|Of Hoof Picks, Centaurs and Flight
Author: Blame Brampton PM
Harry has promised he won't upset the new head of Magical Creatures. Even if it is Draco Malfoy. When three centaur foals appear in Cumbria, all too close to Muggles, Harry's promise is thoroughly tested. Not to mention his equestrian skills.Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor/Romance - Harry P. & Draco M. - Chapters: 3 - Words: 22,660 - Reviews: 30 - Favs: 88 - Follows: 7 - Published: 01-22-11 - Status: Complete - id: 6675786
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Notes: Written for rosivan at the 2010 hd_holidays. The prompter asked for comedy and Ministry fic, and it was written very quickly as a pinch hit , so some perfectly good jokes about an epic romance involving a Ford Anglia and a horse truck had to be abandoned along the way. I considered rewriting the whole thing before reposting in the name of vehicular love, but my chronic lack of time means that was never going to happen. This fic would have been utterly doomed without the encouragement and generous beta skills of nursedarry, and her powers of psychic link, and the eagle eye of jadzialove. Many thanks, too, to treacle_tartlet, who assured me that Twilight jokes were wholly appropriate, because contemporary wizarding kids have enough youthful problems with formal robes and should be allowed the odd smuggled Muggle novel.
Of Hoof Picks, Centaurs, and Flight
'Mr Potter? The Head of Magical Creatures is here.'
Ah. The one thing that could make this situation more awkward, Harry thought, wishing it was this time last year and Hermione was still in the job. Or this time the year before that, when he was still out in the field and this would have been someone else's problem.
He sighed quietly. 'Send him in, Aurelia. I'm sure he's as anxious to clear all this up as I am.'
Aurelia turned back into the antechamber and spoke to the man there, before moving back to hold open the door. Draco Malfoy stepped past her, thanking her politely. He looked at the man sitting on the other side of Harry's desk and gave him a reassuring nod, before looking at Harry and plastering what was clearly a Let's Be On Our Best Behaviour look on his face.
'Right,' said Malfoy. 'What's all this about, then?'
He was straightforward, Harry had to give him that.
'Beeton here was brought in for assaulting Gerlinda Cleavers in Diagon Alley at three forty-two this afternoon. We have a host of witnesses to the attack, but there are conflicting statements as to what actually happened. Beeton says he was acting under your orders, so I am hoping that you can tell me why you have been sending your staff out to rough up holidaying students in the last week before school goes back.'
'May I sit down?'
Malfoy dropped into the chair beside Beeton. 'You all right, Robert?'
'Fine, sir. Sorry.'
'Not at all. Now, Auror Potter, assaulting a student you say. Can you give me a few more details? This sounds very unlike Beeton, he's generally very well behaved.'
Harry frowned. Malfoy's tone was perfectly pleasant, so why did he feel as though he was being mocked?
Taking a deep breath, he read from the report in front of him. 'At three forty-two this afternoon, in Diagon Alley, near Flourish and Blotts, Beeton leapt upon Gerlinda Cleavers, witch, fourteen, of Skegness, Lincs. Beeton was heard to cry out that he was apprehending Miss Cleavers under Section Twelve of the Magical Creatures, Beings and Non-Wizarding Part-Humans Cooperation Act. Immediately thereafter, Beeton threw a blanket over Miss Cleavers and attempted to secure her with a silver chain. Miss Cleavers screamed for help, whereupon Beeton doused her with water from a bottle carried on his person. When witnesses rushed to intervene, Beeton assured them he was acting in his official capacity, while Cleaver screamed for her mother. At this point Aurors were called. On being returned to the Ministry, Mr Beeton asked to see the Head Auror, which was followed by a request that you be summoned to explain the situation.'
Harry looked up from the report. 'Which I sincerely hope you can do.'
Malfoy nodded. He took a small notebook from his pocket and flipped through its pages. 'Beeton was sent out at three twenty-five this afternoon in response to a complaint from Madame Malkin of unauthorised vampire activity in Diagon Alley. Beeton, do you want to tell me what happened next?'
Beeton, who was a small man and whose natural nervousness had now burgeoned into something approaching fully fledged panic, spoke quickly. 'I arrived on the scene and surveyed the area. There was a lone figure in a long hooded black robe. I moved into an inconspicuous observation position and noted that the suspect's skin was bright white and slightly sparkly. The suspect stayed in the shadows by Madame Malkin's for a few minutes before turning down the alley in the direction of the Leaky Cauldron.
