A/n: No fics for ages, and then I post two at once!
I had all these grand plotty ideas for this fic, but in the end this little story of love wanted to be told instead. Written for the HD Erised 2013 fest on livejournal, as a gift for themostepotente. Thank you to the lovely evilgiraffe82 and birdsofshore for the beta-read, and to ICMezzo for catching my last few typos.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
A Song Without Words
The wood of the dining room table was polished to a high shine. Blue skies and trees still half-full of yellowing leaves were visible from the tall windows lining one side of the room. The dark green silk on the walls glowed in the afternoon light, but Draco's attention was fixed on the battered case resting on the table. It didn't belong in Snettisham House, and yet it was Mrs Snettisham who had called him in to examine it.
The clearing of a throat drew his attention away from the case. Harry Potter was standing in the doorway, his eyes darting between Draco and the case.
"Potter." Draco nodded. He had been just as surprised as anyone when Potter left the Aurors and disappeared from the public eye for a few years, only to return as a luthier, of all things: a maker and repairer of violins. Draco sometimes ran into Potter at work when evaluating antiques, and they could talk to each other politely enough. It had been a long time since they came to blows.
As soon as they had acknowledged one another, Potter moved towards the table and ran both hands along the case. Draco, knowing what was coming, stood back. Secretly, as soon as he'd heard it was a violin he would be evaluating, he'd been hoping that Potter might turn up. Potter eased the clasps open, the clicks echoing in the quiet of the room.
"What do you make of this, then?" Potter asked, without looking up.
Draco looked down at the violin nestled inside the case. Small nicks marred the curved edges. "At first glance, I'd say that it hasn't been very well cared for."
"No," said Potter. His finger traced the line of the violin. As usual, his nails were dirty and broken and his skin marked with scars and scratches. The hands of a man who used them. "But it was exquisitely made. Look." He grasped the violin by the neck, and held it up so the light glanced off the varnish, the wood glowing richly. "The wood is beautifully chosen. Lovely maple tiger stripe on the back. Neat purfling. It's no Stradivarius, but it's early nineteenth century and well-made. Despite the minor cosmetic damage, it appears to have aged well."
Draco forced himself not to look away: these moments were always the hardest.
"But more than the workmanship, I want to know how it sounds." Potter reached for the bow, and Draco silently clenched his hands at his side, letting his nails dig into his palms. Potter tightened the bow, turned the pegs and pinged the strings until he was satisfied that it was in tune. Then he closed his eyes for a moment, before playing a simple phrase, the elegant sound of Bach filling the room.
The notes rose and fell like a song, the voice of the violin a little shaky but filled with the experience of life. Ease slid through Draco even as his chest tightened at the sight of Potter leaning into the violin. Damn the music: it always made this so much harder. He glanced again at the dirt under Potter's nails, and reminded himself that he wasn't interested. Not at all.
Potter lowered the violin, a half smile on his face as his thumb brushed along the strings at its neck.
Draco cleared his throat. "And now what do you think of the workmanship?" Draco arched a brow. "Although only you would qualify such a sound by mentioning the wood first." He tried to keep his voice light, but surely Potter had noticed by now the effect his playing had. Perhaps not, for Potter paused then played a quick jig, the notes jumping around with a hint of laughter.
The room felt even quieter than before once Potter stopped playing. "It's exquisite, as well you know," Potter said, then frowned. "What do you think Mrs Snettisham wants to do with it?"
"Sell it." Draco nodded at the fireplace, where a single candlestick stood against a gilt-edged mirror. "That's one of two. There are lots of odd bits lying around here: she's been selling off the contents of her house for years. Old name, no money. It's a common enough occurrence." Draco pulled out his wand, running it between his fingers in tight circles. "I need to test the violin for magic. If it's not magical, she could probably get more for it on the Muggle market. Of course, that also depends on what you can do with it. Do you think that you can restore it?"
Potter put the instrument down, but his hand lingered, resting gently on the wood. He shook his head. "There's not much I can do. A little bit of cleaning, perhaps, but I don't want to change the sound. I wouldn't want to lose that character."
"I understand," Draco said. These moments, of calm and music and gentle appreciation almost made their relationship seem normal. Although 'relationship' was probably too grand a word to use in this instance.
As if to prove the point, Potter's next words left Draco with a sour taste in his mouth.
"I hate to look at an instrument like this, and think of buying or selling it. But I guess that's your job, not mine."
"I can appreciate a work of art while still facilitating a sale."
Potter didn't reply. Instead he sighed, and pushed the violin towards Draco. "Drop it off at my workshop when you're done."
Once Potter had left the room, Draco picked the violin up, and placed it on his shoulder. He half-imagined it still warm from Potter's touch. What he would give to be able to play like that ridiculous scruff of a man! He lowered the violin, and cursed his own slim, elegant and talentless fingers. With a sigh, Draco touched his wand to the violin, and began his tests. Soon enough, this would be in the hands of some collector or musician, gathering dust or singing as it should. Either way, Draco's role in the life of this instrument was limited.
Potter's workroom was cluttered yet also tidy. Mismatched tools hung neatly from pegs, and the worktop was empty although it was stained and scratched. When Draco arrived, Potter was sitting in a worn armchair by the fire with a newspaper – a Muggle one, judging by the sober print.
"Ah, Malfoy. I was wondering when you'd turn up."
"Always so gracious in your welcome."
"Hard to be gracious when you're always bloody late."
Draco grimaced. "Mrs Snettisham insisted I stay for tea."
"Gnat's piss tea?"
"Why of course."
"Fancy a proper cuppa? I was just going to have one myself."
Draco hesitated. The last time Potter had offered him tea, he had found the whole experience distinctly uncomfortable. Neither had anything to say to the other. But he could do with a proper cup of tea, and the fire did look awfully inviting.
"Maybe just one. If you don't mind."
When Potter brought him his tea, Draco looked down at the heavy mug, and began to regret his decision almost immediately.
"I can't drink out of this."
"Really. Is there any point in me asking why?"
Draco put the cup of tea down, the sides hot against his fingertips. "The mug is chipped! I could injure my lip on that. And it looks… well forgive me, Potter, but it looks a little grimy."
"Stop being such a fusspot and drink your tea."
"Or leave it. I don't really mind," Potter added. Merlin, but the man was permanently laid-back. It was as though nothing could ever shake him. Draco saw it as his personal responsibility to try: he was pretty sure that no one ever challenged Potter.
"Most people do know how to offer a decent cup of tea to a guest."
"What, like Mrs Snettisham? I've had tea at houses like that before." Potter shuddered, then pointed to Draco's mug. "This is a decent cup of tea."
"Don't you want to see it?" Draco asked.
"Hmm? I've seen the tea already, and there's nothing wrong with it. I made it in a pot and everything."
"Not the tea. The violin. I get the impression that Mrs Snettisham wants to get it back as soon as possible."
"It is hers to do with as she wishes. And we are both being paid for our time, so what does it matter?"
Potter leant forward, a twinkle in his eye and a sly smile on his face. Draco's heart thumped alarmingly at the sight, and he pulled back. For some reason he had an urge to run away. He settled for a mild insult instead: "I do wish you'd refrain from that gurning when you're around me."
"Gurnin– Do you mean smiling?"
"Yes. I find it most unsettling to see your face twist into an approximation of pleasure in my presence."
"Because we're supposed to hate each other."
If only it were hate. That would be so much easier than the mixture of frustration and knee-melting longing Draco usually experienced. He shrugged though, unwilling to reveal anything of this to Potter. "Hate's too strong a word for the ennui you inspire. But please, let's not pretend that we'll ever be the best of friends."
"Pity," Potter said, leaning back in his armchair again. "Because I was going to suggest that I play the violin. Just to check that the sound hasn't been affected by your tests."
"You can play without recourse to gurning."
Potter sipped at his tea. Without thinking, Draco picked up his own mug and took a sip. Hot tea slipped down, bringing with it a warm wave of comfort. His lip caught on the chip, and Draco scowled. "This mug is ridiculous."
"You obviously haven't seen what it says on the side."
Draco turned the mug to see. 'WORLD'S GREATEST HERO' was scrawled in a childish hand.
"Yes." Potter grinned. "I get sent them all the time."
"Well go on then, play if you really must check on my work. I promise you though, the sound won't have been affected."
Potter put down his tea, and crossed the room to where Draco had left the case on the worktop. His demeanour changed as he tightened the bow and tuned the violin. Draco stopped seeing the holes in Potter's jumper, or the stains on his trousers. Instead he just saw focus in the set of Potter's face, and the reverence with which he handled the violin.
As the first few notes filled the room, Draco stopped thinking entirely. He'd only heard Potter play a few times, but he could remember each occasion with total clarity. The first time had been at the old Avery house, where Draco had been sent by his rather ghoulish boss at the time to appraise the furniture for sale. There was something distinctly sour about being in another Death Eater's former home, knowing that soon a crowd of vultures would descend to stock their own houses and auction sites. And line the Minstry's coffers, too. Draco knew though, that taking on such a job might help preserve his own home, so he nodded and smiled and worked his way through the house, methodically pricing everything he laid eyes on. When he got to the music room, he nearly let out a rather undignified yelp when he found Potter standing at its centre, a violin in his hands and a faraway look in his eyes.
Before Draco could make a sound or announce his presence though, Potter raised the violin to his shoulder and began to play a soulful lament. Draco froze where he was, unprepared for the wave of sorrow that swept over him. He saw, in his mind's eye, the lonely nights at Hogwarts when he missed his mother but hid his sentiment from his friends. It was a sweet type of sadness, from a more innocent time, and by the time Potter lowered the violin, Draco had crept away, not wanting to break the magic of the moment (or ruin his nascent career) by getting into a fearful row with the Chosen bloody One.
Sitting in the warmth of Potter's hearth with his chipped cup of tea, Draco closed his eyes, his throat already tight with emotion. The notes circled around him, bringing a rare sense of peace. It sounded like the first songs of spring, full of light and hope. When Potter played like this, Draco would sometimes wish that it were someone else with the violin in his hands. A tall dark stranger willing to serenade Draco and sweep him off his feet, without any of the annoying complications of being Harry Potter. Like the fact that most of Potter's friends probably wanted Draco to be rotting in a cell in Azkaban.
As the final notes died and the crackle of the fire filled the room once more, Draco opened his eyes. Potter was still standing with the violin under his chin, his face still tender from the playing. Draco cleared his throat, feeling he needed to say something to break the spell. It would do no good for Potter to know just how much his music-making affected Draco.
Before he could speak though, Potter lowered the violin and turned to Draco. "You haven't done any lasting damage."
Reality returned. Draco rallied his sense of outrage at Potter's remark. How dare Potter insinuate that Draco would be so clumsy as to damage such an instrument? "Lasting damage! Don't make me out to be a Neanderthal, Potter. You know as well as I that I am always careful in my work."
Potter sighed. "I know." He loosened the bow and packed the violin away before joining Draco by the fire again. "You're always careful. I don't want you getting too complacent though, I know how big that head of yours can get."
"You're one to talk, what with your saving-the-world propensities."
A huge grin spread across Potter's face, then he laughed, spilling some of his tea as he did so. "I'm retired from that now. And y'know, maybe it's not big-headed when you do actually save the world."
