Coffee, Cakes and Doorknob Snakes
"What were you thinking?" Hermione asked, giving Harry an exasperated look. "You've got a broken femur and two – no, three – broken ribs. And a significant amount of bruising." A small diagnostic light, the same green as her Healer robes, hovered for a moment more, then sped back to her wand.
"It was an accident," Harry said, wincing as he shifted his weight to sit up a little.
"A large part of your kitchen floor falling away was an accident?" she said, fixing him with a sceptical look as she cast a couple of Episkeys. The question distracted Harry a little from the pain as his bones knitted back together.
"Yes! No... I don't know," said Harry. He gave an experimental stretch, and there was still a dull ache, but it was nothing like it had been before. "To be honest... I think that my house is trying to kill me."
"Oh yes?" Hermione gave him a flat stare. She unstoppered a vial and handed it to him: judging by what seemed to be the word 'pain' in the handwritten scrawl on the label, it looked like some kind of pain-relieving potion.
"You could have given this to me first," he said.
"I didn't want to get a false reading," Hermione said, making a brief note on his chart. "Now, the house?"
"Well... this isn't exactly the first time something like this has happened," Harry said. "A few weeks ago, one of the house-elf heads in the hallway slipped free and er... fell on me."
"Oh, it missed me, actually. It turns out all those hours in Auror training dodging hexes come in handy when a dried up old house-elf head falls off the wall."
"I don't see how you can joke about this," Hermione said, and she frowned. "Or how this has led to the conclusion that your house is trying to kill you. I'd be more inclined to suggest that you've just let Grimmauld Place get into such a state that it is literally falling apart."
"I haven't!" said Harry. "I think the house is cursed, actually." Hermione's eyes widened but then closed, a flash of resigned irritation passing across her face as the band at her wrist flashed blue and vibrated for a few seconds.
"Look, I've got to go, but this conversation isn't over. You stay right here until my shift is over, then I'm taking you home with me. Ok?" Harry nodded, knowing that there was no arguing with her. "I should be done in about an hour, and when I come back I expect to find you still here," she said, before marching off, all flapping robes and purposefulness. Harry settled down to wait, wishing that he'd been able to finish his cup of tea before the floor had collapsed: he could do with a bit of comfort, now.
St Mungo's was busy, as was to be expected on a Friday evening. As he watched people walk in with a range of injuries and ailments, Harry reflected that he really had got off lightly: his fall could have been much worse.
He was lost in thought, wondering just how it was that more people weren't injured thanks to magic and all the hazards that came with it, when Hermione returned, looking weary, her head haloed by the hair escaping her tight bun.
"You are coming home with me. No arguments," she said, and Harry nodded mutely and rose to join her as she wove back through patients and Healers, until they were outside the hospital and heading for the nearest Apparition point.
Ten minutes later and they had joined Ron under the slowly darkening sky of a late-summer's evening, one of Molly's stews reheated and steaming on the table next to them, and a beer each in hand. Hermione had cast one of her warming charms against the hint of chill in the air, and they were sat outside the small caravan that was currently Ron and Hermione's home, surveying the building site that would one day be their new house. The sound of gentle waves lapping at the lakeshore could just be heard in the background.
"Spill the beans, Harry," Hermione said. "I want the whole story."
"Yes, what have I missed?" asked Ron. "And what are you doing here on a week night, Harry?"
"Harry was at St Mungo's with a broken leg today," Hermione said, before Harry could say anything. "Apparently he's having some trouble with his house." She took a long sip of her beer, and Harry sighed. Ron looked between the two of them before tucking into his food.
"I have had one or two issues with number twelve, recently," Harry said.
"Issues?" asked Ron, mid-chew. "What, like mould? Or, er," he paused, glancing over at Hermione, "house-elf problems?"
"No, not mould. Although actually, there is a bit of that too. And not Kreacher either, he's been most helpful. Still refuses clothes," Harry added. "I had a small... accident, with one of those house-elf heads in the hallway."
"An accident?" asked Ron. "What were you doing to have an accident with one?"
"Nothing at all! One of them fell down, that's all," Harry said. "Nearly flattened me, too. But I'm fine, obviously."
"I'm glad you're okay, mate, but I can't understand why you haven't got rid of them yet," Ron said, grimacing slightly as he shook his head. "They are seriously creepy. In fact, I can't understand how you can stand living in that gloomy old house, whether it's trying to kill you or not."
It was a conversation they'd had before. While his friends were busy planning their future, Harry was happy just to live day to day; he hadn't done anything to his house, despite living there for a few years now. Hermione had told him, more than once, that he had commitment issues, but he just wanted to not have to worry about arrangements and fussing. He was tired of defending the way he lived: not everyone could be like Ron and Hermione, all driven and building fantastic careers or saving the world. He'd done the saving thing already, and he just wanted a break. A quiet life.
There was no avoiding this conversation now though, but Harry sighed before continuing.
"Kreacher says I need to check everything over for curses," Harry said, choosing to ignore Ron's comments. "I'm not making excuses, I think I need to get a Curse-Breaker in. My er, my bed collapsed a while back too: pillars, canopy, it all ripped and tore apart." The softest of summer breezes, brushed over them, cool and warm all at the same time, and Harry decided to tell them the truth. "I was in it at the time."
Ron put down his beer.
"Blimey, Harry, were you okay?" He shifted uncomfortably. "And, er, I don't think I want to know what you were doing to break it."
"Harry! Why didn't you tell us at the time? Were you injured at all?" Hermione said at the same time. She gave Ron a brief disapproving look.
"It wasn't important," Harry said. "And I wasn't doing anything. Just sleeping – by myself," he said, glaring at Ron. Harry turned back to Hermione. "No real injuries, thankfully: just some splinters. Which were a bit... embarrassing," he added. He shifted in his seat at the memory of a backside full of them, and Ron's eyes widened.
"That's what that was! You winced every time you sat down for a week. I thought you'd been... you know," he said, making a suggestive gesture with his hands. Harry scowled as Ron threw back his head and laughed, until Hermione poked him in the side.
"Hey," said Harry. "It's not funny—" he stopped as he realised what Ron was saying. "Wait, you spent a whole week thinking that I'd been—"
"What else was I supposed to think? Although I couldn't work out why you weren't in a better mood. I should have known better than to think you'd actually got laid."
"Thanks," Harry muttered. He really didn't find it funny: falling apart was the most action that bed had seen in a long time. He hadn't had much more than a quick fumble over the past year or two, not since his forced outing in the Prophet. 'HARRY POTTER, GAY!', had been quite the headline to read one morning after. And a pretty swift end to what Harry had hoped might be a new relationship.
It hadn't been exactly how Harry would have chosen to come out, but once it was done, it was done. Harry still winced though, at the memory of Molly's face the next time he'd seen her: she'd been so uncomfortable, she hadn't been able to meet his eye. At least she'd stopped asking about when he was going to get back together with Ginny.
Harry sighed and pushed his stew around with his fork. He speared a round of carrot. "I think it's cursed," he said. He ate his carrot, and it was tender and tasty. "The house that is. The house-elf head, my bed... and then today, while I was having a cup of tea in the kitchen, the floor under the table fell straight through to the cellar." Ron's eyes widened at this latest revelation.
Hermione snorted. "Yes, and it was only when you'd actually broken some bones that you told us any of this."
"Well, you know... I've been busy," said Harry, aware of just how weak that excuse was beginning to sound. Especially when he was saying it to two people who were building their dream house in their spare time.
"So what are you going to do about your house, then?" Ron asked. Harry frowned and shoved a large forkful of stew in his mouth to avoid having to answer for a second. It really was very good.
"Well, Kreacher told me that there were still probably some curses left on things in the house," Harry said, "I– well I was going to find a Curse-Breaker, but..." he trailed off.
"You added it to your list of things to do for the house, and then you promptly forgot all about it, right?" Hermione said, and Harry shrugged.
"If you really do want to get a Curse-Breaker," Ron said, and Harry could hear a certain lack of faith behind his friend's words, "I hope you realise who the best one around is." Ron was giving him an almost pitying look. Harry shook his head, confused.
"I'll owl Bill when I've got time," he said.
"No, mate, not Bill." Ron paused before continuing, shaking his head slightly. "Malfoy," he said, sitting back with a kind of smug satisfaction. Harry looked at his friend with a rising sense of despair.
"No—" he started, but then he remembered that Malfoy's name did pop up at work from time to time. He knew that some of the other Aurors had worked with him, but all that he could remember were the remarks a few had made about Malfoy being a bit of an arse, which merely confirmed what Harry had long believed.
"Yeah, sorry, mate, but I reckon he's your best bet."
"Oh really, Malfoy?" Hermione's eyes widened. "How interesting. I wonder," she said, her face becoming hidden from view as she bent down to her plate again, "what else will have to break before you call him in?"
"The floor falling out from beneath me was enough, believe me," Harry said. "I was lucky that Kreacher was around to take me to St Mungo's: my wand landed halfway across the room." Kreacher had been in such a state that Harry had almost immediately sent him to Hogwarts, not wanting to have him fussing loudly in a public waiting room.
"Well, you can stay here for a while if you want. Until your house is a bit safer," Hermione said, as if inviting him to share the airy house being built below, not the cramped caravan behind them. She followed his gaze as he twisted in his chair. "It is a bit bigger on the inside, you know," she said. "I did a fair bit of research on wizarding space when we were planning the house. We've got a sofa bed: stay tonight, and see how you find it." Harry nodded, and finished off his stew while Hermione and Ron talked a little. They sat out long after the sun had gone down, drinking beer under the stars.
Harry actually hadn't thought about Malfoy for years, and had no idea where or how to get hold of him. In the end he asked Ernie Macmillan, who was the last person at work – other than Ron – to have mentioned him.
"Are you sure?" Ernie said. "He is a bit of a prick, you know."
"So I've heard. But then I've also heard that he's the best Curse Breaker around."
"Oh, he definitely is. Do you remember the Mornay case last year?" Ernie asked, and Harry nodded. Old Eliza Mornay had been dismissed at first as a bit crazy, but it had soon transpired that her Floo had been cursed, and anyone who passed through it found that some part of their body had become a little more fish-like. Finding your skin covered with scales was one thing, but sprouting gills was something else. Harry had seen the first set of Aurors sent to investigate, and it hadn't been a pretty sight.
"That was Malfoy who broke the fish curse?" Harry said. He'd missed the end of the case as he'd been ankle-deep in mud in Norfolk at the time, tracking a small sect of Necromancers.
"Yep, and he was the third person they brought in. The first two were useless in comparison – one of them ended up in St Mungo's himself. Anyway, Malfoy had it sorted within a day." Harry felt hope rise at Ernie's words. Even if Malfoy was unbearable, it sounded like he was efficient enough for their contact to be limited.
The reply to his owl came while Harry was wrapping up a case report. He pushed aside the forms with relief, and opened his note from Malfoy. As he read the flowing script he frowned: Malfoy would take the job and could start the next day, but he wanted full access to Grimmauld Place and for Harry to be there too, at least for the first day or two. As it was a Tuesday, this meant that either Harry took some time off, or waited until the weekend.
His back ached, a sharp pain across one side, as he thought of the sofa bed at Ron and Hermione's; Harry rose to find Robards and arrange a few days' leave.
Harry got to number twelve early the next morning to find Malfoy already waiting for him, stood leaning back against the railings, seemingly lost in thought as he gazed at the houses opposite. He looked tall, probably just because he was so lean, and his hair was still that shocking white blond. It was cut slightly shorter than it had been at school, and Malfoy was wearing smart Muggle trousers with a fitted wizarding robe which could double as a fancy jacket. When Malfoy turned to face him, Harry got a shock: somehow Malfoy had matured into a good-looking man. His face was long and elegant rather than being pointy. He looked bored though, and his eyes travelled up and down Harry for the briefest of seconds – which was enough for Harry to feel scruffy in his old t-shirt and jeans, and wish that he'd shaved that morning – before he stepped forward and held out his hand.
"Potter," he said. Harry took his hand. It was dry, and warm, the handshake surprisingly firm.
"Malfoy," he said. "Thanks for coming out to see me."
"I'm here to see the house, actually, Potter," said Malfoy, releasing his fingers. "I am curious as to why on earth your house would want to finish off what Voldemort started." The words fell quick and cold from his mouth, and Harry took a step back without realising it. Grey eyes regarded him, unblinking. "Today, perhaps?" Malfoy added.
A sting of frustration made Harry grit his teeth, and the thought Yes, still a git, passed through his mind; but he wanted his house back, so he gestured to the steps then made his way to the front door, not checking to see if Malfoy followed him. Harry gripped the doorknob, suddenly worried that number twelve might not let him in, but he turned and pushed and the door swung open as usual.
Inside was gloomy, and Harry felt awkward in the space. He'd never really done much to the place, but it was still his home and he just knew that Malfoy would be full of cutting little observations.. Suddenly he saw it through a stranger's eyes, and he was all too aware of the damp, and the faded fabrics and scuffed furniture. He also hadn't forgotten that it was originally a Black house, and that if Sirius hadn't left it to him it might actually have become Malfoy's, instead.
"Is this where the house-elf heads were?" Malfoy asked, peering up towards the silhouettes of the boards they'd been mounted on. Harry was happy to skip the small talk.
"Yes, um, I think Kreacher moved them to the attic."
"Kreacher is your house-elf, correct?" Harry nodded. "And where is he now?" asked Malfoy.
"He's at Hogwarts, just until this is sorted. I don't want him getting hurt too."
"Good, good," muttered Malfoy, but his eyes were already scanning the walls, for what, Harry didn't know. "This will be easier without house-elf magic complicating things," he added. Harry felt pretty redundant as Malfoy began casting a range of spells. He recognised the first one or two — they detected traces of different kinds of magic, and the Aurors used them sometimes — but then they grew more complex. Harry swore lightly under his breath as a cascade of purple stars fell down the wall.
"This won't damage anything, Potter," Malfoy said. "Not," he added, addressing the wall, "that it wouldn't be an improvement."
"Hey!" said Harry. Even his friends weren't this direct.
Malfoy lowered his wand and turned to look at him. "Are you telling me that this," he waved his hand at the water-stained, faded wallpaper lining the walls, "is all precisely to your tastes?"
"Yes– no– it's none of your business! Look, I'm busy, and when I have time I'm going to make this place a bit more homely. But first I'd quite like it if it would stop trying to kill me."
"You speak about the house as if it is a sentient being," said Malfoy. He raised his wand-free hand to his chin and rubbed it. "Interesting." Before Harry could respond, Malfoy had turned around again, the shower of sparks now moving further around the space. Harry stood back, feeling a little useless. When Malfoy got to the curtained-off portrait of Walburga Black, the sparks took on a red tint, and he stopped. "What's behind here?" he asked, frowning. "There's a lot of malignant energy coming from this area."
"One of your ever-so-charming relatives," said Harry. "Or at least her portrait. It's stuck up there with some kind of Permanent Sticking Charm, and er, well, just draw back the curtain to see why she's usually hidden." Malfoy regarded him with eyebrows raised, before turning and pulling back the threadbare velvet curtains with a flourish.
A high-pitched wail cut through the air, then small black eyes fixed on Malfoy, seeming to rest on his hair. The eyes widened, hatred drawing the face into an ugly scowl. Blood traitor! shrieked Mrs Black, Consorting with this filthy half-blood! Curses on the poxy house of the Malfoys. She began to moan, her voice rising to a thin yet ear-piercing scream. Malfoy stepped back, and snatched the curtain closed again. It was a moment before he turned to face Harry again. His lips were set in a tight line, and his face was pale.
"As I was saying, such a lovely home you have here, Potter," he said. Harry kept silent this time, because there was no denying that Walburga Black's portrait did little for the ambience. He looked away from Malfoy, training his eyes instead on the moth-eaten velvet shielding them from the angry old woman. He had never liked the portrait: as well as the unpleasantness of the screaming, it always reminded him of Sirius, unhappy and so disconnected from his past. He was still glaring at the curtain when Malfoy spoke again, his voice softer. "She does sound like she could be a relative of mine, but it still leaves me perplexed as to why you'd want to call this place home in the first place."
Harry shrugged. It wasn't like Malfoy was the first person to question his decision to keep Grimmauld Place. His feelings about the house were complicated, and privately he sometimes wondered if Ron and Hermione, with their more normal family backgrounds, could ever really understand. He certainly wasn't about to get into it now with Malfoy, of all people.
"It suits me fine," he said.
Malfoy looked him up and down. "Yes," he said, "I can see that," the words rolling off his tongue with distaste. Harry felt the hot stirrings of anger begin to rise in his gut.
"I can probably remove the portrait for you," Malfoy said, as if he hadn't just insulted Harry, "but I'd like to leave it in place until I've worked out exactly what has been happening in this house. There may be a reason a permanent charm was used."
A surprising amount of relief sprang up in Harry, cooling his feelings of resentment: it would be wonderful to get rid of the foul portrait, and no one else had been able to do it. But then he frowned, as it struck him that he didn't have a clue what was happening to his house, and that he really was completely dependent on Malfoy. The thought of trusting him with something this big was a challenge after all the years of suspicion. He didn't feel as he had at school – seeing Malfoy so cowed after that awful night on the Astronomy tower had softened his attitude – but this felt like a much bigger leap. Plus there was the fact that Malfoy was being an annoying git.
He stepped back and kept quiet as Malfoy returned to sweeping his wand across everything in sight. He wasn't sure what to make of Malfoy: he seemed pretty focused in his job, which was a good thing, but Harry could definitely see how he rubbed people up the wrong way.
After another ten minutes of Malfoy performing impenetrable spells, Harry began to get bored. He ran his hand round the edge of the troll-leg umbrella stand, currently holding one purple umbrella which Harry seemed to remember was broken, and, he saw as he peered in, a leaf which must have blown in the year before. He leaned a little heavily and managed somehow to knock over the stand, trying and failing to right it before it clattered to the floor.
Malfoy paused, and lowered his arm with a barely-concealed sigh. He looked at Harry as if he were something trodden into the house under someone's shoe. "You—" he took a deep breath, and started again. "You know, it's polite to offer a guest refreshments," he said. Harry stared at him blankly, thrown by his change of tone. "A drink, Potter, would be welcome," Malfoy said slowly. "A coffee would be adequate. Milk, no sugar," he added, as he turned away again.
"Oh," said Harry. He hadn't really thought about making them a drink, and felt bad for his lapse, but at the same time, he was irritated with how Malfoy had asked. Feeling a little like a dismissed house-elf, Harry headed down to the kitchen. The request might have been a little... brusque, but Harry realised that actually he welcomed the break from the tedium of waiting around. As he walked down the stairs Harry thought about Malfoy, unable to quite figure him out: he seemed... bristly, but there had also been a glimpse of something else. And he was obviously committed to his job. All in all, a mystery.
When Harry reached the kitchen door, he pushed it open and felt a moment of disorientation at the chaos which greeted him: he'd forgotten that half the room was missing now. The sink and the heavy dresser containing all the glasses and mugs were on the other side of the room, but there was a ragged void where the table had been. There was no way he'd be able to offer Malfoy anything to drink. Harry turned to make his way back upstairs, but jumped back with a yelp when he found Malfoy standing by the kitchen door.
"What are you doing, sneaking up on me like that?" Harry said, the words rushing out in annoyance.
"I remembered that you'd said that part of the floor had fallen through down here, and I'd finished upstairs."
"Yeah, I forgot, I guess." They stood together and surveyed the damage. "I don't think that I'm going to be able to offer you anything."
"No, I can see that," said Malfoy, but Harry got the impression that he wasn't paying any attention to their conversation, as Malfoy's eyes moved around the room.
"I was going to leave this room until last, but seeing as I'm here now I think I might as well examine it now."
"What about the hallway?"
"What? The hallway? Don't be silly, Potter, that was only five minute's work. This looks far more interesting." He cast a strengthening charm on the floor remaining to the right of the door, and made his way in.
Harry reminded himself that he needed Malfoy, and took a deep breath. After silently counting to ten, he felt ready to talk to Malfoy again. But Malfoy was already at work. Sparks were again flowing around the room, and Malfoy's eyes were bright as he pointed his wand at walls, ceiling, and what was left of the floor. He bit his lip slightly, Harry saw, when he was concentrating. It gave him the air of a child, hard at work over a puzzle, and Harry smiled at the thought. He watched as Malfoy's wand swept through the air again and again, until Malfoy stopped, and turned to Harry again.
"Do you have to stand there like that? I still want a drink you know. I think... a cappuccino would do nicely about now. Probably better than whatever you could make me here. I noticed a Muggle coffee place round the corner—"
"You expect me to be at your beck and call, really?"
Malfoy arched a brow. "Absolutely. You don't expect me to work without some form of sustenance, do you? Honestly, Potter, how were you brought up?"
"I— do you always have to be so rude?" Harry said, but Malfoy just gave an elegant little shrug which said that he really didn't care, more clearly than words ever could. "Fine, I'll get you your stupid drink," Harry said, and he walked out, shutting the kitchen door with a rather satisfying slam as he did so. He was aware that at some level his behaviour was juvenile, but honestly, Malfoy was just such an arrogant arse.
When he got back from the coffee shop, he could see the glow of magic seeping out from under the kitchen door, and, pushing it open, his eyes protested at the brightness of the web of light Malfoy had woven. It was as if some wonderfully demented spider had been let loose, with gold and silver strands covering almost every available surface, as well as suspended in the air. It was beautiful, and for a second Harry forgot that it was Malfoy who had done this, or even why. Without thinking he reached forward to touch one of the shimmering threads, but was stopped by a quiet voice.
"I really wouldn't do that, if I were you," the words were said evenly, but there was real tension in them too. Harry pulled back his hand as if it had been burned. "Everything would fall apart if you touched that," Malfoy added, and Harry finally could see him, standing to one side of the room, near the broken-flagstone edge, just before the floor fell away into the cellar below. His face was bright with the light of every single line of magic meeting at his wand point. The sharpness of his cheekbones was accented, and his hair seemed to glow. Harry took a step back as he noticed the way Malfoy's teeth were tightly gritted together, the sweat beading on his face.
Harry kept quiet as he watched Malfoy complete whatever it was that he was doing. The lines of magic seemed to pulse with light, then change in hue until they were a cold and clear blue, before fading to grey and then disappearing from sight entirely. The room became a dark and empty shell. Malfoy looked ashen, and Harry passed him his coffee, suddenly grateful to be able to offer it.
"That was really... beautiful," Harry said. Malfoy lifted his head up from his cup.
"Beautiful? That's what you have to say about a Grade Four MacInnister Search and Discover Tracing Charm?" Malfoy sighed, then shook his head slightly. He tilted his head as if thinking, and looked at Harry for a moment. "Ok, I can accept that as an adequate response – if I take into account the fact that you obviously know nothing about my field of work. Thank you," he said, and took a sip of his coffee.
"What does it do?" asked Harry.
"It searches for, and hopefully discovers, traces of malignant magic. As might be suggested by its name, Potter," said Malfoy. Harry felt the slow rise of heat in his cheeks. Why must Malfoy talk to him as if he were stupid?
"I..." Harry swallowed, and tried again. He was an Auror, and he knew that he was no idiot, whatever Malfoy thought. "Did you find anything?" he asked.
"At last, an intelligent question," said Malfoy, and Harry frowned. "Sadly, no, it didn't identify anything at all. No one has borne you any ill will in here for years." He muttered something under his breath which sounded suspiciously like, "Not that anyone would want to hurt their precious hero," but Harry chose to ignore it. He hadn't really expected them to get on at all, and a bit of sour grapes was fine; Malfoy hadn't hexed him, and they weren't school boys anymore.
"Nothing? Really?" he said instead, and he sighed.
"I know you want to clear all this up, of course you do," said Malfoy, "but I need to work in a systematic way. I don't want to miss anything."