'This entailed stepping through a patch of sunlight, at which point the suspect was observed to draw her robes tightly about herself and mutter "I must not let the sunlight reveal my identity!" Satisfied I was on the trail of the right culprit, I readied my kit and followed the suspect. Trying to make a minimum of fuss, I quietly advised the suspect that I was aware of her identity, and that she should return to an authorised vampire area.
'She laughed and told me that mere laws were not enough to constrain vampires when the power of both the afterlife and true love ran in their veins – I didn't quite understand that bit, Sir, I have to confess. She turned around, at which point I realised I was dealing with a juvenile. I told her that I would give her a blood lollipop and offered to walk her to Knockturn Alley myself to make sure she was safe, at which point she told me that her mother had told her never to accept sweets from strange men.
'I gently informed her that if she continued to refuse, I would have no choice but to arrest her, and that it would be for the best if she moved on of her own accord. She told me that I was a mindless persecutor and did not understand and that, like the Cullens, she was a vegetarian feeding only on wild animals.
'I asked her if she knew what vegetarian meant, and who the Cullens were, at which point she told me I was an idiot and turned to leave, so I went to make my arrest and then the screaming started and it all went very badly wrong from there.'
Harry nodded, the story tallied with what Beeton had told him earlier. He looked to Malfoy, and was startled to see the man obviously holding back a laugh. 'Mr Malfoy? You have some light you would like to shed on these events?'
'What was the girl wearing?' Malfoy asked.
'A long, black hooded cloak, you heard Beeton.'
'And beneath that?'
Harry looked down at his notes. 'I don't know,' he admitted.
'Is she still here?'
'I think so, her mum was coming down from Skegness to pick her up. Apparently she'd been in town for the day with friends and was due to Floo home at five.'
'Can we pop by and have a word?'
Harry paused. It was highly irregular, but he supposed that Malfoy was a Ministry official, and he would be there to make sure that nothing untoward happened. 'If you keep it civil,' he said.
'I promise to be kindness itself. Can Beeton come with us or should he stay here?'
'I can stay in the corridor,' Beeton offered.
'Oh for Merlin's sake. Come along.'
Gerlinda Cleavers was sitting in the Auror tea room with the two Aurors who had arrested Beeton, a steaming cup of hot chocolate and several iced biscuits in front of her, when Harry led Malfoy in. Beeton had found himself a nice seat outside the tea room and promised to stay quietly put, which Harry felt sure he would.
'And so then the baby ripped its way out of the womb all by itself and it was the most amazing thing ever and Edward realised that he was going to lose her and so, finally …'
'Miss Cleavers?' Harry interrupted, hoping that it was a fictional narrative he had cut through. 'Miss Cleavers, this is Draco Malfoy, he was hoping for a few words.'
The girl stopped talking and sat, gaping for a moment. 'Oh, wow. Wow. You're Harry Potter.'
'Er, yes, hello. Pleased to meet you, glad you weren't hurt.'
'Oh no, I'm fine, I was awfully brave.' She smiled widely, and possibly flirtatiously, Harry realised with horror.
'Good girl,' he said, patting her arm.
Malfoy interrupted before things could get worse. 'Gerlinda! Pleased to meet you. I like your frock.'
A more genuine smile followed that. 'Cheers! I made it myself. Midnight black sateen from Twilfit & Tattings. Special order. It was really hard getting the crescent moons all around the hem, but my friend April …'
'Is April a Muggle-born, Gerlinda?'
'How did you know? Yes, but she's really cool. And despite what my mum says, Muggles have some really cool things, like, there's these books, right, and they're amazing! So much better than anything in stupid Beedle the Bard. I was just telling Auror Mallard when you came in about …'
'Is that Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes hair charm you have on?'
Gerlinda looked as though she was about to deny it, then grinned. 'Seriously Snape. It's wicked, isn't it? So black, so straight!'
Harry made a mental note to say something mildly disapproving to George.
Malfoy was still going, though. 'It is. Suits you! Goes well with the white powder you're using. Complexion Perfection Potion Absolutely Alabaster isn't it?'
Gerlinda scoffed. 'Hardly! Pearly Pallor. Absolutely Alabaster has no sparkle at all. SO wrong for the modern vampire aficionado.'
Malfoy turned around and gave Harry a look that was nothing less than triumphant.
Harry forced himself to smile. 'So you were intentionally dressed as a vampire, Miss Cleavers?'
'And did you tell Mr Beeton that you were in fact an actual vampire?'
