“There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,
A quiet house, some green and modest acres (…)
I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,
With only streams and birds for company,
To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.”
— Mary Oliver, from “A Dream Of Trees”
“If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
that is heavier than lead—
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging—
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted—
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
-- Mary Oliver, from “Morning Poem”
It was the third night in a row he’d stayed up most of the night running between the draughty barn where he usually kept the lambs and ewes, and the even smaller quarantine house with Gertie, hand-feeding, patiently coaching her through milking--all of which he’d had to pour back out, a waste he didn’t want to think about too much--and comforting her as she cried for her two lambs, who, thankfully, were not sick. Of all his flock, Gertie was the most susceptible to disease, and although he knew other farmers might have got rid of her by now, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not while he knew she’d get better with time, and a bit of magic.
Now, he sang quietly to her, over the noise of the lambs fretting over the separation from their mama. They had plenty to eat and the vaccination should have made them sleepy, but he supposed that if he were a little lamb new to the world and had no idea where his mother was, he’d feel the same.
Well… he couldn’t remember, but maybe he had once felt the same.
It was several more minutes before Gertie finally fell asleep in the farthest corner of her pen, her snores punctuated with unhappy whimpers.
Harry pulled himself to his feet, pulled his coat tighter around his body, and stuck his mittened hands into his pockets, which had last month been charmed by Hermione to hold warmth. He was glad for no snow, but he wished there was at least some cloud cover in the sky to diffuse the clear, crisp cold of an early February morning.
He popped his head into the barn one last time, but everything seemed just as it should. He made sure to give Lucy and Annie both a pat on the head before he shut the doors. Lucy was a happy-go-lucky two-year old Border Collie with markings that made a shape like a black, spotted heart on her face, and Annie was a giant, motherly six-year-old Newfoundland Harry had rescued from the village of Ottery St. Catchpole on a visit to the Weasleys’. They got along as if they’d been born in the same litter, and together, they made a team of the best sheepdogs Harry had ever seen.
Max, on the other hand, was not such a great sheepdog, being neither bred for the job nor gifted with any of the requisite brains. Hermione’s best guess was that he might be some cross between a shih tzu and a pug, two breeds not famous for their hard-working, clever dispositions. Max couldn’t be blamed for his lack of sheepdog talents; after all, Harry had found him about six months before he took up the farming thing, back when he had still been in Auror training, living in London. Max had been a small, terrified, and underfed puppy, no more than seven or eight months old, and his sweet, ugly face had not yet grown into something approaching “strangely charming” the way it was now. Harry saw him from the window of his flat three nights in a row and felt his heart twist every time, until he couldn’t stand it any more, grabbed an entire bar of cheddar from his and Ron’s fridge, and pinched off bits to coax the poor thing back into the flat. After Harry had washed and fed him, and showed him the smallest amount of care, Max had decided that Harry was his forever.
What Max lacked in skill, he made up for in sheer tenacity and love. Max followed Harry everywhere he went, to the point where Harry was frequently tripping over him as he tended to the farm. The chickens were terrified of him, the cows largely disdainful, while the sheep knew that Max was no threat, but no authority, either. They mostly seemed to view him with a kind of gentle bemusement. Perhaps they believed he was part of the whole Harry package, such as his foot or his nose. Max certainly thought so.
Now he tripped along at Harry’s heels, making tiny pawprints in the snow, as they climbed up back to the house. Harry probably could have Apparated, but he’d long since dropped the habit of using magic for every which convenience--the reason why Hermione had charmed his mittens, taking his cold red fingers into her hands and reprimanding Harry for not thinking of it sooner.
As he walked, he tried to reason with himself to distract himself from the chill. After all, if he’d Apparated back home, he’d have to take Max along with him, and he’d learned that lesson years ago: never Apparate with dogs. Not if you wanted to keep all your fingers.
They crested the last little hill and there it was--home. It really was more of a cottage than a house, but it was Harry’s favorite place in the world, after Hogwarts. Its brick exterior was still decked out with gaudy red bows and garlands of pine, leftover from the Christmas holiday. He ought to take those down--it was nearly the end of February, for goodness’ sake--but it had all been Ginny’s idea in the first place, and he didn’t really have the time anyway.
They rounded the corner past the chickens’ roost, where his hens had settled into their nests for the night, and Harry could see the lights on in the kitchen, and a familiar blonde head near the window over the sink. He grinned and Max barked happily, wagging his tail. He ran to be let inside, Harry followed quickly behind.
When they walked into the cozy warmth of the kitchen, its sunny yellow walls illuminated by the old-fashioned lamps Mrs. Weasley had given him when he’d first bought the house, it was to find Ginny painting her nails at the table, and Luna yawning as she washed dishes. “Cheers, Harry,” said Ginny through a mouthful of gingerbread, which was leftover from the baking frenzy Luna had gone on before her and Ginny’s trip to Johannesburg for Ginny’s team’s Quidditch final against South Africa.
“It must be nearly two in the morning,” said Harry, yawning himself as he pulled off his mittens and hung up his coat. “What are you two doing up?”
Luna turned around, leaning on the counter behind him. “We returned only an hour or so ago ourselves. Have you ever done a Portkey across a border? It’s very interesting, we got stopped because I thought I’d bring back a bit of sugarbush. It prevents any kind of despair in the home, you know. So much fuss!”
Harry knew better than to respond without further context. He turned to Ginny, who added dryly, “Apparently, it’s the national flower and internationally protected. You need a lot of permits to import it anywhere. Also, I didn’t know she had it.”
“Six hours they kept us,” Luna continued. “I kept telling them that of course I’d return and plant its seeds in its birthplace, like anyone would. They wouldn’t let us go until someone recognized Ginny.”
“Perks to being the highest-ranked female Chaser in sixty years, I suppose,” said Harry, glancing at Ginny, whose cheeks turned a bit pink.
“Seventy-five,” she said airily, “but never mind our travel difficulties. What’s got you up so late during lambing season?”
“Gertie again,” he said. “Sore mouth. I thought I’d vaccinated the whole lot well enough, and my anti-disease wards were strong, but no matter what it is, it always seems to hit Gertie anyway.” He sighed. He knew what other farmers might do with her but he wasn’t ready for that yet. He poured himself a glass of water and leaned against the kitchen counter as he gulped it down, while Ginny and Luna sat thoughtfully chewing the last of the gingerbread.
“She’ll be all right,” said Ginny, swallowing. “She’s a tough girl. She’s been through worse.”
“Sometimes, that’s what I’m afraid of. That’s she been through too much worse and now she’s stuck there.” He crossed his arms over his chest and looked out the window facing the chicken coop.
Luna stood up from the table and stretched, then padded over to Harry in mismatched pink and green socks. She leaned her head against his shoulder and laid one of her small hands on his arm. Harry caught a whiff of the flowery shampoo he’d associated with Ginny back in Hogwarts, now a reminder of everything he loved about home. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against hers, just for a moment.
“Good night, Harry,” she mumbled into his sweater, before stepping back. He immediately missed the warmth of her hug. Ginny had stood as well, and was Vanishing away the crumbs she’d left on the table.
“Night then,” she said, stretching. “See you in the morning.”
Harry yawned as an answer and watched them as they climbed the rickety kitchen stairs to their bedroom across from Harry’s on the second floor. He himself headed for a hot shower to loosen the tension in his shoulders and finally climbed into his own bed an hour later. He lay in bed, eyes wide open, far longer than usual, cataloging in his head all of the remedies that might help Gertie, how many ewes had lambed already and how many were still to come, and whether he should be worried that the Holkisses down the road had canceled their weekly egg order. It had been one of his biggest and the loss meant a lot less income. With these thoughts swirling in his mind, he finally drifted off to sleep.
“I need my own space,” he’d said. “And some quiet.”
The sisters had exchanged a dubious glance. “The chickens are anything but quiet,” said the shorter one, with a short brown bob and eyes darker than her sister’s. Her name was Marilyn; the other, Hattie.
“It’s not that kind of quiet I want,” Harry said. “More like… look, how’s the village?”
“Boring,” said Hattie, with a laugh. “When we was growing up here, we’d get into all sorts of trouble, so. But little much happens.”
“Exactly,” said Harry. “Exactly.”
He’d bought it that very same day, and they’d let him have Gertie for free.
Max thumped his tail half-heartedly against the mattress when Harry rolled out of his bed, but Harry knew better than to expect any action for another fifteen minutes at least. Max was almost harder to rouse than Ginny, which was no easy feat indeed.
He brushed his teeth and pulled on the first warm clothes he could find--worn dungarees with mud on the knee and a checkered shirt from the laundry pile--before heading downstairs, making sure to leave the bedroom door ajar for Max, whenever he finally decided to wake up.
Luna was already awake downstairs, clad in too-large, garishly orange Chudley Cannons pajamas that seemed to be a stolen Weasley hand-me-down. Her long, pale hair was tied in a single plait down her back, and she shuffled around the kitchen in slippers with florid caricatures of Pygmy Puffs on the toes. “Morning,” she yawned, taking a pitcher of milk from the icebox. The silver coffeepot was already beginning to steam on the stovetop. “If you’ll wait a moment, coffee’ll be ready.”
“You’re a treasure, Luna,” Harry said, gratefully leaning over and placing a messy kiss on her head and grabbing a banana from the bowl on the counter behind her.
He sat down in one of the mismatched chairs at their small kitchen table and began peeling the banana. Luna set down two mugs before him--his, blue, medium, with the Ministry’s crest emblazoned on the front; hers, large and pink, with a grumpy-looking elephant and the words “you woke me up for this?” in a speech bubble emanating from its mouth. They were the same mugs she took out every time she was awake early enough to catch him before he started his day, which, given how something in the water of Wiltshire seemed to inspire all births to occur in the wee hours, was almost always, especially during lambing. His coffee was perfect, exactly how he liked it, strong and black and sweet.
There had been a time, once, shortly after buying the farm, but long after he’d thought he’d finished collecting all the pieces of himself that had shattered at Ginny’s feet when they’d realized that forever would not be an option, that he was resentful of these small thoughtful gifts. Not of Luna herself; never of Luna, but how she understood him in a way Ginny could not, sometimes in a way he could not understand himself, and the way she anticipated his needs and he hers. Her strange way of simply knowing certain things comforted and scared him at the same time. He had wished, more than once, that he had fallen in love with Luna instead. Even if he didn’t think he had the patience for surprise border arrests for illegal plant smuggling.
“Harry,” she’d laughed when he told her this, that he wished he had ever considered loving her in that particular way. “Then we wouldn’t have Ginny.”
It was obvious, but true. If things had been different, Harry would not be here now. He’d be--elsewhere. Married to Ginny, running after a couple of kids, still working for the Ministry, still miserable without really understanding why. And Ginny, she’d be different too--the easy friendship they had now had never even been an option when they were together, as if sleeping in the same bed every night somehow precluded friendship. It didn’t, for people like Ron and Hermione, but Harry and Ginny had never made each other that happy. Ginny had needed Luna, and Harry had needed to get out, and they ended up all needing the farm, all needing the small village they’d found, all needing each other in an orbit that didn’t always make sense to people on the outside. Sure, it was kind of weird to live with your ex-fiancee and her current girlfriend, but unlike most of the rest of his life before now, it was the kind of weird he liked.
He looked up when Luna reached over and squeezed his hand, the chipped electric blue paint on her fingernails a stark contrast to Harry’s dark skin. She was looking at him with a question in her large eyes. She tucked a strand of long yellow hair, which had become loose from the single plait down her back, behind her ear.
“Thanks,” he said, his voice spreading out over a yawn at the end of the word. She just took a sip and smiled serenely. “You want me to paint your nails later?”
Luna’s smile grew. “If there’s any time tonight. Mrs. Delwood down the way is having her baby today,” she told him. “She Flooed a bit ago. The contractions weren’t too close together, yet, though, so she has some time. You know, I thought he’d be a water sign baby, but I suppose Aquarius is tempting in its own way.” She took a sip. “In my opinion, February birthdays are quite lovely.”
Harry didn’t know what to say to this, other than as far as he knew, he was a Leo, maybe, and he wasn’t sure that it mattered. But it was true that they had just had what could only be described as a lovely birthday celebration for Luna just a few weeks ago, when they--him, Luna, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and Neville--had spent a day exploring various castles in Wales, and Neville had cooked them something delicious and vegetarian that Harry couldn’t remember the name of. Instead of answering Luna, however, he just squeezed her hand and they sat quietly enjoying each other’s company. He’d nearly finished his coffee when Max joined them downstairs. Harry stood up to let him outside, and shivered at the cold gust of wind that came through the door.
“Don’t fancy the walk much this morning,” he said as he pulled his boots on over a pair of charmed socks. “But I worry about scaring the sheep if I Apparate.”
“It’s really too bad you haven’t bred any Khrysomallian characteristics into your sheep,” Luna commented. “Then you’d just have them fly straight to you, and you’d never have to leave your house.” She stood up and stretched. “I’ll get dressed and collect the eggs, shall I? Might as well while I wait for baby Delwood to get a move on.” She dumped the now cold remnants of her mug into the sink, and made her way upstairs.
Harry didn’t know what Khrysomallian characteristics were, but it was probable that flying wouldn’t be healthy for most of his ewes right about now. Most of them were ready to pop, and the ones who weren’t would have been quite surprised if they suddenly found themselves hovering in the air.
Smiling to himself at that idea, he pulled on his Hermione-warmed mittens, pulled on a knit cap, and pushed open the door. Max was waiting patiently on the first step, as he did most mornings. He jumped up when he saw Harry and bounded towards the path that would take them to the sheep.
They were nearly there when a Charm he’d placed on one of the pens to alert him to births had his wand buzzing against his ankle where he’d stuffed it into his socks. Now he pulled it out and took off at a jog, heading towards the barn, grinning, Max barking happily behind him.
Annie and Lucy were on alert when he arrived and seemed relieved by his presence. He patted them distractedly on the head and pulled the giant carpet bag where he kept the lambing accoutrements, looking around to see who was giving birth. He refreshed the Warming Charms on the heat lamps and checked each of the water troughs, making sure everything was fresh and clean. It didn’t take long for him to figure out who was currently giving birth; the rest of the sheep were giving her a wide berth.
It was Reese, one of the fat Cotswolds a family in the village had given to Luna last summer, in gratitude for her help with the difficult birth of their twins. Reese was usually quite happy, although she did have a tendency to cry if her sister Cher wasn’t near. Harry could have sworn they were two of the same mind. He lit the torches along the aisle between the pens as he neared their shared pens. In the light, he realized that in fact it wasn’t only Reese--there were two waterbags on the ground, and two fuzzy, nervous ewes, so close together they seemed like one. They were barely more than babies themselves, and this was the first lamb for both of them.
Reese, the more vocal of the two, was making noises that reminded Harry of Hermione muttering angrily to herself, and smiled, kneeling by the waterbags to inspect them. Fortunately, both were clear as day, so he just sat back in the hay and watched as Cher paced back and forth, stopping now and then to bump her head against Reese’s, as if to say, “Steady on, there.”
He waited a few minutes to make sure they were well enough to handle things on their own for a bit, and spelled a large pen around each of them so they wouldn’t be bothered, or get in each other’s way. Then he began the long, tedious process of feeding. As always, he was grateful to magic for making his life easier, and wondered at how Muggle farmers did--well, anything. Of course, many of them did not live alone and had family and workers.
Levitating the hay and feed into the feeders was so familiar to him now that he could do it wandlessly. That left him with an opportunity to look into the creep. The creep was sort of like a VIP pen for lambs; only lambs were small enough to fit through the slats in the fence. That way, the lambs didn’t have to fight the sheep for food, and Harry could make sure the nutrient-rich lamb feed didn’t run out too quickly. He peered through the slats: Barbara’s lamb, Clover, born just two weeks ago, was cuddled up in a corner with Fuzzy, one of Gertie’s month-old lambs. Fuzzy’s sister, Lamby, was drinking from the trough, her whole face wet. (Fuzzy and Lamby had three-year-old Rose to thank for their names.) Laughing, he filled their feeder and scratched them each behind the ears. Fuzzy was upset at having been woken up; she bleated at him sleepily before snuggling back up.
He spent a few moments with each of them. First there was Barbara, the fussy American Cormos. Artemis and Athena were both popping at the seams with their lambs. Rose-the-Sheep (also named by Rose-the-Person) was in her own pen, jumping up and down trying to catch a fly despite her huge pregnant belly. That left Yodel, Rio, and Morgana, the non-gestating ewes. He also shared ownership of a ram, Gilbert, who lived most of the time with a Muggle. All were well, thank goodness, and none seemed to have caught Gertie’s sore mouth.
Speaking of Gertie… he glanced towards Reese and Cher’s pen. It had been forty minutes. They must be so close--but perhaps it would be okay if he checked in on--
There was a sudden, loud bleat of pain. Lucy trotted towards him, looking up with big, worried brown eyes. Fuck it, he couldn’t leave the old girls now, even if they probably didn’t need any help. He liked to be around just in case. He sent a quick Patronus up the hill to Luna, asking her to check in on Gertie herself if she wasn’t needed at the Delwoods’ straightaway. Luna had a way with the sheep, anyway; she might be just what Gertie needed.
Quietly, but swiftly, he made his way back over to Reese and Cher. Cher was pawing at the hay, making a nest of some kind, but Reese was pacing back and forth, and Harry could swear he saw panic in her sweet eyes. He kneeled down beside her. “It’s all right, girl,” he murmured. “It’s all right.” Barbara next door pushed a black nose through the slats in the fence of her pen, looking on curiously. “She’s gonna be all right,” he assured her.
Reese moved closer to him, seeking some kind of relief. He looked her over. He could see the problem--the lamb was presenting the wrong way; he should have seen its nose but instead its hind legs were coming out first. He took a deep breath, Scourgified and lubricated his bare hands and got to work.
It was this kind of thing that behooved Ron to question him when he’d had a bit too much firewhiskey. On paper, they’d had it made as Aurors. It was hard sometimes, sure, but for Ron, it was also security and a place to belong. Harry had never felt that part: the belonging. He’d always felt like a kid tagging along on Take Your Children to Work Day, who’d somehow got stuck in an adult’s body, and nobody would listen to him about his lack of experience or qualifications. He didn’t even have his NEWTs, and often felt that it showed, but nobody seemed willing to agree with him on this point. Ron couldn’t understand giving it all up to buy a house out in the middle of nowhere and do backbreaking work dawn to dusk or things like sticking his hand up a sheep to pull out its baby, and though it had been years, Harry still had never quite found the words to say why it was worth it. He just knew that every day on the farm was worth six months on the job at the Ministry.
It was only moments before he found the best angle; the lamb slipped the rest of the way out with no problem, and another followed quickly behind. He raised his eyebrows; he’d counted on twins from Artemis, but he’d had no idea about Reese. Well, twenty sheep was barely more than nineteen. To think that he’d started out with only one. Other farms had hundreds, of course, but Harry didn’t need the money so much as he needed the sheep themselves.
The lambs happily latched onto their mother’s teat while Reese bent herself at an odd angle to lick them clean, and, drama taken care of, he spared a glance for Cher. Happy-go-lucky Cher hadn’t needed any of his help; she was already nursing a lovely little lamb of her own. He grinned and Scourgified his hands again.
The barn door creaked open. In sauntered Luna, looking enormous in a puffy violet coat, with a very grouchy-looking Ginny trailing behind. “Morning,” Harry said in a carrying whisper. “How’s Gertie?”
“She’s all right,” Ginny said, “although I remain convinced that she holds some kind of grudge against me for being the woman in your life before her.”
Harry grinned, and then said in a hushed voice, “You couldn’t replace her. Come over here.”
Luna and Ginny tiptoed near. Not even Ginny could resist a newborn lamb.
“How lovely,” said Luna, watching as the twins sleepily fought for the best spot for a nap. “What are their names?”
“Haven’t thought of any yet,” replied Harry, checking the heat lamps in the pen and making them even warmer. “They were only just born a few minutes ago.”
“That’s Cher, there, isn’t it?” asked Ginny. “Is the baby a girl?” Harry knee-walked over to the lamb and checked. He nodded and fell back so he was sitting cross-legged in the hay. “Well, she’s Gwenog, then.”
“That’s what you always name them,” said Harry, rolling his eyes, reaching over to scratch Gwenog between her ears and move her a bit to make sure she had a good latch on Cher’s teat.
“And then you always sell them! You’re keeping this one, I demand it.”
“I was already planning on it,” Harry said. “They’re Cotswolds, they’re mad rare. Their wool will sell easy.”
“The twins will be Peanut and Butter,” said Luna. “Like the American Muggle sweet. Reese, Peanut, and Butter.” Luna loved Muggle sweets, and Ginny refused to take her to America with her anymore, because she always ended up sick.
“Perfect,” said Harry, laughing quietly and sharing an affectionate look with Ginny. He brushed his hand back and forth against Cher’s wool while Ginny and Luna, heads together, whispered in delight over Peanut and Butter. The barn smelled like a barn, and he had about eight hundred things to do that he needed to fit inside the next twelve hours, but he felt content.
Ron could keep his desk, his security, his salary, his ability to go to bed at night not feeling like a house had fallen on him. Harry only wanted this.
About six wind chimes sounded when he pushed open the door to the shop. A young woman with a streak of green in her black hair sat behind the front desk. “Hello, sir,” she said, not looking up from her copy of Witch Weekly. “Will you be wanting a glance into your future, or is this a Healer visit?”
“Um,” said Harry, glancing at Gertie in her lead and harness. “Healer?”
“Right, just add your name to the sign-in log there, and take a seat.”
Harry did so, and ended up sitting next to a pair of wizards who were whispering angrily at each other while their corgi floated in midair. He glanced at Gertie, who nuzzled into his thigh, and picked up a copy of Divining Quarterly. Apparently, there were concerns about the increasing popularity of astrology among Muggles.
The windchimes sounded again and Harry glanced up absently, and, heart jumping, took a second look.
Malfoy stood there at the desk, his shirtsleeves covered in blood, wisps of hair escaping wildly from where he’d pulled it back at the nape of his neck. He was shaking. “I don’t have time to wait,” he was saying to the inattentive receptionist. “She needs help now.”
“Who needs help?” said Harry, standing up. “Malfoy, what’s going on?”
Malfoy ignored him. “Where is she?” he demanded. “Tell her that he’s--”
“You’ll simply have to wait your turn,” said the witch, flicking to another page. “She’ll be with you shortly.”
Glowering, Malfoy slammed his fist on the counter. The witch jumped but didn’t look up. Malfoy looked as if he might murder her before turning on his heel and storming back out of the shop.
Harry pulled on Gertie’s lead and tried to follow him, but when he reached the street, Malfoy was nowhere to be seen.
For days afterward, Harry couldn’t get it out of his head.
Or, to be more specific, he couldn’t get Malfoy out of his head. It wasn’t exactly a new experience, but he had hoped he’d left it behind in school.
Malfoy hadn’t been in his head in years--not since he’d testified at the Malfoys’ trials, the week after the final raid of the Manor. Malfoy then had been a shadow lurking behind his parents’ figures, and in the whole scheme of things, none of them seemed very important. Not when there were nasty pieces of work like Macnair to reckon with, people with higher kill counts, who hadn’t, after all, done their best to save Harry, even if it was for their own gains. Harry remembered saying his piece and then ducking out, tossing the hawthorn wand to the guard holding the Malfoys’ wands while they testified. He hadn’t wanted to give it to Malfoy himself. Something about that felt, well, strange.
The Malfoys had all but faded into obscurity after that. He heard mentions of them from time to time: Hermione had told him a couple of years ago that Malfoy had tried to apply to the same Healer training program she was considering, but had been denied before anyone even took a look at his application. For the most part, however, the Malfoys accepted their social downgrade in--well, if not in stride, then at least in peace. They just stopped mattering to Harry, all three of them, unlike they had in his adolescence.
But seeing Malfoy at Lavender’s had piqued Harry’s curiosity. He’d looked so grown up compared to when they’d both been seventeen and recovering from the Battle, or eighteen in the deepest levels of the Ministry of Magic. Yet while adulthood had made Harry look healthier and happier than he had back then, Malfoy had seemed… exhausted. And where had the blood come from? Or, God, whom? Malfoy had said she needed help. Had it been a person?
Harry wished he’d followed Malfoy out more quickly, or knew how to find him but--
He stopped himself. He wasn’t sixteen anymore, and if Malfoy hadn’t gotten up to anything nefarious the past nine years, he wasn’t likely to start now, he reasoned, although he had trouble believing it. It’s none of my business, he tried to remind himself. It mostly worked.
Nursing Gertie back to health, and the birth of Reese’s, Cher’s, and, two afternoons later, Athena’s lamb (named Mollywobbles by a tipsy and giggling Ginny) kept Harry so busy he barely noticed as February transformed into March. Better yet, all of it chased Malfoy completely out of his head.
It was already March the 3rd by the time he received a letter from Ron inviting him to a night in London to celebrate his birthday the next day. Pigwidgeon arrived with it during lunch, which sent Max into a happy kind of madness, who jumped up and down trying to reach Pig up in the rafters, wagging his tail and barking merrily all the while.
Harry sighed upon finishing the letter, and immediately felt guilty. Of course he wanted to spend time with his best mate on his birthday, it was just that--well, a night at a London pub sounded like an awful lot of people. It sounded like an awful lot of noise. It sounded, also, like a lot of deflecting irritating, confused questions about “the whole lumberjack recluse farm thing,” as Seamus had once put it. Or, worse, as Seamus got drunker, too many questions hinting at some kind of obscene “arrangement” with Ginny and Luna.
Plus, Gertie was on the mend, but still her sickly self, and Peanut and Butter had the beginnings of a cough that Harry needed to look into, and the gutters needed cleaning, and the pasture fences needed fixing, too. And he was only running on about three hours of sleep. Some of that, he could take care of with magic if he wanted to--but not all of it, and anyway, what if he didn’t want to use magic for everything? What if he wanted to use his hands like a normal person? What if that was actually the whole fucking point of why he’d got into this?
He was reaching pre-farm levels of unnecessary irritability, and it was begging to transform into rage. It was a familiar feeling he hadn’t had to deal with much for the last five years, but when he was as exhausted and stressed out as he was right now, it was harder to nip in the bud. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Count to ten, then back to one. He had his eyes closed for so long that Pig made a curious little hoot and Harry squinted one eye open and looked up.
“Do you think I’m crazy, then, Pig?” There was another tiny hoot. “Suppose I am a bit.”
Harry leaned over the table and scrawled out a messy I’ll be there on the back of Ron’s message before rolling it back up and offering Pig a bit of his sandwich to coax him down from the ceiling. Pig nibbled on a small sliver of cheese and held out his leg, and when Harry was finished affixing it to him, he soared off through the window.
Max laid down, huffing in annoyance, as if Harry had ruined his game on purpose.
After lunch, while Harry copied out the egg and produce orders he’d received during the week at the kitchen table, Luna meandered downstairs after nearly a full day of sleeping in. She deserved it, he knew; she’d spent the previous thirty-seven hours with a first-time mother of triplets. You wouldn’t know it to look at her, of course; other than the strong cup of coffee she had made for herself, she seemed as bright-eyed and cheery as ever.
“Morning,” he said, nodding at her as she took the seat next to him. “Well, morning to you. It’s actually nearly suppertime.”
“Hullo,” she said, “have you fed the chickens yet?”
Harry smiled. Feeding the chickens was not Harry’s favorite job, but it was Luna’s. She had a special kinship with them that Harry could not begin to understand. “It’s not quite time for their dinner, but you can go ahead and do it early if you like.”
“Lovely! I have something I’ve been meaning to ask Ursula.”
“Oh? What’s that?” said Ginny, plopping down at the table and grabbing an apple from the bowl in the center of the table. “Is it why the fuck’s she so pissy when I go to check for eggs in the morning?”
“No,” said Luna vaguely, “I’m just looking for an opinion about something.”
Ginny laughed happily, not at Luna, not exactly, but in a kind of appreciation of her. Luna grinned back. They held each other’s gaze for a moment before Harry, feeling slightly discomfited, gave a little cough.
“Haven’t you got practice this afternoon?” said Harry, sending his plate over to the sink with a flick of his wand.
Ginny shook her head, so that her short hair fluffed out a bit. “Nah, Coach was sick, and Horton’s on holiday anyway, so we get the day off.”
“Well, that’s lucky, you can help us do the evening chores,” said Luna.
“Not so lucky, considering we’ll be doing twice the work tomorrow to make up for it,” said Ginny darkly, and took another bite of her apple.
“Tomorrow’s Ron’s birthday,” said Harry casually. “We got an owl earlier.”
“Shit, I’d forgotten,” said Ginny. “He never remembers mine, though, so that’s just as well.” She took another huge bite of her apple. “We’re going, then, aren’t we?”
“Ooh, I’d love to,” Luna said. “It’s been ages since we’ve gone properly out. It’s always so lovely, don’t you agree, Harry?”
Harry rubbed at the back of his neck. “Er, well, I’m not sure I can beg off a whole evening without it getting in the way of--”
Ginny waved a hand at him. “Nonsense, you’re such an old man. Please, Harry, I know you love being a mysterious recluse figure these days, but it really has been ages.”
“I already said I’d go, I’m just saying--”
Luna clapped. “Perfect! Ginny, I’m going to borrow your little dress with the birds on it, is that all right?” She stood up and dumped the rest of her cold coffee into the sink., then started making her way upstairs to their bedroom. “Or perhaps your little shirt with the little balls on it?”
Ginny snorted, following Luna up the stairs. “They’re Quaffles, Luna, I’ve told you, and besides, you should know, you used to commentate,” she said, their voices fading as they reached the top of the stairs.
Harry sighed. A pub night it was, then.
And really, it wasn’t bad at the start. Harry found he was grateful for the rare chance to see friends other than Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Luna. For the first hour, he sat between Seamus and Neville and drank his beer while they argued about Quidditch scores over his head, putting in opinions whenever he could think of one in time. It had been so long since he’d last had the time to sit down and listen to an entire Quidditch match that he realized he had no idea who some of the players even were. Hermione was chatting animatedly across the table with Padma about something related to their jobs at the Magical Office of Law; Ron, Dean, and Ginny were playing some kind of George Weasley-created Exploding Snap knockoff that farted instead of exploding, and laughing their heads off about it.
Suddenly, Seamus was clapping him on the back and Harry swallowed a gulp of ale the wrong way.
“What--?” he spluttered. Seamus was laughing at the top of his lungs, and Neville was grinning.
“All right, Harry?” asked Neville. “What’s got you so quiet tonight?”
Harry scrubbed at his face with one hand. “Nothing,” he said. “Well, not nothing. It’s always a lot of things.” He pasted a weak smile on his face. “I’m good, though, sorry for zoning out. Just haven’t had a lot of time to listen to the wireless in a while.”
“Me uncle farmed a bit when I was younger,” said Seamus. “Always seemed exhausting to me. No idea how you do it, Harry.”
Harry didn’t either, honestly. Without magic, Ginny and Luna’s help between Quidditch practice and births, and semi-frequent visits from the Granger-Weasleys, he was sure he’d be in over his head. He was even more impressed with the Muggles who made do with no magic and larger farms. Down the village there was a family who owned nearly two hundred head. Harry liked them: they always bought plenty of eggs.
“It’s pretty tiring, yeah,” said Harry, “but --”
“--You love it, it’s worth it, it’s better than the Ministry any day, blah blah blah, we’ve heard it all,” said Ginny, sliding into the seat next to him with a newly-filled glass of something pink. When Harry glanced at her, she gave him a big, ridiculous wink. “Go on, Harry, I love hearing you talk about sheep vaginas.”
“That was one time, and Gertie was hurt--” Harry’s protests were lost in the others’ laughter.
“To think, the Boy Who Lived, getting himself elbow-deep in a sheep’s, well, you know,” said Neville when the laughter had abated. “More than once, and for fun.”
“It’s not really for fun,” said Harry, who felt himself flushing a probable deep red. “It’s a hell of a way to spend a Saturday night, though.”
Seamus looked thoughtfully at him. “If you think of it properly, you could say you’ve gotten more pussy than any of us. Ginny included.”
“Not possible,” said Ginny primly, taking a sip of her drink, which led to even more guffaws.
And just like that, Harry was reminded how much he loved these people; how grateful he was that they were still in his life. That was after the first drink.
Two hours, two shots, and another beer later, he was beginning to change his mind. Various other people had joined in, whether they’d been invited or happened to be passing by. The music had grown from a gentle background noise, to an incessant floor-shaking beat. By the time midnight swung around, Harry had a pounding headache and was sitting in a corner booth, watching George do a strange kind of polka with Luna while Ginny and two of her teammates clutched each other in laughter. He considered which excuse would least likely offend Ron. A friendly but boisterous debate about the best places to tour in Egypt was going on between Hermione and the woman who sat with them at their booth. Harry couldn’t remember her name. It was noisy, then noisier, then even noisier. He sat there, feeling more and more irritated, until finally, he tapped Hermione on the shoulder and asked if she could move so he could go to the loo. He ended up Disapparating from the toilet, straight into his own bedroom so he could collapse gratefully into his bed, surrounded by the blessed silence of his farm.
The next morning, he sent a birthday card by owl, along with an apology, and wondered how leaving the Ministry had made him such a terrible friend.
Mondays were when Harry loaded his ancient van--which he fully believed ran solely on magic and sawdust, these days, thanks to some help from Arthur Weasley--and drove the eleven kilometers down to the nearest village to make his deliveries, and were Harry’s favorite part of the week. He always spent an hour or two making good on the orders he’d received, and then he’d pop down to a tiny tea shop in the village, run by Mr. and Mrs. Salisbury, who had both been the first to welcome Harry when he’d arrived. He saved all his best blackberries, peas, and squashes for Mrs. Salisbury, who, in return, spoiled him with pastries and pies and cakes, and always sent him back home with a full belly and a head full of village gossip. He liked it precisely because there was so little change in the routine.
The Monday after Ron’s birthday at the pub was no different. Harry left the chores to Ginny and Luna, and delivered eggs and vegetables to some of the families in some of the nearby villages.
It took a bit longer than usual, because he’d had to wait for a massive exodus of cows to cross a road when he got a bit west. But all the same, Mrs. Salisbury was already waiting for him with a pot of tea and a head full of gossip when he arrived.
Harry was laughing at a joke Mrs. Salisbury had told him when the bell above the door tinkled and they both looked towards the door--and Harry’s laughter immediately died. The person who had walked through the door was someone he had never expected to see here, in the Salisburys’ small combination antique shop-pub-locksmith-taxidermist in the middle of Bumfuck.
Malfoy’s hands were deep in the pockets of his pea coat, which had its collar turned up all round his face. His hair, which only a few weeks ago had been long enough to tie back, was shaven down the shortest Harry had ever seen. On his face, under his left eye, he was sporting what appeared to be a sharp cut edged with a grey-purple bruise, and his lip was split down the middle. There was mud around the hem of his trousers, as if he’d walked a long way. He looked even pointier and more snarly than Harry had remembered, and the grey haze of exhaustion that had hung around him in Lavender’s was more pronounced than ever, although fortunately there was no blood. Without seeming to even look where he was going, Malfoy made a beeline for the counter where Harry and Mrs. Salisbury were standing. “Excuse me, but--”
Harry could stand it no longer. “Malfoy?” he asked, placing himself in the path to the door so Malfoy couldn’t get away this time.
Slowly, as if facing execution itself, Malfoy turned his head. He gazed at Harry as if an Erumpent had just invited him to tea: speechless, surprised, a tiny bit fearful. Finally, unbelievingly he, Draco, said, “Are you following me?”
Mrs. Salisbury raised her eyebrows. “Who’s this, then, Harry?” she asked, her voracious need for gossip having found itself a tasty morsel, the likes of which hadn’t been seen for months, if not years in this sleepy little town.
Harry tore his eyes away from Malfoy’s and cleared his throat. “Oh, er--this is Draco Malfoy. He’s an… old school acquaintance. Malfoy, this is Mrs. Rhonda Salisbury. She runs this place, I suppose.”
“Lovely to meet you,” said Mrs. Salisbury, her shrewd eyes taking in every detail of Malfoy’s disarray.
