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The Earl

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March 2004

The flat is tiny, and the furniture is a strange amalgamation of flat pack and ancient Manor artifacts, but Draco loves it because it has a little porch and Harry spells the kitchen walls a bright blue that reminds him of the coming spring.

Draco is at the round kitchen table with the reading glasses Teresa forced him to admit he needed and a thick book entitled THE ORGANIZATION OF INFORMATION when Harry gets home from work. He sets down the book and listens to the sounds of Harry unlocking the door and mumbling to himself, and his gaze drifts idly to the fridge, on which they have continued the tradition of hanging stupid things, particularly press coverage. Joining Harry’s title of Sexiest Wizard Alive and the drawing of Draco falling off a cliff are gems such as “Harry Potter’s Bad Boy,” Draco picking his nose in the Prophet, and a whole collection of the two of them — with occasional company — pulling ridiculous faces at photographers which were published anyway.

Draco particularly likes the one, taken not long after the nose picking incident, in which Harry has jammed his fingers up Draco’s nose. They bet over whether it’d publish, and Draco won a galleon and a back rub when it turned up in Witch Weekly. It took Harry a while to figure out the unpublishable ones were the ones with somebody’s middle finger in them, which he took great advantage of for a while before deciding to instead advertise various charities on his shirts or on napkins stuck up on restaurant windows.

Harry enters the kitchen and Draco immediately turns to begin rant number 936 about the wizarding world’s complete ignorance of the advances being made re: the Internet — except the words die in his throat when he realizes there is a bit of gray fuzz poking out of the collar of Harry’s zipped jacket.

It only takes Draco a few seconds to realize the bit of fuzz has yellow eyes and is very much alive.

Draco narrows his eyes. “That is not a scarf,” he says.

“No,” Harry says sheepishly. “He’s not a scarf.” There is snow in his hair, and his hands are stained with brightly colored paints as they often are when he returns home from the primary school where he’s doing his student teaching. He unzips his jacket and cradles the ball of fuzz in his hands.

It is a kitten. A small round kitten. Not an “it” but a “he,” apparently.

Draco loves him instantly.

“This isn’t really happening,” he says, looking into the kitten’s eyes and trying to sound cross anyway. “Do you have a name?” he asks the kitten.

“He hasn’t got a name yet,” Harry admits.

“And how did he end up in your jacket?” Draco asks, his eyes switching from the cat’s to Harry’s.

“He was all on his own,” says Harry, his voice pitching into defensive. “He’d been left behind by somebody — he was skulking round the dumpster, at the school. He’s very nervous, but he liked me, for some reason, so.”

“For some reason,” Draco repeats.

“And it’s cold out there,” Harry adds.

Draco thinks he understands the kitten. Harry’s body is almost always warm, and he just has a face — the sort of face which invites, inexplicably, trusting.

“I should have known,” says Draco, and he gives in to his urge to gently place his fingers on the kitten’s soft head. The cat bats at him, and Draco takes his fingers away before holding them carefully in front of the kitten’s nose, letting him explore his scent a bit.

“Should have known what?” says Harry.

“That shacking up with you meant one day you’d turn up with a sad lonely animal.”

Harry’s mouth twitches. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Of course it’s not a bad thing, you idiot,” says Draco. “Have you taken it to a healer yet?”

“No,” says Harry, and he is starting to smile, so Draco tries not to look at him, because honestly, sometimes it’s a bit much. And right now he’s holding a tiny kitten in his hands, for Merlin’s sake.

“Well, let’s get going then,” says Draco, striding out of the kitchen to find his own jacket.

When he gets to the front door, winding his scarf around his neck, Harry pulls him in for a kiss, for which Draco almost receives a scratch to the face.

Draco gasps, then points a stern finger at the cat in Harry’s arms. “He has been mine for much longer, animal, and if you’re staying you better keep that in mind.”

Harry snorts.

“You’re buying me dinner while we’re out,” says Draco as he opens the flat door.

“Am I?” says Harry, following him out.

“I was talking to the cat,” says Draco.

***

After much deliberation, Draco decides to call him Earl.