'Yes, but that was no excuse for him to fling a blanket over me …'
'Standard procedure for taking in vampires,' Malfoy interjected. 'Stops any nasty accidents with the sun.'
'Well he didn't need to soak my head! He made my mascara run everywhere!'
'Holy Water, he was afraid you were turning violent.'
'It was an outrage.'
Harry attempted to regain control. 'Yes, Miss Cleavers, of course it was, but I think, given the circumstances, an understandable one.'
'Can Beeton go?' Malfoy interrupted.
Harry sighed. 'I don't see why not, he seems to have acted with restraint throughout. Do you want to tell him? I'll wait here with Miss Cleavers and explain to her mother …'
'My mother?' Gerlinda squawked. 'Is she here?'
'She's on her way now,' Harry said. 'I thought you wanted her. Witnesses say you were screaming loudly for her not half an hour ago.'
'She can't see me like this!' Gerlinda looked frantically around the room. 'Where's my bag?'
Harry looked at Mallard, who shrugged. Malfoy popped outside the room and came back holding a pink bag covered in toy purple puffskeins. 'Beeton had it. Do you want to get changed?'
Gerlinda held her hands out and took the bag eagerly. 'Yes please! And can someone charm my hair back? April has the counter-charm at her house, I was going to meet her back there for tea. Can you tell her I can't come?'
Harry would have sighed again, but he didn't want to set a bad example. 'Mallard, can you take Miss Cleavers to the ladies' and Scourgify her hair and face back to normal while you're there? What's April's surname? I'll send an owl.'
'Penniforth. Thank you! You're heaps handsomer than you are in your pictures, you know!'
Harry waited until Gerlinda and Mallard had left the room and Malfoy had gone to send Beeton back to his office before he sat down and banged his head gently on the table a few times.
'Are you all right, sir?' Auror Richards asked from behind him.
'I have had better days, Richards.'
'Mr Malfoy is coming back, sir.'
Harry sat up and brushed his hair back from his forehead. 'Beeton all right?' he asked as Malfoy strode in.
'Quite unharmed, pleased that justice has been served. I've reminded him that actual vampires rarely come with pink accessories. I do think that your people could have sorted this all out a little faster, given the information to hand, but no harm done.'
'I agree,' Harry said, relieved that Malfoy did not plan to make a fuss. 'Right. So what was all that about with the Muggle friend business?'
Malfoy sat down opposite Harry. 'The Muggles are having an enormous vogue for vampires at the moment. Terribly chic among the young set.'
'What, the vampires have revealed themselves to Muggles?' Harry realised how out of touch he was, but surely Dudley would have mentioned something in his birthday letter?
'No, it's all some book. From what I've gathered, it's a tortured love story with a carnivorous foetus. Sounds gruesome, actually, but I'm told it's very popular. There's been quite a fashion among the young set for black and fangs, which has crept in from the Muggle world. Miss Cleavers has a Muggleborn friend, QED. Her mother would be horrified, of course.'
Harry was impressed. And confused. 'How do you know all of this when I don't?'
As soon as the words left his mouth he regretted them. He could see any number of hilarious put-downs cross Malfoy's mind, and was more than a little impressed at the man's professionalism when he kept his mouth shut until he found something polite to say.
'Doubtless busy protecting the wizarding world from more important threats, Potter.'
'Yes. Precisely. So. All that remains is for me to come up with a convincing story for Mrs Cleavers as to why the Aurors have her daughter and we should be all sorted.'
Malfoy thought for a moment. 'Caught up in a training exercise,' he said.
'Training exercise. Scheduled for Diagon Alley, Aurors and related Ministry officials, young Gerlinda was in the wrong place at the wrong time, copped a face-full of water, had a little shock, terribly sorry. She's fine, knows to keep her eyes on where she's going in future.'
Harry smiled despite himself. 'That could actually work. Thank you.'
Malfoy nodded in reply. The two of them sat, waiting for Mallard to return with the girl. The silence stretched from calm into long, and then into awkward.
'How are you finding Creatures?' Harry asked at last, just to have something to say.
Malfoy seemed surprised to be asked. 'Quite good. Granger left it in excellent shape. The new legislation is all very neatly done, and certainly far superior to the old. I'm not entirely convinced by the freedoms offered to house-elves, but since most seem to be exercising their rights to ignore their new status, I suppose it doesn't really matter. The Goblin demands for wands are going to tie us up for several years more, but having spent most of the last five years dealing with debates between Germany and France on trade of potions ingredients, I am well prepared for interminable arguments.'
