When Harry Apparated to the front gate of Malfoy Manor, his first thought was that the imposing estate looked much less threatening in the daylight.
He took a moment to look over the white façade, gleaming brightly in the sunlight. As he walked up the driveway, his eyes were drawn to the right, where several albino peacocks were lounging in the sun, and he shook his head at the incongruity of it all.
Stepping up onto the front step, he smoothed his hands over the front of his robes, discreetly wiping away the dampness on his palms. He hadn't seen any of the Malfoys since the trials before the Wizengamot, and couldn't help the apprehension that was starting to set in. It had seemed like a good idea to return Malfoy's wand, but now he wasn't so certain. He wasn't sure what to expect from any of the Malfoys and was feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Nonetheless, he straightened his shoulders and raised a hand to the brass knocker, banging it three times against the wooden door.
While he waited for someone to answer, he couldn't help but fidget slightly. It was just so strange to be standing here after all that had happened, and he hoped he'd be able to get through this without looking like an arse.
He was interrupted from his musings when the door opened.
"Mr. Potter," Narcissa Malfoy said. A brief flash of something that was gone too quickly for Harry to identify crossed her face. "This is a surprise."
"Hello, Mrs. Malfoy," Harry said. "I'm sorry for bothering you, but I was hoping I could speak with Draco." Malfoy's name felt foreign on his tongue and Harry hesitated briefly before continuing. "Is he available?"
Narcissa was quiet for a moment. "He is here," she finally said. "Please come in, Mr. Potter. I will tell Draco you wish to speak with him." She closed the door once Harry was through and started to walk across the Entrance Hall. "Please follow me. You may wait for him in the drawing room."
As Harry followed her across the grand hall, he couldn't help the memories that started flashing through his mind. He quietly drew a deep breath and released it slowly, wiping his hands once again on his robes.
"Please wait here," Narcissa said again, and Harry got the distinct impression that she was displeased about him being in her home.
Harry nodded and stepped into the drawing room. He was immediately assaulted by unpleasant memories. He heard the echo of Hermione's screams as Bellatrix tortured her, saw Dobby Disarming Narcissa, her wand sailing across the room, and the flash of a silver knife flying through the air….
He hauled air into his lungs, hands clenching into fists so tightly that his nails were digging sharply into his palms. His breathing was becoming slightly panicked and he was fighting to even it out when someone spoke.
Harry spun around quickly. Malfoy was standing just inside the door, a cautious look on his face. Harry felt hysterical laughter bubbling up inside of him and forced himself to breathe. He absolutely would not fall apart in front of Malfoy.
"Potter?" Malfoy said again. "Are you … all right?"
The irony of this situation wasn't lost on Harry and he just hoped that it didn't degenerate into throwing curses at each other like it had when it had been him stumbling upon Malfoy in Myrtle's bathroom. Then it had been Malfoy who had been overwhelmed by his situation, but now it was Harry, and he once again tried to force down his hysteria.
Realizing Malfoy was still waiting for him to answer, Harry tried to force out a response. But he was still breathing much too quickly, making it difficult to reply. As Harry fought to calm down, a look of recognition crossed Malfoy's face, and he hesitantly stepped further into the room.
"Why don't we go outside and talk? The gardens are in full bloom and it's been said you should never leave the Manor before seeing the gardens."
Harry appreciated what Malfoy was doing, and gave him a grateful smile, although he was fairly certain it fell a bit flat. "That sounds great."
Malfoy nodded once and headed out of the drawing room, holding the door for Harry. Harry followed him across the Entrance Hall again, this time through a different door that led into a parlor of some sort. There were French doors at the back of this room, and Harry could just see the top of a large fountain through the glass.
Malfoy walked across the parlor like he didn't even see the ornate furnishings in the room, but Harry peered curiously around him. This room was much lighter than the drawing room, and Harry felt himself finally start to relax just a bit.
He followed Malfoy out into the gardens and felt his breath catch in his throat. The gardens were beautiful, Malfoy hadn't been lying. Harry took a deep breath of the fragrant air and felt his breathing start to even out.
Harry slowly trailed Malfoy across the terrace and down a wide, brick pathway. The fountain he'd spotted through the door was at the intersection of four pathways in the shape of a cross, its white marble surface glistening like diamonds in the sun. The sound of the water was soothing, and Harry felt the last vestiges of his panic subside.