“The Earl of what?” says Harry as the kitten climbs Draco’s chair. The thing has lived with them for one day and Draco already knows he is a climber. He climbs the chairs, the curtains, the table, their legs. This evening Harry tried to feed him and kept having to pick him off his leg gently and put him back on the floor, away from the food he was preparing.

It was really very sweet, but Draco won’t say that.

Draco tuts. “The Earl of nothing. Just Earl.”

“The Earl of Nothing,” says Harry. “A just noble.”

With a withering look, Draco says, “No. Earl, who is not an Earl of anything!”

“The Earl of Nothing,” Harry repeats, “A just cat,” and Draco throws a pillow at him, and the cat scratches him, and this is how Draco ends up with a kitten called “The Earl” who is trying to steal his boyfriend.

***

Ron and Hermione come to meet The Earl not long after he moves in. They’re getting married this summer. It was the catalyst for Draco getting this place he loves with Harry, so he should be grateful for that, but it’s so obvious Hermione is stressed out about the wedding and Molly Weasley’s interfering that being around them just now is a bit much.

The Earl proves, however, to be a wonderful distraction. Hermione, unsurprisingly, loves him.

“He’s so sweet!” she coos as he climbs Ron.

Ron looks rather alarmed by the whole thing, but he nods sportingly. “He’s cute,” he says.

Draco agrees — he is cute. Draco loves The Earl, he really does. He loves his soft fur and bright eyes and little paws, and he loves to use his wand to send around a beam of light for The Earl to chase. He also loves to meow back at him, which means Harry has more than once walked in on Draco and The Earl yelling at one another. “It’s not a disagreement, don’t worry,” Draco says loftily when Harry finds Draco and the kitten yowling at each other across the bed. “He agrees with me about the Internet.”

The problem, however, is that The Earl seems to like Harry much more. When Harry returns from work, it’s all about him. When Draco tries to get attention, from the cat or from Harry, he gets swiped or bitten. He now has a collection of small injuries along his fingers and arms, as well as on his pride. He looks at the kitten and feels so soppy, and then the thing tries to fight him. It’s betrayal, and it isn’t fair that all small, vulnerable things love Harry best. Teddy Lupin loves Harry best, too. He never knows quite what to do with Draco, but then again Draco never knows quite what to do with him, either.

It’s still not fair.

It isn’t long before The Earl gets tired of his new climbing posts and makes his way back to Harry, settling in on his shoulder and staying there even when he goes to the toilet, which is unbelievable. Draco tried to take him and he swiped at Draco’s wrist.

“Draco,” says Ron. “I think you’ve got competition.”

“I am much cuter than that stupid cat,” Draco huffs.

Hermione tuts as Ron bursts out laughing. “You love him,” she says. “I can see it.” When Draco raises an eyebrow, she says, “The cat. We’ve known about Harry for quite some time.”

He glares at her. “Must we continue to say these things out loud?” he says.

“Yes,” says Hermione. “We must. It’s good for you.”

***

Draco thinks he knows how The Earl feels when he meets his friends. He, too, was once a stingy, hissing thing obsessed with Harry Potter and a bit shell shocked at the sudden affections of this group of boisterous women. After an afternoon of chasing lights, fighting hair ribbons, and being passed from squealing friend to squealing friend, The Earl looks more tired out than Draco has ever seen him.

“If Harry was here he wouldn’t have time for any of us,” says Draco as The Earl curls into a ball for a nap next to him. He allows Draco to gently stroke his back. “He probably wouldn’t let me touch him, either.”

“Wouldn’t let you touch him, the cat, or wouldn’t let you touch Harry?” says Sadie.

“Either,” says Draco darkly. “A cat is coming between us.”

“Is that a real thing or a Draco thing?” asks Teresa.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Draco demands.

“She means is the cat you’ve owned for two weeks literally putting a strain on your relationship,” says Caitlin, “Or are you being dramatic?”

Draco scowls.

“So it’s a Draco thing,” says Teresa.

“Just wait ’til next Valentine’s Day and see who he gives chocolates to,” says Sadie helpfully.

“Yes, thank you, I’ll wait a year and find out then,” says Draco. “It’s not like any other occasions are coming up.”

“Well, I think if he gave them to the cat it’d be an even more dramatic statement in Draco’s favor, wouldn’t it?” says Abigail. “Isn’t chocolate lethal to cats?”