He was smiling by the time he finished talking, as if to convey that delicate negotiations were the sort of thing he lived for these days. Harry looked for sarcasm in his expression, but found none.
'Right,' said Harry. 'Well, that's good. I was surprised when Hermione said you'd applied, but clearly it's a good fit.'
The smile left Malfoy's face. 'Why were you surprised?'
'Well … it's Creatures, isn't it? I was expecting … you know …' Harry ran out of words in the face of the gaze levelled at him. 'It's not the sort of job I expected you to go for, that's all,' he managed.
'Quite,' said Malfoy. 'Ah, Miss Cleavers. You know, I think this look suits you better.'
Gerlinda had returned, her healthy complexion and curly carroty hair restored to natural, and clothing far more befitting a young witch than a denizen of the night. She rolled her eyes at Malfoy's comment and plonked herself sulkily back down into her chair, before remembering that there were still biscuits and the by now lukewarm chocolate and helping herself to both.
'Right' said Malfoy. 'Well, I will leave you in Auror Potter's capable hands. Please try to remember in future that the Department of Co-operation with Magical Creatures, Beings and non-Wizarding Part-Humans has a job to do, too, and that job is not to have their time wasted by sulky young girls.'
'I thought you were meant to be nice,' Gerlinda said around a mouthful of biscuit.
'No,' said Malfoy, getting up to leave. 'That's Potter. I'm the other one.'
Malfoy's footsteps retreated quickly, and Harry waited until he could no longer hear them before he turned to Mallard and Williams. 'You'll find this hard to believe,' he said. 'But compared to every previous interaction I've had with Malfoy, that actually went quite well.'
He took one of Gerlinda's biscuits and settled back to wait for Mrs Cleavers.
Ron managed to listen to almost the entirety of Harry's account of the meeting before he burst into laughter.
'Oh, honestly,' said Hermione, passing Hugo over to him across their kitchen table. 'You two are hopeless. Malfoy's doing a perfectly decent job with Creatures. You should be supporting other departments, not arresting people for doing their jobs.'
'Be fair,' said Harry. 'When my chaps arrived on the scene there was a young girl screaming her head off and an older chap holding handcuffs and a bottle trying to smuggle her away in a blanky. It did not look good.'
Ron kept laughing. 'I just want to know how Malfoy gained his extensive knowledge of face powder colours.'
'Which reminds me,' Harry said. 'Seriously Snape? You and George have no respect for the dead.'
'We have tons of respect; that's a fabulous hair charm. Top notch. He'd have given us an O, if he was alive and we were all back at school. And if it was a potion. And if he had a sense of humour.'
'Oh, Ron,' Hermione sighed. 'Rosie, darling, don't chew on that, that's Uncle Harry's Auror badge, he needs it for arresting the bad people. Harry, put it in your pocket, would you? She thinks everything on the table is hers. Here you are, dear, have a lovely carrot. Mmmmm. Anyway, I think you owe Malfoy an apology. I know you didn't mean to be rude, but I think you were.'
'I didn't mean anything by it. I was just surprised. I always assumed that if and when he came back to Britain, he would want some position of power and influence, not Creatures.'
Hermione gave one of the calm and even looks that Harry had learned to fear. 'Interestingly, you seemed to consider the Department of Co-operation with Magical Creatures, Beings and non-Wizarding Part-Humans perfectly fine for me, until a few months ago.'
Harry made a desperate bid to dig himself out of his conversational hole. 'Well, yeah, but you were overhauling it, weren't you? Rebuilding it from the ground up, a new name, even. It was a challenge. It's not like him coming in when the work is done.'
'Plus there was SPEW,' Ron added, helpfully.
'Exactly! You had an interest in the field! And you were planning to leave when Hugo was born, so it was really just something easy …' Harry realised that he had managed to dig his hole into more of an oubliette.
He made one last bid to escape. 'Rose looks more like you every day!'
Behind Hermione, Ron gave a thumbs-up. Sadly, Hermione shook her head.
'You're appalling sometimes, Harry.'
'It's not my fault, I was raised by Dursleys.'
'Tch! Just apologise to Malfoy. It will make you look mature and professional and encourage him to believe that the Ministry is a sensible place of work and that things have changed in the last ten years.'
'You've changed your tune,' Ron muttered.
'You never liked Malfoy at school,' he reminded her. 'You hated him as much as we did.'