"Of course," said Harry, and then he paused. "Do you think... could I ask you a question?" He looked over, and didn't continue until Malfoy nodded. "Why do I have to be here? I don't understand. And if it's just to get your coffee, then I don't really think that's a good enough reason for me to be missing work, and I might as well ask Kreacher to come—"
"It's not just the coffee," Malfoy said, his words rushed as he interrupted Harry. "Although I hope you're not going to be difficult about meeting my physical needs in so basic a way." Harry blushed at Malfoy's phrasing. Somehow, it sounded dirty. "It's because the things which have happened here have all happened to you; it's not just that things fell down, it's that they fell down in in such a way as to potentially injure you. I need to see how the house interacts with you."
"Oh, okay," said Harry. Put like that, it was obvious. "But I still feel like I'm not really helping, that I'm getting in the way," he added.
"Well, that can't be helped, at this stage. Maybe you could sit while I work, and read a book or something – it's a little..." Malfoy paused. Unnerving? Distracting? Harry silently supplied, "...annoying having you hovering the whole time." Malfoy tipped back the cup, draining the last of the coffee, then handed the empty paper cup to Harry and swept past him as he headed back towards the stairs.
Standing in the empty kitchen, discarded cup in hand, Harry reminded himself again that this would really all be worth it in the end.
"So what's he like?" asked Hermione, as she handed him a plate to dry. Sometimes when it was just the two of them like this, they would wash up the Muggle way, as a sort of guilty pleasure. It drove Ron mad, but there was nothing quite like the familiar routine of soapy water and standing together, helping each other until everything was clean.
"Oh?" said Harry, wiping the plate dry and putting it away. He had been lost in thought, remembering how lonely a job washing up used to be for him. "Sorry, what?"
"Malfoy. What's he like?"
"Complete pillock," said Harry, holding out his hand for the mug Hermione had just washed. "But he seems to know what he's doing. He did a—", Harry squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to recall the exact name. He opened them a moment later with a feeling of triumph at being able to remember, "—MacInnister Grade Four Search and Discover Charm."
"Grade Four? Wow, not many people can produce more than a Grade Three," said Hermione, and Harry suppressed an eye roll: of course she recognised the spell. Sometimes he seriously doubted that there was anything she didn't know. "He was always very capable, or rather bright at school..." she trailed off. "Well, apart from when he was being a mean little pureblood poster boy."
"You always did better than him," said Harry quietly. She gave him a quick, warm smile.
"I know, but sometimes I did wonder what that was like for him, always being behind me like that," she said. "Running second to someone his parents hated, someone he hated."
"It always seemed fitting somehow, given how nasty he was to you," said Harry. "It's strange, but although he was a little demanding today, I can't imagine that he'd call anyone names anymore."
"Well I'd hope not," said Hermione. The dishcloth squeaked against a glass as she washed it.
"It's– he's quite... difficult to be around, but at the same time, it's fascinating watching him work. I got to see that MacInnister Charm twice, and it's beautiful." Harry paused, remembering how the lattice of light filled his bedroom, giving it more airy grace than it ever had before. "He's obviously putting his all into the spell work, but he doesn't seem inclined to put the same effort into being civil. I can't work him out at all."
"No, I can see that. I bet you will though. You never could resist a bit of Malfoy mystery." Hermione waggled her fingers like a Muggle magician, dripping water on to her sleeve, and Harry laughed.
"That's not true," he said.
"No? What about Sixth year?"
"Oh come on, he was obviously up to something then! And anyway, that was years ago. He's not like he was at school. He's... I don't know, he's annoying, but he seems harmless. A bit bossy - he kept sending me out for coffee and sandwiches." Hermione raised her eyebrows.
"The great Harry Potter sent to fetch food! However did you cope, Harry?" she asked, her eyes twinkling. Harry could hear the laughter in her voice, and gave her a gentle push. "Well, you do always complain about people treating you with kid gloves."
"I know, but he was just so– it's the way he asks." Harry stopped, seeing the sceptical look on her face, and shook his head as he thought about how Malfoy had been all day. "Actually, more than anything he just seemed focused on the job," he said. He could see the way he held his tongue between his lips, frowning in concentration as his wand spun light around the room. Harry suddenly realised that he'd been quiet for a while in his contemplation of the memory. Hermione was watching him with particular interest, and he could see that she was close to brewing yet another of her theories about him. Whatever it was, he was sure he'd hear about it soon enough.
"Malfoy also thinks that he can get rid of the portrait of Sirius's mum," Harry said, feeling hope rise again at the thought that Malfoy might actually do it, and that there might be a chance that number twelve could be made into a proper home.
"That's brilliant. I wonder how he's going to do it?" Hermione asked, distracted from her teasing by the notion that someone knew how to do something which had eluded her in the past.
"I don't know, but he did seem fairly confident."
The last of the dishes done, they went to sit back outside to enjoy the sunset over the lake. The sky was a deepening blue, laced through with stripes of pink cloud, everything doubled up below across the water, even as it rippled slightly in the breeze. The delicate curves of migratory birds, in their last swooping flight before nightfall, were moving silhouettes against the sky; Harry and Hermione chatted quietly, a world away from the closed and claustrophobic spaces of number twelve.
The next morning, Harry arrived at Grimmauld Place first. The late-summer morning sun warmed his face as he waited. When Malfoy strolled into sight, all straight lines flowing as he walked, Harry held out the cup of coffee he'd bought earlier, steaming thanks to a hastily whispered warming charm.
"Thank you," said Malfoy.
"Just meeting your basic physical needs," said Harry, and he was gratified to see a hint of a smile on Malfoy's lips. As they walked up the stairs, Harry felt hopeful that today Malfoy would be a little more... bearable.
It took approximately three minutes for this hope to be dashed.
"Every single thing?" Harry asked, shocked.
"Yes, Potter. I am going to have to inventory every single object in this house, and you are going to help me."
"But that's going to take days!"
"If you prefer, you can leave this house, never break the curse, and never return. The choice is yours," Malfoy said, his voice flat and uncompromising.
"Fine," said Harry, putting his coffee down on the mantelpiece with more force than was strictly necessary, and some of it sloshed over the side of the cup. Harry vanished it all with an angry flick of his wand. He could see that this was just going to go on and on.
Malfoy took a deep breath. "Look, it won't take too long, not with you helping. You've got the rest of this week off, right?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, but it's Thursday already," he said.
"Yes, I'm perfectly aware of which day of the week it is, Potter. My point is we have four whole days before you need to return to work, if you include Saturday and Sunday," Malfoy said, speaking slowly.
"You want to work through the weekend?" said Harry, aghast at both the thought of another four days cooped up with Malfoy, and of missing his traditional weekend time with his friends and Sunday lunch with the Weasleys.
"This line of work does not always follow office hours. And as you have already made clear, you have a limited amount of time to offer me. So in this instance, yes, I do want to work all weekend."
"But every single thing? Really, isn't that a bit much?"
"Do you always argue this much? Yes, I am going to examine every object. I will also perform any curse-breaking necessary on them, in essence 'de-Darking' your house," said Malfoy.
"Oh!" said Harry. Suddenly he imagined a home with no corners which refused to light up, no drawers snapping shut on his fingers, no strangely locked doors. "Actually, that sounds kind of... brilliant," he said, looking up and smiling at Malfoy.
"And during the process, I will be able to discover if any wider curse is associated with an object in your home. Or so I hope," Malfoy added. His face softened a fraction as he returned Harry's smile.
There was a moment of silence before Harry cleared his throat. "So, er, where do you want to start?" he asked.
"At the top," said Malfoy immediately. "We'll start in the attic then work our way down."
"The attic? Really? You do realise that will probably take us all day, right?" Harry said, groaning. Malfoy just shot him a glance which made it clear that this was too stupid a question to answer, and they made their way upstairs.
In the shadows of the attic, dark shapes were grouped in clusters, and Harry was reminded of the Room of Hidden Things, with its stacks of furniture and discarded treasures. He was aware that he had begun to sweat in the close heat, his t-shirt beginning to stick to his back, his jeans feeling heavy. Beside him, Malfoy's breathing became shaky, and the sound seemed to fill the room; for a moment Harry was sure that they both saw again the wall of roaring flames which had claimed Crabbe's life. Harry lifted his wand and whispered until the room transformed, bright sunlight streaming into the centre of the room. A single wide beam cut through air heavy with dust, and although outside the light shadows still lurked, they seemed a little less mysterious with the brightness of day beside them.
Malfoy blinked, then whispered, "Thank you," before peering up to see exactly what Harry had done to get the light to shine in.
"I charmed a section of the roof transparent," Harry explained, as Malfoy stepped into the circle of light on the old floorboards. He left neat, pointed footprints behind him.
"Transparent?" asked Malfoy, turning around. "Not charmed to show the sky outside, like at Hogwarts?"
"No, that takes a whole team to achieve. This is something a bit more temporary. Aurors use it sometimes, for surveillance."
"How long does it last?"
"I'd say... about five hours," answered Harry. The most he'd been able to manage before was four hours, but for some reason he felt the need to impress Malfoy. Which was ridiculous, considering that Malfoy didn't even recognise the spell.
"In that case, let's get going," said Malfoy. He raised his wand, and a minute later, every object in the room had a small white light attached to it, like a glowing button. Some digits hovered in the air by his wand for a second. "So we don't miss anything out," he said, "when we go through the... eighty-nine bits of rejected Black history stored here." He began to unroll what looked like an immensely long scroll, and brushed a small patch clear of dust, then sat cross-legged on the floor. He placed an ink pot before him, and prepared a quill for writing. "Bring me the first item, Potter," he ordered, without even looking up.
"I'm going to have to do all the fetching, again?" Harry asked, annoyed at being bossed around. Draco put the quill down.
"Not beneath you, I hope?"
"No! It's just—", Harry looked around the room: there were just so many things.
"Look, I need to perform between one and three spells on each item, and make a record of it here," Malfoy said, prodding the scroll in front of him. "As I explained before, I need to work in a methodical fashion, and if you can bring me each item it will take half the time it would if I was on my own."
Malfoy's explanation actually made sense, so Harry swallowed back his grumbles and went to fetch the first object, when Malfoy barked out "Stop!"
Harry jumped slightly at the sharpness of the cry, and pulled back his hand as if Malfoy had slapped it away. Unnerved, Harry turned to face him. "What now?" he asked. Malfoy shook his head in disbelief. He looked golden, in the bright sunlight. Golden and pissed off.
"Not with your bare hands!" Malfoy said. "I shouldn't have to explain something so basic to an Auror, surely. We're checking for cursed objects, remember?"
"Yes, in my own home," Harry said. He could feel himself stiffening up with his own anger. Who was Malfoy to order him around and shout at him like this? "I do usually touch the things in it, you know."
Malfoy stared at him. "Your home which has been, in your words, trying to kill you."
"Oh," said Harry. He felt a rush of embarrassment at not having thought of that himself. "Well if you put it like that... Fine, we'll do it your way." He turned back and shuddered when he saw what the first thing was: he wouldn't have wanted to touch this anyway. He levitated the dried up old house-elf head towards to Malfoy, and lowered it in front of him. Malfoy's eyes lit up.
"Is this the one which fell on you?" he asked.
"No," Harry said, and went back and fetched the other heads. He pointed at the one with the cracked mounting plate. "I think it was this one. And it didn't fall on me, exactly: it landed next to me. It didn't hit me."
Malfoy nodded at Harry's correction. "Thank you," he said. "I need to keep precise." Harry was mildly surprised that Malfoy didn't have more to say, but then he could see how caught up he was with the house-elf head, his wand already hovering. After a while, Malfoy picked it up, with his bare hands, and put it to one side.
"What happened to no touching?" asked Harry, surprised.
"I can't find anything on it," said Malfoy. "It's hideous but harmless."
Harry was quiet, remembering the crash as it fell down. He tried to look at it objectively, as if it were a case at work. "That makes sense, in a way," he said, beginning to feel the tug of an idea.
Malfoy looked up at him. "Go on."
"Well... if my house is trying to kill me, the objects themselves don't necessarily have to be cursed. I mean, I've been sleeping on the bed for a while now, and I've walked across that kitchen floor loads of times."
"Yes," said Malfoy. "I see," he frowned. "I still want to make a full inventory, to get an idea of what is in your house, and to what degree Dark Magic is tied to your home. I've only really tested for the intent behind any Dark Magic so far; but to be honest in an old house like this there's likely to be enough residual curses lying around that they might explain your predicament." Harry nodded, because that did make sense.
It was fascinating, watching Malfoy at work. Harry wasn't bored anymore, his fidgeting frustrations of the day before almost forgotten. Malfoy would make a neat record of whatever he was looking at, and then set the parchment aside and perform what Harry decided to call the Pink spell, which enveloped it in a pink bubble, then the Blue spell, in which a small ball of blue light entered the head, or chair, or portrait, rattling it around before exiting with a pop and disappearing.
Malfoy didn't explain what either spell did, but from watching Harry concluded that both tested for Dark Magic and Curses: sometimes, the shell of light would flash purple, or the blue light emerged flickering and weak, and then Malfoy would do his tongue-between-the teeth thing and Harry got to watch some Curse-Breaking first hand.
"Tricky," murmured Malfoy, when they were about halfway through the room. He was rotating a small statuette of a semi-naked woman in the air in front of him. "Potter, this one has the Cassandra Curse on it: anyone who touches it would speak the truth, and no one would believe them."
"How can you tell?" asked Harry.
"Look," said Malfoy, performing the Blue spell again, "see the pattern it makes as it flickers? I've learnt the key patterns for all the common curses." Harry hadn't noticed any difference between this series of blinks and any of the others. "Anyway, my issue is that I can remove the curse, but unfortunately it will probably destroy the statuette. If you prefer it can be stored, but the curse will remain."
Harry looked at it. He hadn't ever seen it before, and if he hadn't ventured up here he probably would never have known it existed. "Destroy it, I don't want to have anything cursed in my home," he said, and Malfoy nodded.
First Malfoy set up a small Shield Charm around the object, which gave everything inside it a slightly eerie silver sheen. He looked up once at Harry, then turned his attention back to the task at hand.
The wet tip of Malfoy's tongue made an appearance again, as he closed his eyes in concentration. Harry remained quiet, curious about whether Malfoy would just perform a spell to break the curse, or one to destroy the object. He got his answer when Malfoy opened his eyes and whispered a steady stream of Latin syllables, his wand gripped tightly in his fingers, almost touching the statuette. A black mist began to pour out from the top of the statuette, and to Harry it looked as if it were made of tiny moving particles, trapped in a beam by Malfoy's wand. A glance at Malfoy's face showed it closed down in a frown of effort.
Malfoy began another spell, and the mist separated into strands, forming a claw-like shape which scraped at the edge of the Shield Charm. Just when Harry was about to step forward to cast his own Protego, there was a high-pitched buzzing, the cloud became a dense spot of black, and then burst and fell as a cloud of dust, the statuette crumbling away to nothing at the same time.
"Wow," said Harry. His breath was coming just that little bit faster, and he could see pink in Malfoy's cheeks, his hair slightly damp and sticking to his forehead. "That was... incredible." Malfoy's eyes caught his, and they were bright.
"Yeah," he said, before shaking himself as if to clear his head. "It looks impressive, but it's quite tiring."
"I could help, you know," said Harry. "I'm pretty good with a Shield Charm."
Malfoy stared at him. A look of surprise passed over his face, a quick glimpse of vulnerability before he returned to his more usual aloof expression. He took a breath to say something, then seemed to change his mind. When he opened his mouth, Harry got the impression that whatever he was going to say wasn't what he'd intended.
"That would be great. I– I'm not used to having someone help me," he said. There was an awkward silence after this admission.
"Do you want to come with me to get some more coffee?" asked Harry, after the moment of silence had stretched out to become almost uncomfortable. "I mean, I could just go get some, but maybe you'd like a break? It's probably lunchtime now anyway." Now Malfoy was looking at him strangely, and Harry didn't know what to do. He felt his cheeks begin to heat with embarrassment. "Or, er, I'll just—"
"No, I'll come," said Malfoy. "You just surprised me. Most people aren't really willing to spend any time with me, if I'm not actually waving my wand at things and getting rid of Curses."
"I just thought... You look like you need some fresh air, to be honest," said Harry. "It's not like I'm asking you on a date or anything." As soon as he'd said the words, an image of the two of them sat close and talking over coffee sprang to mind, along with a stab of interest. Oh. Harry turned away to hide his confusion. Malfoy was annoying. He was not someone to— Harry stopped before he could finish the thought.
"Not a social thing then?" asked Malfoy.
"Sustenance," said Harry with a smile. "Meeting a physical need," he added, and quick as a flash, his mind had returned to the image of the two of them, heads bent together in an intimate tête à tête. He felt the flicker of another sort of physical need and shivered.
"Well come along, then," said Malfoy, already heading for the door. "Hurry up."
When they reached the street it became apparent that although Harry's Fenestra Charm had let through some light, the attic had still been gloomy enough to hide just how filthy they both were. Despite not handling many of the things he'd examined, Malfoy had a smear of dust and sweat across his forehead. Harry didn't quite know how to point it out, and there was something endearing about the impeccably dressed Malfoy with sweaty hair and a dirty face. He looked... freshly shagged, to be honest. Harry swallowed, and walked a little faster. Obviously being shut up in a dusty and airless space all morning had addled his brain.
The streets around his house weren't too busy, but as they walked, Harry realised with a start that they weren't heading to his normal sandwich shop; however fast Harry went, it was Malfoy who always seemed to be leading, long legs making confident strides. Within a few minutes they arrived at a café much nearer Wizarding London than Harry would normally venture. It was small, but looked cheerful enough with its overflowing noticeboard, with flyers for city beekeeping clubs and knitting circles, and a couple nursing cups of tea by the door.
"Relax," hissed Malfoy as they walked in. "No one will know you here." Harry was surprised that Malfoy knew how much he hated being spotted, but then he saw just how stiffly Malfoy was holding up his head; and it occurred to him that Malfoy thought that Harry didn't want to be seen with him.
"No– I–" Harry said, struggling to find the right words. It was important somehow, that Malfoy know that it wasn't like that for him. But he didn't get a chance, because Malfoy was already ordering a sandwich at the counter. He was very specific about what he wanted – he asked questions about the bread and even the provenance of the salami – and he rolled his eyes at Harry's request for cheese and ham on white bread. Harry had to force himself not to stare when Malfoy paid for his order: it felt a little obscene, somehow, seeing Muggle money in his hands.
It was such a lovely day, and the house so gloomy, that by unspoken agreement they had chosen to eat there, rather than take sandwiches back to Grimmauld Place. They found a table, tucked away at the back by a blue-painted window, the sash wedged open with a piece of wood. It managed to look cheerful even though it opened on to a tiny space which appeared to be mostly made of brick wall.
Malfoy had ordered a coffee, but Harry had opted for tea, which arrived shortly, strong enough to leave tannin stains on the mug. He took a perverse pleasure in stirring three spoonfuls of sugar into his tea, just to see Malfoy wince with each one.
"Honestly, Potter, you have the tastes of a true Plebeian," he said. Harry looked up and grinned.
"I try my best. Anyway, how much coffee do you drink in a day? You must be high as a kite by the evening."
"I drink a sufficient amount, not a ridiculous quantity, by any means: just enough to enjoy it. And besides," he added, slowing to a drawl, "I need to have something stimulating in my day to look forward to." The light from the window fell at an angle across their table, and Harry could feel his arm warming in the heat of it, but Malfoy's face was brilliant in the sunshine. The smudge was still there, and Harry decided not to mention it.
"Your job seems interesting enough," he said.
Malfoy smiled then, a real smile, and suddenly he didn't look snooty, he looked... well he looked normal. In that moment, if Harry had seen him for the first time, he wouldn't have assumed that he was a wizard or even a bit of a prick: he just looked like a man, relaxed and happy.
"Yes, it is. Never two days the same. Did you know that I worked at Gringotts, after the... well, at first?" Harry shook his head. "It was the dullest thing ever," said Malfoy. "Each day I'd come in, and do exactly the same thing, over and over. With Curse-breaking there's always a new challenge to meet."
"I like that about my job too," said Harry. "There are always different things to do, and I don't need to spend all day cooped up in an office. Although it would be easier without the paperwork," he added.
"Paperwork?" asked Malfoy, his eyebrows raised.
"Oh, I know it sounds awful – like I think a bit too highly of myself – but yes, paperwork. It's a bit embarrassing, really but when I used to go out on regular field calls, members of the public would only talk to me, or sometimes they froze up entirely, and we could never get any proper work done, it didn't happen every time, but often enough. But that's not the worst of it." Harry paused to run a hand through his hair and sighed. "The other Aurors and even Robards got a bit sick of it, so now I have a role as a 'Senior Auror', which seems to mainly involve reviewing cases, offering advice and signing off paperwork. And I don't have a regular partner anymore – I'm lucky to get out of the office."
Malfoy was silent, and when he did speak, he was quiet. "There are worse things in life than paperwork, Potter," he said.
"Really?" said Harry. "I had Voldemort as my sworn enemy, and I'm not too sure about that." Malfoy looked shocked, actually starting slightly when Harry said Voldemort's name, but then he shook his head and let out a thin laugh.
"You– you're not quite how I thought you would be," he said, his eyes not quite meeting Harry's.
"Thought I'd be a bit of knob, didn't you?" asked Harry with a smile. Malfoy looked up, his eyes lit with amusement.
"Oh, I haven't said that you aren't," he said.
"Well, I'm still trying to figure out if you're really the giant prick you come across as," countered Harry. The sound of a quiet cough made him look up.
"Sorry to interrupt all this talk of knobs and pricks, boys, but here are your sandwiches," said a woman bearing two plates. She bit her lip and put the plates down, then hurried away back to the counter, before either of them could say anything. Harry could just see her out of the corner of his eye, whispering with the other woman behind the counter, both of them looking over to Harry and Malfoy, while they giggled and looked pleasantly scandalised.
"Well, that wasn't embarrassing," said Harry, his face heating.
"Well if you must be so crude, Potter—"
"It was just a bit of fun. As well you know."
"Well, that's the difference between us then: you're happy to have a bit of fun, whereas I take life a little more seriously."
Harry stared at him. "You really believe that?" But then he remembered the way Malfoy's eyes had crinkled at the edges when he'd looked up before, and he shook his head. "I'm pretty sure that we're both capable of being serious, and of having fun." Malfoy's eyes slid away from Harry's gaze, and he made a non-committal noise. Harry didn't push it any further: he was pretty sure that if he did, he might start calling Malfoy a prick again. Which might not go down that well, even if it was true.
For a few minutes, neither spoke as they started on their sandwiches. Sorting through dusty objects in a stuffy attic helped build quite an appetite, it appeared. As did a touch of embarrassment and social awkwardness.
As Harry ate, he kept returning to the idea that Malfoy thought that he didn't want to be seen out with the two of them together. "Look, I know I called you a pr— that is, I just wanted to say that I– I don't care about being seen with you," he said. Malfoy gave him an unreadable glance. "I mean– when we walked in I thought you might– I just don't like being mobbed when I eat my lunch," he said, feeling a little pathetic. "But I don't mind that I'm with you."
"You were right: you clearly do think highly of yourself," said Malfoy. Harry's cheeks were burning again, but not with embarrassment. Malfoy just didn't make anything easy.
"Never mind," he muttered.
Malfoy paused, then reached out and touched his arm for the briefest of moments. "No, I know what you're saying, and thank you," he said.
They kept eating their sandwiches, both retreating into a safer silence; the brief moment of warmth they had shared was over, a more familiar awkwardness taking its place.
Harry mulled over the contradictions of Malfoy, and realised that he didn't really know much about him. He looked over at Malfoy, who was eating his food as methodically as he worked, all small neat bites and no mess, and had to hide a smile at the sight of the large grey-black smudge still smeared across his forehead. Harry ignored the sudden urge he had to lean forward, and wipe it away with a gentle swipe of his thumb. He could imagine the warmth of the skin, the way his fingers would brush past the sweat-damped hair above. He tore his eyes away, unsure what to do with the image. He took a large bite of his food, but the remainder of his lunch became almost impossible to chew and swallow, and in the end he pushed his plate away. Malfoy ate on, oblivious.