“That’s dogs,” says Teresa.

“Well, yeah, but it could be cats also,” says Caitlin.

Draco claps his hands together, forgetting all about the real cat issue at hand. “We can look for the answer on the Internet!” he says.

“Okay, sweetheart,” says Sadie, patting him on the head.

***

Draco’s so absorbed at his desk that he doesn’t notice at first when Harry turns up at the library.

He doesn’t look up until Harry clears his throat, and then he jumps and drops his quill.

Harry laughs. “Aren’t you meant to always be approachable at the reference desk?”

“I am extremely approachable,” says Draco, shuffling the forms he was filling out. “However, I must also do a lot of work, without the aid of a computer, because — ”

“ — the wizarding world is extremely primitive and prejudiced,” says Harry. “It rings a bell, that speech.”

Draco huffs, and then he notices who is sitting in Harry’s jacket. “Harry. You can’t bring him in here!”

Harry looks down at The Earl. “He’s fine,” he says.

“Says you!” says Draco. “This is my place of work. I can’t be responsible for bringing two animals onto the premises.”

“Ha, ha,” says Harry. “He was just so sad to see me go.”

Draco jumps as someone makes use of the book drop, the metal door clanging behind him. Maude, the children’s librarian, has told him horror stories about squirrels jumping inside, as well as owls deciding this is the appropriate entryway to the library despite the perfectly serviceable owl post window. Every time the thing bangs and thunks, he twitches. It doesn’t help that he’s staring straight at his own kitten, which absolutely should not be here, and which might get him in trouble.

“You’re more pitiful than he is,” Draco says. “What do you want?”

“To steal you away for lunch,” says Harry. “For old time’s sake.”

“And at what establishment are we meant to eat with a kitten in your jacket?”

“The great outdoors,” says Harry.

“Are we foraging?”

“You’re in top form today,” says Harry. “I reckoned we’d get something to-go, you massive arsehole.”

“This is a public establishment at which there are children, young man,” says Maude, coming round to the back of the desk, having just finished story time; she’s carrying her scary puppets. “Oh! Goodness, have you got a cat?”

“I was just telling him to get it out of here,” says Draco quickly.

“What sort of librarian are you?” Maude demands. “Oh, what a sweetheart, may I?”

As she leans over to scratch The Earl’s head, Draco says, very put out, “You can try, but he only likes Harry, because they’re both horrible.”

“Oh!” says Maude, and suddenly Draco regrets everything. She beams back and forth between them. “You’re Draco’s boy!”

Harry rubs at the back of his neck and says, “Er — that’s me,” smiling as Maude scratches The Earl behind the ears. The kitten allows it, perhaps because he is safely snuggled in Harry’s jacket. Draco wonders if Maude really didn’t know that Draco’s boyfriend was Harry Potter. Surely that isn’t possible.

“And this is Draco’s boy, as well,” she says of The Earl, who arches his neck and closes his eyes under her fingers. “Oh, Draco, he’s a sweet thing.”

“I’ll get him out of here,” says Harry. “I was just coming round to steal Draco for lunch.”

“Oh, I suppose you’d better, before Audrey sees,” says Maude. “She’s got about six cats herself but she’s a stickler for the rules.”

When they leave the library, Harry says lightly, “Is that what I’m known for here?”

“Being a madman carting around cats?”

Harry smirks. The Earl remains contentedly looking about as they make their way down the street. “As Draco’s boy.”

“Ugh,” Draco scowls. “Yes, I’m a lot more famous than you, comparatively. In the land of magical libraries.”

“The most famous student reference desk employee they’ve got, I imagine,” says Harry.

“Anyway, it’s not true.”

“What, your fame?”

“I’m extremely famous. I meant — that you’re my boy.”

Harry’s brow furrows. “I’m not?” he says, quizzical.

Draco gets that rush of feeling he gets sometimes, the rush that reminds him what it was like when they were first together and this intensity was all he ever felt, when Harry kissing him was still a novelty, a treasured and unbelievable thing. He swallows, a bit lightheaded. “No,” he says. “I think you’re The Earl’s boy now.”

Harry laughs loudly.