'Yes, Ron, that's because he was awful. He's improved since.' Hermione smiled at him gently, and gave him A Look.
'Yeah, Hermione's right. You should apologise, Harry.'
Harry managed not to laugh. 'All right, I promise I'll say something next time I see him.'
Ron grinned in return and Hermione reached across the table to squeeze his hand. 'Thanks. If Malfoy doesn't stay, Durrant will want the job, and given his contacts within the Ministry, he'll probably get it. He thinks Centaurs are over-evolved ponies. It'd be a disaster. I'd have to leave MLE and go back, and then where would you two be when you needed legislation that made sense and wasn't written in the eighteenth century? '
Harry couldn't help himself. 'There's always Luna, she has a neat mind for a legal phrase.'
As expected, Hermione thumped him.
'Are you staying for dinner?' she asked immediately afterwards.
'Go on,' said Ron. 'It's delicious and I had no hand in its making.'
'Can't, sorry. I promised Justin I'd go to the opening of his new club.'
Ron blinked. 'Justin's private club for wizards seeking wizards?'
'And witches seeking witches,' Harry reminded him.
Ron sighed. 'I keep hoping it's a phase and you'll end up marrying my sister.'
'That would make Dean very cross,' Hermione reminded him. 'And probably Ginny, too, when her husband kept sneaking off to shag men on the sly.'
'It's true,' Harry agreed, laughing at the face Ron pulled.
'Please do not mention my sister and shagging in the same sentence,' he moaned.
Hermione laughed. 'If that's the life you wanted for her, it's probably a shame she and Harry didn't marry after all. Anyway, Harry, what time's it all kicking off?'
'Eight, and I need to shower, shave, find something that says attractive and reputable clubgoer without suggesting to the Daily Prophet that I have embarked upon a career of licentiousness.'
'They've stopped referring to you as Harry Potter, Disappointment to British Witches,' Hermione said.
'I caught the editor halfway out a window in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. Not illegal, as such, but he's nervous now.'
'I'd say it's wrong to take advantage …'
'But she hasn't forgiven him for the editorial criticising her for breast-feeding in the office,' Ron interjected.
'Such a horrible man.'
'You should see him with his shirt off …'
'I'd best be off. See you Rosie-posey! You've been such a good quiet girl! Ah, that would be because you've been drawing in my notebook.'
'I made you a picture!'
'Oh, Rose.' Hermione got up and retrieved her daughter. 'Sorry, Harry.'
'It's fine. I think it's an Erumpent, isn't it, Rose?'
Rose looked at him with great offence. 'It's Mummy.'
Hermione took a glance at the page. 'Of course it is. Silly Uncle Harry! And oh, look at the lovely toothmarks on his quill. Won't he be thrilled! Sorry, Harry, do you want me to …'
'Really, it's fine. Nighty-night, Rose! Time for you to go to sleep, like Hugo.'
'Hugo is boring. Mummy, did you know … Mummy? Mummy!'
'Wait a second, darling. See you tomorrow, and have a word with Malfoy, yeah?'
'First thing. Night, Ron.'
'Run, before this one wakes up, too.'
'Good-oh. See you both tomorrow.'
Harry smiled as he emerged from the Floo at Grimmauld Place. Despite Kreacher's erratic attitudes to housekeeping, and Harry's own willingness to let a little dust pass unnoticed, things were noticeably tidier here than at Ron and Hermione's. And with less of a pervasive smell of regurgitated milk. He did love the kids, but it was easier to love them at a slight distance.
'Is Master in for the evening?' Kreacher appeared nearby.
'No, heading out again quite soon, actually.'
'Is Kreacher needed?'
'No, thanks,' said Harry. 'I'd like you to take the night off, do something you enjoy.'
'Master Harry says this most nights,' said Kreacher.
'There's not much to do,' Harry apologised.
'The house once rang with the sound of dinner parties,' Kreacher said, wistfully.
Harry was startled. 'What, Walburgia Black held parties?'
'Not parties, as such, for my Mistress. No, it was Master Arcturus and Mistress Melania, such happy times. Kreacher was much younger then, of course. Lovely games, well into the night … Float the punch, Blow up the gnome, Muddle the Muggle … Not that Kreacher would think that last game a good idea, now …'
Harry held back a very wrong smile. 'It's all right, Kreacher. It was a different time. I'll have a think, see if I can come up with some people to invite.'
'Master Harry's Muggle-born friend and the Weasley could come,' Kreacher suggested. 'If they could leave the small ones at home. The girl-child cuddled Kreacher very tightly last time, Kreacher had to Disapparate.'