When they got back to Grimmauld Place, Malfoy caught sight of himself in the large silvered mirror in the hallway. Harry watched as he scowled and got his wand out, Vanishing the smudge.
"You could have said something," Malfoy said.
"Yes, but it wouldn't have been as much fun," said Harry.
"I've already expressed my opinion on you and fun, Potter," said Malfoy, and he marched up the stairs, leaving Harry smiling to himself. And not surreptitiously checking out Malfoy's arse – also neat – as it moved with each step, beautifully framed by his tailored trousers. Definitely not doing that.
The attic felt smaller and smellier than it had before, now that they'd had a walk outside. Harry was glad that they'd had a break though, because it was easier for him to cast a new Fenestra Charm than to have to maintain the first one all day.
Malfoy returned to his work with the same level of focus and attention that he'd shown before lunch. This time though, on the occasions when he discovered an object was cursed, Harry would set up a few Shield Charms. Helping felt good, and lessened his feelings of claustrophobia: the attic was not his favourite place.
The next couple of hours didn't fly by, exactly, but Harry didn't get bored either. He was glad, when Malfoy had finished, that there was still the rest of the house to do, and that there were still a few hours left before the end of the day.
Malfoy stood at the entrance to the bedroom. Harry knew how it looked, shabby and faded, the posters browning, empty eyes staring out at the room. But at the same time, this had been Sirius's room, and he didn't really think that he could bear to hear snide remarks about it. He felt himself tensing in anticipation.
Malfoy walked in and ran his hand over one of the posters.
"I wish I'd had the balls to do this. It would have driven my father wild," he said.
"Yes, I'm under the impression that it did the trick for Sirius," said Harry. And in a sudden moment of insight he realised that Malfoy's room at home must have been like the one next door: sterile, cold, the room of the child who toed the line.
"My cousin," said Malfoy, softly. "All this family I've never met."
Harry didn't know what to say. He probably saw more of Malfoy's family than he did, thanks to his regular visits to see Teddy. He knew that Malfoy had never met his aunt or his little cousin.
"It's just such a pity that he liked women," Harry said in the end, looking back at the posters. "These do absolutely nothing for me." Malfoy laughed in an almost-snort, and Harry grinned.
"I'm not sure that it would have made much difference to my father, as long as the posters were Muggle," said Malfoy, touching the yellowing paper again. After a moment he cleared his throat and took his wand out. "Fascinating as the topic of teen rebellion is," he said, "I'm here to work." He cast his little object-counting spell again, and began his Blue and Pink spell routine.
As it turned out, there really wasn't much of interest in either Sirius or Regulus's rooms, beyond old school books, a dented old set of gobstones, and a wizarding chess set with a missing knight and a huge crack across the board. Which only left another three floors to explore.
"We can continue tomorrow," said Malfoy. Harry nodded and shut the door to Regulus's room. They made their way down the stairs, but rather than leave the house, Malfoy stopped in front of the curtain-shrouded portrait of Sirius's mother. "How long have you lived here?" he asked, turning his head to look at Harry.
"Oh, about five years now," said Harry.
"Yes," Harry said with a sigh. "Five years."
"And in that time you've basically done nothing to this house?"
Harry shrugged in response. Malfoy was facing him now, his face marred by a frown as he struggled to accept Harry's lack of enthusiasm about his home.
"Why do you live here, Potter?" he asked in the end. "This place is falling apart. The portraits hate you. I... I just don't understand."
It was the second time Malfoy had asked this question, and this time Harry decided to just answer honestly, tired of making excuses for his choices. "It's all I have," he said. "I've got so little from my past, and I like the idea that this house has a bit of history. I like that it's a wizarding house too..." he stopped, aware suddenly that Malfoy was giving him a strange look.
"Yes. I... I think I… a bit of history," Malfoy said, the words coming slowly as if he was reluctant to talk. "If I could, I'd go back to Malfoy Manor and live there, even with the bad memories, for similar reasons." They shared a moment of surprise at this odd little moment of connection, before Malfoy cleared his throat and turned back to face the curtains.
He reached out, to touch them for a moment.
"Goodbye, aunt dear," he said. "And you too, Potter! Enough with the dawdling, some of us have homes to go to."
Harry grimaced at Malfoy's little joke, and together they left the house.
The lake water was cold, but Harry still wiggled his toes in appreciation. His friends were both working, and he was grateful for the peace and quiet, for this chance to sit outside with his feet in water. He picked up a small stone and threw it in, watching as dark shadows rose in its wake. It disappeared from sight, and as it sank Harry returned to his rambling and confused thoughts about Malfoy.
He was still just as irritating, and yet there was also something... Harry closed his eyes and visualised the tight curve of Malfoy's arse. Ok, he could admit that he found Malfoy attractive, but that was just a matter of aesthetics. It was personality which counted and well, Malfoy's personality was just so prickly. Prick-ish, prick-like, a prick, Harry thought with a smile. He shook off the smile as he reflected on the fact that there was just so much history between them: history which for the most part they were successfully ignoring. Yet the fact that it existed was enough to mean that nothing could happen. Harry was faintly disappointed by the thought, and threw another stone into the water.
He'd just have to keep working with Malfoy, enjoy the view, and leave it at that.
When he arrived at number twelve the next morning, coffee in hand, Harry's heart couldn't decide whether to sink at the sight of Malfoy waiting for him – he'd wanted to get there first – or leap at the smile Malfoy gave him. It lurched and fluttered in his chest for a moment.
"Seeing as you got here at a decent time yesterday, I thought we could get another full day here again," said Malfoy, taking his coffee without a word of thanks. Harry held on to the flash of irritation this caused with relief, being much simpler to deal with than fluttering hearts.
The front bedroom on the second floor wasn't one that Harry really ever went into. He sometimes would wander up to Sirius's room when the mood took him, but mostly he only ever really used the kitchen, drawing room and his bedroom. It had been decorated in a sickly combination of yellow and black, a frieze of snakes running around the top of the room. The silk on the walls was stained and torn now, the black of the furniture chipped and cracked.
"I think we'll start with the big pieces first," said Malfoy, nodding at the bed with its twisting serpent posts. "The Blacks were certainly fond of snakes, weren't they?" he said.
"Yes," said Harry. "Sometimes, when I'm bored, I try to get them to talk to me." Malfoy's head shot up.
"Do you mean—"
"Yes, Parseltongue," Harry said, a little embarrassed. He didn't normally talk about his ability to talk with snakes, but after all, Malfoy had seen him do it before. He walked over to the bed, and rested his hand on the curved back of a snake.
"Do you hear me, serpent?" he asked, the harsh sighs and sibilant hisses of Parseltongue filling the room. "I wish to speak with you." Before he could check for a response though, Harry heard a strangled gasp coming from Malfoy. He turned and froze when he saw Malfoy, eyes wide and his lips parted, short, shallow breaths coming from them, and suddenly Harry remembered that Malfoy had lived with Voldemort, and that the last snake he'd heard someone talk to was Nagini. "Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"You didn't scare me," said Malfoy. His voice sounded... huskier than normal. He turned to stare at Harry "You—" he stopped, and suddenly he did look a little worried. There was something wild about his eyes, and he took a couple of deep breaths before continuing. "Just let me get on with my job, okay?" he said, and Harry nodded, feeling contrite for not having thought it through a little better.
Malfoy worked in silence as he checked a wardrobe over. Harry found himself becoming restless, and he was aware that every time he sighed or fidgeted, Malfoy made an answering sigh or twitch. Harry thought he might be sent away, but in the end Malfoy pointed over to the wall and asked if Harry could bring the portrait down. Harry leapt at the chance to help, but then he looked between the two paintings and frowned. Both portraits were sleeping. One showed a portly man, his waistcoat straining over his paunch, holding, for some reason, what looked like a bunch of turnips. The other showed an older woman, but dressed up with feathers and bows and a not inconsiderable amount of rouge. Harry vaguely remembered that she had a tendency to make terrible innuendos, when she wasn't asleep.
"Which one do you want first? Middle-aged Vegetable Botherer, or Wrinkled But Saucy?" he asked.
"I heard that, young man," said Wrinkled But Saucy, her voice thin and tremulous. She was obviously not, as Harry had assumed, asleep. "And I liked it," she added, winking before her eyes drifted shut again.
Malfoy pointed at her portrait, and there was another mumbled "Young man!" as Harry lowered it in front of Malfoy.
Before starting though, Malfoy ran his hands over the frame. "Am I correct in thinking that you are going to have an amusing name for every portrait in this house?" he asked, looking over at Harry.
"Yes," said Harry. "Well, it amuses me, anyway."
"Indeed," said Malfoy, and he shook his head slightly.
"Oh, just get on with your Pink spell," said Harry, who had been hoping for at least a smile.
"You know the one that I mean," said Harry. "The first one you do. Before the Blue one." Malfoy sighed.
"How you are the hero of the wizarding world, I do not know."
"Well, that was more a kind of one-off thing," said Harry. "Now I'm just an Auror who makes up silly names for the portraits in my house."
"The 'pink spell' as you call it, is actually a Curse Revealing Charm, and the 'blue spell' is a Travelling version of it," explained Malfoy, his wand in hand. "It both finds hidden curses, and helps to identify which one has been used on an item." The portrait was briefly surrounded by a warm glow, before it faded. "Both are necessary to ascertain if something has been Cursed, as some Curses are hidden within an object, only being brought forward if used in a certain way." There was muffled "Ow!" as the blue light burrowed into the painting.
"Or by a certain person, or in conjunction with a particular object?" asked Harry.
"Precisely," said Malfoy. He nodded over at the other portrait, Wrinkled but Saucy obviously having been clean of any Dark magic. Harry quickly switched them over so that Malfoy could work on Middle-aged Vegetable Botherer. "I was hoping that I would find some linked curses, or ones triggered by a single key, which might help explain your difficulties with the house." Malfoy paused to cast another pink bubble and didn't speak again until that painting too had been checked over with both spells. He ran a hand through his hair. "I can't find anything though, and I have to own, I find it most irritating not to have been able to figure this out yet," he took a deep breath. "But I will work it out. I will."
Seeing the look of determination on Malfoy's face, Harry was struck with the certainty that Malfoy really would do it.
They went out together for lunch again. A cold front had blown in overnight, and Harry admired the fit of Malfoy's robes, which buttoned up to a high collar under his chin.
"That looks almost like a Muggle coat, you know," he said as they walked down the front steps.
"Yes," said Malfoy, "which is precisely why I wear these robes when working in a Muggle area." He shot Harry an incredulous look, and Harry could almost hear the obviously, you idiot, tagged on the end.
"Well, it looks good on you," Harry said. Malfoy didn't respond except to raise an eyebrow, and Harry blushed. He hadn't meant it like— well, actually, he had. He looked away.
They didn't talk much on the way to the café, and by the time they got there Harry's fingers were cold. This time, Malfoy made a huge fuss about which cheese he wanted, and the exact thickness to which he required his chorizo sliced. Harry ordered a jacket potato, and he smiled again as he felt, rather than saw, Malfoy's sneer at his choice. They settled into the same table as before, although it was no longer bathed in golden light.
"The back room above yours would make a better bedroom for you, you know," said Malfoy.
Harry thought about the room they had visited that morning: it was just as run-down as any of the others, with a faded rug on the floor and torn paper on the walls.
"I don't see what's so special about it," he said, puzzled as to exactly why Malfoy felt he could advise Harry on his living arrangements, yet intrigued that Malfoy had been thinking about his home in this way.
"If it was your bedroom," said Malfoy, ignoring Harry's less than enthusiastic response, "you could turn the room downstairs into a study. You could have the bathroom next to the bedroom to yourself, without having to share it with anyone who used your drawing room. And you'd still have three spare rooms for any guests."
"But then I'd have all those extra stairs to get up and down," said Harry, unsure quite why he was indulging this flight of fancy. Malfoy dismissed his objection with a wave of his hand.
"You're a fit young wizard. You'd cope," he said.
"Look," said Harry, "it's all academic if I can't actually live there, isn't it?" Malfoy gave him one of his affronted glares, but sat back and took a sip from his coffee.
"I will sort your house for you, Potter," said Malfoy. Harry was about to protest that he really didn't need him to say where he should sleep, when Malfoy shook his head. "I mean that I'm going to work out what this curse is." He put his cup down and rubbed at his forehead with his long fingers for a moment. "Although at the moment, I don't understand why you've had these things falling down." He looked up at Harry, and raised an eyebrow in question. "Unless you've been faking it to get some attention?" he asked. Harry wasn't sure if he was serious or not.
"Sorry to disappoint you," said Harry, "but this is a one hundred percent genuine house-trying-to-kill me situation. "I don't," he said, leaning forward and meeting Malfoy's eyes directly, "exaggerate about these things." Harry delighted in the faint flush which spread across Malfoy's cheeks as he held his gaze a little too long to be comfortable. Malfoy coughed slightly and suddenly seemed to find his coffee cup fascinating.
In the silence which followed, it occurred to Harry that he might not have sought Malfoy out, but that he was pleased that their paths had crossed again.
"How did you get into Curse-Breaking?" asked Harry, suddenly curious about how the frightened boy he'd seen at the Battle of Hogwarts had transformed into this confident, if still annoying, man. "You seem so... sure of yourself."
"Thank you," said Malfoy. He took another sip of coffee. "Before we lost it, I was trying to remove Dark magic from Malfoy Manor," he said, a far-away look in his eyes. "It was an impossible task, in some ways. I think it was easier for the Ministry to come in with their team of Curse-Breakers; there were more of them and besides, they didn't have the same ties to—" he stopped.
"Yes?" said Harry, "ties to...?"
"The wards," said Malfoy. "You keep saying that it's the house, trying to kill you... I wonder..." He frowned, and began to mutter to himself.
"Eat up, Potter. We need to get back to your house. I need to check the wards."
"The wards?" asked Harry. "I don't understand."
"How much do you know about wards?" Malfoy asked.
"A bit," said Harry. "I know that they can be anything from a one-off spell like an Intruder Charm, to a whole set of spells laid down on a building, tied to an individual witch or wizard." Malfoy nodded.
"Yes, and in an old house like yours, the spells are laid down over generations, and often are intended to protect both house and the family living within it."
"So you think that there might be a curse placed on the wards?" asked Harry.
"Perhaps," said Malfoy. "Or it could be any one of a number of things. These matters are clouded by the age of the house, and the fact that you weren't born a Black. We need to go back, and take a closer look at your wards. And maybe we can find a way to talk to the house, too..." he trailed off, and frowned. Harry was intrigued by this last statement, but didn't dare interrupt Malfoy when he was so obviously thinking through all the possibilities. They sat in silence, eating their food and interrupted by the odd word escaping Malfoy, who didn't eat much, instead chewing on his lip and narrowing his eyes as he thought it all through.
Harry ate half of his potato, then pushed it away as Malfoy had begun to tap his fingers on the table. "Let's go back to Grimmauld Place," he said. "I want to see how you talk to the house."
Malfoy stood up, scraping his chair back as he did so. "Oh, I think you can work that one out for yourself. Just think, Potter."
They walked back, with long strides and not much talk, as Harry tried to work out what Malfoy meant.
As number twelve appeared from between its neighbouring houses, Harry let go of the whole 'speak to the house' issue, and thought instead about Malfoy's theory that his problems with the house might be linked to the wards. It made sense, but he had no idea how Malfoy was going to fix it. He felt the tingle of energy he normally did when an investigation was midway at work: there was a mystery here, and they were going to solve it. Or Malfoy would, with his pink-tinged cheeks and sharp humour, and that lovely arse of his.
The hallway was just as glum as ever.
"I don't suppose you want to hear my thoughts on how to improve this space?" said Malfoy, looking around.
"Malfoy," said Harry, "please just stick to the Curse-Breaking."
Malfoy gave him a flat look. "I'm only trying to help," he said, in his blandest voice. But then his face shifted into something more... alive, as he walked up to the curtained off portrait at the end of the hall.
"No," said Harry. "Tell me that this isn't your plan to 'talk to the house'." Malfoy stopped, and looked back.
"Only in part," he said. "Brace yourself." And then he whipped open the curtains with a dramatic flourish.
"Foul disturbers of my peace! Intruders on the House of Black, children of dis—" Sirius's mother's voice was cut off as Malfoy's Stunner hit her.
"Well that's certainly... direct," said Harry. Malfoy shrugged, and drew the curtain back over the portrait before he answered.
"I only wanted to check something. Does she always talk like that?" he asked.
"Yes," said Harry. "If you can get her down, it would be great."
"Eventually, I will. But for now, what do you know about her?"
"Not much. She was Sirius's mother – you can check exactly how she's related to you on the tapestry in the drawing room."
"That sounds like a good idea. I do want to explore the wards a little more, but I also need to finish examining the contents of your home," said Malfoy. "The drawing room was next on the list anyway."
"Yes, but– you still want to check each thing over?" said Harry, dismayed that Malfoy wasn't going to come up with some speedy solution. He had been hoping that this new line of enquiry would result in some quick results.
"I told you before, Potter: I am always thorough," Malfoy said, and then he did his sweeping off up the stairs thing again.
By the time Harry had caught up, Malfoy was already standing in the drawing room looking at the family tree. "So she's my Great Aunt. How charming," he said. "And she was only sixty when she died. Interesting." He glanced briefly at Harry, "I fear that my family haven't really made a very good impression on you," he added.
"Some of them are ok," said Harry, thinking of Teddy and Andromeda. So, apparently, did Malfoy, as his hand reached out for the charred spot where Andromeda's name had once been.
"Do you see them?" he said quietly. Harry didn't dare look at him, so just kept his eyes trained straight ahead. Malfoy sounded so... vulnerable.
"Yes, I do. I'm Teddy's godfather," said Harry. He knew that Andromeda never mentioned the Malfoys: when she spoke of her family she always meant the people she had lost, Teddy, and now Harry too.
"Sometimes I wish..." said Malfoy. He didn't finish his sentence, and Harry didn't push him. After a while, Malfoy reached up to touch the gilt names again. "I notice that you're not on here either," he said.
"Of course not," said Harry, puzzled. "I'm not a Black."
"No," said Malfoy. "Apparently not."
Finally, he turned to look at Harry. They were standing quite close to each other, and Harry could see very clearly just how striking Malfoy's eyes were; they were pale, and filled with light. He was transfixed with the sight of his eyelashes, each one distinct and so fine that they were almost transparent, as they swept down with each blink. Harry backed away, struggling to remember what they were talking about. Malfoy said nothing, but turned to the tapestry again, this time wand in hand. The familiar pink glow spread across the family tree and Harry sensed that whatever that moment had been, it was over now.
When Malfoy got to the glass-doored cabinets on either side of the fireplace, he sighed. "It seems my work here is done," he said. "But I bet these were crammed to the top with evil little things, weren't they?"
"Oh yes," said Harry. "If I recall correctly, it took us a few days to get rid of everything in there."
"We?" asked Malfoy.
"Some of the Order. Molly Weasley, Fred and George, Sirius. Ron and Hermione, too. We, er, we mainly bashed things to stop them working," said Harry.
"Bashed things?" said Malfoy. "Amateurs," he muttered.
"It worked!" said Harry.
"Yes," said Malfoy, "but there are reasons people hire a Curse-Breaker. One of you could have died. Some of the things these old families kept– they were, are, capable of great harm."
"I know," said Harry, remembering the locket, "trust me, I know."
Malfoy spent a long time checking the room over: apparently the 'bashing' had resulted in small leaks and spillages, with sections of half-cursed carpet and cabinet alike. Harry's room, even with the destroyed bed at its centre, took less time.
"This bed is not, nor has it ever been, cursed," announced Malfoy as the bead of blue light made its way back to his wand. "It is now just an ugly pile of broken wood: there's no need to keep it around," he added. Harry took this as his cue and Vanished it with a twist of frustration.
"So you're still no closer to working out what happened, then?" he asked.
"No, I wouldn't say that. Are you always so impatient, Potter?"
"Yes," said Harry. "Especially when I have to sleep on a lumpy sofa bed every night. Actually, Hermione says my being impatient about some things is because," he paused to remember the exact phrase, "I 'don't want to deal with the emotional pressure around them'. She says it's easier to get annoyed than think about why it matters so much in the first place."
"So why does this house matter so much to you?" asked Malfoy.
"Because it's my home," said Harry, simply. "I've never really had one before."
"And yet it lies, virtually untouched and crumbling around you?"
"Yes, well, Hermione also says that I have commitment issues," said Harry. "She has lots of theories about me," he added.
"She sounds delightful," said Malfoy, without even a hint of malice. Before Harry could say anything, he moved towards the stairs. "I think that we can move downstairs now, this floor is finished."
Once they reached the dining room, Malfoy began checking the portraits, chairs and table, but it was obvious that his thoughts kept returning to the wards.
"Do you feel the wards, Potter?" he asked.
"Feel them?" asked Harry.
"Are you aware when someone enters the house? When someone Floos?"
"Well..." Harry considered the question. He hadn't really given much thought to how he felt the wards before: he had assumed that most things had been sorted by the Order, and hadn't had any problems. Or none until the accidents.
"That's not a very encouraging response," said Malfoy. "Maybe it's just not something you've been aware of before." He sucked his top lip in as he thought. "We'll test it," he said, "I'll go outside, and walk up to the door. I want you to pay especial attention to anything that feels out of the normal, no matter how slight."
"Okay," said Harry. Malfoy walked out of the room, and a moment later Harry heard the front door open and then close. He put a hand on the dining table to lean forward so that he could see Malfoy, standing in front of his house.
The room felt quiet, empty without Malfoy there, and Harry realised how accustomed he had become to having company: Malfoy's company. He shut his eyes and concentrated. He didn't sense anything different, but then Malfoy hadn't come back up the steps yet. Or he didn't think he had. Harry cocked his head to one side, trying to hear if Malfoy was by the door yet, which he knew was probably cheating, but he really didn't feel anything yet.
A subtle creaking noise began to sound above his head. Harry didn't remember hearing it before, but it was definitely there. It grew louder, and something made him open his eyes just as the sound became a tinkling, as hundreds of pieces of glass began to shake and rattle: in a flash Harry realised that the chandelier above him had come loose.
He began to move away, but his reflexes, no matter how Auror-tuned or Seeker-fast, were not enough, and the jarring sound of glass teardrops shivering and knocking against each other grew louder, then stilled for a second, before a loud crash rang across the room. Harry heard the impact first, loud and terrible, as the chandelier hit the table and the floor, and knocked him down; a second later he felt a tearing pain in his shoulder and the echoing thud of his head hitting the floor. For a moment the world went black, and then he heard Malfoy's voice.
"Potter! Can you hear me? Potter... Harry... please."
Harry managed to open his eyes slightly, and groaned at the brightness of the light. Something moved to block it out.
"Don't move," Malfoy said, his voice quiet but with a slight wobble, a rising quiver which made Harry want to reach out and reassure him. Except everything hurt: his head throbbed and his limbs ached from the impact of the fall, but his eyes watered most from the waves of pain from his shoulder.
"I don't think I could... even if I wanted to," said Harry. He shut his eyes, but Malfoy stroked his cheek, and the touch was enough to make them open again.
"Try to stay awake, Potter. I'm going to get a Healer here, okay? Um, I've had problems at St Mungo's before, so I'm going to call my own Healer." He disappeared from sight, and then only a minute or so later Harry heard someone step through the Floo.
"Bloody hell," came a woman's voice. "What have you done, Draco?"
"Just help him," came Malfoy's terse reply.
Pansy Parkinson's unmistakable bob and nose swung into sight. Harry groaned again.
"Overrun by Slytherins," he said.