"See what I mean? An ego the size of a Quidditch pitch." Draco shook his head, but smiled.
Draco was still smiling when he Apparated home.
"I think that we're going to need close part of this wing of the house, too," Narcissa said. They'd already closed the East Wing entirely the year before, although how much that was because of the work involved in keeping rooms open nobody used, and how much it was due to the fact that the East Wing had housed Voldemort and his followers, Draco did not know.
Narcissa's embroidery needle slipped in and out white linen as she talked, and the leaf she was working on grew a little more defined. She paused for a moment, and Draco noticed her fingers shaking. Neither mentioned it. "With only one house-elf, we can only keep a few rooms open. Your father would never have approved, but as he's not here I don't think that matters." Narcissa's voice betrayed the barest of tremors as she mentioned Lucius, now onto his fifth year spent 'wintering' in sunnier climes. "Twinky should be able to do it herself. I'd like to have everything finished before winter sets in."
Draco looked out over the grounds. Delicate fans of bare branches were beginning to show among the trees. Winter wasn't far away. This dying-away matched Draco's current mood: he was always left a little out-of-sorts for a few days after hearing Potter play. The world seemed a poorer place in the silence that remained.
In the distance a speck appeared over the treeline, growing until Draco could see that it was an owl heading toward him. As it grew closer he recognised the markings of Mrs Snettisham's long-eared owl.
A blast of cold air rushed into the room as he pulled the window open. The owl chose to land on his arm, its claws digging into Draco. He pushed it back onto the window sill, rubbing the scratches it had left before he opened the note.
"Do hurry up, it's not good to keep windows open like that," Narcissa said, looking up from her knitting.
Draco skimmed through the note, then scribbled a reply on the back of the parchment and gave it back to the owl. He watched as it flew away.
"The window, Draco."
His fingers were cold as he pulled the window back down again. At least Mrs Snettisham hadn't sent a Howler, but there was no mistaking the urgency of her note. The violin was missing, and somehow she held Draco responsible.
"I have some business to attend to, Mother. I might stay with Pansy and Blaise in town while I sort it out."
Narcissa frowned slightly. She didn't like to be left alone in the house, but Draco had little choice. He needed to see Mrs Snettisham: he had to clear his name.
Mrs Snettisham was waiting for Draco in her drawing room. She was dressed much as Draco had seen her before, in tasteful lavender robes that managed to convey wealth with every artful drape and delicate embellishment. Her sandy hair was still in an immaculate and shiny bob that suggested a daily application of charms to keep it looking perfect. Overall the effect was rather unnerving. Formal furniture in stiff silks and dark woods were arranged in artful groups, and Draco mentally catalogued them all. The Snettisham family certainly had eclectic tastes: the room was a strange mix of classical furniture and what Draco could only describe as tacky – although antique and no doubt valuable – ornamentation.
Mrs Snettisham didn't rise as Draco approached, staying where she was on a tall-backed settle. Two low chairs were set in front of her and as he came closer Draco saw that one of them was occupied by a man with dark hair and a familiar pair of round glasses. Draco's heart missed a beat. Mrs Snettisham had accused him of theft in her note, and here was Potter: Draco didn't want Potter involved in this. It was bad enough that the finger of suspicion always pointed at him, let alone that Potter should have to be privy to this woman's vindictive paranoia.
An ornate grandfather clock sat in the centre of the wall facing the grand fireplace, and its loud ticks filled the room. Mrs Snettisham's ankles were crossed neatly, and Draco wondered if she'd been taught from the same manual of manners and etiquette as his mother.
"Gentlemen, thank you for coming back to see me so quickly." Mrs Snettisham's hands tightened in her lap. "I am keen to have this manner resolved with the least amount of… fuss possible." Potter drew breath as though to speak, but Mrs Snettisham stopped him with a raised hand. "Please, let me finish. As I said in my note, the violin you examined recently has disappeared. I am puzzled, as nothing else has been taken, and you two were the only people aware of its existence."
"I assure, I know nothing of its current whereabouts. The last time I saw it was when I dropped it off with Potter for minor restoration work." And Potter had played, and music had filled Draco's dreams all night as a result.
"And the last time I saw it," Potter said, with a frown at Draco, "was when I returned it here two days ago."
"Oh, I'm sure both of you are perfectly innocent in all this. But perhaps some word of the violin's existence made its way out…" She paused, her meaning clear.
"Discretion is of utmost importance to me," Draco said.
"And I haven't mentioned it to anyone," Potter added with a shrug.
"Yes, I suspected that you would make these protestations. Of course I trust you implicitly, Mr Potter. We do all have so much to be grateful to you for." Draco resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and noted that she only named Potter as worthy of her trust. "However, you must concede that it may be possible that someone may have seen the violin at your workshop, or perhaps merely put two and two together as I called you both in."
Draco had to admit that he would only come to a house like this for work – the very people who refused to socialise with his mother were happy enough for him to sell their family heirlooms in Muggle auctions to help cover their living expenses. And Potter's work, building and maintaining stringed instruments, was well known in the wizarding world.
"I would suggest you contact the Aurors, if your violin has been stolen."
A quiver of disgust travelled across Mrs Snettisham's face at Draco's use of the word 'stolen'.
"I'd rather not have the Aurors, or anyone else from the Ministry, sniffing around my house."
"The Ministry has changed," Potter said, in his usual earnest tones. "Before I left the Aurors, I saw how committed they were to—"
"I hate to say this, Mr Potter, but the fact that you have friends in the Ministry does not fill with me confidence that there would be an objective investigation into this matter."
Potters mouth snapped shut and he scowled.
"What then do you suggest?" Draco asked.
"I think it only fair to give you and Mr Potter a chance to clear your names. I am hopeful that you can return my violin to me within a week. I'm sure that you both have contacts that could be of use in your discreet enquiries." She pursed her lips together. "If after this point the violin is not returned to me, I'm afraid that I will have to ask for financial recompense for its loss. I'm sure you understand."
Draco stared at Mrs Snettisham in horror, not quite believing what he was hearing, but Potter spoke first.
"I didn't lose your violin, or steal it!"
"That may well be true, Mr Potter, but you did sign a contract when you agreed to look at it for me." Mrs Snettisham picked up one of the scrolls lying by her side. Even as she unrolled it, a sense of unease grew in Draco's chest. He'd signed a contract too, after only a cursory read-through of its dry phrases. But then he had valued so many objects over the years, and some of the older families were very particular about preventing thefts. "Oh yes, here we are: All parties guarantee complete discretion; in the event of a breach of this trust and any resultant loss of income or property, I the undersigned, contract to make appropriate restitution." She looked at them over the top of the scroll. "I think that's fairly clear, no?"
Draco was sure that she'd read the same book as his mother. He was, in the parlance of the young men whose acquaintance he was fond of making for an evening, properly stitched up.
"Minty!" Mrs Snettisham's voice rang out, and a small house-elf with a scruffy pillow case tied around it appeared at her side with a loud pop. "Take these two… gentlemen down to the dining room, and provide them with any assistance they may need." She turned back to Draco and Potter. "I'm not uncharitable: you may examine the scene of the– that is to say, the room where violin was last seen. But after that," she paused and held her head high, "I don't want to see you without the violin."
"Or your 'compensation'," muttered Potter, who was white-faced and tight-lipped.
"Quite. I expect to hear back from you both within a week. Good day." Mrs Snettisham pointedly picked up a letter and did not look up again.
"This way, sirs," the house-elf said, and Draco and Potter followed her out.
As they walked the short distance from the between the two rooms, Draco tried to work out what to do next. Somehow, he had to extricate himself from this. Although he doubted that Mrs Snettisham would ever be able to accuse Saint Potter of anything, he didn't hold such high hopes for himself. He glanced over at Potter, who had his eyes fixed ahead in a stony expression. Potter could easily twist this to all be on Draco, if he wanted. And yet he seemed to be mightily pissed off: Draco hoped that Potter would be angry enough with Mrs Snettisham that he wouldn't go along with any plan of hers. Besides, the man was a Gryffindor through and through, incapable of cheating or lying.
"Minty, your mistress did say that you should provide us with any assistance that we require," Potter said. He turned and smiled at the house-elf. "Can you tell us what happened to the violin?"
Draco half expected to see Minty wring her hands, but instead she shook her head. "No, sirs, I cannot. I did see it in the dining room, but then I found it gone the next morning."
"So it was you who discovered the theft?" Potter asked the question so quickly that for a split second, Draco saw the former Auror in the man.
"Yes. Mistress sent me to prepare the dining room for more visitors, but then I had to tell her that it was gone." Her bottom lip began to tremble. "Mistress was not happy," she added in a quiet voice, her eyes fixed on the carpet.
"Thank you, Minty, that will be all. Do you think that you could wait outside the dining room while we have a look inside? We won't disturb anything, and it would be most helpful to us."
The house-elf bowed in answer, and when they reached the dining room she remained in the hallway, although judging by the creaks from the other side of the door she hadn't ventured far.
Draco let out a frustrated sigh as soon as they were alone.
"She can't do this!" Potter said, marching up and down beside the windows, his hands in fists by his side. "I'm no thief!"
"Didn't I read something about you breaking into a vault in Gringotts in 'Harry Potter, a Hero for our Time'?"
Potter groaned. "Oh, don't tell me you read that tripe. Most of it's not true, you know."
"Not even the part about you riding the dragon?"
"Well, the Gringotts section is mostly true. The bit about me exchanging sexual favours with a merman isn't though."
Draco remembered that part vividly. He had read the section in the bath, and all in all it had been a most… satisfying experience. "Pity, that was the only part I enjoyed reading. I had always wondered how they manage to get their—"
"Are we really going to discuss fabricated stories about merman anatomy?" Potter asked, raking his fingers through his hair. "I'd rather work out where this sodding violin has got to. I'm not sure what's pissed me off more: the insinuation that I stole it or the idea of having to pay that old bat for it."
"You missed out 'being lumped in the same boat as Draco Malfoy.'"
"That goes without saying." Potter grimaced.
"Look, I'm staying in London this week. What do you say to us working together to clear our names?"
"I…" Potter scratched at the back of his head. No wonder his hair always looked as though a small creature had attempted to nest in it. "I guess so." He looked around the room, his eyes coming to rest on the almost life-sized portrait beside the door. Potter glanced over at Draco, and back at the painting.
"The paintings," Draco said, moving to see it better. A tall man with a distinguished nose and large black moustache looked down on them. His robes were severe and Victorian.
"Finally noticed my presence, I see," the man in the portrait said, his moustache quivering with each word.
"Ah, yes," said Potter. Draco waited for him to continue, but Potter remained silent. Honestly, the man sometimes seemed to struggle to string a sensible sentence together.
"We're investigating the disappearance of the violin we examined the other day," Draco said.
"Oh, that was beautiful," a light voice said from the other side of the room. "Don't mind Sir George over there, he's always grumpy."
"I'm not grumpy, you silly woman!" Sir George boomed.
A small portrait, of a woman with a huge head of powdered white hair, hung on the far wall. She twirled the end of her shawl and giggled. "You see? Always a total misery, that man." She sighed and stared dreamily at Potter. "Your music woke me up the other day. It was lovely."
"Thank you," said Potter. Draco was glad to see that he was, after all, capable of some basic good manners. "Did you see what happened to it, after I brought it back the other day?"