Harry turned away to hide the smile he could no longer hold back. Rose's wails when 'her' elf had disappeared, and demands that they have a house-elf at home had mortified Hermione. And Kreacher's look of horror at being covered in snotty toddler kisses had been priceless.
'I'll have a word with them. Best be getting changed now. Probably be back late, no need to stay up. I'll see you at breakfast.'
'Will Mister Justin be coming back with Master Harry?'
'That's very unlikely.'
It took Harry longer to choose clothes than it did to shower and shave, but he still made it in time to join the crowd counting down outside The Free Vroomsticks at eight o'clock. Justin waved from his position at the door, holding a pair of giant scissors, and the Prophet photographer angled to fit Harry into his shot.
'Three, two, one!' chanted the crowd. Justin cut the ribbon and let people file in past him.
Inside, murals of attractive young Quidditch players in slightly risqué leathers winked merrily at persons of the appropriate gender passing their walls. Free drinks were being floated around the room on giant trays and orders were being taken by staff in very tight uniforms. Although hardly anyone had made it inside yet, dance music was being played by a small but loud band. Justin grabbed Harry and dragged him away to a large table at the back of the club where three people were already sitting.
'Thank you so much for making it!' Justin shouted above the noise. 'I'll just turn that down, so we can talk.'
With a sweep of his wand, Justin lowered the noise level at the table and started making introductions. 'Gustav, this is Harry Potter, we were at school together. Harry, this is the infamous Gustav.'
Harry had been warned, so he immediately smiled broadly. 'Gustav! I'm so pleased to meet you! Justin's talked of no one else since the two of you met. It's terrible, he won't even come out dancing with us any more, which is a disaster, because he was the only one in our set who can dance and the rest of us have had to admit that we actually just go out and sit around having a few drinks.'
Gustav, who had been eyeing Harry warily at first, dissolved into relieved smiles before Harry had finished talking. 'It's very good to meet you, too. Justin speaks very highly of you. At school, my prefect Viktor Krum also had a good opinion of you. It's nice to meet a public figure who is not obnoxious in private.'
'Oh, no, Harry is completely obnoxious,' Justin teased. 'Just amusingly obnoxious, so we keep him on. Harry, these are my sisters, Emma and Jemima. Girls, this is that Harry and he is as inept as I've made out, so if you see anyone suitable for him, throw them together. Sit down. What are you having? I'm buying.'
'Drinks are free,' Harry pointed out.
'I'm paying for them, too,' Justin sighed. 'At least for the first hour. But you can have something that's less hideous than the stuff on the trays. Ogdens?'
'Butterbeer, work tomorrow.'
Harry sat opposite the others and smiled cheerily. 'So, Emma and Jemima, do you come into the wizarding world often?'
'Not very often,' Emma answered. 'It's a bit weird.'
Harry stifled a laugh.
'It's very irregular having Muggles visit,' said Gustav, but not unkindly. 'At home, it's not allowed.'
'Oh, we couldn't for years,' Jemima told him. 'Except to see Justin off at the station, and even then we needed someone to get us through the wall. But we've all signed the Secrecy Agreement now, so we can pop in if we want to. Though, as Emma says, and please don't take offence, it's all a bit weird. Nice weird, though, not like Soho.'
'Oh, god, Mimy, remember that man in the overcoat?'
'I know! But your lot are lovely, just, it takes a bit of getting used to seeing drinks trays floating about and so on.'
'Were you ever jealous of Justin?' Gustav asked.
'Because he's a wizard?' Emma replied. 'Only when we were all really little and his room tidied itself. But he's a bit older than us, so once we found out about magic, Daddy just asked the maid to do our bedrooms, too, so it would be fair.'
'And neither of you …?'
'Oh no,' said Emma. 'Justin takes after Mummy's side of the family – they're all a bit weird. We're more like Daddy's side, better looking but less eccentric.'
'This Secrecy Agreement,' said Gustav, 'It's for Muggle families of witches and wizards?'
'That's right,' Emma said, and launched into a description of the policy.
When they were still left out of the conversation a few minutes later, Jemima smiled at Harry. 'Justin spoke about you quite a bit. He was very fond of you – don't worry, I won't tell Gustav. I always hoped he'd bring you home; you're famous at our house. Famous here, too, I see. People keep staring at your back and glaring at me.'
Harry glanced over his shoulder. Several nearby wizards and a couple of witches waved. He looked back quickly.
