“Where’s Harry? At work again?” Hermione asks as she follows Draco into the kitchen and unwinds a long stripy scarf from around her neck. Draco’s eyes narrow briefly at the harshness of the bright colours, and though he corrects the action quickly, she notices, of course she does. “Sorry,” she adds, bundling her heavy winter coat and the offending scarf onto a spare chair out of sight.
“No need.” Draco shrugs, almost amused to see the stricken expression on Hermione’s cold-pinked face. “And he’s upstairs—covered another night shift. I think he’s sleeping... either that or being a drama queen as usual.”
“I left in a bit of a rush,” she continues, fussing with the hem of her cardigan. “Ron wasn’t exactly eager to let me go so early on a Sunday morning...” She flushes further, and Draco is interested to observe a small smile that is half-apologetic and half-mischievous.
Until he processes her words and his head is all-at-once filled with lurid and disturbing images involving his friend and the Weasel... and, well, alright, he’s a friend too these days, but Draco would still prefer not to imagine him naked.
“Good grief, Granger.” Draco grimaces and rubs at his face. “Must you?”
Hermione snorts and folds her arms. “Someone has to, don’t they?”
Draco shudders. “You really are disgustingly noble and self-sacrificing. I should kick you and your scarf out of my house immediately.”
Smile fading, Hermione bites her lip. “I really am sorry about that, it’s just—”
“Hermione. It’s alright,” he interrupts, exasperated. “You haven’t killed anyone.”
“Yet,” she says under her breath, and the dark eyes now lifting to meet his are sheepish.
Draco lowers himself carefully into a seat at the table. “Indeed. Of course, if you’re feeling especially guilty about scorching my poor eyeballs... and my poor brain... you could put the kettle on.”
She rolls her eyes but stops looking so hangdog, and that will do for Draco. Hermione Granger is a very useful and interesting person to have around, not to mention a frightfully loyal friend, but just occasionally, she can be an utter pain in the arse.
“You’re not the only one with a sex life, you know,” she says over her shoulder as she fills the kettle and grabs two cups from the tree.
“You’ll stop that this instant unless you want to work on this abstract alone,” he says, indicating the numerous folders and bits of parchment that represent over a year’s worth of their research. Hermione sticks out her tongue, and he continues, groaning into his hands. “I can’t get it out of my head... it’s like a nightmare come to life. Ronald Weasley and his freckled penis.”
Hermione laughs. “It’s not, actually.”
Draco whimpers and lays his head on the cold, beeswax-scented table.
“Drake,” comes a small, protesting voice, “stop being disgusting!”
Hermione jumps and narrowly avoids spilling hot tea all over herself. Draco turns in his chair to see Clive, who has been so quiet that he has almost become invisible. He is flat on his back on top of the kitchen counter, one leg bent and the other dangling over the edge, foot swinging back and forth absently. His blue eyes are trained upon Draco now and he’s unsettled to recognise Clive’s disdainful expression as his own.
“I didn’t see you there, Clive,” Hermione says carefully. Showing admirable stoicism in the face of this new embarrassment, she smiles and cleans up the spilled tea from the counter with her wand.
“I know,” Clive says, twisting his head to look at her. His voice is full of the know-it-all tone of the confident nine-year-old, and Draco should know—he knew everything when he was nine, too. “That’s why you were being disgusting.”
Hermione raises her eyebrows in Draco’s direction and he sighs. Looks over at Clive, his bizarre sprawl, his ruffled caramel-coloured hair and dirty trainers. Those wide eyes are just starting to glint with knowing and danger, but he’s still a little boy. Just for a little longer. And though part of Draco wants to do the responsible adult thing and gravely say: ‘Sex isn’t disgusting, Clive, it’s a natural part of...’ oh, god, he can’t do it.
His heart twists as he hesitates, inhales, and decides that ‘eww, disgusting’ isn’t the worst place to be for the moment. “We shall cease and desist being disgusting now, I promise.” He pauses. “What are you doing?”
“Talking,” Clive says, sighing and folding his arms behind his head.
“To whom,” supplies Hermione, carrying the drinks to the table and throwing Clive an apple from the fruit bowl. He catches it neatly in one hand and smiles at Hermione.
“Shut up,” Draco snaps, pulling a face. And alright, that particular rule of grammar seems to have deserted him, but he does know that he never gets that smile from Clive.
Running a hand distractedly through his hair, he looks up at the ceiling and wonders if Harry’s still sleeping. On the one hand, he hopes not, but on the other, he thinks Harry might well have a conniption if he sees the mud being casually spread across his pristine work surfaces by Clive’s feet. Not, of course, that he’s going to do anything about it.