He glanced around inquiringly, eager to see more. The pathways stretched out before him, leading to different sections of the gardens and Harry wished for a moment that he could take the time to see where they led. Around the fountain were all sorts of different flowers blooming merrily in their beds, a riotous mix of dahlias, hydrangeas and lilies blending together, their colors bright against the green borders of the flowerbeds.
The pathway to the right led through a covered archway of ivy and clematis, the left to a large grass walk with stepping stones. The sheer size of the gardens was mind-boggling and Harry felt completely overwhelmed. Malfoy had grown up here? This was so very different from number four, Privet Drive that he felt like he'd fallen into another world.
"Wow," Harry said inelegantly.
Malfoy smirked. "Oh, you haven't seen anything yet."
Harry gave a small smile. "I have never seen anything like this before."
"Really?" Malfoy asked. "I thought you'd grown up someplace like this."
Harry snorted. "Hardly." Wanting to get the subject off the Dursleys, he waved a hand around the gardens. "Where's the best place to talk, then?"
Malfoy gave Harry a long look before shrugging. "There's a bench through the archway there." He gestured to the right. "The path leads to the water garden. Will that work?"
Harry nodded faintly and Malfoy gave him another smirk, before turning off towards the archway. Harry followed behind him, looking around at all the different sights. There were so many flowers and plants surrounding him that it was difficult to take it all in.
"Who takes care of the gardens?" Harry asked.
"We have a gardener, of course," Malfoy said, arrogance heavy in his voice. "But Mother likes to do some of it herself, although she usually stays there by the fountain."
"Your mother likes to garden?" Harry said incredulously. He couldn't quite believe that Narcissa Malfoy would enjoy digging around in the dirt.
Harry shot a disbelieving look at Malfoy. "'Of course'?"
Malfoy shrugged. "Mother says gardening is something you can see the results of. She likes making things beautiful. And she says it's relaxing."
Harry just shook his head.
"Well, here we are," Malfoy said, making a wide movement of his arm. "The water garden."
Harry stared around dumbstruck. If he'd thought the small courtyard with the fountain had been beautiful, then the water garden was the most breathtakingly gorgeous thing he'd ever seen.
"Oh, wow," Harry breathed, and Malfoy chuckled beside him.
They were standing in front of a large pond that was fed by a large waterfall. The waterfall was made of rocks that had been stacked artfully upon each other, and was seemingly built right into the hillside around it. There were bushes and plants and flowers of so many different types that Harry couldn't figure out where one started and one ended. Further down the pond was a beautifully intricate wooden bridge, arching gracefully over the water below.
The whole area was secluded somewhat by the surrounding trees, and the sunlight was streaming through the leaves, leaving patterns of the branches on the ground below. The garden was quiet and peaceful and Harry wanted to stand in a patch of that sunlight, close his eyes, and forget the outside world existed for just a little while.
Stepping closer to the pond, Harry bent over enough to see that there were fish in the water, swimming merrily underneath its surface. Large lily pads and water lilies floated on the water, the petals bright shades of pink, white and yellow. There was a frog sitting on one of the lily pads, croaking now and then, but it and the birds in the trees were the only sounds Harry could hear aside from the fall of the water over the rocks.
Harry found a patch of that sunlight and stood in it, staring calmly over the surface of the water. Malfoy stood a little apart from him in his own patch of sun, hands in the pockets of his robes. Harry tilted his head up slightly so he could feel the sun's warmth against his skin and took a deep breath, drawing the peace and tranquility of the garden straight into his soul.
After a while, Malfoy spoke. "I assume there was a reason you came by?" Harry noticed that his voice was uncertain, which served to remind him that this was a rather unusual circumstance, and that Harry ought to get on with the explanation for his visit.
"Yes," Harry replied, turning his head slightly towards Malfoy. "Do you mind if we sit?"
Malfoy gestured towards a stone bench that was situated to one side of the pond. "Will this work?"
Harry nodded and headed towards the bench. He sat, and after a slight hesitation, Malfoy sat next to him.
Malfoy smoothed his palms over his knees. "So?" he said.
"I wanted to return your wand," Harry said bluntly, reaching into the pocket of his robes.
Malfoy was visibly startled by this. "What?"
Harry's response was to hold the hawthorn wand out to him handle-first. Malfoy looked at Harry closely before reaching out hesitantly, fingers hovering over the handle for a moment before grasping it.
Harry watched as Malfoy carefully brought his wand up and rested it against his cheek. His eyes drifted shut, a true, genuine smile on his face.