'Sorry about that. It's all political, I'm afraid.'
'Yes, I know.' She laughed at Harry's look of surprise. 'I know I look as though I spend my days moaning that Selfridges is full of chavs and Peter Jones has nothing I want, but Justin wrote to Em and me the whole time he was at school. We're quite well-informed about your world and about you in particular.'
'Ah. That's … that's me at a disadvantage. I did know you two existed …'
'He's terrible, isn't he? You two were seeing each other for ages and he refused to bring you to a family dinner.'
'It was very casual,' Harry stammered.
Harry laughed. 'It is a shame he waited this long to introduce us, I have a terrible feeling you're a very bad influence and loads of fun.'
Jemima grinned. 'Justin always said you were smarter than you looked! Ooh, who's that hottie in the middle of the dance floor?'
Harry followed her pointing finger over his shoulder to where a fine specimen of manhood was moving with surprising grace.
'Him? Oliver Wood. Pro-Quidditch player. He's really nice. I was on his team at school.'
'No, I know who Wood is. Justin always had a poster of him on his wall at home. The bloke with him.'
Harry turned around properly to look. Wood's partner spun into view. Harry's first impression was of a tall, lithe figure with pale hair and a bright, happy smile. His hormones immediately registered the man as attractive, which was a shame because about half a second later his brain registered the man as Draco Malfoy.
'What the bloody hell is he doing here?'
'Ex-boyfriend?' Jemima asked understandingly.
'What? No! God no. He's … he's Draco Malfoy, he works at the Ministry. He was at school with Justin and me.'
Jemima peered across for a better view. 'Oooooh, so that's Malfoy. It all makes more sense now.'
'Nothing. Em, see that boy there? Draco Malfoy.'
Emily turned away from Gustav for a moment. 'Where? Oh, right.' She looked at Harry and then back to Malfoy. 'Yeah. Yeah, I can see that, now.'
'See what?' Harry asked, but Emma had returned to her conversation with Gustav.
'Jemima, we had the start of a beautiful friendship …' Harry said.
'Relax. I'm going to tell you. When you were all at school, Justin thought you might have liked boys because you spent all of one year following that Malfoy boy around. And he was going to say something to you, but then you ended up going out with a girl, so he was relieved he hadn't. And then years later he ran into you in a bar and you took him home, and the next time we saw him he was crowing that he'd been right about you all along and that Malfoy must have just been so high maintenance, he sent you back to women. Temporarily.'
Harry realised his mouth was open, and snapped it shut. 'Why would you have these conversations?' he managed after a moment.
'It was a whole new world for Justin, and you were the most famous person in it. We found you endlessly fascinating.' Jemima smiled broadly at the horror on Harry's face, then her look grew more thoughtful. 'We thought it was all some lovely fantasy until Justin came home battered and bruised at the start of his seventh year. Put wards up around the house and spent most of the year reading textbooks and confining himself to the garden. He was lucky it's a big garden.
'Still,' Jemima's smile returned. 'It's suddenly all clear why you spent a year following that boy around.'
'It was because he was evil,' Harry insisted.
'Drinks!' Justin announced, returning with a large tray. 'Sorry it took so long, everyone wanted a word. How are you all getting on?'
'Famously!' declared Jemima. 'I've managed to mortify Harry and I finally have a face to put to the name of Malfoy.'
'Good work for five minutes,' Justin congratulated her, then looked round. 'Oh, right, there's Malfoy with Wood. I had such a crush on him at school …'
Harry looked at Justin sharply.
'Wood,' Justin clarified. 'All that leather and rah-rah Quidditch … and the way he used to make sure all the first years were all right whenever there was deadly peril about. He's still gorgeous, like a slightly less-handsome version of Gustav.'
'Gustav's talking to Emma,' Harry said.
'Cheers. In that case, phwoar! And it looks like Malfoy's in luck.'
'They're just dancing. Actually, I need to have a word with Malfoy …'
'Now might not be the best time. Harry? Harry …'
Ignoring Justin's disapproving tones, Harry headed out onto the dance floor. He had been telling the truth, earlier – his dance moves were all but non-extant, so he simply walked up to Wood and smiled.
'Hiya, Harry!' Wood grinned, shouting over the music. 'Good to see you! Are you here with Justin?'
'Here to support him, but I came on my own. I was just hoping for a quick word with Malfoy.'
Malfoy's smile had gone, and he was staring at Harry in disbelief, but to his credit, he rallied quickly when Wood turned to him.