"Well, I would love to help you, but Lady Sarah upstairs had a little party that night – we do what we can to keep ourselves amused here – and when I came back, it had already gone."
"And you, Sir George? You are in a prime location there. Did you happen to see anything from your lofty vantage point?"
Sir George didn't answer the question. Instead he peered through his monocle. "Are you a Malfoy, boy? You've got the look of one, what with all that ridiculous hair."
Draco resisted the urge to touch his hair. He wasn't going to end up with a Potter-like disastrous look, because he actually knew how to exercise self-restraint. "Yes, I'm Draco Malfoy."
"I knew a Malfoy. Terribly shady character." He narrowed his eyes and peered at Draco. "You look a little uncomfortable, chappie."
Draco's collar felt tight, but he kept his voice even as he answered. "I'm fine. And thankfully not shady. I would appreciate it though if you could tell us if you saw what happened to the violin."
"Nothing, I'm afraid. I was having a little nap at the time. As I've already told Griselda – Mrs Snettisham. Do you know, I remember her when she came to visit as a little girl: she always stuck her tongue out at me when her mother wasn't looking. Unpleasant child."
"Grumpy," the other portrait called out.
Draco stepped back to look at the other frames in the room. There were two flanking the fireplace, and another between Sir George and the music lover on the far wall. They were all empty.
"Where are the other portraits?"
Sir George craned his neck around. "Oh, who knows. Mildred and Penny are hardly ever here, and Frank does like a good card game. It's been jolly quiet in here all week, except for Lady Caroline over there."
The door handle creaked as it turned, and Sir George cleared his throat then looked away.
"Mistress asks that you leave now," Minty announced.
Draco looked over at Potter, who shrugged. Neither of them looked back into the room as they left.
This time Potter gave him a mug with a browned crack running around the top of the handle. Draco was worried that the handle would fall clean off, but Potter seemed unconcerned.
"If I hadn't seen you doing your self-righteous act, I'd believe that nothing ruffles you," Draco said.
"I don't exactly appreciate being accused of stealing and then blackmailed."
"I thought we'd established that you do have a history of stealing."
Harry gave Draco an exasperated look. "Let's not get into the past, shall we?"
Draco was tempted to continue teasing Potter, but given the dark days of his own youth thought better of it. "Fair enough." He sighed. "So what now?"
"We drink our tea. And don't complain, that mug's not even chipped."
Draco looked at the cup he'd left on the table beside him. "Potter, it's about to fall apart. I don't want a lap full of scalding tea."
"We need to decide where to look. While we were there, I had a look at the windows: they're locked tight with spells. Snettisham House is as secure as any wizarding house can be. You can't Apparate in or out, either."
"And you know this because…?"
"Because I tried. I always do: force of habit, really."
Draco was shocked. "And incredibly rude! Have you no conception of wizarding manners?"
"What, like Mrs Snettisham?" Potter shot back. "She was delightful, wasn't she?"
"She was perfectly horrible. But the portraits were interesting."
"Yes, I would have loved to have been able to speak to the missing ones."
"Maybe you can – I'll have to look into it, but some of the names sounded familiar. I er… I may have to talk to my mother about this, as she knows the portraits at the Manor better than I do. It's a long shot, but we might be able to find one of the Snettisham portraits there, or at least see if there's any gossip circulating the portrait world."
"All that time hanging in empty rooms… yes, I could see how they might end up gossiping." Potter frowned. "We used to cover a portrait of Phineas Black during Order meetings so he couldn't report back to the Carrows at Hogwarts." He gave Draco a speculative look. "Or maybe we could ask a portrait I've got at home—"
"I think that the Manor – which has over one hundred portraits – will suffice."
"Fine. I think it might be a good idea to put some feelers out, find out if there's any word of the violin on the street."
Potter waved his hand. "Illegal sales. Knockturn Alley."
Draco tried hard not to think about Borgin and Burkes, or how desperately out of place he had been even as he thought he'd known it all. "I don't have any of those sort of contacts, but I can make a few quiet inquiries in the Muggle world. There are always those happy not to know the exact provenance of the items they're selling."
"And you called me a thief."
"Not me! I'm completely above board. I'm not allowed to ever put a step wrong, not for the rest of my life. Not that I'd want to." Draco stared into the fire, trying not to think about Azkaban. He drank some of his tea, the mug having cooled enough to wrap his hand around it, rather than chance the handle. For all that Potter had a terrible selection of mugs, he did make a good cup of tea.
"Let's leave the name-calling out of it. How about I see if any of my contacts have heard anything, and you do the same."
"That sounds like a start. And I'll talk to my mother about the portraits and see if there are any leads there."
Potter smiled, and Draco couldn't help but smile back. He tried hard to ignore the glow he felt from spending this time with Potter. Instead he sat back and enjoyed his tea, in the warmth of the fire.
Everything in Pansy and Blaise's sitting room was either a pale shade of yellow or dark black. Draco always felt a little as though he were surrounded by bumble bees, but at least the lines were ordered, unlike the jumbled confusion of Potter's workshop.
"I need wine." Draco flopped down onto the sofa.
"Bad day?" Pansy asked.
"The worst. I got accused of stealing, I was blackmailed and then I was forced to work with Harry Potter."
"How awful," Pansy said blandly, putting her feet up on the coffee table.
"You're not going to be any help, are you?" Draco sighed. "Mostly it was visiting a bunch of shifty Muggles that I resented today."
"I'm in no position to say anything bad about Potter or Muggles. Although now we're not at school or war, Potter seems harmless. Scruffy and quiet."
"And Muggles you've learned to tolerate?"
"They are marvellously free of judgement, which I find refreshing."
"As refreshing as a one night stand can be," Blaise said from the doorway. "I think we've all learned the wonder of Muggles. But enough of them, I bring wine!"
"Hoorah!" Draco said. If he could depend on his friends for anything, it was their willingness to entertain him and take his mind off his worries. After the war, Pansy and Blaise had entered what looked suspiciously like a competition to sleep with as many Muggles as possible. Eventually they had grown bored of hiding their wands, and had settled into a disgustingly conventional relationship with each other.
"I can always rely on you, darling," Pansy said, turning her cheek to accept a kiss from Blaise. He smiled and went to fetch wine glasses. "I've ordered a takeaway!" she called out to his back. "Thai, is that OK?"
"Perfect," he replied, returning with wine for them all. "Now tell me why Draco looks as though his favourite Kneazle died."
"Apparently he has to work with Potter. And something about Muggles and stealing, I wasn't really paying attention."
Blaise leant forward. "Don't tell me that you and the Chosen Recluse are getting together to steal from Muggles?"
Draco snorted. "Far from it. Just trying to clear my name. Our names," he added with a scowl. Blaise looked puzzled. "We had a run-in with a fearsome old battle-axe today. She's got our balls in a vice, and I don't particularly enjoy the feeling."
"Ah, I see," said Blaise, as though Draco was often threatened by Pure-blood matriarchs. Well, other than his own mother, of course. "Anything we can do to help?"
"The wine is a good start." Draco took a sip. "Oh, good choice. Bordeaux?" Blaise nodded, an amused smile on his face. "Haut-Medoc?" Draco said, earning another nod from Blaise. With Draco's next sip, he let the full flavours of the wine build in his mouth. "Lovely and fruity. Grand cru, if I'm not mistaken?"
Blaise's smile expanded to a self-satisfied grin. "Only the best for you, of course. Plus Pansy would kill me if I brought home anything else."
"You keep taking away my reasons to kill you," Pansy said, pouting. "But you do know how to keep me happy." She sighed, and stretched back into the armchair, then flexed her stockinged toes. "I might not have had any war heroes or grande dames to deal with today, but work was still a bore."
"You can't be bored of hats already, can you?"
"No, the hats are fine. I just… once a business is established, it's not as much fun."
Draco exchanged a glance with Blaise. It wouldn't be long before she was moving onto her next grand scheme. But then Pansy's string of successful businesses paid for the fine wines and the flat in Chelsea, so neither of them were going to complain.
The food arrived and they settled down into their familiar chat and laughter, and Draco wondered what Potter was doing. He banished the thought as soon as it popped up, chiding himself for the sentimentality.
Later that evening, Draco leaned as far out of the bedroom window as he could. It was bloody freezing, but Pansy wouldn't let him smoke inside. Considering that she was the one who had first introduced Draco to the joys of cigarettes, he particularly resented her complaints about the smell. Still, London looked pretty in the dark of early evening, and he managed to smoke an entire cigarette in peace. It was worse than trying to hide wanking from his mother: Pansy had an uncanny ability to sniff out any attempt at smoking a fag.
When he walked back into the living room, Pansy and Blaise were nowhere to be seen. He wandered in the direction of the kitchen, where he found them making coffee. Draco hung back and enjoyed the sight of this two oldest friends bickering over how to use their coffee machine.
"Not like that! Honestly, no wonder the coffee you make is so awful."
"Very funny. You never complain when I bring it to you in bed.
"I never complain about anything in bed."
Blaise pulled Pansy close, and Draco was about to cough to announce his presence when they pulled apart. He loved his friends, but that didn't mean that he wanted to see them canoodling.
"Does Draco seem a little… more tense than normal?"
Draco decided that it wasn't quite yet time to let them know that he was there.
"He was probably just desperate for his evening smoke. Why do you think I haven't rushed in to stop him this time?"
"I don't think it was that."
Pansy sighed. "He did mention Potter."
Draco froze. Why bring up Potter?
"Poor man. Do you think he still has a crush on Potter and his… violin?" Blaise said, his voice heavy with insinuation.
"You are wicked!" Pansy batted Blaise on the arm. "He moans just as much about Potter now as he ever did."
"Exactly! I for one wasn't surprised when Draco came out. He always had such a hard on for Potter."
Pansy looked like she was considering the idea. She put a sugar bowl on a tray and nudged Blaise with her elbow. "Come on, hurry up with the coffee, and then we can dig for more details."
"You're the wicked one," Blaise said, planting a big kiss on Pansy's cheek. "And I'm game."
Draco retreated as quietly as he could. He hated when his friends speculated in this manner. The notion of he and Potter… well, it was ridiculous that his friends would entertain the idea: the man was a shabby, ill-dressed mess, and there was far too much history between them. He might play the violin so well it brought tears to Draco's eyes, but that was merely music appreciation. Any other… stirrings he felt were simply the due to his musical sensitivity. Nothing to do with messy black hair or thick, strong hands. Nothing at all.
"I'm still waiting to hear back from my contacts," Potter said by way of greeting the next day. Regent's Park was cold, even with a bright sun in the sky. Draco thrust his hands deep into his pockets.
"Me too, but I did speak to my mother and… well, I think that we should go to the Manor." She had been delighted to hear from him earlier that morning, especially when he mentioned Potter's name. Draco didn't need to be looking closely at Potter though to see him pale at the suggestion. "She says that you are very welcome to visit."
"I suppose I better come."
Draco huffed into the cold November air. "No need to accept quite so graciously, Potter."
"Sorry. Yes, I would like to visit the Manor and talk to your portraits."
"I'll meet you there at four, I've got a few things left to do today," Draco said. "We'll have to meet at the gates and walk up. We've got anti-Apparation wards now."
