to go through. The shamans used to spend a decade preparing for the journey.”
“It’s all right,” Harry said. “I think I’ve already been partway.”
“Well, that’s certainly a recommendation for going back,” Draco said, snippy.
Harry looked over the notes one more time, then put them down in the corner. He held his wand pointing at the top of the portal and spoke the opening chant, once, twice—by the second time, he could see the vortex beginning to form, swirling. Draco backed well away. Harry kept going, three times, four, five, having to shout as the wind picked up, whipping leaves around him, the vortex going faster and faster. It stayed inside the bounds of the portal, though, until he finished the sixth repetition and suddenly the whole thing gave a sort of hiccup and went smooth and glassy-black as obsidian, filling the portal ring.
Harry dropped his hand, panting, and stared at it. Draco had drifted back up to him, drawn despite himself, his eyes dazzled and hungry. “Oh, it goes down,” he murmured.
“Right,” Harry said, and took a deep breath. He felt a stupid urge to grab Draco and kiss him, like some sort of romantic farewell. “Here goes nothing.”
He walked up to the gate, his wand in his hand. He reached up. “Wait, how are you going to—” Draco said suddenly, behind him, but then Harry touched the surface and all of a sudden the world turned over.
Harry had one moment to think shit, right, it goes DOWN, and then he was falling, arms windmilling, everything around him a grey blur until he landed with a sudden thump—a fall that ought to have killed him, except it hadn’t even hurt. He stood up. There was nothing to see anywhere but grey hills, rolling gently away in every direction, and then he finished turning in a complete circle and Hermione was suddenly just there, right in front of him.
She looked—she looked awful, almost as grey as the landscape, the brown faded out of her hair and all the color out of her face. Only her eyes still had a tiny hint of brown, and her wand-hand. “Harry?” she said, staring at him blankly. He stared at her in total confusion for a moment, and then he had her in his arms.
She was strange and stiff for a moment, and then she lurched and was suddenly clinging to him, shaking, gasping. “Oh, you came,” she said, her voice breaking. “I knew you’d come if you could, but I didn’t think—you came.”
“Yes,” Harry said. “Yes, I came. Hermione, are you okay?”
“Yes,” Hermione said, gulping, pulling back to wipe at her face: she was crying, and where she rubbed the back of her hand across her face the tears smeared color back into her skin. “Yes. I’m fine. I’ll be fine. It’s just—it’s been too long. It’s hard to remember you’re alive, here. It’s been too long,” she repeated, and gasped like she couldn’t get enough air.
“Right,” Harry said. “I’m getting you out of here. Come on, the gate’s stable, it’s right up there—” and then he had a strange, sudden moment of horror, turning, looking up, where the tiny black circle of the portal hung in the air. “We’ll levitate up to it,” he said, after a moment.
“We can’t,” Hermione said. She was shaking, next to him. “Harry, we can’t. Spells don’t work here.”
Harry stood, staring up at it helplessly, and then he squinted—there was something else falling, falling fast towards them, a long snaking thing, and then it thumped into the ground at his feet: a shimmering green cord, one end tied round one of the rocks from the stone circle, and the other going up and up into the air.
Harry tied it around him and Hermione, tied her wrists round his neck, too, and started climbing. The rope began pulling them in after his weight came on it, though, and he stopped trying and just held on, one arm wrapped around Hermione’s waist. The portal started to come closer faster and faster the further they got from the ground, until it was suddenly rushing across the final distance and Harry fell out tumbling into the dirt with Hermione cradled in his arms.
Draco was standing just a few paces away, using his wand on a tall stone windlass that was winding the cord up. As soon as they fell through, he shouted, “Finite incantatem!” at the portal, and Harry heard it whooshing shut, like a box. Hermione had gone limp in his arms, still mostly grey. Draco ran over. Harry looked up at him. “Thanks,” he panted. “I’ve got to get her to St. Mungo’s.”
“Yes,” Draco said, and Harry lifted Hermione up and Apparated away.
“I don’t believe you,” Hermione said, glaring at him from the hospital bed. Ron was sitting next to her with arms folded and a righteous expression.