“Him,” Clive says, pointing upwards at where that rapscallion of a cupboard has begun waving slowly back and forth as if to chastise him for his lack of attention.
“I didn’t know you could talk to him,” Hermione says, and there’s an almost palpable note of jealousy in her voice.
“Not properly,” Clive admits through a mouthful of apple, “but he can understand me and we’ve decided to do one flap for yes and two for no.”
Secretly rather impressed, Draco lifts an eyebrow. “Can you show us?”
Clive gnaws at his thumbnail, apparently deep in thought. “Can you see me?” he asks, face upturned.
The cupboard flaps sharply, just once, and then falls silent.
“Go on,” urges Hermione, and she and Draco turn in their chairs, hands clasping hot tea cups, research forgotten, to watch the unexpected conversation.
“Do you have eyes?” Clive enquires.
“No? So how do you see me?” he presses eagerly.
Draco covers a smile when the door begins to wave back and forth, squeaking lightly on its hinges.
“I don’t think he knows how to answer that, sweetheart,” Draco mumbles, surprising himself with the endearment he thought Clive had outgrown.
Blue eyes fix upon him, startled but warm. “Oh, right!” He laughs. “Sorry about that. I’ll think of something else.”
As Clive thinks, nose screwed up and apple turning in his hands, Draco listens to the cupboard as it creaks back and forth. He sighs. It’s true that that bloody cupboard has been the Doxy in his drawers for several years now, but Clive’s keenness to communicate undoes him completely and he listens, intending to translate.
“Well, he says that it’s ancient Black magic that allows him to see, and he also says—”
“I can do it, Drake!” Clive insists, scrambling up onto his elbows and further smearing mud over the marble. “I’ll figure it out!”
There’s something so fiercely independent in his jutting chin and tightly-clamped lips that Draco acquiesces, turning back to Hermione and leaving him be. He knows it’s impossible and illogical, but in that moment he looks just like Harry—almost like the Harry he had first met, all stubborn and wilful and unafraid.
As Hermione shoots him a wry smile across the table, he reflects that Harry hasn’t really changed all that much since then.
He can hear the flaps and softly voiced questions behind him, but he makes a concerted effort to concentrate on the work in front of him, the lines and lines of neat script and painstaking rows of figures and charts.
“This is no good,” Hermione sighs some thirty minutes later. She scrapes a handful of dark curls out of her face and peers hopefully into her empty tea cup.
“Do you need more tea?” Draco enquires without looking up from his third attempt to summarise several thousand words into a couple of hundred. Brevity has never been his strong point.
“I need a new brain.”
Draco wrinkles his nose and continues writing. “If Harry’s still asleep, you could probably remove his without him noticing. I doubt it would be much of a swap, though.”
“I’ll tell him you said that,” Hermione offers, crossing out so violently that her quill snaps.
“Gosh, I’m terrified.” Draco gets to his feet and stretches luxuriously, easing out the kinks from his back. “I think there are some more quills in the library. Hold on.”
“Did you meet Mrs Mafloy when she was a little girl?” Clive is saying as Draco passes, smiling when he hears the cupboard’s single flap.
It takes Draco some time to retrieve the quills from the first floor library. He emerges, finally, clutching two of his favourite raven quills and muttering under his breath about people who have no regard for systems and who just fling things about the place.
“What’s a flinger?” asks the portrait of the one-eyed dog in the hallway.
“Harry Potter,” Draco grumbles. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
The dog sniffs and that one eye definitely looks judgemental, but Draco doesn’t care. This entire house is cracked, and everything in it.
When he re-enters the kitchen, Hermione is sitting with her feet drawn up onto her chair and her arms wrapped around her knees. Draco pauses for a moment in the doorway, admiring her relaxed posture, her open face, her faded jeans—there’s barely a trance of the old uptight Granger this morning, and it’s still a little surreal. But it’s a surreal he can deal with.
“Isn’t it hard work that way?” she asks.
Clive shrugs. “It’s nice to have a friend.”
Draco inhales sharply, filling his nose with the kitchen scent of bread and soil and the lemon cleaner that Harry likes. He aches, the dull warmth spreading across his chest, and he suddenly has no idea what to do with himself.
Hermione bites her lip, apparently similarly affected. Draco’s fingers curl around the sharp/soft quills and around the hard edge of the doorframe.
“Don’t you have friends at school?” she asks softly.
Clive stretches out on the counter and balances his apple core on his nose. With limited success, Draco notes. “Yeah. But that’s different... I don’t mind if it’s difficult. I think... when something’s difficult, it makes it even better.” He twists around and looks at Hermione, eyes anxious. “Do you know what I mean?”