"Ha!" she laughed, a short loud bark. "Well the decor fits," she said, looking around the room.
She knelt beside him, and cast a spell which brought instant relief to Harry, dulling the pain in his shoulder to a gentle throb.
"Thank you," he said.
"No one needs to endure pain like that if a Healer is around. Now let me see what's happened to you before you thank me," she said. She ran a few diagnostic spells, then rocked back on her heels. "You've got a fractured collar bone, and several lacerations from broken glass. You've also got quite a deep wound on your shoulder, and a considerable weight constricting your breathing and your movement." She looked up. "You can move it now, Draco," she said, and as Malfoy Levitated the remains of the chandelier from Harry's chest, he felt the crushing sensation lift.
Parkinson then spent some time retrieving every single piece of glass from his skin, and healing every cut. Harry lay, immobile, as she steadily and methodically set about healing him, and his eyes found Malfoy. His skin was pale, so pale, and it was drawn tight as he watched. Harry closed his eyes again as Parkinson healed Harry's collarbone with an Episkey to match Hermione's, and then cleaned and healed the deeper cut on his shoulder.
Malfoy and Parkinson helped Harry up to a sitting position. Malfoy sat behind him, with an arm around him to support his weight, and Harry could feel the tremble of his body against his own.
"Well, that does answer one question," said Malfoy. "I think that you're right: this house really is trying to kill you." Malfoy was so close to Harry that he could feel the heat of his breath.
"I did already tell you that," said Harry. He turned towards Parkinson. "Thank you," he said.
"It was a pleasure," Parkinson said. "I– I owed you. I'm sorry for what I said, back—"
"It doesn't matter," said Harry. "It was a long time ago. And besides, you've just patched me up beautifully."
"Is he always this lovely?" she asked, directing her question at Malfoy.
"Sometimes," Malfoy said, "when he isn't being a knob." Harry would have laughed, but he was having trouble distinguishing the individual words; the vibrations as Malfoy spoke were most distracting. Parkinson raised an eyebrow in response but looked back at Harry.
"Potter, my dear, any Healer would have done it, but I'm glad it could be me. Now," she said, standing up and brushing her knees, "you need to get some rest. You won't be thanking me when you wake up sore tomorrow morning. And do shut up, Draco, not everything in life is a dirty joke." Harry longed to turn around and see the look on Malfoy's face. He couldn't quite imagine him as someone who made juvenile jokes: that was Harry's job.
"Hermione will look after me," said Harry.
"Granger?" asked Pansy. Harry nodded. "Good. She's an excellent physician. I need to go now, but I trust that Draco will get you to her safely." She walked towards the fireplace, but just before she stepped through she stopped. "Draco, whatever you were doing that led to this," she looked over at the wreckage of both the chandelier and the table, "don't do it again," she warned. And then she was gone.
"I'm sorry, Potter, I didn't realise that would happen," said Malfoy, his voice small and quiet with contrition.
"I didn't think that Parkinson was that bad," said Harry.
"Not Pansy!" said Malfoy. "I meant—" he stopped as Harry pulled away from him. No matter how good it felt with the arm around his side and Malfoy's firm body pressed close, Harry needed to see his face. As he moved away, Malfoy seemed to understand and he shifted his position too, until they could see each other.
"I know what you meant," said Harry softly. "And although the result was a little more... dramatic than planned, have you learned anything about the wards? I didn't feel anything, well, apart from..." his eyes flicked to his shoulder.
"I did learn something," said Malfoy. "As soon as I stepped out of the house, it tried to kill you. And when Pansy stepped through the Floo, I felt a slight... something." He frowned. "I hate being so vague, but I was a little panicked at the time too. You looked—" He took a deep breath, but his eyes didn't leave Harry's face. "You didn't look great. I should have considered that something like this might happen."
"But I'm fine," said Harry. Malfoy shook his head.
"I think that maybe there's an issue with the wards recognising you fully as the heir to the House of Black," he said. Harry felt a sinking feeling: his own house didn't recognise him as its owner? He made an effort to concentrate on Malfoy's words. "I'm on the tapestry, so I think that when I'm here with you, you're safe. I don't want you here unless I'm here too."
"Okay," said Harry, still feeling stunned.
"And there's something else," said Malfoy, slowing to a halt. Harry nodded for him to continue. "I think that I'm going to need some outside help, some advice."
"Who will you ask?" Harry said, his mind jumping wildly to the thought that Malfoy would be asking his father, locked away in Azkaban.
"My godfather," said Malfoy.
"Yes, Sev— wait, you call him Severus?" asked Malfoy.
"He's... he's not who I thought he was. After the war," after you found him and saved him, "I wanted to see him, to ask him about... the past. It isn't easy, but we talk, sometimes." Malfoy was quiet in the wake of this revelation.
"He never mentions you," he said in the end.
"I'm not surprised," said Harry. "Things are... complicated between us."
"Hi, Harry, there's some fish left for you," said Ron in greeting, nodding over to the fire. He and Hermione were sitting outside, despite the chill in the air, but as Harry got nearer he felt the welcome heat of one of Hermione's warming charms, and relaxed slightly.
"You'll never believe who turned up for work at the hospital today," said Hermione. "Trained in France, apparently."
"Pansy Parkinson," said Harry, opting to ignore the food and flop straight into a chair. He groaned as he collapsed into it. The Apparition here had taken the last of his energy; Malfoy had side-alonged him to the nearest public Apparition point, but Harry had done the last bit himself.
"How did you know that? And what have you done to yourself?" Hermione asked, getting up to have a better look. "Harry!" she said once her diagnostic dot of green light had travelled up his body, darkening to a murky olive-green over his recently-healed collar bone. "You broke your clavicle today." She sounded shocked, but Harry didn't know why: he did have a habit of injuring himself.
"And are you more upset that I got hurt or that you weren't the one to fix me?" asked Harry with a smile.
"Wait, Parkinson healed you?" she said. "But I didn't know you'd come in today."
"No," he shook his head. "She treated me at home. There was another... accident today."
"I thought Malfoy was sorting your place for you?" said Ron.
"He is. And he has a theory, that the house, or rather the spells which form the wards, don't recognise me properly as the Black heir. He tested whether or not I could feel someone approach by going outside and coming back in again, and that was enough time for a chandelier to fall on me. The house recognises him, because his mother is a Black, and he's on the tapestry."
"And how does Parkinson fit into all this?" asked Hermione.
"I think he was a bit worried about his reception at St Mungo's," said Harry, "and I guess he knew that he could get hold of Parkinson." Hermione frowned but nodded. Despite whatever oath Healers swore, it wasn't outside of the realm of possibility that one of their Slytherin contemporaries would be treated with suspicion, especially if accompanying a wounded war hero.
"So what now?" asked Ron.
"Er, well, Malfoy's consulting with someone."
"Sev– Snape," said Harry. His friends understood why he'd reached out, but didn't really get it, the connection he felt to their former Potions teacher.
Harry remembered the first, awkward meeting, with Snape, as he was then, still weak after his near-death experience. It turned out that Snape had prepared for all eventualities, including an attack by Nagini, and a combination of Charms and potions had been enough to keep him alive until Malfoy found him. Seeing Snape again had been confusing, but he was determined to get to know the man who had given up so much to protect him. And to know the man who had loved his mother. It hadn't been easy though.
"You seem to be spending all your time with Malfoy and his pals now," said Ron, bringing Harry back to the present, the hint of a whine in his voice.
"Considering that I'm currently living here, I'd say I still see a fair amount of you," said Harry. "Anyway, we're not at school any more. Malfoy's... prickly, but he's ok, actually." He smiled to himself at the memory of how good it had felt, injuries and all, to have Malfoy's arm around him.
"Harry, mate, you're not... Merlin, I don't even want to say it aloud," said Ron. "You don't fancy him, do you?" he asked.
"That would fit with my theory of why you were quite so obsessed with him at school," said Hermione. "When you first told us you were gay, I did wonder about the homoerotic subtext of all that stalking you did in Sixth Year."
"He's just a Curse-Breaker doing his job!" said Harry. "And honestly, with our history, I can guarantee that nothing is going to happen."
"But you might want it to?" pressed Hermione. Both her and Ron were staring at him, and Harry felt trapped.
"I—" he started, and he shifted in his seat. He yelped as a lance of pain shot through his shoulder. Immediately, Hermione stood and got him a pain-relieving potion to drink. They didn't ask about Malfoy again, but Harry could feel them both watching him, and he knew that they were thinking about it. He wasn't sure how he felt about their speculation, or Hermione's theory that this was a longer-seated interest; Harry couldn't really remember how he'd felt at school, because really, he'd never known Malfoy. And now that he was beginning to? He was troubled by where those thoughts led him.
Severus Snape had retired from teaching and moved to a little house in the country, with a garden in which he grew herbs and plants for the potions that he sold. Harry had never seem him actually at work in his garden, but couldn't imagine that he'd let anyone else tend it. He probably had a ward letting him know when anyone approached, Harry realised, and he had a sudden mental image of Severus rushing inside before he was caught toiling in the great outdoors.
Harry couldn't help but smile at the thought of Severus hiding his gardening habits from visitors, although his smile faded slightly at the sight of Severus's scowl as he opened the door to his cottage. In an instant he became Snape again in Harry's mind. It was always like this, the two of them trying to get to know each other as Harry and Severus, but with Potter and Snape getting in the way. Severus though, never called him Potter, choosing instead to only recognise the name Lily had given her son.
"Draco, Harry, always a pleasure," Severus said, his dry voice at odds with his words of welcome.
"Severus, thank you for seeing us," said Draco, "and it is good to see you again."
"How is your mother, Draco?" asked Severus
"She is well, and sends her thanks for the new Calming Draught you sent," Draco said. Severus nodded in acknowledgement and showed them in. His home was dark, and the rooms small, yet it looked comfortable, and Harry knew that in the evening with the fire lit, he might even go so far as to describe it as cosy. Although not within Severus's hearing.
"So, Harry, I understand that you are having... issues with your house?" Severus asked, once they were sat in his small parlour. He pushed his hair away from his face, and sat back.
"Yes, I am. It seems that the house – the wards, that is – don't recognise me fully as a member of the Black family," Harry said, looking over to Malfoy to check that he'd got it right. Malfoy nodded, and Severus frowned. "There have been some accidents – mostly things falling on top of me. Like chandeliers," said Harry.
"I've checked the whole house for Dark intent, every stick of furniture for curses, and there is nothing present to explain these accidents," said Malfoy.
"And the wards?" prompted Severus.
Malfoy sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. "I've only really just got started on those," he said.
"Remember what I taught you, Draco, and tell me what you know," said Severus.
"You taught Malfoy Curse-Breaking?" asked Harry, confused enough to interrupt.
"No," said Severus, "I taught how to think, how to work methodically. It was a lesson you never seemed too keen to learn." Harry's face heated at his words, but at the same time, he knew how Malfoy prided himself on his logical approach. He had to admit that he actually quite admired him for it: it was so different to his own approach, which was mostly based on his gut feelings and diving in head-first.
"I– I wish I had listened," he said quietly. Severus's expression changed, softening as he looked at Harry.
"You might have made a good student, Harry, had things been different," he said. And in that moment, Harry thought of him as the Severus who had been his mother's friend. He smiled and nodded, then turned his attention back to Malfoy. Whatever explanation Malfoy had been about to deliver was lost though, as he stared between the two of them with his mouth hanging open.
"I don't think that is anything I ever thought I would see," he said.
"No more strange than you turning up here with Harry in tow in the first place," said Severus. "And I thought that I'd taught you well enough that a little interruption wouldn't halt the flow of your thinking: please, tell me what you have ascertained so far."
Harry listened as Malfoy outlined everything he had done so far. Hearing it as a set of logical steps, and hearing the thinking behind each of Malfoy's decisions made it all seem so obvious.
Harry squirmed slightly as Malfoy described how little Harry had done to the house at Grimmauld Place in the time that he had lived there.
"... and the most interesting thing about the fact that the decor remains unchanged, is that there are snakes everywhere," said Malfoy, pausing and giving Severus a meaningful look
"I see," said Severus slowly, "and presumably Harry is still a Parselmouth?" he asked.
"Yes, I am," said Harry, feeling the need to remind them both that he was still there.
"And yet you haven't tried this already?" asked Severus.
"Not yet," said Malfoy. "But I had planned to."
"How remiss of you not to have attempted to communicate directly with this symbol of so much the Blacks stood for! You had a unique opportunity here, Draco," said Severus. His chin was held high, and he regarded Malfoy down the length of this nose. Suddenly he was the disappointed Potions teacher, familiar yet shocking, because Harry had never really seen him talk to Malfoy like this before. He found himself wanting to protect Malfoy, shield him from Severus's – no Snape's – ire somehow.
"I, er, think that Malfoy finds it... difficult when I speak Parseltongue," Harry said.
"Oh, really?" asked Severus, "How interesting." Malfoy met his gaze for a moment, and then he flushed and looked away. "No!" Severus said, as if shocked by something he had seen, in an accidental flash of Legilimens perhaps. He recovered himself quickly though. "Oh for– you try an old teacher exceedingly. You two were difficult enough to deal with at school: two of the most stubborn boys I've ever had the misfortune to teach. I do not want to imagine what you could achieve together." Harry was puzzled at this horror at the idea of he and Malfoy being friendly.
"Surely it's a good thing, Severus, that Malfoy and I are becoming friends: isn't it time the grudges of the past were put behind us?" he asked.
"Yes, but this is..." he trailed off and closed his eyes. "I don't know if I can muster the energy to care."
"Potter," said Malfoy, a slight tremor in his voice, "you really think we could be friends?" Harry stared at him. He felt a thrill as he met Malfoy's eye, nodded, and smiled.
"And yet you both still call each other Malfoy and Potter?" asked Severus. Harry and Malfoy looked at him then back at each other and nodded, because what else would they call each other? Potter and Malfoy were their names. Severus shook his head. "I have a feeling that you two—" he stopped. "You two will have to work this out for yourself."
"So, Severus," said Malfoy, clearing his throat, "the wards: do you have any suggestions?"
"I have a few ideas, but I don't think that you will like what I have to say." Severus sat back in his high-backed armchair. Privately, Harry liked to refer to it as his throne: it had that kind of an air about it. "Firstly, you will have to overcome your... objection to Parseltongue, and together with Harry try talking to the house." Harry suddenly realised that of course, Parseltongue was what Malfoy had meant by 'talking to the house'. "Secondly, I would recommend that Harry is not in the house without Draco also being present."
"There's something else, isn't there?" asked Malfoy, after looking intently at Severus for a moment,
"Yes, well, it depends on how much you know about wizarding inheritance law," Severus said.
"Sirius left me number twelve. And he was my godfather, too," said Harry.
"I know," said Severus, "but it's not always that simple. These old wizarding families often specified that property had to pass down to an 'heir of the body', and no matter what a will says, this can take precedence. Given your experiences, and the number of years which have passed, incident-free, it sounds as if the lines are somewhat blurred in your case. It is certainly most interesting that Draco feels some connection to the wards. Speak to the snakes, and find out what you can." He paused, and looked between them with a half smile. "Of course, in days gone by, when securing the property was more important than personal feelings, there would have been one other solution."
"Oh yes?" asked Harry, but Malfoy was already turning pale.
"A union between an heir from elsewhere along the family tree, and the person attempting to claim the house," Severus said.
"I don't understand," said Harry.
"You might have considered bonding with Draco," said Severus.
"What, like marriage?" asked Harry. "That's a little extreme!"
"I know," said Severus, "But leaving aside any notion of union, it might be worth exploring how important the family tree – the tapestry itself – is in all this. And do not forget your own godson: the house may more naturally pass to him, if that is in any way acceptable to you."
Harry didn't know what to say in reply. He was used to Severus challenging the way he thought about things, but this was... he needed some time to think this through.
Grimmauld Place was fast running out of places to sit and talk, with both the kitchen and dining room out of commission. Harry and Malfoy sat together in the drawing room.
"I think that if I haven't figured out all the wards by the end of the weekend, I should move in here until the job is finished," said Malfoy. "You're going back to work on Monday, and although there is much I can do by myself, really I need to examine how the wards interact with you in particular. I could do it in the evenings, and if we are both sleeping here it will give us more time to work on the wards. Hopefully this way it won't disrupt your life as much." He frowned. "To be frank, this is looking to be one of the longest jobs I've taken on so far, and I want to do as much as I can to finish it sooner rather than later."
"Am I that difficult to be with?" asked Harry, unsure of whether he should feel affronted or not; he had thought that they were getting on fine.
"No – far from it, actually. I just– it's a matter of professional pride," said Malfoy, and the way he lit up when he mentioned his job, as ever, filled Harry with wonder that the boy he'd known had become this man.
"So you will stay here, so that you can get the job done quicker and so that I can return home?" asked Harry, wanting to make sure that he'd understood correctly.
"Yes, and if I'm here you can move back in at the same time: as long as I'm in the house, you'll be safe. I promise, Potter, I won't let you get hurt again," Malfoy said. His eyes flicked over to Harry's shoulder, then back to Harry's face. There was a tightness around his eyes that Harry hadn't seen before, and he wanted to reach over and smooth it away. He didn't though – it felt like a distance he would never be able to cross.
"I'm fine," he said instead. "And okay, if this is still not resolved by tomorrow evening, you can stay and I'll move back in.
"Good," said Malfoy. "I think that it's time to go speak to the house," he said, and stood up. "Come along, we don't have all day."
"Will you be okay, with the Parseltongue I mean?" asked Harry as he stood.
"Yes!" said Malfoy. "You do keep going on about it. I'll be fine."
"It doesn't scare me, if that's what you think. You know, you're nothing like Voldemort was, so don't think that you can possibly remind me of him," said Malfoy with some amusement. His smile was self-deprecating as he met Harry's gaze. "I promise you, when you're hissing away like a snake, he's the last thing I think of."
"So where do you want to start?" Harry asked, choosing to accept Malfoy's reassurances.
"I've been thinking about wards, and how by nature they are set to guard a home. I think we need to start with the doors."
"The doorknobs!" said Harry.
"Exactly," said Malfoy.
They began with the drawing room door. Harry focused on the twisted metal snake, curled around itself and worn to a shine where hands had grasped it over the years.
"Serpent, do you hear me? It is time to wake, as I have questions to ask," Harry hissed. He listened carefully, in the quiet of the house, to hear if there was a response, but all he could hear was Malfoy's rather shaky breathing. He turned to ask him to shush a little, but stopped at the sight of half-lidded eyes, unfocused, and lips just parted.
Oh. His own breath caught, and he decided to try something out. "You look like sex on a stick with your mouth just waiting to be touched like that," he said, and he was rewarded with a bloom of colour spreading across Malfoy's cheeks, and a soft intake of breath.
"I am not accustomed to being addressed in such a manner," a cool metallic voice answered. Harry tore his eyes away from Malfoy, and stared at the doorknob. The snake had uncurled its body enough to pull its head up, and eyes ashine with the dull glow of worn brass regarded him, as a tiny tongue flickered in the air.
"What do you want to ask the snake?" whispered Harry. The snake's head swayed gently, side to side, as it watched them. Malfoy cleared his throat. For a moment, he seemed lost for words.
"Ask it if it knows who we are," he said. Harry glanced over at him, but now Malfoy's eyes were fixed on the snake.
"Do you know me?" asked Harry. The snake moved its head closer to Harry, its tongue tasting, smelling, the air around him.
"You are the not-heir, the one who lays claim to this house, but you are not of this house. Yet you speak with snakes and there is something... You confuse the house. We snakes will recognise you, Parselmouth, but we are not the entirety of the house."
"And my companion?"
"The 'sex on the stick'? He is a pureblood, a Black by blood, if not name. The house will obey him over you."
Harry quickly translated everything the snake had said – except the sex on a stick comment, of course – and Malfoy nodded, then stepped back.
"Thank you, serpent, for answering my questions," said Harry.
"Wake me again: it is good to stretch my coils," said the snake, and it slithered back into a tight coil, gave one more hiss, then stopped moving. It was, again, a doorknob.
Malfoy was breathing heavily by now, and turned away as if to collect himself. Or quell an erection, Harry suddenly thought, and the idea of Malfoy aroused, no matter how unlikely, shot like a bolt of lightning straight to Harry's trousers. His own snake perked up at the thought. Harry decided to give Malfoy his moment, as he was in need of his own, and touched his hand to the door to reenter the drawing room. Before he could grasp the knob, the door clicked and swung open. It seemed the snake knew him now.
Harry and Malfoy spent the rest of the day repairing the chandelier and dining room table, and then organising everything they had so far on the wards. Harry sat back and watched as Malfoy read through the inventory, stopping every so often to make notes by the copy of the family tree he had made. Leaning forward, Harry saw that Malfoy had added 'Middle-aged Vegetable Botherer' next to the name Lycoris, and he smiled.
Harry left number twelve in the late afternoon, as he wanted to have some time with his friends; Saturdays were usually Ron-and-Hermione days, and it was going to be his last night staying with them. When he got to their house, he was impressed to see that it now had walls. Ron and Hermione were nowhere in sight, but he found them, sitting under a tree with George.
"If it isn't the returning hero, back from a day battling curses. And Malfoy," called George. His face and body had settled into adult lines over the past few years, and it was strange to see him looking different to Harry's memory of Fred, even if just subtly. Harry sat down next to him, and stretched his legs out, ignoring the small protest from his back, which was indeed still sore, as Parkinson had promised.
"Snape too," said Ron, and Harry sighed.
"Snape?" said George. "Harry, maybe it's you who's cursed, not the house?" Before Harry could say anything though, Hermione spoke up.
"George!" said Hermione. "He's a war hero—"
"It's never stopped me teasing him before," said George, glancing over to Harry.
"Not me," said Harry, exchanging a glance with Hermione. "I think she meant Snape." Hermione nodded.
"Oh," said George, "well if you're going to be like that about it."
"Let's just leave it," said Harry. "Anyway, I have news: I'm moving back to Grimmauld Place tomorrow."
"Already?" said Hermione. "I've enjoyed having someone to wash up with." Harry smiled.
"Is it all sorted then?" asked Ron.
"No," said Harry. "But it seems that I'm safe as long as Malfoy's there, because his mother's a Black. He thinks it's something to do with the wards, and he's going to see what he can do with them tomorrow. He might fix it then. If it doesn't work out though, he's going to stay and keep on at it. And if he's there it means that I can go home."
"He's going to live with you? And you're ok with that?" asked George. Harry shrugged.
"I'll be at work most of the time. And he's not too bad – he's really focused on his work." Harry ignored the look Ron and Hermione shared. "What about you lot?" he asked. "The house is beginning to look like... well, a house."
Ron beamed, and Hermione turned around to look at her home-to-be and let out a happy sigh.
"We're going to put the roof up tomorrow," she said. George and Ron began to explain the plan for getting it up. Hermione had insisted that where possible, Muggle methods were used in the construction of their house. Ron and George however, had been keen to speed things up when they could. Their discussion soon became technical, with some stones and twigs being Levitated as examples for different possible approaches.
"I'm sorry I can't help," said Harry to Hermione. She looked at him without saying anything for a long moment.
"You need a home too," she said in the end, reaching out to pat his leg. It was something she had said before, but this time instead of brushing it off, Harry felt the truth of it resonate.
"I think I do," said Harry, slowly. "I think that once this curse business is over I might actually... you know, do something with it."
"I'm pleased for you," she said. "Maybe having Malfoy around has been a good thing for you," she added, but her words were almost lost as Ron joined in. Behind him, an impressive model of the house wobbled and then fell to the ground.
"See, 'Mione, it's worth us living in that horrible caravan while we build this house, just to get Harry to pull his finger out and finally fix up that old pile of his!" he said.
"Yes, I'm sure that was your only motivation," said George. "Living with my mother was just so much fun, wasn't it?"
"I get on perfectly well with Molly," said Hermione, a little stiffly.