Potter nodded. Draco watched him walk away, a small figure idling along the boating lake and stopping to talk to a little girl. Stupid honourable Potter. Draco did not have a crush on him, whatever his friends thought. They hadn't exactly been subtle the night before, and Draco was still a little irritable as a result. Becoming weak at the knees because of Potter's musical talents, and occasional moments of weakness when Potter laughed, or smiled, or twinkled those damned eyes of his… that wasn't a crush, more an… accident. Once Potter was out of sight, Draco lit a cigarette before going to see the last of his contacts. Smoke puffed away to nothing as he made his way out of the park.
Malfoy Manor looked glorious, Draco thought. The stone walls were lit by the low bright light, and the trees behind it were burnished with rich golds and reds. Beside him though, Potter frowned, and Draco was under the impression that no amount of natural beauty would improve his mood.
Draco was surprised then, when Potter said softly, 'I had forgotten that Malfoy Manor is actually a rather beautiful place." They continued walking along the driveway toward the house, their feet crunching on the gravel. "My memories of the place aren't that great. Sorry."
"You don't need to apologise. I have some hideous memories too; some awful things happened here." In his dreams Draco saw the faces, contorted with fear, of the people Voldemort and tortured and killed in his home. He glanced over at Potter, remembering one day in particular. "I'm sorry that I didn't help you more when you were captured."
"It's funny," Potter said, his stride slowing slightly. "Sometimes it feels as though everyone wants a slice of me, of my story. And yet no one really talks to me about what happened during the war. Even Ron and Hermione. Although that might be down to the baby."
"My friends haven't procreated yet," said Draco. "But it's only a matter of time." He shuddered at the thought.
"It's not all bad. Babies are quite cute."
The walked on, neither speaking, and Draco was glad for the silence. Potter confused him so much. Half the time Draco wanted to call him every name under the sun, and the other half of the time, he would catch a glimpse that suggested there was more to Potter than the scruffy clothes and laid-back attitude, and then all he wanted was to get to know him a little better. Maybe actually spending time together might serve to diminish both his urge to insult and his urge to reach out and—
As they rounded the corner that led to the last stretch of driveway, Potter spoke, but the words were too quiet for Draco to hear. After a few more steps, Potter cleared his voice and tried again. "Thank you for not identifying me."
Draco's chest tightened, as it had all those years ago. "I was too much of a coward to help your friends."
Potter glanced over at him, his eyes bright but sad. He sighed, and stared up at the trees. "This is a cheery chat, isn't it?" Potter craned his head up to the branches overhead. "I like the yellows best. They're so bright in this light. Have you ever noticed how the leaves change from the top down?"
"They do?" Draco swallowed, grateful for the change in topic. "I never really noticed."
"I can't believe that you didn't notice! You grew up surrounded by trees."
"Yes, well, I wasn't really encouraged to spend time outdoors. Father had very particular views on what a child should learn."
"Anyway, trees are your speciality, aren't they? As you work with wood."
Potter shrugged. "I just like trees. Although this is a good time of year – lovely leaves, and it's when the best wood for making violins is traditionally felled."
"Could you make a violin from these trees?"
Potter scanned the treeline. "It depends if you have the right trees: maple and spruce. And a few more, besides. Anyway, you'd also have to be happy to wait at least ten years for the wood to be properly seasoned."
By the time they arrived at the front door, Draco had learned more about violin making, and Potter appeared calmer. He was even able to rustle up the semblance of good manners when he spoke to Narcissa.
She ushered them into the small sitting room they still used, and Draco was grateful to see that a fire had been lit, and that tea was laid out already.
"I took the liberty of ordering some tea," his mother said. "I hope you don't mind. Draco here seems addicted to the stuff. He has very particular rules about how it should be made."
Draco was mortified to feel like a child once more when his mother spoke of him in this way. He cleared his throat. "Potter appreciates a good cup of tea too, don't you? Although sorry none of our cups feature huge cracks or chips."
"I'm sure that Twinky could find you a chipped cup if needed," Narcissa said without skipping a beat. "I should think there's one in the kitchen somewhere."
"Oh, no, non-chipped is just fine, Mrs—"
"Do call me Narcissa." She smiled, showing just the right amount of teeth to be polite and look welcoming. Draco suspected that she had been taught how to do so at an early age. "It's rare for us to have guests and I feel I know you a little already."
"Well then you must call me 'Harry'." Potter glanced over at Draco. "Although I doubt that your son will ever call me anything other than 'Potter'."
"It's your name."
"I don't mind." Potter accepted a cup and saucer from Narcissa. "I don't think I'd know who he was talking to if he called me 'Harry'."
"I am still here, you know."
"Yes, dear," said Narcissa. Draco gritted his teeth: he might as well be about five. "Now, Draco tells me that you need to speak to the portraits. He also tells me that you've had a spot of bother with Mrs Snettisham."
"That's right. All we have are the names of the portraits we'd like to talk to: Mildred, Penny and Frank. Um…" he paused, brow furrowed. "Frank likes to play cards." He turned to Draco. "That's all we know, right?"
"Yes," Draco said. "I thought we'd start with the West Wing. If we don't have any luck, we'll have to go into the East Wing." Draco was sure that Potter hadn't seen, but Narcissa shuddered at the mention of the latter. "I hate to say this Potter, but this could take all day. Longer, even."
Whatever Potter thought about the Malfoy house-elf in a set of clothes, he kept it to himself, although Draco did note a widening of his eyes and a few speculative glances in his direction.
"The guest rooms and Ballroom are in the West Wing, which we don't use, but it will be fine to walk through. But I thought that we could start with Father's study, the library and the dining room."
"Are we going to talk to the portraits in the big hall?"
"In the entrance hall?" Draco asked. "No. They consider themselves far too important to talk to the likes of us. I think one of them told me off for sneezing too loudly when I was about five years' old, but I've not heard a whisper from them since. We'll have more luck with less… elevated ancestors."
The only paintings in the study were one of Draco's grandfather, Abraxas, and one of a fine horse in a field. Abraxas was reading a book when they walked in. He looked up and smiled, a dangerous slow curve of the lips that reminded Draco of this father.
"Young Draco, so good of you to visit."
"And who is this with you?" He peered out of his frame.
Potter looked surprised that he was being addressed. "Er, Harry P—"
Draco grabbed Potter's arm before he could finish. A smile wasn't the only thing that Abraxas shared with Lucius.
"A friend with an interesting quest," Draco said. "We're looking for some portraits, but all we have to go on are a few names."
"Well, go on then."
Draco was reminded not only of his father, but also of Sir George.
Potter stepped forward. "We'd very much like to speak with portraits that hang together in the dining room at Snettisham House. Mildred, Penny and Frank."
Draco added, "Frank likes to play—"
"Cards," Abraxas said. "I know just who you mean."
Potter's face was an open book. His eyes were wide and hope-filled, his lips just-parted in anticipation. Draco though, was not surprised when Abraxas folded his arms and frowned. "But why should I help you? I recognise who you are, Harry Potter."
Potter took a step back, but kept his head held high. "I am."
"And why are you working with him, boy?" Abraxas asked, turning to Draco. "If your father were here, he would not suffer this man as a guest in his house."
"But my father is not here," Draco said, his fingers tight by his side. "He buggered off to South America with most of our money and left mother and I here to rot. He aligned himself with an utterly mad monster who filled our home with torture and death." He took a shaky breath, keeping his eyes fixed on the portrait. "I'd rather work with this scruffy carpenter than the kind of pure-blooded traditionalist who thinks that blackmailing her employees is an acceptable way to behave."
Abraxas stared at him. He puffed up his chest, and Draco awaited the inevitable onslaught. Instead though, Abraxas began to laugh. A deep, rumbling roar of sound, it filled the room.
"Well you've got balls, I'll give you that. And you're nothing like your father." Abraxas wiped a tear from his eye. "If I were you, I'd try the Dutch painting in the library. Can't help you with the other two though."
Both Draco and Potter thanked the portrait, but as they were leaving Abraxas spoke up again.
"I guess I won't see you in here again, boy," said Abraxas. "You're nothing like your father. No ties to the old ways."
"But maybe that's not a bad way to be, after all."
As they walked along the quiet corridor to the library, Potter was the first to speak. "I'm not a carpenter, you know."
"Carpenter, woodworker, what's the difference?"
"I'm a craftsman; I'm actually a luthier."
"Oh, listen to yourself. I bet you think that you're an artist."
Potter stopped dead in the middle of the corridor, an infuriating smile on his face. "Sneer all you like. I heard you defend me. And your grandfather was… not quite what I thought he'd be."
"There are plenty of Malfoys," Draco said. "We're not all the same. People see the hair and they think that we are."
In the library, Draco's eyes were drawn to the gaps on the shelves, where Aurors had removed books deemed too Dark for any Malfoy to own. He also saw the gaps where he and his mother had removed the books the Aurors had missed. There hadn't even been much discussion about it: Narcissa had begun a systematic removal of all Dark and Cursed objects and reference material in the house, and Draco had helped her with their disposal.
The Dutch painting showed a group of white-haired men sitting around a table with a bowl of apples and some cheese at its centre. They never really spoke when anyone was in the room, but Draco had heard their cantankerous voices echoing in the corridors late at night. He wasn't really surprised that they were a hub of card playing and, presumably, gambling too.
When Draco asked them if they'd seen Frank on the night of the first of November, there was some grumbling and elbowing, but in the end they all woke up. Then they conferred, all five men whispering loudly. In the end, the men turned to face Draco and Potter.
"Yes, more fool us. He was here that night, with some story about having a windfall and wanting to play all night."
"Somehow he still managed to end the night owing us money though," the shortest man said.
Draco sighed. Perhaps Potter was right, and this was all a waste of time. "Thank you anyway."
Next, Draco took Potter to his mother's sitting room. Narcissa was still there, now reading a book. She watched on as they took it in turns to talk to the portraits in the room. Their third conversation, with the portrait of an old woman staring sadly at her reflection in a mirror, proved fruitful.
"Mildred and Penny… let me see, those names seem ever so familiar."
"Their portraits hang in Snettishem House."
"Does that awful Griselda still live there? I never liked her. Terribly bossy." His mouth turned downwards in distaste.
Draco and Potter exchanged a glance. "Yes," Draco said. "She does."
"She doesn't like us much, either," Potter added.
"In that case, I'll be pleased to help you. If I can."
"We want to speak to Mildred or Penny about a missing violin. Do you have any idea where we could find them?"
"Not here. I do believe mostly they are to be found in…" Her eyes, clear and bright despite her apparent age, looked to one side as she tried to remember. Her face fell, though as she did. "Last I heard, they—" She stopped and wrung her hands together. "You can find them in the drawing room in the East Wing."
"The East Wing?" Draco asked, his heart sinking. Potter might not know what that meant, but he did. Aunt Bella's shrieking voice echoed in his ears, and he felt again the wracking pain of the Cruciatus curse. He saw again Potter's swollen face, and the terrified look on Granger's.
When they left the library, his mother called him aside.
"I hope you don't mind, but I overheard your conversation. I've had Twinky open up the East Wing, but you may want to work quickly; it's getting late."
Draco nodded: he understood what his mother was saying. He had little desire to spend any time in the East Wing, particularly late at night.