“You slept with Draco Malfoy!” she said furiously. “You did favors for Draco Malfoy! How could you ever think I’d want—”
“I didn’t!” Harry yelled. “I thought I wanted. I did it for me, all right? I did all of it for me, and I know it was rotten and selfish and I don’t care and I’d do it all over again and also I might just keep seeing him,” which Harry figured was worth trying to slip past them while there was some distraction available.
It only worked the other way round: Hermione and Ron both stopped worrying about what Harry had done to get her back and started worrying that Harry had lost his mind. A lot more yelling and persuasive arguments ensued, about how Draco was only using him and Harry couldn’t trust him, which was probably all true but didn’t help with the central problem that Harry didn’t want to end it, no matter how stupid that was.
“Look, I know he’s using me!” Harry said. “He’s said so. But he’s—he’s—”
“Brilliant in bed, I understand,” Hermione said, arms folded, and Harry blushed and also glared at Ron, the traitor.
“Fine, yes, and he’s good company, and he helped me,” Harry said. “And you. You’re alive because of him, and if I’m being stupid, all right, I can be stupid if I want to.”
He went back to work the next day at peace with the fact he was dating Draco Malfoy. Weird as it was, it was also the most successful relationship he’d ever managed, anyway. They’d already had plans to meet at Old Whissing that night, and when he got to the club, Wheedle took him through the back to a private room, where Draco was sitting at the table with one drink already down, buttoned up to the neck in his sharpest black robes. When Harry sat down, Draco said without looking at him, “Thanks for coming. Granger’s all right, I presume?”
“Oh,” Harry said, realizing he’d never thought of dropping a line: he’d been so preoccupied at St. Mungo’s. “Yeah—yeah, she’s going to be fine. Thanks.”
Draco nodded. Harry took a deep breath, meaning to say, look, so how about dinner tomorrow, too, and then Draco said abruptly, “I realize the terms have been fulfilled, but I trust you’ll do me one last favor,” and the words stopped in Harry’s throat, sinking down into the pit of his stomach.
After a moment of silence, Draco went on, “I can’t afford to end things the wrong way. If it looks like you’ve spurned me, the world will follow you; if it looks like I’ve spurned you, the Horde will go on the warpath. We need to stage the thing properly. The festival should do.”
“You—want to break up there,” Harry said, trying not to feel anything about it. He’d known, he’d known all along.
“In a manner of speaking,” Draco said. “No one likes a scene. I’ll leak something to the press to soften it up beforehand—we’re seeing other people, neither of us looking to settle down, that sort of thing. Then we’ll simply both show up with other companions, greet each other warmly and spend a few minutes talking in sight of the crowd, like grown adults.”
“Right,” Harry said. “Sure.”
“Yes, I thought you’d be a gentleman about it,” Draco said. He downed the rest of his glass. “I’ll be going, then, Potter. I’ll see you in a week.” He was already up, striding out the door, and Harry just sat there alone in the quiet wood-panelled room for a long time.
The festival was like stepping into a dream, a real dream: a dazzling parade of wizards and witches, each more spectacularly dressed than the next, moving like shining satellites beneath the glitter of fairy lights hung by real fairies, who were dancing themselves as they put up still more of them, throwing extra handfuls of stars into the night sky. Laughter and music and the ballroom floor full of people in fantastic garb, gliding in strange, stately dances, the skirts of their robes whirling and their feet lifting from the ground, going up the pillars and turning over, the orchestra in mid-air playing wild reels, like Chagall paintings come alive.
People smiled at him and nodded to him and even talked to him, some of them people he even vaguely recognized from the club, but he had no idea who any of them were or what they wanted or what to say to them. Draco would’ve known. This was what Draco had wanted, what he’d loved and missed: he would’ve murmured names and sly gossip in Harry’s ear without even having to think about it, would’ve known the steps of all the dances, would’ve dragged him off into a dark corner afterwards to slide his hand expertly through Harry’s robes and torment him for a while before they plunged back into the whirl, breathless and half out of their heads, under the turning chandeliers with their chips of rainbow glass.