"Well you do now that we've moved out, love," said Ron, giving her a squeeze. "And we really shouldn't underestimate the importance of the—"
"Bookshelves!" George and Harry chorused. Ron grinned and Hermione hid behind her hair, laughing even as she scowled at them. Ron wrapped an arm around her and she snuggled into his side and he gave her a kiss on the head.
"I am looking forward to them," she said, smiling. "And I do so love this place."
"It's ace," said George. "Such a tonic after a busy day at the shop."
By the time Harry went to bed that night, thoughts of his house or Malfoy were far from his mind. In his dreams though, a brass snake reared up and hissed "sex on a stick", while pale cheeks flushed and breath rasped next to him, bringing him to a delicious hum of arousal himself. He could see grey eyes filled with light, and reached out to touch warm skin. He woke in a hastily vanished damp patch, turned on, yet alone.
"Ok, so I've found at least six layers, or strands, to your wards," said Malfoy. "The bulk of them were laid down in the eighteenth century, and they all appear to be tied to either the physical bricks and mortar of the house, or to the Black bloodline itself."
There were pieces of parchment laid out across the table, each covered with flowing script and tidy diagrams. The weather had turned chilly overnight, and a fire was lit in the grate. Grey light filled the room as it rained steadily outside.
"So what's your plan?" asked Harry.
"Well, first, I thought I'd show you the wards—"
"You can do that?"
"Yes I can, and please don't interrupt, Potter. Not only is it terribly rude, some of this is quite complex and I'd rather you didn't disrupt the flow of my explanation." Harry clamped his mouth shut, exaggerating the gesture, and Malfoy rolled his eyes before continuing. "As I was saying, I will show you the wards, as I am fairly sure that you're not actually that familiar with them," he paused. "Correct?"
Harry nodded in response. Malfoy was obviously in his element, and when he was like this, when he was talking about a knotty problem or a bit of magical theory, his face would change, becoming animated. The way he carried himself would change. He held himself with more confidence, more presence, and Harry found it mesmerising.
"Then I want to isolate each strand, and see if I can align it with you and your claim on the house. I need to see how you respond to each one, and how each one responds to you."
"And do you think that will work?" asked Harry, daring to speak when Malfoy seemed to have come to a natural stop.
"I– I hope so," said Malfoy, with just a moment's hesitation. "But it may not, in which case I will then look at working with the family tree and the portraits to integrate you better with the Blacks." He frowned, and bit at his lip slightly as thought. Harry's eyes were drawn to the hint of white teeth, to the way they pulled down the skin; he wanted to see if they left pinks marks behind. He took a deep breath and resolved to ignore Malfoy's mouth. "We may also have to look at the possibility that once we get to a certain point, we'll have to place a new layer of wards, specifically attuned to you. But it would be tricky, and it would take a little preparation otherwise the new and old wards could conflict with each other, and at worst, destroy the house itself."
"Oh," said Harry. "That does seem a little, er, dangerous."
"This is magic, Potter. It isn't always safe. Although," and suddenly Malfoy's voice softened, and his focus seemed to shrink down from encompassing the whole house and the wards, to just the two of them stood by the table, "I promised that I wouldn't put you in any kind of danger again, and I meant it. I should have realised what would happen," his eyes shot up to the newly-restored chandelier, which they had both chosen not to stand under, "and I still feel awful that you got hurt at all." He couldn't quite meet Harry's eyes as he spoke.
"Malfoy," said Harry, his voice quiet enough that it only just travelled far enough to be heard. "It's ok." He reached out, and rested his hand on Malfoy's arm. Through the sleeves of Malfoy's long robes, Harry could feel him hold very still as if he might pull away at any second. "I'm okay," he added, and Malfoy's eyes finally rose to meet his.
"I—" said Malfoy, the words seeming to catch in his throat. They looked at each other for a moment more, and then he stepped back. "I think we should walk through the whole house while I reveal the wards."
They started just inside the front door. Malfoy traced a line around the door with his wand, and gradually, out of the corner of his eye, Harry became aware of a glow which followed the doorframe, up and around the door. It was a strange sensation: if he tried to look at it full on, it would shimmer and disappear for the blink of an eye. He forced himself to relax, and then it seemed to grow more solid, and he became aware of the way it spread, in what seemed to be a thin layer, over the walls themselves.
"This is the most basic ward," said Malfoy. There was some strain in the way he spoke, and Harry wondered just how much magical energy this was taking. "But also the most comprehensive."
"The one tied to the bricks and mortar?" asked Harry.
"Yes," said Malfoy, "And this one was laid down, more or less in its present form, in the eighteenth century." He reached forward, and touched the door. A faint pulse of light radiated out from his hand, moving outwards then back in again until it returned to his hand. "You try it," he said, and Harry pressed two fingers to the door. The same light appeared, and it travelled out and then back again. It was strange seeing it when Harry couldn't feel anything. The ward shimmered, then disappeared.
"Did I do something wrong?" Harry said, worried.
"No," Malfoy said. "I just ended the spell. But that was good: this level of ward does respond to you. If it hadn't, the light would have kept moving away until it faded."
"I didn't feel anything," Harry said, and Malfoy frowned.
"We should work on that. If you can become a little more attuned to this ward, then it should help you sense when someone enters your house."
"But why is this ward recognising me?" asked Harry.
"I don't know," said Malfoy. "Perhaps this one ties in more neatly with the fact that Sirius named you as his heir in his will. Or maybe the snakes on each door help."
They then spent the next hour focusing on helping Harry feel the wards, first when he could see them, and then just when he concentrated on them. They felt like a strange tingle, a prickle at the edge of his consciousness. After a while though, Harry couldn't tell if it was the wards or just frustration with trying, over and over again, but he felt his skin begin to itch and he just wanted to get out. A soft touch on his arm calmed him, and after a deep breath he realised that Malfoy was stroking his arm.
"This should help. This kind of work can get a bit much, can't it?" he said. Harry put his own hand on top of Malfoy's. It was warm, and before he could think about, Harry brushed his thumb over Malfoy's wrist.
"Thanks," he whispered. Neither of them moved. He moved his thumb again, a slow and deliberate swipe, and he watched Malfoy's breath catch.
"Potter—" said Malfoy. His voice was airy. Breathless. "I don't think–" he took a breath. "I think it's time for a break. We've probably worked on this too long." He gently removed Harry's hand from his own, and stepped away.
"Sorry," said Harry, and he ran a hand through his hair. The sound of heavy rain battering the front door and windows filled the hallway.
"You– you're not used to spending all this time at home, especially not with someone else here, are you?" asked Malfoy.
"No," said Harry.
"Well it's probably just a bit much to cope with. I might be done today, and then you can have your space back."
"Yes," said Harry, but even as he answered he knew that wasn't what he wanted. The hallway felt particularly dark and gloomy. "Let's go sit by the fire and you can explain whatever comes next," said Harry.
It was warm by the fire, and the rain seemed far away. Malfoy outlined his plans to familiarise Harry with all the wards, but Harry only half-listened to the words, captivated as he was by the way Malfoy's hands moved through the air, the way he spoke in such concise and elegant language. Malfoy was looking at him as if expecting an answer, and Harry realised that he'd been asked a question. He blinked.
"Oh for… pay attention, Potter. I want to examine your Floo connection next: it seems to be well maintained, unlike most other things here.".
Harry almost didn't notice the comment about his upkeep of the house, and nodded in answer to the question. Arthur Weasley insisted on checking it over every year.
"I have it locked to most people. Usually just work and my friends can Floo in." He paused. "How did Parkinson come in the other day?"
"There aren't any restrictions on Flooing out," Malfoy said, "and once the connection was made, it was easy enough for her to step through. Do you mind her knowing where you live?" he asked.
Harry thought about it, and was surprised to realise that he didn't.
"No, it's fine, actually."
Maybe this discussion had prompted Malfoy's choice of test subject, but soon he was kneeling by the fire, Harry beside him, Flooing Parkinson. The flames shivered and turned green, losing all their heat as they did so.
"Draco, what a delight, as always," she said, dipping her head in greeting. "And my, my, Potter too!"
With precise words, nothing wasted, Malfoy sketched out how he needed her to help. He and Parkinson spoke in a kind of shorthand, sentences short and often finished for each other, like an old married couple. Harry began, rather glumly, to revise his assumptions about Malfoy's sexuality.
The rest of the afternoon became increasingly frustrating, as Harry was unable to see, let alone feel, the Floo when Parkinson called. In the end he saw that it had finally stopped raining, brilliant sunshine glancing off pavements still slick with rain, so he offered to go out and fetch coffee. When he returned, Harry was momentarily cheered when the doorknob flickered and brass eyes turned towards him; he walked in with the sibilant slithering sounds of a formal greeting still hanging in the air.
Harry stopped at the drawing room door: he could hear voices. Malfoy was, it seemed, relieving his own stress by complaining to Parkinson.
"I still think you're mad," she was saying. He could hear the pout in her voice: Pansy sounded as if she knew he wouldn't listen to her.
"I know, Pansy, but it's been fine."
"Draco, you were obsessed with Potter, obsessed! I don't know how many times I had to endure hearing about—" her voice rose but Malfoy cut her off.
"That's not fair and you know it. It was years ago, and nothing is the same now."
"Yes, yes, so I hear," she said, and sounding a little bored. "But I'm still suspicious of this sudden détente between the two of you."
"There's nothing sudden about being civil to someone you work for," said Draco.
"Civil?" she said. "It looked like more than civil when you were calling him Harry the other day."
"Yes, when he was lying injured on the floor because of an oversight of mine." Harry smiled: he didn't need to see into the room to know that Malfoy had rolled his eyes. "Honestly, Pansy, I'd say that you're the person obsessed, what with your little theories."
"I have yet to see anything to disprove one of my theories," she said.
"I'm working for him, we've been friendly. That's it."
"Oh, it's 'friendly' now, not just 'civil'? Your word choices give you away, Draco."
"For Merlin's sake, Pansy, just leave it alone!"
Malfoy now sounded quite pissed off, so Harry thought it might be time to make an entrance. He shuffled his feet and made a little more noise than strictly necessary as he turned the door handle. Malfoy turned from where he knelt by the fire, and his face was indeed the most delicious shade of pink. Harry smiled and handed him his coffee.
"Potter, I don't think it's worth us continuing with the Floo work today," Malfoy said, and he shot a glance at the fireplace. "You're not needed anymore, Pansy," he said, and unceremoniously closed off the Floo connection. "That's better," he said. "She does get on my nerves after a while."
"Just drink your coffee," said Harry. He had noticed that doing so often calmed Malfoy down. Amazingly enough, Malfoy sat on a chair and complied. After a few sips he looked over the rim of his cup at Harry, before peering into its depths.
"Look, I don't know how to say this," said Malfoy, and all of a sudden Harry felt nervous about whatever Malfoy wanted to say. Harry put his own coffee down and waited. "I'm not going to be able to finish today. I can just... I feel that I haven't got to the bottom of this. And I want to work it out." He looked up at Harry. "Can I stay here until I at least know that I've made it safe for you?" he asked.
"Yes, of course," said Harry. "I thought we'd already agreed that."
"I know," said Malfoy. "I guess I'd still been hoping..." He trailed off, and Harry felt faintly disappointed that Malfoy hadn't want to eke out this time together a little more. He knew he did. "I've actually enjoyed working here with you. And I think maybe we could be friends, which, given everything – well, it's a bit of a surprise, to say the least."
There was a pause as the words seemed to sit in the air, and when Malfoy spoke again, it was so quietly that Harry strained to hear him.
"I don't want to mess it up. I– I think I'd quite like to be friends." Malfoy's words filled Harry with a swell of warmth.
"It'll be fine," Harry said. "You'll see." He smiled, and for a moment, everything was perfect.
Moonlit clouds sped across the sky, white edged shadows against a deep blue sky, while yellow light from street lights pooled in pavement puddles. The view from the window was familiar, yet unfamiliar: Harry had moved up to the front bedroom above the drawing room, and it was strange to look out on to the street. Malfoy had taken the neighbouring bedroom at the back of the house, and they were now both in their rooms for the night. Harry had undressed, a little shy beneath the frankly lascivious gaze of Wrinkled But Saucy, and then climbed between cool sheets, trying hard not to think of Malfoy doing the same in the room next door.
He was sure that it would take him hours to get to sleep, but his drift into slumber was surprisingly speedy.
Harry didn't see Malfoy in the morning, and it was easy to believe that he was alone in his house. Waking up late and rushing to get into work distracted him to the point that as he Flooed to work – still not his favourite means of travel – Harry focused more on making the Monday briefing than on any thoughts of his new houseguest.
Work was the same as always, and it wasn't long before Harry was immersed in going through the new cases which had arisen in the past week, along with reviewing where the current ones were. As he wasn't permanently partnered, he tended to go where an extra pair of eyes and wand hand were needed, and as a result he had a pretty good overview of the department. This led to him being called on for more than just back-up, as he could often make connections that other people missed.
Coming home to find Malfoy sitting cross-legged facing the Black family tree, tongue resolutely peeping from between his lips, was shocking, in a way: it felt so right to find him there, looking at home. Malfoy just looked so relaxed. Harry froze, torn between talking to Malfoy and running away. The decision was made for him when Malfoy turned, saw Harry, and smiled: the smile drew Harry closer.
"It's a little strange seeing my name up there," Malfoy said. Harry looked at the names picked out in gilt on the tapestry.
"Yeah, it gave me a bit of surprise when I first saw it," said Harry.
"Although all the... old families are related," said Malfoy, "so it shouldn't really be too strange or surprising." He unfolded his legs and stood in one, graceful movement. Harry was reminded of a cat. "Today I have been learning about the Black family, and I think that it would be a good idea to restore some of these names." He walked forwards and brushed one of the charred patches with his fingers. "You know how I said that some of the wards are tied to the Black bloodline?" Harry nodded. "Well, it seems that this tapestry is the main way to keep track of it. These cursed-off names have left things unbalanced. Actually, I'm beginning to think that—" his enthusiastic explanation was interrupted by a loud rumbling from Harry's stomach.
"Do you think that I could eat first?" asked Harry. "It's been a long day."
"I hope you don't think that I've cooked you a meal, Potter. I'm not your house-elf."
"Oh, er, no. I know," said Harry. He had actually forgotten that his kitchen was destroyed, and that Kreacher was away. He would have to remember to call him, later. "There's a nice Thai restaurant around the corner. Maybe we could...?"
"Are you asking me out to dinner, Potter?" asked Malfoy, looking at Harry through half-closed blond lashes.
"No– yes– that is to say—" Harry broke off, flushing and confused. He realised that taking Malfoy out to dinner might be something he wanted to do. But that hadn't been what he'd intended to say.
"Oh, don't tie yourself up in knots! I know what you meant, and yes, I'm hungry too and Thai sounds fine."
"Sustenance? Meeting a physical need?" Harry asked.
"Exactly," said Malfoy, and his mouth curled up in a grin, which Harry found himself returning.
Over candlelight and sticky rice – but not on a date – Malfoy explained his thinking behind wanting to 'fix' the family tree.
"I'm beginning to think that the removal of some names has acted as a curse in its own right, leading to a sense of... confusion about who is the rightful heir," said Malfoy.
"But how will that help me?" asked Harry. "I'm still not a Black."
"I know," said Malfoy, "there seem to have been a few people, over the years, who have taken on the role of family gatekeeper, deciding who would be included, and who wouldn't. Each time they acted to change the family tree, it warped the wards a little more. As a result, the wards seem to be overly reliant on physical presence of names on the tapestry, along with the presence of Black blood."
Harry thought about this, and of Walburga Black's obsession with Pureblood values. "Was Walburga Black one of those gatekeepers?" he asked, and Malfoy nodded as a smile spread slowly across his face.
"Yes, I do believe she was," Malfoy said. "Excellent thinking there, Potter." A heady glow rose in Harry's chest at the praise, and he ducked his head. "Oh for– enough with this ridiculous fake modesty! You," Malfoy said, poking a finger in Harry's direction, "are no idiot, whatever you say. I see you thinking about everything you see, and then acting as if you are merely a bumbling nobody. No one, Harry Potter, defeats a Dark Wizard or becomes a Senior Auror without a healthy dose of brains and wits."
Harry shook his head. "You assume too much about me," he said. "Really. I'm not clever like you are—"
"Oh, I never said that you were as clever as me," said Malfoy. "Just that you aren't an idiot. The two things aren't the same at all."
"I—" began Harry, affronted at Malfoy's ability to make even a compliment double-edged. But then he caught Malfoy's eye, and saw the twinkle lurking at its edge. "You bastard," he said, and laughed.
Malfoy smiled and sat back in his chair. "You just make it so easy."
"Prick," said Harry, and he smiled.
They walked back afterwards, pleasantly full and in a companionable silence. When they stopped by the front door, the thick snake which formed the doorknob uncurled slightly to greet Harry again. By the time they had got inside, Harry's cheeks were burning, the snake having asked him how the sex on a stick was; Malfoy also looked a little flushed, and Harry resolved to find more opportunities to talk to snakes.
"What made you splutter so inelegantly when the snake spoke?" asked Malfoy.
"Oh, it just asked me something which the one upstairs asked the other day. I was just a little... confused."
"I wonder if they can talk to each other, or share some form of consciousness? Or maybe they are manifestations of some aspect of the magic tied up in the house..." Harry was left alone as Malfoy walked off, talking to himself. He enjoyed the view, as ever, as Malfoy walked up the stairs, and heard him go into the drawing room muttering something about his notes. Harry sighed, and made his way up to join Malfoy.
"What took you so long, Potter?" Malfoy said, without even looking up. He was leafing through a heavy book. "According to this," he said, "any motif associated with a family, either through its heraldry or via some other connection, can be used as a focus for protective spells. A little like a Patronus, in a way." Harry looked at the Black family crest and frowned.
"Then why isn't it dogs? These look like... greyhounds, don't they?"
"A good question: as I said earlier, you are no idiot. I think," said Malfoy, after a moment's pause, "that the family obsession with Salazar Slytherin and the heavy emphasis on the snake emblem, repeated throughout the house, have acted as a conduit for some of the spells; whether such a connection is deliberate or purely accidental, I can't say. Whatever the reason though, the fact that you are a Parselmouth is both unexpected and fortuitous as far as we are concerned. Could you—" Malfoy paused to clear his throat, and when he spoke again, his voice was much quieter. "Could you ask a snake – not one on a door – a question? Something about the house, that it shouldn't be able to know, if it only knows this room."
Harry spent a minute thinking about what to ask. "Ok, I've got one," he said. "And now for a snake..." He looked down at the threadbare and stained rug beneath his feet. There was a line of snakes twisting around the edge. Harry concentrated on the most whole one. "Greetings" he said. The snake began to move, sliding along and turning around until it could see Harry.
"Greetings, Parselmouth," hissed the snake. Its voice was scratchy, a rasping sound that grated on Harry's ears.
"May I ask you a question?" said Harry, and the snake's head moved in a slow circle, its tongue flickering while its eyes remaining fixed on Harry.
"Which room do I sleep in?"
"How bizarre," the snake said, sounding a little incredulous. Harry couldn't quite believe that a talking snake woven into a carpet was giving him attitude.
"Yes, I know it's a strange question, but I'd still like it if you could answer," he said, attempting to fix the snake with a stern look.
"Very well. You sleep now in the room above this, next to the man you desire," the snake said, and it began to slither back to its position amongst the other snakes on the rug.
"Before you rest, I do have one more question," Harry said, sensing that his time with the snake was running out. "How did you know that?"
"One snake, many faces. We were made separate, but come together in this noble and ancient house of the Blacksssss..." The last word became lost in a little serpent snore, before the snake returned to being silent and still.
"Wow!" said Harry. "I think you were right—" he stopped when he saw Malfoy's face.
Malfoy was biting his lip, and his eyes were half closed. This time, it was Harry who reached out to touch his arm, to try to calm him. Malfoy opened his eyes, and looked down at Harry's hand before raising his eyes to meet Harry's.
"I—" he said, and dragged in a long, shaky breath. "I need to get back to work," he said, stepping away. "What did the snake say?"
"It..." Harry was confused for a second. What had the snake been saying? He didn't want to talk about the snake. He wanted to know what would happen if he reached over and touched Malfoy again. What would happen if he brushed his fingertips along Malfoy's arm, or across his cheek? What if he leant forward and just touched his lips to that stretch of skin—
"Potter!" said Malfoy, breaking Harry's moment of fantasy. "This is important, please, focus. Now's not the time to get distracted. The snake: what did it say?"
"The snake... I asked it which room I slept in, and it knew. It said 'One snake, many faces', and something about being separate at first but coming together in the House of the Blacks."
"Fascinating. I need to think this through, and work out what to do next. I–" Malfoy stopped talking and looked up at Harry. "I can't afford to get distracted, not now," he said, his voice soft. "If you don't mind, I'm going to look through my notes and my books, and I'll bid you goodnight now." He swept up some parchment rolls and Levitated a pile of books, and walked out of the room.
Harry was lost. Somehow, between the coffees and curse-breaking, he had begun to like Malfoy. To really like him. The prick.
The Auror department was quiet the next day: some case in the North was taking up everyone's attention. Harry was left with the admirable job of reading through and signing off on the past week's paperwork. It was an incredibly dull day, and Harry realised that he missed Malfoy. He missed him even more when he went to get a coffee from the canteen and almost spat it out – bloody Malfoy had got him used to proper coffee now, and he had to go out in the rain to find a decent one. The rest of the day passed with a slight itch, thanks to the drying charm Ron had rather over-enthusiastically applied to Harry's clothes when he got back.
Harry got home, tired, hungry, and still feeling uncomfortable in his clothes, to find Kreacher looking almost happy.
"Kreacher is glad to be home, Master Harry," he said. "Kreacher has been busy."
"Oh yes?" said Harry.
"Yes," said Malfoy, coming down the stairs. Harry looked up. Malfoy was wearing a set of long, dark robes, close-fitting at the top, and he just flowed as he moved. "I hope you don't mind, Potter, but I've given your house-elf a little direction today."
"I–" said Harry, trying to make sense of the words, because all he could see was the way that the fabric flared out with each step down Malfoy took, and way it flexed and stretched ever so slightly where it was buttoned up, pulling Harry's eyes to a long, lean torso. Harry hadn't really appreciated wizarding robes before, but now... they were just about the hottest thing he'd ever seen. He made a conscious effort to close his mouth.
"Articulate as ever, I see," said Malfoy.
"You've been ordering Kreacher around?" said Harry, willing his mind to focus on the words, and nothing else.
"As I said, just a little direction. I think you'll be pleased," said Malfoy. Kreacher had watched this exchange in silence, hands wringing his teatowel apron.
"Master Harry must come this way," he said, and Harry, followed him down the stairs to the kitchen, with Malfoy swishing behind him.
The kitchen door was one of the only ones in the house not to feature a snake. Kreacher reached up and turned the knob, and they stepped in. It looked like his kitchen, and yet it didn't. The floor had been repaired, and the table too. Everything looked solid, well-scrubbed and almost glowing.
"Kreacher has fixed all the things, cleaned the lampshades and waxed all the furniture, Master Harry," Kreacher said, giving a happy sigh. "It has been a most busy day."
"Even with Malfoy 'directing' you?" asked Harry.
"Master Draco was most instructive," Kreacher said. He bowed low, and returned to supervising some pots on the range. Something smelled good, but Harry was still trying to come to grips with the idea of Malfoy instructing Kreacher on cleaning: for all Harry knew they'd exchanged polishing tips all day.
"Yes, er, sorry about that," said Malfoy. "It seems that you have actually won over the respect of your house-elf, I heard about you all day today—"
"You did?" asked Harry, his mind now filled with the image of Malfoy and Kreacher having a gossip about him while they polished the silverware. "I don't understand though, why are you sorry?"
Malfoy sighed. "Kreacher follows your orders because he likes and respects you, but today he was happy to follow mine just because my name is embroidered on a bit of fabric upstairs."