“Right,” replied Malfoy weakly, “you too. Sorry--I--I’m just looking for--I saw out on the sign--do you have any rooms available?” He had turned his face away from Harry, but kept sneaking glances out of the corner of his eye.
“No, love, I--” began Mrs. Salisbury but Harry interrupted her.
“I do,” said Harry, the words leaving his mouth before he was really aware that he’d even thought them. “At my farm, I mean. I have… I have a pretty large house. And there’s room.”
Malfoy turned and stared at him for a moment. Then, as if Harry had never spoken, he turned back to Mrs. Salisbury. “Do you know who in town I could talk to about a room available for rent?”
Mrs. Salisbury looked between Harry and Malfoy, a combination of confusion and intrigue written on her face. “Well, there’s Harry, I suppose?” she said uncertainly.
“It’s a small village, Malfoy,” Harry said, leaning his hip against the counter and crossing his arms over his chest. “Not many who’d let a stranger in without an explanation.”
Malfoy didn’t respond. Instead, he tilted his head towards Mrs. Salisbury and thanked her, then rushed out back into the street. Harry glanced at Mrs. Salisbury, who seemed like she was itching to call up her friends on her mobile to share the excitement of her day, and then turned on his heel and followed Malfoy as quickly as he could.
Malfoy was looking up and down the street as if checking for Muggles. Harry saw the tip of his wand poking out from his sleeve and grabbed his wrist before Malfoy could Disapparate.
Malfoy nearly jumped out of his skin. He whirled around. “What the fuck do you want, Potter?” he hissed.
“What’s going on?” Harry hadn’t planned on asking this question, but he was curious. Why Malfoy, why here, and why looking like a starved failure of a cadet from the Muggle army? Who had the blood been from? What the fuck was he getting at, coming to Harry’s little village?
Malfoy’s eyes narrowed. “What do you care?”
“I care,” said Harry reflexively, then, feeling stupid, “I mean--it’s nothing to me, I suppose, but you look fucking terrible and your mother did literally lie to Voldemort for me to keep you alive at one point, so I feel like I ought to make sure you stay that way.” The words were tumbling out of Harry’s mouth and tasted like lies although they were, at their surface, the truth. Harry was itching to demand what Malfoy had been doing at Lavender’s, wanted to know what exactly what was going on.
The mention of Malfoy’s mother seemed to make some kind of impression on Malfoy. He deflated and shook his arm out of Harry’s grip. “My mother and I are looking for somewhere to stay. Near enough the Manor that we can deal with--any emergencies. This is acceptably close by.”
There was a silent pause, heavy and awkward. Harry swallowed his questions and said, “I wasn’t lying. Nobody here is just going to accept strangers, especially ones that--” he stopped, thinking better of mentioning Malfoy’s less-than-pristine appearance. “It took me months to win them over. Look, I’m serious. I have plenty of room.”
“In exchange for what? Daily harassment? So you can keep tabs on me? Thanks, but no thanks, Potter.” He said this with little of the poison it might have had when they’d been in school, and he didn’t meet Harry’s eyes when he said it. Instead, he seemed to be staring directly at Harry’s shoulder.
“I’m not following you!” said Harry, annoyed. Then, clearing his throat, feeling quite too old to play schoolboys, even for old time’s sake, or to save Malfoy his pride, he added, “You can stay in exchange for help on my farm. Lambing’s nearly over but there’s always plenty of work to do.”
At the mention of the lambs, Malfoy’s demeanor changed, almost imperceptibly, but Harry noticed all the same. He frowned thoughtfully, looking away. Harry rolled his eyes again and turned on his heel. “Fine, suit yourself,” he said, and made a step back towards Mrs. Salisbury’s.
Behind him, Harry heard a frustrated noise, followed by, “Wait. Potter, stop.”
Harry looked over his shoulder, raising an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
Malfoy didn’t look at him; instead, he looked past Harry at the door to Mrs. Salisbury’s shop. When he spoke, his voice was stiff, toeing the line between polite and robotic. “Do you really have enough room for me and my mother,” he said, more than asked.
“Yes…,” answered Harry, tentatively.
“We’ll be there tomorrow. Please supply me with your Floo coordinates as well as any other information I might need to know. I’m afraid I can’t pay you at this time, but--”
“That’s all right,” said Harry, his eyebrows climbing up past his fringe in surprise. “Just help out a bit and that’ll be fine. There’s plenty of work to do.”
Even as he said it, a glimpse of Malfoy in a pair of old, faded dungarees and a straw hat came to him, like a caricature of a farmer from a Muggle film, and he struggled not to laugh at the idea. Or--even more incongruously--at the image of Narcissa Malfoy in a similar getup. If Malfoy somehow agreed to this, it would be an entertaining story at the very least.
Malfoy nodded curtly. They ducked back into the shop so that Harry could write down the Floo coordinates. He and Mrs. Salisbury were soon watching his retreating back as he walked away from the village.
“Wonder what kind of trouble he’s in,” said Mrs. Salisbury.
Harry shrugged, wondering if he’d made the wrong choice. “Whatever it is, he probably brought it on himself.”
Malfoy and his mother arrived by Floo the next day, coming in not from the Manor, as Harry had expected, but from the Leaky Cauldron. He wanted to ask about it--ask what had led them here, ask why they weren’t living at Malfoy Manor, ask why Malfoy’s hair was short and his eye was black. But he didn’t. Instead, he jumped up from the settee where he’d been sitting with Max and Lucy, and over their happy barks yelled, “Hi! Welcome!”
Mrs. Malfoy looked around the sitting room with something like resignation. Harry barely had time to be annoyed, he was so occupied with getting the dogs to calm down. Annie, beautiful old soul, had come to see what was the matter, and was watching bemusedly from the entryway. Max was chasing his tail in circles around Malfoy’s feet, and Lucy kept leaping up to put her paws on Mrs. Malfoy’s once-spotless pink skirt.
“Sorry,” shouted Harry, “they’re usually much better behaved!”
Malfoy made a comment to his mother from the corner of his mouth, and Mrs. Malfoy laughed what Harry could only assume was a derisive laugh.
He was saved by Luna, who had been napping but had woken up to see what was the matter. She was a bit of a dog whisperer; with a whistle and a clap, not to mention an offering of the treats that stayed in her pockets at all times, she distracted Lucy and Max, and they quieted. She kneeled down and was immediately covered in a barrage of puppy kisses.
It was in that moment Harry realized that because she’d been at a birth for the past two days, and Ginny had been in spring training dawn to midnight for a week, he hadn’t actually told them about the new additions to their home. He looked between Malfoy and his mother, “Er--so you know Luna Lovegood?”
“We’re cousins, actually,” said Luna, her large blue eyes on the Malfoys. To someone else it might appear that she was simply blankly staring; Harry knew she was sizing them up. He wondered if she cared for what she saw. She turned her gaze onto Harry, her eyebrows raised, and then turned away to lead the dogs outside. But his worries about what Ginny and Luna might say--or worse, Ron and Hermione, once they came back from their holiday in Egypt--would have to wait.
Malfoy and his mother were still standing expectantly by the fireplace. Harry ran a hand through his hair, and then gestured towards the staircase. “Let me show you upstairs.”
Earlier that morning, Harry had quickly done his best to tidy up the bedrooms across from and next door to his own. Ginny and Luna had the biggest room in the house, since they shared, which meant that Harry’s room was relatively small, and the ones the Malfoys would be staying in even smaller. There was a cheery green Jack and Jill en-suite between his and the smallest, and Harry had hastily Scourgified all the fixtures and emptied a few drawers, though the result was an overpowering scent of peppermint mixed with his aftershave.
Both the bedrooms, thank goodness, lacked the distracting peppermint smell, but what they lacked in minty freshness, they more than made up for in dust bunnies. Harry had done his best to Vanish them all away, but he’d run out of time, and anyway, no matter how many he got rid of, two more seemed to appear. Before the Malfoys, the rooms had mostly been used for storage, and before he’d opened the windows earlier that day, probably hadn’t seen daylight since he’d bought the house five years prior. They smelled a bit musky, and it wasn’t until he noticed Mrs. Malfoy flick a disdainful glance towards a corner of the slightly larger one that he realized its Victorian rose wallpaper was peeling.
“Sorry it’s not quite, er...” he tried, rubbing the back of his neck. “Palatial? But it’ll do, I think. And we have a permit for intermediate magical structural renovations, if you need to change anything. Just check with me first. I haven’t really gotten around to taking advantage of the permit, myself, but you’re welcome to.”
Malfoy looked around silently, the expression on his face somewhere between brooding and bored. Mrs. Malfoy turned to Harry. “It’ll do,” she said, and it was almost polite.
Harry, hands in pockets, looked at them for a moment, admiring the sheer absurdity of seeing them here, in his house, and then said, out of habit and also because he couldn’t think else what to say, “Tea?”
Technically, because Harry still owned Number 12 Grimmauld Place (though Andromeda and Teddy lived there now), he also still had the ability to call on Kreacher when he needed. Given that so much of the new life he had built for himself had come from a need to be self-sufficient, Harry tended to leave Kreacher alone. But when he showed Malfoy and his mother to the rarely-used formal dining room and sat them down, then wandered into the kitchen to make tea, he looked at Luna’s stupid elephant mug.
He couldn’t serve them tea in stupid elephant mugs.
“Kreacher,” he called, and with a pop, Kreacher appeared. He was older than ever, though serving a true Black had brought back some of the good nature that had been buried for so long under the control of a mad portrait of Sirius’s mother, in the melancholy of an empty house. The tea towel he wore was neat and clean; the white hair sprouting from his ears was recently washed.
“Yes, Master?” he croaked.
“Hullo, Kreacher,” said Harry with a smile. “I, er, have some guests, and I was wondering… could you maybe serve them some tea?”
Kreacher bowed deeply and then in the course of a minute, had disappeared and reappeared with a full tea service including an array of beautiful little sandwiches and delicate pastel cakes, all on dishes bearing the Black family crest. As quickly as his creaky, elderly legs would allow, he carried everything into the formal dining room. Harry smiled to himself, wondering for a moment whether the excitement of serving Narcissa Malfoy herself might give Kreacher a heart attack. At least he’d die happy.
He was about to join them when the kitchen door slammed open, and a mud-soaked Ginny Weasley, her hair dripping and her cheeks pink, was standing in the doorway, her arms crossed across her chest. “Harry Potter,” she said, “you’d better be fucking joking.”
Harry froze. He was really regretting not telling Ginny and Luna now. Luna had seemed to take it somewhat in stride, but he’d been hoping not to have to face Ginny’s wrath…
“Er,” he said. “House meeting? Ten minutes?”
Ginny stalked up to him, her face so close her hair dripped onto his shoulders. She jabbed a finger into his sternum. “Don’t be late.”
Ten minutes later, Harry was standing at the doorway to Luna and Ginny’s bedroom, staring into a basket of half-empty bottles of nail varnishes. The bottles ranged from muted pinks to sparkly golden-reds to dramatic greens to regal blues. According to Luna, who wouldn’t let him through until he chose a color, she’d been collecting them since her days at Hogwarts, though Harry couldn’t imagine the Luna he’d known at Hogwarts spending an evening leaning over her bed to paint her toes.
(“Believe it,” said Ginny, any time he spoke about the incongruity of this image. “She used to give me little Quaffles on my thumbs before a Quidditch match.”
“Why though?” Harry had asked Luna.
Luna had shrugged. “It’s nice to carry a bit of color with you, isn’t it?”
Which was argument enough to convince Harry. Anyway, he liked the way his toes looked with a bit of color on them, and anyway, he almost always wore sneakers or boots, so when he remembered his toenails were painted, it was a bit like a good secret. It was pointless to do his own fingernails, since no matter what kind of super-strength topcoat spells Luna knew, farming was not particularly kind to the upkeep of nail varnish. And now, every week or so, or anytime they called a house meeting, he and Ginny and Luna would sit on the floor in Luna and Ginny’s bedroom, listen to music on Luna’s ancient record player, and paint their nails.)
Harry mutely picked a bottle of his old favorite, a glittery orangey-red with gold flecks. Luna hummed in approval and stepped aside to let him in.
Ginny was already crouched over on the floor, painting her toenails a pattern of the kelly green of the Holyhead Harpies and the same bright yellow as Luna’s hair. He sat besides her, and began untying his boots. Luna shut the door and closed their little circle, unscrewing a bottle of a lovely lilac color for her fingers. Something vaguely familiar, something Muggle, was playing on the record player.
Normally, there was rarely a quiet moment between the three of them. Then again, normally there wasn’t such a huge elephant in the room. Harry sent a silent prayer to thank whoever was listening for Luna Lovegood when she broke the silence with, “I haven’t seen the Malfoys since their trial. How are they doing, Harry?”
Ginny’s ears turned pink when Harry looked at her, but otherwise she neither looked up or spoke.
“They seem… fine,” he said. He looked down at his feet, nails still painted sky blue from last month, though there were chips on his big toes. He picked up his wand from where it was lying near his abandoned boots, and muttered a charm to remove the old varnish.
It was silent for a few moments. Harry uncapped the tiny glittery bottle with slippery fingers. He bent over and started on his left big toe. He was doing a terrible job. Then Ginny, unable to handle it any longer, said, “Harry, what the fuck?”
He was so startled he accidentally painted a bit of the skin along the side of his middle toe. Hurriedly, he screwed the top back onto the bottle and looked up at Ginny, who was glowering at him.
“I,” he began, but was interrupted by Luna.
“I think it’s quite lovely what Harry’s done,” said Luna. Harry, uncertain, gave her a small but quizzical smile. She gave him a much bigger smile in return. “I don’t know that I ever expected you to try and mend bridges like this.”
“It’s not… on purpose,” he said. He was glad Luna was on his side, but he still felt a bit sweaty. “I just, I ran into him in the village, and he seemed like he needed help.”
“What the fuck was he doing in the village, though? Our village?”
Harry shrugged, uncomfortable. Truth be told, he wanted to know the answer to this question himself. He supposed there was some chance it was just happenstance. But something about the way Malfoy had looked--his hair cut shorter than Harry could ever remember, the cuts and bruises on his face--led Harry to believe that there was definitely something going on. And not to mention the incident at Lavender’s, which, given the blood, he wasn’t keen to tell Luna and Ginny about. Just in case. “I’m not sure,” he admitted, and Ginny finally looked up at him, her eyes blazing in a much different way than he had once fallen in love with.
“How do you know he wasn’t sent to hurt us or something? How do you know he isn’t up to something?”
“I don’t,” said Harry, and then before Ginny could open her mouth to respond, added hastily, “But it’s been years since anyone’s really heard of the Malfoys doing anything, much less something that would hurt someone. Plus, I did testify for him, you know. I don’t think he’s the kind of person who would return that favor with, what, nefarious deeds or something.” As he said the words, he tried to remind himself how true they were.
“He looks awful,” said Luna. “I wondered if perhaps he’d come down with a bit of Nargle flu. Rare, but more likely the paler your skin is.”
Harry shrugged. “I just know I haven’t seen him look this terrible since sixth year.”
“When he was planning to let Death Eaters into Hogwarts, you mean,” said Ginny pointedly.
Harry was quiet again as he focused on covering his right little toe really, really well. Harry had spoken for Malfoy at the trial, but that had been when he’d more or less assumed Malfoy spent most of his time entrenched in regret while under house arrest at Malfoy Manor. What if Ginny was right? What if Malfoy wasn’t in trouble, what if it was all for show? What if Harry had invited trouble into his house and made it up a bed?
“I think we should give him a chance,” said Luna before Harry had a chance to voice this. Harry looked up at her, startled, and she gave him a soft smile. “Harry needs the help anyway.”
“Thanks, Luna,” said Harry, feeling genuinely grateful for her, not for the first time.
Ginny looked between them and then rolled her eyes. “If he blows up the farm, don’t blame me.”
So, that was that. Draco and Narcissa Malfoy had come to stay.
Harry just hoped he wouldn’t regret it.
For better or for worse, it turned out Harry was as adept at spying on Draco Malfoy as he had been at age sixteen, though equally unable to determine any actually useful information from his spying.
Harry, of course, avoided asking Malfoy outright what the hell was going on. Perhaps it was instinct; perhaps it was the way that any time Malfoy caught Harry staring thoughtfully at him, he adopted an ugly grimace and angrily stalked away. Even if it was in the middle of dinner. Malfoy was quieter than Harry would have expected, as well. Harry remembered a vibrant kid who had something to say about everything, but this Malfoy bit back his commentary, and silently accepted the strange situation he had found himself in.
Mrs. Malfoy was no more forthcoming than her son. Although she wasn’t as showy, she clearly felt distaste for Harry’s home, for his mismatched dishware, the dust on the windowsills, the homey handmade quilt on her bed. “I had believed you were the heir of the House of Black,” one morning in the living room, peering at the smudges on the windows. “Surely you have access to that house-elf when necessary.”
Harry shrugged. “Kreacher’s at Grimmauld Place, usually. I mean, he comes when I ask, like the other day, but he’s happier there, I think. And actually, no, I’m not heir anymore. I passed that on to Teddy, your nephew.”
“It seems strange that you would want to run your household all by yourself,” she commented, pointing her wand at a cobweb in a corner and Vanishing it away. “When you could have help.”
“I can take care of myself,” said Harry, “for all the important things anyway.” He wasn’t sure what, exactly, he was attempting to imply there, but it seemed important not to let Narcissa Malfoy feel too comfortable with her critiques, or to forget that she was in fact still a guest in his home.
“Indeed,” she said, and didn’t make any other similar comments.
To Harry’s great surprise, there were other parts of living with the Malfoys that turned out to be quite… nice. For example, Malfoy seemed to have no intention of going back on his word to help Harry around the farm.
The first morning, he’d knocked on Harry’s bedroom door at 6AM sharp. Harry was already pulling on his old pair of dungarees. Max didn’t even react; he rolled over and huffed at whatever he was dreaming about. Harry had opened the door to find Malfoy in a pair of green striped pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, the annoyance on his face softened by sleepiness. It was almost strange to think of Malfoy doing something so undignified as giving in to sleep, and wearing a t-shirt while he did it, but there it was.
“Yes?” said Harry, curious through his haze of exhaustion.
“I can’t be expected to wear this for our work this morning,” Malfoy bit out, though any vitriol was cancelled out by a huge punctuating yawn, “and I find myself… unable to retrieve anything else from home for some time.”
“Why--?” Harry began, before shaking his head. It was too early for an interrogation. “It’s fine, Malfoy. You can just borrow something of mine.” He stepped aside and gestured to let him into the bedroom.
Malfoy frowned and didn’t move. “I hope,” he said stiffly, “you have something more… clean than what you’re wearing.”
Harry rolled his eyes. Malfoy was acting like a broken robot. “Yes, I do. Please stop standing there like a weirdo and come in.”
“I will, of course, make arrangements for my own clothing as soon as I am able.” Still, he would not come in. Harry rolled his eyes again and turned his back, striding towards his closet.
“Do you prefer long sleeves or short?” he called to Malfoy over his shoulder. He glanced back. Malfoy had finally stepped over the threshold of Harry’s bedroom and was looking around with a strange look on his face. Harry wondered if whatever had happened to him had made him forget that things like bedrooms existed.
“Long,” was the response. Harry didn’t have to look for the Dark Mark. He already knew it was there. He swallowed, a feeling he couldn’t name rising up and then, because he was frankly too tired to deal with it this early in the morning, tamped back down into the places he kept such feelings buried when he could. Somewhere around the vicinity of his stomach.
Harry went into his closet and pulled out a holey pair of jeans and one of his older, more well-loved jumpers from back before he spent his days doing farm labor, in the days when his arms looked like noodles with bones in them. He’d filled out a lot more now, though the way Molly tried to feed him when he visited the Burrow, you’d think he was still the stick figure of a person he’d been at age eleven. Malfoy, on the other hand, was as thin as ever; he looked like even Max could knock him over with a well-aimed leap at the knees.
To Harry’s surprise, Malfoy barely looked askance at the jumper or the trousers. Instead, he pulled it over his head. The sleeves barely brushed his wrists. For all that Malfoy was thin, his limbs were almost ridiculously long. He disappeared for a moment into the bathroom and was wearing Harry’s jeans when he’d returned. The hems brushed against the top of his feet. He looked, frankly, ridiculous, and seemed to know it, the way he crossed his arms over his stomach, as if to hide himself.
Harry stepped past Malfoy, hiding a smile to himself, and led him downstairs. Luna was out on delivery, so they sipped coffee in silence, not looking at one another. Harry left Ginny a note asking her to let the sheep out. He tried not to perseverate on the strangeness of it all, of Draco Malfoy sitting across from him in his kitchen just after dawn on a Thursday morning, wearing Harry’s own outgrown Weasley jumper and a pair of Harry’s jeans that barely reached his ankles, for all appearances ready to spend a day at work on a farm. Not a nice day either, weather-wise, not by a long shot. Any farmer worth his salt could tell you that rain would be pulling in before noon.
First, Harry showed Malfoy how to collect eggs from the henhouse. Max chased his tail around their feet, occasionally yipping happily. He swallowed down a childhood urge to laugh when Ursula’s beak went straight for Malfoy’s ear. (Harry checked his detection spell to see if the sheep needed him. Not yet.) After that, Harry showed him how to milk Rhiannon, Gypsy, and Sara, the cows. Malfoy’s face did the weird, pointy disgusted thing that it used to when they had been kids, but instead of making Harry angry, he just thought it looked rather ridiculous. (The sheep were fine, according to the spell.)
By then, it was everyone’s breakfast: the cows, the chickens, the dogs, and the cranky pair of cats who had been living in a shed since before Harry had bought the farm. Max leapt happily onto Malfoy’s legs the moment he was levitating down a bale of hay from the loft, and fell over. That time, Harry did not stop himself from laughing. They let the cows out to pasture, drove around the perimeter of Harry’s land to check the fence (Malfoy looked distinctly ill bouncing around in the passenger seat but made no comment; Harry checked remotely on his sheep again: a bit of a scuffle had broken out but Lucy had taken care of it), until finally, while cleaning out the chicken coop, Harry could no longer stand the stilted silence.
It wasn’t that Malfoy was being unpleasant or rude. He was simply… quiet. Harry knew he talked a big game about letting bygones be bygones, and not rising to the bait, etcetera, etcetera, but when Malfoy meekly accepted the shovel and got to work mucking out a week’s worth of dirty wood shavings, Harry felt strangely upset. Like he wanted Malfoy to mock this, or to make some stupid comment about how this resembled the Weasleys’ home, or something. But he just did what Harry asked.
Harry was, at least, mature enough by now not to comment on it, or try to poke and prod Malfoy into something more animated, but Merlin, he wanted to. If nothing else, it would at least be interesting. Harry didn’t mind his chores--in fact, he rather liked them, most of the time--but he spent so much time alone these days that he’d thought having someone along might be nice. Sometimes Luna or Ginny joined him, but given Ginny’s jam-packed schedule and the inconvenient spontaneity of a midwife’s work hours, that wasn’t as frequent as he might have liked. And, of course, there was Matty, the teenage boy from the village he hired for a few hours three days a week after school, but Harry and Matty didn’t have much in common. Matty mostly seemed interested in girls and something called Halo. Matty was also not very good at the work.
By the time they were back in the house for tea, Malfoy was looking a bit peaky. Harry supposed that for a first day on the farm, he had asked for rather a lot. He shook it off. He could write it off as debts paid for a smashed-in nose in 6th year.
Even if Malfoy had paid his debt and then some since.
Harry--very kindly, in his opinion--allowed Malfoy to spend the rest of the afternoon reading up on magical agriculture from a book Hermione had bought him when he’d first got the farm. With Malfoy out of his way, he could finally do what he’d been aching to do all day: get to his sheep.
The sheep were happily chomping away on the hill near the barn. Max raced ahead of Harry, yapping happily while the sheep looked at him in confusion, and Lucy and Annie with no small amount of canine disdain. Chuckling to himself, he stepped inside the barn where Gertie, Cher, and Reese, who all hated rain, sought shelter with most of the lambs. After barking himself silly, Max slipped in too, bringing the heavy smell of wet dog with him.
He spent a few hours in the barn with them, using his wand to build platforms and dunes of hay as quickly as the lambs could leap onto them, laughing all the while, until finally Lucy and Annie brought everyone inside for the night. Then he made sure everyone was safe and comfortable, especially Rose-the-Sheep and Artemis, who hadn’t yet lambed and were due in the next week or so. He walked up and down the path between all of the pens, watching with a smile as Fuzzy and Lamby fought for the best place near their mother, and Clover fell asleep directly on top of Barbara. As always, listening to the nighttime sounds of his small country farm settle down--the sheep snoring softly as they fell asleep, the chickens clucking not too far away, the sounds of owls screeching and the cows snorting, made him feel calmer. It was one of his favorite parts of living here, so different from the busyness of London, the never-ending push towards more, more, more of nothing at all.
The next few days went much the same way, Malfoy’s silence poking and prodding at Harry, Harry trying to tamp down the instinct to poke and prod at Malfoy in retaliation, until Malfoy’s face turned sour and pale and Harry had to drop him off at the house to spend the rest of the afternoon cooking and cleaning inside. Sometimes, Harry set him homework mostly centered around reading farm-related textbooks Hermione had sent years ago. Harry expected Malfoy to Disapparate for good at any moment, to file some kind of unpaid labor complaint with the Ministry. Harry was a little surprised that Malfoy continued showing up early each morning, nursing a mug of coffee, quiet and sullen but present nonetheless.
Malfoy did, by the end of the week, show some improvement. He had a strange knack with the chickens, and seemed to commune with Ursula on a nearly Luna-ish level. He never had trouble gathering the eggs, walking away unharmed while Harry was covered in pecks and scratches. Despite his initial reaction, he seemed to like the cows too: one morning Harry caught him leaning forward and examining Rhiannon’s udder with amazement, as if he couldn’t quite believe something other than magic could explain the miraculous release of milk. It almost made Harry smile, before he caught himself.
It reminded him a little of how he’d felt his first years on the farm.
When Harry had first bought the farm, nearly all of his friends had been incredulous. Hermione thought it was a drastic reaction to his break-up with Ginny; Ron not-so-secretly believed it was an attempt to win Ginny back. Pretty much everyone else seemed to think it was a joke, or a breakdown, or both. Harry himself didn’t know what to make of it. It just so happened that one afternoon, he’d been on a train riding through the countryside. He’d looked at the lush green, and the beautiful, old stone cottages, and saw a couple of horses galloping across a hill, and he’d thought, That looks lovely. And he’d run with it.
Malfoy’s behavior now was not unlike Harry’s those first few months--disgust as he mucked out the cowshed the first time, the prickly annoyance of reckoning with a brood of particularly irritated chickens, the exhaustion every night.
The wonder when he took a moment and really considered what it was he had become a part of. There was a song that went “how alarming and charming it is to be a farmer,” that Seamus had introduced him to as a joke, and it could not be truer.
Harry took Malfoy into the village on Produce Day about a week and a half after Malfoy’s first experience as a farmhand.
Malfoy sat silently in the passenger seat, arms crossed. Harry, instead of reaching for the radio as he normally did, allowed the silence to linger as he pulled onto the dirt road leading out of the farm.
Harry had been holding back so many questions. What had Malfoy been doing at Lavender’s? Why did it appear that Malfoy and Mrs. Malfoy had been thrown out of the Manor? Where was Mr. Malfoy? He’d kept them quiet, waiting for the perfect moment when he could make Malfoy answer and there wasn’t immediate work to be done. Now was that time.
“So,” started Harry, as if he wanted to know Malfoy’s opinion about the weather. “How did you decide to come here?”
Malfoy didn’t answer. He turned his head a bit and stared morosely out the window, looking for all the world like a sullen teenager whose mother had asked him why he’d failed a class.
Harry rolled his eyes and tried a different tactic. “Whose blood were you covered in when I saw you at Lavender’s?”
This got a response. Malfoy looked sidelong at him, a furrow between his brow. “I don’t know what you mean. I frequent Lavender Brown’s business… often.”
“Yes, you do,” said Harry, unhelpfully. When Malfoy didn’t answer, Harry added, “It was about a month ago. You came in, all bloodied up like, and said someone needed help. Who was it? Did you do something to them?” He glanced out the corner of his eye. Malfoy was staring out the window again, his arms still wrapped around himself, but his shoulders had drooped.
“Still think I’m evil, hateful scum, Potter?” Malfoy’s voice was quiet, humorless. “No, I didn’t do something.” He didn’t elaborate further.
The tick-tock of the indicator sounded impossibly loud in the car. The village was still a good five minute drive away and Harry wasn’t about to lose his chance to question Malfoy. He had to--he had to make sure he hadn’t invited someone dangerous into his house.
“Where’d you get that bruise then? Was it the same day?”
“No,” said Malfoy. “Stop asking me questions, Potter.”
“I have a right to know if something is going on. We’re about to come into contact with Muggles. I need to know you won’t--try something.”
Malfoy was silent. Harry breathed through his nose in frustration.
Soon, he pulled up in front of Mr. and Mrs. Martin’s house; three of the children were playing in the garden, and another could be seen sitting on the veranda, writing furiously in her notebook.
“Right,” said Harry. “Well, if you’re not going to be more forthcoming, you stay in here.”
He pasted on a smile for his clients as he climbed out of the car, letting Max jump out ahead of him. All four children dropped what they were doing and ran out towards him. Max yapped happily and raced around in circles.
“Mr. Harry!” called five-year-old, Julia, who loved the plums that Harry brought her in summer, and loved Max even more. She and Danny, the baby who was almost not quite a baby, spent every other Monday morning tiring Max out before Harry came back by to pick him up on his way home.
“Hello, Jules! Hello, all!” he replied, grinning broadly. He liked the Martins an awful lot, and both Julia and Danny had been delivered by Luna. They were some of the farm’s best clients.
Julia picked up a stick and threw it for Max to catch. Max didn’t exactly know what to do. He ran after it for a few steps and then ran back to Julia, which sent Julia into a cascade of giggles.
Normally, the other children--Leo and Evie, 9 and 11, respectively--would already be helping him unload their parents’ orders. But they had both drawn up short and were staring behind him.
Harry looked over his shoulder. Malfoy had gotten out of the van after all, and was leaning against it with a frown on his face and his arms crossed. Harry swore under his breath and stalked back over to him. “I told you to stay in there,” he said.
“I thought you brought me so I could help or something,” said Malfoy, barely moving his mouth as he spoke. Harry noticed that his hair was growing in patchy. “Can’t do that if you keep me in your car.”
The way he said it was bland, and the face he said it with was bland. Harry hadn’t gotten truly pissed off in a long time, but the--the lukewarm nothingness with which this absolute stranger carried himself was picking away at the armor Harry had grown against the fact of his anger. And what if he was planning on hurting Muggles? Harry couldn’t be sure, and until he was, he wouldn’t let him near any of these people--he had worked too hard and too long to get into their good graces.
In the years since the Ministry, Harry had learned how to step back, when necessary, to measure his anger, and consider its function, what it required from him. He’d trained himself to think before he spoke--not always, but a hell of a lot more often than he used to. Usually, he was pretty good at this. Especially when, for example, there were kids around. Especially when those kids were clients.
While Harry much preferred the newer, more logical version of himself these days, he had to admit that the version that had existed for much longer, the version that had the power to overtake all the relaxation and peacefulness bullshit Harry’s Mind Healer had trained him in, was the version that, unfortunately, was also the version that was at its most responsive when Malfoy was involved.
Harry stepped closer to Malfoy. He was shorter by about two inches, but he knew he was stronger, if he was going by Malfoy’s stupid contorted facial expressions every time Harry asked him to move a bale of hay. “Get back in the car,” he growled.
There was a responding flicker of--something in Malfoy’s eyes. A flash of unexpected silver like a spark of lightning on a dreary day and Harry didn’t know what to do with the small triumph he felt about this, except that he’d spent years making progress and doing, actually, very well for himself, and Malfoy apparently hadn’t, and it pissed Harry off.
But the flash Harry had seen disappeared as quickly as it had come and Malfoy stepped to the side. “Fine, Potter,” he said, that dull tone clouding over his voice again. With disinterest, he glanced at the children who had gathered behind Harry, whispering to each other, and moved to climb back into the vehicle.
Harry counted down from ten and back up again before he was able to turn around and pay attention to the Martins.
On the way back to the farm, Malfoy said, “It was my horse.”
Harry startled. “What?”
“My horse. You asked about the blood. It was my fucking horse. That’s why I went to Lavender’s, not to the hospital. The rest is none of your business. And no, I’m not going to hurt any Muggles.”
Harry let this declaration hang in the air a moment. It was the most he’d heard from Malfoy since he’d come to stay.
“Good,” Harry decided, and they didn’t speak again.
When they got home, Harry went directly to the pasture, where Luna was sitting on the fence, reading, keeping an eye on the sheep. Harry marched over to her, still angry, and leaned on the fence next to her, his arms crossed. He was scowling so hard he would probably get a headache, not that that stopped him.
Luna looked sidelong at him. “Difficult day?”
Harry frowned even harder. He felt a nudge against his thigh: it was Rose. She baaed up at him. Harry looked down, his face relaxing. It was hard to be angry at any of the sheep, but especially Rose--the sheep or the person. He reached out to scratch between her ears and sighed. The rest of the flock were happily eating or sleeping or playing. Some of the older ones gathered in small groups, like gossiping old ladies at a knitting club. He and Luna watched them in silence and a deep sense of peace gradually replaced his anger, tinged with a bit of embarrassment.
“It’s stupid, actually,” said Harry, after a few minutes. Luna, rather than answer, just waited. Taking a deep breath, he continued, “It’s Malfoy. He hasn’t--done anything, exactly, but he’s still driving me mad.”
Harry shook his head. “Nothing! That’s the problem. Well, there was something. He won’t answer my questions about--well. Something that happened. Something that might be bad. So when I went down to the Martins’ to drop off their order I told him to stay in the car but he didn’t.”
Luna frowned. “What did he do instead?”
Harry looked up at the sky, calculating how best to explain without making him seem like--like he was still 20 and prone to blow up at any and all perfectly innocuous things. Which he realized was absolutely how the next thing he said would sound. “Nothing,” he said finally. “He just stood there.”
They sat there quietly, listening to the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the cows. There was a largish pond nearby, and a brook that led from somewhere higher in the mountains, that fed into it. Now that it was getting warmer, the brook bubbled loudly enough that if he closed his eyes, he could hear it.
He wasn’t sure if he was glad Luna was on grazing duty today rather than Ginny--or, of course, god forbid, Malfoy, though he hadn’t been granted that responsibility yet. Ginny would have just told him he was being an idiot and that it was his own damn fault, letting Malfoy stay here, of course he was going to fall back into old habits. Luna, on the other hand, didn’t need to say anything; her silence and patience forced Harry to contend with his feelings, and he came to the conclusion that he was an idiot all on his own. Luna was good at dispensing the kinds of pills that were harder to swallow. On the other hand, she was a much better listener.
It was a long time they sat there before Harry had mined through his emotions enough to put them into words. “He’s not how I remember. Malfoy, I mean.”
Luna looked up from her book. It was titled Nimblebees and Gutterflies: What Muggles Refuse to See. Harry lifted a corner of his mouth, glad that Luna, at least, had more or less always been the same. “You’re not the same either, Harry. You’ve changed an awful lot since school.”
“I know. And it’s a good thing, mostly. Plus Malfoy was an obnoxious kid, it’s not like I really want that hanging around.” He sighed. “I don’t know if change was a good thing for him like it was for me, though.”
Luna didn’t ask what he meant, which Harry was glad for. Because what he meant was that while Harry had grown into someone more even-keeled, more thoughtful with his words, and most importantly, more at peace than he’d even been in his life, Malfoy had… not. Malfoy’s insufferable brattiness had turned into a silent, stony misery. And somehow, though Harry didn’t want to look deeper into why he believed this, he just didn’t think that was right.
It had now been two weeks since the Malfoy invasion, as Harry was privately referring to it in his head, and Ginny was not-so-privately referring to it out loud and as often as possible, and Ron and Hermione were finally home from their trip to Egypt, and had planned to come over for lunch on Saturday.