"Potter, I … I don't even know what to say," Malfoy said quietly once he'd opened his eyes. "I never even imagined that you'd give me back my wand. Actually, I would have bet quite a few galleons that you'd have kept it forever."
Harry shrugged. "I didn't need it. Why wouldn't I give it back?"
"Spoils of war," Malfoy answered softly, a hint of disbelief still apparent on his face. "I'm not sure I would have returned your wand if the situation had been reversed."
"Maybe, maybe not," Harry replied. "But there's no reason for me to keep it. Besides," Harry added. "It's yours."
Malfoy was quiet for a long moment as he carefully tucked the wand into his robes. When he finally looked up at Harry there was a mixture of emotions on his face – so many, in fact, that Harry couldn't decipher them all.
"Thank you," Malfoy said, and Harry got the distinct impression that his 'thank you' applied to more than just returning Draco's wand.
"You're welcome," he said simply.
The boys sat in silence for a long while. Harry was surprised to realize that the stillness that had fallen over them was comfortable, almost like it would have been if it were Ron or Hermione sitting there on that stone bench with him. Harry turned his head to look at Malfoy, only to realize that Malfoy was already looking at him, a frankly curious expression on his face.
"What?" Harry asked.
Malfoy shook his head. "Just trying to figure you out, Potter."
"Well, if you do, be sure to let me know," Harry said with a small smile, and got an answering one from Malfoy.
"What are you going to do with yourself now that you're out of school?" Malfoy asked.
"I'm going to become an Auror."
"How predictable," Malfoy said with a drawl, and Harry rolled his eyes. This sounded more like the Malfoy he was used to.
"Yeah, well, there's still a lot of Death Eaters out there." Malfoy's face tightened almost imperceptibly, and Harry quickly changed the subject. The war was still too raw a topic for them to be discussing.
"What about you?" Harry asked.
Malfoy relaxed slightly. "I've been offered an internship in the Department of Mysteries. Unspeakable," he clarified at Harry's questioning look.
"Oh," Harry said. "What do they actually do?"
Malfoy arched an eyebrow. "Well, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."
Harry blinked once then burst into laughter. Malfoy had tensed slightly after his statement but joined in Harry's laughter, albeit a bit restrainedly, once he realized Harry wasn't angry about what he'd said.
They continued to make small talk, avoiding any and all topics that might turn into an argument. As their conversation continued, Harry found himself actually enjoying Malfoy's presence. He was surprised at how easy it was to talk to him, and how much they actually had in common. It seemed that Malfoy was actually an interesting person when he wasn't sneering and trying to get Harry into trouble, and Harry actually felt a pang of sadness when he realized he had to leave to get to dinner at the Burrow. It was a huge surprise, but Harry had actually enjoyed his time there in the gardens of Malfoy Manor and he wasn't quite ready to return to the demands of the outside world.
"I have to get going," Harry said, careful to keep the disappointment out of his voice. "I'm meeting the Weasleys for dinner."
Malfoy's face was carefully blank as he nodded, but all he said was, "I'll walk you out."
As Harry followed Malfoy back through the gardens and into the Manor, he searched his brain for a viable excuse to spend some more time with him. This thought nearly brought him up short, as it was completely ridiculous to want to spend more time with Malfoy, but Harry realized it was the truth. The conversation had been easy, and it was nice to talk with someone who, for once, didn't seem to have any demands of him or his time. He reached the front door much too quickly for his liking, and hid his sigh as Malfoy opened the door.
"Well, goodbye, Potter," Malfoy said.
"Goodbye," Harry replied. "Thank you for showing me the gardens."
"Oh, you haven't seen nearly all of them. Maybe you could come over again sometime and I'll give you the rest of the tour? Wizard Home Magazine says that the Malfoy Manor gardens in full bloom can't be beat."
Harry fought to keep the grin off his face as it became apparent that Malfoy wasn't quite ready to give up on the tentative bond they'd formed either.
"That sounds great," he said. He headed up the driveway after tossing a brief wave over his shoulder. He'd taken only a few steps when Malfoy called out.
"Potter!" Harry turned to see Malfoy hurrying out the door. "Thank you," Malfoy said again, but this time he elaborated. "For returning my wand, and for what you said at the Wizengamot. My family and I owe you a lot."
Harry nodded his head in acknowledgement of the statement, then said, "You're welcome." Malfoy nodded as well and stepped away.
Harry smiled at him, and with another wave turned around. He wasn't sure where this new whatever-it-was with Malfoy was going, but, he decided, he was going to enjoy it regardless.