"Oh," said Harry. The mental image evaporated away, replaced with embarrassment. He usually hoped that Kreacher didn't mind him, but didn't expect to hear Kreacher's feelings described in such positive terms. "Well... Hermione would say just remember to say please and thank you if you want a house-elf to like you."
"Seriously?" said Malfoy, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, she has a bit of a blind spot where house-elves are concerned. Although it is good advice in general. Personally," Harry lowered his voice, "I think she terrifies Kreacher. Sometimes she tries to hug him." Malfoy gave a mock shudder of horror, and Harry smiled.
After a dinner in the kitchen that was even more intimate than their meal out the night before, even though they didn't do more than talk about Malfoy's day of research, Malfoy showed Harry the Black family tree he had drawn out, complete with all the names scorched away before.
"There's quite a history to all these missing names," Malfoy said. "No wonder they were burnt away." Harry fixed him with a hard stare. "Totally unacceptable reasons in the modern wizarding world, of course," he said. "But for an old, proud family, I can see how being a squib or marrying a Muggle would have given old Walburga downstairs palpitations."
"How did you find all the names?" asked Harry. "I'm guessing that there aren't many references to them left in the house."
"No there aren't," said Malfoy. "Although you'd be surprised how talkative some of the portraits can be. Actually though, I had a lovely chat with Mrs Parkinson, this morning – apart from her Crup trying to fornicate with my leg – and she was more than happy to give me the dirt on the Blacks. Then I spent the afternoon going through the archives at the Prophet to confirm the details. You owe me for a new pair of trousers, by the way: between the Crup spunk and the cobwebs, they were beyond hope."
Harry's mind stalled a little at the word 'spunk' on Malfoy's lips, along with the thought of the removal of trousers, but he rallied enough to grumble about Malfoy's expensive taste in clothing. Privately though, he rather loved the tailored look, and had wasted many a pleasant moment in the contemplation of just how well his trousers hugged the tight curves of Malfoy's rather delectable arse.
They made their way upstairs still bickering about how much Harry was willing to pay for a pair of trousers.
"How on earth do you afford it?"
"I look after my clothes," said Malfoy. "Luckily I don't often have to deal with sex-crazed Crups or Paper Spiders that often."
"Paper Spiders?" asked Harry with a wince. They'd had a few at the Ministry: they made their webs in stores of old paper, catching snippets of escaping magic, and their bites caused itching and contact with their webs indelible black staining. "I suppose in that case I could pay for your trousers."
"I knew that you'd see reason," said Malfoy.
Harry stood back as Malfoy cast a series of Mending Charms on the tapestry, until the scorch marks had faded, leaving blank spots where they had once been.
"I need a Galleon," said Malfoy, his hand held out. "Today would be good, Potter."
"You're going to start asking for cash now, as well as expensive trousers?"
"It's just a Galleon. I know that you're loaded: you're Harry bloody Potter, of course you are. Cough up." Malfoy waved his hand closer. Reluctantly Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins.
"Okay, just don't—" Harry stopped as Malfoy took a Galleon, and immediately pointed his wand at it.
"Extendio Filum" he said, and a thin strand of gold was extruded, looping over and over again in the air until the entire Galleon had been replaced by a shining skein of gilt thread.
"Wow," said Harry, and Malfoy glanced over at him, giving him a half smile whilst still keeping the thread hovering next to him. He turned back to the tapestry, and squared his shoulders. He took a couple of long breaths before speaking.
"I am Draco Malfoy, son and heir of Narcissa Black." Malfoy lifted his head up, and his hair glinted in the light from the lamps, his profile proud and filled with certainty. Harry held his breath as Malfoy pointed his wand at the tapestry, making a waving motion as he did so. "Isla Black, married Bob Hitchins" he said, and the thread began to move, in and out until the names were embroidered on. Harry smiled, recognising the neat, flowing script. "Phineas," said Malfoy, pointing again at the tapestry. Once that name was on, he raised his wand again. "Marius," he said.
By now there were beads of sweat on Malfoy's forehead, but he didn't stop. "Cedrella Black, married Septimus Weasley," he said, and Harry started at hearing the name of his friend's family. Malfoy continued though, without so much as a shudder at the name. "Alphard," he said, and the name was sewn in next to Walburga's. Harry felt a surge of anticipation, prickling the back of his neck, as he realised who was coming next. "Sirius," Malfoy said, and this time, as the thread passed in and out, he looked over at Harry, who just smiled and nodded in thanks: he didn't think that he'd be able to speak if he tried.
Malfoy took a deep breath before saying the next name, and his wand wavered, for just a second. When he spoke though, his voice was strong and clear. "Andromeda Black, married Edward Tonks," and the names slowly appeared. All the old scorch marks were accounted for, but Malfoy didn't lower his wand. He looked over at Harry again, and his eyes were sad. He returned to the tapestry. "Nymphadora Tonks," he said, "married Remus Lupin." Finally he added "Ted Lupin," and stepped back. There was no more gold thread left.
Both Harry and Malfoy turned round, at the sound of a small sigh from behind them. It was Kreacher, who moved forwards, stepping past them to look at the tapestry. He stared at it for a long time, then turned back, and looked between them. His face contorted into a kind of grimace, and he nodded deeply, then walked back out of the room.
"I think... that was a smile," Harry said. He turned to Malfoy. "Thank you."
Malfoy's face was pale, but he smiled back at Harry, and let out a long sigh. "My jobs aren't usually quite so... personal."
"I– I hadn't really thought about it like that," said Harry. "I mean, I knew that this was your family too, but you don't seem to... you never even mention your parents."
"Well, what is there to say?" said Malfoy. "Father... well, there's not much to be said about Azkaban, is there? And mother... mother has made her own life in France. So mostly I don't think about family. Especially since I left the Manor."
Harry didn't know how to respond to Malfoy. So he said nothing, and his eyes roamed over the tapestry. Malfoy went to sit by the fire, while Harry walked up and down.
"Ron is going to shit a brick when he sees that there's a Weasley up here now," Harry said in the end. Malfoy snorted, then laughed. "I think that my mother would do worse," he said. Harry turned to face him, in time to see Malfoy's face fall a little. "Although maybe she wouldn't, not now."
"So what happens next?" said Harry. "Will that fix the house?"
"No. It's not enough," said Malfoy. "But I think that we're nearly there." Harry nodded, and came to join him by the fire.
"You– you work hard," said Harry. "I never realised that you were like that."
"Really?" said Malfoy. "I always worked hard at school: I had to, to keep up with your friend Granger."
"I just... I don't know," said Harry. He looked over at Malfoy, who was leaning back on the sofa, his legs stretched out before him, one foot resting on top of the other. His eyes were closed, and his face looked peaceful. "You're nothing like I thought you were," he whispered.
"Hmm?" murmured Malfoy, and then he yawned.
"I think it's time for bed," said Harry, still watching Malfoy. He had unbuttoned the top of his robes, and Harry could see the hollows of his neck, just visible through the gap.
"Good idea," said Malfoy, and he stretched out his arms above his head, lengthening his entire body as he did so. Harry wished that this was an entirely different conversation. He wanted to be the one to undo the rest of those buttons. He would slip each one loose, one by one, until the robes fell from Malfoy's shoulders. And then he would bend his head, and taste the skin of Malfoy's neck.
Instead though, he stood and said goodnight, and made his way to bed alone.
The hand travelling over his body was cool, the fingers light as they explored his skin. His own hand moved through hair spun from Galleons, glinting in the firelight, he found the top button and began to work his way down. His fingers sought the smooth heat of warm skin, hidden below.
When Harry woke up, it was, yet again, in a damp patch. He cast a quick Tergeo then rolled over, closing his eyes and secretly hoping to dream once more of Malfoy.
Wednesday dawned fair and clear, and Harry decided to walk to work, leaving Malfoy behind to plan his next step. It was early enough for the streets to be relatively quiet, and he was in good mood when he arrived at the Ministry. This feeling of all being well with the world lasted until exactly quarter past ten, which was the time Robards called him into his office.
"Harry," he began, followed by a loud clearing of the throat. Inwardly, Harry groaned: this usually meant that Robards had some form of disagreeable news to impart. "I gather that Draco Malfoy has been working for you recently." Harry nodded, unsure about where this was heading. "Well, you've read about the pockets of wild magic that we've picked up on in Yorkshire? We're going to have to bring Malfoy in. Now, I know that he can be a little... difficult, and that you two have had your fair share of history, but however hard it may have been to work with him recently, I'm afraid that you are going to have to do so again."
"He's actually still working for me," said Harry, and sleeping in the room next to mine while I dream about touching him.
"Oh, I wasn't aware of that," Robards frowned. "But we need him here, this is an urgent matter." It was not a request.
"I—" Harry looked at his boss, and realised that he had no choice. "I'll make alternative arrangements for the private curse-breaking, sir."
"Good," said Robards. "And, Harry, I expect civil behaviour from you at all times. I don't want any personal issues to cloud either of you in your ability to do your jobs." Harry managed to stop himself from snorting at the last minute: he doubted that Robards meant quite the type of personal issues he was currently wrestling with.
"Is that all, sir? Only perhaps I should go and owl Malfoy to let him know—"
"No need, Harry, I've already done so," said Robards, and at this, Harry's face fell. This was definitely going to result in some prickliness. "He says he should be here after lunch: I've called for a full briefing in the conference room at half one." Robards picked up some rolls of parchment and began to unroll them. Recognising this for the dismissal it was, Harry got up and left the room.
Harry arrived at the briefing a few minutes late, which earned him another frown from Robards. He knew that it was worth him being late when he realised that Malfoy was already there: Harry knew this before even entering the room, due to the high volume at which Malfoy was delivering his words.
"I really don't know how any of you can stand this swill, let alone expect other people to drink it too—"
"Prick" mouthed Ernie, but Harry shook his head slightly, and slid the hot cup of speciality coffee in his hands across the table over to Malfoy, who stopped, mid-tirade, to pick it up and take a sip.
"Thank you, Potter," he said, and his scowl softening a fraction even though it remained, marring his handsome features. But Harry was mostly only aware of the tiny moment of time in which Malfoy's fingertips had touched Harry's hand with a spark of connection.
"Anything to stop you acting like a complete prick, Malfoy," Harry responded, his hand tingling. Malfoy flashed him a humourless smile.
"Very funny, you kno—"
"Well now that we're ready to start," said Robards, as Ernie, Ron, and two other Aurors, Sarah Michaels and Nina Fletcher stared between Harry and Malfoy, "Let's get the main points of this case laid out."
Ron's face almost matched Malfoy's for its look of horror, and although he quickly collected himself and began to speak, he still looked a little spooked. Occasionally he snuck quick glances at both Harry and Malfoy, which Harry chose to return with the blandest of looks.
"We've been getting reports of pockets of wild magic, all over the north of England," Ron said. "A farmer lost some sheep last week, and the Obliviators have been kept busy. We've set up some Muggle Repellant Charms, but the problems is that these pockets of magic spring up with no warning, last a few days, then destabilise and disappear."
"We need to get to the bottom of what's causing them," said Robards. "There is evidence pointing to the likelihood that a witch or wizard is behind these incidents."
"I thought you said it was wild magic, sir?" asked Harry. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Malfoy watching him, nodding almost imperceptibly.
"Something seems to be... unleashing the wild magic," said Sarah. She was about ten years older than Harry, and a good Auror. "We've just got back from Yorkshire, and there were Dark magic residues alongside the wild magic. We couldn't tell though, if it was from a spell, ritual, or object." Harry liked Sarah: she had been an Auror for years, and he trusted her opinion. He turned to Nina to see if she knew anything else.
"I don't have much more to add," Nina said. "Except that so far these magical incidences seem to have settled to an area just west of Kendal with a fifty-mile radius."
"So you want me to come to try to break a spell?" said Malfoy. "If it is one – or break a curse on a Dark artefact, if one is being used as a focus for all this?"
"Yes," said Robards, and he sighed. "I know it's not much to go on, but I think we can catch whoever is causing these disturbances, but in the meantime this wild magic is too dangerous to not try to neutralise it."
"I'd rather not go in blind," said Malfoy, "and you haven't told me much."
"I can give you all the data we managed to get this week," said Sarah. "I ran a variety of Revealing Charms and Searching Spells." Malfoy nodded, and gave her a small smile. Instantly, Harry felt the injustice of this: he should be the only recipient of those smiles. He scowled at Sarah, but she didn't seem to notice.
Malfoy spent the rest of the day with Sarah and Nina, going over their report, spell data and a map of the area. Harry watched them from the edge of the room, unable to keep his eyes off them, off Malfoy.
"Harry," Ron said, sitting down next to him. "Can you put your tongue away for a second and answer a question for me?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Harry, turning to face his friend and inwardly cursing his cheeks for heating. Ron just shook his head, and dived into a query about surveillance patterns which kept Harry distracted for a while. Once Ron had moved on, Harry returned to his own surreptitious surveillance. It was... strange, not being the one talking to Malfoy. Harry felt a knot of tension, deep in his gut, as Malfoy talked and occasionally laughed with the other Aurors. Perversely, Harry was happiest when someone pissed Malfoy off. Watching him deliver his one-liners kept the odd feeling of tightness in his chest at bay, for just long enough for him to get on with his work.
"Malfoy," Harry said, and three heads looked up at him. "I know you're busy, but it's almost six and I'd quite like to go home now." He saw Sarah's eyebrows shoot up, but he remained focused on Malfoy.
"Have you been standing around waiting for me to finish?" said Malfoy. "You only needed to say."
"Yes, I know," said Harry. "I'm saying now: it's time to go home."
"Fine," said Malfoy. "Ladies, you'll have to excuse me," he said.
As they walked away, Harry could hear the whispering start already. "That'll keep them busy for a while," he said.
"You're loving this, aren't you?" Malfoy said.
"Maybe," said Harry. It wasn't really his colleagues he was enjoying scandalising though: Malfoy's cheeks had flamed up most satisfactorily. "Actually, no one ever really comments on my private life. I think the assumption is that I don't have one," he sighed.
The Atrium was less busy than it would have been at five, but there were still quite a few people about, heads down as they made their way home. Malfoy kept his voice low as he turned to Harry. "Oh, do you actually have one then? Only I haven't seen any sign of one yet," he said, his face carefully blank.
"I—" began Harry. "Don't be such a wanker, Malfoy," he said, giving Malfoy a little push. Malfoy turned to glare at him. He shook his head, but his eyes were bright and Harry was sure that a smile was lurking.
"It seems that would be a little pot and kettle of you," Malfoy said. "If anyone's a wanker here, I bet it's you."
"Prick," said Harry, but then he caught Malfoy's eye, and they both laughed. "Let's just get back to Grimmauld Place," he said.
They stepped up to the Floo bank together, both still smiling.
After dinner in the kitchen together again – a dinner which had left Harry trying to surreptitiously readjust his trousers, after watching Malfoy lick and suck the last traces of juice from his fingers when he'd eaten a pear at the end – Malfoy suggested that it was time to tackle Walburga.
The hallway was quiet, apart from the dull ticking of a clock from another room. Malfoy pulled back the curtain, and sent a Relashio towards the sleeping portrait, the fiery sparks waking Mrs Black so suddenly that for just a second, she was too shocked to speak. The silence didn't last though, as she looked between the two of them. "The half-blood pretender and the stinking Malfoy!" she said. "What have you done?" Her eyes widened, and fear crept on to her face. "You have changed something within the house. You—"
"I am merely trying to fix what you have broken, aunt dear," said Malfoy, as if he were in a shop returning an ill-fitting robe.
"You have no right! Only a Black may call this their home, and only a real Black may change the spells guarding this, our home."
"I am a Black," said Malfoy. His voice was still utterly calm, but it was also firm as granite.
"In blood if not name," murmured Harry, remembering what the snakes had told him. Walburga glared at him.
"Filthy Parselmouth pretender," she said, and something in Harry snapped. He had been called enough names in his life, and he didn't want to have to tolerate another day, in his own home, of this abuse.
"This is my house," he hissed. At his words the coiled serpent brooch on her bosom uncurled and began to slither across her chest. Harry felt a cool hand on his arm.
"That's enough, Potter," Malfoy said, quietly. "I'd appreciate it if you let me do my job, without interruption."
"But—" Harry started. Malfoy squeezed his arm again, and Harry fell silent. Malfoy turned back to the portrait, but kept his hold on Harry, as if he were some high-spirited creature, likely to escape at the smallest provocation. Or perhaps as if holding on for support. The silver snake had disappeared, and Walburga had moved to one side of the frame.
"Relevarum Stemma," said Malfoy, his wand tracking an angular shape through the air.
"My mother is Narcissa Black. Her father Cygnus Black was your own brother, Walburga Black. You are the daughter of my grandfather, Pollux Black." As Malfoy spoke, he made a stroke for each person and a line appeared for each name, forming a ghostly family tree in the air. "You had two sons, Sirius and Regulus Black." The lines spread to include Sirius and his brother. "And Harry Potter was like a son to Sirius: he was his chosen heir." Harry watched, but no line appeared to represent him. Malfoy pointed his wand over towards Harry, giving him one look which seemed to just say, trust me, so Harry nodded: of course he trusted Malfoy. "Viniculum Familia" Malfoy said, moving his wand in a looping gesture between the tree, and Harry. A faint line grew between Harry and the family tree, blinking in and out of existence.
"No!" screamed Walburga. Harry cast a Silencing Charm, and Malfoy tightened his grip on his arm.
Malfoy kept his wand arm aloft, until the line between Harry's name and Sirius's had brightened, although it still wavered slightly, but it was there.
"Potter, do you think that you could say 'I am Harry Potter, heir of Sirius Black,' in Parseltongue?" said Malfoy, his voice straining with the effort of maintaining both spells. Harry cast his eyes about for a snake, wishing now he hadn't already spoken to the one in the painting. He glanced over at the dining room door and its coiled snake doorknob, and turned back to Malfoy, and repeated the words in Parseltongue. He heard a chorused hissing sound, as the snakes of the house responded; he also felt the shudder that passed through Malfoy at the sound. His line on the tree in the air was still not as bright as the others, but now it did not flicker at all: it had transformed slightly, to become a slender serpent, the mouth hanging onto his name, the tail curled tight around the name above, Sirius.
Looking up, Harry noticed that Walburga was no longer trying to scream or talk. A look of twisted hate was still on her face, but she sat still, her mouth shut.
"Finite Incantatum" Malfoy said, ending Harry's Silencing Charm and they both braced themselves for the inevitable barrage of insults. Nothing happened. The family tree in the air faded, and Malfoy exchanged a glance with Harry and stepped forward.
"Aunt dear," he said, addressing the portrait. "May I enquire as to your wellbeing today?" She frowned, and blinked a few times.
"Young Nephew," she said, her voice stiff, a hint of venom still audible. She lowered her head in a half-bow. "It seems that I must... welcome you both into the family. I– I think that at this moment, I would like a rest, if you don't mind." She turned her face away from them both.
Harry and Malfoy stepped away from the silent portrait, leaving her scowling at the empty hallway, and made their way back up to the drawing room. Harry went to trace the newly-restored names on the tapestry.
"There's just one more thing to do," said Malfoy, his quiet voice making Harry jump: he hadn't noticed Malfoy coming to stand behind him. Harry watched as another Galleon became a strand of gilt thread, hanging in the air, then weaving in and out of the fabric. When Malfoy stood back, the name 'Harry Potter' was now embroidered below that of Sirius. Harry reached out to touch the two names. A thin snake curled between them, joining them loosely together.
"Thank you," he whispered. He remembered when he had first felt that burning surge of hope, that maybe, just maybe, Sirius could be the family he had lost. He stared at the names, his fingers tracing them both, with a lump in his throat and tears in his eyes.
When he turned back, Malfoy was sitting, making some notes on a piece of parchment balanced on his lap. He stopped when Harry came to sit opposite him.
They both spoke at once. Harry stopped and looked at Malfoy, trying to work out what he was thinking. Harry couldn't tell, but he did notice how tired Malfoy looked, his face pale, even for him, and shadows under his eyes.
"I think I've done what I can here, Potter," said Malfoy. He looked down to the parchment he was holding, and tapped it with his free hand. "I've got to go over all the figures, but I'll owl you the bill. It– it's time for me to go home now."
"It's late," said Harry. He didn't want Malfoy to go.
"Pansy won't mind," said Malfoy, and he stood and began to gather his his papers.
"Pansy?" asked Harry, confused.
"Pansy. Who I live with," said Malfoy. "She's working nights, so she's not even at home." Pansy? Home? Harry felt a surge of panic rush through him.
"Oh, I didn't know you were..." said Harry, his face heating thanks to a combination of embarrassment and stomach-dropping disappointment.
"What, Pansy and I?" Malfoy put down his papers and turned to face Harry properly. "Don't be ridiculous, Potter! I share a flat with her. Did you honestly think that we were shacked up together?" Malfoy shook his head. And then he stopped, and looked directly at Harry.
"You did say you lived together..." said Harry, but his words trailed off as Malfoy maintained his intense gaze.
"Maybe I've got you wrong," Malfoy said. Harry held his breath. "Maybe you really are as thick as two short planks."
"Hey!" said Harry.
"You don't seem able to see the obvious, Potter," said Malfoy. "And if that's not stupid, then I don't know what it is."
"Maybe I'm just confused!" said Harry. "You can be confusing sometimes." And hot as hell, and totally kissable right about now. "Or maybe I'm just blindly optimistic," he said, and he stood and took two steps forward before he could change his mind. He reached out, touching Malfoy on the cheek, moving his hand to grasp the edge of his jaw. Malfoy's skin was warm, and Harry could feel the sharp fuzz of the finest layer of stubble beneath his fingertips. Harry moved closer still.
"Potter–" said Malfoy, and Harry could see his pale eyelashes descend with each slow blink of his eyelids. Malfoy's lips parted with a slow, ragged intake of breath, and Harry closed the remaining distance between them and brought his mouth to Malfoy's. He gently sucked on the top lip before settling into the kiss which had been building in him since he'd first seen Malfoy, leant against the railings outside.
His hand slid back, moving into the hair at the top of Malfoy's neck, while his other hand wrapped around Malfoy's hip, pulling him close. Malfoy smelled of soap and skin and man, and he kissed... he kissed as if he meant it. They stood for moment, close, no longer kissing, while Harry stroked Malfoy's nape, the steady pressure of Malfoy's hand on his lower back; Harry just enjoying the warmth curling down his spine.
"Please, Potter... don't" whispered Malfoy, falling back a fraction and then reaching up and removing Harry's hand, bringing it down between them. Harry didn't understand. He was still tingling from just one kiss. Didn't Malfoy feel it too?
"But—" he said. He didn't know what he was going to say, he just knew that he wanted to kiss Malfoy again, and soon.
"I don't think it's a good idea." Malfoy said. He sighed, and the eyes that met Harry's were filled with regret. "It's been... intense, the past week or two, and you've only just been joined to the Black family and this house. Get used to it before rushing into anything you might regret. I'm afraid that you might just want... this... because of some after-effect of all this magic." Whatever his words though, Malfoy's hands were still holding Harry's, and he looked down, surprised, at their joined hands, before springing back and letting go.
"I– it's not—" began Harry, but Malfoy shook his head.
"There's too much history. It... it's too complicated. Maybe if we had a different past..." Malfoy trailed off and swallowed. "But we don't." He hesitated for a second, and that was enough to give Harry hope.
"Malfoy, this isn't just the magic, and the history doesn't matter. I like you," Harry said.
"We've got to work together, it's a recipe for disaster," said Malfoy, but his actions belied his words, as he moved slightly, towards Harry.
"I think we can work together just fine," said Harry. He leant in for another kiss, but paused before his face quite touched Malfoy's, giving him the chance to pull away again. He didn't, and instead it was Malfoy's hand which curled around Harry's robes, pulling him close.