Twinky had done her best, but the candles burning in the East Wing's drawing room did little to cheer it up.
Potter stopped in the doorway, and stared around the room. "I never thought I'd see this room again. I'd rather hoped I never would."
"The feeling's mutual." Draco shivered. "I'm sorry that we had to come in here." Words seemed inadequate in the face of such memories. "And I'm sorry, about—"
"I know." Potter walked the perimeter of the room slowly, occasionally stopping to touch a piece of furniture. "I wish I could have stopped it all sooner."
Draco didn't know what to feel. He knew the sick twist of guilt, himself, for having been so weak, for having stood by for so much. But then if Potter felt like this too… the war had left behind such a tangle of regrets. He wanted to reach out, to offer Potter some modicum of comfort or reassurance. But how could he? This was why it didn't matter how much his heart soared when Potter played the violin, or how much he ached to know him better.
Potter came to a stop in front of a painting of a rather rotund couple and their matching dog. Draco hadn't given much thought to the portraits in the closed section of the house before, or about what they had witnessed over the years. But then perhaps they had hidden away – if he had been able to do so, he would have, too.
"Hello there, I was wondering if you could spare a moment to talk to us?" Draco asked.
The man pulled his waistcoat down sharply, then hooked his hands on his frock coat as he looked down his nose at Draco. "This must be important, to come in here."
"It is," said Potter.
"Yes." Potter sighed. "Scar, hero, disarming spell; the works."
"I rather wish I could shake your hand, young man. Hannah, do leave that mutt alone; look, it's Harry Potter!"
"Don't be so bossy, Samuel." Hannah put the dog down into her lap, and raised a pair of lorgnettes to her face before taking a good look at Potter. Even here, Potter managed to be the bloody centre of attention. "Ooh, what a fine young man. Thank you, dear, for what you did. Life here was unbearable." Potter's jaw twitched, and Draco imagined that he'd have plenty to say about other people having had a bad time. Hannah though, appeared not to notice, and continued to peer down at him. "You could do with a good wash and scrub up though. And some new clothes." Her gaze wandered over to Draco. "That's more like it."
"What else do you expect for a Malfoy?" Samuel said. He frowned as he peered at Draco. "Although I've heard that this one's a bit of a molly."
"Samuel! We've spoken about calling people names. And no one cares now. They don't even call it that these days. They have a much nicer name: ga—"
"Do you know any of the portraits from Snettisham House?" Draco asked before she could say more. He could feel Potter staring at him, and he wanted to run his hand under his collar to get a little more air. Instead, he stood bolt upright and carried on talking. "Frank, Mildred or Penny in particular?"
"Do they hang in a room with Lady Caroline? I do like her, she's always so kind to Ruffles." Hannah picked the dog up again, and kissed it on the top of its head.
"Have you seen them recently?" asked Potter.
"No," she shook her head. "I'm afraid not. But I'm not surprised that you're asking about that house. There's something not quite right about it."
"Has Lady Caroline said something?"
"Oh no, she's far too discreet to ever do that. No, it's just that when I visit, the rooms never quite look right. Nothing matches and things change."
Draco exchanged glances with Potter.
"I'm a little less discreet," said Potter. "According to Malfoy here—"
"Which one? We're all Malfoys in here. Except you!" Samuel laughed loudly at his own joke, slapping his knee and nodding.
"Er, according to Draco here," Potter nodded over at Draco, "she's slowly selling off the contents of the house." Draco hid a smile at hearing his name from Potter's lips: it sounded all wrong.
"There are plenty of people who do that," said Hannah. "But their houses do not feel like Snettisham House."
"Snettisham House?" A high-pitched voice called out from across the room. "Did I hear that correctly?" Draco and Potter turned to see who it was. A large painting, crowded with various women, hung opposite them. Draco was sure that there were more women in the frame than there had been when they first walked in: gossip travelled fast in the portrait world.
"Ladies," he said, moving closer. Everyone in the painting giggled, except one who didn't smile.
"I'm no Lady," she said.
Hannah coughed from the other side of the room.
"No matter." Draco smiled. "I wonder whether you could help us. Do any of you know of the Mildred or Penny whose paintings hang in the dining room at Snettisham House?
A bright-eyed witch at the front of painting pushed the hair away from her face and smiled. "I'm Mildred. I– I've heard that you've been looking for me." She blushed prettily, little dots of pink with the brush marks just visible. "It's awfully nice to get some attention from two such good-looking gentlemen."
Draco spared a glance at Potter, who had his hand to his mouth and an open look of hope on his face. How did Potter always manage to look so trusting? Draco ignored the twinge he felt at the irrational desire to somehow see that look turned on himself, and turned back to the painting.
He and Potter fell into a familiar pattern of questioning. It was almost … normal, standing beside Potter. Like an equal, even in a room with such a terrible history for the two of them.
Mildred, despite being from Snettisham House, had nothing more to offer than a wicked sense of humour beneath her demure appearance. She took quite a liking to Draco, and by the time he suggested it was time to leave, his face was burning. Apparently, Mildred wasn't much of a lady, either.
Alone in his room that night, Draco found it hard to get to sleep. He probably ought to be worrying about finding the violin or fretting over revisiting the East Wing, but all he could see when he closed his eyes were Potter's hands; thick, calloused fingers wrapped around an elegant wine glass. Narcissa had insisted that Potter stay for dinner, and then that he slept at the Manor, before they spoke to the last few rooms of portraits. In a room only a few doors down, Potter was probably snoring away.
Potter drinking wine had been like nothing Draco had seen before, and he greedily relived the memory while it was still fresh. Before dinner Draco had chosen one of the finest wines in their cellar – they were entertaining the Boy Who Lived, after all – even though his mother had raised an eyebrow when she saw the bottle. When Potter lifted the glass to his mouth, Draco watched closely.
First, Draco noted an almost imperceptible widening of Potter's eyes, then his eyelids sink down. Potter pulled the glass away and looked into the ruby liquid before taking another sip. This time his eyes closed fully and Draco saw the sigh that travelled through his body. Potter took another sip with awe written all over his face – he and his friends were probably accustomed to the weak vinegar that most people thought of as wine – and asked Draco to explain what made a good wine.
The talk was surprisingly pleasant, but on occasion Draco would lose track of the conversation as he became distracted by the way Potter's hands looked so incongruous resting on the crisp white of the table cloth. So many little scars and hard edges. Draco wondered what it would be like to reach out and trace a path between them all. And then he gulped down the most expensive wine he'd ever drunk, and tried to think about something else.
Hanging out of yet another bedroom window so he could have his evening cigarette, Draco thought about Potter, and his heart ached, and not just because of the way he drank a glass of wine. In all honesty it had been aching since the second time he'd heard Potter play the violin.
A few summers after the end of the war, Draco was a year or two into the beginnings of his antiques business, and beginning to feel that maybe there was life after war, after all. He had not seen Potter in the months since spying on him at the Avery house. When the Nott house was also 'acquired' by the Ministry, Draco had not been entirely surprised to find Potter there, too.
Bright summer sun had filled the old music room, yet the spectre of the tall awkward boy they had known at school was everywhere. Draco saw it in Theo's handwriting, scrawled over sheet music, and in his neat initials printed on the violin case by the window.
"I didn't know he played," Potter had said, tracing the letters on the case.
"He didn't really at school. Or… maybe he did, in a quiet room somewhere. I never heard him." Draco raised his eyes to Potter's. "Do you play?" he asked, already knowing the answer. "You must, surely, as you repair them."
"I do." Potter's hand was still on the case. "But only a little." He opened the case, and lifted the violin out. "It does help me appraise the violin – without hearing its voice, I don't know the violin."
Draco nodded, but Potter made no move to play. "I, er… I'm not used to an audience."
"Oh, of course. Sorry." Draco stepped back. "I'm just going to be cataloguing the contents of that cabinet over there," he said, nodding to the back of the room. "I'll keep out of your way." When Draco knelt by the cabinet, he made sure to keep Potter in his peripheral vision, and opened the carved doors. Potter went through a series of checks, but eventually did pick up the bow too. Draco stopped moving, a folio of music in his hand, and listened. Potter hesitated, glancing over in Draco's direction, before nestling the violin under his chin.
The first notes were soft, like a single songbird, but then a dizzying rush of music spilled forth. The notes burbled up and down like laughter, like dance. Draco closed his eyes, swaying without realising it as the music travelled through him. When Potter finished, only the sound of their breathing could be heard in the room.
"That was beautiful," Draco said. He stared at Potter, confused, because all of a sudden he wanted to add, you were beautiful. Potter looked alive, with flushed cheeks and parted lips. He smiled shyly and turned away.
From that moment on, however much Draco might deny it, Potter had claimed a small part of his heart.
In a room filled with sweet music, it almost didn't matter who Potter was or what he looked like or did; not as long as he played. Draco had hoped that spending time with Potter might cure him of this… weakness, for the music and the way it made him feel. Or the man who played it.
Draco stubbed his cigarette out on the windowsill and Vanished it. His room was cold now, so he cast a warming charm before getting into bed. He fell asleep more quickly than he had in years, and dreamed of lips on the edge of a wineglass, rough fingers on the slender neck of a violin, and music to lift his soul.
"There's one more portrait we should talk to."
Draco groaned. "I don't want to speak to any more portraits. You are a cruel man, even suggesting it."
"I had no idea that you were such a drama queen."
"Don't tell me that you've been enjoying this."
Potter grinned. "I didn't see a magical portrait until I went to Hogwarts. I still find them rather enchanting."
"There's no way Mildred was enchanting! She asked to see my underwear."
"That was my favourite bit."
"I'm beginning to think that I should just give Mrs Snettisham her sodding money. Anything to be free of this torture."
"I'm having a great time."
"So who's this portrait you're so desperate to talk to?"
Potter didn't live above his workshop, as Draco had always assumed. Apparently, he stored wood there. Instead, he side-alonged Draco to a disarmingly charming town house in London. It positively reeked of old money and magic.
They climbed worn stone steps, up to an imposing front door. As Potter touched his wand to the door, he paused. "If you weren't such an arse, I suppose this might have been yours."
"You're making no sense, Potter. I notice that you came out of Apparition with a bit of a bump. Could it have affected your mind?"
Potter shrugged and laughed, and the door sprang open. "Welcome to my humble home," he said. He stepped inside, with far too much bounce considering their early start. "Your name's on the family tree upstairs." Potter looked most cheerful, his merry smile at odds with the sombre hallway.
Dark wood, embellished with ornate carvings, dominated the space. Draco recognised the trappings of an old family, and he picked out a few familiar motifs: snakes, stars and the words Toujours Pur.
"Bingo," Potter said, with an air of satisfaction. Draco stared: Potter did use these odd words from time to time, and Draco had no idea what they meant. "Her cousins lived here."
"I always assumed that you lived in a little Muggle house somewhere."
"I grew up in one of those; I much prefer living like a wizard. Anyway, how about a cup of tea before we attempt the portrait? I always need a bit of fortitude before I head to my study."
"A cup of tea does sound most welcome," Draco said. "But I hope that it wouldn't be too much to ask for a proper cup."