Harry had tried at least a dozen times to write it down on paper to send by owl, but it felt strange to add in “by the way, Malfoy and his mum are staying here at the farm now,” in between all the updates about the farm and questions about their top-secret work with Bill. The longer he put it off, the worse his nerves got, until he ended up sacrificing his sleep in exchange for staring up at the ceiling all night, imagining the conversation in Ron’s and Hermione’s voices.
“Eurgh, Malfoy?” Ron would say. “That ferret is still around? And now he’s in your house?” Harry could almost laugh at the mask of disgust Ron would wear, if he wasn’t a little afraid that there might be some kind of anger there as well.
Meanwhile, Hermione would probably try to calmly psychoanalyze him, which was her new favorite side hobby. “Harry, are you sure about this? Why do you think you offered Malfoy your home?”
The problem was that Harry didn’t know the answer to that question. Sure, part of it was that he really did need more help around the farm, especially since Ginny was almost sure she’d be picked for the national team, and Luna’s ecstatic clients gave a whole new meaning to word of mouth. But he could have gone to any of the bored teens around the village, or put an advertisement in the Daily Prophet or something. And anyway, he hadn’t been planning on taking someone on so soon; that day he’d seen Malfoy at Mrs. Salisbury’s had occurred only days after the thought even entered his head.
There was also the feeling that he still owed something to Mrs. Malfoy. Sure, he’d given brief statements at her trial, as well as her son’s, but that wasn’t exactly a tit-for-tat exchange--she’d defied Voldemort, he’d stood in front of a bleary audience of Ministry officials already leaning towards clemency as a result of sheer exhaustion, and said that he reckoned she probably didn’t deserve to be locked up for life.
And anyway, that whole scene didn’t explain away his choices either. Well, it was a big part of it. It was something more like… well, he’d been able to make his choice about the life he wanted. But standing there, looking at Malfoy with his famous blonde hair shaved off, bearing bruises and cuts he didn’t even try to hide with magic, Harry felt as though Malfoy had never been offered such a choice. And that was--unfair. So he wanted to offer up the opportunity for Malfoy to do something, be something different.
“Why do you think that’s your responsibility, though?” Hermione would say to this.
Harry groaned and covered his face with his pillow. “Shut up, Hermione,” he muttered out loud. Max grunted in response.
He pulled himself out of bed and stood by the window. It was still dark out but around the edges of night he could see the dawn peeking through, as if checking that it was time for its appearance. He glanced over at the clock by his bedside--4:05AM. Too early to justify starting work already. Too late to try to get any more sleep. He sighed and rubbed his hand over his face.
The sound of the soft pitter-pat tread of stocking feet and the creak of the old wood floors made Max briefly lift his head, as if listening for a burglar. Not that he stood a chance against anyone who tried to break into this house. Luna’s cat, Timothy, would probably be better defense. Whatever Max heard, though, he seemed not to believe needed any further investigation, for seconds later he had put his head back down and was snoring like the world was ending.
Harry was not so easily mollified. It was possible that Luna had come home late from her birth, but it didn’t make sense for her to be on this floor--she and Ginny rarely went past the second floor. Harry shared a Jack and Jill bathroom with Malfoy that kept their rooms connected, so he was used to hearing movement in there sometimes. But as far as he knew, he had never heard either one of his houseguests prowling around at night, and he found that he wanted to know what the deal was.
He pulled on a jumper over the ratty old Tornadoes t-shirt he’d bought back via owl order when he’d had a crush on Cho Chang. He slipped out his bedroom door, and with a big, annoyed huff, Max followed.
The house was dark and as quiet as any country home surrounded by farm life could be. He strained his ear to catch any noise beyond the gentle clucking of hens and the baying of cows and the whistle of wind. At first, he heard nothing, and then--a whispered Lumos.
Harry and Max followed the sound of it to the end of the hallway and down the stairs. At the foot of the stairs they stopped. Harry glanced around and saw on the settee in the parlor, holding her wand aloft, its tip a glowing orb in the darkness, the Malfoy he had not expected to see.
He padded closer. She was looking down at her lap, upon which--and this nearly made Harry laugh in surprise--was curled the black, purring figure of Timothy, Luna’s cat. As Harry crept closer, a floorboard creaked underneath his foot. He and Mrs. Malfoy jumped at the same time, and Timothy, annoyed, sprang away and curled up instead on his usual spot on the piano bench.
“Mrs. Malfoy?” whispered Harry. He hadn’t exactly meant to disturb her. He wasn’t sure what he had meant to do at all, once he’d realized it was Malfoy the elder and not her son. He should have just gone to bed. “Do you--are you all right?”
Harry could barely see her in the darkness, but her eyes reflected the light from her wand. She just stared at him for several long moments, unspeaking, and then turned away. There was a whispered Nox, and then… nothing. Harry stood there for a moment and then turned to head back up the stairs.
“Mr. Potter,” came her whispered voice, harsh and thick, as if she’d been crying.
Harry turned around and looked toward the settee, although he couldn’t see more than shadows of varying depth. “Yeah?”
“I,” and she cleared her throat. “I understand that I continue to--indebt myself to you.”
“It’s no problem--”
“But I am grateful. You are every bit the person the Dark Lord once believed you to be.” She made this sound as if it were a compliment.
Harry didn’t know how to respond, and Mrs. Malfoy evidently had nothing to add, for there were several long moments of silence. Then Harry turned and made his way back to bed, where he lay awake, staring at the ceiling, until he heard the sound signaling that Mrs. Malfoy had returned to her room.
“Ron! Hermione!” he greeted them, throwing his arms around both of them at once. He took a step back to look at them: Ron’s face and arms were recovering from an angry red sunburn, and Hermione’s brown skin was darker than ever. “How was it?”
“It was lovely, actually,” said Hermione, “despite Ron’s insistence that one of the tombs we toured was only off-limits to Muggles.”
“We were trapped for two days,” said Ron, grinning. “Sounds awful, you’d reckon, but we passed the time well.”
“Gross,” said Harry, and Ron and Hermione laughed.
Luna joined them in the kitchen, bringing with her the scent of one who had just been napping in a bed of hay. There was straw in her hair and all over her clothes, and a patch of dirt on her elbow. “Hullo,” she said, taking an apple from the bowl at the center of the table behind Hermione. “How was Egypt? I hope you have pictures. Was it absolutely swarming with Fwoopers this time of year? That must be why you’re looking so well, Fwoopers are excellent for the health.”
Hermione looked as if she were about to reply before Ron, knowing exactly what might be on the tip of his wife’s tongue, butted in. “Sorry, Lu. We actually spent most of the time trapped in a mummy’s tomb.”
Harry frowned. “Wait a moment. If you spent the whole time trapped in a tomb, why’ve you both got tans like you’ve been sleeping on top of the equator?”
“Well,” said Hermione, looking sly as she traded a glance with Ron, “we wanted to celebrate.”
It didn’t seem possible that Ron could turn any redder, but those few spots not covered in angry sunburn now flushed pink. Hermione, however, looked positively unruffled. “We’ll have to save that for dinner. What about you, Harry, how have you been? We haven’t heard from you in so long!”
Harry, who had never once found Draco Malfoy funny in his life, was saved from answering when said Malfoy made an entrance with near perfect comical timing, clutching a basket of eggs, arms covered in scratches. He barely seemed to notice the visitors in his beeline for the sink, where he set down the basket and began to wash the eggs.
“Uh,” said Ron, looking from Malfoy to Harry. “I don’t want to freak you out, Harry, but it looks like there’s a Malfoy in your kitchen? A Draco Malfoy? Am I hallucinating?”
“Oh, no,” said Luna, “hallucinations are rarely attacked by chickens.” She looked round at them all beatifically. Malfoy, Harry noticed, scowled before he turned his back and faced the kitchen once more.
Watching the stiff line of Malfoy’s back rather than make eye contact with Ron or Hermione, Harry scratched the back of his neck. “Well, that’s the thing,” he started. “Malfoy… lives here now.”
Malfoy’s neck pinked but he did not turn around. Harry continued staring at him, rather than contend with the burn of Ron and Hermione’s stares.
“Harry,” Ron bit out, “Could we speak to you in, er, the other room?”
There was no escaping it. Harry followed Ron and Hermione into the parlor across from the kitchen. Hermione cast a Muffliato.
“Look--” Harry started, but was immediately interrupted by Ron.
“Ugh, Harry, why is that ferret living in your house?”
Harry gave himself some measure of credit for just how well he knew Ron. “I just happened to meet him in the village, and he looked a bit roughed up. He was looking for a place to stay.”
“And you decided, ‘oh, I’ll just volunteer,’ then?”
“Harry,” said Hermione, “you know you don’t owe him anything, right?”
Harry was impressed with himself. He really knew his friends.
“Yes. I do. Of course I know that,” Harry said. Hermione and Ron exchanged a dubious glance. “I do! It’s just that, I don’t know, I guess I wanted to help or something.”
“Saving people thing,” muttered Ron in a sort of accusing tone.
“It isn’t that! I needed help for the summer anyway, and it seems like he’s had a rough go of it. I mean, look at his hair. It’s weird. Plus, he’s changed.”
Hermione, for her part, was looking at Harry with understanding in her eyes. “You think the war hasn’t ended for him or something.”
Harry’s shoulders tensed. Was that it? Was that what he believed? “Don’t psychoanalyze me, Hermione, come on. But you have to admit, it doesn’t look like it’s been easy for him.”
Ron looked between them. “Have we forgotten that this is Malfoy we’re talking about?”
“Listen, can we just leave it for now? Let’s just go have supper.”
“Fine,” said Ron, “but if that git tries anything, I’ll get the rest of the Auror department here in ten seconds flat.”
Malfoy, of course, did not try anything. He and his mother were nearly silent throughout the meal. Mrs. Malfoy seemed detached, as if she wasn’t quite all present, and her son’s impersonation of a marble statue remained intact. Ron, Hermione, and Luna all chattered away as if they barely noticed the others at the table, but Harry couldn’t make himself forget their presence, or even pretend it away. He couldn’t stop thinking about what Hermione had said.
Harry had had his own rough go of it after the war. He’d been invited to join the Aurors almost immediately, and he and Ron had done a kind of independent study to get all of their requirements in. It had been challenging but in those first six months or so, there was something exhilarating about the work. He was finally helping clear up the messes Voldemort and his followers had created. He and Ron and the rest of their team were making the world a better place.
Once he started field work, he found that the quick thinking and inexplicable luck that had helped him through seven years of Voldemort’s rise to power, served him just as well when hunting down the scattered remains of the Death Eaters’ ranks. His tendency to rush in, sometimes against protocols he either ignored or couldn’t remember ever hearing about, ended up being an advantage, much to Robards’ eternal disapproval, and when combined with Ron’s strategic thinking, they made an unstoppable team. By the end of his first year on the field, at the age of 20, they’d brought in over forty of the top most wanted criminals on the Ministry’s list.
Harry barely remembered eating, or sleeping, or being with Ginny. All he could recall of that year was an extraordinary rage that burned deep and an unforgiving determination to bring every last of Voldemort’s devotees, and anyone who espoused any similar attitude, to justice. Years later, he both missed and regretted it. Purpose was a double-edged sword.
Eventually, the Death Eaters had all been dealt with, and then it turned out he wasn’t that great at being an Auror after all. He didn’t have Ron’s strategic genius, or Susan Bones’ unwavering patience, or Terry Boot’s jaded personality. It was easy to lure Death Eaters with the promise of vengeance against the Boy Who Lived, but it was different, and much harder, putting together the disparate pieces of a case to figure out where, for example, a widow’s husband had been murdered for his opinion that protections should be extended for centaurs and house-elves, or staying out all night on a stakeout to catch the druggists who had combined a lethal amount of Muggle drugs with Billywig stings, and were targeting Muggles. Harry was more like the brute power they released when they needed it, than someone trying to get to the truth of things, and bring justice. Ginny left him. Harry had panic attacks in public places and wore his Invisibility Cloak when he was out more often than not.
Robards started using him more like a weapon than like an agent. Harry wasn’t good for much else other than his righteous, burning, eternal anger, and he was an arrow strung taut on a bow. Usually, the aim was true. Usually.
Harry didn’t like thinking about that part of his life. He shook himself from his thoughts, and tried to pay attention to the conversation again. Luna was telling Ron and Hermione a story about her last job, during which the parents had requested all sixteen of their Crups be present for the moment of birth. Harry looked over at the Malfoys. To his surprise, Mrs. Malfoy seemed to be listening with interest, and even had the hint of a smile playing on her lips.
“Do you like animals?” Harry asked her politely, when Luna was finished. Ron looked startled at the idea of Harry attempting to include the Malfoys in their dinner conversation, while Hermione looked vaguely guilty for not having tried to do so herself.
“Yes,” said Malfoy, before his mother had a chance to answer. “Mother had her Crups, and Father his dogs. There was a family of Kneazles that lived in the old solar. There were the pigs and the peacocks, and the Mooncalves...” His voice took on a kind of desperate, dreamy sadness. He wasn’t looking at anyone at the table, but turned his head towards the window. “And then there were my Aethonans. I--they were my favorite.”
“My husband is fond of animals,” said Mrs. Malfoy. “As my son has also always been.”
“Fond,” scoffed Malfoy. Gone was the was the stiff quality of his voice, gone was the distance at which he’d kept everyone since he’d arrived. He was now all but shaking with rage. Harry was nearly glad to see it. So there was still some bit of the Malfoy Harry’d known left in him. “He kept almost of them caged in the menagerie. He only cared about what they could get for him. And what he did to Polly...” Malfoy trailed off. He stood up suddenly, pushing his chair back with jerky movements, and made for the door, fists clenched.
“Malfoy--” began Harry, though he didn’t know what would follow. He didn’t know what Polly was, but he had a feeling it might have been that horse Malfoy had told him about, the one he’d seen Lavender about. Malfoy’s eyes met his and, god, hadn’t it been such a long time to have all that fury pointed at him? It made Harry’s heart beat just a bit faster.
“Excuse me,” Malfoy bit out and removed himself from the room. Harry heard the front door slam.
He looked over at Ron, who was looking at him with both eyebrows raised. Then Harry glanced back at Mrs. Malfoy. She was dabbing her napkin on her lips as if nothing had happened. “You must excuse me,” she said, elegant and imperious. “Thank you for the meal.”
She, too, was gone, in a sweep of lilac robes. She did not follow her son, but instead ascended the stairs to her bedroom.
“That’s honestly the most he’s said since he moved in,” said Harry, into the awkward quiet.
“I loved those Mooncalves,” Luna added. “They were lovely. We could see them, sometimes, Mr. Ollivander and I.”
This comment did not help relieve the awkwardness in the room. There was a long pause where the only sound was that of forks and knives sliding against porcelain, or glasses being set down on the table. Harry himself was fighting the urge to go find Malfoy and talk to him, to push him so far he wouldn’t be able to raise his walls of stone again. He was brimming with impulse, and took a deep drink of cold water to make it go away. He wasn’t sixteen anymore. He had more important things to do than pull Malfoy’s pigtails, or whatever this feeling was.
Hermione’s voice broke into the silence. “Well, anyway,” she announced, “Ron and I wanted to tell you something.”
“Though, mind you, this isn’t quite the scene we’d imagined,” added Ron.
Ron and Hermione were looking at each other with a sort of dopey expression on their faces. The impulse to chase Malfoy dissipated, and was replaced with a happy warmth when he guessed what the announcement might be. “No way--”
“Yes!” said Hermione, a smile bursting onto her face, lovely and ecstatic. “I’m due in December. We’d been trying, but we didn’t expect it to work so soon--”
Harry nearly knocked over his chair in his hurry to wrap his arms around her. He lifted her from her seat, and she was laughing in his ear. Ron’s arms wrapped around her from her other side, and Luna was pulling out a cake she’d apparently been hiding in the icebox. The atmosphere transformed into that of a party, especially when Ginny arrived, freshly showered after Quidditch practice, just as they were slicing the cake. The rest of the night passed quickly, both of the Malfoys forgotten.
He tried to imagine what might have happened had he gone after Malfoy after all. What the hell did he think he was going to even say? And how did he really think Malfoy would respond? “Don’t be stupid,” he whispered to himself.
The thing was, there was something compelling about the vulnerability, small though it was, Malfoy had finally shown at dinner. It had more closely resembled the Malfoy of his childhood, when Malfoy had been the flint that Harry had always sparked against. Harry swallowed. God, was that what he missed? The fighting? The way they got under each other’s skin so deeply they couldn’t avoid each other’s angry gazes even with the full, busy length of the Great Hall between them?
Harry had worked so hard against his anger, had worked so hard to stop his blood from simmering dangerously just under the surface all the time. All that work had changed his life. It had given him Ginny again, and had healed over some of the sore spots he’d kicked into his relationships during his darkest years. He liked his new calm, he liked not feeling like he was going to burst into fireworks at any minute. But Malfoy’s presence made him forget all that. It made him crave the old fireworks again, made him hungry for a fight. Harry swallowed, thinking about the silver-hot flash in Malfoy’s grey eyes when he had locked eyes with Harry.
His thoughts wandered to what Malfoy had said about his father, and the disgust he had said it with. What had happened to those animals? What had his father done to his horse?
Malfoy did well enough with the cows and the chickens--actually, better than well enough with the chickens, other than the scratches he’d gotten earlier that day--but Harry had never considered that Malfoy might have some kind of special affinity for animals. He recalled the gorgeous owl Malfoy had had during school, but he’d never thought that Malfoy might have cared for it the same way that Harry had cared for Hedwig. And after all, there had been that episode with Buckbeak. Malfoy had never been particularly great at Care of Magical Creatures.
On the other hand, as much as he adored Hagrid, their Care of Magical Creatures education hadn’t been exactly what one might call stellar.
By morning, Harry had made a decision. He would finally introduce Malfoy to the sheep.
He sent his Patronus into Malfoy’s room to wake him a bit earlier than usual, and then stepped into the loo between their bedrooms to brush his teeth and wash his face. When Malfoy stepped through, he looked bleary-eyed and groggy.
“S’early,” he muttered.
Harry nodded. “I was going to take you down to the sheep house today.” Malfoy lifted his head and met Harry’s eyes in the mirror. Harry tested out a small, tentative smile. Malfoy didn’t return it, but immediately went back into his bedroom.
Frowning, Harry finished getting ready. He was pulling on a jumper over a shirt as he walked into the passageway, nearly tripping over Max, who was sleepily following him out. Malfoy was already there, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, looking as if he’d been dressed for ages already.
“Let’s go, Potter,” he said.
The walk down to the barn was quiet and cold. Harry stared at his feet the whole time, wondering if he’d come to regret this. But there was a different energy surrounding Malfoy today. Something had changed.
At the entrance, Harry hesitated. It was one thing for Malfoy to move into his house, and wear his clothes, and somehow, suddenly, interject himself into what had been the tranquil predictability of Harry’s life. It was quite another to allow Malfoy a taste of this, this thing that was singly Harry’s, the thing that had kept him going these past few years.
He looked back at Malfoy. The bruise around his eye had long since faded, thanks to time and Luna’s spellwork, and the split in his lip had healed. He had his arms crossed against the chill of an English April morning and was staring with awe towards the east, where the sun was beginning to peek out over the hillside. Harry turned his head to see what he was looking at.
Hundreds, hundreds, of daffodils had bloomed overnight. The bright glorious pink of the dawn stretched out towards the curves of the hills. Each flower resembled the sun itself, a golden yellow, vibrant and alive. He closed his eyes and breathed it in. He heard Malfoy do the same beside him.
“It reminds me of home,” said Malfoy in a low voice, almost as if he wasn’t speaking to Harry, but thinking aloud to himself. “Of the Manor. Back when I was a kid.”
“It’ll be spring there, too, now,” said Harry, uselessly, because he felt that he ought to say something, even if it was, as he realized the moment the words were out of the mouth, the absolute wrong thing to say.
Malfoy cut his eyes sharply to Harry, and then--after a moment--his face softened and he looked back at the flowers. His voice was stiff when he answered. “Yes, I suppose it will.”
Even Max seemed too awed, or at least too sleepy, to break the hush that fell over them as they stood side by side looking out onto the kind of miracle Harry had almost begun to take for granted. It felt strange--it felt almost criminal--to think that there had once been a time in his life where spring bloomed around him and he never even stopped to look.
Swallowing back a curious mix of emotion, he glanced at the still transfixed Malfoy. He cleared his throat. “It’s this way,” he said, and opened the wide barn doors.
Malfoy tore himself away from the sunrise and followed Harry inside. He stopped just past the door, taking in everything with an expression on his face that Harry couldn’t read. There had been a time, long ago, when if asked, he might have said he always understood exactly what was going on in Malfoy’s mind. It occurred to him that either time had dulled his ability, or he had never quite understood Malfoy in the first place.
“Welcome to the barn, I suppose,” said Harry, turning so he didn’t have to look at Malfoy’s face anymore. He began unraveling the enchantments that kept the sheep safe at night, checking each stall as he walked past to make sure nothing had happened while he was asleep. Barbara had somehow gotten a leg caught in a stray bucket and couldn’t figure out how to make it go away. Otherwise, everyone seemed quite safe.
Malfoy trailed along silently as Harry rescued Barbara and then went and checked in with each of the sheep individually. Harry barely noticed him, which meant he wasn’t exactly being helpful, but at least he wasn’t harming anything either. Harry more or less ignored him for another half hour, until Harry was levitating a sack of feed to the big feeder along one wall and he could see Malfoy out of the corner of one eye.
The lambs’ creep was near the back wall of the barn, furthest from the doors. Most of the lambs were near their mothers, nursing or napping; the only lamb currently in the creep was Gwenog, who was already showing an independence not unlike her namesake or her name giver. She had yet to warm up to Harry, although she allowed him to fondly scratch between her ears once or twice a day, and more or less worshipped Max, who Harry supposed sort of resembled a weird-looking lamb.
Malfoy was kneeling next to the creep, reaching one hand out to Gwenog. He waited for what seemed like minutes, while Harry pretended not to watch from where he was filling water troughs with Aguamenti.
He dropped the act completely when Gwenog, instead of snubbing Malfoy as she usually did Harry, inched closer and closer, until she was sniffing Malfoy’s outstretched hand.
Malfoy was smiling like Harry had never seen in his life. Instead of the mocking grin he’d often seen at school, this smile was gentle and warm and earnest. Harry stared at it a moment, amazed at the way it transformed Malfoy’s face into something almost captivating.
Max yapped happily from where he was wrestling with Lucy and shook Harry from his thoughts, his cheeks burning. He busied himself with his usual morning duties and tried not to pay much attention to Malfoy.
As he moved closer to Malfoy and Gwenog, who was now fully situated in Malfoy’s lap, he could hear Malfoy murmuring to her, “You’re lovely, aren’t you, darling? Aren’t you so sweet?”
Harry cleared his throat. Malfoy looked up at him, a bit startled, and a bit embarrassed, before he closed himself off to Harry once more. Unlike before, though, Harry could just about see the edges of the mask he was wearing. “Er, d’you want to meet everyone?” Harry asked awkwardly.
Malfoy gently set Gwenog down on the ground beside him and stood, dusting off his trousers. He followed Harry to where most of the sheep were gathered near the doors, waiting to be let out to graze. Malfoy looked expectantly at Harry.
“Right,” said Harry, feeling oddly formal, “well, this is the lot of them. I don’t sell my ewes often, and there’s a ram I share with another family, so this is pretty much all of them. I started off small so I like to keep it small.”
Malfoy nodded, distracted by Reese and Rio, who were competing for attention and pets, and by Clover and Gwenog, who were being almost unfairly sweet and adorable, hopping around and bleating.
Feeling a bit betrayed by the sheep he pretty much gave his life to, Harry demonstrated, in hesitant, awkward stops and starts, how to use the foot bath, and how to send the sheep to Lucy and Annie, who were waiting to herd them to where the sheep would be grazing today. When he was finished, he said, “Er. How about we do this? They need their hooves checked today, so I was going to let them through one at a time. Can you just stand over there, and make sure they get through the foot bath all right?”
Malfoy nodded again, and Harry tried to keep himself from scowling. It wasn’t the sheep’s fault Malfoy apparently had some kind of special animal magnetism or whatever. He beckoned Gertie and her lambs over with an outstretched handful of alfalfa leaves. The rest of the flock followed closely. He checked their hooves one at a time, and sent them over to Malfoy, calling out their names.
Malfoy, to his surprise, took the introductions with an incredible amount of solemnity, for someone who had once called a hippogriff a “great ugly brute” minutes after meeting him. He kneeled down to speak to each of the sheep as they went through the foot bath, smiling and scratching between their ears and calling them each by name. Harry kept finding himself distracted by this strange kindness, staring at Malfoy until Malfoy noticed, and then hurrying to look away, only for his eyes to be drawn back to Malfoy a few minutes later.
“Something’s not right,” Harry muttered to himself, before he summoned over his kit and kneeled next to Artemis in her lambing jug.
At that moment, Malfoy came in from where he’d been watching over the grazing sheep. He was soaking wet. He dried himself quickly with a charm and then, frowning, walked over to the lambing jug. He peered silently over the low fence and then looked at Harry.
“She’s been in labor all day and hasn’t progressed,” said Harry absentmindedly, giving his hands and arms a thorough Scourgify. God, he wished Luna were here. Even if she always treated his ewes like her human patients by telling them to breathe through their pain, at least she made him feel like he wouldn’t fuck up at any moment. “We’ll have to help her.”
Harry glanced up at Malfoy, whose face had suddenly been drained of blood. “Help?”
“Yes. If not, we risk losing her and the lambs. Don’t be a fucking idiot, Malfoy, and fetch me that jar.” Harry nodded at a giant jar in the kit he kept stocked for minor medical emergencies.
Malfoy picked up the jar and handed it over to Harry. Harry glanced up and noticed the blood had returned so intensely to Malfoy’s face it might have been funny had Harry been in the mood to laugh. He rolled his eyes. “Yes, it’s lube. It’s to help the lambs come through. Jesus. Pass it over, then.”
Malfoy stared in horror as Harry took out a big glob and started rubbing it all over Artemis’s backside. His voice was stiff and nervous when he said, “Why--why don’t you do that with magic?”
Harry frowned. He rarely turned to magic when he was with the sheep. It just felt against the point. “I dunno,” he said finally. “Everything I learnt I learnt from a Muggle, so doing magic seems a bit like uncharted territory.”
“Surely it would make things easier.”
Harry shrugged. “Luna says that there isn’t magic to make childbirth easier, just a different kind of hard. She’s a trained midwife, so I reckon she knows what’s she’s talking about,” said Harry, grunting, then, even though these two sentences were almost the most he’d heard from Malfoy at a single time in days, “Shut up, will you? I’m trying to focus.”
Harry took a deep breath. This was the bit he always hated. He closed his eyes as he gently pressed his hand into Artemis.
“Fucking hell!” shouted Malfoy, startling Artemis so she jumped away from Harry. She cowered in a corner as she had another contraction.
Great. Harry shook off his hand, glaring at Malfoy as hard as he knew how. “Didn’t you say you have loads of pets or something?”
Malfoy shrugged. Harry didn’t know what he’d expected. Malfoy would be the most useless in an emergency, he’d seen that well enough at school. But Ginny was away at trials for nationals and Luna was with her father for the day. Ron and Hermione had jobs that made it difficult to come at a moment’s notice. Malfoy was pretty much all he had.
Harry took a deep breath as he coaxed a panting Artemis back to the center of the lambing jug. “All right. Well, first thing is, we need to make sure Artemis is--” and he could feel himself blushing as he said it, goddamn it, Malfoy, “nice and slippery. For the babies. To help them come out. Then, er, I’m going to have to manipulate the baby. To help it out. I just need you to watch Artemis and keep an eye on her heart rate, her blood pressure, things like that. And most importantly, we need to stay quiet.”
Malfoy nodded slowly, seeming glad that Harry had given him the job on the other end. He knee-walked over and held Artemis’s face in his hands and began murmuring gently to her.
The good news was that the first lamb was positioned well and was presenting correctly, at least based on what he’d learned. The bad news was that Artemis would bear the second set of surprise twins that spring, and the second lamb wasn’t doing so well.
With Harry’s help, Artemis birthed the first lamb in just a few minutes. The second lamb took a little bit longer to come out, and once it did, it was barely breathing.
Harry held the lamb in his arms, staring down at its tiny face. It was if he’d forgotten everything he’d ever learned. He knew the lamb wasn’t breathing as it should, but he couldn’t think how he was going to fix that. He hadn’t buried one of his sheep yet, though, and he wasn’t going to start now, especially not with Malfoy for a witness.
“It’s not breathing,” Malfoy said, cutting into the haze of Harry’s panic. “Hand it over, it’s not breathing.”
At a loss, Harry did so. Malfoy held the lamb so it was sitting up straight with all of its legs bent under its chest. He beckoned Harry over and Harry rubbed its stomach and its sides vigorously. If it coughed, it might be saved. After a few tense moments, cough it did. Harry looked up at Malfoy, grinning, to find that Malfoy was looking back at him with his own huge smile on his face. Harry looked away quickly and busied himself with cleanup.
Malfoy held the lamb gently in his arms, like one might hold a precious stone worth millions of pounds. “Is it all right?” he whispered wonderingly. “What am I meant to do now?”
Harry looked over at him and their eyes met once more. His grey eyes were not the storm Harry had long since grown used to in his youth, neither were they the cold, closed off stone they had been since he’d arrived; instead, they had calmed to something gentler, something closer to a rainy day after a long dry spell. His eyelashes, though pale, were long and thick and straight. Harry thought he had never seen Malfoy look younger, or more human, not since the night he didn’t like to think much about, back in May when he was sixteen.
“Put it down,” Harry said in a low, gentle voice. “Let Artemis near, she knows better than we do.”
Indeed, even as Artemis lay nursing the other lamb, she was pushing her nose up against Malfoy’s thigh, desperate to take care of her baby right away. Malfoy gently lay the lamb near her. The lamb let out a tiny bleat.
Malfoy watched in wonder. Harry, weirdly touched by everything that had happened, had a sudden idea. “Do you want to name them?” he asked.
“Me?” said Malfoy, his eyebrows raised in surprise. He gazed down at the lambs and at Artemis. “Yes. All right. This one, we’ll name it Violet.” He pointed at the lamb that had come out first. Then, with a small smile playing around his lips, he added, “And the other will be Chrysanthemum.”
Harry wrinkled his nose. “That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?”
Malfoy shrugged. “My mother says they always last the longest in a bouquet.”
Harry, for his part, had mostly stopped craving a fight. He stopped looking to break Malfoy’s blankness with a flash of lightning. He realized, when he’d seen Malfoy with the sheep, that he didn’t have to. Instead, the blankness could be coaxed away and replaced with a timid kind of gentleness, as long as it was in quiet, still moments.
One evening, Harry found him in the living room, curled up on a sofa with a copy of The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It, Annie resting her head on his feet while he absent-mindedly scratched her ears.
Harry sat down next to him. Malfoy jumped as though startled. “What’s that?” asked Harry.
Malfoy dog-eared a page and set it down on his lap. “It’s a Muggle book about how to… do this, I guess. I mean, everything that you do here. Raise animals, grow food, cook from scratch.” He looked thoughtful. “The kind of thing I never learned.”
“You raised animals before, though.”
Malfoy frowned. “I had pets.” He looked away from Harry and picked his book up again.
“Is it good?” Harry asked, sorry to see Malfoy close off again. The question was tentative. These past few days had brought the first conversations Harry had had with Malfoy, perhaps ever, that were neither stiffly awkward nor likely to end in an exchange of painful hexes. It felt fragile; like the wrong move would crack it down the middle in a way that could never be healed.
Malfoy shrugged, placing the book back on his lap. “I suppose. I’m learning a lot. I never realized how much stuff Muggles have to do by themselves.” Harry laughed, not unkindly, and Malfoy’s ears turned pink. “I mean--I suppose it’s obvious. It’s just that… never mind. It was a dumb thing to say.”
“No, no,” said Harry. “I’m not laughing at you. Well, I am. But I think a lot of wizards would be surprised at how much Muggles have to do ‘by themselves.’ It’s just that I never thought I’d hear it from you of all people.”
This earned Harry a quirk of Malfoy’s lips--almost a smile. Harry hadn’t thought it possible for Malfoy to smile at something that wasn’t either a baby animal or at the expense of someone else. “I had assumed it was some pureblood bullshit, thinking that way.”
“I was raised Muggle, you forget. And there’s loads of stuff I sometimes forget isn’t exactly normal. Not that my Muggle upbringing was normal, either, or so I’m told.”
Malfoy looked at him strangely, but Harry didn’t feel like expanding on this topic. He tried not to think about the Dursleys more than he absolutely needed to, which was pretty much only when Dudley, of all people, sent him Christmas cards in December. Hermione told him once that this was because he tended to “compartmentalize the traumatic aspects of his life,” but also, he kind of just didn’t think the Dursleys deserved anymore of his time. And if Malfoy wasn’t going to bring up the past, Harry wasn’t either. Malfoy looked like he was about to say something, but before he could, Harry changed the subject. Nodding at the book, he said, “Do you think I could borrow that when you’re finished?”
Malfoy looked down at the book in his lap, as if he’d forgotten it was there. “Oh--yeah, I suppose. Though I imagine there isn’t much you don’t already know.”
Harry stood up and stretched. “You’d be surprised at how much I don’t know.”
“I doubt that,” said Malfoy immediately, pushing air gently through his nostrils, almost like a laugh. Then, his ears turning pink again, he added, “Sorry. Habit, I think.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Harry, looking down at him, for once in his life feeling taller than his giant of a childhood enemy. “I walked into that one. Besides, you haven’t mocked me for weeks. I’d begun to think you had been replaced by some kind of pod person.”
Malfoy nodded slowly. He seemed unsure how to respond for a moment, and then said, almost as if he knew what a joke was, “So… you want me to make fun of you.”
“I wouldn’t go quite that far,” said Harry. “But don’t make me worry.”
With that, he walked through the living room into the kitchen, feeling oddly as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
Mrs. Malfoy, on the other hand, was still as aloof as ever. Though she was perfectly polite at all times, she took her meals alone in the attic room, and spent most of her time apparently pacing the attic, if the constant creaking was anything to go by. There had also been several more nights Harry had heard her sneaking downstairs.
Weeks of this built up until one night, when the three original farm dwellers were gathered for a nail-painting session in Luna and Ginny’s shared bedroom--Harry having chosen a springy yellow today--Ginny finally voiced her frustration, albeit in a hushed voice so as not to disturb their new housemates.
“I swear on Merlin’s own watery grave,” she said, her voice colored with a month’s worth of politely holding her tongue, “I would rather that woman get really deeply into, I don’t know, breeding turtles, anything, than listen to her walk up and down all the time.” She angrily painted a long stripe of yellow across her thumbnail.
Luna, who was sitting cross-legged on the floor across from her, using a paint pen doodling a tiny white cat on her neon purple thumbnail, said thoughtfully, “My father always said that Merlin was supposed to have died trapped in a tomb.”
Ginny frowned at her. “Not the point, Lu.”
Luna shrugged and moved to her index finger, where she painted something that may have been a hippo.
“She’s driving me mad, too,” said Harry. He had chosen to paint his toes orange, since tomorrow was carrot day. “If only because I want to know what she does all day.”
“Well, what makes her happy?” said Luna. “After all, she used to spend all her time doing all kinds of lovely things at the Manor. Even when I was there, she spent a lot of time cross-stitching. And Draco told me she used to paint.”
Harry exchanged a look with Ginny. Her burgeoning friendship with Malfoy aside--which mostly entailed them disappearing for hours and returning with satisfied grins on their faces--Luna had this tendency to talk about her time in the Malfoy Manor dungeons as if she’d simply been visiting. Harry supposed this was her way of compartmentalizing the traumatic aspects of her life. He and Ginny had agreed long ago to run with it, since that tended to be the strategy that worked best for all of Luna’s oddities.
“How the hell am I supposed to know what makes Narcissa Malfoy happy?” said Ginny, returning to her nails.