Harry was sure loads of Emmeline’s family were around, but he didn’t know them to look at them, he hadn’t met most of them yet. He hadn’t been able to tell Emmeline anything like, actually, please do introduce me around, because she would have looked at him with his mother’s green eyes and then she would’ve known and she probably would’ve set the clan on Draco after all. Instead he’d taken Lucy Macmillan, Ernie’s sister, because when he asked round the office if anyone wanted to go, she’d nearly taken him out at the knees for the invitation. At least someone could have a good time.
Lucy found her friends and introduced him, and he tried to just stop thinking and distract himself with conversation, but he couldn’t stand it; everyone was looking sideways at the two of them, smiling like they thought they knew exactly what Draco wanted them to know. Harry twisted away from their looks and moved away into the crowd, downing one champagne after another whenever anyone offered him a glass, letting the lights blur and the music buffet him around the party.
He didn’t feel like a gentleman or a grown adult. He felt like a howling child with someone taking away something he desperately wanted, that he hadn’t known he wanted until he realized he couldn’t have it. All he wanted to do was kick and scream, and Harry knew he shouldn’t keep drinking, because he didn’t care about the party, about the joyful dazzle of it all, the galaxy turning under his feet and the music of laughter all around him, he didn’t care, Draco cared; Draco had put him in the velvet robes he was wearing and Draco had sent him here and now Draco had left him, and when he did turn up, Harry was going to punch him in the face and throw the most monstrous scene of his life.
He finally ended up snagging a half-full bottle from one of the waiters and went and sat outside on the front steps, waiting for Draco to make his fashionably late grand appearance with his polished pureblood date on his arm. Harry jerked his tie loose savagely and swigged from the bottle whenever he stopped feeling drunk enough to be angry instead of miserable. The roar of the party rose and fell and rose behind him, and suddenly he was jerking up from half a doze for another gulp, only to find his bottle had run dry. Then he noticed a thin but steady stream of wizards and witches was going past him, down to waiting carriages and Floo stations, Apparating away into the night. He frowned muzzily at the departing crowd and then looked over his shoulder: they were the last to go. The music had stopped and the floor had emptied out, nothing left but scattered fragments of twinkly crystal and bits of confetti, the sparkle of drifting pixie dust, a handful of last drunken revelers closing down the bar.
He stared blankly, still mostly drunk himself, and then it slowly penetrated—the party was over. And Draco hadn’t shown. Draco—hadn’t come. To the party of the year.
Harry staggered up to his feet, nearly taking a header as he lurched down the stairs. He couldn’t have Apparated without splinching himself monstrously, but there were a dozen broomsticks that people had abandoned at Will Call until the next morning, and he was past caring if he ran himself into a tree; he stole one and threw himself into the air, flew to Wiltshire in less than an hour, a flat-out sprint all the way, and came to a scrambling halt on the Manor drive, gravel spraying from under his feet.
He dropped the broomstick and ran to the stables, panting—it was past three, but the forge was still lit, dimly, and when he got inside, Draco was sitting at the workbench with the bits and pieces of some sort of clockwork box spread out over the surface.
He wasn’t really doing anything with it, just sitting silently in a chair, staring into the fire and moving a few of the pieces around with a finger. He was only in black trousers and a plain white shirt, rolled to the elbows and loose at the neck, not even tucked in. Harry took a step closer, and another, and then Draco slowly turned his head and stared at him.
“You didn’t come,” Harry said, his throat tight. Draco was looking at him like—like—
“Well, it’s such a bore, really,” Draco said. His voice trembled a little, steadied. “I found I couldn’t be bothered.”
“All right, are we sure we’ve broken up all the potential murders?” Harry said, rubbing his eyes. The seating chart covered the entire table.
“I don’t care if we haven’t, I refuse to look at it another second,” Draco said. He had swung himself sideways over his chair and was draped over the arms in both directions, his head tipped back with his eyes closed. “You won’t even let me snub anyone.”
“I can’t afford to snub anyone!” Harry said. “I’ve got a confirmation battle and an election to win in the next ten years.”
“I don’t see why we can’t just run off to Bali,” Draco said sulkily. “I think you’re only marrying me for my connections.”