"I'll find something, your fussiness." Potter said. "Come on." He led Draco into a sitting room with a huge tapestry covering the far wall. Draco had seen such family trees before, but had never expected to find one in Potter's home. Draco found himself puzzled by Potter's contradictions. "Look." Potter walked up to the family tree and crouched down, pointing to one of the names. Draco joined him, and stared at his own name.
"It's a bit sad, isn't it?" he said, his fingers tracing all the blasted names. "I wonder if my name would have been burned off by now too."
"Don't flatter yourself. You're not that much of a rebel, with your perfect tea cups and huge manor house."
"And you with your huge town house and your art."
A small but querulous voice interrupted. "Would masters be liking some tea?"
Both Draco and Potter spun around. An ancient house-elf wearing a huge red spotty apron – ruffled straps wrapped several times about his middle – was watching them from the other side of the room.
"Merlin's pants, Potter! Let me amend that list: a huge town house, art and a house-elf."
"Kreacher, meet Draco Malfoy. Malfoy, this is Kreacher."
Kreacher bowed low.
"Yes please to the tea," said Potter. "And I think… we can use the best tea service."
"We can?" Kreacher's head jerked up. "You…" his lip wavered. "You want proper tea?"
"Yes, yes," said Potter.
Potter seemed embarrassed, and Draco guessed that he wasn't used to having a house-elf, no matter how much he protested that he enjoyed living like a wizard.
"You're such a Muggle at heart," Draco said, once Kreacher had gone.
"Maybe. I just– Have you ever heard Hermione talk about house-elves?"
"She had that society at school. What was it called? PUKE?" Everyone had laughed when Draco had worn one of the badges and danced around the Slytherin common room, pretending to be an over-earnest buck-toothed girl. Mocking her had done nothing to change Draco's inability to ever beat her marks in class though, and he swallowed down hot shame at his younger self's behaviour.
"Nearly: SPEW. But terrible names aside, did you ever really listen to what she had to say?"
Draco had. Not at school, of course – he hadn't listened to anyone other than his father in those years – but later, after the war. He and his parents had retreated to the Manor, and Draco had looked at the cowering house-elves, and known that something had to change. "I know that you think that I'm probably a raving Pureblood behind this rather attractive exterior, but I have actually grown up a bit since school. Did you notice that Twinky wore clothes?"
"I did," said Potter slowly.
"I learned the hard way not to look down on anyone because of the blood running through their veins, or their family or the way they looked."
"You constantly make remarks about me."
"You're a special case. And besides, I might call you scruffy but I haven't tried to kill you recently, have I?"
"There is that."
"Tea, masters!" Kreacher crowed as he appeared again, bearing a huge silver platter. A fine china teapot rattled delicately beside two teacups on saucers, a sugar bowl and a milk jug. Draco didn't need to peer over the edge of the tray to know that he would also find silver sugar tongs. As well as the tea things, there was a tiered silver stand filled with cucumber sandwiches and petits fours.
"Wonderful, Kreacher," Potter said. "You've outdone yourself."
Once the house-elf had left them, Potter poured the tea as though it were perfectly normal for him to serve tea from a bone-china teapot. Given the raggedy collection of mugs at Potter's workshop, Draco doubted it.
"What is it?" Potter asked. "I can feel you staring at me. It's a little off-putting."
"I can't work you out."
Potter laughed, a low rich sound. "I think I must be the most straight-forward person around. I like making violins, I spend time with my friends and I drink a lot of tea. What else is there to know about me?"
"You're pouring me tea from some great-aunt's teapot, and you have a house-elf."
"One of your great aunts. And Kreacher's emancipated! Well, sort of," Potter added, with a blush.
The rosiness of his cheeks brought out the darkness of his eyelashes, and the brightness of his— Draco stopped himself, before he went any further with such thoughts. "Sorry, how do you have a 'sort-of' emancipated house-elf?"
"He refuses clothes. We had Christmas here a few years ago, and Molly used an apron to get a hot tray out of the oven. Kreacher picked it up; I think he thought it was tea towel or oven glove. He's been wearing it ever since, but I count it as a piece of clothing."
Kreacher had bowed near to the floor: far lower than any emancipated house-elf would. "For some reason, I don't think that he does."
"It has ruffles and polka dots!
"I noticed. And very pretty they were too."
When they had finished the tea – which was perfect – and eaten their fill of rather small cakes, Potter sighed and closed his eyes. "Couldn't we just stay here? We could light a fire. I could make some toast."
"Don't you ever think of anything other than food? And besides, you might be happy to sit around all day, but I don't actually have buckets of money at hand to give Mrs bloody Snettisham. I'd rather clear my name and get on with my life, if it's all the same to you."
"You haven't had enough tea if you're still so snippy," said Potter. He stretched out. "Although I'm not sure how much you'd need to make you actually relax."
Draco ignored the 'snippy' comment, and put his tea cup down with a decisive clatter. "Come on, Potter, no more time-wasting."
"Fine." Potter pouted, but stood up. "This way."
Shelves of heavy tomes lined the study, but it was only once Draco was clear through the door that he saw the portrait: greasy black hair, pale skin and a sour expression. He turned to Potter in confusion.
"Why is a portrait of Severus Snape in your study, Potter?"
"Draco," Snape said. "You've been spending time with Potter, haven't you? Your mouth is hanging open in the most unappealing fashion."
Draco clamped his mouth shut, and glared at Potter once more before walking over to examine the painting. Snape was sitting in a dark corner, his face lit by some unseen lamp or lantern. The painting was heavy with greys and blacks, and Snape had an unhealthy pallor to his skin. "The artist really captured your likeness, sir."
"Everyone says that," Snape said. "You're the first Slytherin that Potter here has brought home though." His face fell and his eyes darted over to Potter. "He hasn't brought you home for some sordid tryst, has he? You two aren't—"
"Severus, I have not brought Malfoy home to have my wicked way with him," Potter said, his face heated. He wouldn't meet Draco's eyes. Draco didn't understand: why did people keep jumping to this conclusion? It wasn't in any way a possibility. Not even when Potter played the violin. Or ran his hand through his hair, leaving it all standing on end. "I actually brought him here to talk to you."
Draco was still focused on Snape's question. Did Potter bring men back for sordid trysts? Draco's mind was racing. Did that mean that Potter was—
Snape scowled. "Must you? And why do you persist in calling me 'Severus'? 'Sir' or 'Professor' would do amply."
A smile grew on Potter's face. "My mother didn't call you 'Snape', so nor will I. And it's a pity that you haven't mellowed with age. I thought by now you'd have dropped your scary Potions Professor act."
"I'm a portrait, Potter. I'm not going to grow and change; my personality is set." Snape snorted. "You never did have the best grasp on the magical world."
"Er…" Draco wasn't sure what to say, but he could see that this could go on for some time. He felt as though he were back at school again. Apart from the confusing thoughts that sprang up when he looked in Potter's general vicinity, he'd never had any of those at school. With effort he focused. "Before you take ten points from Gryffindor, sir, I do have one question."
"Suck up," muttered Potter.
"Insolent boy." Snape scowled at Potter. "Now speak up, Draco, what's your question?"
"I've already asked it. I don't really mind who answers, but Potter's ignored me so far. Why are you hanging in Potter's study?"
"Because he is an idealistic fool, that's why."
"I am not a fool." Potter turned to face Draco, and raked a hand through his hair. Inside, Draco melted a little at the sight. Stupid Potter with his stupid unruly hair that longed to be touched. "I think that Severus's portrait should hang at Hogwarts."
"There are… political considerations that have so far prevented me from joining the other headmasters. Potter here decided that the safest place to keep my portrait until then was in his home." Snape said. "And Minerva with her stupid soft spot said yes. But you're not here to hear my story."
"We're trying to trace a violin that's gone missing," said Potter. "I wanted to ask your advice."
"You and Draco are working together? And haven't killed each other yet?"
"Not yet, sir," said Draco, earning him another mutter from Potter. "There's still every possibility that we could end up at that point."
"I find the idea far more palatable than the alternative, in some ways," said Snape. "Although," he added with a sigh, "I suppose that it is good that you two are finally grown up enough to treat each other more or less like adults. I'm glad that you got this far, Draco."
Potter interrupted. "Malfoy's not too bad. A little stuck up about teacups and the like, but easy enough company."
"Snape's right, you are a sentimental fool," Draco said, although there was no denying the warm glow even faint praise brought. Potter merely gave him a serene smile, and settled into the chair by the desk, turning it first to face Snape.
"So tell me about this violin, and whatever kind of trouble you two have got into," Snape said, folding his arms and looking sour.
Once Snape had the problem all laid out, ready to work through, Draco came to the conclusion that he had never truly known his Head of House before. Certainly, it had been shocking enough to learn of Snape's double life after his death, but Draco had never seen before just how agile Snape's mind could be.
"It sounds to me as though you may never locate Frank. Portraits do see and hear all manner of things, and some have found it better to hide than speak up." Snape steepled his fingers. "Snettisham House… perhaps… I'm sure that I've heard the house mentioned before. Portraits love nothing better than a good gossip, although it does make conversation with the majority of them most tedious."
"One of the portraits we talked to yesterday said something about the house not feeling right – changing all the time."
Snape frowned, but nodded. "There are rumours… but the portraits from the house have never confirmed any of them. What other avenues of inquiry do you have?"
"We're both waiting to hear back from our Muggle contacts," said Draco.
"Yes… I do believe that might be the way to go. Now if you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I'm off to find a painting with a library or a well-stocked drinks-cabinet."
He was gone from the frame before either Draco or Potter could say goodbye. Or thank you.
"Is he always that pleasant?" asked Draco. "For all that he talks of only being a portrait, he seemed pretty much true to life."
"He's mellowed, actually. Sometimes we talk about my mother. He knew her, when they were young. I like to hear about her."
Draco looked back up at the empty frame. He was still confused, but perhaps there was more to Potter than he knew. Than the world knew.
Musty feather boas hung alongside sequinned dresses, while glass counters glinted with the silver and gold nestled on velvet within. Boxes of old postcards jostled with shelves of brightly-coloured trinkets.
"I didn't know this place existed," said Potter.
"Sometimes I think that Muggles are capable of a little magic of their own."
"Words I never thought I'd hear you say."
Draco led Potter through the maze of Alfies Antique Market until he reached a dark corner. Silver goblets, cups and tureens shone dimly on the shelves. A thin man stepped out from the shadows.
"I was wondering when you'd be back," he said. "You vouch for your friend, I trust?"
"Of course," Draco said.
"I've asked around. A few people said they'd had the odd bit from that Snettisham bird. I got the impression that she was some kind of a dealer, like you."
"Oh really, why do you say that?"
"Because of the stuff she sells. It isn't much – only a couple of pieces, here and there - but it's all different."
"The family appear to have been rather eclectic in their purchases in the past," said Potter. Draco stared: since when did Potter use words like 'eclectic'?
"Ha! That's one way to put it. Another would be that some of that stuff had crests and the like on them. No big names or anything, but a lot of them didn't say 'Snettisham' at all."
"There would have been dowry gifts from marriages and so on," said Draco.
"Maybe," said the man. "Maybe not." He shrugged. "I'm just saying…"
As they walked away, Potter whispered, "Was he just saying what I think he was saying?"
"I think so. It… it makes sense. But there haven't been any thefts that I know of. Believe me, my door is the first one to get knocked on when the Aurors are investigating the theft of any kind of heirloom."