She smiles, looking like she’s remembering all sorts of things. “Yes, I know exactly what you mean.”
Draco hesitates. He’s not quite sure what’s stopping him from entering his own kitchen, but he feels as though his feet are stuck to the floor.
“Well, perhaps it’d be okay to just make it a little bit easier,” Hermione says at last, resting her chin on her knees. “You could use a different code, you know, something a touch more complex...”
“Like what?” Clive’s voice is eager. Draco swallows, caught up in spite of himself.
“I don’t know. A letter code, maybe... what about Morse code?” She smiles triumphantly and drops into a cross-legged position, leaning forward across the table.
Clive slides onto the floor and creeps closer to her. “S’that?”
As Hermione looks up and makes eye contact with Draco, the spell is broken and he can, at last, join them in the room. He reclaims his seat at the table, and as Hermione finds a fresh piece of parchment and begins to draw out a series of letters, dots, and dashes, Clive leans on the back of Draco’s chair and exhales hotly on the back of his neck.
“I can’t talk to him either,” she admits ruefully, “and I never even thought of using a code before, but maybe this will work. My grandad taught me this when I was a little girl... he was in the Navy.” She pauses, looking up at an entranced Clive. “And, well, they went around on boats and they used this code to communicate with each other when they were at sea.”
“Is it magic?” Clive asks, reaching out a finger to trace along the symbols on the parchment.
“No. My family were Muggles, remember? It’s a Muggle code.”
“It’s clever,” Clive says, and Draco smiles. Looks away. This strange feeling, he thinks it may be pride. And perhaps a little bit of envy, for choices denied and opinions imposed, and actions regrettable.
The past is just that, though, and what’s important is the very serious conflab taking place between Hermione Granger and Clive Vane-Malfoy at his kitchen table. And the strange man sleeping upstairs who brought all of these odd colours into his life. Colours that are sometimes too bright, but no less necessary. No less beautiful.
“Right,” Clive says finally, leaning over and taking the piece of parchment with a last look at Hermione. “I think I’ve got it.”
Draco fishes out another blank piece of parchment and a pencil. “For your translations,” he explains.
Clive looks startled. “Thanks, Drake. ’Mione.” He pauses, lip caught in his teeth, for a moment, as though he’s not sure what to do with himself either, then he scuttles across the kitchen, leaving yet more muddy smudges in his wake.
He pulls himself up onto the worktop and shuffles back into his previous position, looking up at the cupboard door, which is already waving gently back and forth in anticipation.
“Behave yourself,” Draco warns under his breath, and the cupboard’s response makes him snort. “I know how to unhinge you, you bloody creaking menace.”
He startles at the hand that grazes his wrist. “Come on, Draco, leave them alone.”
“Okay,” Clive is saying sternly. The code-covered parchment is resting on his chest and he’s already chewing the end of his pencil. “If you want to do ‘A’, it’s a quick flap and then a long wave. Want to practise?”
There’s a pause, and then: Flap.
Amused, Draco turns away. As he looks at Hermione, bright-eyed through the haze of steam rising from her cup, he feels suddenly weary. “How do you do that?” he asks without meaning to.
“Just... for fuck’s sake,” he whispers, leaning on his elbows and threading the fingers of both hands into his hair. “You’re an only child just like me... I don’t understand how you’re so good with children.”
“What on earth are talking about now, Draco?” Hermione draws her knees up once more beneath her chin and fixes him with exasperated eyes.
“Look at him,” he hisses, gesturing over at Clive, who is now completely absorbed in his task of teaching the code of dashes and dots, waves and flaps, to the cupboard. “You just... know what to do. He likes you. It’s extremely frustrating.”
When Hermione dips her head and giggles into her sleeve, Draco frowns, a little hurt. He feels exposed and silly and irrationally like kicking Hermione under the table.
“When you’ve quite finished,” he snaps.
“Oh, Draco, don’t be such a sourpuss,” Hermione says, looking up with an odd expression on her face. “What makes you think I know what I’m doing?” She shakes her head and, almost as though she’s reading his mind, kicks Draco gently under the table. It doesn’t hurt but he draws in his leg and raises a pointed eyebrow.
“Look, I feel ridiculous enough as it is even saying this; I’d appreciate it if you’d be a little more helpful,” he says frostily, ignoring the fact that he definitely sounds like a sourpuss now, and the fact that he doesn’t actually want to be unpleasant to Hermione, not really.