'Yes, of course. I'll be in your office first thing in the morning. What time do you start?'
Harry felt a twinge of guilt, and was prepared to admit defeat, but Wood unexpectedly came to his aid. 'It's probably urgent, Draco. Harry wouldn't interrupt, otherwise. You go, I'll catch you later.'
Before Harry could confess that it was anything but urgent, Wood had patted him on the shoulder and disappeared into the crowd. Malfoy gazed after his departing back forlornly.
'Um,' said Harry.
Malfoy turned to look at him. 'All right,' he sighed. 'Let's at least go over to the conversation pit so I can hear you.'
Harry had no idea that there was a conversation pit, let alone its location, so he let Malfoy lead the way. Sure enough, at the back of the central bar there was a flight of stairs down into a lower area filled with comfortable armchairs, side tables and muffling spells to keep the pounding music at background level.
'Right,' said Malfoy shortly, dropping into a convenient chair. 'Has Beeton managed to accidentally abduct any more schoolchildren? Or is there a Merpeople revolt you need me to do the paperwork on?'
'What?' Harry took the chair opposite. 'No. Nothing like that. It's … well, actually, it probably could have waited until tomorrow.'
Malfoy blinked at him. Harry could have sworn he saw his lips moving, but it looked as though he was counting, which made no sense.
After a moment, Malfoy spoke. 'So, given it could have waited until tomorrow, why did you feel the need to speak with me tonight?'
Harry was conscious of a tone that was uncalled for. 'Relax, you were just dancing.'
'Yes, but I was dancing with Oliver Wood!'
'No need to shout, I know who Wood is.'
'Wood, voted Wicked Wizard's Most Beddable Bod three years in a row! And he was dancing with me!'
'Oh. Oh! Right.' It was Harry's turn to blink now. 'Sorry. For some reason I never considered the possibility that you and he …' He stood up quickly. 'Don't worry, I'll go and get him back.'
'Don't be ridiculous.' Malfoy stood and grabbed Harry's arm to stop him. 'What did you think we were doing? How naive are you? Don't answer that. Anyway, he's dancing with that hardly dressed person, now. Disgraceful.'
Harry felt a wave of quiet remorse, and was slightly horrified to realise it was for the fact he had just blatantly lied rather than for the intrusion that preceded it. He had been saving Wood from himself, he rationalised. But, on the other hand, Wood was old enough to make his own choices. After a quick mental battle, Harry's sense of fair play emerged the victor.
'I can go over and explain, I'm sure he'd rather be dancing with you. Probably.'
Malfoy let go of his arm and sat back down. 'You really do exist to ruin my life, don't you?'
'I don't do it intentionally.'
'That isn't the comfort you seem to think it is. Sit. Tell me what you wanted to, and at least that will be done.'
Harry sat. 'I was just wanting to apologise for my rudeness.'
'This afternoon. I was patronising, and while I didn't mean to be, it was still wrong of me. You're doing an excellent job, which is what I was trying to say.' He spoke quickly to get the words out. Malfoy nodded understandingly, so much so that Harry smiled. 'Do you mean to tell me that I've caused all this fuss and you didn't even notice I was being rude?'
'Oh, I noticed. I was just wondering which time. You've been consistently rude to me for the last eighteen years, after all.'
'That's hardly fair,' Harry bridled.
Malfoy appeared to think for a moment. 'You're right,' he said. 'To be accurate, you were pleasant enough the first time we met, ambivalent the second, and then you saved me from hideous death in the Room of Requirement. I think that's the lot. Every other time, you've been consistently rude.'
Harry gaped. 'What about the days I ignored you?'
'Oh that's just ridiculous. I'm trying to be an adult, why do you have to be so objectionable?'
'We hate each other, Potter.' Malfoy stood up and patted Harry on the head with more than a soupçon of condescension. 'And you nicked my wand.'
Malfoy was halfway back to the dance floor before Harry recovered enough to yell after him: 'I won it in a duel!'
Malfoy turned around and half-closed the distance between them. 'You grabbed it from my hand when I was half-conscious. If that was a duel, it was the feeblest in wizarding history.'
Harry would have argued, but … 'I beat Voldemort with it. That counts for something.'
'Good night, Potter.'
Harry watched him go, all the way out the door, leaving Wood dancing with his semi-naked young man. Malfoy had been right, that was disgraceful.
Shaking his head at himself, Harry went straight to the bar. Justin was bound to say something accurate, and it would be just as well to face it fortified.