"Well, you are an antiques dealer."
"But not a crooked one!"
"I know. Just one with an ugly scar on his arm. But what does this tell us about the violin?"
"I've spoken to the people I know too: no one's heard anything of a violin for sale, or a rumour of one. And no one's reported one missing, in either the wizarding or Muggle worlds."
"We're not getting anywhere."
"I disagree. Let's get a cup of tea – and some cake – and we can talk about what we know so far."
"Cake… cake sounds like a good idea, actually. I know a good patisserie, not too far from here." Draco felt a frisson of pleasure at the thought of a perfect macaroon, although Potter probably had a huge slab covered in chocolate in mind. Naturally, Draco's next thought was to imagine Potter licking chocolate from his fingers, his tongue curling around and his lips pink. It was a most disconcerting mental image and for a second he forgot which way he was walking.
"Patisserie? Does nothing in your world not have a fancy name? I bet you even knew what those glasses on a stick that Hannah had were called."
"We can't all be as ignorant as you. Well, except on the topic of violins, in which case I will admit that our roles are reversed."
When they stepped out of the antique market though, it was raining. And not in a gentle mists and mellow fruitfulness kind of way. Dark clouds weighed down on the world as thick lines of rain cut down through the sky. Draco and Potter stood back, shivering as a cold breeze rattled through the awnings above them.
"I've got cake at mine," said Potter.
Water splashed up from the puddles, and rushed along the gutters. Everything Draco could see was grey, and wet. An ominous creak from above made him look up: the awning was heavy with water, fat drops coming down from its edges, and swaying ominously.
Potter stepped back. "I think we should go sooner rather than later—"
A slow ripping sound joined that of the creaking, and Draco looked in horror as the corner of the awning gave way. Where there had been blue fabric there was now an exposed metal frame and sky. A flood of icy cold water hit his body like a slap, knocking Draco off balance and soaking him through to the skin. He shivered and spluttered until he felt Potter's arm, sure and strong, steady him.
"You seem to have got a little wet." Potter sounded amused, but he still held onto Draco.
"Oh, shut up."
"I think we need to get you out of here, and out of those clothes," said Potter. A surge of shivers caused Draco's teeth to rattle and he nodded. Potter pulled him closer, and then he looked around at the deserted street and shrugged. "I think I'll call this an emergency." The next thing Draco knew he was being whirled along into the oppressive darkness of Apparition.
When they landed back in Potter's study Draco stumbled and gasped, then righted himself, embarrassed at such a lack of finesse. He shivered again, aware somehow now he was indoors of just how wet he was. Water dripped down the back of his neck, it dripped from his nose and down the ends of his fingers. He began to shake.
"P-p-p-otter," he stuttered. "Do you think you could get a fire going? "I'm f-f-f-reezing."
Potter hurried over to the fireplace, and soon there was a fire burning, flames leaping high. Rain pelted against window, blurring the world outside.
With a pop! Kreacher appeared. He quickly appraised the situation. "Oh dear, masters. I will be getting towels."
"And some blankets. And tea and cake."
Draco shook his head. "I fancy something s-s-stronger than tea."
"And brandy, too."
Kreacher disappeared, and Potter stepped towards Draco. "We need to get those clothes off you," he said, raising his wand.
"You're not going to Vanish them!" Draco panicked at the thought of being left naked in Potter's house.
Potter lowered the wand. "Fine. You'll just have to do it the old-fashioned way."
But the fabric was stiff and wet, and Draco struggled with the buttons, his fingers numb and shaking from the cold. Potter watched, impassive for a moment, but then he stepped forward, pushed Draco's fingers aside, and took over. Draco let his arms drop down, and stopped thinking about how cold he was, or of the water pooling at his feet. His shivers eased as Potter stood close, a look of concentration on his face. Draco could see each eyelash behind Potter's glasses; he could see a slow flush spread across Potter's skin as he became aware of Draco staring. Potter's hand faltered, and his eyes rose to meet Draco's.
"If you're going to undress Draco, I think I'd rather not see," Snape said from his portrait, and Draco and Potter fell away from one another. Snape walked out of the frame, leaving Draco and Potter standing opposite each other.
Draco thought maybe he should just Apparate away and dry off at the Manor, but then Potter reached out again, his hand returning to Draco's clothes. He kept his eyes on Draco's as he continued unbuttoning Draco's soaked coat. As it slid from his shoulders, Draco swallowed. Potter smiled then, his eyes heavy with intent. The breath caught in Draco's throat: was this really happening? To check, he touched a finger to Potter's hand, but with another smile Potter batted it away to pull Draco's sodden sweater over his head. The wool was wet and cold as it slid over his face, but that wasn't why Draco was shaking.
"I was thinking," Potter said, his voice low. "Maybe you could try calling me 'Harry'?" His fingers continued their undressing, working their way down Draco's shirt. "You'll be dry in no time."
"Dry?" Draco didn't know what Potter was talking about. Then he shivered. "Oh, yes, dry."
The shirt joined the sweater and the coat on the floor, and Draco could feel the faintest touch of Potter's breath across his bare skin.
"Masters, I have towels, tea, cake and brandy!"
Draco and Potter turned to see Kreacher balancing a laden tray in one hand, and pile of fluffy towels and blankets on the other. He put the tray down by the fire, and handed the towels to Draco. The blankets he left across the back of one of the armchairs, then he left, muttering something about hot soup and buttered toast as he went.
"I see that Kreacher's brought me your best china again. I'm not sure that's a good idea if I'm still shaking."
Potter didn't answer. Instead, he stared at Draco's arm.
"I– I've never seen…"
Draco looked at his arm, although he knew what he'd see. The Dark Mark had faded, but twisted the skin as it did so, leaving behind an ugly scar. "All the Dark Marks went like this, after… well, after."
"No," Potter said. "Not the Mark. I've never seen a tattoo quite like that before."
Blood rushed to Draco's cheeks as soon as he realised that Potter was looking past his arm, to his side, and he tried to wrap the towel tighter around himself. "It wasn't my idea," he said. "I was drunk. And with Pansy, and Blaise."
"You must have been very drunk." Potter pushed the towel aside. "Is that…" he frowned. "Is that Tinkerbell on your hip?"
Draco looked down at the perky face, little green dress and the white pom poms, and sighed. "Yes."
Potter prodded the tattoo, and Draco pulled away. This was not how he had imagined Potter first touching his skin. Harry. No, it was definitely still Potter he was sitting with.
"It's a long story."
"I want to hear it."
Draco sighed. "We were out drinking and we had lots of absinthe. That stuff really isn't any good for you." He shuddered at the memory of how he'd felt the next day. "Anyway, we were drinking to the little green fairy—"
"You were making toasts to Tinkerbell?"
"No. It's what absinthe is called: the green fairy. I didn't even know who Tinkerbell was at that time."
"I bet you learned fast."
"Go on. I've seen it now, there's no point sulking."
"Fine. Pansy decided that we should all get tattoos of the green fairy, and we went to a Muggle place and I went first. Pansy picked the design."
"Did she know who Tinkerbell was?"
"Oh, wow. But sorry, I keep interrupting. Go on." Potter, the bastard, had a twinkle in his eye and Draco could see that he was dying to laugh. Mustering as much dignity as he could, wrapped in a towel and talking about his ridiculous tattoo, Draco continued.
"When I'd had it done she and Blaise decided that it all looked a bit too painful and chickened out."
"And you're still friends with them?"
"Yes. Although they wouldn't stop laughing whenever they saw me for weeks afterwards. And they always buy me a Tinkerbell card for my birthday."
Potter held his lips clamped tight, but Draco could see the laughter working its way up. He sighed as it bubbled up, Potter laughing until there were tears in his eyes.
"You might laugh, but it's been a nightmare for my love life. Muggles always laugh at me. One man even laughed so hard he lost his—"
"Enough!" Potter begged as he raised a hand from where he was, wheezing and bent double. "I think something's going to burst if I laugh for a minute more." He wiped the tears from his eyes before moving to the armchair by the fire. "Come on, let's get some tea and cake in you: I don't want you getting ill because you haven't dried off or warmed up properly yet. I'd rather," he said, shooting Draco a loaded look, "you were fit and healthy."
Potter's words sent a tingle to the ends of Draco's fingers and toes.
Despite the tea, Potter poured them both a drink from the dusty bottle that the house-elf must have retrieved from some old Black store, because it was rich and warming and just perfect. The easiness between them had changed to something else now: a quiet tension, a touch yet to happen. Draco sipped at his brandy to fill the spaces, as did Potter. After the second glass, a warm glow seemed to have settled about the room.
"Do you know what I could do with now?" said Draco, now wrapped in several blankets.
"Mmm?" Potter swirled his drink, staring at the liquid as it clung to the glass.
"You smoke?" Potter pulled out of his slouch. "Really?"
"Yes." Draco was tired of hiding it, from his mother, from his friends. He was a grown man, and if he wanted to smoke he could—
"Me too. Only none of my friends know. Or at least, I don't think that they do," Potter said, all in a rush. He fetched a tin from his desk.
"You roll your own. Of course you do," said Draco when Potter opened it to reveal a small pouch of tobacco. "I should have known." But then Potter was doing it, thick fingers and fine paper and out came his tongue and Draco wanted every cigarette he smoked from now on to be one that Potter had rolled. Potter put the skinny cigarette to his mouth, then lit the end with his wand and passed it to Draco. His eyes lingered as Draco took his first drag, but looked away as Draco blew smoke out.
Potter had just lit his own cigarette when a clang from the floor below disturbed them, followed by a cry of "Harry!" and the thunder of feet running up the stairs.
And then Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley burst through the door.
"Harry, where have you been? We couldn't get hold of you yesterday, and Kreacher didn't know where you were and—" Granger stopped when she saw Draco. Her head spun between Draco and Potter. "You two– You didn't– I–"
"Why can I hear shouting?" Snape called out. "And you better have some clothes on now." He walked back into his painting, his hands over his eyes. When he peered out from between his fingers, he groaned. He looked at Potter accusingly. "You said you hadn't brought him here for a sordid tryst!"
"I hadn't," said Potter. He gave Draco a sly look. "Well, not that time."
Weasley made a sound like a dying fish.
Granger seemed to have found her voice again. "Harry," she said, in disappointed tones. "You smoke?"
Draco sat back. Suddenly his own friendships seemed much more reasonable.
Pansy's nose peered out from behind her gloss-black front door. When she saw Draco and Potter standing on her doorstep, the door fell open to reveal a most bemused face.
"Can we come in? Potter's friends and Snape are probably still shouting at each other. They've had some, er, shocking news recently. We need somewhere to escape to."
Pansy raised her eyebrows at Snape's name, but then she looked between the two of them – Draco still wrapped in a blanket – and stepped back to let them in. When they walked into the living room, Blaise was reading a paper. He put it down to see who it was, and swore softly under his breath. He raised his eyebrows at Pansy, who Summoned her purse with a heavy sigh. She pulled out a Galleon and handed it to Blaise with a grimace.
"Potter," said Blaise. "I always suspected that you were a dark horse. Has Draco shown you his fairy yet?"
Potter looked a little startled. "Er, I have seen it, yes."
Blaise held out his hand again, and Pansy gave him another Galleon.