“Draco, it’s been... what? Nearly five years since you started taking care of Clive? Believe me, you know what you’re doing. I can amuse him for a couple of hours but I’m pretty sure I’d come unstuck if it were any longer than that.” She pauses and pulls her grey woollen sleeves down over her fingers. Blows her cheeks out and releases the air slowly. “I don’t really know much about bringing up kids, but I think... if they’re clean and happy and well-fed and respectful... if they want to learn and you make that possible...” She shrugs, causing an unruly curl to fall into her eyes, “...then I think you’re doing a good job.”
Draco breathes in deeply and gazes at this strange woman who has come to be one of his very closest friends. “I think that my mother is responsible for most of that.”
Hermione groans. “You are impossible. I have no idea how Harry puts up with you.”
“I have other talents,” Draco says drily.
“I’ll bet,” Hermione says quietly. Her mouth quirks upward at one corner. “And it’s not an altogether unpleasant image, actually.”
Astonished, Draco feels his face heat and prays to anyone who’s listening that it doesn’t show. This conversation is spiralling out of his control and he dislikes it intensely. Grabbing at straws, his eyes flit around the room and he focuses once again on Clive, who is beaming and carefully writing down letters with his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth.
“Control yourself, Granger, there is a child in the room,” he says, keeping his voice cool with some effort and forcing a disdainful expression onto his face, even though he knows there is no way that Clive has a clue what they’re talking about, so absorbed is he in his translating task.
“A ‘Y’... okay... you spelled ‘Harry’!” he exclaims, gazing delightedly up at his new friend.
“Get a grip, Draco. And, yes, he likes me, but he loves you,” Hermione says firmly.
“I really don’t like you sometimes,” Draco says, forcing the words past the dull ache in his throat.
“You too, Draco.” Hermione’s lips curve into an indulgent smile, and warmth for her spreads through Draco’s body until it reaches his fingertips.
“Do you... want some toast?” he improvises, pushing his chair away from the table and standing. He regards Hermione from beneath a rebellious swathe of hair, determined to make eye contact and yet painfully conscious of the way she sees through him—Harry does, too, but his scrutiny is that of a smart, curious puppy; Hermione dissolves his defences with one severe glance.
He hates it. He’s stuck with it. He sighs.
“Toast would be nice,” she says at last, and as he turns away he’s sure he hears her mumble ‘you daft bugger’.
“T... H... E,” Clive says, dutifully scrawling the letters on his parchment and looking up at the cupboard from time to time as though in encouragement.
As the warm aroma of toast begins to fill the kitchen, Draco hears the creaking of the stairs and turns just in time to see a sleep-ruffled Harry appear in the doorway. His white t-shirt is creased and his drawstring trousers hang a little too low on his hips. Stretching, he rumples his hair ineffectually, rubs his eyes and shoves his glasses onto his nose.
He meets Draco’s eyes and smiles lazily, the result of which is an approving thump in Draco’s chest and a reciprocating smile over which he has no control. He suspects he’s a terrible sap, even after all this time he’s had to get used to Harry.
“Hey, ’Mione,” Harry says, offering her an idle wave. And then, turning: “Are you making toast?”
Draco lifts an eyebrow as Harry shuffles over and leans on the counter beside him, eyes appealing. “Good afternoon to you too, Potter,” he grouses, reaching for two more slices of toast.
“Harry will be cross about the mud!” Clive cries suddenly. All three turn to look at him. “That’s what he said—Harry will be cross about the mud!” He leans up on his elbows and lets his bitten pencil roll onto the tiles with a clatter.
Harry glances between Clive, the cupboard and the floor, dazed. When he notices the trail of mud from table to cupboards, he sighs, and the sight of Clive’s soil-encrusted trainers scuffing across the worktop drags a soft groan from him. Draco has never really understood Harry’s irritation in this area—a quick spell or two will put it right—but he knows better by now than to say anything.
At Harry’s expression, the hard-won message from his new friend seems to fall into place, and Clive bites his lip. “Sorry, Harry,” he says, indicating his muddy footwear.
“Why are you lying on the counter?” Harry says wearily.
Draco frowns. He catches the two fresh slices of toast as they pop up and shakes his burned fingers at his side. It hadn’t even occurred to him to ask Clive why he was lying there. He just... was. Draco wonders who, of the two of them, is the strange one.
“Hermione taught me a code so I could talk to this cupboard,” Clive is saying proudly.
Harry glances over at Hermione, who is sorting through a sheaf of papers at the table. “Morse code,” she offers. “It seemed like a logical solution to the communication problem.”