“What does your mother like to do?” Harry asked Malfoy the next day, carrot day. Luna had asked Harry to do a little work in the garden, since she’d had so many births lately, and he’d asked Malfoy for help, even though he knew it was Malfoy’s least favorite job on the farm. There was a smudge of dirt on Malfoy’s forehead and Harry yearned to point it out, but he knew it would probably be unwelcome. Malfoy had enchanted three large baskets to levitate behind them as they went up and down the rows of the vegetable garden. He carried a little trowel and was, in addition to a long-sleeved shirt with a hole at the elbow and a pair of dungarees he’d found at a secondhand shop, wearing Luna’s florid pink gardening gloves, complete with a pattern of cartoon rabbits, and a wide-brimmed straw hat. He looked ridiculous but Harry, with his own holey clothing and sunscreen on his nose, probably didn’t look much better.
They kneeled down next to each other in the soil, Harry pulling up cabbages, Malfoy attacking the weeds with his trowel.
“What do you--ah--mean?” Malfoy replied, grunting with the effort of pulling up a particularly stubborn little vine.
“I mean, like,” Harry paused. “Well, you help out a lot, and you read loads, and you and Luna do whatever it is that you do, but what does your mother do all day?”
Malfoy leaned back and put his gloved hands on his thighs. He stared hard at the ground. “What does she--does it matter, Potter? She’s not bothering you, is she?”
“No, of course not,” said Harry hurriedly, but Malfoy was already standing.
He dropped his trowel on the ground and said, “Excuse me, I have to go let my mother know that Harry Potter thinks she should go get a hobby--”
Harry stood quickly to face Malfoy. “That’s not what I fucking meant,” he snapped. He could feel irritation pulling at him, the kind of irritation he only felt these days around Malfoy, just like he was fifteen again, in a perpetual hormonal rage.
Malfoy scoffed, crossing his arms. His ears and cheeks were pinker than ever. “Oh yeah? What did you mean, then, Potter? Or was this some kind of veiled attempt to kick us out--”
“I don’t want you to leave, you idiot!” Harry shouted, realizing as he said the words that they were true. He surprised himself even more when he added, “I just want to make sure your mum is happy!”
Malfoy turned pinker still, and he scowled even more deeply. “Well, that’s none of your concern!” And with that, he turned on his heel and stalked away, cartoon carrot gardening gloves, straw hat, and all, leaving Harry feeling distinctly upset and altogether uninterested in gathering the rest of the cabbages, which really did need to come up before they went bad, but equally uninterested in being anywhere near Malfoy or his mother for the rest of the day.
Two hours later, Hermione found him still sulking in the barn, sitting cross-legged on a bale of hay, Clover napping in his lap as he pulled out brambles from her wool. Lucy jumped up to greet Hermione when she entered, holding two steaming mugs of tea, but Harry merely looked at her and nodded. She came to perch next to him, and the sudden movement woke Clover, who scrambled out of Harry’s lap and went to join Gwenog in the creep, which they were both nearly too big for already.
“Afternoon,” said Hermione, handing him a mug. “Thought you’d might like this.”
“Thanks,” said Harry, and took a swallow. It tasted perfect, just the way he liked it. Thank god for Hermione Granger. “What’s up?”
“Ginny’s meant to watch Rose for us tonight, actually, so Ron and I can have a visit with Neville,” said Hermione, “but Rose, of course, sleeps twenty times better at your house than in her own bed.”
Harry spared a smile for her. “Naturally. It’s the quiet.”
“But I heard you and Malfoy have got yourselves in a bit of a schoolboy strop, so I came to see how you were doing.” She took a sip of her tea and waited patiently for Harry’s answer.
“When am I not in a strop about Malfoy?” Harry said, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling.
Hermione made a little humming sound. “Actually, you both seem like you’d been getting along rather well, lately. Acting a little more like adults.”
“Well, we were, but today he acted like--like we’re back at Hogwarts again, yelling at me for absolutely no reason, and acting like a complete shithead. I asked him what his mum does all day, and he went off on me.”
“Harry… maybe you oughtn’t go on about Malfoy’s parents to his face. If the point is, you know, trying to keep the peace.”
“I wasn’t, honestly. I just wanted to know.”
“I know, but….” Harry looked up from where he had been staring into his glass of lemonade, to see Hermione looking at him seriously. “Has he told you why he’s not living at the Manor anymore? Or why he’s with his mum, but not his dad?”
Harry shrugged. “It didn’t seem like a good idea. Keeping the peace and all.”
Hermione nodded. “Well, I’m not really meant to talk about this, I think, I only know because I overheard Lisa Turpin talking about it in the office--you know, Lucius Malfoy, he did his time in Azkaban, three years they gave him. And when he got out, it had been determined by the Ministry--Malfoy and his mum agreed to this--they were fined thousands of dollars in reparations, repossessed nearly everything the Malfoys had. And Malfoy’s dad… the reports I’ve read say he’s gone quite mad. Apparently when he found out that they had no more money, he threw out Malfoy and his mother, and now there’s curse wards so thick around the Manor that nobody has been able to step foot in it since. Not even his family.”
Harry was silent for a moment. One thing he had always known, could always count on knowing about Malfoy, was how important his family and his stupid Manor were to him. Or at least they had been important to him, when they were in school. “So he’s got no money, and they’re effectively homeless.”
It was nothing he didn’t already know, really, but it was strange to have it confirmed like this, to think of Draco Malfoy--a boy Harry had always hated at least partially because of how much he considered himself superior due to his money and status--stripped of those very things.
“So maybe give his mum a bit of slack, and Malfoy, too, is all I mean,” finished Hermione.
Harry finished his tea thoughtfully. “I’m gonna feed the sheep and then I’ll head back up to the house to see Rose,” he told her. “Thanks for telling me.”
Hermione leaned forward to kiss Harry on the cheek. “I’ll see you later,” she said, and then she jumped off the bale of hay where she had been sitting next to Harry and made her way out of the barn.
Why hadn’t Malfoy just told him? Why had he been keeping everything a secret, like they were running away from some crime? Harry barely had to ask the question before he knew the answer, and it was: I wouldn’t have told him if it were me.
It wasn’t like that came as some huge surprise, but Harry felt almost--hurt. Like maybe now they should have gotten over that. Like maybe now they should be thinking of each other as people to trust. He wondered if there was just too much history there; he wondered if it wasn’t like people said, after all. He wondered if time could really heal all wounds.
“I didn’t know purebloods used them,” said Harry, nodding at the toothbrush. He regretted it immediately. You could just see Malfoy’s hackles rising.
“What, did you think we used the sharpened bones of dead Muggles?” Malfoy’s voice was cold, acidic. It was neither the weird, polite robot voice he’d used when he’d first arrived, nor the mocking sneer of their childhood, but something that still felt like a challenging jab to Harry’s stomach.
“No,” said Harry, trying not to answer in kind. “Just that you might be partial to a dental cleaning spell.”
Malfoy frowned and didn’t answer for a long moment. “This is more relaxing,” he said, finally. He didn’t look up as he kept brushing in minute circles. Harry watched him in the mirror.
I’m sorry,” said Harry, suddenly. He hadn’t planned on saying it, but he so wanted to bury the hatchet here. He wanted Malfoy to… what? Be happy? Not be angry at him? God, how things could change.
Malfoy didn’t respond to the apology, but the next morning, Malfoy said to him, “You know, wizards didn’t start cleaning their teeth at all until the 1970s,” and Harry knew--with a small, curious happiness--that he had been forgiven.
Another voice in his head thought that perhaps it was quite enough, in the owing a life debt department, to have adopted Mrs. Malfoy and her son as permanent houseguests for an indefinite future, but something in Harry wasn’t satisfied with that. He at least wanted to make sure she wasn’t miserable.
It took several more days until his level of Gryffindor bravery coincided with any amount of free time in his schedule, but finally, one late afternoon, while Malfoy the younger was still out putting the chickens away, Harry took down the China tea set Luna had brought with her when she’d moved in, brewed the best pot of tea he knew how, and carried it all on a tray up to the room where she was staying.
He knocked on the door twice before Mrs. Malfoy called out “Come in,” in that elegant, oh-so-detached voice of hers. He pushed the door open and found her sitting up with her legs folded underneath her on a chaise so beautiful it looked strange amongst the trappings of his ancient old farmhouse. It had come to the house one weekend Fleur and Bill had been visiting. Fleur had declared the farmhouse needed beautification and she and Luna had spent two days “antiquing” and brought back not only the chaise, but the rickety, out-of-tune piano downstairs, and the gorgeous dining table Harry loved so much and rarely used.
Mrs. Malfoy looked as if she had been staring out the window, but now her full expectant attention was on Harry, who felt--marvelously, ridiculously stupid. His feelings about the Malfoys had matured but Narcissa Malfoy did still sort of look like she was smelling something terrible all the time. It was uncanny, almost, how much she and her son looked alike--all the way down to their matching resting bitch faces.
“I brought you some tea,” he said, even though that was obvious.
Mrs. Malfoy gestured towards a small end table and Harry hurried to place the tray there, just for something to do. He nearly dropped it, and the teacups tinkled together as if outraged to be handled with such lack of respect.
He stood there for a moment, glancing around awkwardly--catching a glimpse of the curtains, which looked as if they had been recently cleaned, and then at the bed, made up neat and pristine. He brought his eyes back to Mrs. Malfoy, who was still looking at him. She frowned and said, “Would you like to stay for tea, then, Mr. Potter?”
Harry, feeling quite out of his depth, nodded. Narcissa took her wand out of the sleeve of her silky floral gown and conjured another chair, not round and soft like Dumbledore used to make them, but tall and straight-backed. Harry sat.
Mrs. Malfoy poured them each a cup of tea. Harry took his and held it between his hands, looking anywhere but at her. There was a Wizarding portrait of three little girls playing on the beach. He didn’t remember it being there before.
“So,” he finally said, his throat scratchy as if he hadn’t used it in years, “how are you… liking it? Here, I mean?”
Mrs. Malfoy took a long sip of tea before she answered archly, “It’s adequate, I suppose. Though it isn’t quite how I’d run a household.”
Harry sighed. “Listen, Mrs. Malfoy, I only came up here to ask you--is there anything I could do for you? Anything you want that I could get you?”
The laugh that came in response wasn’t happy or light, but a wry chuckle. “Mr. Potter, unless you can give me back my home, I assure you, there’s nothing to be done.” She took another sip of tea. Harry finally looked up at her, but she wasn’t looking at him. She was staring once more out the window.
“Your son seems--”
“Yes, Draco always was more adaptable than his father or I gave him credit for.”
They sat there for a few minutes longer, Mrs. Malfoy watching the sunset through the window, Harry watching tea leaves sinking to the bottom of his teacup. When he cleared his throat, Mrs. Malfoy startled a bit, as if she had forgotten he was still there.
“Well, thank you, Mr. Potter,” said Mrs. Malfoy. “You make a passable pot of tea.”
Harry nodded and set his tea cup back down on the tray. “I’ll… er, I’ll come take this down when you’re all finished.”
Mrs. Malfoy nodded absentmindedly and went back to looking out the window. Harry had just reached the door when she said, suddenly, “I had a beautiful garden at the Manor. I quite miss it.”
Harry turned and met her eyes. He nodded to acknowledge he’d heard, and left the room.
Ginny was already sitting against the footboard of their bed, dabbing a sort of orangey-red that looked not unlike her hair onto her fingernails. “Hiya, Harry,” she said when he sat down next to him. “Glad to see Malfoy hasn’t murdered you in cold blood today.”
“Was that a possibility?” he asked, unscrewing his own bottle of nail varnish.
Ginny shrugged. “Maybe not right now. But when you least expect it…”
“I have it on authority that he’s not much the murdering type, actually,” said Harry, laughing.
“Harry, I wonder if you’ve been spending too much time outside in the east pasture,” said Luna. “There’s a strange kind of feeling in your aura today, and I wouldn’t be surprised if those buttercups were just teeming with Wrackspurts.”
“Harry’s always a bit strange, I reckon,” said Ginny. Harry nudged her with an elbow. “Oi! Don’t punish my manicure just because I tell the truth.”
Ginny and Luna’s room was Harry’s favorite part of the entire house. They had a big, cozy bed and Muggle fairy lights draped along the wall where it met the ceilings. There were shelves everywhere teeming with plants, Muggle and magic alike, interspersed with Quidditch magazines and huge reference guides about pregnancy and herbalism. The windows and mirrors had cheery messages spelled onto them in yellow and orange ink, hippie bullshit about following your bliss, and ridiculously raunchy quotes from the Wizarding romances Ginny secretly loved. There was a shelf with a collection of figurines Ginny had found in a toy shop, in the early days of Pottermania after the war, depicting Harry, Ron, and Hermione in a variety of heroic poses. They had a wireless playing quiet music in the corner.
Luna hummed along while Ginny tried a coat of glitter on one of her nails. Harry finished his left foot and then said, “I spoke with Mrs. Malfoy today.”
“Good,” said Ginny. “Did you tell her that quiet hours begin at 11PM? Because she’s woken me up every night for a week.”
“I thought you enjoyed it the last two nights,” said Luna slyly.
Harry glanced at Ginny, grinning, and Ginny, who couldn’t help turning red at the drop of a hat, shrugged. “When life gives you lemons--”
“Please don’t finish that,” said Harry, groaning, and they laughed. “No, I just asked her if there was, like, anything I could do for her.”
“Harry, offering sexual favors to Narcissa Malfoy isn’t going to help her,” said Luna very seriously. Harry stared at her. Ginny held a straight face for nearly a whole minute, Harry trying to find words to express how very deeply he did not to engage in anything sexual with Malfoy’s mother, before she and Luna both burst into laughter.
He sighed. “I don’t know why I let you both live with me.”
“You’d get lonely,” pointed out Luna.
“Also, we are both fucking delights,” added Ginny.
“You’re both a pain in my arse,” said Harry. “What I’m trying to say is that apparently Mrs. Malfoy would like a garden of her own. A flower garden, I think.”
“‘He is happiest who hath power to gather wisdom from a flower,’” said Luna. She didn’t follow this with anything more, and Harry watched her as she closed her eyes. He glanced at Ginny, who shrugged.
“Cobra lilies,” said Luna finally. “I remember them. Chrysanthemums, vervain, roses, tormentil.” Her voice took on a sort of dreamy, detached quality, as she often did when she spoke of the war. Her eyes closed, and she bent her head so that her hair swung forward and covered her face. Harry looked at Ginny; the corners of her mouth were tight and unhappy. “She had such a lovely garden. I remember there was a Wiggentree near the little hole that let in the light. We saw Bowtruckles, Mr. Ollivander and I.”
Luna lifted her head and turned her wide gaze onto Harry. “Does she need help with the garden?”
Harry, who had planned on asking Luna to do this very thing, was now feeling quite guilty. He hadn’t realized… “Luna, I can’t ask you to do that.”
Luna smiled sadly. “You still try to protect me.”
“What happened to you was evil,” said Ginny, her face red, looking away.
“Mrs. Malfoy’s garden was something that happened to me, too. I remember it. It was good,” said Luna. She reached over and touched Ginny’s ankle with gentle reassurance. Ginny didn’t look at her but the tension in the line of her back loosened some.
“She’ll be in charge of it, but it’ll be our garden. And yours most of all, Luna,” said Harry. “And if you don’t want to spend time with her--”
“I want to know her,” Luna interrupted. She screwed the cap back onto her nail varnish. “Harry, don’t think about it anymore. I’ll write to Neville right away for the seeds.”
The seeds arrived in less than a day, along with a letter Luna showed Harry, full of Neville’s excitement and tips about how to go about starting the garden. Luna then took it upon herself to make her own pot of tea for Mrs. Malfoy--a floral concoction of her own, nothing like Harry’s standard English breakfast--and carried it upstairs to Mrs. Malfoy to breach the topic of the garden.
Harry gave them a bit of the land north of the house, not far from where an old stable with walls of stone, seemingly as old as the ground it stood on. They started work almost immediately. Harry found he liked to watch them when he could see them from where the sheep were grazing, and Malfoy watched silently next to him.
Mrs. Malfoy had already used magic to build a fence with a wide berth around its perimeter, and together she and Luna laid a looping path from the gate, leading to a stone bench at its heart. Then the planting started.
Aunt Petunia had gardened some in Harry’s childhood, but it had been meager and suburban, more of an excuse to be outdoors all the better to spy on the neighbors, than out of any passion for growing things. There was also the fact that--although Harry had never considered it despite several years of Herbology--a Muggle garden simply could not hold a candle to a magical one. So Harry did not expect to be quite as awed as he was.
The seedlings appeared in a matter of hours. At dawn, he and Malfoy had gone to milk the cows, and by the time they finished with their morning chores, green shoots were sprouting out of the ground. There was a book that a teacher had read to him as a child, about a frog and a toad, and the frog told the toad that if he planted some seeds there would be a garden quite soon. Luna and Mrs. Malfoy’s garden began to flourish even sooner than that. They had planted the seeds on a Tuesday and by Friday, some of the flowers had begun to bloom. By the next Wednesday, the garden looked as if it had been there as long as the stable next to it.
Two weeks after the garden had first exploded into its feral tangle of growth, while Malfoy was occupied with arguing Ursula back into the hen’s pen, Harry put his sheep away for the night and decided to see how far everything had come. The sky was dusky and golden, and Harry walked slowly along the path, admiring its cultivated wilderness. Luna and Mrs. Malfoy were sitting on the bench at the heart of the garden, their heads bent together, speaking quietly. Harry coughed, not wanting to startle them.
Luna looked over her shoulder and smiled happily to see him. Mrs. Malfoy turned her cool eyes onto Harry and stood. She was small but seemed so much larger. It was a far cry from the desperate woman he remembered from the night of Voldemort’s death. “Good evening, Mr. Potter.”
“Hullo,” said Harry awkwardly, disarmed, as always, by the way Mrs. Malfoy emanated an air of natural affluence, a kind of confidence that everything would fall into place for her, simply because it was she who expected it. It was, he realized, exactly what her son had always tried to imitate, and what, when worn on Malfoy’s pale, pointy face or draped across his thin shoulders, had always fallen short.
“It’s beautiful,” Harry said, gesturing at the general space around them. “All of it.”
Mrs. Malfoy inclined her head. “Thank you.” The words were simple, but somehow, Harry knew she hadn’t only meant the compliment. He shrugged and scratched the back of his head.
“I’m glad you like it,” he said in response.
“It seems I owe you a great deal.”
Harry shook his head hastily. “No, ma’am, that’s all right. It was nothing, really. I thought it was more that, well, I owed you.” He ducked his head and looked around, at the colorful splashes of purple and green and yellow and red and pink. The land here had been sitting here for so long, drab and grey except in the early spring. It was as if these colors had been resting dormant deep underneath the ground and had only needed the right person to coax them out. He met Mrs. Malfoy’s eyes once more. She was gazing at him, a strange, searching look on her face.
“You owe me nothing,” she said, finally. “You have never owed me.” With a sweep of her robes, turned down the path and out the gate back towards the house.
Harry watched her go and then went to sit next to Luna, who smiled at him. “‘A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.’”
“What’s that?” Harry asked.
Luna didn’t answer. She looked towards a bed of germander and rue and the giant bright umbrella flowers that towered over their green leaves. “I didn’t think that Mrs. Malfoy would surprise me,” she said. “But she has. She’s much kinder than I used to think she was. Lonelier, too.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. He was willing to agree that Mrs. Malfoy and her son were not quite the same as he remembered, but kind was not a word he would attribute to either of them. He didn’t argue with Luna, however, and she continued, “Thank you for the garden, Harry.”
Harry slid his arm around her shoulders and she lay her head against him. They stayed there for a long time, watching the stars sparkle into sight over the flowers all around them.
The benefit to this is that some evenings, Harry even had a little bit of free time. He spent rather more time at Ron and Hermione’s flat in the city, playing with Rose; sometimes, he, Ginny, and Luna turned the wireless up loud and tried new spells on their nails.
Sometimes, like tonight, it meant that while Luna was out on midwife duty and Ginny was at a team meeting, Harry found the Malfoys relaxing in the courtyard between Luna’s vegetable garden and the henhouse. The chickens wandered the space, happily poking their faces into the dirt and sleeping on top of bricks warmed by the sun. Malfoy the younger was sitting on the overstuffed armchair that had long been discarded from the house itself, and now sat against one shady stone wall, its faded green corduroy bursting at the seams. His feet were curled underneath him and he was reading one of the books Mrs. Salisbury kept lending to him, an old beat-up Muggle mystery novel. His mother was on the porch swing near the doors that led back inside, letting it creak gently back and forth as she wrote into a notebook that she had balanced on her lap. It seemed strange to him, in these moments, that the Malfoys he had known throughout his youth were the same as the people right in front of him.
Harry took a seat on the wicker chair across from Malfoy. “What are you reading?” he asked.
Malfoy held up a finger as he finished the sentence he was reading, and then looked up at Harry. “Sorry, what?”
Harry had trouble holding back a laugh. “I said, what are you reading? Though if it’s that interesting, I’ll let you get back to it.”
Malfoy closed the book and set it down beside him. “No, it’s fine. I already solved the mystery about three chapters ago. The main character’s mother absolutely killed her uncle.”
“Whose uncle? The mother’s or the main character’s?”
“Now that’s the real mystery,” said Malfoy. The way he said it, like he was letting him in on a joke, made Harry think of his lambs, the way he’d stretch out a hand to get a lamb to come to him before it knew him. He wanted to hold out his hand and wait for Malfoy to come to him, as stupid as that sounded, even in his head. “What’s going on? Where are the girls?”
“I believe Luna is out with one of her young mothers,” said Narcissa from her place on the swing. She had put down her quill and was now looking towards Harry and her son. “She told me she’d be back in time for our appointment, but I’m beginning to think we’ll have to postpone until tomorrow.”
Mrs. Malfoy and Luna had formed a quick, unbreakable bond, and spent as much time as they could get together in their garden. Luna had even taken to painstakingly illustrating every species of flower in Narcissa’s garden for the book Narcissa was writing about magical flora, and Luna had helped turned Narcissa’s bedroom into a studio. On rainy days, if Ginny was gone, she would spent her time there, watching as Narcissa turned Luna’s sketches into gorgeous paintings, and Luna painted scenes that barely represented more than huge splashes of color. Harry didn’t quite understand how the quiet, elegant, solemn Narcissa Malfoy came to be the world’s biggest fan of ebullient Luna and her vibrant, quirky art, but it was obvious that in the past month or so, Luna had come to admire Mrs. Malfoy nearly as much.
“How is the book coming along?” Harry politely asked Narcissa, knowing as he did that he was unlikely to understand much of what she said next.
To his surprise, she put down her notebook and came to take a seat in the other wicker chair. She leaned forward with a serious look on her face and said, “Mr. Potter, there is actually something I would like to speak to you about.”
Harry and Malfoy exchanged a glance. Malfoy’s face was one of confusion and a hint of panic. Harry looked back at Mrs. Malfoy. “What can I do for you?” he asked, feeling no small amount of hesitation.
“I believe,” she said, sitting back and placing her hands gently in her lap, “that I am ready to meet my nephew.”
Harry raised both his eyebrows so high he felt like he might give himself a headache. “You want to meet… Teddy?”
Narcissa nodded serenely. “I believe you are in fairly close contact with my sister and her grandson.”
“I mean--yeah, they live in my old house. Grimmauld Place.”
“You attend dinners there on Sunday evenings, do you not?” Harry nodded. “Well, then, I should like to attend with you this weekend. Draco will also be in attendance.”
“Mother, I--” began Malfoy, but his mother cut him off.
“Too long have I let my pride, and then my shame, keep me from my sister. I will not allow it to happen any longer.”
He met Malfoy and his mother downstairs. Both of them had clearly put more thought into what they were wearing than he had. Narcissa was wearing a long, navy robe with an intricately embroidered collar and sparkling buttons at the wrist. Her hair was twisted up in a complicated maze of braids and curls. She looked beautiful, the way an iceberg can be beautiful, but it was her son Harry’s eyes couldn’t stop being drawn to.
Malfoy’s hair, which had been buzzed short to his scalp when he’d arrived, had now grown out about three quarters of an inch. It had looked ridiculous when Harry had last seen him, the day before, but since then he’d shaved down the sides again, and all that was left was a soft-looking thatch of short hair at the top. It suited him better than Harry would have ever predicted.
There was a scar on Malfoy’s left cheek, leftover from whatever had given him the bruises and scratches he’d had when Harry first saw him in the village so long ago. The top of his ears were burned red from where he’d forgotten a sun protection charm in the pasture two days ago.
From the neck up, Malfoy looked less like his father than he ever had, but from the neck down, they could have been twins. His robes were classically well-tailored and there were four rings on his hands. He was wearing polished shoes with a heel. Harry frowned and looked back up at Malfoy’s pinched face, his cheeks flushed.
“Let’s go, Potter,” he said brusquely, and gestured towards the pot of Floo powder on the mantle.
“Right, yeah,” said Harry, and took a pinch. “Oh -you’ll need to know, I’m still Secret Keeper--Andromeda Tonks lives at Number 12 Grimmauld Place.” He stepped into the fireplace and with a green whoosh, twisted through a series of fireplaces until he stepped out in the large, familiar stone hearth in his old kitchen.
Teddy, who had been kneeling by the fire, suddenly leapt up and cried, “Auntie! He’s here!” before launching himself at Harry and wrapping his arms around his torso. “Hullo, Harry, how are you?” he all but shouted into Harry’s stomach.
Harry, grinning, reached down to ruffle Teddy’s Chudley Cannons orange hair. He’d also changed his normally brown eyes to reflect Harry’s green ones. The effect was slightly off-putting but Harry appreciated it nonetheless. “I’ve got a surprise for you today,” he was saying, just as the fire behind him shed a bright green light once more on the kitchen, and Mrs. Malfoy stepped out of the fireplace. Her son was moments behind her. They looked around appraisingly and Harry, though he’d always thought Number 12 Grimmauld Place was a pretty unpleasant place, felt a surge of defensiveness. They didn’t say anything, however. Teddy peered at them from around Harry’s torso, a timid curiosity overtaking his normally buoyant spirit.
Andromeda’s voice came from the parlor off the main entrance, “Teddy? Remember how we practiced?”
Teddy straightened up and walked slowly over to where Malfoy and his mother stood. He held his hand out to Mrs. Malfoy and said, in a tone of utmost seriousness, “May I please escort you to the parlor?”
Mrs. Malfoy raised her eyebrows and, apparently charmed by the manners of such a young boy, took his hand graciously and placed it just at the crook of her arm. She allowed Teddy to guide her through the hall and into the sunny parlor.
Andromeda was waiting there, resplendent in turquoise robes. She opened her arms wide to welcome her sister and nephew. Harry caught her eye and she winked; he had long gotten over her resemblance to her sister Bellatrix, but now it was her appearance in traditional wizarding clothing that tripped him up. She was more frequently seen in sensible trousers and floral blouses.
“Narcissa, Draco,” came Andromeda’s warm, kind voice, as familiar and cozy as a coat on a cold day.
“Andromeda,” said Narcissa, with less warmth and more trepidation.
Malfoy was stiff as his long-lost aunt came towards him, Harry assumed with a hug, that had turned into a bit of a shoulder pat. Teddy squinted at Malfoy thoughtfully as he stepped away. “Grandma says you’re my cousin,” he announced doubtfully.
The corner of Malfoy’s mouth lifted, surprising Harry, though what surprised him more, he wasn’t sure: was it the hint of the smile itself or was it the way, small as it was, it transformed his face so that he looked less like a pointy ice sculpture and more like a human being, a person who could conceivably be related to the bouncing ball of sunshine standing before him?
“I am,” said Malfoy, “though I don’t think I’ve been a good one.”
Teddy nodded in agreement. “Rose isn’t quite my cousin but when she visited last week she shared her ice lolly with me. It was covered in spit and stuff because she’s just a baby, but still.”
“Won’t you sit down?” said Andromeda to Harry and Malfoy. “Harry, mind Teddy, won’t you? We’re going upstairs for a bit.” She looked at her sister, who met her eyes with an unreadable gaze. Harry wished he could mediate somehow but he didn’t have any sense of their history. All he could do was wait for them to hash it out and hope for the best.
God, if you’d asked him as a kid that he’d end up caring this much about whether two of the Black sisters could repair their relationship, he’d have suspected you’d been Confounded. Harry smiled assurance at Andromeda, who gently laid her hand in the crook of her sister’s arm, and led her up the stairs.
He and Malfoy sat on a beautiful, antique red settee that looked like it belonged but which Harry could have sworn didn’t exist when he’d lived here. Andromeda’s connection to the Blacks meant the house behaved a lot better for her than it ever had for Harry, and it was forever showing him up with the things it trotted out for her. Teddy, instead of sitting, leaned his elbows against the arm of the settee, his head propped up on his hands. He continued to watch Malfoy with interest and a small amount of suspicion.
“Teddy,” said Harry, “should we--”
“I don’t have any ice lollies,” said Malfoy suddenly. He looked seriously into Teddy’s eyes. Harry frowned. “What other kinds of things do you like to share?”
Teddy raised his eyebrows. “Can you fly?” he asked.
There it was--that subtle half-smile, just a corner of Malfoy’s mouth lifting, ineffably disarming in its playfulness. This time it seemed less like a hint, more like a sign that Malfoy was actually holding back. Harry had been getting along with him lately, of course, and they spent hours together, but it was only now moving from silence towards a steady polite stream of small talk. Harry had yet to make him smile, not even like this, small and simple.
“I can,” said Malfoy. “Though I haven’t in years.”
“That’s what Harry always says,” said Teddy, a note of complaint in his voice. “I wish I could.”
Malfoy glanced over at him. “Your broom’s in the sheep’s barn,” he said mildly. “I’d have thought you took it out whenever you could.”
Harry, for no reason that made sense to him, felt himself blush. “I used to. But I haven’t in a while. Not for real, anyway.”
Teddy looked between them. “There’s a whole bunch of brooms here, you know. And a really neat collection of Snitches. They’re wicked old but I bet they still work.”
“We can’t, Ted,” said Harry, though he suddenly very much wanted to. The idea had taken root such that he could almost taste the cool breeze, feel it whip past his ears. “It’s nearly dinner.”
“Why not?” Malfoy shrugged. “Who knows how long my mother and my… aunt will take. And dinner can wait. We can do one round--Seeker’s Match.” His eyes were shining with excitement. Harry felt suddenly, like he was seeing Malfoy again for the first time, which made no sense, except that since he’d first seen Malfoy just a few months ago in the village, Malfoy had been playing a part--some milquetoast, overpolite robot, with a few chinks in its armor, sure, but nothing on the irritating, loud braggart Harry had known in childhood. And now Malfoy was neither. He was someone wholly new, grinning a challenge at Harry.
“Well...” said Harry, drawing it out just to make Teddy squirm.
“Unless you’re too scared,” said Malfoy.
Harry raised one eyebrow and looked at Teddy. “So where are these brooms?”
Not even ten minutes later, Harry and Malfoy were in the back garden crouching over their brooms, ancient models that had been gathering dust in the cellar. The Snitches were less golden than a sort of tarnished bronze, but at least two worked, and the one they’d chosen was struggling to escape Teddy’s grip as he counted down. The back garden was a huge expansion over what Harry had ever seen, and was nearly as wide as three Quidditch pitches all lined up, with Muggle-repelling charms around its perimeter--another example of just how much it preferred Andromeda over himself.
“Ready, set, go!” Teddy yelled, and Malfoy and Harry took off. Teddy opened his palm and the Snitch burst forth before it sped away.
Harry rose higher than he needed to, and took a moment before he began the hunt for the Snitch. He closed his eyes and let himself feel, really feel, the way the wind pushed against him, the smell of the sky so far from the ground, like rain but purer. Light precipitation gathered on his hair and clothes. So much for dressing nice. Malfoy pulled up beside him.
“Enjoying your shower?” he yelled.
“Not as much as I’m going enjoy beating you,” Harry shouted back, but there was none of the malice that would have colored the same words in adolescence.
“We’ll see about that,” replied Malfoy, and he leaned forward and flew closer to the ground, where it was easier to catch a glimpse of the Snitch.
Harry followed him, keeping an eye out for the telltale glitter of sunlight hitting the Snitch. He could hear Teddy on the ground below, laughing as he watched. “Go, Harry! Go, Draco!” he chanted, his allegiance clearly torn.
He couldn’t see the Snitch yet, but Harry leaned forward and sped towards the other end of the garden, just for the joy it would bring Teddy to see them. Sure enough, Malfoy sped after him and Teddy all but screamed. Harry pulled up at the last minute, hoping he still had some of those famed Seeker reflexes to help him out. He floated up, while Malfoy, who had been too close to the ground, did a barrel roll and fell off his broom. Teddy ran over to him, but Malfoy was already back on his broom before he could reach him.
“I’ll get you for this!” Malfoy shouted towards Harry, but when Harry glanced over at him, there was a wide grin on his face, right under a smudge of mud on his cheek to match the mud covering his fancy robes. Harry grinned right back.
Although they kept pulling feints and trying to do tricks they’d only barely mastered back when they did fly all the time, just to entertain Teddy, neither Harry nor Malfoy put all that much effort into finding the Snitch. After all, if they found it, the game would have to end. Harry couldn’t tell whether it had been minutes or hours, but when he turned himself upside down to demonstrate a Sloth Grip Roll close to the ground and looked to see whether Teddy was watching, he found himself looking at the face of a wryly amused Andromeda about twenty feet away. Teddy was standing next to her, his arms wrapped around his stomach, near collapsing from giggles.
“Um, hi,” he called, just as Malfoy flew at him from his right. Harry tried to evade him but this close to the ground, Malfoy had trouble pulling out, and Harry never was good at controlling a broom upside down. They collided into each other, one of the brooms splintering.
Gasping for breath and checking for any pain--nothing besides a long scratch up his arm--Harry glared up at Malfoy, but Malfoy wasn’t looking at him. He was wheezing slightly, but this did not take away from his triumph as he held the Snitch high in the air and grinned at Teddy, who was running towards them.
“Wow, Draco!” Teddy looked like he’d just opened the best Christmas gift he’d ever imagined. “You were amazing!”
Malfoy laughed and got to his feet. He looked down at Harry. “Face it, Potter, I’m the true Quidditch champion now.” His face was bright and open; he looked as exhilarated as Harry felt. Then, after a pause, he offered his hand to help Harry up.
His fingers were cold from the cold dusky air but his palm was warm from where it had been gripping his broom. He’d lost a cufflink, and he had calluses that had grown during his weeks on the farm. Harry gripped his hand and pulled himself up. When he let go, Harry almost missed the warmth of it.
They, Teddy, and Andromeda made their way back to the house, where Narcissa was waiting. Tonight’s surprises didn’t end--when she saw Malfoy’s muddied clothes, his missing cufflink, his wind-tousled hair, she didn’t berate him or frown or anything like that. Instead, she lifted her eyes to the sky in exasperation and… laughed.
If Malfoy’s smile was a shock, Narcissa Malfoy’s laughter was a miracle. Harry hadn’t even known she had it in her. All of them stood there, laughing together, Teddy’s giggles nearly drowning the rest of them out. Kreacher took one look at them when they came in for the meal and looked as if the sight would kill him, and they all laughed harder.
The rest of the meal was a success. Harry, who hadn’t known quite what to expect, was grateful. He wouldn’t call himself a bad godfather, per se, but he didn’t think he was up to the job of helping to raise Teddy. He left that up to Andromeda, but sometimes felt guilty about it. Andromeda wasn’t lonely and she had her fair share of help, but Harry, remembering his lonely childhood, had he been asked his opinion about the best circumstances for child rearing, would have said that he believed in the value of a village and all that. Narcissa didn’t have her sister’s warmth, but Harry had long known that she had a protective maternal streak ten meters wide, and now he knew she could laugh and mean it. And then there was her son, who had a sense of playfulness that almost astonished Harry.
They weren’t such bad family to have, after all, especially given the other choices Teddy might have had.