"I do... quite like you too," said Malfoy, and Harry could feel the words, hot against his skin. And then the air was cold on Harry, and his arms were empty. Malfoy was halfway across the room by the time Harry had realised what was happening. "Not now," said Malfoy, in a low, pleading whisper. "I can't. I– I need to know that this is real." He wouldn't meet Harry's eyes, and focused instead on picking up his things.
Harry could have howled in frustration. Instead a tiny whimper escaped his lips, before he clamped them shut and held his hands tight.
"Okay," he said. "You wouldn't be.. you, if you made this easy."
"Thank you," said Malfoy. "I think I'm going to leave now. Could you ask Kreacher to bring the rest of my things?"
Harry nodded, not really trusting himself to speak.
That night, Harry moved into the back bedroom, and slept in a bed that smelled like a blond coffee nut, who acted like a prick most of the time but was also clever and funny, and turned the most wonderful shade of pink when Harry spoke to snakes. Harry was, as he had said, confused by Malfoy; but the thing he kept coming back to, again and again, was the feeling of Malfoy's lips and his mouth moving against his own, and the certainty that Malfoy had kissed him back.
Work the next day was hellish. Malfoy was nowhere to be seen, and when Harry finally worked up the courage to ask Sarah where he was, she gave him a knowing look and asked if they'd had a lover's tiff.
"No, nothing like that! He was working for me, and now the job's finished I wanted to ask him something," said Harry, his cheeks heating at his somewhat over-detailed response.
"Right," she said, looking utterly unconvinced.
"I– do you know where he is?" Harry said. Whatever she thought, he needed an answer.
"He's gone to Kendal, to investigate the wild magic holes," Sarah said, after giving Harry a searching look. "I'm sure you'll end up there soon enough, everyone else seems to have gone."
Harry wasn't sent that day though, as Robards asked him to conduct a quick case review with Ron first, to see if he could work out who was behind the escaping magic.
"So," said Ron, as he looked through the collection of parchments lying between them, "You and Malfoy, hey?" Harry groaned.
"Not you too," he said.
"Harry, you followed him around like a lovesick puppy all of yesterday, and you brought him coffee. And it didn't help that you went home together, either."
"The coffee did stop him whinging though, didn't it?" said Harry.
"Yes, and for that we are eternally grateful," said Ron. "But that's not what's important here, is it?"
"It doesn't matter, anyway," Harry said. "He's decided that it's too complicated. You know, working together and everything..." he trailed off when he saw the way that Ron was looking at him. "What?"
"It sounds like there is a you and Malfoy," Ron said. "I guess I hoped that I was wrong."
"Oh, it's not that I don't want you to be happy, mate, you know that. It's just... Malfoy?" Harry shrugged. It didn't make sense, but Malfoy was just... exactly who he wanted. He was pretty sure that Ron wouldn't like the details, so he didn't say anything. Ron sighed. "We should probably get back to this," he said, unrolling a large map of the Lake District. "I've got a theory..."
The next two hours were lost to talking and thinking, sifting through reports and drawing on the map. Harry was too busy to think about Malfoy, and Ron became more and more animated as they came closer to solving the case.
There were green rolling hills as far as the eye could see, broken into parcels of land by hedgerows and stone walls and the occasional thicket of trees. Sheep dotted the landscape, but the field they were standing in only contained an oak tree, and an old shepherd's hut. It was falling down, but after two days out here, Harry and Ron together with Sarah and the others had decided that this was the key to the pattern of magical holes dotting the countryside around.
Ron was the first in, pushing the old, half-rotten door back with his wand. As Harry walked in, he saw air, thick and musty in the light coming in from holes on the walls, but also an area in one corner where there were scuff marks. He held his hand up, and everyone stopped. Harry looked again, and then he put all his will into a Finite Incantatem. The room shimmered, then the crumbling stone walls filled, becoming whole. Strong walls, a simple bed, a table and a chair made up the entirety of the hut.
"How did you know?" asked Ron.
"I just had a hunch," said Harry. "There were some isolated footprints in the dust, which made me think someone had Apparated in and out a few times, as if something was being kept here. And then I thought that if it were a hiding place, maybe it was somewhere for a person to hide too." Ron nodded, and Harry knelt by the wall where the footprints had been. "I think," Harry said, with a grunt as he pulled at stones, "that there is something hidden here." He grunted again as a stone slid out. Harry pointed with his wand, and Levitated out a small, dark amulet.
It was beautiful, carved from black jet, and shone with reflected light, despite its darkness. Harry could feel the hairs on the back of his arm rise from the powerful magic it emitted, even without touching it. The thought occurred to him that Voldemort would have coveted it to use as a Horcrux.
"Is Malfoy here?" Harry asked, his voice stretched tight. He heard Ron shout out of the door, asking for Malfoy, and before he knew it, Malfoy was blocking the light from the small window above. Harry looked up with relief: he trusted Malfoy, he felt safe with Malfoy. The amulet began to tremble.
"Shield?" said Malfoy, and Harry nodded, casting a Shield Charm. He watched as Malfoy cast his pink spell - which flared purple straight away – and then his blue spell. Harry's eyes flicked between the lights flashing at the object's edge, and Malfoy's tongue, peeking out between his lips, and the frown of concentration on his face.
Harry was just about aware that Ron was watching, and probably others, from the doorway. Mostly though, he focused on maintaining the shield as Malfoy set about destroying the Curse clearly embedded in the amulet. A high-pitched sound rose in volume until it filled the room, and the small black carving began to shake, a tremble at first but then a lurching which grew in violence until all of a sudden it stilled and the terrible noise stopped. A puff of indigo smoke shot out of the amulet into the now silent room.
"You can drop the shield now," said Malfoy. He looked up at Harry, his grey eyes wide. "Thank you," Malfoy said, his voice quiet. Just for Harry.
"I—" began Harry, but then he became aware of the bustle of voices from behind him.
"Is it destroyed?" asked Ron. "What was it?"
"The curse is destroyed," said Malfoy, turning his head slightly to look at Ron. "I tried to preserve the amulet for you though." Harry looked down at it: the shine had gone, and now it just looked like a dull piece of black wood. "It was an Eris amulet – a goddess of chaos. There was a powerful Discordia Curse on the amulet." Malfoy looked back at Harry. "I don't think it liked us working together."
There was a loud crack, and Nina appeared by the doorway. There was a small cut on her face, her usually neat robes were torn at the bottom, and flew around her in the breeze.
"The other holes are closing," she said.
"Other holes?" said Ron, looking up sharply.
"Yes, there's still one here," she said.
They hurried out of the hut. Next to it was a shimmering, whirling hole in the ground, with a six-feet radius. The edges were ever-moving, a bright purple-blue which reminded Harry of the red line of heat which ate at a piece of paper as it burned, silent destruction in its path. Within the hole was an absence that wasn't a colour, not even black. Looking into it Harry felt small, and he shivered.
"That was most definitely not here when we arrived," Harry said. "Maybe it's something to do with the destruction of the curse—" he said, but before he could say anything more, the ground began to rumble, and the edges began to move more erratically.
"Get back!" shouted Nina. "The others made this sound just before they collapsed." Everyone jumped away, except for Harry, who was frozen, looking for a head of white-blond hair but not finding it. He looked back at the hut: the undulating edge of the hole passed by the base of one of the walls, but it was the only place Malfoy could be. Without thinking about what he was doing, Harry ran to the door and looked in. Malfoy was still sitting on the floor, examining the amulet.
"Malfoy, we have to get out, right now," said Harry.
"Now you discover a sense of urgenc—" Malfoy broke off as the walls around them began to tremble. He looked up at Harry, and his eyes held Harry's as the wall began to collapse, bringing the roof down with it. Large stones rained down, as one end of a solid beam of wood began an arced descent towards where Malfoy sat, frozen amid the sudden chaos. To Harry it seemed as if the room moved in slow motion, and his attentions focused in on to Malfoy and nothing else, although he was dimly aware of a stinging sensation on the side of his head. A cold prickle of fear crept across his skin, his only thought to protect Malfoy, and he gathered his magic to him as he flung his wand arm out.
"Levimurus" shouted Harry, and the stones and rocks bounced in the air, their fall halted. They trembled, looking ready to continue their downwards flight at any moment. Holding his wand arm aloft, Harry dodged past the maze of stone and rock, the haze of dust, even as the remaining walls continued to shake, threatening to fall at any time. He reached Malfoy, and threw his free arm around him, pulling him in tight. "Hold on," he said, feeling heat and flesh and swaying into it with relief even as his body still vibrated with the urgent need to get out. Harry closed his eyes for a second, trying to see where he would Apparate them to: he knew he had to be decisive, as he had to release the other spell first. In the moment between making his decision and the whirling away of Apparition, the room filled with the creaks and thuds of collapse, and the last thing he saw before they were sucked into blackness were the stones once more raining down.
They landed on a bank of soft grass at the far end of the field, limbs entangled and still shaking; a crashing sound caused them to turn their heads, and they were in time to see a cloud of dust rise from the pile of debris which only a moment before had been a solid-seeming stone hut. There was a loud sound as the magical field drew in and collapsed, leaving a gaping, but non-magical, hole in the field.
"Are you okay?" asked Harry, turning back to Malfoy, who groaned. Harry looked down, and saw that the Malfoy's trousers had been torn: a rock must have fallen on him before they Disapparated. There was blood, and Harry felt a wave of nausea travel through him. Malfoy's skin was pale, too pale, and suddenly he was worried about where else he might have been hit by a falling stone. He looked up to see Ron striding towards them, and managed to shout out 'St Mungo's' before Apparating away.
Somehow Harry made it there with Malfoy – he normally wouldn't Apparate quite so far, and if he'd been thinking, Ron probably had a standard Auror portkey for medical emergencies.
A swish of dark hair caught his attention.
"Parkinson!" he called out, desperate, and she turned then came rushing over. Harry sat back, still shaking but needing to know that Malfoy was okay, as Parkinson examined Malfoy's leg, then ran a diagnostic charm over his whole body.
"He's hit his head, but he's fine. Please don't tell me that more of your house is falling down now," she said.
"No, no, it's nothing like that," said Harry, his knuckles white as his hands clenched the sides of the chair. "We were at work, with the Aurors, that is, and he broke a curse and a stone building began to fall on him."
"And you just happened to be there?" she said, looking up.
"Well, I was working too," said Harry.
"He's going to have a sore head and he'll be pissed off about the trousers, but apart from that he'll be fine," said Parkinson. "Now let me look at you."
Harry shook his head. "I'm fine."
"Oh, really? You do have blood on your face, you know." Harry reached up to touch his head, and it hurt when he touched it. His hand came away sticky with blood. "Let me get someone to clean you up, while I get Draco a bed," Parkinson said, but Harry shook his head again.
"No, I can wait. Just help Malfoy, you can do me afterwards."
Parkinson narrowed her eyes, but busied herself with getting Malfoy into a room. "Are you going to keep following me around?" she snapped, when Harry walked in after her.
"I just want to... Can I stay with him? Please? I'm just—"
"Pathetic," she said. "But I suppose so. Sit," she pointed at a chair, "and don't move or make a sound." She set up a monitoring charm, then set about healing Malfoy's leg.
Harry sat quietly as he had been told, while she got out a selection of potions, and wrote up some notes on Malfoy's chart. Malfoy still hadn't regained consciousness, and Harry felt on edge. He fidgeted where he sat, rubbing his legs, then holding his hands between his knees, before running his hand through his hair.
"Is he okay?" he asked in the end. "Shouldn't he be awake by now?"
"Yes, he should," said Parkinson, lowering her clipboard. "But I've kept him under because I really don't think that I can handle his fussing and your fidgeting all at the same time." Harry was just about to promise to keep still when the door opened, and Hermione stepped in. She took in the scene, then strode up to Harry with determined look on her face.
"There you are, Harry. Ron got here five minutes ago, and we've been looking for you."
"Please, Healer Granger, take him off my hands. It looks like he has a minor laceration on his head, but I haven't had a chance to look at it yet," she said.
"Ron wants to talk to you about whatever it is you're working on," said Hermione, actually tugging on Harry's robes by now. "Come on." Harry wanted to see Malfoy wake. He wanted to watch as those blond lashes fluttered up and revealed the grey eyes below. He wanted to hear his name being called. He hoped it would be. Instead though, he sighed, and hopped off his chair. He had work to do.
As he walked out, he missed the look Hermione and Parkinson exchanged: they looked a question at each other, and both nodded in response.
Harry was pretending to listen to Ernie as he talked through his latest case. Almost two weeks had passed since the wild magic case had been closed, and Harry had tried to throw himself into his work in an attempt not to think about Malfoy. He wanted to see Malfoy again, but just couldn't seem to build the courage to contact him. So much for being a heroic Gryffindor.
Ernie kept running through details of shipments and times. Robards was nodding and every so often Harry would offer vague noises of interest to show that he was listening, which of course he wasn't. The room was warm, and it had reached that point in the afternoon when everyone's bodies attempted to settle down for a nap, no matter what they were actually supposed to be doing. Who on earth had scheduled a meeting for two o'clock on a Friday afternoon, anyway? Judging by the detailed agenda in front of him, Harry suspected it was Robards, even though he was suffering as much as anyone else in the room.
When the door opened, Harry didn't bother to turn to see who was coming in: to be honest, unless it was a fresh plate of biscuits he wasn't interested.
"Please excuse my tardiness," a familiar dry voice said, managing to sound neither apologetic nor conciliatory. It sounded... it sounded like home, and Harry couldn't help but smile. He looked up, trying not to be too obvious, and was met by a pair of grey eyes, fixed on him, and a small smile, one just for him, coming from Malfoy. It was as if no time had passed since they'd last seen each other. Harry's smile widened, until he suddenly became aware of where he was, and then he looked back down at his copy of the agenda. Somehow, Ernie was still droning on about Devonian trolls and marrow root, but mainly Harry could just hear the rushing thrum of his own pulse in his ears. He looked at Malfoy again, but this time he was studying the parchment in front of him, a sliver of tongue between his lips.
Harry closed his eyes for a second and took a deep breath: he wanted nothing more than to climb across the table and part those lips with his own, and snog the living daylights out of Malfoy. He glanced up again, just in time to see Malfoy's eyes dart away. Harry couldn't bear to meet them again, and as for Malfoy's mouth... it was just indecent: his lips were shiny with a thin line of wet where his tongue had been, and—
A snapping sound broke Ernie's drone for a moment, and Harry looked down to his own hand, where his quill lay in two halves, ink staining his fingers. He cast a quiet Reparo, and the torture of the meeting continued. Harry resolved to keep his eyes on the table, with its curling pieces of parchment, greying cups of tea and the plate of biscuit crumbs at its centre. He watched as Malfoy grasped his own quill in an elegant hold, and he remembered the cool of those long fingers as they stroked his arm. The room had gone from warm to suffocating, and Harry ran his hand along the high collar of his Auror robes.
When he felt the firm pressure of a foot against his, under the table, with a small, matching smirk on Malfoy's face, Harry ceased to be aware of any of the words being spoken in the room. He wasn't sure if it was accidental or not, and he didn't catch Malfoy's eye again, but the foot remained where it was, pressing ever so slightly into his own. Harry watched as Malfoy's mouth opened and closed, and he was dimly aware that words were coming out, and that others were listening, but at that moment it was beyond him.
The scraping of chairs was the first Harry knew that the meeting was over: he had no idea what had been discussed, or decided. He didn't care. But then Malfoy also rose, and Harry felt panic rise at the thought that he would step out of the room and belong to everyone else again. He wanted the warmth against his foot. He wanted the impatience and the tailored trousers, and the rich scent of fresh coffee. But Malfoy was walking away, and somehow Harry knew that this was it. This would end up being a near-miss, a regret he would feel every time he heard that voice cut into a conversation. Harry cursed himself: he was so used to life passing him by, he didn't know how to grasp this one thing he wanted, more than he had wanted anything for years. Harry's head slumped forward. The sound of the door closing was a final goodbye to his chance for... whatever it was he could have had.
"She was right, you really are useless," came the clear, sharp voice of Draco Malfoy. Harry looked up: Malfoy was by the door, his hand still resting on the doorknob.
"I– you–" began Harry, but he didn't know what to say.
"I thought I might hear from you, but I didn't," said Malfoy.
"You told me you didn't want to..."
"I know what I said," Malfoy took a step forward, away from the door. "And Pansy told me how you brought me to St Mungo's and followed me even when you were told you could go."
"And I remember you rushing across a room to grab me out from under a collapsing building," Malfoy said, taking another few steps forward. By now he was level with the large table at the centre of the room: it was the only thing between them. "But mostly," he said, coming around the side of the table, "I have been thinking about—", he grasped the armrests of Harry's chair, turning it towards him, "—you kissing me." Harry's heart was beating in his chest, so hard it almost hurt, as Malfoy moved in closer and leant forwards. Harry could feel the flutter of hot breath against his skin, and his eyes closed as his lips met Malfoy's. This kiss made Harry ache with pent-up need, and he reached up to pull Malfoy closer: he wanted more, more lips and tongue and more of the hard heat of Malfoy's body.
Harry held tight onto Malfoy, extending the kiss as much as he could. When Malfoy pulled back, straightening up, his hair was awry, his lips wet and well-kissed, the sight had a pretty instant effect on Harry's cock, which had been merely stirring with interest until then.
"You—" Harry said, unable to think of the words he needed. Malfoy smirked. There was plenty that Harry should probably be asking, but he didn't care. He wanted to see Malfoy's mouth fall open in arousal. He wanted to taste Malfoy's neck. He licked his lips, and Malfoy groaned, his lips parting in what Harry took as an invitation for another kiss. Quick as a flash, Harry stood and pinned Malfoy against the table. He ground his body into Malfoy's, eliciting another low moan.
This kiss was hungry, with sucking and teeth, and it made Harry's back tighten with desire. He reached up and undid the top button of Malfoy's robes, and then the one below, while Malfoy watched his face with eyes burning.
"I've," Harry said, looking directly at Malfoy, "been thinking about your neck." He bent his head to taste the skin there, swirling his tongue before kissing his way up to Malfoy's jawline. "So I take it you've changed your mind?" he murmured into hot skin.
Malfoy cleared his throat, and Harry moved back. "Yes, well, I decided that maybe it was real, after all. What with the life-saving, long-distance Apparition, hand-holding and all." Harry was about to correct him on the hand-holding, but then he realised that he would have done, if he could.
The table creaked with their weight as Harry pushed Malfoy back. "I'm glad you changed your mind," said Harry. "But I think that we need to work on equality in this... whatever this is." Malfoy regarded him, eyebrow raised.
"Equality?" he said. "This isn't going to become a competition is it? I don't need to rush under any falling masonry do I?"
"No chance of that since you fixed my house," Harry said. "I mean that I think it's about time you met some of my basic physical needs."
"Oh yes?" said Malfoy, and he brought his hand between them, palming Harry's length before beginning to move his hand. Harry closed his eyes: it felt amazing. He groaned as Malfoy's other hand slid up under the parting of his robes, touching the bare skin of his back. "What if I've still got some needs of my own to be met?" Malfoy whispered into Harry's ear.
"I—" Harry shuddered as Malfoy's hands roamed across his body. "I think we could come to some mutually beneficial agreement," he managed to say. "But much as I'd like to strip you here and have you against this table," this time he felt Malfoy shudder at his words, and decided that against the table was definitely something to add to his list, "I want to get you home. I want to take my time." He moaned as Malfoy squeezed, and despite his intentions to wait until they had left to do anything more, his own hand sought out the bulge of Malfoy's erection. Just the simplest of touch sent a spike of want through him, and all thoughts of anything other than pressing against each other fled Harry's mind.
"What happened to taking your time?" asked Malfoy, as Harry unbuttoned his fly with trembling fingers.
"Something came up," said Harry, and was rewarded with a shaky laugh.
"Your jokes are terrible," said Malfoy, even as his fingers were opening Harry's trousers and finding their way in. Harry knew that they shouldn't be doing this, not here, not now, but at the same time he really didn't care, not as long as Malfoy touched him like that.
Harry leant into Malfoy's shoulder, the bunched up robes between them giving everything a heated, trapped feel. Harry began to move his hand, revelling in the feeling of mutual pleasure as Malfoy matched his actions. He breathed in the faint smell of coffee, as hot, damp skin pressed to his face. They fell into a matching rhythm, and it had been so long since anyone had touched him like this: to be honest, it had never been quite like this. It was hot and urgent, and the room was peppered with the sound of half-swallowed moans and murmurs. Under it all was the knowledge that nothing, nothing at all, could stop them now. Every look and word and touch over the past few weeks had been leading to this moment, and Harry felt it wash over him, the rightness of being tangled together like this.
He pressed a kiss into Malfoy's neck, and Malfoy arched his back and groaned.
"Harry," said Malfoy, and he pulsed in Harry's hand. Harry couldn't tell which was the greater intimacy: hearing his name on Malfoy's lips or the wetness on his hand. It was enough to set him off too, with a small cry, muffled into Malfoy's shoulder.
They stood there, panting, before sharing one more kiss, which lingered as they savoured the moment and each other.
"Draco," whispered Harry, searching out grey eyes. He found them, and they wouldn't let him go.
"I think... I might be able to get used to you calling me that."
Harry looked at him, and didn't know if he was Draco or Malfoy: he just knew that he wanted to peel every item of clothing off his body, then touch him all over.
"Let me take you hom—"
At that very moment the doorknob squeaked and began to turn. Harry could hear Ron berating Ernie: apparently, Ernie had forgotten something in the room.
"Merlin, but that man is an idiot," Malfoy groaned, as the door opened. Instinctively, Harry pressed himself closer to Malfoy, hoping that long robes and a table would be enough to disguise the fact that both their cocks were hanging out, and their robes splattered with come.
Harry watched as Ron opened the door with an exasperated look over his shoulder: an expression which swiftly changed to open-mouthed horror as he took in the sight of Harry and Malfoy pressed up against each other. There was a moment of absolute silence as Ernie's brain caught up, and then the next moment Ron glared at Harry, muttered "Fucking hell, Harry," the last word ending almost on a whine, then grabbed Ernie's sleeve and pulled him out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
There was a long heartbeat before Harry heard and felt Malfoy's chuckle.
"Don't laugh," said Harry, feeling mortified. "That's probably scarred Ron for life." He felt Malfoy shrug against him.
"You should have taken me home then," said Malfoy, pressing up against him again. "Like you promised." Harry felt a stir of interest, a languid rush of blood, at the suggestion.
"Oh, I'm going to do that now," said Harry, pulling Malfoy in for a kiss. "And maybe next time we should wait before we... you know, against the table."
"Next time?" A smile curved across Malfoy's face. "Next time we lock the bloody door first."
Nothing seemed more perfect at that moment then to kiss Malfoy again: they were still mid-kiss when Harry Apparated them away.
"Now why don't Aurors always wear their robes like that?" said Malfoy, as he looked Harry up and down. They had pulled down and kicked off everything below the waist: Harry had to admit that Malfoy, mostly buttoned up but penis hanging out of his robes, was a sight he wasn't going to forget in a hurry. He didn't know whether to laugh or reach for him, when he noticed something that made him smile.
"Are your robes tailored?" Harry asked.
"Of course," Malfoy said. "But I thought we had already covered the topic of my need to wear well-fitting clothes."
"Oh they do fit you well," said Harry, running his eye across Malfoy's chest in appreciation. "It's only– well, I suppose at least it's not Crup spunk this time."
"What?" said Malfoy, his attention snapping towards his robes. He frowned and began to unbutton them, but Harry placed a stilling hand over his fingers.
"Don't you dare," he growled. "That's my job."
"Maybe Kreacher can get the stains out, before they set," said Malfoy, ignoring Harry and looking across to the door. Harry immediately ordered the door to lock, with a short burst of sibilant syllables.