“Okay...” Harry yawns behind his hand and drops his head wearily to Draco’s shoulder. He’s still exhausted and sleep-warm, and his hair smells like sweat and magic and lavender. Draco hands him his toast in silence, brushing his thumb lightly over the back of Harry’s hand, his wrist, his soft, worn string. “Thanks,” Harry says, frowning. “But why are you lying on the counter?”
Clive pulls himself into a seated position with his feet dangling over the edge of the worktop. He tilts his head on one side and looks at Harry with such sincerity that Draco can almost taste it. “It seems politer to him this way.”
Harry’s tired eyes are thoughtful. “Why?”
“I don’t know. I sort of feel like I’m being respectful. A bit like we’re eye to eye... except he doesn’t have any eyes. He told me.”
Harry and Draco exchange glances. Draco can’t be sure exactly what Harry is thinking, but he looks impressed. Draco thinks he should be. A mind so open can only be an indication of great things to come, and Clive—strange and brilliant—is learning from all of them. Hermione is right, but then, Draco thinks grimly, she almost always is.
“Go and take your shoes off, wipe up this mess and then you can continue your... conversation,” Harry says with an odd little smile. He holds out his hand and the dropped pencil flies into it immediately. He offers it back to Clive.
“Thanks.” He jumps down from the counter and pauses. “Thanks, Drake,” he adds inexplicably and scurries out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
“How was your shift, Harry?” Hermione sets down her papers and folds her elbows on the table. “You look like death warmed up.”
“Charming. And it was fucking awful. I’ve got a new trainee following me around and he’s absolutely useless. Keeps casting...” Harry yawns. “... casting sealing spells instead of stasis spells. If I see another gummed-up old woman this week I think I’ll explode.”
Hermione grimaces. “I should count myself lucky, I suppose. Just papercuts and earache. And Draco,” she adds, sharing a long-suffering smile with Harry.
Draco frowns and folds his arms. “Of course, you’re a complete delight, aren’t you?”
“Absolutely.” She smiles sweetly and picks up one of Draco’s raven quills.
Bloody Gryffindors, Draco fumes silently, squashing the urge to take it from her and poke her in the eye with it. With the pointy end, at that.
“Ron’s going to be late for lunch again,” Hermione is saying when he tunes back in to the conversation. “It was either that or he was bringing Rodriguez to the Burrow with him, and honestly, I hardly think it’s fair to inflict that man on Molly and Arthur again.”
Harry laughs and starts to help her to gather her things. Draco half-notices the way she stuffs the too-bright scarf under her folders but mostly he’s listening to the faint bell of distaste that’s clanging in his mind. For a moment, he can’t catch it, but then it’s there in all its horrifying glory.
Ronald Weasley and his freckly... appendage. Draco shudders. And then:
‘...it’s not an altogether unpleasant image, actually.’
He supposes he should be flattered... but it’s very disconcerting all the same.
“Draco?” Harry pokes him in the ribs and he jumps. “What’s the matter? You look like someone’s just asked you to eat a kitten.”
“Not quite. I was just, ah, remembering something that Hermione and I were discussing earlier. Concerning our research,” he lies.
Hermione’s eyes sharpen and he knows that once again, he’s utterly fucked. “Really? Or was it the part where you were talking about Ron’s penis?” she asks innocently.
There is a split-second of silence during which Draco looks daggers at Hermione, and then Harry looses a snort/giggle of such force that it quickly turns into a cough and he has to be patted on the back quite vigorously.
“Should I be worried, Draco?” Harry enquires, grinning and still wheezing gently.
“And should I?” Hermione asks. “You were very focused on how freckly it might be, after all.” She smirks, and granted, it’s an expression that seems foreign on her good-girl features, but Draco has long held the suspicion that there’s just a little streak of Slytherin in that woman, and now it’s plain to see.
“Oh, fuck off,” he mumbles, defeated.
“Poor Draco.” Harry slings an arm around his waist and briefly rubs his warm, stubble-scratchy cheek against Draco’s neck. Draco exhales.
“You’re all being disgusting now,” Clive sighs, entering the room and rooting around in the bottom cupboards for a cloth with which to clean up his mess. Draco has the sneaking feeling that he has been hanging back in the doorway and listening in horror for some time. That’ll teach him.
“Sorry about that, Clive,” Harry says seriously, though his fingers twitch at Draco’s waistband and he seems to be fighting to control a smile. “We’ll be good now.”
“Grown-ups are very disgusting sometimes,” Clive sighs, rubbing at a dried-on spot of mud on the marble.
Flap-wave. Wave-wave-flap. Flap-wave-flap. Flap. Flap. Wave-flap-flap, says the cupboard.
For cupboard translation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:International_Morse_Code.svg