“Teddy liked you,” he said, when Malfoy slid into the passenger’s seat beside him and pulled the door shut. Harry started the car and noticed that Malfoy didn’t wince in surprise like he had the first few weeks.
So much had changed in imperceptible shifts over the past few months, and now, glancing over at Malfoy as they pulled onto the country road that led to the village, Harry realized that all those imperceptible changes had culminated in something unrecognizable compared to how he’d felt in February.
Malfoy flicked his eyes over at Harry. He didn’t smile like he had the night before, but he wasn’t frowning either. He seemed just--comfortable. More than he ever had before around Harry, anyway. “What’s not to like?” he said, finally.
“Oh, I have some ideas,” said Harry lightly. “Six years of raw data in a file called ‘Draco Malfoy is my archenemy,’ for example.”
“I’m flattered I made such an impression.”
“Oh, yeah, I hated the hell out of you.”
“Ditto, Potter.” Malfoy chuckled. “Your archenemy? Really? Even though the Dark Lord himself was after you?”
“Yeah, well,” said Harry, feeling heat rise to his cheeks, “he didn’t make himself quite as --um, known.”
“Didn’t shout names at you from across the Great Hall, you mean,” said Malfoy.
Harry grinned. “Exactly. Hating you was a much more pressing matter.” He looked sidelong at Malfoy, and said, more seriously, “Teddy really did like you, though. I’m glad.”
“Are you?” Malfoy sounded surprised. “Isn’t he your godson or something?”
“Yeah,” said Harry. They pulled up in front of Mrs. Salisbury’s shop, and he turned off the van. “Does that matter?”
“Just didn’t think you’d want someone like me hanging out around him. You know, polluting his mind or something.”
“I don’t think you’re going to pollute his mind,” said Harry. He turned his body towards Malfoy a bit, and though Malfoy wasn’t quite turning away, he didn’t seem like someone who’d been joking with Harry just a few moments ago.
“No? Weren’t you the one who thought I’d shown up to Lavender Brown’s shop covered in some person’s blood just a couple of months ago?” Malfoy did look at him then. His ears and cheeks were pink with--embarrassment? Anger? Something else?
Harry shook his head. “That was ages ago--”
“Why do you let my mother and I stay with you, Potter? Why do you keep--doing things for us? Like my mother’s garden. Or saying Teddy likes me--”
“He does like you!” said Harry. His voice had risen quite without his permission. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and tried to remember everything he’d learned about finding his own calm. When he opened his eyes again, Malfoy was staring at him.
“What the hell was that?”
“I was just… doing some deep breathing.”
“Is that some Muggle thing?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “It’s a human thing.” He took another deep breath, this time to steel himself rather than to relax. “When I was an Auror, I had an… anger problem. It got bad. So now I try not to get angry too much.”
Malfoy looked confused but seemed to accept this answer. “All right, so, is that it, then?”
“Is what it?”
“Your whole—you know. Being nice when you don’t have to be. Becoming, like, an outdoorsman who loves lambs. Taking on the disinherited Malfoy family as a charity project.” This last thing he said with no small amount of bitterness.
“No,” said Harry. “Well, the outdoorsman thing, yeah, though I wouldn’t exactly call it that. And I don’t know that I have that many opportunities to be nice, but, sure, I guess. But no, I didn’t take you on as some charity project to help me find myself or something.”
“Then why? When you saw me that day, you offered us a place to stay like you knew it would be more than a couple of nights. And you didn’t ask a ton of questions, you just did it. And you’ve done so much more than--for fuck’s sake, Potter, you gave my mother a garden!”
Harry didn’t know how to answer. He’d thought it through a thousand times and he still couldn’t explain what exactly had behooved him to offer the Malfoys a place at the farm, or why their presence had grown to feel so normal. “Should I not have done the garden thing?” he said, finally, instead of giving Malfoy a straight answer.
Malfoy gave Harry a long, appraising look. Harry shifted in his seat, feeling uncomfortable.
“We should, um,” said Harry after a moment, reaching for the door, “maybe we should start unpacking?”
They unpacked a couple of boxes of assorted produce for Mrs. Salisbury and carried several crates over to the Huntingtons’ and the Gershwins’. They dropped a few off at the Martins’ and visited some of the other families. Malfoy didn’t seem as if their conversation had affected him at all, but Harry couldn’t stop thinking about it.
That night, he lay in bed, pondering over the question. Why was he doing all of this for someone who’d spent so much of their adolescence provoking him and otherwise making his life a living hell? What had changed, that he flew around Number 12 Grimmauld Place to chase Malfoy’s smile, and sought out a terrifying conversation with Narcissa just to see what could make her happy? He heard Hermione’s voice in his head again: Why is that your responsibility, Harry?
But he answered that question with one of his own: if it wasn’t his, then whose responsibility was it?
It turned out that, when he wasn’t playing at being your childhood enemy, or trying to balance out his poor adolescent choices with overwrought politeness, Malfoy liked to talk about everything. There were times when Harry almost missed the cold, steel quiet of the robotic indifference Malfoy had clung to when he’d first arrived at the farm. Like when Malfoy started reminiscing about his childhood friendship with Crabbe and Goyle, or summers at the Manor, which inevitably sent him into a moodiness that wouldn’t shake until he’d laid out in a sunbeam in the pasture for a bit, not unlike a cat. For the most part, however, he astonished Harry by being interesting and--god forbid--funny.
Today, he had glommed onto a rant about Dumbledore’s missed opportunity regarding the well-being of “the many queer wizarding folk among us, yours truly included,” which Harry had suspected, but hadn’t yet confirmed until just then. It was one of the more interesting of his catalog of rants. Harry was raking out the chicken run while Malfoy tried, without luck, a variety of spells to fix the persnickety lock on the coop.
Suddenly, apropos of nothing, Malfoy said, “Tomorrow’s my birthday.”
Harry paused to look at him, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “Yeah? Happy birthday.”
“Well, do you have any plans?”
“For your birthday? No, Malfoy, strangely, I don’t.”
“Well, more, like, I meant, do you want to do something? With me? For my birthday?”
Harry looked up at Malfoy again, but Malfoy wasn’t looking at him. It was hard to tell under the brim of his ridiculous-looking sunhat, but if Harry were to be asked, he’d say that Malfoy definitely seemed like he was blushing. “Why me?” said Harry, genuinely confused.
“Well, my mother wanted to go shopping with her sister, and Ginny and Luna are in Prague at the moment, and there’s the whole question of Pansy in France and Greg having not spoken to me in, oh, ten years, so there you are. It looks like just you and me.”
Harry hadn’t broached the topic of Malfoy’s other friends since he’d arrived, but in truth, for all of Parkinson’s simpering and Crabbe and Goyle’s unwavering minionship, Harry had always had trouble imagining Malfoy as even having friends in the first place. Real friends, at least, the kind of friendship Harry had with Ron and Hermione, or even with Ginny and Luna, people he trusted with his life. He didn’t, as he might have been before, feel glad to be right.
Malfoy coughed, clearly regretting having asked at all. “Never mind, I’ll, I don’t know--”
“I’ll go with you,” said Harry. “I mean, or stay here. I don’t really know what your plans were. But we can do something, I guess.”
“Glad to know you’re so excited,” said Malfoy wryly, but he was in an obnoxiously good mood for the rest of the day.
It turned out that Malfoy’s plan was, after they’d finished all their afternoon chores, to Apparate to London to go to a Muggle cinema. In fact, the plan had been Teddy’s idea, which meant, given that the recommendation had come from a ten-year-old, they were going to see Shrek the Third.
“You haven’t even seen the other two,” muttered Harry as Malfoy returned from the concessions stand with two overflowing boxes of popcorn, a giant cup of soda each, and an enormous bag of wine gums. “Jesus, Malfoy, this is a lot of food.”
“Teddy says that you have to get sweets at the cinema,” replied Malfoy, who was squinting at his popcorn with suspicion. “I asked the girl at the stand what she’d choose, and this is what she gave me.”
Harry fought the urge to laugh as Malfoy slipped a lime wine gum into his mouth and made a face of intense distress as he chewed. “Come on, they’re not bad,” said Harry. “Give me a few of the red ones, will you?”
Harry barely noticed the movie itself. He’d seen the first two films with Ron, who thought they were hilarious, and while he liked them, he wasn’t sure he would have ever chosen to pay to see a third film. At any rate, it couldn’t be more amusing than watching Malfoy, who learned he loved popcorn, hated Ribena, and thought that Muggles were mad to try to make an ogre seem sympathetic. He kept up a rousing commentary throughout the movie, which made Harry quite grateful that the only other people in the audience were an elderly couple who seemed to have found themselves in the wrong theater.
It turned out that the movie was kind of a bust, even though Malfoy spent most of the movie shaking with laughter--not at the movie, but at Muggles’ ideas about magic. He all but stopped breathing when, as they walked out, Harry made an offhand comment that he thought the first film was actually quite romantic.
Malfoy leaned against the wall next to a poster advertising Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds’ End, clutching his stomach and trying to catch a breath between laughter. “A love story, Potter,” he gasped, “about ogres!”
“You think that’s weird,” said Harry, as deadpan as he could, “wait until you hear about the one where a bee and a human woman fall in love.” He pointed at the poster advertising it across from them.
Malfoy’s reaction was such that Harry briefly worried that he’d have to remember how to use a Resuscitation Charm.
Malfoy finally gathered himself together and they walked in amiable silence--Malfoy clearly awed by everything he saw around them--towards a small cafe near the cinema. They had gone into the film at dusk, and now the night was in vibrant full swing around them, even though it was a Tuesday. There were Muggles bustling in and out of shops, and groups of people smoking outside of bars. The cafe, too, was busy, and the air was mild. They chose a seat outdoors, and ordered tea and sandwiches.
The amiability disappeared around the same time the server did. Harry and Malfoy were left to themselves, fidgety and uncomfortable. Harry spoke first. “This is nice. I don’t make it out to London very often.”
“I’ve never been before,” said Malfoy, with the same tone as someone who had never been bungee jumping or to Antarctica--as if it were a thing he’d never expected to do, anyway.
Harry raised his eyebrows. “Surely, you’ve--”
“Well, I’ve been to Diagon Alley. It barely counts, we just Flooed directly in and out. I’ve never even seen the inside of that dirty pub where you can get in from the Muggle part. This, though--I’ve never seen this. Luna was the one who told me how to get to the cinema at all.”
Harry didn’t know what to say. There were plenty of people who’d never been to London, sure, but when you had magic, when you could just Apparate anywhere you liked--it seemed bizarre. “Is that… common? Among purebloods, I mean?”
Malfoy shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. I only know my father never allowed me.” He lifted the corners of his mouth, but the result was more a bitter grimace than a smile. “Didn’t want me tainted by Mugglekind, I suppose.”
The server returned with their cups of tea before Harry could respond. Instead, he was careful to pour in sugar and milk without looking at Malfoy. He lifted the cup and sipped despite the temperature of the tea, looking out at the street.
“I should have liked to meet more Muggles, I think, growing up,” said Malfoy thoughtfully. Harry set down the cup and looked at him. Malfoy didn’t look up. He was stirring his spoon, clockwise, counterclockwise, clockwise, counterclockwise. “I should have liked to know they weren’t monsters, I suppose.”
“Would it have changed anything?”
Malfoy met Harry’s eyes. His gaze was intense and bright. Harry couldn’t look away, couldn’t force himself to break the tension that grew between them. It felt like several long minutes that they stared at each other, though it was only seconds. Finally, Malfoy said, “It would have changed everything, Potter.”
Harry looked away. Malfoy went back to stirring his tea. They didn’t say much more, other than Harry’s thank you to the server when she put down their sandwiches. Harry felt sorry; they’d had such a nice time at the cinema.
It kept happening like this: Harry would be tricked into thinking he knew Malfoy, that he had some monopoly, in fact, on the knowing, but for whatever reason, Malfoy continued to be unknowable. Unsolvable. Complicated, so much more complicated than Harry would have ever thought. It was frustrating. It was fascinating.
Harry picked up his sandwich and took a bite. It was delicious. All around them, Muggles were chattering and going about their lives. The cafe was playing gentle music and it seemed as though the gentle breeze was carrying it to their ears. “This is nice,” he said again, just to break up the awkwardness. He immediately felt that he had only added to it, except that Malfoy’s lips curved in a thin smile.
“You’ve said,” Malfoy said. He chewed carefully, as if considering something. He opened his mouth to speak, but hesitated. Harry waited. Then, quietly, Malfoy added, “This is the nicest birthday I’ve had in a long time. Thank you.”
Harry returned with a smile of his own. “Yeah? That’s good. Happy birthday, Malfoy.”
The server came by with the bill, and Harry paid even though it clearly pained Malfoy. He, Malfoy, took a final sip of tea and then said, “Do you want to see something?”
Harry shrugged. “All right.”
Malfoy pulled him to an alleyway several feet away from the cafe and then, after looking around to see if any Muggles were watching, grabbed Harry’s hand and Disapparated them.
They rematerialized at the gates of what looked like a small-ish stone cottage, though not much smaller than Harry’s home. The cottage was set back from the fence quite a bit, and a dirt path wound from the gate towards the cottage and then circled back behind it. There was nobody around, and all was silent, but Harry could tell, perhaps from the shiver in the air or some imperceptible factor he couldn’t identify, that there was magic here. Old magic.
Malfoy muttered a string of words that didn’t sound like any spell Harry had ever learned, and reminded him of the curious twang of McGonagall’s voice when she’d had a bit too much to drink. The gates sprung open and Malfoy, pushing his hands into the pockets of his jeans, nodded his head towards the house.
They didn’t stop at the cottage, however, nor for another ten minutes, until they’d gone through a small wood and come out on the other side. They didn’t speak, but there was neither discomfort nor amiability in this silence, only an urgent hush, as if they were first years again, that if they spoke, they’d get caught.
Harry heard them before he saw them--gentle nickering, the sleepy flap of wings. In a stable four times the size of the one next to Luna’s and Mrs. Malfoy’s garden, slept five magnificent horses unlike Harry had ever seen before. For one thing, they were a rainbow of colors: one was different shades of orange, another grey but speckled green like a marble. And that wasn’t all. They had wings, marvelous wings, not like Buckbeak’s but something altogether new. They looked like how Harry had imagined unicorns before he’d ever seen one, though without the horns. He wished Hagrid had shown him these, instead of the Blast-Ended Skrewts.
“What are they?” whispered Harry, approaching them with cautious awe.
“Aethonans,” said Malfoy. He went over to a small box in the corner and pulled out several apples. “This is where mine were born.”
He offered an apple to the nearest, a silver gelding with a mane that resembled the sea. The horse took it gratefully, and nuzzled against Malfoy’s face. Malfoy closed his eyes and looked how Harry felt when he was in the pasture alone with his sheep. Harry smiled.
“What are yours like?”
Malfoy opened his eyes, and his tranquility dissipated. “They’re dead.”
The announcement hit Harry in the gut--he tried to imagine losing one of his sheep. He knew he would, someday, maybe even soon, but he hadn’t had to experience it yet. He knew what it was like to lose people you loved, but losing Hedwig had felt different. Losing a sheep or one of his dogs or even a chicken or cow would feel different. “I’m sorry,” said Harry, with meaning.
“They were birthday gifts,” said Malfoy, as if he hadn’t heard Harry. His voice was faraway. He fed an apple to a mare. “From my grandmother, before she died. I was nine. There were two, Castor and Pollux. Castor was green all over, and fine enough but Pollux--Polly, I called her--Polly was yellow and orange and pink and gold. I loved her.”
Harry sat down on a makeshift bench of crates and watched Malfoy move from stall to stall, giving their occupants apples and loving ear scratches. His voice was even and low as he spoke. “I’d spend the whole summer with them. We’d fly together, and hide out all day by the pond. Even when the Dark Lord came to stay with us, he didn’t bother with them, or any of the animals on the Manor. I worried about them, with the werewolves, but they held their own.
“I thought--I thought that Polly was getting sick. She wasn’t old and I took good care of her, so I didn’t understand. I told my parents, but my mother couldn’t help, and my father didn’t care. Then one day, she started coughing up blood.”
“The day I saw you at Lavender’s.”
Malfoy looked at Harry like he’d forgotten he was there. Then he nodded. “Yes. That day. When I got back she was gone. Castor, too--I hadn’t noticed him being quite as ill, I thought he was only tired, and maybe sad about Polly.”
Harry knew, suddenly, horribly, what had happened to him. There was ice in his stomach. “Your father,” he said.
Malfoy stood in front of the grey-green speckled one, his back turned. “Yes,” he said simply. The horse beat his wings as if in sympathy. “He poisoned them.”
“Malfoy, that’s awful,” said Harry. There was a lump in his throat; he tried to swallow it down.
“My father didn’t think I deserved to have such fine things, when he couldn’t.” Malfoy turned, bitterness writ on his face. He came to sit down next to Harry, and searched his face wildly. Harry looked calmly back. “Potter, you have to know. I’m not like him.”
“I didn’t think you were,” said Harry, quiet and mild. When Malfoy scoffed, Harry held up his hands. “You’re not like him, Malfoy. Maybe I thought so when we were eleven, but I haven’t thought it in a long time.”
Malfoy shook his head. “You thought I had hurt somebody. That’s what you told me. You thought I’d hurt somebody, and you wanted me to live with you, so you could keep an eye on me.”
“That was stupid,” said Harry. “Look, I just--I didn’t know. I hadn’t heard from you in years. I didn’t know how things were.”
“I don’t want to hurt my father, either,” said Malfoy.
“I’m not asking you to.”
“I know you’re not. I’m just telling you.”
Harry nodded. Malfoy cleared his throat. He stood again and walked back towards the sea gelding. Harry followed him. “Is that,” he began, and had to clear his throat too. “Is that why you cut your hair?”
At this, Malfoy laughed. The sound was almost surprising. “You know, I’ve never been able to keep my hair short. It just always grew back. But the day my mother and I left, I cut it because I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want to look like him. And it stayed.” Malfoy shrugged. “It doesn’t suit me, but I like it.”
Harry squinted at Malfoy consideringly. It did suit him, though. It suited him much more than Harry would have liked to admit.
Malfoy showed Harry how to saddle a winged horse, which got the horses so excited Malfoy decided it would be better to take them out for a fly rather than leave them there to whine until the owners woke up. Harry mounted the grey-green one, and Malfoy the one with the mane like the sea. The others followed behind. They flew up so high Harry felt he could almost touch the moon. Malfoy looked over his shoulder at him and whooped, and Harry shouted back--not words, just pure joy. They flew until the horses grew tired and Harry knew he’d regret this all in the morning, when he’d have to wake up early to feed everyone. Either way, he thought it was worth it.
He felt the fence move under someone else’s weight and looked to his right. It was Malfoy; he was leaning back against the wood, wincing as a splinter lodged itself in the soft skin of his forearm. He bent his arm at the elbow and squinted down at the skin near his elbow, examining the splinter.
Draco, Harry reminded himself. He was determined to call him that, to assure Draco, in a way, that he, Harry, knew Draco wasn’t like his father at all. Anyway, it was strange to call him Malfoy in front of Teddy anyway. Truly, it was all strange and all difficult, and Harry kept forgetting. He was getting better at it.
Draco had changed from the grey summer-weight robes he’d been wearing earlier; he was now wearing the clothes he only ever seemed to wear around the farm, a cotton t-shirt and Muggle jeans. He’d been around long enough now to understand, evidently, that Harry and Ginny and Luna, regardless of any misgivings they might have had at first about Malfoy’s presence in their home, weren’t about to toss him and his mother out just for the sight of the Dark Mark. Long enough, indeed, that the skinny pale noodle arms Draco had come to the farm with were beginning to fill out, suddenly looking capable rather than underfed, and the ghostly pallor of his skin was beginning to disappear under a layer of golden freckles. Draco muttered a quick spell to remove the splinter. He looked up at Harry. “You ever consider sanding these things down?”
“When’d you get back?” Harry asked instead of answering. Draco and his mother had left shortly after breakfast to visit Andromeda and Teddy. That was one benefit of this whole strange arrangement at least: Andromeda and Narcissa’s reunion, and the curious way Draco seemed to genuinely adore Teddy’s sunny little personality. Harry would almost be jealous if Teddy didn’t still change his hair black and his eyes green six days out of seven.
“Around half an hour ago,” replied Draco, turning around so that he could watch the girls. Ginny was squealing and laughing as she tried in vain to avoid the splashes of mud as Fuzzy and Chrysanthemum played chase around her feet. “Do the sheep actually like this?”
Harry nodded his head at the edge of the corral, where most of the ewes were huddled, looking on disapprovingly at the lambs, who seemed overall unfazed by the muck. “Most of them don’t. I don’t think the babies have learned to mind, so much.”
Harry and Draco watched quietly for a few moments before Malfoy announced, “Teddy asked after you.”
Harry looked over at Draco, who was looking at Harry with an expression Harry was still unused to--something akin to friendliness, kindness. It made his face softer, the pointy ugliness disappearing with the malice, until he looked like someone Harry could like, someone he wanted to like. His hair had grown back enough that he had to comb it forward to make it look presentable.
Harry had seen him just this morning, when he’d accidentally left the door separating his bedroom from their shared loo and ended up watching Draco stand over the sink, frowning in concentration at the mirror. It had made Harry feel--well, something. That much he could be sure of. It felt like the first night Ginny and Luna had moved in, and Ron and Hermione had come to celebrate. Luna had cooked them all a dinner of spag bol made with zucchini noodles, and she’d forgotten to spice the sauce, and it ended up tasting like veggie mush, and they’d laughed, and that night the five of them had lay their heads in a circle on Harry’s living room floor and they’d talked for hours about nothing much.
It was the same way when he remembered Draco laying down the comb and picking up his toothbrush instead, when he remembered Draco with a mouth full of foam turning towards the door and catching the sight of Harry, and rolled his eyes with something too friendly to be disdain. When he remembered there already being two triangles of toast for him at the kitchen table when he finally made it downstairs, even though Draco and his mother had already gone. When he remembered, also, a tiny picture of Harry stuck upside down in a vat of something sticky drawn onto his napkin, his tiny legs waving in the air, with a speech bubble saying “I’ll get you for this!” in Draco’s spiky handwriting.
It was a feeling Harry recognized but found that he was too afraid to name.
“What’d you tell him?” Harry said, mind floating back to the conversation at hand.
Draco smirked. “That I’d make a much better godfather than you, and he should consider waiving the rights over to me.”
Harry looked sidelong at Draco. “I don’t think that’s really in his jurisdiction. Being eight.”
“It’s true that I’d be a better godfather, though.” He looked at Harry and Harry was momentarily caught by the ferocity in his eyes. His voice had been light but there was a provocation in it that gave Draco’s friendliness a sort of edge. It was a challenge, the type of challenge they’d made to each other time and again in adolescence, but what Harry understood now that he hadn’t as a teenager, is that Draco’s efforts to spur him into a rage were usually borne of something other than pure dickheadishness. In this challenge: the regret that Harry had spent the first several years of Teddy’s life being actually present, while Draco had been too scared to fit himself into his cousin’s life, and that Teddy looked up to Harry more than possibly anyone else in his life, save Andromeda. The challenge was also an acknowledgement that although Harry’s down-to-earth existence gave the world the sense that Harry was as poor as a church mouse, in reality, Harry could provide more in the way of security for Teddy for the rest of his life than Draco now could.
Harry had stopped wanting to fight people for stupid reasons the day he turned in his Auror badge. He looked away from Draco and back into the corral. “Bet you could,” he said, quietly. Draco snorted softly.
Luna had bent over to put Peanut safely down on the grass closer to the far edge of the fence, where the grass hadn’t yet turned into mud, but as she did, Butter hopped between her legs towards his sister and Luna lost her balance. Her bottom hit the ground, splattering mud all over poor Peanut, who baa-ed in displeasure and leapt over to her mother.
Luna immediately burst out into delighted laughter, and Harry, Ginny, and Draco all joined her.
When he finally caught his breath, Harry called out, “Oi, idiots. I’m going in for tea. Want any?”
Ginny answered by turning her wand on Harry and spraying him with water, roaring with laughter when he and Malfoy nearly tripped in their hurry to get away. “Don’t kill my sheep then,” he yelled at her, and she waved him away, helping Luna stand up.
The walk back to the house was quiet, but not tense. Harry kept his hands in his pockets, going through a mental list of all the chores he wanted to get done before the weekend. They passed the cows, who were grazing nearer the chickens than they usually did, and Draco gave Rhiannon a friendly pat. She bellowed back, quite content. They walked past Narcissa in her garden and the chickens clucking as they pecked around in their pen. Draco held open the door to the kitchen and Harry followed him inside.
Harry almost crashed into Draco just a second later. Draco had stopped just inside the doorway and was staring at the kitchen hearth.
Where Lucius Malfoy’s head was floating in the fire, looking in the opposite direction.
Draco turned and pushed Harry back out, grabbing him by the hand and pulling him back towards the chicken run. Breathless, he gasped out, “How did he find me?” Draco, whom Harry had been appreciating for the way his skin had warmed under the touch of the sun the past few months, had turned as pale as he had been when he’d first arrived.
Harry pulled at his lip. How did Lucius Malfoy find them? How had he gotten past the wards and could he, would he, step through the Floo? Harry felt queasy at the idea. He sent a Patronus message to Ginny and Luna to tell them not to come back to the house.
Draco was visibly trembling as he stood there, clutching a post. Harry didn’t want to leave him, but he needed to build up the wards, he needed to keep his home safe. He needed to keep Draco and Narcissa safe.
“I’m going to go back,” he said, his voice low. “Draco, I’m going to go back and speak with him. I’ll tell him--I don’t know. I don’t know what I’ll tell him. But I won’t let him know you’re here.”
Draco nodded, and then added in a halting whisper, “Potter--my mother. Don’t tell my mother.”
Harry reached out and squeezed Draco’s shoulder. The touch seemed to startle Draco, as much as it calmed him. He was still staring at the place where Harry had touched him when Harry turned back towards the house.
Malfoy Senior was still waiting when Harry walked into the kitchen. He looked towards the sound of Harry entering, and something strange passed over his face. Confusion, perhaps. It was gone in an instant, only to be replaced with the same cold indifference Harry had always associate with him. On Narcissa, it felt elegant and impersonal, it felt as if she wore like a protective charm. On Lucius, it was an act, and revealed the depth and danger of the iceberg that lurked under the surface.
“Where is my wife?” demanded Lucius.
Harry arranged his face as if he were playing poker with Ginny. He’d never won against her but he had a damn good poker face. “How would I know?”
Lucius scowled. “Do not mock me, Potter. I know she is there with you.”
“I haven’t seen your wife,” lied Harry. “Get the fuck out of my fireplace, Malfoy.”
“You tell her--” Lucius leaned forward and Harry instinctively leaned farther away. Malfoy’s face was contorted and horrible, like a hag wearing the face of a human. “You tell her that if she wants to come home, she’ll never see that stupid boy again. He’s no son of mine.”
With that, he vanished and the flames in the fireplace died away. Harry quickly warded the Floo with a more robust charm from his Auror days. When he stood up and dusted his knees off, he noticed Draco standing against the doorframe between the kitchen and the entryway. He had a strange look on his face.
“What did you hear?” Harry asked, frowning.
“All of it,” said Draco. He pushed away from the doorframe and, without another word, walked upstairs.
Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He had two choices: find Narcissa and interrogate her, or follow Draco upstairs and--what? Comfort him? They were friendly now, sure, but Harry wasn’t sure Draco would accept him as a shoulder to cry on just yet.
So Narcissa it was, then. Fantastic.
Harry found her still in the garden, crouched over a bed of comfrey plants. She and the plants appeared to be arguing with a gnome. It was a strange sight, and Harry almost forgot himself, so startled was he by the idea of Mrs. Malfoy doing something so normal. Well, normal as far as anything magic was normal.
He cleared his throat and could have sworn he saw Mrs. Malfoy jump a bit. She looked over her shoulder and, seeing Harry standing there, stood herself, pulling down her sleeves and adjusting her hat. “Good afternoon,” she said, giving him a single, deep nod.
“Hello, Mrs. Malfoy. I wanted to speak to you.”
She gestured toward the stone benches arranged in a circle at the heart of the garden, and they both sat. Harry took a deep breath. Talking with Draco seemed to be getting easier and easier, while speaking with Draco’s mother always felt like he was about to say something wrong at any moment. She sat there perfectly still, apparently waiting for him to speak.
“It’s about Draco,” Harry began. “Or, well--it’s about your husband and Draco.”
Mrs. Malfoy blanched and Harry’s anger with her, which had subsided when he’d seen her arguing with the gnome, came bubbling back. He pushed against it--he didn’t want to use it. Not yet. “What do you wish to tell me?” she said, and there was a tremble at the edge of her normally calm voice.
“Lucius Malfoy was just in my kitchen fireplace demanding to speak to you,” said Harry. Then, drawing on all the Auror bravado that he’d honed so long ago: “Care to explain how he knew that specific fireplace might lead to you?”
To Harry’s surprise, Narcissa didn’t argue, or hide that she’d been in contact with Lucius. Instead, her eyes filled with tears, almost immediately. She looked away and gazed at a bed of thorny bushes with leaves that resembled dragonflies. He pretended not to hear her sniffle. She gathered herself and said, “I worry that my husband is… too indisposed to see reason.”
I’ll fucking say, Harry wanted to snap, but he held his tongue. “He wants you to break ties with Draco.”
Narcissa nodded and held the back of her hand to her mouth as a new wave of tears threatened to pour out. She stood, her back turned to Harry, her hand on her waist. Harry waited for her to speak.
“He believes Draco is the reason for our current social status,” Narcissa explained after a few moments. “He blames him for the money we’ve put into reparations, and for the raids.”
“Mrs. Malfoy, you know Arthur Weasley would have come for the Manor--”
“I know that,” said Mrs. Malfoy, her voice rising for the first time Harry had ever heard. He had never seen her facade so broken before--but for once, deep in the Forbidden Forest. “I know that, there’s no sense to what Lucius believes, but it is what he believes. And so he refuses to accept his son.”
“Why have you been speaking to him?”
Narcissa turned and looked at him. Her cheeks were red and there was a smudge of dirt on her nose. The tears were pouring down her face now. “I love my family, Mr. Potter.” It came out less like a declaration, and more like a plea.
Harry looked down at his hands, twisted together in his lap. “You can’t speak to him here. You need to find another way to contact him. I don’t want him finding Draco.” At Draco’s name, he lifted his chin and met her eyes. A strange expression broke through the tears and flickered across her features. She didn’t speak for a long moment. Harry did not look away.
“Please don’t think me foolish,” she said quietly. It sounded as if it cost her something to say these words.
“I don’t,” said Harry. Narcissa made a face as if she didn’t believe him, and Harry added insistently, “You’re not foolish. You want your family to be happy. But as long as Lucius wants to hurt Draco, we need to keep him safe.”
“He wouldn’t hurt him,” said Narcissa automatically.
It was Harry’s turn for disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”
“I know who I married,” Narcissa said firmly.
Harry shook his head. “I don’t.”
He left her there, standing in her garden, and hoped like hell he hadn’t betrayed his adolescent self after all by putting his trust in any member of the Malfoy family.
Anyway, there was plenty of work to do to distract both of them. By mid-July Harry was incredibly grateful, as he always was during summer holidays, for the help of the spotty Muggle teenagers who just wanted enough money that they didn’t have to bum cigarettes off their friends anymore. Most of them were irresponsible but Mrs. Salisbury had a grandson who was visiting, and he was gentle with the sheep, firm with the cows, and frankly, left the chickens to their own devices, which was all that you could do with them. His name was Daniel and Harry liked him so well that when Ginny announced she’d been invited to play reserve for England at a match in Japan that weekend, he said yes to the first weekend away he’d had in a long time.
It didn’t occur to Harry, at first, to ask Draco along. Harry told Ginny he wanted to come with her on Monday evening; on Tuesday and Wednesday, his day was about the same as it had been for months--wake up early, breakfast, morning chores with Draco, back to the house for lunch, afternoon chores with or without Draco, supper, hanging out with Luna and Ginny. On Thursday morning, Luna had the bright idea that she should pack a picnic lunch so she could join them while they watched the sheep and cows graze. At the last minute, however, she got the call that a mum had gone into early labor, and so she offered the picnic lunch to Draco and Harry instead.
Most days, they ate whatever they could find, usually leftovers from something Luna had made the night before, scarfing down the food and barely paying attention to each other, they were already so exhausted. Draco frequently ended up trying to read, but ultimately napping, either outside on the sofa under the canopy hanging over the courtyard, or inside on a settee in the rarely-used drawing room. Harry spent a couple of hours going over ledgers or making calls to various Muggles who dealt with goods related to sheep.
This Thursday morning, on the other hand, hadn’t been so taxing--Lucy and Annie did most of the real shepherding work, and Daniel had already taken care of the real nitty-gritty work that Harry hated most, so neither he nor Draco were nearly as tired as they usually were. And it was such a nice day--not too warm, even though it was deep summer, and the shade was perfect under the oaks at the edge of the west pasture. Plus Luna, thoughtful as ever, had spelled the picnic basket so that the lettuce on the sandwiches had kept their crispness, and the strawberries were cool and sweet, and there was even a thermos of still-hot tea with three little teacups protected by a Cushioning Charm.
Draco transfigured a bed of grass into a soft blanket, and he and Harry sat cross-legged across from one another, close enough that if Harry shifted a bit, his knee would brush against Draco’s. They each unwrapped a sandwich and took a bite, looked at each other in surprise, and barely stopped to taste the rest. Luna had outdone herself in the sandwich arena.
They ate quickly and quietly, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. If Harry had to say, it was nice, really. When you got down to it, Draco was nice to be around.
God, imagine telling himself that at age fifteen. It really was a good thing all the Time Turners had been destroyed, there was no chance of being attacked by his own adolescent self, convinced that his current self had been possessed or Polyjuiced or something.
In minutes all of the food and tea was gone and, feeling like he’d eaten an entire Hogwarts feast alone, Harry flopped onto his back. Draco lay gently next to him, his arms folded under his head. They both watched a pair of swallows jump from branch to branch in the tree above them.
“What made you choose this?” said Draco into the silence.
Harry didn’t know what he meant. “I didn’t. It was Luna’s idea.”
“Not the picnic, you idiot. I meant--” and here Draco gestured with his arm in a way that could have meant the entire outdoors-- “this. The farm. The sheep and all.”
“Oh,” said Harry, and, without quite realizing it, he smiled. “That. Well, I lived in London. So.” Harry tried to end there, instead of getting into the whole sorry backstory. Although, he didn’t really think it was sorry anymore.
“Only been the once, remember?” Draco turned so that he was on his side, his head propped up on one palm. He looked down at Harry. His nose was pink from the sun. He kept forgetting sun protection spells, and Harry itched to do it for him.
“I’m sure you noticed how loud it was,” said Harry, closing his eyes against the image of Draco framed by summer light. Draco’s ears were pink too. He needed to be more careful.
“It was,” agreed Draco, and Harry almost thought he’d gotten off the hook, until Draco added, “but that doesn’t explain the part where you cast off your Auror chains to pursue a shepherd’s life.”
“I was just unhappy, I guess,” said Harry. He kept his eyes closed as he said it. Like he was just going to look at someone while he spoke truthfully about his feelings. “The life just wasn’t for me.”
He felt Draco move beside him, and the blackness of his eyelids went yellow-pink. He could tell that Draco was on his stomach now, the long line of his body close enough that Harry felt it all up his side. “Bullshit,” mumbled Draco. Harry turned his head and looked over at him. He had his head propped up on folded arms and was looking into middle distance.
“No, really,” said Harry. “I was all right at it, but I was angry all the time. And Ginny hated it, and we were miserable, and I got all these awful stomach aches. And then--” he swallowed. God, he really hated talking about the whole Auror part of his life. It made him feel like ants were crawling all over him. “Well, sometimes I got out of control. Hurt some people who didn’t deserve it. It got bad. One day I just Apparated to the first place I could think of, somewhere Hermione had brought us when we were seventeen, and I liked it and I stayed.”
Draco snorted. “‘I liked it and I stayed.’ Just like that. You really do have a charmed life, don’t you, Potter?”