Malfoy froze, and his eyes sank shut as he bit on his bottom lip. "Say something else," he whispered on a stream of breathy air. Harry felt a small burst of triumph for having successfully regained Malfoy's attention. Smiling to himself, he decided exactly what he was going to say.
"I am going to fuck that delectable arse of yours into the mattress," he hissed, and it didn't matter if Malfoy could understand or not, because his intent was absolutely clear.
"Fuck, Potter," Malfoy said his voice low and husky, and he pulled Harry down onto the bed. It was good to finally hear the need, no longer denied, in Malfoy's voice, and Harry drew closer.
"I was hoping you'd say that," Harry said, and he set about undoing every button on Malfoy's robe himself. Each button slipping through its little hole brought a hitch in Malfoy's breathing, and by the time the robe was lying open, Harry's cock was hard and leaking.
He knew he'd promised to take his time, but there was desperation in the way they kissed, and soon Harry was naked too, sat in Malfoy' lap. His hands were trying to map every inch of Malfoy's pale skin and hard body, all lean and long. With a surge, Harry pushed Malfoy down, his hips moving of their own accord as their cocks slid against each other. They kissed and groped and grabbed.
"I know I said I wanted to take my time," Harry said, "but—"
"I swear, Potter, if you don't fuck me soon I'll never forgive you," Malfoy said, and the words were like a jolt of electricity. Harry ground his hips one more time, moaning slightly as he did.
"Oh," said Harry, somewhat breathlessly. "Well if you feel like that..." He summoned a vial of oil from beside the bed and sat up, before gently pushing Malfoy's legs up so his knees moved towards his chest then out.
"I knew you were a wanker–" said Malfoy, but whatever he was going to say next got lost in a sharp intake of breath as Harry's oiled finger began to move, making small circles first then sliding in, moving deeper.
"I think," said Harry, as he switched to two fingers, "that at moments like this, I might prefer to call you Draco." He looked down at Draco, skin pinked and lips parted. "I do really like Malfoy, but it's Draco I want to fuck."
"Shut the fuck up and get on with it."
"Well, if you insist," said Harry. He continued with his fingers for another minute or so, then made sure that he was well slicked himself, closing his eyes at the sensation of his hand moving over sensitive, needy flesh. Harry moved forwards, but the sight of Draco's beautiful cock, long and engorged against his stomach distracted him, and he bent down to lick and suck the tip, relishing the feeling of heat in his mouth.
"Harry," whined Draco, and Harry released his cock with regret, wanting to get to know it better. When he finally pushed in though, he berated himself for taking his time before: it was fantastic, all tight heat and moaning man with flushed cheeks and chest.
As they moved together, Harry was struck by just how long he'd spent looking at Draco, wanting all the time to see him like this. He reached out to touch Draco: he didn't care where, he just wanted to feel skin. Draco's eyes opened and they shared a look, as Draco unclasped the bunched up sheet in his hand so he could squeeze Harry's hand. Somehow, Harry knew that this was the first time, but by no means the last time they would do this, and the thought filled him with wonder.
These, and other thoughts, were soon driven out as Harry made good his Parseltongue promise. When he grasped Draco's cock he was, within a few strokes, rewarded with a glorious arc of come, and a tightening down which led to his own noisy and satisfied release.
Afterwards, as Harry lay in a state of post-coital lassitude, half aware of the warm body next to him and of the general feeling of contentment spreading all the way down to his toes, his wandering mind was brought back by Draco's voice.
"Hmm," said Harry, still not completely focused.
"Why are we in here?"
Harry stretched and turned his head to look at Draco, who had sat up and was looking around the room.
"After you... left, I started sleeping in here. It smelt like you," Harry said, and yawned. "You were right, it does make a better bedroom. I decided that it was time I did something about the house. I– I want to make it more of a home."
"You silly sap," said Draco, resting his hand on Harry's chest and smiling down at him. He looked back up, and Harry could almost see the thoughts whirring as he frowned in concentration. "You know I've got plenty more ideas about your house," said Draco.
"Yes, I thought you might," said Harry. "I'm a bit lost as to where to start." He pulled Draco down towards him. "Just not quite yet, hey?" He yawned again. "Too sleepy."
Draco settled next to Harry stroked his face, the lightest of touches which left a tingling wake behind it. Harry shuffled closer and hummed, then closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep with Draco, feeling that maybe, just maybe, he was finally home.
The bedroom was filled with light when they woke. Harry stretched, and his hand brushed Draco's hip. It was warm, the skin soft, and Harry's hand seemed to take it as an invitation to travel further, over Draco's stomach, his finger tracing a lazy line through a smattering of hair that thickened as it moved lower.
"You'd better make good on the promise you're making," said Draco. "You can't do that unless—" his voice hitched as Harry reached down to cup his balls, and then up to his wonderfully full, hot, morning wood. He began to move his hand, in long leisurely passes.
"It feels to me," said Harry, "as if you're the one making the promise here." Draco turned his head towards Harry and ran his lips across Harry's chin before kissing him on the corner of his mouth.
"Knob," he said.
"Prick," said Harry, twisting his hand at the end of the stroke. Draco groaned, and rolled on top of Harry.
"Promises, promises," he said, moving his hips and dipping his head to Harry's neck. Draco's breath was hot next to Harry's ear: it made him squirm with want, and he sought Draco's mouth out with his own. His kiss was a pledge of heat and need, of what was to come, as they ground their bodies together.
"I want... I want..." Harry said, and Draco hushed him, stopping his mouth his own, then pulled him up, somehow still kissing; as soon as they were sitting, facing each other, Draco grasped their cocks.
"Everything," Draco said. "I want everything." As his hand began to move, his other grabbed Harry's arse and squeezed. A wave of pleasure passed through Harry, and he wanted Draco's hand to move further back. Instead though, Draco kissed Harry's neck again, and Harry felt the huff of warm breath and the buzz of a soft purr, as Draco spoke into his ear. "I want you, Harry." An actual shiver passed through Harry at the words. Yes he thought.
"Yes," gasped Harry.
Draco pulled Harry into a kiss. Harry felt as if he was being devoured. It had been a very long time indeed since he had bottomed, mostly due to circumstance and lack of opportunity, but he was greedy: he wanted all of Draco. He wanted Draco to have all of him.
Sunlight painted their bodies gold and bright as they explored each other's bodies, Draco being just as methodical in this as he was in everything else. Much, Harry decided after an orgasm which made his vision blur, to his benefit.
"He's here," said Harry, as he felt the now-familiar tingle of someone knocking on the front door.
"You're so sexy when you act all Master-of-the-house," said Draco, and Harry sighed.
"You're getting soft, you know," Harry said. "Where's the prick I know and love?" Draco raised his eyebrows and looked down into his own lap.
"That's not what I meant and you know it," said Harry, but he still reached out to brush the outline of Draco's cock, which gave a lazy twitch and began to take on a more... defined shape. Draco batted his hand away and kissed him on the cheek, all at once.
"Not now," he murmured.
"I should hope not," said Severus from the doorway. "I had a terrible premonition that this day would come, but still, a little... decorum, if you please, gentlemen." Draco crossed his legs and scowled at Harry, who rose to greet Severus.
"It's good to see you," said Harry. "Welcome to my—" Draco coughed, "—our home. I'm sorry it's taken so long to invite you, but I'm glad you could come. It took a while for it to be presentable."
"I have to say," said Severus, as he walked towards the window, ignoring the armchairs by Harry and Draco, "this place has changed almost beyond recognition."
"Yes, well, once Draco had worked so hard on breaking the curse on the wards, it seemed a waste not to actually make this place a bit more... homely," Harry said.
"Yes," drawled Draco from the sofa, "and there was no way I was moving into a place with mould on the walls."
"There is that," said Harry. "Please, come sit with us, and Kreacher can bring us tea," said Harry, as he returned to his place by Draco's side and squeezed his knee. Severus looked over from his vantage point, from where he had turned to survey the snow-covered street below.
"I've been through too much to have to deal with this too," he grumbled, but he sat himself in one of the armchairs, his back held straight and a look of faint distaste on his face. Harry smiled: Draco had told him just how sweet a tooth Severus had – "every Slytherin knew it was the way to keep him happy" – and apart from wondering just how much more bearable Potions would have been if he'd brought chocolates, Harry was looking forward to seeing how Severus would react in the face of the feast of sweets that Kreacher had spent all day preparing.
He wasn't disappointed when, whilst in the midst a particularly cutting review of just where all of Draco's classmates now were, Severus broke off mid-sentence at the sight of Kreacher bearing a tiered cake tray overflowing with sweet treats: there were fondant fancies, fresh-dipped and topped with sugar-frosted flowers, baklava dripping with honey, still-warm shortbread, dense, fudgy chocolate brownies, and citrus-scented sweet and creamy cheesecakes. It was no traditional tea service, but Severus's eyes lit up nonetheless.
"Cake, Severus?" asked Draco.
"Always," Severus said. Harry hid a smile, as Severus brought a miniature cheesecake to his lips, closed his eyes and bit into it.
The more Severus ate, the less severe his expression became, until he wore a look of sated contentment. Harry began to believe that as long as there was enough cake to hand, perhaps he could build on his relationship with Severus, after all. His hand found Draco's and squeezed. Draco turned to him and smiled, the small private one that Harry always thought of as his.
"It would be a terrible waste of cake if I were to be sick now," said Severus, and Harry and Draco pulled apart slightly.
"Sorry, Severus," said Draco. "I forget that the finer human emotions turn your stomach." There was a stony silence as Severus looked as if wanted to stick his tongue out, broken when Harry leant forward, holding the teapot.
"More tea?" he said. "Or cake?" he added, gesturing towards the cake stand. Severus scowled, but helped himself to a chocolate brownie, and peace was restored.
Pink light glinted off thousands of tiny waves as a breeze rippled across the lake. The house sat by the rocky shore, aglow with wood and glass and a whole wall faced with river stones. It was by no means huge and still managed to look like a home.
"Harry, Draco, so pleased you could make it," said a beaming Hermione. It was the first time Harry had seen the house finished, and it was everything he thought it could have been and more. Books lined the back wall, which appeared to be one huge bookcase, floor to ceiling. The opposite wall was mostly glass, looking out over the lake. Stairs at the end of the room led to bedrooms, with a study, bathroom and other rooms below, hidden behind the books. He knew all this from the plans, but it was different seeing it in actuality.
"Hermione, it's lovely," said Harry.
"Thank you," she said. "And thank you for all the help. Now, come inside properly."
Harry moved to walk in with her, but stopped as soon as he realised that Draco was still in the entrance way, and hadn't moved any further from the door. There was tension in Draco's face, and Harry realised just how hard this probably was, walking into the lion's lair, so to say.
"Actually, I think I'll show Draco the outside, if you don't mind. It's such a beautiful view," Harry said, stepping back and holding Draco's hand. Draco didn't look at him, but did squeeze back, gripping on tightly with his fingers.
Hermione looked between the two of them and nodded.
"I'll see you when you're ready, then," she said, and she slipped back inside to a loud roar of 'Mione! from the main room.
Harry and Draco stopped at the far end of the decking which ran to the water's edge. Muffled voices could be heard from the house, but the everything else was quiet; Harry could hear the gentle sound of water hitting the shore, and the sun was almost at the horizon. Harry put his arm around Draco and pulled him close. He breathed in the skin-soap-man smell that always felt like home. They stood there a while, watching as the sun dipped down, the last low flare of colour fading with it.
"I know I said that I'd come, but I don't think I can do it," said Draco into Harry's cheek.
"It'll be fine," said Harry, but Draco shook his head.
"They all... they are all going to be bloody Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs aren't they? All earnest and bouncy. I don't think I can bear it—"
"Oh don't worry, you don't have to be nice to any of them. They already know that you're a prick. Ernie told them," said Harry, and he pulled back and grinned. Draco's mouth wavered between a smile and a pout. "Also, Luna will be there, and she was a Ravenclaw." Draco groaned.
"Yes, like she's the typical Ravenclaw."
"Anyway," said Harry, ignoring Draco, "they all know that you're with me, so I don't think that anyone's going to hex you. Or call you names. Well, not unless you really provoke them. And you're not going to do that, are you?" he asked, trying to sound stern.
"Of course not," said Draco, and then he huffed, a cloud of white mist appearing between them for a second. "You really know how to reassure a man, don't you?" muttered Draco, but he slipped a hand under Harry's clothes and ran it across his back anyway, pulling him back close again. His fingers were cool, but still left a trail of heat behind them.
"I do my best," said Harry, and he planted a soft kiss on Draco's lips, "with what I've got."
"We could just go home and you could work on me some more," said Draco.
"No. We're going to have a lovely snog out here, then go in and you are going to talk to all my friends. And in exchange you will get a blowjob when we get back, plus I will attend Pansy's Christmas party. As we agreed, Malfoy."
Draco's eyes lit up. "Oh really, Potter?" he said. "You seem to have added an extra incentive to your original offer."
"Is it enough?"
"I think it might be," said Draco, and he pulled Harry in for a kiss.
When they made their way inside, Hermione saw them from across the room and smiled and waved, but it was Ron who turned and pulled them into conversation. He was with George, who eyed Draco up and down before settling into a disgruntled frown. Harry felt the need to say something before George started complaining.
"So what do your mum and dad think of the house, then?" he asked. Ron grinned.
"I think mum is a little… overwhelmed, to be honest. It's a bit too modern for her. Although," he added, looking a little scared, "she has mentioned that there is plenty of room for children."
"And as far as dad is concerned," said George "Hermione is a genius for all the magic-powered Muggle stuff she's snuck in. He's been walking around on a caffeine high since he discovered the coffee machine."
"Oh?" said Draco, looking interested. Harry instantly knew that they too, would be getting one. George ignored Draco.
"It's been a lot of work to get to this point, but I think that it's been worth it," said Ron. Harry could sense Draco hesitate, then seem to brace himself to make conversation.
"Your house is very… square," said Draco to Ron. "Did you design it like that to make it simpler to build?." It was impossible to tell if Draco was genuine in his interest or not, and Harry could feel him almost humming with tension beside him.
"It's a style we liked, more than anything else. We come from such different backgrounds, I guess we just wanted to have something fresh and new, with no history for either of us." Harry hadn't really heard Ron talk like this about his house before.
"Fascinating. It's…." Draco looked thoughtful, and he sighed. "It's almost... the opposite of how I feel about home and history."
"You would think you'd want to run a mile from your past," muttered George. Harry stepped forward to say something, but Draco put his hand on Harry's arm and shook his head.
"It's ok, Harry. I can talk for myself." He turned to face George fully. "You're right: there's plenty that I don't like in my past. But I'm not going to pretend to be who I'm not, no more than I could pretend to be Mr Rules and Regulations over there," he said, nodding towards Percy who was talking very loudly about teapot legislation to a uncharacteristically glazed-looking Luna.
George followed Draco's gaze and stopped at the sight of his brother. His eyes widened a fraction, and then he turned back to Draco. Harry held his breath, but let it out all at once as George snorted and patted Draco on the back hard enough to make him wince.
"I see what you mean: I think I'd rather be you than him," he said. "Although if that meant smooching with Harry here, maybe not. It's a tough choice, really."
"Yes, well, he is a little bit useless, but someone's got to do it."
"Hey!" Harry said, and elbowed Draco in the side. Draco glared at him.
"No need to get your knickers in a twist, Potter, I'm just being friendly."
"Do you two really still call each other Potter and Malfoy?" asked Ron. Harry and Draco exchanged a look.
"Not always, mate," said Harry. "We do when we're at work—"
"Unless we've locked the door first," murmured Draco, and George laughed as Ron coughed, his drink half spraying, half dribbling out of his nose.
"—and sometimes just to amuse ourselves," Harry said, as if Draco hadn't spoken. He was trying hard to ignore just what people thought about the times he and Draco disappeared into his office. It wasn't as if it happened often. Well, not that often.
"Or if I'm being… what is it that idiot Macmillan always calls me? A prick. Or indeed if Harry's being particularly knobbish," added Draco, giving Harry a flash of his private smile.
"Right," said Ron, as he wiped his face with a handkerchief covered in flashing purple 'W's, which Harry presumed George had given him. "Actually, I think Hermione has a theory about it..."
"Is it scarily insightful and ever so slightly damning?" said Draco. Ron looked surprised for a moment, then laughed.
"Probably," he said. "Ah, here she is, you can ask her yourself."
"Ask me what?" said Hermione as she joined them, Luna by her side.
"One of your theories," said Harry. "About me and Draco."
"Brilliant," said Luna. "This sounds like much more fun than teapots." She shuddered slightly. "I do worry about Percy and Nargle infestations."
"Oh, I've got loads of theories," said Hermione. "You'd have to be more specific."
"Calling each other Malfoy and Potter," said George, immediately.
"Ah," said Hermione. Actually, I've been working on this one recently with Pansy. It seems that Draco—"
Draco groaned. "You and Pansy?" Hermione smiled sweetly at him.
"Why yes. She's an excellent healer and has a sharp mind. I like her."
"I dread to think what that moody cow has been telling you," said Draco, looking unhappy.
"Is she here?" asked Harry, looking around, but Hermione shook her head.
"No, she's working. But she does indeed have some very interesting things to say about Draco. We think that he and Harry have been hiding a certain degree of… attraction to each other for years, and all the 'Malfoy' and 'Potter' talk brings back memories of dancing around each other. It's their way of acknowledging how they feel about each other, without having to get too sentimental."
Harry groaned. "I can't believe I'm going to have two of you spouting this stuff now," he said.
"Oh, they're just little theories," said Hermione. "Harmless, really."
"Yes, well I'm sure that you'd be enthralled to hear some 'little theories' about what you're doing with the Weasel here, but I'll refrain from sharing them," Draco said.
"Draco," said Harry. Draco turned to look at Harry, then back at Hermione.
"Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean that. I can honestly see that you two are happy. And any home that has this many books and a coffee machine is a wondrous thing, as far as I'm concerned."
"You're a big softie really," said Hermione, smiling, but Harry felt Draco bristle with indignation at the words, as if it were the worst insult that anyone could make. Which it probably was, to him. Harry stroked Draco's arm, then found his hand and squeezed his fingers. Draco seemed to relax slightly.
"Actually, I came over to tell you that there's someone here who wants to see you, Draco," said Hermione, suddenly more serious. "I got distracted, rescuing Luna. You'll have to come with me, she's waiting in the snug."
"Bye now, Draco, Harry," called Luna, as Harry and Draco followed Hermione. "Come find me later: I want to ask you a question about cursed cutlery."
The snug was dimly lit, and sitting on the squashy sofa was Andromeda, a sleepy Teddy curled up next to her. They were reading a book about dragons, and one of the illustrations was flying up out of the page, tiny flames shooting from its mouth. Teddy laughed in delight, and Andromeda looked up and saw Harry, Draco and Hermione standing at the door. Harry felt Draco freeze again at his side, so he rubbed Draco's arm with his thumb, a small gesture which he hoped would be comforting.
"Hello," Andromeda said, her eyes widening slightly. Teddy looked up.
"Harry!" he said, and he jumped up and threw himself into Harry's arms. "You read me my dragon book. And I want Mione too." He beamed at both of them. Behind him, Andromeda stood, her skin matching Draco's in its paleness.
Draco took a deep breath, nodding slightly when Harry turned his head to look at him, and he gave Harry a little push. Relief washed over Harry: Hermione had told him that she was going to talk to Andromeda about coming, but Harry hadn't mentioned it to Draco. He hugged Teddy a little tighter, and moved into the spot Andromeda had vacated on the sofa.
As Harry read the words on the page, Teddy's hair tickling his nose, he tried to hear the exchange between Draco and Andromeda. He could only make out snatches, but what he heard made his heart clench, for both of them. They seemed to be making their peace, and he heard Draco mention his mother, Harry, and the family tree.
Teddy wiggled and wrapped an arm around Harry, who pulled him close. The more that Harry read, the more still Teddy grew, until by the last page, Teddy's eyes were closed and he was snoring lightly. Harry read on, just because he didn't like to see a story half-finished, and then he kissed Teddy lightly on the head.
Harry looked up to meet Hermione's eyes, and then he glanced over at Draco, who was still deep in conversation with Andromeda.
"I'm so glad we found a way to get them to meet," Hermione said.
"Thank you. They were both being so bloody stubborn about it, but it seems to be going fine."
"Yes, it does," said Hermione softly. She gave Harry a little smile, her eyes filled with emotion. "You've changed, you know."
"Yeah," said Harry, "I know." He glanced over at Draco. "I feel like I've got a home, now. And not just the house."
"I know what you mean," said Hermione. "This place is beautiful, and everything I've been dreaming of for the past few years, but really what I've found is somewhere that makes sense to me, with people I love." Harry thought about what she had said, and nodded.
"Hogwarts was the first place I remember feeling like home. But now..." Harry trailed off, uncertain how to put into words how he felt. It was like the warm weight of Teddy by his side: real, solid, and it filled him with hope.
"You seem like you've... woken up a little, like you were sleep walking before," said Hermione. "You never really committed to anything, and now—"
"I just don't want to let life pass me by anymore, Hermione. You're right, I was hiding before. I'd just had to deal with so much and... I didn't to have to think about anything."
"He's been good for you, and I'm happy for you," said Hermione.
"Yeah, me too," said Harry, looking over once more at Draco.
Much later, when most people had already gone home, and a bank of low cloud was beginning to encroach on a sky wide with stars, Harry and Draco were standing out by the lake again. It was cold, and Draco's arms were under Harry's coat.
"It wasn't too bad, was it?" said Harry.
"No, it wasn't," said Draco. "Apart from the bad wine and high number of Weasleys."
"Draco!" Harry said. "You're not supposed to insult your hosts, you know."
"Oh I'd never do it to their faces," Draco said. "Well, not too much." He was now so close to Harry that the warmth of the words washed over Harry's skin.
"You're incorrigible," Harry said.
"But you love me for it."
"Yes, I do," said Harry, and he pulled Draco in for a kiss.
A cold wind blew around them, carrying with it a promise of snow as Harry and Draco Apparated home, arms still clasped firmly around each other.
The snake on the front door reared its head up without Harry saying anything first.
"Greetings, Parselmouth and Sex on a Stick. Enter," it hissed, the coils of its body twisting as the door swung open.
"Harry," Draco said, stopping before he walked through the door. "What is it the snakes always say? It sounds like 'Ssss shh sssssh hhhss'," he said, a frown on his face as he tried to imitate them. Harry felt his cheeks heat: he didn't exactly understand what Draco had said, as he really only heard the snakes' words, not their hisses, but he knew what it was they were saying when they saw Draco.
"Well, they are mostly saying hello. They are quite formal, actually – they always say 'Greetings' – and they have, er, names for us."
"Yes, they generally call me 'Parselmouth' or 'Master of the house'; they call you…" Harry trailed off, and closed his eyes. "They call you 'Sex on a Stick'," he said. Draco spluttered and then was quiet for a moment. Harry opened his eyes to find a steely gaze fixed on him.
"Sex on a stick?" said Draco. "Why—"
"I, er, called you that. A long time ago," said Harry. "And they remembered."
"How long ago?" said Draco, narrowing his eyes.
"There are worse things they could call you," said Harry. "At least they don't call you 'Prick'. And I doubt that many Parselmouths are going to be chatting to the snakes in this house any time soon."
"How long ago?" Draco repeated.
"Maybe… the first time you asked me to talk to them. When you were here doing the curse-breaking. I just… even then…" said Harry, a little lamely. Draco looked as if he were wavering between wanting to roll his eyes and wanting to kiss Harry. He seemed to make his mind up as he reached for Harry and pulled him close.
"Harry," Draco whispered, and he kissed Harry, like he meant it, just like he had the first time. Harry felt himself melt in warmth and the feeling that he was home.
As the door closed behind them a flurry of heavy flakes began falling through the still night air; the world became darkness interspersed with yellow cones of light and whirling snowflakes under a row of streetlights, before everything settled into a blanket of calm.