“Yes, laugh it up,” says Draco. “It’s hilarious that you’ve left me for a kitten.”

Still laughing a bit, Harry says, “Wait. You’re not serious?”

It takes a moment for Draco to push out, “Of course not.”

“You’re a little bit serious, aren’t you?” says Harry.

“I am not.”

“You know I’m not dating The Earl, right?”

“Don’t.”

“Surely you know I’m not into animals,” says Harry.

“Potter.”

“You Potter-ed me! You’re mad! Draco.”

Draco says nothing. Harry stares at him, a mixture of flabbergasted and amused.

“You’re right,” says Harry. “You’re absolutely right. All this time what I’ve been doing is planning to propose to The Earl.”

Draco whips around and goggles at him. “What?” he says sharply.

“Draco,” says Harry, and then he looks sheepish. “Er — I was joking. I mean, obviously, but I mean, entirely. There’s no — er — you’re jealous of our cat?”

Draco harrumphs. “I don’t feel like eating with you anymore,” he says, making to turn around.

Harry grabs his arm. Curse his stupid seeker reflexes. “Draco,” he says, more gently. Draco gives in and turns around, arms crossed in defense. Harry gives him a small, unsure kind of smile. “You’re being weird.”

“I appreciate the insult,” says Draco.

“I don’t like the cat more than you,” says Harry.

Draco suddenly feels like pulling his sweater up over his head and becoming one with the garment. Just — hiding, forever, within this sweater, where he will not have to look at Harry’s face, or The Earl’s face, and no one will be able to see him.

This is the most absurd tantrum he’s ever had, and now he knows it, but he’s going to have to ride it to the end if he wants to keep his pride as intact as possible.

“Well,” he says snippily. “The cat likes you more than he likes me.”

“I don’t know about that,” says Harry.

“I do.”

“I’m very likable,” Harry offers.

“I don’t like you at all,” says Draco.

“That’s why little old lady librarians refer to me as ‘Draco’s boy,’ right?”

“Yes,” says Draco. “Draco’s boy as in, the one he hates and complains about all the time.”

“Funny how fine that line is.”

Draco glares.

Harry just smiles at him. Draco’s still unable to believe how fond Harry can look, looking at him. “How about you let me kiss you,” he says.

“Will The Earl allow it?” says Draco.

Harry looks down at The Earl and pats his head. “He’ll allow it.”

Draco doesn’t know if Harry’s the cat whisperer or what, but The Earl does allow it — he doesn’t swipe or scratch or claw as Harry takes Draco by the waist, pulls him closer, and kisses him on the mouth in the middle of the sidewalk, like they haven’t done in quite some time, not since all the pictures in the paper.

The extent of The Earl’s reaction is a tiny mewl of complaint at being squished a bit. When he pulls away from Harry, Draco looks at The Earl and says, “He’s not your boy.”

Harry throws back his head and laughs some more.

Draco decides, graciously, to let him live.

***

A few days later, Draco is home alone, scratching out a paper on the pros and cons of the Cheshire Magical Classification System versus Rowena Ravenclaw’s Hogwarts system, when The Earl starts rubbing against his legs.

Draco looks down. “What do you want?” he says loftily.

The Earl meows and continues winding about his legs.

“Attention,” says Draco. “That’s what you want.”

It takes him approximately a minute to give in and lean down to scratch The Earl’s ears.

It isn’t much longer before The Earl’s on his lap, batting at his quill.

“You’re a nuisance,” says Draco. “Do you know that?”

The Earl does not respond.

“All you care about is yourself,” Draco gripes. He pauses. “And I suppose,” he continues, “Harry.”

The Earl leaps onto the desk. Hurriedly, Draco grabs his inkwell and moves his paper to the side. The Earl looks straight at him, yellow eyes boring into him.

“Okay,” he grumps. “Whatever. Yes. We have a lot in common.”

The Earl gently headbutts his hand, looking for more petting.

He’s too cute. Draco obliges.

“All you want,” Draco goes on, “Is to be pet and fed and to lay on Harry Potter. And sometimes chase him about. It is offensive because it is so blatantly similar to my own base desires. I’m cuter, though. I won’t give you that.”

The Earl meows.

Draco’s meows back.

He feels they’ve reached some kind of understanding.