“Nothing really ever stopped you from doing the same,” said Harry.
“No, nothing,” said Draco, his voice suddenly several degrees colder. “Just my father’s health, my mother’s safety, oh, and the fact I had no fucking money.”
Harry didn’t reply. They looked at each other for a long moment. Draco’s eyes were a crackling challenge but Harry was only considering Draco and the weight of his words.
There had been a time in his life when he didn’t understand what was difficult about choosing what he considered to be the right thing. He had believed the truth to be simple and decisions to be uncomplicated. Draco had grown up with a similar sensibility, except that for him, what was simple was not the fact of what was good, but the fact of his father’s infallible correctness.
It was strange, to be older, to know from experience that some truths are shed with age, along with elementary spellbooks and childhood fears.
“Hey,” said Harry. “You wanna go see a Quidditch match with me on my birthday?”
Luna gave him a knowing look. Harry ignored it, but suspected she may have been less than forthcoming about her true plans for the day.
Ginny had already gone two days prior; it wasn’t her first match as reserve but the captain was notorious for springing new plays on the players at the drop of a hat. Luna and Daniel had very precise instructions for while they were away. Draco didn’t say goodbye to his mother.
They went through four international Apparition points and lost eight hours between time zones even though the travel only took them three, all told. They were exhausted by the time they reached their destination. Harry didn’t know if there was a magical word for jetlag, he was feeling it profoundly as they waited in the short queue at their hotel. It was Muggle; all the magical ones had been booked.
When they got to their room Harry let himself fall heavy onto one of the beds. Draco collapsed into the other. “Normally we’d be collecting the eggs or something right now,” he said. “And here it’s dinner.”
“Potter, shut up,” said Draco, and they ended up sleeping through their first night in Tokyo.
The next day they woke up just after noon. Harry felt much better, though there was still a surreal haze shrouded over everything he saw. He’d traveled backwards through time when he was thirteen and yet time zones were apparently blowing his mind.
After ordering room service for lunch and lounging around for a few hours, enjoying a rare chore-less day, it was time to get to Ginny’s match. They Apparated to an Apparition point a kilometer from the actual gates of the pitch. As they walked, they passed hundreds of people in white robes with green trim, or t-shirts featuring a dragon holding a Quaffle. Harry recalled his first Quidditch World Cup, back when he’d been fourteen, and hadn’t known how big the Wizarding World could be.
The pitch itself was surrounded by pink trees, from which petals drifted in a breeze that brought relief from the hot sun after the walk. When they showed their tickets, they were led to the top of a tall pagoda into a box for family and friends of the away team. Given how far this game was from home, Harry and Draco had the box to themselves.
From the top of the pagoda, they could see that what lay between the goals at either side was not grass but a massive pond. There were orange and white koi so large that Harry could see them swimming back and forth among the lily pads and shoots of green leaves.
“Bit ostentatious, if you ask me,” said Draco, who was considering it all with a raised eyebrow.
Harry thought this was a bit rich coming from someone who’d grown up surrounded by a flock of actual peacocks, but he didn’t mention it. “When d’you think the first fall into that pond will happen?”
“I give it about fifteen minutes,” said Draco. “Imagine if they’d had something like that at Hogwarts. Like if we played over the Great Lake or something.”
“‘Gryffindor is awarded sixty points for dodging that great pair of tentacles!’”
“No way! More like, Slytherin wins when all the Gryffindors fall off their brooms and a--flock? Pack? Murder? Of Merpeople swim off with them.”
“What the hell do Merpeople want with the Gryffindors?”
Draco looked at him innocently. “I couldn’t imagine, Potter.”
Harry made a face at him, but his reply was interrupted by loud trumpets. The match was starting. The announcer said something in Japanese, and Harry frowned. He’d forgotten that he’d have to watch the whole match in a language he didn’t understand. He turned to complain--just a bit--to Draco, but Draco was looking at him with exasperation. He waved his wand and suddenly the announcer’s introduction of the Japanese team made a lot more sense.
“Thanks,” muttered Harry.
Draco rolled his eyes. “You know you can do magic, right?”
“I just forget sometimes,” said Harry.
The English team sped past their box in a blur of white and red and Harry forgot about Draco as he threw himself into cheering for Ginny. She had been good in school, but he loved to see her play now, where she proved herself to be unstoppable. She passed the Quaffle deftly to her teammate, who passed it under himself to Ginny again, who flew underneath him to catch it and throw it into a hoop from twenty feet away. It went through, and Harry yelled himself hoarse.
As good as Ginny was, however, the Japanese team gave the English a run for their money.
“They train over the ocean during storms and things, you know,” said Draco when a Japanese Chaser swung off her broom in midair, flipped over, mounted it again backwards to avoid a Bludger. “They’re fearless.”
“Gin’s pretty fearless, too,” said Harry. “Look at her.”
Ginny had grabbed onto her teammate’s broom, and the teammate used her momentum to swing her forward so that Ginny could throw the Quaffle into the hoop while the Keeper was looking the other way. The problem was that the force of being thrown caused Ginny to also go soaring through the air, but she braked so seamlessly she looked as if she had never been in any kind of danger. That made the score 50 - 40 to England.
“How did you end up living with your ex-fiancee and her girlfriend, anyway?” said Draco curiously. Harry glanced over at him. He wasn’t watching the game and instead had his eyes on Harry.
Harry shrugged. Japan had the Quaffle. “It just made sense, weirdly. Ginny and I always worked best as friends, and we’d been living together for so long anyway.”
“What, that’s it? You broke up, and then drew up a lease together?”
“She was still water girl for the Magpies. She couldn’t afford rent and didn’t want to live with her mum. I had two houses. It made sense.” Madako had gotten a Quaffle in, but Adachi, one of the Japanese Beaters, had fouled Gershwin, the English Seeker.
“And when she brought Luna--”
“Luna already lived there. I asked her to come help me with the sheep because she was the only one who knew anything about animals at all.”
“You say all this like it’s normal, but it’s not.”
Harry laughed. He turned away from the game and looked at Draco’s confused face. “Fuck normal, Malfoy.”
There was a sudden surge of noise as Shimizu, the Japanese Seeker, soared through the reeds surrounding the pond. She skimmed her feet along the pond as she chased the Snitch; Wilson was racing towards her but he was much less used to the water, and he was startled by a koi jumping out towards him. He crashed into Shimizu and they both crashed into the pond. There was a groan from the crowd. Wilson lifted his arm in a sheepish wave.
“Do you remember,” said Draco as two soaked Seekers climbed back onto their brooms, “when you swallowed that Snitch in first year? Merlin, I was livid.”
Harry grinned. “It was totally on accident. At first I thought we’d lost.”
“I remember Pansy and I checking out every book of Quidditch rules in existence trying to find some way to have you disqualified. Turns out it’s completely legal.”
“You don’t sound at all like you’re still bitter.”
“You didn't catch it! You just said yourself you swallowed it by accident!” Despite his argument, Draco didn’t look angry; instead, he was grinning at Harry. “Listen, after this, we go back to Hogwarts and settle it once and for all.”
“What, by arguing with Dumbledore’s portrait? Nah, I’m good. Gryffindor’s 1991 House Cup victory remains.”
Harry had nearly forgotten about the match, and Draco was barely watching. They looked at each other, grinning, for what seemed like several long seconds, when they were interrupted by a cheer louder than any they’d heard so far. Harry, his face heating, turned to look down at the pitch so quickly a muscle in his neck protested.
Shimizu was lapping the pitch, her arm raised high in the air. She was holding the Snitch. So much for England making it to the World Cup--they had already lost to Croatia, Switzerland, and Brazil, and had only had one victory the entire season. Harry was already planning on avoiding Ginny tonight.
All told, the game hadn’t lasted very long--about forty minutes, start to finish. But by the time they had navigated the crowd, made it to the Apparition point, stood in the queue for what seemed like hours, and Apparated all the way back across the country, they were both exhausted. They ate a quick dinner in a restaurant near the hotel, and crashed into their beds. Harry was asleep within minutes.
He woke up the next day--their last day--in a mood so cheerful that Draco threw a pillow at him to shut up his whistling.
“Kill you,” Draco mumbled into his mattress. “Kill you very bad.”
“Is that so,” said Harry, and proceeded to whistle even more loudly until Draco rolled out of bed and carried his pillow and duvet into the loo to sleep in the bath. An hour later, Harry stuck his head in and turned on the faucet. The water poured directly into Draco’s face, and he sat up, spluttering.
“Kill you!” he yelled, and chased Harry back into the bedroom. Harry jinxed him with a Jello-finger curse and climbed onto the bed to escape. Draco retaliated by flicking the radio on, which was tuned to a very loud Japanese metal station. He jumped up on the bed and tackled Harry. Harry used the headboard as leverage and pinned Draco down. This was no easy feat, as Draco kept wriggling like a worm.
“Say mercy!” said Harry, locking his hands around Draco’s wrists.
“Never!” yelled Draco back. He pushed Harry off and Harry fell onto the ground with a crash. The blanket from his bed had already been pushed off before him, and it softened the blow.
There came a loud banging noise from the wall. “Damare!” yelled a voice. “Shut it up, you crazy tourists!”
They both dissolved into laughter, Harry on his back on the floor, Draco sprawled on his stomach on the bed. Every time one of them would catch their breath, the other would whisper “You crazy tourists!” and it would set them off again. It wasn’t even that funny, but Harry hadn’t laughed so hard for--god, such a long time.
Finally their laughter died away. Harry sat up and stretched. “Well, I suppose if I’m starting twenty-seven as I mean to go on, it’s not such a bad thing.”
“You’re a Leo,” said Draco. “Of course you’re a Leo. A Gryffindor and a Leo, my god.”
“My friends call me Harry the Lionhearted,” said Harry seriously.
Draco gave him such a look of disdain that Harry could only keep the straight face for a couple of seconds before he burst into laughter again.
“Come on, Draco, it’s not like it means anything. Besides, you didn’t even take Divination.”
“That’s because I didn’t need to. My mother puts a lot of stock into astrology. She always said that it was basically written in the stars that I would be a Slytherin. She thought it was the perfect Gemini house. But I’m a Pisces moon, so I guess the other option could have been Hufflepuff.” He sounded perfectly serious and thoughtful when he said this.
“The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin, but I asked it not to,” said Harry. “How Leo is that for you?”
“It’s an extremely Leo move, actually,” said Draco.
Harry squinted at him. “It’s like you’re speaking a totally different language.”
“I wish I didn’t know this much about it, believe me,” said Draco. “Happy birthday, by the way. What do you want to do for it?”
Harry knew almost nothing about Tokyo, and it turned out that Draco knew even less than that. They ended up ordering room service again, and when they were finally dressed--and had hung the still soaked duvet over the shower--they went downstairs and asked the concierge for her advice.
She took one look at him and Draco and said, “You’re very young! Many young people like Shibuya.”
Harry stuck his hands in his pockets, then, wondering if it might be rude, took them back out. “Yeah? What’s it like?”
“Very good nightlife. Shopping, fashion--”
Behind him in line was a white man not much older than Harry, American, from his accent. He nudged him and said “They got a bunch of those love hotels. Where you can stay to rest.” He followed this with a horrifying wink.
Harry flicked his eyes over at Draco, who shook his head violently. Harry looked back at the concierge. “No, no, I was thinking more--like, where’s it nice to walk around or…?”
The concierge nodded. “Okay, yes. Asakusa is the place for you. Very old, many beautiful shrines and tonight you can see the fireworks!”
“That sounds lovely, thanks,” said Harry, and she gave him directions.
They took a train. This marveled Draco, who would have preferred Apparition, but the concierge insisted that the Tokyo transit system was the best in the world, and Harry wanted to test it out. So far, it had nothing on the Hogwarts Express, but then, its trains weren’t heading to Hogwarts. Nothing could beat that.
The first place they went was Sensō-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple. It was beautiful but swarming with people. They stuck close to each other and let the crowd carry them where it would; they ended up standing before an o-mikuji stall. They watched a pair of teen girls pay and then shake a box. They pulled out a stick, looked at it, and then replaced the stick. Then they took a paper from one of the drawers. They giggled as they walked away, talking about what the fortune had told them.
“Wanna give it a try?” said Harry, nodding towards the box of sticks.
“What is it?” asked Draco, who was still watching, confused, as a single older man had his turn. He did not seem nearly as glad about whatever the paper said as the girls had been.
“It’s a fortune,” said Harry, who had read about it in one of the brochures the concierge had given him. “You take a paper from the drawer with the number that’s on the stick, and it gives you a blessing. Or a curse.”
“With your luck, probably a curse,” joked Draco.
“Probably,” said Harry, not meaning to sound serious. He hastily smiled and added, “If Trelawney had anything to do with it, then absolutely.”
To their surprise, neither of them pulled fortunes that foretold a curse. Draco’s, a blessing which brought him “great luck” according to the English translation on the back, said, “Your diamonds grow brighter when you shine them.” Harry’s was apparently a Great Blessing. It said, “That which you most desire is a happy surprise. Your hopes will turn out to be real.” They read them to each other, laughing at the non-specificity, but when Draco wasn’t watching, Harry folded his up and put it in his pocket next to his wand.
They walked through a lovely garden near the temple and then, on the other side, found a long street lined with shops. They wandered in and out of them, and Harry bought a maneki-neko cat for Luna and a whole bag of cookies for Ginny. He and Draco both bought several beautiful lanterns. Harry was grateful that the shopkeeper who watched Draco struggle with his money probably put it to their being tourists and didn’t suspect that Draco only knew currency where twenty-nine of one thing was worth one of the other.
They looked for more shrines, walked along more beautiful gardens. They ate some of the best food Harry had ever had, although he couldn’t figure out what it was called. He and Draco stayed there at the restaurant talking until it was nearly dusk. They talked about everything--little observations about the people around them, discussions about the farm, a surprisingly in-depth conversation about which of their Hogwarts professors each of them would, if necessary, marry.
(Draco reluctantly settled on Professor Vector, whom Harry barely remembered. Harry, for his part, was loyal to McGonagall to the end. At least they’d have fun, he argued.)
As the sky grew darker, they followed the crowds--which had since tripled--towards the edge of the river. There was barely anywhere to stand; they were practically standing shoulder to shoulder between strangers. But their view of the sky was clear and once the fireworks started, the oohs and ahhs of the people around them heightened the experience.
Draco turned and yelled something at him as a particularly loud one went off.
“What?” yelled Harry back at him over the sound of a series of fireworks followed it.
Draco was framed in red light when Harry glanced at him. The sparks of the fireworks seemed to reflect off Draco’s hair, making him seem, for a moment, as if he glowed with an ethereal kind of luminescence. “Happy birthday,” he shouted, loud enough that Harry could hear him. Harry, in response, grinned. Draco grinned back.
It was a pretty good birthday.
Narcissa looked up, dropped her fork, and said faintly, “Draco, dear, is that Bartholomew?”
Bartholomew seemed to be the name belonging to the huge, majestic owl perched on the windowsill. Harry glanced at Draco. He looked pale and terrified.
Bartholomew had no patience for these human emotions. He pecked at the window impatiently and only Luna had the presence of mind to walk over and let him in. Bartholomew flew in, landed in front of Narcissa’s plate, and extended his leg. Narcissa, frowning, took the scroll attached there, and Bartholomew, with a dignified ruffle of feathers, took off back out the window. Harry racked his brain, trying to imagine who had sent this owl. Bartholomew was not recognizable as one of the international post owls Harry knew Draco sometimes received from Pansy Parkinson, nor did he carry the official crest of the Ministry of Magic around his leg. He seemed rather ostentatious for Neville’s nursery, which was the only mail Mrs. Malfoy ever received.
Other than Rose, who hadn’t yet learned how to chew with her mouth closed, the room was quiet as she scanned the note. Then she looked up, her face even more inscrutable than usual. “Excuse me,” she said, and stood, her posture as regal as ever. Draco tried to follow suit but she shook her head minutely and, frowning, sat slowly back down. Instead of heading upstairs, as Harry had expected, she made her way out the front door towards her garden, leaving a wake of stunned silence.
“I,” said Draco, and then closed his mouth again. “It’s from my father.” He raised his eyes towards the person sitting directly across from him. Hermione had a sympathetic expression on her face and looked suspiciously like she was trying to think of something encouraging to say. Draco scowled and turned to look at Harry instead. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna--they all knew the basic gist of the story, but nothing more than that. Only Harry knew how Draco truly felt about his father now, and how he feared he might lose his mother to him. They locked eyes for a charged moment.
“Listen, it might not--” Harry started, but Draco’s face grew so angry that Harry nearly reached for his wand in a preemptive defensive move.
“What the fuck do you know about it, Potter?” said Draco, pushing away from the table. He stormed upstairs. Harry stared after him, open-mouthed. It felt as if it had been a very, very long time since Draco had spoken to him that way.
“Oy!” said Ron, yelling after him.
Harry shook his head and closed his mouth. “It’s not worth it, Ron. He’s not angry at me, I think. He’s, just.” Harry didn’t know how to finish the sentence. He sighed.
“Kind of a arsehead sometimes,” Ginny finished for him.
“Sometimes, the arsehead has reasons for its arsehead behavior,” Luna pointed out sagely.
Rose looked around at the table. “I like getting owls,” she said, confused.
“Me too, darling,” said Hermione, patting her daughter on her curly head. “Don’t worry. Some owls just take… longer to make people happy.”
Though Harry had a feeling that this one might not ever make Draco happy.
Harry left his cake on the table and followed Draco. He hesitated at the entryway at the sight of Mrs. Malfoy sitting on a settee, ankles crossed, dressed in a prim skirt and jacket. Most significantly, she was surrounded by trunks and the fire was going even though it was July. Apparently she had just been waiting to say goodbye to her son.
“The Manor is my home,” Narcissa said, her usual elegant serenity peeling away at the edges.
“Father made it abundantly clear that it was no home for either of us,” responded Draco bitterly. He sat down on the settee next to his mother, who took his hand. Harry felt keenly that he had passed into eavesdropping territory.
“I must go to him, Draco. Things may have changed.”
Draco scoffed, but his attempt at haughtiness was intercepted by some other emotion, something more raw. It dragged against his throat and made his voice come out rough. “I suppose this is the last time we speak, then. Since I doubt we’ll see each other again any time soon.”
Narcissa sighed, a melancholy sound to Harry’s ears. “You will be well taken care of here. And I will speak with your father every day, and send for you when he is ready.”
There was a wet coughing sound then, and both mother and son spoke no more. Harry quietly escaped to the cellar. He’d been meaning to bring up some potatoes for dinner that night, anyway.
He did his afternoon chores alone and didn’t see Draco for the rest of the day.
Draco was different too. Over the last six months Harry had grown used to a Draco who was kind of prickly, sure, but didn’t snap at him every five minutes and remind Harry why he used to hate him so much. In the days after Narcissa’s departure, Harry used every spare moment he spent with Draco dusting off his old anger management techniques: taking frequent breaks, counting backwards from ten, imagining quiet relaxing beaches. He took Luna up on her offer of teaching him some restorative yoga practices, but gave up after thirty minutes of tripping over Max followed by a savasana that ignited a terrible case of uncontrollable laughter.
It was annoying but he found he could handle it all pretty okay until about two weeks after Harry’s birthday.
The first problem was Bernie the goat, the newest member of the family. When they first bought her, she was constantly escaping her pen and getting into Luna’s garden, and although Luna was lovely about it, and although they didn’t exactly need the money, he hated letting down people in the village who had ordered cabbages or carrots or whatever. So Harry had secured the pen with a few well-placed spells, and it hadn’t happened since. That morning, though, it looked like she’d gotten back to her old tricks. When Harry passed by the garden on his way to milk the cows, he found that she’d escaped again, and this time she’d gotten into the strawberries. Harry found her sleeping in the strawberry patch with red juice staining the white fur around her mouth. “Oh, goddamn it, Bernie,” he said, and led her back to the pen.
This wouldn’t have been so bad if Draco had been awake on time that morning, but he’d asked for a bit of a lie-in, and Harry, keenly aware of how hard Draco had been working, and that he was still dealing with his mother’s departure, let him have it. But now his hands were tied--it would take a good hour or two to mend the fence in the pen, and tighten up the spellwork, and that would put him behind for milking, which never made the cows happy, and then he’d be late to let out the sheep--
The rearrangement of his mental to-do list was interrupted when he and Bernie made it to the pen and Harry realized that Bernie hadn’t escaped at all. No, it was obvious that someone had left the gate open. There could only be one culprit.
Harry saw red. He pushed Bernie--much against her will--into the pen, locked it tight, and marched back to the house. He stormed into Draco’s room, a burst of accidental magic slamming the door open. Draco sat up straight in bed, his short hair mussed and dark circles set deep into the pale skin under his eyes. “What the fuck, Potter?” he shouted, pulling his blanket over his chest.
“You left Bernie’s pen open,” said Harry. Draco didn’t look concerned enough so Harry added with more force, “She got into the strawberries!”
Draco lay his head back against the headboard. “Is that all?” he said, his voice taking on a dispassionate drawl. It was fake as hell, Harry was pretty sure.
“You also have been a total fuckface,” said Harry. He approached the bed and stared down at Draco, his arms crossed. Draco rolled his eyes. “I know you’re sad about your mum--”
“Don’t talk about my mum!” Draco was sitting up straight again, and his face had flushed. It did not make him look less tired. “You don’t know anything about it!”
“Well, from here, since you won’t talk to anyone, it just looks like you’re sulking because Mummy’s not around to hold your hand and mop up your messes for you--”
Harry had only a moment to register that Draco was wearing nothing but a pair of red cotton pants before he was being tackled to the ground. It was a clumsy attack and Draco’s foot was caught in a blanket, but he still landed a sucker punch into Harry’s stomach. Harry found enough leverage to flip them over, twisting Draco’s leg up in the blanket even further. He pinned Draco’s arms to his sides, breathing hard against the urge to use his Auror training to give Draco a black eye he’d never heal from. “Why did you punch me, you fucking idiot?” he yelled into Draco’s face. Max had run in after him and was yapping at the top of his lungs, running circles around them.
“My father wants to kill me,” Draco howled, his eyes filling with tears. His body went slack against Harry’s hold. He turned his head so Harry couldn’t see his face, though he could see tears as they dropped onto the floor. “My father wants to kill me and he wants to kill Mother and he’s going to do it, I know he is.”
Harry let go of Draco’s arms and Draco lifted them to cover his face. Harry slid off Draco and sat down hard on the floor, leaning against the bed. Draco didn’t move. “What do you mean?” said Harry. He’d always had a lot of opinions about Lucius Malfoy, but he’d never suspected him of wanting anything but the very best for his son.
“Fuck off,” said Draco miserably from beneath his hands, his voice muffled and choked with tears.
Harry ignored him. “After the trials, he said he was grateful for the chance to stay home with his family. He was on Veritaserum.”
Draco finally moved his hands and looked at Harry as if he thought he was the stupidest person he ever met. It was a familiar look. Draco’s cheeks were blotchy. “He was barely sane by that point.”
“No, we--the Aurors, I mean--we purposely did sanity screenings on everyone we questioned--”
Draco laughed, a hollow sound that caught in his throat. Harry watched his bony, pale chest rise. “The Aurors didn’t give a damn about whether my father was sane. They wanted to get rid of him. He was too complicated a problem.” Draco stretched out his legs so that he was lying flat on the floor. “It wasn’t that obvious at first, anyway. My mother and I didn’t even notice, not for two or three years. By that point, he was too far gone to be helped, anyway.”
“Why didn’t you take him to St. Mungo’s?”
Draco rolled his eyes so hard it looked like it hurt. “Yeah, sure. Every Healer at St. Mungo’s would just jump at the chance to help my father.”
“They’re Healers, they have to help,” said Harry, although deep down he knew that Draco was right. Even now, there were wounds from the war that might never heal, anger that simmered below the surface like it used to for Harry.
“Like I said, there’s nothing they could have done anyway. My mother thought it would just be better to let him… convalesce at home. And it was fine, for a while. It worked well enough, anyway. We had a couple of house-elves he’d known since he was a boy who nursed him, and we paid a private Healer to come and check in on him every few months. He was doing fine.”
Harry wanted to ask questions, but he didn’t want to push Draco. Draco might like to talk, but he rarely brought up his father, or what had happened before he’d come to Harry’s.
“Then, about three years ago, there was that Wizengamot law--do you remember? Something about reparations and stolen property, it had to do with the goblins, I think.”
Harry did remember. In fact, he’d helped to prepare the case Hermione had made to pass the law, which stated that wizards in possession of goblin-made goods, or other goods created by races other than human, must come with an authenticated bill of ownership, as signed by a representative of the race. Harry had never stopped feeling guilty about the Sword of Gryffindor and what he’d done to Griphook.
“Well, it turned out that nearly everything we owned was--well, very little of it came to us by ethical means, I’ll tell you that. The smallest things, even. My mother’s pillowcases were fairy-made, it turns out. She doesn’t have them anymore.” Draco shrugged. “It was all old and grungy but it was the kind of thing my father liked to keep around to show off his status, you know?
“But even then, things were fine for a while. I came into my inheritance which hadn’t been touched. We were doing fine.”
Draco sighed. Harry stared at a knot in one of the wooden floorboards.
“He was so ill,” Draco said, quietly. “He--that’s why Mother and I tolerated it for so long, you know. We knew that so much of it was because he was sick, because he’d lost so much. It was--hard--when he’d yell at us or whatever, or when he didn’t recognize one of us. And we were fine, everything was all right, until two years ago.”
“You keep saying it was fine but all evidence points to the contrary,” pointed out Harry.
Draco rolled his red-rimmed eyes. “It was fine; Mother and I were handling it.”
“Okay, so if it was fine, what changed?”
“We lost everything. Everything but the Manor itself, and my father wouldn’t give that up. Mother and I tried to make him see reason, but he couldn’t let go. I mean, I get it. It’s like--you’re not a Malfoy without the Manor, and the Manor isn’t the Manor without the Malfoys. They go together.”
“What would you have done, if you were him?” Harry was suddenly curious. Draco wasn’t anything like Lucius, he had long since discovered that, but the way Draco spoke about Malfoy Manor… well, Harry just wanted to know.
Draco didn’t answer right away. Then, in stops and starts, he said, “I like to think--I like to think… it wouldn’t be like this. It would be hard. I wouldn’t give up my son for it.”
In the distance, Harry heard Annie and Lucy barking at something. Max lifted his head in interest, and then huffed a great sigh and lay his head back down on his paws. Harry reached over and scratched him between the ears.
“How do you know he wants to kill you?” said Harry.
Draco takes a deep breath and his voice took on a distant quality. “The night I left. It was really bad. I had shaved my head… I was so angry about Polly. Even my mother told him it was beyond reason. He couldn’t explain why he’d done it--I hadn’t realized it was something so small, so petty, that I had a thing I loved and he had nothing.” Draco stared up at the ceiling. “He told me I’d be next if I ever stepped foot on the Manor grounds again. So I left.”
They let that hang between them for a long moment.
“You’re safe here, you know,” said Harry finally.
Draco made a sound that wanted to be a laugh, but wasn’t. “Sure. With Saint Potter.”
“Hey. No. Shut up. I mean it, you’re safe here. For as long as you need to be.”
Draco opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it again. Harry watched his Adam’s apple bobbing. When Draco did speak, his voice sounded curiously thick. “Only you’d want to protect someone who attacked you in their pants.”
Harry laughed. “That was not an attack, Malfoy. That was like being tackled by Teddy.”
The tension broken, Draco finally stood up, awkward now that he wasn’t quite in the throes of despair. “Er, I’ll get dressed I guess.”
“You do that,” said Harry. “And Draco?”
“Stop being a fucking idiot, won’t you?”
Draco lifted up a corner of his mouth in a half-smile and met Harry’s eyes. “I’ll try, but no promises.”
Draco and Harry kept busy, too. Luna was too busy to harvest her vegetables, so she recruited their help, and anyone else who had the time. Ron, Rose, and Hermione--rounder than ever--visited one afternoon, and Rose raced them all to pick the most peas. Teddy and Andromeda helped, too, though Teddy was a lot more suspicious of the job, having had too many run-ins with the somewhat more bloodthirsty plants that grew in the garden at Grimmauld Place. Narcissa helped when she could, but when she did, the silence between her and her son was so cold that Harry tried to avoid spending time with them. Then the weather grew cooler, and Harry had to supplement everyone’s pasture grazing with the hay from the big bales he, Draco, and Daniel had harvested earlier in the year, and take out the mittens Hermione had charmed warm for him.
Despite all the signs of the changing seasons, Harry almost couldn’t believe it when it was time for breeding season again. The summer had been so mild that Harry worried the winter might be harsh in retaliation, which meant he’d want lambs later than February, and so he waited until it was almost Halloween before he brought in Gilbert for breeding.
Gilbert was the headstrong (as most male sheep are) ram who had been Gertie’s sister’s first birth; he belonged to a Muggle who lived about two hours away by car and seemed to hate people in general. Harry liked Gilbert, although he was never quite as docile as the ewes Harry kept for his flock.
Fortunately the week went by without a hitch. All of the ewes Harry wanted to lamb next year more or less took to Gilbert, and Gilbert did everything he was supposed to. Everything was just peachy until the day it was time for Gilbert to go home.
Harry had been at this long enough to know better, but he had been distracted by Draco and any number of other factors; and in any case, he knew Gilbert. Gilbert had been one of the first lambs born on the farm. Sure, he had never seemed to trust Harry the way the other sheep did, but, still, Harry knew him.
The problem was that Harry didn’t know him quite as well as he knew all his many sweet, loving ewes, who were rarely aggressive, and loved physical attention. Harry knew better than to make loud sounds or sudden movements around Gilbert, but he had forgotten that Gilbert, unlike any of his spiritual sheep sisters, hated to be patted on the head. Like any animal would whose instinct, when threatened, was to use their head very forcefully on the attacker.
So when Gilbert happily accepted a snack of a winter pear from Harry’s hand as a reward for a job well done, Harry absentmindedly patted Gilbert between his fuzzy ears. He barely noticed it. He and Draco so immersed in their conversation about the bet they had going over which of the sheep would lamb first, that Harry almost didn’t notice that in a matter of moments, Gilbert’s happy, relaxed attitude had disappeared, and had been replaced by that of a pretty pissed off buck.
Draco noticed first. “Shit, Har--” he managed to get out, before Harry felt the sudden force of Gilbert’s skull against his thigh. He was lucky years of flying had honed his balance, or he’d already be on the ground. Then he realized his luck was about to run out: Gilbert was rearing back to try again.
Harry tried to remember what he’d learned about rams. They were mostly solitary, they were allergic to avocados. Shaun the Sheep could be funny. Nothing that came to mind was actually helpful. Draco’s voice broke through his truly stupid thoughts: “Potter, fucking move!”
Harry leapt up onto the stone wall behind him, just barely missing Gilbert’s charge. Gilbert had the reflexes of a Seeker, if goats could play Quidditch, and turned away from crashing into the wall. Draco ran for Gilbert’s pen and leapt up onto the fence surrounding it as Gilbert charged into the gate, which Draco then slammed shut. There, Gilbert quietly fumed but more or less accepted his fate.
Harry could barely catch his breath for laughing. He clutched at the stones beneath him to steady himself and, in the next moment, was on his back staring at the sky. He held a bit of wall in his hand. Well, fuck. He’d meant to fix that. He didn’t think that he’d get up right that moment, though. It felt nice on the ground, and the idea of sitting up seemed pretty horrible.
Draco jumped over the wall, shouting Harry’s name. The sound of it hurt Harry’s head. Harry closed his eyes. He heard the sound of Draco casting a Mobilicorpus and then felt the curious sensation of being borne along in midair.
Harry opened one eye and squinted. It felt like his head was exploding. “Draco?” he mumbled.
Draco looked down. He was striding alongside Harry. “Good. Stay awake, you dumbass. Merlin, I can’t believe this.”
“You’re the dumbass,” said Harry, instinctually.
“Sure, if it’ll keep you awake,” said Draco. He sounded distracted. Harry closed his eyes. It really was nice to float like this. He ought to do it more often. Despite Draco’s warning to stay awake, Harry was pretty sure he dozed off. The next thing he knew, he was waking up to the sound of Luna’s voice.
“What happened?” her voice, normally so serene and sweet, sounded nervous. Well, to Harry it did. It probably still sounded serene to anyone who didn’t know her. Luna was like that.
“Idiot fell off a wall and hit his head. What kind of mushrooms do you and my mother keep in that garden of yours? I’m going to need clubmoss, yarrow, and maybe some skullcap if you have it.”
“Yes, I think we have those, shall I bring it to you?”
“Please, yes, I’m taking him inside.”
Harry dozed off again, and then the air changed, as did the light behind his eyelids. The breezy bright outdoors gave way to the slightly mustier, dark warmth of the house. Oh, he hoped he was going to bed. He was tired.
Draco levitated him over to the really well-stuffed sofa in the living room. Then Harry could hear sounds in the kitchen--dishes being gathered and put down on the counter, the back door opening and closing and Luna’s soft footsteps. Harry dozed on and off as he listened to their hushed concerned voices, and the sound of something being stirred.
After what could have been hours or days, Harry was being propped up by pillows and Draco was holding a cup of something that smelled like earth to his mouth. “Drink, Harry,” he was saying quietly. “It’ll help. Come on.”
Harry opened his mouth and took a sip. It tasted like hot mud. He made a face and tried to move his mouth away. “Nah,” he said. Then, considering, “Thank you.”
“You don’t need to be polite, you just need to drink this so you don’t have a concussion,” Draco said.
Harry wrinkled his nose, but he allowed Draco to pour it bit by bit into his mouth, and then he snuggled down into a cushion and fell properly asleep. When he woke up, his head was blissfully clear and felt much less like he was being hammered repeatedly by something small and angry.
Draco was sitting at his feet, on the other side of the couch. He had a book propped up on his knees, but he wasn’t reading the words. Harry smiled sheepishly when Draco glanced over at him.
“Well, hello, graceful,” said Draco, putting his book down. “How are you doing?”
“I need to brush my teeth, and I’m feeling pretty dumb, but other than that, I’m peachy.”
“You’re lucky Luna had everything I needed in the garden, or I’d have had to call in Madam Pomfrey.” Draco nodded at the kitchen. Harry could see a cauldron upside down over the sink and a cutting board with mushrooms still on it.
“Nah, she would have said, ‘Potter? Leave him be, he deserves it,’ after all the trouble I gave her in school.” Harry stretched. “Jesus. How long was I out?”
“It’s been a few hours. I finished the rounds, and Gilbert’s come and gone. And Ginny hasn’t been home, so your shame is secret for now. Until Luna tells her, anyway.”
“Thanks,” said Harry. “I mean it. Ron got a concussion once when we were Aurors and he was dizzy for weeks. They had to put him on bedrest.”
Draco shrugged. “It’s no problem. I missed doing potions like that. You know, like useful ones, not the Draught of Living Sleep or whatever.”
“Yeah? I didn’t know you still liked potions. I just thought you got good at it so you could rub my nose in it.”
Draco rolled his eyes so hard he seemed to nearly give himself a concussion. “The world doesn’t revolve around you, believe it or not.”
“Tell yourself that,” said Harry. “Your twelve-year-old self, I mean.”
“As a matter of fact, I was top in the school in potions. Not even Granger--”
“Not even Hermione beat me there.”
“Why didn’t you pursue it?”
Draco’s humor died away and he said, “Oh, I did. That, Healing, even a fucking internship at the Daily Prophet. Nobody wanted me. Too criminal, I guess.”
“You were just a kid!”
“So were you when you defeated the Dark Lord, so I guess it doesn’t affect you anymore, right?” Draco looked as if he were daring Harry to argue, but Harry couldn’t.
“Fine,” he said instead. “But you should try again. If you want to, I mean.”
“Maybe,” said Draco, in a voice that suggested he wouldn’t, “but right now, I’ve got a bunch of farm animals and the biggest klutz in England to deal with.”
One Wednesday, one of those rare days where nothing had gone wrong, and Harry actually had time to himself, he went to visit Mrs. Salisbury’s shop, and ended up being offered a horse for free.
The horse was called Zinnia, and Louise Salisbury demanded that Harry take her. “She’s more than we can handle, I’ll tell you that much,” said Mrs. Salisbury for the fourth time. “Bill and I simply haven’t got the time, nor the money, for that matter.”
Zinnia had belonged to her niece, at first, but the niece lived with her parents in London, and Bill and Louise were the only family with a house in the country where a horse might be comfortable. And then it turned out that the niece was a bit of a spoiled brat and also Zinnia was not some old docile mare like Mrs. Salisbury’s sister had implied, but a nervous, high-energy four-year-old Arabian bred for racing. Not exactly the kind of horse an elderly couple could take care of.
So Harry, as the youngest and most agile person Mrs. Salisbury knew, seemed to her the perfect candidate to take Zinnia on.
“I really don’t know much about horses,” Harry was saying, sitting on the counter with a banana. “Shouldn’t you try to sell her? She must be worth a lot.”
Mrs. Salisbury shrugged. “I haven’t got the time to make sure she goes to someone who’ll be kind to her, either. Besides, you’ve got that posh boy living with you. He seems plenty horsey. He’ll know what to do. And the strange girl, the midwife. I’ve seen her with horses, she’s a natural.” Harry had no idea when Mrs. Salisbury would have had a chance to see Luna with a horse, but he believed that she’d be a natural. She was pretty much a natural at everything you wouldn’t expect her to be.
They argued about it for another ten minutes, Harry using every excuse he could think of not to bring yet another animal home to the farm, and Mrs. Salisbury returning with a perfect reason why his excuses weren’t excuses at all. An hour later, Mr. Salisbury was leading Zinnia through the front gate and Harry was wondering if there were any good spells for constructing a stable from firewood.
The moment Mr. Salisbury let go, Zinnia walked happily over to the grass in front of the house, slightly too close to Mrs. Malfoy’s garden for Harry’s comfort. Harry waved goodbye to Mr. Salisbury, thanking him again, and then considered Zinnia. Fortunately, she seemed more interested in the overgrowth of clover there--Harry had tested a dozen spells for quick-regeneration pasture in little patches all around the house--and stayed away from her dahlias and monkshood. She seemed content for now, so Harry decided to go inside and try to figure out what to do with her.
Draco was in the kitchen, wearing rubber gloves that went nearly to his elbows and an apron with a picture of a Pygmy puff on it, dancing along to an old Celestina Warbeck song on the wireless, from her disco era, while he washed dishes by hand. Despite his upbringing, Draco seemed to enjoy chores. It was a mystery to Harry, who hated household chores nearly as much as he hated mucking out the barn.
Harry watched Draco singing, careless and sometimes off-key, and was suddenly overwhelmed by a wave of, oh god, something warm and nauseating, something sweet and horrible.
He liked Draco. He liked him a lot. He liked him so much and he couldn’t imagine ever not being friends with him again, and--Draco waved his hips to the beat of the song--he could imagine all kinds of other things, besides. It wasn’t that he didn’t know, before, but suddenly, he knew.
“Ahem,” said Harry, weakly. He leaned his hip against the counter and flicked his wand at the wireless so that the song cut off right before the key change. He wasn’t sure he had time for all these feelings. He certainly didn’t have the stomach for it just now.
Draco looked up and the plate he’d been scrubbing dropped from his hands. His cheeks turned pink but he lifted his chin as he looked at Harry. “This is my favorite song, how dare you interrupt,” he said.
Harry shrugged. “This song is awful, and I won’t have anyone singing it in my home.” He looked Draco up and down. And then again. He tried not to blush. “You have no idea how much you resemble Molly Weasley right now. The disco and everything.”
Draco lifted an eyebrow. “Molly Weasley seems more like she’d be into the ‘sad French songs for no reason’ era of Celestina’s career.”
“Nah,” said Harry, “she’s a huge disco fan. Enormous. You two should go out dancing sometime.”
It was a definite sign of the times that instead of squawking as if he’d been offended, or making some insulting comment, Draco merely tilted his head and looked thoughtful, picking up the plate and scrubbing it again. “I wonder whether she has any of the really hard to find records.”
Harry shook his head. Draco Malfoy and his goddamn disco obsession. What next? He turned the radio back up, pushed himself away from the counter, and stood shoulder to shoulder with him while they finished up the dishes. It only took a few minutes--two more disco songs by artists he’d never heard of, which Draco of course knew all the words to. When they were done Harry used a spell to send everything back to its proper place, and Draco watched as the water disappeared down the drain. For once, he didn’t ask where it went.
“So, I have something to show you,” said Harry after a moment. He’d nearly forgotten why he’d come to find Draco in the first place. “It’s in the front garden. Or should be, anyway, that’s where I left her.”
“Her? Is it a person? Did you find me a sex slave? Harry, why would you leave her in the garden?” He was hurriedly taking off his ridiculous cleaning accoutrements, and then he rushed past Harry to the door.
“You’re gay,” said Harry, only slightly uncomfortably, following him through to stand on the porch, “Aren’t you?”
Draco shrugged. “I’m flexible, when need be,” he said, and thank god he missed the way Harry swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry, because in the next moment, Draco had turned pale and was grasping Harry’s forearm so tightly Harry thought he might lose feeling in his fingers. “Harry,” he whispered, “Harry. Harry, is that what you wanted to show me?”
Harry looked away from Draco and towards Zinnia, who was still grazing on the patch of everlasting clover. The sun hit her just right; she was shining and gorgeous. Harry preferred his sheep but he understood, suddenly, why people went so crazy over their horses. He looked back at Draco who was staring at Zinnia with awed eyes and a pink face that had nothing to do with the autumn sun. Harry thought Draco was even more lovely to look at than the horse; there was something so alive and vulnerable there, something he itched to pull and poke at until he could reveal it in full and know it for always. He felt his own cheeks heating. It was worse than he’d thought.
“Her name is Zinnia,” said Harry, after clearing his throat. “She’s, ah--she’s ours now, I suppose.”
Draco took a tentative step towards her, and then another and another, reaching out as if to surrender, but unable to resist the pull of her velvet coat. She seemed perfectly happy to continue gnawing on the grass as Draco petted her mane and rubbed his palm all along her flank.
“Actually…” and here, Harry halted, because he had never been quite good at giving gifts, and this was the biggest one he’d ever pulled off. “Actually, I was wondering if you’d like her to be yours, mostly?”
Draco turned around sharply and suddenly it was like the sun had turned on all the way and was directed only at Harry. “Mine?”
Together, they spent the afternoon transforming an empty shed on the property into a stable, and duplicating bales of hay from the sheep’s barn to store there. At one point, Draco disappeared into the Floo and reappeared an hour later, carrying a large bag. Inside were various tools Harry couldn’t possibly begin to explain, a saddle, brushes, and even a helmet that looked like it had survived both World Wars.
“What’s all this?” asked Harry, peering into the bag and seeing that at its expanded bottom lay an enormous tub for water.
“Well--you mustn’t tell Mother, but there’s this stable at the edge of the Manor’s property…”
Now it was Harry’s turn to look sharply at Draco. “You went back to the Manor?”
Draco rolled his eyes. “It was fine, it’s only the house itself we’re not allowed into, and besides, Father is away and the house-elves haven’t stopped recognizing me as the true heir. I mostly avoided them, anyway.”
Harry shook his head. “You shouldn’t have done that. Or at least I could have gone with you or something. What if he’d done something to the wards?”
Draco paled a little, but still he shrugged. “I’m fine. It’s fine. And all of this would have cost a fortune to buy new.” He shook his head. “It’s still strange to have to think of that.”
Harry snorted. “It’s still snobby of you to say shit like that.”
Together, they carried the bag back to the stable and started setting it all up. Harry tied the lead halter onto Zinnia and led her to Draco, pointing out various sights and sounds of the farm in a low voice as he did so. Draco caught her and immediately started brushing her down, even producing two bright red apples from his pocket to offer to her. She seemed to like this and immediately began nuzzling Draco’s hair, which made him laugh.
Harry wanted to stay and watch, because somehow, watching Draco Malfoy laugh at a horse’s wet kisses was something that made him incandescently happy now, but they’d spent so much time putting the stable together that he would have to work double time to get everyone their dinner. He put his hands in his pockets as he turned away, and walked down to the sheep’s barn as Draco began speaking to Zinnia in the same low, sweet voice Harry had used.
He didn’t see Draco again until that night, after Harry, late to come inside after finishing the evening chores, had eaten the leftovers of a sandwich over his kitchen sink for dinner. He ran into Draco in the bathroom, as always, and together they silently brushed their teeth. Harry tried not to look at Draco in the mirror, but it was difficult. There was something magnetic about the whole thing tonight.
Finally, they both spat into their separate sinks. Draco turned on the water, took a drink, and then turned to Harry. “Thank you,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if I said it but… thank you. She’s--she’s wonderful.”
Harry met his eyes in the mirror. He had never seen Draco’s face so open or so glad. Grinning and feeling something curious and warm in his chest, Harry looked down and said, “It’s no problem, Draco.” He automatically felt the rush of heat to his cheeks and he turned quickly to gathering up the things around the sink, making them neat. He didn’t look back up until he was sure he was alone again, and then he looked at himself in the mirror. His brown skin, ruddy cheeks, bright green eyes were all the same. But there was no denying that for Harry, his world had suddenly changed. It made him feel off-kilter and just a bit ill, and Harry had no idea what to do with any of it.
Harry had it on good authority from Rose that Reese would have her baby the same day Hermione had hers. Hugo had arrived only two nights prior, and Harry was considering letting Rose believe that this lamb had come at the same time.
“They sleep here every night, Draco,” said Harry, rolling his eyes, pausing in his efforts to muck out the stalls nearest the door. Lucy watched him from her perch on the makeshift bench Draco had conjured for her last week, from which Harry had rarely seen her move. “This barn has the most intense Warming Charms on it that wizarding Britain has ever seen.”
“Still,” mumbled Draco, standing up to help Harry.
“I promise, I haven’t lost a lamb yet. I don’t intend on starting with this one. Have you got a name yet?”
Harry had offered Draco the chance to name the first lamb of the new year. He’d never tell a soul but Harry had caught glimpses of long pieces of parchment covered in lists of names. He hoped that Draco wouldn’t choose one of the more stately Sacred Twenty-Eight heirlooms, like, oh God, Belvina. Violet and Chrysanthemum had really got off easy.
Draco shook his head. “I can’t think of one that’s perfect.”
“You know, if you don’t choose soon, I’m going to pass this opportunity on over to Rose. How do you like the sound of Rose-the-Sheep-the-Sequel?”
“Sounds like a good film,” said Draco, distractedly. He was still gazing down at the little lamb, which seemed to be thriving, despite its early arrival. It suckled blindly at Barbara’s teat, and made soft contented sounds against her fur.
“We ought to wash up,” said Harry, allowing himself the pleasure of a smile to see Draco so worried about his sheep. “I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain of sheep innards.”
“Horrific,” murmured Draco, but followed Harry outside, Max at their heels.
Even though it was annoying, it made sense that Draco was so concerned for the sheep: the night was so bitter cold it hurt Harry’s nose and seemed to sap all his energy away. He was grateful when they reached their warm little house, and even more grateful when Draco graciously allowed him the first shower. Harry stood under the hot water for several long, wonderful moments, and it was among one of the best showers he’d ever taken.
When he got out of the shower, he noticed that he’d forgotten to close the door between the bathroom and Draco’s room. It wasn’t open widely enough to feel weird that Draco might have listened in or something--and after all, Harry had only done the most basic shower necessities and was too tired for any bells and whistles--but it was opened just enough that Harry could see that Draco wasn’t alone in his bed. Some other body cast a shadow on the wall.
Harry’s stomach dropped, even though it didn’t make any sense. How would Draco have gotten someone else in his room, when they had just come back from the barn? And who would it even be? Who else did Draco even talk to?
Still, there was a little mocking voice in his head that dared him to look closer. Just in case. Harry knew he shouldn’t, but he pushed the door open a little wider. Draco, startled, cast an enhancement on his Lumos.
Harry immediately burst into laughter. The huge shape on the bed was only Barbara, and Draco himself was curled around her little sheep. The lamb was snoring a sweet little lamb’s snore.
“Shhh,” hissed Draco. “Don’t wake them up!” He waved Harry closer.
Harry, forgetting that he was wearing only a bathrobe, kneeled next to the bed and lay his crossed arms at the edge of the mattress. Draco rolled over, careful not to disturb the lamb or its mother. His hair was mussed and his eyes were tired, but illuminated by his wand and the weak light from the bathroom, he looked so goddamn pleased. Harry imagined, fleetingly, what it would be like, waking up to this sight every morning. Then Harry remembered his lack of clothing and tried to imagine literally anything else. But, god, what else was he supposed to do about Draco Malfoy sleeping with a lamb in his bed?
“You ought to just get rid of these sheets,” whispered Harry. “They’ll be filthy.”
Draco shrugged. “Worth it.”
Harry lifted a corner of his mouth in a smile. “Not really. I told you there were Warming spells. They’d have been fine.”
“You--” Draco punctuated his words with a giant yawn-- “have no heart, Harry Potter. And you were spying on me.”
Harry was glad for the darkness when he felt himself redden. “Wasn’t. You left the door open.”
“Wanted to see who was in my bed with me, then, didn’t you?” Draco smirked.
“Wanted to make sure it wasn’t a murderer, yeah,” Harry shot back, proud of himself for not tripping over his words. “Didn’t you want a shower?”
Draco blinked and let his eyes fall to Harry’s chest, which was peeking through his robe. Harry tried, and failed, not to let it affect him. “You’re naked!” said Draco, in a voice that would have only passed for a whisper in a very bad community theater production.
“I’ve got a bathrobe on,” argued Harry, although if pressed, he might admit that this was not a huge improvement on full nudity.
“Go get dressed, you nudist,” said Draco, so Harry did, and when he returned--which he did, almost without thinking, and without an invitation--Draco had moved over in the bed to make space for Harry. Max had followed him, obviously not keen to miss out on a good night’s sleep, even if he had to share Harry with someone else.
Harry wondered, when he was under the covers and Barbara was sitting on his feet and Max snuffling next to his ears, whether he should have hesitated to get in more than he had. Was it possibly too easy to let himself do these kinds of things, knowing what he did about how he felt? He found he didn’t care, however, when he rolled over and was face to face with Draco, the new lamb curled in between them. He was still wearing his glasses, and they pressed crooked against his cheek and made everything look strange.
Draco rolled his eyes. “Don’t rush me,” he whispered back. “Or I’ll end up calling it something like Hey Potter Shut Up.”
“That’s a terrible name,” said Harry. “That’s an awful name, not because it’s making fun of me, it just doesn’t roll off the tongue.”
“I’ll name it Walburga.”
“All right, I wouldn’t. Foul name. Foul woman.”
Draco’s foot brushed against his and Harry didn’t know if he should move his, or just stay where he was. He closed his eyes and pretended he was tired. He was tired, or he had been, but then he’d gotten into bed with Draco and his body had suddenly forgotten what tired was. Barbara snorted in her sleep.
“Go-o-od night, Harry,” said Draco, a yawn breaking through his words. He shifted a few times, his foot never leaving the place where it was pressed up against Harry’s own.
Harry didn’t know how long he lay there, staring at the ceiling, listening to Draco’s breathing grow deeper and more even. At one point, the lamb walked across him to get closer to its mother, and it and Barbara both hopped off the bed to sleep curled up on the floor. Later, Draco moved his foot away, and Harry was some strange combination of elated and sad before Draco immediately replaced that small touch with a full body koala-cuddle.
He must have fallen asleep eventually, because he was being gently shaken awake what seemed like minutes later. There were warm fingers on his cheek, and an equally warm voice calling his name. He opened his eyes blearily.
Draco was leaning over him, his short hair sticking up on one side, his hand pressed against Harry’s jaw. Harry blinked in surprise. Oh, god, he hoped Draco didn’t look under the blankets. There was a Situation happening.
Although, with the way Draco was still touching his face, maybe it was a Situation he wouldn’t mind?
“Harry, you arsehole,” Draco was whispering. “Move, my hand his falling asleep.”
A slowly-waking Harry realized, then, that Draco wasn’t gently caressing his face after all. Rather, his hand was trapped underneath Harry’s face. Harry moved his head and Draco was freed.
“Sleep like the dead, don’t you?” said Draco, laying back down next to him and shaking out his hand. His voice was low and scratchy. Harry had heard his early morning voice before, but never like this--not laying beside one another in their pajamas. Not when Harry had an erection that felt, honestly, like it might kill him.
“Time is it?” said Harry. His own voice was even huskier, to his ears, than Draco’s was.
It was strange to feel, as well as hear, Draco swallow his own saliva next to him. Draco yawned and said, “Dunno. Round six, I should think.”
“We ought to get up,” said Harry. He reached for his glasses where they balanced precariously at the edge of the mattress. He looked over at Barbara and her lamb. At some point during the night, Max had pulled a blanket from where it had been folded on top of a trunk onto the floor, and he, Barbara, and the lamb were all curled up together. “Look.”
Draco peered over his shoulder, and then looked back at Harry. “That’s the sweetest fucking thing I ever saw, I think,” he declared. “Max, Jr. That’s what we’ll name her. Junior for short.” Junior bleated in her sleep, as if in approval of her name.
Max, for his part, raised his head, looked at both of them as if they had grown two heads, and then snuggled back down and fell asleep.
Harry so rarely went out that when he changed out of his dungarees and jumper, and came back downstairs, Draco stared at him, a wry smile curving his lips. “My, my. I can’t believe you own something other than denim!”
Draco himself was dressed as if he were attending an interview at a Muggle law firm, instead of just going down the pub with his friends. Well, with Harry’s friends. Who, actually, were some of Draco’s friends now, too.
Draco was wearing an honest-to-God dark grey three-piece Muggle suit, complete with a green tie. He had his hands in his pockets and was casually leaning against the counter in the kitchen. Harry’s stomach swooped like an owl zeroing in on a field mouse twenty feet below. The image of Draco’s sleep-warm face looming over his, his fingers against Harry’s jaw, seemed to flash across Harry’s memory large as life.
His face must have shown something, because Draco suddenly frowned, his cheeks pink. “Is it the jacket? Is it too much?”
“No,” said Harry. He pushed away the memory for a more private time. “Well, yes. It’s a little much. But it’s not just the jacket. We just… tend to be casual, I think.”
“Right,” said Draco, “I forgot that you and your harem of Gryffindors don’t have a single well-dressed member among you.”
“I think Ginny would resent that remark,” Harry said, as he ducked down to check his hair in the mirror. It was as hopeless as usual. His hair had dried lopsided the night before. He sighed, half-heartedly tried to flatten it down with his hand, and gave it up as a bad job, as he usually did.
“I do,” called Ginny from hers and Luna’s bedroom. “Give me a minute, I’m nearly ready!”
Harry still stood in front of the mirror, trying not to seem as if he were looking at himself at all. It was strange sometimes, he thought, to look at himself and recognize the parts of him that were different only months ago. His hair was longer. He needed to shave, probably. And there were the invisible changes, too--like the place on his cheek where Draco’s fingers had been only that morning. He felt that it should be as obvious as anything else. He touched me here! it would scream. He scratched thoughtfully at the suspect patch of skin, right where cheek met jaw. Draco snorted. Harry jumped back, feeling a wave of heat rush to his cheeks, but when he looked over at Draco, he was leaning against a wall with his back towards Harry, looking at his fingernails.
“I wasn’t a Gryffindor,” said Luna, who was sitting cross-legged on the piano bench in the room closest to the front door. Her hair was in one long plait again, and she was wearing a skirt with a pattern of cacti and earrings that looked like spiders. Timothy was purring in her lap.
“You’re not poorly dressed, anyway,” said Harry, flopping backwards onto the green settee near the window. “Just a bit strangely. I like your earrings.”
“Thank you,” said Luna. “Draco, you know, if I’m strangely dressed, I can’t imagine that your outfit is much better. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Muggle in a suit at a pub before.”
“Don’t listen to them, Malfoy,” said Ginny, appearing at the top of the stairs, adjusting one of her earrings. She was only wearing jeans and a flowy, floral top, with a black Alice band in her hair, but she pulled all of it off as if she were dressed for the annual, high-fashion Ministry Gala for Magical Philanthropy, while all the while seeming as if she hadn’t a care in the world. There was a reason her fans kept buying up all the damn calendars. “You look smart, unlike the rest of these passe riff-raff. Harry, your shirt is inside out.”
Harry looked down and checked. Shit, she was right. He sat back up and took off his shirt to fix it. When it was back on again, he looked up to see Draco looking at him with a strange look on his face, and Harry reflexively felt his cheeks warm again. He rolled his eyes in exasperation with himself and flopped back down.
“Don’t lay down, Harry,” chided Luna, “I think we’re all ready to go.”
The four of them Apparated from the edge of the property into an alley in Hogsmeade. Harry already wished he were back at home.
Barely two hours had passed before Draco took pity on him. He slid into the seat next to Harry. They sat there quietly for a few moments, watching the others. Everyone was in groups of twos and threes, talking loudly or dancing or, in the case of Dean and Seamus, making out like they’d never get the chance to again. Harry envied Ron and Hermione their newborn baby. He didn’t really want one just yet, but at least they had a built-in excuse.
Draco’s voice was light when he broke into Harry’s inner pity party. “You hate this, don’t you?”
Harry was immediately on the defense. “No,” said Harry. “I like being with my friends. I don’t get to see anyone other than Ginny and Luna very often, and Ron and Hermione if they can make it--”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.” Draco nodded at the half-drunk pint of ale in front of Harry. “You’ve been nursing that all night. Everyone else is at least three or four deep.”
Draco lifted his glass and held it under Harry’s nose. It was only butterbeer. “I don’t like to drink in… mixed company. Or something.”
Harry snorted. “Please. I know for a fact that you and Luna got hammered on absinthe two weeks ago. The evidence of which is still written on the side of my barn with Permagic Ink.”
Draco took a sip of his drink and hummed instead of answering. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“Yeah, all right.” Harry sighed and traced the rim of his glass with his index finger. “It’s just--everyone has these lives that just fit together so perfectly. They see each other all the time, they have all these things in common. They have all these jokes that I don’t get, and know these people I don’t, and it feels like… I’m not expendable, exactly, but sometimes it’s just really fucking clear how much different all of our lives are now.”
“The hard life of a recluse,” said Draco, with a smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes.
Harry shrugged. “I guess so.”
There were a few moments of silence again and Harry took another sip of his ale. It was pretty much warm now, and getting flatter by the second. He pushed it away. Draco shifted and his thigh was suddenly pressing against Harry’s. Harry felt himself swallow, with a feeling like he was stuck there with glue. Trying to stay as still as possible, he watched a laughing Parvati waltz with Lavender across the floor.
“Do you want to go?” said Draco, suddenly, moving his thigh away from Harry’s. Harry felt the loss keenly.
“No, I--” he glanced at Neville, who was banging his fist on the bar and howling over a joke Dean had just told, while Ginny and Luna clutched each other for fear of falling over from laughter. He turned his eyes to Draco, whose grey eyes were intense as he looked at Harry, waiting for an answer. “Yes. Let’s.”
In moments, they had their coats on, and Harry made some excuse about needing to get back to check on the newborn lambs, and they were hurrying outside into the cold fog of London. Snowflakes caught on Draco’s eyelashes as he grinned back at Harry, and Harry felt that now-familiar swoop in his stomach.
“Did you want--” he said hoarsely, then cleared his throat and tried again. “Were you wanting to go back home?” Draco raised his eyebrows, an invitation there that Harry wasn’t sure he wanted, but was curious about nonetheless. Harry coughed again. He wasn’t drunk enough for that. “Or did you want to go somewhere else?” he added.
“Do you?” Draco looked as if he was genuinely curious.
Harry was thoughtful for a moment. “Nah,” he decided. “Let’s go somewhere else. Any ideas?”
“Just the one,” Draco said, and wrapped his warm fingers around Harry’s wrist, and before Harry had a chance to ask where they were going, they had Disapparated and rematerialized in a place Harry recognized but couldn’t quite put his finger on. They had landed in a woods, with a well-worn dirt path between the trees, which Harry could only see once Draco had lit his wand with a quiet Lumos. Harry squinted around at the forest, trying to figure out what was so familiar about the place.
“Welcome to Malfoy Manor,” said Draco, with a small bitter laugh, stretching his arms wide. “Or, well, Malfoy Woods. The Manor’s a way off. And fairly unimpressive these days, I’d wager.”
Harry’s eyes immediately searched out Draco’s in the dark, but he had already turned away and was leading them down the path, the bright shock of Draco’s white-blond hair glowing in the moonlight. He followed him towards the edge of the tree line, where Harry could see a newly waxing crescent moon hanging in the purple sky.
“Why are we here?” whispered Harry. “Where are we going?”
Draco looked over his shoulder, the brief tension from their arrival all melted away, only to be replaced with the flash of a grin that seemed to illuminate the darkness. Harry stopped looking at the ground for a moment and tripped over a root; fortunately, Draco had already turned around. “If I told you where we were going, Potter, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise.”
“I hadn’t realized that it was supposed to be a surprise, actually, Malfoy,” Harry replied. “But if you’re going to be that way, I won’t tell you what I’m getting you for your birthday.”
“My birthday isn’t for months, so I imagine even you don’t know the answer to that question.”
He was right, of course. “Shows what you know,” said Harry anyway.
A few more minutes passed, in which the only sounds were the occasional snapping twig under Draco’s and Harry’s feet, and the other nighttime forest sounds you’d expect. Finally, they reached the edge of the woods, where the land shifted down and then suddenly back up. Harry squinted up at the crest of the little grassy hill ahead; it wasn’t steep. Draco began climbing up its dew-slick surface. Harry hesitated. “Where are we going?” he tried again.
In answer, Draco looked over his shoulder. The moon behind him, and his luminous wand tip, cast just enough light that Harry caught the affectionate smile and the warm invitation in it. Before Harry could even process it, or the quickening of his heartbeat, Draco had turned back around and was nearly at the top of the hill. Harry hurried to catch up. At the top, Draco put out an arm to stop him. “Wait,” he whispered. “I think we have to stop here.”
Harry glanced at him. Draco was squinting out into the dark, his Lumos-ed wand held aloft, unable to see much beyond their own feet. Draco’s eyes met Harry’s, a half smile on his face. “A little help, then?”
“Lumos maximum orbisa,” said Harry, and several shimmering globes of light erupted from his wand, and then stopped to hover in midair. Their glow was aided by the first few rays of the morning sun dawning over the crest, steadily turning the purple sky into a raw magenta, pink, orange.
Neither Harry nor Draco noticed the sky’s change. They were staring out at the hills, the lush green blanketed with hundreds and hundreds of daffodils.
“Oh,” was all Harry said, and thought about home. His little farm was humble and though he certainly had land, it wasn’t like this, all untouched and unbroken. The yellow stretched to and just beyond the edge of the forest from which they had first emerged, and went on the other way for what seemed like ages.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” murmured Draco. “I’ve always loved it so.”
“He had them planted for my mother. Narcissus, that’s what they’re really called. So he had them planted for her when they first married.”
Harry let that hang in the air. It really was a gorgeous sight--it made something in his stomach take flight. He turned his awed gaze away from the picture before him and looked to his left. But Draco--Draco wasn’t looking at the flowers anymore. He was staring at Harry, an uncertain but determined gleam in his eyes that matched the rising sun. Harry, for his part, couldn’t look away either. Something he couldn’t explain held them both there, something burning and pulled taut between the two of them. Draco leaned forward, suddenly, and Harry wasn’t sure--didn’t know if--
“Harry?” said Draco, his lips a breath away from Harry’s. “Can I kiss you?”
Harry nodded and then Draco’s mouth was on his, a shy but questioning thing, and he tasted like butterbeer and earth. Draco Malfoy was kissing him, and he, Harry, found that there was a part of himself that was singing with it.
Draco pulled away, searching Harry’s eyes to gauge his reaction. Harry reached up to touch his lips where he could still feel the spark of Draco’s mouth against his. They were still for just a moment, and then that tautness between them broke, the tension that had been screaming for release for months now coming to a head. Harry was reaching for Draco the same moment Draco was reaching for him, and they came together once more, fierce and hungry.
This time Harry gave into it, the last resistance to the inevitable finally crumbling away with a kind of relief. He was balancing himself with one hand pressed against Draco’s elbow, and Draco’s other arm was wrapped around his shoulders, pulling him in closer. Harry pushed himself up a little on his toes and deepened the kiss.
The answer was a sound, delicious and low, that Harry swallowed with a warm pleasure blooming deep in his stomach. Draco tasted like nothing much and everything wonderful all at once. It had been so long since he’d kissed anyone, and he suspected there were some aspects of the whole process that got lost without frequent practice, but although he’d always appreciated how some things were better with a person than by himself, he was formulating a new hypothesis: there were some things that were better with Draco than with anyone else.
In Harry’s mind, over the last year, he had decided that there were two Draco Malfoys, and they were separated by a precise moment of time: common era, before common era. At first the two Dracos seemed the same, but it was like two discrete jigsaw puzzles with the same illustration. The pieces of one just didn’t fit together in the same way as the other.
BCE Draco Malfoy was a person Harry first scorned, then hated, then pitied, and then--for a hundred reasons Harry could never fully articulate--saved. After that, Harry had simply forgotten him, or ignored him when he had to. He had never been a person Harry liked. Certainly never a person Harry might have kissed, or who would have kissed Harry.
But CE Draco Malfoy was a person stayed awake for twenty-seven hours with Harry’s dog when she was sick. He was a person who conjured up bouquets just to make his mother smile. He was a person whose favorite places were the ones that bloomed and grew and smelled like earth. He let lambs sleep in his bed. He loved a horse maybe more than life itself. He made Harry laugh more often than he pissed Harry off, and that was saying something, because even after all this time he was still a person who got under Harry’s skin. But even that felt different than it once had--less like a scab and more like a scar that you might run your fingertips against to soothe yourself, because the texture was different than the rest of your skin, and there was something soft about it after all. Scars came with a story, and this Draco was a story Harry was beginning to like better than the one on his forehead.
The thing that Harry understood best was that while BCE Draco had a smooth veneer laid with jewels and gold, CE Draco was more like a jigsaw passed over to Harry as a kid, after Dudley had already done his damage. There were pieces that were lost, or a little bit broken, or had been lost and then found and now didn’t fit quite the way they used to. Harry saw it because he recognized the same brokenness in himself.
It was this brokenness that had finally opened Harry up to the possibility of the new Draco, that had finally allowed him to see that there had been a change. It was the brokenness that created trust, that compelled Harry to friendship. It was what made him hungry now, what opened him up to the taste of Draco’s mouth, what made him want the fingers pressing now under his shirt to go further, what demanded that he begin unbuttoning Draco’s fussy law firm shirt.
He was biting back a moan when Draco’s mouth paused over his Adam’s apple. “What?” panted Harry, looking down. “What?”
“Do you hear that?” Draco stood up, his fingers still beneath Harry’s shirt. Harry noticed, suddenly, that they were trembling.
Then he noticed the barking. He looked towards the forest. Two or three silvery, ghostly figures were standing at its edge, though Harry had never seen ghosts with such large teeth, or who so resembled ferocious, hungry dogs.
“It’s the Gytrashes,” Draco whispered. “My father must have released them. And he won’t have fed them.”
As much as Harry loved Hagrid, right about then, he wished his Care of Magical Creatures education had been a little more complete. “Okay,” said Harry, trying to be calm, “what do we do?”
“They won’t come near the light,” said Draco.
“Well, that’s good,” said Harry.
“Yes, except we can’t Apparate from here. And they can wait until the sun is completely risen.”
“Right,” said Harry, losing his calm. The blood was draining from his face and a cold breeze blew, breaking through the warmth he and Draco had created around themselves.
Yet even as he began to calculate some other means of escape, the Gytrashes turned back towards the forest and their barking faded. Harry, confused, looked at Draco.
“That was a warning.” Draco’s voice was terrified. “We need to go.”
He wrapped his hand, warm around Harry’s despite the chill of the morning and the terror on his face, and pulled him, half-running, back down to the forest. They didn’t stop until they were back in the same spot where they’d first appeared. Draco’s grip tightened, and he Side-Along Apparated them back home.
If the circumstances hadn’t been so dire, Harry might have smiled when he realized that Draco had landed them in the middle of the barn. Lucy and Annie, awoken from the sudden intrusion, were barking joyfully now that they realized who had come to visit them. Harry kneeled down to pet them. Draco leaned against a wall, trying to control his breathing.
“What was that about?” said Harry.
Draco inhaled deeply. “Gytrashes are notorious for their hunting ability. When the wind blew, they’ll have caught our scent. And they won’t stop hunting us until they find us.”
Harry stood. “They’ll come here?” Draco nodded. His eyes were closed. “How long will it take?”
Draco shrugged. “If they’re coming from the Manor? I don’t know. Three, four days. They move quickly. If the weather is warm, it will take longer. They can’t bear heat.”
“Shit,” said Harry.
“Shit,” agreed Draco.
Harry sighed and went to sit on a wayward crate. Lucy automatically put her head on his lap and he scratched between her ears. Draco crossed his arms. “So what do we do? You know more about magical creatures and stuff.”
“I don’t know. I guess we just hope that a rainstorm comes and dissipates our scent?”
Harry nodded. “We lock the sheep up every night and we add more wards to the barn.”
“Gytrashes can get through most wards.”
“Then we figure out some wards they can’t get through.”
Draco nodded and they were quiet, deep in thought. Then, with pink cheeks, Draco said, “And… what do we do about, er, the other thing?”
Harry frowned for a moment, confused, and then his cheeks warmed too. “I don’t know,” he said honestly. “There’s a lot… to deal with right now.”
Draco nodded and wrapped his arms around himself. He moved towards Harry, as if to sit on a crate next to him, then stepped back and leaned against a stall. Moments later, he was pacing towards the back of the barn; in the next moment he was pacing back. Harry looked up at him. “Are you okay?”
“I’m just so fucking pissed off, is all,” said Draco, who actually looked more scared and tired than anything else. “This is just--just like my father, to take something nice and destroy it just because he can, just because it’s mine.”
A sense-memory of Draco’s mouth lush against his own made Harry’s stomach flip over. He tried to ignore it as he stood up and stretched. “If there’s nothing we can do tonight, I’m going to bed,” he said. “Are you coming?”
Draco looked at him so quickly Harry wondered if it hurt his neck. “I--uh--”
Harry blushed again. “Oh, I meant--back to the house…”
Draco shook his head. “I’ll come up later. I just need some time.” On his way out the barn door, Draco paused. “Harry--are we all right?”
The way he asked it, Harry almost wanted to give in, wanted to say fuck you to whatever instinct stopped him from wrapping his arms around Draco and taking him straight to bed and fucking him until neither of them knew their names. But Harry wasn’t twenty-two anymore. He tried not to follow his dick or his anger wherever they wanted to go. He mostly just tried to stay out of trouble, and right now, Draco felt like trouble.
He looked up at Draco and gave him a small smile. “Yeah. We’re all right.”
Draco nodded and smiled a bit sadly back before he turned and continued out into the cold night.
Harry Apparated back up to his own room, and got ready for bed as if he were walking through lead. He tried to sleep but instead lay there, eyes wide open, tensing every time he heard a noise that sounded even vaguely out of place. Sunrise came too soon; he’d closed his eyes and the next moment it was time to pull himself back out of bed.
Draco wasn’t in the kitchen when Harry went downstairs for coffee. Harry sat alone in his kitchen, for what felt like the first time in forever, his hands wrapped around the mug as he stared straight ahead. The house was silent; it felt like the calm before a storm that he didn’t know how to prepare for. Even Max’s sleepy snores at his feet seemed quieter than usual.
Draco was already gathering eggs outside when Harry finally let himself out. The sun had only just risen and it cast a rosy glow over the fog coming off the green hills all around them. It was lovely and Harry forgot for a moment that it was anything but a normal day. But, of course, it was, except that Lucius Malfoy had unleashed a pack of bloodthirsty spectral hunters on him.
“Hi,” he said to Draco, who was facing away from him, towards the coop. Draco jumped about two inches into the air, and nearly dropped the basket of eggs he’d been collecting. The chickens clucked as if to chastise him for being so careless with the bounty they’d provided.
“Merlin, Harry, don’t do that,” he said. He didn’t turn around and kept working. “How’d you sleep?”
“Barely,” said Harry. “You?”
“Same,” said Draco. “Hey, I’m gonna finish up here, and I’ll milk the cows. You go down to the barn, and I’ll catch you later, all right?”
Harry frowned. Usually they did everything on the farm together; it went much faster that way. He didn’t argue, however. “Sure,” he said, and he and Max walked down to the barn together.
While there, he told the sheep about what had happened--about kissing Draco, and about the Gytrashes. They didn’t seem nearly as nervous as he felt, and even though he knew it was because they didn’t know what he was saying, this made him feel better. When he let them out to pasture, though, Harry felt lonely like he never had before. It had been a long time since he’d had to do this part alone. He knew he’d made things weird by rejecting Draco last night, but--they’d get over that, right?
It was like that for two more days. He and Draco were perfectly civil and even friendly towards one another, but the hours were long and lonely. Meals were quiet. Luna picked up on it and suggested a house meeting to talk about it. The color on his toes were chipping anyway, she said. Harry didn’t feel like painting his nails or gossiping. He asked for a rain check.
On the third night, Harry woke suddenly. He wasn’t sure what had awoken him--he simply knew that there had been some shift in the air, some imperceptible change that had jolted him out of sleep. He looked over at his feet, his senses sharpening: Max was standing on all fours, the hair on his back bristling, growling quietly at something outside Harry’s bedroom window.
Harry’s wand let out a piercing screech.
“Fuck,” he said, rolling out of bed. He could hear Lucy and Annie now, barking wildly in the distance. He pulled on a wayward pair of boots he’d left on the floor the night before, tucking his pajama bottoms into them. The door to the loo creaked open and Draco stood there, his eyes wide, a thick coat pulled on over his pajamas. He was wearing the silly floral Muggle clogs he often wore in the garden.
“The sheep,” said Harry grimly, and they ran together downstairs and towards the barn, wands out and lit.
“Don’t let the light go out,” said Draco in a low voice. “They’ll stay where it’s dark.”
Max hot on their heels, they hurried down the hill towards the barn where the noise was coming from. Strangely, they could see that the Muggle electric lights inside had been turned on. They frowned at each other and went faster.
They burst into the barn, ready to strike, only to find Lucius Malfoy sitting calmly on a bale of hay. Draco seemed to skid to a halt.
“Oh, hello, Draco,” he said. He was leaning forward and resting his hands on his cane, though it had lost much of its luster since Harry had last seen it. His hair was lank and dirty; his face drooped with age. The dogs were still barking at the intruder, but the sheep themselves--though awakened by the noise--were all fine.
“What are you doing here?” demanded Harry. He had not lowered his wand. He didn’t plan to. He signaled at the dogs to hush, and they resigned themselves to whining unhappily in turn as all three of them surveyed the scene with keen, watchful eyes. “How did you get in?”
“Spells are a funny thing,” said Lucius. “They can be broken. Especially if the work is done by someone with whom you share blood. Not that it was easy! No, I’ve been trying to come here for many weeks. Tonight, everything lined up just right.”
Harry looked over at Draco, who had gone very, very pale. He was still staring at his father with wide, scared eyes.
“You need to leave,” said Harry, turning back to Lucius.
“I will,” said Lucius. “All in due time! First, I believe you have something that belongs to me.”
“I’m not giving it to you,” said Draco with a shaking voice. “The house gave it to me. You weren’t worthy.”
“What are you talking about?” said Harry.
“The wand of the Master of the House, of course,” said Lucius. “You stole it from me, my son.”
“You don’t deserve it,” said Draco.
Harry looked between them. “What the hell is going on?”
Draco was the one who answered. “The family wand. Whoever has it is the rightful heir to the house. It is revealed to you when the house feels that it is ready to name a new master.” He glared over at Lucius. “And it revealed itself to me.”
“The house does not understand what is at stake! It does not understand why you cannot, shall not, be its heir!”
Draco shook his head. He was close enough that Harry could feel him shaking. When he spoke, he spat every word. “That’s what it was, wasn’t it? You were jealous I had the wand. That’s why you killed Polly.” He looked over at Harry. “He was angry because his precious house decided he was no longer fit to care for it. So he murdered my horse.”
Harry was so disgusted when he looked at Lucius he wanted to spit at his face. “Where are the Gytrashes you sent after us?”
At this, Lucius looked surprised. “Gytrashes? Me? They roam the family forest, but I have no control over them.”
“They were trying to warn us,” muttered Draco to himself. “Harry, they were trying to warn us--sometimes they’re guides. They were trying to tell us that my father was looking for me.”
Harry frowned at Lucius. “You told me to tell Narcissa that if Draco stepped foot on the Manor, she’d never see him again.”
Lucius waved his hand at this. “Just a threat, Potter, just a threat. I needed to make it clear just how, let’s say, grounded Draco would be, for stealing from his father.”
By this point, Harry had had enough. He raised his wand to cast an Incarcerous at the same moment that Lucius suddenly lunged for Draco. Lucius’s age and health showed: Draco dodged out of the way and Lucius stumbled forward. He swung around and grabbed Draco’s wrist; he pointed his cane at his son and croaked out the beginnings of a curse. Harry reflexively shot a Stupefy towards Lucius but Draco, in trying to break free from his father, pulled him forward onto the ground, and Harry missed.
The spell rebounded into the nearest of the sheep’s stalls and hit Gertie, sweet Gertie, between her eyes. She immediately collapsed. Harry watched it happen in a numb kind of slow-motion.
By this point, Max, Lucy, and Annie had forgotten Harry’s command, and had clambered on top of Lucius. Lucy had her mouth wrapped around his arm and Annie used her considerable weight to keep him down. Max was yapping incessantly into his face. The cane had fallen a few feet away and Lucius was still reaching for it. Harry, his head filled with a strange buzzing noise every time he looked at Gertie, stepped forward and stood deliberately on Lucius’s hand.
“Enough of this,” Draco said in a hard voice, and he waved his wand. A thick set of ropes uncoiled from its tip and tied themselves around Lucius, securing him with a series of knots. For good measure, Harry added a Petrificus Totalus.
“Good girls,” said Harry, beckoning Lucy and Annie towards him. He kneeled down and gave them both a scratch between the ears, though not nearly as heartily as they deserved. Max pushed his head under Harry’s hand and Harry wished he felt like laughing. “And you,” he added, distracted.
“What do we do?” said Draco, who hadn’t moved his eyes from his father’s prostrate figure.
“I’m sending a Patronus up to Luna and Ginny. And we’ll need to get in contact with Lavender.”
“Lavender?” Draco looked at Harry in confusion, and then, at Harry’s meaningful nod towards Gertie’s pen, finally saw the thing that had Harry’s stomach in knots. At least, Harry thought, that an empty stall separated Gertie from most of the rest of the flock, since she tended towards poorliness. That was barely a silver lining.
“Oh, no,” Draco breathed. “Fuck, Harry, I’m so sorry.”
Harry didn’t answer. He used what last energy he had to summon a Patronus and give it a message to carry up to Luna and Ginny. Then he walked on his knees the few feet over to Gertie’s stall. He stuck his hand through the slats and laid his hand on her head. She was still breathing, but he didn’t dare cast an Ennervate. He had always had a tendency to pour too much power into his magic. He worried that a Stupefy, shouted in a moment of emotional turmoil, might have done more damage to her than it would have done Lucius.
Only a few minutes had passed when he heard the clatter of a broomstick falling to the ground outside, followed by Luna and Ginny hurrying into the barn. Ginny’s cheeks were rosy from the cold, and they were both wearing heavy coats over pajamas. Luna’s hair was either slept on or windswept; Ginny had clearly flown them here from their bedroom window.
“What’s going on?” she demanded urgently. “We heard something and we were getting ready to come help when we got your Patronus.” It was then that she noticed Draco’s father on the floor. “Holy shit, Draco, is that your dad?”
“Gertie,” cried Luna before either Harry or Draco could answer Ginny, rushing forward. “Oh, Harry, is she hurt? Look, she’s bleeding.”
Harry looked where Luna was pointing. There was a small stream of blood pouring from Gertie’s ear where she’d apparently hit the corner of her water trough before collapsing.
“Luna,” said Harry in a shaking voice, “can you get in contact with Lavender Brown?”
“I’ll do it,” said Ginny. “If she sees Luna in her Floo at 3AM, she’ll assume it’s about something she won’t understand. No offense, Luna.”
“None taken,” said Luna, whose voice had lost most of its dreamy qualities in her fear for Gertie.
“As for that,” Ginny nodded her head at Lucius, “Harry, you’d better call in Ron.”
“I’ll do that,” said Draco, as Ginny climbed back on her broom and raced to the house to Floo Lavender. He quickly summoned up his Patronus--a huge winged horse, Harry noticed--and sent it away with a message.
Luna knelt by Gertie, singing under her breath, while Harry watched her dully. Draco, having sent his message, seemed unable to tear his eyes from his father.
After a moment, Draco said, “I don’t have it.”
Harry looked up at him. Draco was biting his lip. “What do you mean?” said Harry slowly.
“The wand. The wand of the house. I don’t have it. I never had it.”
“What was he talking about then? Why did you lie?”
“It’s--my mother found it. I was with her. She came out to the stables and said she felt that she needed to be there, and it just appeared for her. I was scared my father might hurt her if he knew that the house had chosen her over himself, so I told her to pass it off like I had found it.”
Luna kept singing to Gertie. Harry didn’t know what to say to this. He was saved from a response by the arrival of Ginny, with Lavender in tow, and Ron close behind, as well as Ron’s Auror partner, Susan Bones.
Ron took one look at Lucius Malfoy, tied up and Petrified, and let out a low whistle. “Haven’t lost your touch, have you, Harry?”
“Thanks for this, Harry,” added Susan. “Saves us a lot of trouble. All right, you lot?” She seemed to have just noticed Luna and Draco.
Luna gave her a half-hearted smile, and Draco just nodded.
“Well, let’s take him in, then, Ron,” said Susan. “Easy does it.” She and Ron levitated him up and out the door.
Ron stuck his head back in before he left. “Don’t think you’re getting out of telling me what the bloody fuck happened,” he admonished Harry, before he and Susan apparated with Lucius’s body.
Lavender, meanwhile, had been examining Gertie. Several bands of differently colored pastel lights emanated from her wand, and she kept making sounds like “hm,” and “oh.” Finally she stood up and went over to Harry.
“It’s not good,” she told him in a low voice. “If she was stronger, it might not have hit her so bad. But--”
“She’s sickly, I know.” God. Gertie was his best girl. She deserved better than this, better than to meet her end at the end of a stupid fucking rebound spell.
“Isn’t there anything we can do?” Draco had joined their little huddle. He looked as worried as Harry felt. The knowledge that he cared broke through some of Harry’s numbness. It made him feel a little bit better, but not by much.
“I’ve cast a gentle, time-released Ennervate on her and done the best I could with her wound. Now, we just wait.”
(Draco had come back from that wound up as tight as a feral cat. Harry came close to punching him before Draco disappeared into the barn with the lambs for a few hours and came back out with a bottle of wine he’d apparently hidden there. He and Harry finished the whole thing, though instead of making them feel better, they both grew maudlin and ended up going to bed--separately--early.)
And, god, everything seemed to have changed between himself and Draco. There had always been tension between them, and it had gone through so many transformations, but this was one of the most uncomfortable Harry had ever experienced. Every moment he spent near Draco was taut with latent desire, but weighed down by an awkward politeness as well as colored by the anger bubbling under Harry’s skin, which Harry tried to push down, tried to remind himself that it wasn’t Draco’s fault Gertie had gotten hurt, but he couldn’t fight it. The only thing he could do was keep a lid on it, letting it sink deeper into himself, rather than let it explode out of him. As a result, their conversation lost its flow and came in starts and stops, and Harry didn’t seek him out to fly, or hang out, or visit the village, or any of the other things he was used to doing in Draco’s company.
A week of this had come and gone before anything changed with Gertie. Harry knew it from the way his wand buzzed and sparked at him, the signal that someone should check in on her. Harry sent Draco ahead and waited outside the quarantine barn, pacing back and forth, nearly tripping over Max several times.
The door opened, and Draco stepped out. Harry knew before he opened his mouth what he was about to say. “No,” said Harry, quietly, firmly.
Draco’s face was soft, an impossible soft, the sharp edges Harry had known for so long blurring at the edges as tears threatened to fall. Of course, he’d rarely cried in the year he’d been on the run hunting for Horcruxes, but this? This was what had the power to break him? A dead sheep, and Draco Malfoy’s worried eyes?
“It’s not up to me,” said Draco, apologetically, his voice barely audible over the everyday sounds of the animals waiting to be taken to pasture. “But… I think. I think it could be time.”
Gertie was the first one, the one that Harry had fallen in love with hardest, the one he’d spent the most time nursing and caring for in the past five years. The one who always seemed to listen the most patiently, the only one who Harry had secretly let sleep in his own house a few times when he was just starting out, and it was just too cold.
“She’s been sick before, she’ll get better,” Harry said, and even though he was trying to speak offhand, as if this was anything like a cold, or watery mouth, something that could be healed with time or patience.
“Harry--she can’t walk.” Draco’s voice was pleading now, as if this could bring him as much pain as it was bringing Harry. As if he understood at all. Gertie was bleating quietly, as if she were resigned to her fate. “She can’t keep down any food. She--it really hurt her.”
Harry shook his head violently, turned on his heel, and walked out. He walked down the hill, past the pasture, past the tiny pond, towards the dirt path that led out to a road, which could take you thirty-two kilometers to Marlborough Downs if you wanted. He kept walking, a storm of emotion inside him he hardly understood. It wasn’t just Gertie. It was Draco, and his father, and it was even that two of the chickens weren’t laying eggs and he couldn’t figure it out. It was everything.
He must have walked a good ten kilometers when he felt a broomstick rush past him, barely missing his shoulder. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared daggers at Draco.
Draco dismounted. “I don’t know. Maybe I just wanted to see how far you could walk in three hours.” He looked around himself, his face a mask of blankness. “Good pace. Not bad at all.”
Harry wasn’t in the mood for jokes. “You left the sheep in the barn?” he gritted out.
“No, I’ve learned nothing this year at all. What’s a sheep?” Draco shook his head, rolling his eyes. “No. I let them out to pasture, enchanted the fence, and Lucy is keeping an eye on them. Ginny’s practice is nearly over anyway.”
“You need to go back. You can’t leave them alone for long, even with an enchantment.” Harry tried to push past him but Draco blocked him, standing his ground. A car passed by, and Harry could feel the people inside staring at them. After all, they were having an argument in the middle of nowhere and Draco was holding a broom.
“No, you need to go back. They’re your responsibility, and I’m not condoning this bullshit temper tantrum you’re having.” He had stepped closer into Harry’s space, his eyes blazing while the rest of him had gone cold.
“It’s not a fucking temper tantrum!” Harry shouted, as if he were fifteen again and the world was against him. “Am I not fucking allowed to have a fucking emotional reaction about this?”
“You aren’t if all you’re going to do is walk away like a dumbass,” Draco said, obviously trying for an icy kind of boredom, but failing for the way he was looking at Harry’s face, as if there was a part of him that-- Harry swallowed and looked down. He didn’t want to see that look. It made him feel things he’d rather not. They were standing so close together, that when Harry glanced up, he could see the tiny row of freckles that had appeared during the summer on Draco’s nose. This time when he pushed, Draco took a step back and Harry brushed angrily past him as he started walking again.
He heard Draco make a noise of frustration behind him before he heard him moving towards him. A moment or so later Draco grabbed Harry’s wrist and didn’t let go. “You don’t get to just--just not participate. That’s stupid. That’s childish.” Then, more quietly, the ice breaking away all at once, “You can’t just do nothing.”
Harry’s--anger, or sadness, or whatever it had been pushing him to march down the road two hours past his home--dissolved suddenly inside him, and he sagged from the weight of its absence, like his skeleton had suddenly turned into a chain of paperclips. Draco wasn’t talking about the farm anymore, and he was tired of this, tired of this conversation, tired of this stupid fucking problem they’d created for themselves. “I said--” Harry swallowed and looked up at the sky, at the broken fence across the road, anywhere but Draco’s beautiful and imploring face. “I said we were all right.”
“But you keep acting like we’re not,” Draco replied. “Merlin, fuck. I’m sorry. It doesn’t have to be anything, and it isn’t, and I just want to be--the way we were. Okay? I’m sorry. I said it already, but it feels like you’re still punishing me, and I wasn’t sure if you were coming back to the farm or not, so I wanted to come find you and fly you back. That’s it. All right?” He offered Harry the broom.
Harry nodded and wrapped his hand around it. “I’m… sorry, too. You know?”
Draco shrugged. They stood there for a moment, waiting for whatever needed to be said, to be said; Harry’s fist wrapped around the broom, Draco’s arms crossed, not defiantly but uncomfortably, his gaze focused on anything but Harry’s face. He hated it, he hated it, but Harry cleared his throat, mounted the broom, and motioned for Draco to climb on.
As they ascended into the air, Harry tried to think of anything other than Gertie dying ahead, and Draco behind, his arms wrapped around Harry warm and steady. These two things were impossible, and Harry refused to believe that either one could be true. He had to.
Draco took care of all the animals while Harry spent an entire morning digging the hole. Ginny and Luna gathered flowers and a basket of alfalfa, which Gertie had loved. They buried her at the bottom of one of the hills that bloomed yellow in spring.
When they returned to the farmhouse, Harry pulled Draco aside.
He’d been thinking on this ever since their run-in with Lucius. He had debated and considered and even made a pro and con list of which Hermione would be proud.
“You need to speak to your father. You need to tell him the truth.”
A mix of emotion fled across Draco’s face so fast Harry could barely catch any of it before the face he was looking at shuttered itself so completely Harry was reminded of the months when Draco had first arrived. It was not something he’d ever hoped to see again, but he supposed there was no help for it.
“My father,” said Draco between clenched teeth, “can go to hell.”
“Yeah, I agree,” said Harry, “but you still need to talk to him.” He looked away from Draco, at the floral curtains in the living room window, and thought of Gertie. He thought of Draco’s kiss as they stood surrounded by bright yellow flowers. He wished he could think of anything but these two things. “Besides, I’m fine here. Daniel’s staying back from school a year so I’ve already offered a position.”
Draco’s shuttered face had lost some of its coldness and was replaced with shock. He stared at Harry disbelievingly. “What? So that’s it? You just want to… get rid of me? You wanna replace me with some spotty village Muggle?”
“I almost lost them, Draco. The sheep. Annie and Lucy. That’s not going to happen again. I came here to get away from that shit.”
Draco stared at him for a long moment. Harry held his gaze. Then, his face transforming into that of his pointy, disdainful teenaged self, Draco glared at him and said, “Fine. Fuck you.”
And so Draco went.
The first few days, Harry was able to force away any thoughts of him. He threw himself into the farm like never before. Anything that needed mending was mended, and Bernie was so tired of Harry’s attempts to train her that she ended up pulling his hat from his head and eating it as revenge. Ginny and Luna seemed to understand that Harry needed distraction, and they painted their nails together, a different color every night, and forced him to listen to ten different Muggle albums on Luna’s record player.
After about a week, it got harder. He had never got along with the chickens, but now when he gathered the eggs, they seemed to peck at him harder and cluck at him more loudly, as if to chastise him. Harry left the care of Zinnia to Daniel, and avoided Narcissa’s garden, which was solely Luna’s now, and so was left to grow wilder than Mrs. Malfoy would have ever allowed. He had never disliked any of his sheep before, and he didn’t dislike them now, but he had to admit that he sometimes had a tendency to talk to Junior less, and never thought of her other than when he had to.
By the end of two weeks, Harry was willing to admit he missed Draco. He told Luna and Ginny this at dinner.
“Don’t know why,” said Ginny, who didn’t like to admit her true feelings about things, “he’s an awful singer. It’s nice to have some peace and quiet around here.”
Luna, on the other hand, leaned forward and lay her hand on Harry’s. “I do, too,” she said. “Do you know, I think Ursula does too. Her eggs have gotten more, you know, elegant. I think they’re for him.”
Yet though Harry was in the acceptance phase of losing Draco Malfoy, he was definitely not prepared the next time he saw him.
He, Ginny, and Luna were in Luna’s vegetable garden. He and Luna were gathering spring onions and spinach while Ginny lounged lazily in a lawn chair she had transfigured from a pile of rocks. It had rained the day before, and the ground was still wet. Whenever Ginny looked like she was dozing off, Luna threw a handful of mud at her and looked innocent--astonishingly so, she ought to get into community theater or something, thought Harry--when Ginny looked round to see where it had come from.
She had just asked Harry quite seriously if he had taken care of the gnomes yet this spring, because she thought they might be getting pretty feisty, and Luna and Harry had burst into uncontrollable laughter, when Draco suddenly appeared from where he’d apparently been hanging out with the cows.
Harry stared at him and Draco stared back. Then Draco made a face as if disgusted, and stalked back towards the house.
“Excuse me,” Harry muttered to Luna, as he leapt to his feet to follow him. He caught him in the mudroom at the back of the house where the new chicks were incubating.
“I was just leaving, Potter, so get out of my way,” said Draco. He tried to push past Harry, but Harry stood his ground.
Harry stared at Draco. It had been a long time since he sincerely wanted to punch him in the face, but right now, he was pushing it.
“What the hell is your problem?” he said through gritted teeth.
Draco looked down at Harry from his stupidly tall height, his stormy grey eyes shining with incredulity. He also had stupidly long lashes. Harry was all too aware that most of the time, he did not think Draco’s height and long eyelashes were so stupid. He pushed this thought down and let it be swallowed by his anger. “The fact that you have to ask, Potter,” Draco spat out the word like they were in first year again and pulling each other’s pigtails, “just shows how fucking thick you are.”
Harry rolled his eyes, refusing to rise to Draco’s bait. “I can’t read your mind, you know. What are you talking about?”
To Harry’s surprise, Draco’s cheeks and ears turned pink and he looked away from Harry. “Don’t make me say it,” he said quietly. “You keep making me say it, and it’s so fucking embarrassing.”
Realization dawned on Harry. “Are you--jealous of Luna?”
“No, I’m not jealous. I’m--shit.” Draco sighed and looked up at the ceiling. He shook his head as if trying to shake off a bad thought. He looked back at Harry again. “I fucking miss you, and you’re just here playing happy families like nothing’s wrong.”
Harry could have laughed at this. “Happy fucking families? Me? Jesus, Draco, I didn’t realize you were this big of an idiot!”
“I--” Draco was looking at him again, but this time his gaze was strange. “Okay.” He opened his mouth to say something and then closed it again.
Harry wasn’t in the mood. “What?” he said, not fully over the flare of his temper.
“You... missed me too?” Draco said. His voice was softer, pleading. He was looking away again, as if ashamed to be having this conversation.
The last vestiges of Harry’s anger vanished and something else took its place, as he looked at the sharp points of Draco’s profile, at his chapped lips and the long eyelashes and the jut of his Adam’s apple above the neckline of his robes. It had been so long since he’d seen Draco in proper wizard’s robes, and Harry hadn’t realized how good Draco looked in them. He swallowed and took a breath. A deep breath, and then he added, “Of course I did.”
Draco closed his eyes briefly, his eyelashes fluttering against his cheek, and when he opened them again there was something steely in them, a resolve that made Harry want to back away and push forward all at the same time. “You replaced me. You said--”
“I know what I said.” The little mudroom was quiet except for the sounds of the chickens clucking nearby, and Max’s snores from somewhere in the house. Harry reached up and touched Draco’s shoulder, ran his palm down the smooth pane of his sleeve, until he was holding him at the elbow. He couldn’t look away from Draco’s eyes, which were boring into his own in a way that made Harry feel like his hidden places had been opened wide. “Things change.”
He had barely gotten the words out and then Draco’s mouth was against his own, and this time Harry gave into it, the last resistance to the inevitable finally crumbling away with a kind of relief. He was still balancing himself with the hand pressed against Draco’s elbow, and Draco’s other arm was wrapped around his shoulders, pulling him in closer. Harry pushed himself up a little on his toes and deepened the kiss.
The answer was a sound, delicious and low, that Harry swallowed with a warm pleasure blooming deep in his stomach. Draco tasted like nothing much and everything wonderful all at once.
Draco gently walked Harry backwards until his back hit a wall, and then Harry was trapped underneath the heat of Draco’s body, right next to the table where he’d set up the incubator only a week ago, right under the persnickety overhead light that sometimes glowed green for no reason at all, right on top of the creaky floorboard that he’d repaired what must have been a thousand times--but he wasn’t thinking about any of it. For once, he wasn’t thinking about all he had to do, because all there was to do was standing in front of him with calloused fingers pushing up under the hemline of his shirt, pressing carefully against his hip. His world had suddenly been reduced to Draco, the heat of his kiss, his tongue running along the tip of Harry’s, his wide hands pulling Harry’s shirt up and curling around his biceps.
Draco pressed his leg between Harry’s and Harry hoped Draco could feel how hard he was getting, how much he wanted this, how much he wanted Draco. “God,” he sighed, as Draco’s mouth dropped to Harry’s jawline. Draco answered with a press of teeth against Harry’s neck and the subtle movement of his thigh against Harry’s cock; Harry groaned and slid his fingers up through the smooth white of Draco’s hair, now grown so much longer than when they’d had their reunion--for lack of a better word--over a year ago.
“Is--is this, oh,” Draco breathed out a huff of laughter as Harry pressed his hips forward, “is this okay?” Draco’s fingers were hovering at the hem of Harry’s now-untucked shirt, waiting for permission.
Harry pulled back his head a bit to look at Draco. He’d been about to laugh because wasn’t it obvious that this was okay? But Draco was looking at him in this searching way, his bottom lip pulled between his teeth, his thumb brushing over the same spot on Harry’s lower stomach, back and forth. He was nervous, insecure. He was looking at Harry like Harry might kick him out at any moment, like everything was exactly the same as it had been before, when it wasn’t, it wasn’t.
Harry moved his hand through Draco’s hair until he was cradling the back of Draco’s neck. He pressed their foreheads together. “Yes,” he said, before kissing the side of Draco’s nose, the slope of his cheek. “Yes, of course,” and he caught Draco’s mouth with his own.
Draco kissed him with renewed fervor, and if this had felt good before, now it was incredible, something like the first morning they’d seen the sun rise over the daffodils on the hill. Draco was touching him everywhere, cradling the back of his head in his hand, then running his fingers along the shell of Harry’s ear, then holding tight to Harry’s bicep, like Draco couldn’t get enough of him, like he wanted to map it all out, like he wasn’t sure if Harry was real and he had to hold him tight to keep him there.
And Harry wasn’t much different--Draco’s skin, normally covered in long sleeves and trousers, protected from the sun and judging eyes, was so soft under Harry’s fingers. Harry unbuttoned Draco’s shirt and pushed up the vest underneath. He pressed his mouth to the underside of Draco’s chin, dragged his lips across his jaw, pressed his palm against Draco’s stomach.
“Harry,” said Draco, breathless and rough, and Harry couldn’t believe he’d made that happen. It sent warmth all through his body. “I missed you.”
“Can we,” panted Harry as Draco ran his hands all down the sides of his body, pressing him against the wall, oh God, had his hands always been so large? His fingers so long? “Can we move this to the bedroom? Only,” and he laughed through his nose, thinking of the chicks hatching in their incubator table, “there’s children round.”
Draco pulled away frowning, then Harry nodded over at the table, indicating the chicks. “Oh!” said Draco, peering closer, “They’re just little, aren’t they?” He stepped away from Harry for a moment to gaze at the chicks peeping at each other.
Harry took his shirt off completely and threw it at the back of Draco’s head. “Hey, we’re in the middle of something.”
Draco looked over his shoulder, noticed Harry’s shirt was off, and Harry liked the way his face grew pink and his eyes got dark.
Harry, grinning wide, said, “Race you.”
He darted out of the mudroom, ignoring Draco’s “hey!” and ran up three floors to his bedroom. When he reached it, Draco was already there, pulling his shirt off.
“How’d you beat me?” demanded Harry, disappointed.
It was Draco’s turn to throw his shirt at Harry. “You can do magic,” he said. He was in the middle of adding “You know that, right?” when Harry tackled him and pushed him onto the bed. It reminded him of the time they’d wrestled in Tokyo.
“Damare, you crazy tourist,” said Harry, and covered Draco’s mouth with his own. He was pretty good at shutting Draco up, if he did say so himself.
“Stay with me,” Harry said.
“Well, it’s fucking cold out, I wasn’t planning on getting out of bed.” Draco yawned wide.
Harry shook his head. “Stay here. Don’t go back to the Manor.”
Draco looked at him, searching his eyes. Harry nodded. Draco’s smile was wide and wonderful. “Thank fuck,” he said. “But can I sleep in here instead this time? The other room gets draughty in the winter.”
They had spent the night talking about what the past few weeks had been like. Draco had explained to his father that his mother was the true heir of Malfoy Manor, and Lucius hadn’t taken it well, but at least now Narcissa could openly make decisions about the fate of the Manor. Harry didn’t have much to share other than his complaints that Draco had turned the chickens against him. They’d fallen asleep curled around each other.
Now, Harry did his chores alone, as he used to before Draco, and when he was done, he set up shop in the kitchen to do some of the less interesting administrative work he’d been meaning to get around to.
All was quiet until there was the sound of a Floo-call whooshing into the parlor’s fireplace followed by Draco tripping over a pair of rainboots left at the bottom of the stairs (which was to say: the sound of a thud and some very creative cursing). Harry laughed softly to himself. “Get that, would you?” he called from the kitchen. Things had settled down enough that he was finally getting around to putting a few of the strawberries and blueberries into a tart, and the oven hadn’t been cleaned in eons. He had three housekeeping spells going and didn’t want to disturb them, so he hoped Draco was wearing something decent enough for company.
He heard the sound of Draco’s pretend long-suffering sigh, then the sight of the man himself poking his head into the kitchen, tying a robe around his waist. “The things I do for you, Potter,” he said. “Could we please get Ginevra to not leave her wellies in dangerous places? Maybe some kind of blackmail?”
“Like fuck you have anything to blackmail me with!” Ginny called from upstairs.
The Floo rang again and Harry nodded towards it. “You’re being rude, you know.”
Draco rolled his eyes and went to answer. Then, to his surprise, he heard Mrs. Malfoy’s voice saying, “Let me through, dear, won’t you?”
Moments later, Mrs. Malfoy was in the kitchen, one arm folded over her waist as she tapped her cheek with a finger on her other hand and glanced around. “My, it hasn’t changed at all, has it?” Harry nearly dropped his wand. He put a pause to his spells. The tarts were about ready to set anyway.
“Hello, Mrs. Malfoy,” he said and began putting the tarts in the icebox.
“I’m not sure what was supposed to have changed, Mother,” grumbled Draco, heading for the pot of coffee on the stove and pouring himself a giant mug. Harry watched him in disgust as he poured about eight tons of sugar into it. Harry liked his sweet, but Draco liked an entire candy factory. He took a sip of his coffee and closed his eyes in bliss. When he opened them, Harry caught his eye and wrinkled his nose. Draco wrinkled his nose back. Harry made another disgusted face and Draco made one back. Mrs. Malfoy cleared her throat and Harry looked away, feeling his cheeks warm.
“Yes, well, I came to discuss something with you, darling. Have a seat, please.” The light atmosphere was somewhat dampened, and Harry decided it was time to take his leave. It was getting on in the morning, anyway, and he ought to go milk the cows.
Draco found him a couple of hours later in the west meadow. He had been trying to teach Bernie to fetch but he wasn’t nearly as interested as Lucy and Annie, who kept glancing out of the corner of their eyes, clearly wishing they could stop work to play.
Harry shaded his eyes when he saw Draco approaching. Draco had his hands buried in the pockets of his unbuttoned coat, and his hair was all mussed. As he came closer, Harry could see the shadow of a love bite on his neck. Harry grew warm just at the thought of how it got there.
“So what was that about?” asked Harry, when Draco settled down on the grass next to him.
Draco gazed out at the meadow. His jawline was strong, though nobody would exactly call it square, and his lean frame wore his coat well. Harry thought about asking Draco to side-along with him to the barn, or maybe to the stable, just for a few moments--
“She’s selling it,” said Draco, breaking into Harry’s thoughts. He sounded blank. “She’s selling the Manor.”
Harry lay back on the grass. Draco blew a huff of air through his nose in exasperation and conjured a blanket underneath them, then lay next to him. He turned on his side and propped his head up on his hand. Harry looked up at him, his brow furrowed. “What are you… how are you feeling about it?” God, he sounded stupid. He looked away and gazed up at the clouds instead.
Harry could feel Draco shrug. “I don’t know. I feel a bit, well, lost. I told you, right? The Manor needs Malfoys.”
Harry pressed their ankles together. He said in a low voice, “You’re still a Malfoy without the Manor, you know. We need you here anyway.”
The breeze was cool on their faces. Bernie hopped up onto the wall and bleated at her audience of sheep, which largely ignored her. The dogs, on the other hand, barked at her, cajoling her to come back to land. Harry watched Draco take it all in and smiled when he looked back down.
“We’re selling the Manor,” he said, this time with a sense of unbelieving awe.
“Good riddance, Manor,” agreed Harry. “I never liked it much anyway.”
“No, nor me. Awful insulation.”
“You’re staying here,” said Harry. “We ought to get you a pair of dungarees, make you a real farmer.”
“I’d rather die,” said Draco.
“Come on, my girl,” Draco was saying, rubbing at Violet’s back as she bleated in pain. “You’re so close now.”
None of the sheep had needed much assistance this season. It had felt almost miraculous, until Harry realized Draco had been doing it all by magic and insisted he stop. “They’re not used to magic like that,” he’d said. “You can’t just spring it on them!”
Draco had rolled his eyes and argued that it didn’t make a difference, Harry had asked what was wrong with tradition, and then they just decided to make out in the barn instead. Afterwards, Draco had apologized and Harry had marveled at exactly how much time can change things.
Violet had been the last expecting ewe untouched by Draco’s magical intervention, and so of course she’d been in a very difficult labor for about fifteen hours so far.
“You know, there’s a spell I could--” said Draco, after another contraction.
Harry ignored him as he gingerly moved the lamb inside of Violet so that its head was pointing the right direction. Violet immediately seemed to feel a bit better. Twenty minutes later, she was feeling a lot better and licking away at her newborn lamb, another ewe.
Draco and Harry, exhausted, sat on a bale of hay and watched. “It’s gross, isn’t it,” said Draco casually, “the whole cycle of life.”
“Yeah, especially when you’re involved,” said Harry with half-hearted derision.
“Ha ha,” replied Draco, just as half-hearted. “What are we naming this one?”
“You tell me,” said Harry. “I’m tired of thinking up names, Rose names them all Rose, Ginny names them all Gwenog, and Luna names them all after Muggle candy. It makes me hungry.”
Draco’s expression grew thoughtful.
“Don’t name her something stupid from your family, either,” warned Harry, though he felt his attempt at being stern was rather undermined by the giant yawn that followed his words.
“What if we name her Gertie?” said Draco. “Gertie Potter II. Esquire.”
Harry grinned and turned his head to look at Draco. He was smiling back, uncertain but glad, like the sun peeking out over the clouds. “I like it,” said Harry. "I like the part where she's a lawyer, as well."
They watched as Gertie II stood on wobbling legs to nurse from her mother. They were surrounded by the sounds of the farm, their noses were filled with hayseed and the mustiness of the barn, and Lucy had her head in Draco’s lap. Harry reached over, took Draco’s hand, and closed his eyes. In a few minutes, they would have to go back to the house to eat, and Bernie needed her pen mended again, and Luna had asked if they could pick up some more pectin for her jam from the village. But that could all be done later.
For now, Harry was quite happy where he was.