"But we haven't slept together!" Potter protested. Pansy grinned, and snatched back one of her coins while Blaise pouted.
"Has he at least called you 'Harry' yet?" asked Blaise. Potter shook his head, and Blaise handed over the other Galleon with a sigh. Pansy popped her money back in her purse with a smug smile.
Draco' cheeks were burning, and he decided that he wasn't ready to face their questions, not quite yet. Potter would be fine with his friends for a minute or two while Draco put on a clean shirt and some dry trousers. Potter was a big boy, he could cope with a couple of Slytherins.
When he got back, Potter's face was an alarming shade of beetroot red. "What did you do to him?" Draco asked in alarm.
"Nothing," said Pansy. Draco narrowed his eyes. "I apologised, OK?"
"You did?" Draco slid onto the sofa next to Potter. "She did?" he repeated softly.
Potter nodded. "And she gave me a few tips, too." Oh Merlin, no wonder Potter was blushing. Pansy did tend to go into… detail when it came to giving advice. Especially when it came to sex, which he strongly suspected had been the subject of their conversation. Draco tried to transmit calm through the press of his leg against Potter's. He had no idea if it was working or not, but Potter was delightfully firm and warm beside him, and only trembling ever so slightly.
"So why are you two joined at the hip now?" said Pansy. "That is, if you're not shagging, what are you doing together?"
"We're still looking for a violin," said Draco, dragging his attention back from Potter. "You know, the one we're being blackmailed about."
"You never did tell us much about it, beyond that some snobby cow was threatening you." Pansy leant forward, her hands clasped below her chin. "Go on, I bet you have some filthy things to say about her. Spill."
Draco considered how to summarise their little adventure as concisely as possible. "We've spoken to a lot of portraits—"
"No, no!" Pansy pushed her hand away from her, as though pushing all of Draco's words aside. "I love a good bit of gossip," she said. "But you have to do this properly. Start at the beginning, and don't leave anything out."
"You want me to tell you every little detail?" asked Draco. "It's not that interesting."
"A fresh pair of eyes might be what we need," Potter interjected. "And I have my suspicions; I'd like to hear what you think as well. I think it would be good to review everything we know."
Draco began with the violin, Potter chipping in with a few details about it – Italian, nineteenth century, beautifully made – all while Pansy listened, a small frown on her face.
"Have you worked for Mrs Snettisham before?"
Both Draco and Potter shook their heads. She had other questions, about the house-elves and the furniture and the odd, non-matching pieces.
Pansy asked Draco to describe the candlestick on the mantelpiece in Mrs Snettisham's dining room in as much detail as possible.
"Are you sure?" Draco asked.
"Of course I'm sure, why would I ask if I wasn't?"
Draco closed his eyes, to better picture the candlestick. "Silver, neoclassical, square-stepped base and fluted column, topped with scroll capitals." He opened his eyes. "About ten, eleven inches high."
Pansy nodded, and Draco recognised the ferocious focus on her face: it was how she looked when she had a particularly thorny problem at work to overcome. And then he continued, describing Sir George and Lady Caroline, the missing Frank, Mildred and Penny; he talked about Abraxas Malfoy and Samuel and Hannah; Mrs Longbottom and Mildred.
"You missed out how badly she flirted with you," Potter said. Draco could only describe the look on his face as smirking. Potter wasn't allowed to smirk.
"That was not flirting, it was borderline harassment!"
Draco finished with Snape, the Muggle from the antique market and the insinuations both had made.
Pansy stood up. "Those are very interesting remarks, aren't they?"
"I didn't recognise anything in her house, but then I didn't get a close look. I don't know what to do, Pansy. I don't have that kind of money lying around, and I can't see how anyone will ever believe my word above… well, above anyone's to be honest."
"I don't really think that you've anything to fear provided that Potter here stands up for you. Potter is beyond reproach, even with his terrible taste in clothes."
"And men," Blaise added from his armchair. Pansy ignored him. Potter shifted uncomfortably beside Draco, who was really tempted to put a hand out and rest it on Potter's knee.
"That's yet to be seen," Draco said. He didn't dare look over at Potter, let alone touch him. He hoped that Potter was interested, but who knew? He could still change his mind.
"I'm going to have to ask my mother… wait here, I'll be back soon." Pansy stood and left the room.
"What's she doing now?"
"I've learned not to question Pansy's actions. She always has a reason for everything she does," Blaise said. And then he picked up his paper and hid behind it.
While they waited for Pansy to return, Draco contemplated Potter. He was picking at a hole in his jeans, but stopped when he realised Draco was looking at him. A shy smile spread across his face, and Draco held his breath. He wanted more of that, but then Draco looked away, because it wasn't the time for shy smiles. Not yet.
Pansy walked back in with a huge painting under her arm, the gilt frame's dull wood exposed at the back. "Sorry about that. Mummy took a bit of convincing." She propped it up against the armchair and stood back, her arms folded and a satisfied smile on her face. "What do you think?"
The painting showed a still life: a crisp white table cloth, a bowl of fruit, wispy flowers and two silver candlesticks. Draco stared at the elegant outline of the candlesticks: two square-stepped bases, fluted columns, topped with scroll capitals. Exactly like the one at Snettisham House. He rose from his seat, and went to crouch in front of the painting. "This doesn't prove anything," he said.
"Is that a Muggle painting?" asked Potter. "I can't see anything moving."
"It is," said Pansy. "One of my predecessors had an unfortunate love affair at the turn of the century. Unfortunate for the time, of course. Now it wouldn't matter. But this came from my bedroom; I've had it for years. What I had to persuade mummy to part with was the candlestick itself." She produced it with a flourish. "Its twin went missing, along with a few other things, in a burglary in the sixties. Merlin knows what happened to the DMLE records of the theft. Lost years ago, probably. But we have inventories that show when it went missing."
"Years ago…" Draco rocked back on his heels, and pushed himself up to standing. "I wonder how many more stolen items Mrs Snettisham has in her house."
"The sixties?" said Potter. "That would explain why we hadn't heard reports of recent thefts."
"And she's been selling them on the Muggle market quietly, for years." Draco looked at Potter. "Do you still have those Auror links?"
Potter looked around the room, his thought process painfully transparent on his face. How would the Aurors treat three former-Slytherins? Especially as many of the Aurors were contemporaries of theirs from school. "Er, maybe I'll call Ron."
"He hates me," Draco said. "Especially after finding me at your house."
"Maybe, but he doesn't hate me. And, er, maybe he won't hate you forever. If he gets to know you." Potter was turning crimson again, and Draco rather liked it. Not only was it charming, but he clung to the hope that Potter did indeed want to introduce Draco to his friends. Although perhaps a little more formally than he had done already. He quite liked the idea of being with Potter in that way. "Do you mind if they come here?" Potter asked, looking at Pansy.
"Not at all. And besides… it's good to be able to help you." She looked uncharacteristically abashed.
Potter nodded, then hurried to the Floo. He ran his hand through his hair before taking a pinch of Floo Powder, and Draco was surprised to discover that he found the gesture oddly endearing, now. Maybe he would get to muss Potter's hair up later.
Weasley looked pale as he stepped through the Floo, but he switched almost instantly into the role of an efficient Auror. Thankfully he didn't insult anyone, and equally thankfully nobody insulted him either.
Potter laid out the facts of the case as quickly as he could, and Weasley scribbled away on a parchment, asking for details to be repeated as necessary
"I'd like to take the painting and the candlestick as evidence," he asked Pansy. She frowned but said nothing. "I'll write you a receipt for them all," Weasley said. "Magically binding, if you want. I will return them to you."
Slowly, she nodded her head. "Very well."
After all the running around and talking to portraits, it was strange to see their investigations reduced down to a few pages of Weasley's messy scrawl.
Pansy said nothing as ink splattered from Weasley's quill, although Draco could see the tight edge to her smile as gripped her wand in her pocket. As soon as Weasley left she'd Vanish the ink splashes, as best she could.
Weasley read back through his notes. "I only have one point to clarify: Harry played the violin for you? Really?"
"Er, well, yes." Draco was bemused. "How else was he supposed to gauge the quality of the violin?"
"Oh, it's just that… well, Harry doesn't tend to play for anyone. I, er, I haven't heard him play for years."
Potter stared at the floor, but when he finally looked up, he focused only on Draco. "You left your clothes at my place," Potter said. "Perhaps you should come back with me to collect them."
Weasley closed his eyes, as though silently counting to ten, perhaps. "I can finish up the paperwork back at the office. Which is of course what I wanted to do on my day off."
"You get to bring in Mrs Snettisham!" Potter said, dragging his eyes away from Draco, who missed them immediately. "Don't pretend that won't be good for your career."
"Well it might, a little," said Weasley. "It's almost worth knowing that you two—" He paused. "We'll see. I think I might throw myself into work for a day or two and not think about it, actually." Pansy rose, a smile on her face, and they spoke quietly before she handed over the painting and the candlestick and he left through the Floo.
Beside him, Potter's leg moved, pressing into Draco's. The air seemed to leave the room and Draco knew with absolute certainty that they too, needed to leave. Luckily, Pansy near enough pushed them out of the door: she'd obviously long passed her tolerance for Gryffindors.
The rain had died down to a soft drizzle. The earlier downpour and winds had blown leaves from the trees, and the pavements were slick with rain and the yellow and reds of autumn. Draco and Potter made their way down the steps of mansion block, and headed back to the quiet side passage to Apparate. A Japanese maple, aflame with colour, sheltered them from prying eyes as they walked around.
"Stop." Potter reached out for Draco's arm, not letting go when Draco turned towards him. "I'm still waiting for you to call me 'Harry'. I can see the word 'Potter' in your eyes whenever you look at me."
Draco took a step towards Potter. "You haven't earned that name yet."
Potter grinned, his mouth lopsided. "And what do I have to do to earn the honour, then?"
A shiver of breeze dislodged a scattering of heavy raindrops from the leaves above. A drop ran down Potter's cheek like a tear, and Draco moved closer still to wipe it away. He moved his free arm to Potter's jumper, pulling on a loose piece of yarn with his finger. "You wear the most awful clothes, Potter."
"I'm still not hearing my name."
"But for some reason, I don't mind. All I want to do, is this." Draco leant into Potter's warmth, and his hand slid beneath Potter's jumper. He soon found warm skin. Potter's lips parted as he inhaled softly, and Draco took this as his cue to press forwards until their lips met. With the kiss – gentle at first, but then seemingly spreading to eager hands that made their way along skin and into messy hair – Draco finally became acquainted with 'Harry'. Harry, it turned out, tasted of woodsy goodness and kissed as though Draco were a precious object. A precious object in need of a good fuck, or perhaps one that he would like to be fucked by. Draco considered the possibilities as he continued to push into Harry, until Harry was backed into the red bricks of the mansion block.
Judging by the heated length pressed up against his own crotch, Draco rather hoped that fucking would indeed be involved in the near future. After all, he really did need to get to know Harry better if he was going to remember his name properly. He anticipated it taking much repetition to get it right. Draco ground his hips quite shamelessly into Potter's as though to emphasise the point, and was met by a small moan that almost made his knees give way.
"You, Draco Malfoy, are such a brat. But I like you." Harry's mouth moved along Draco's jawline, tasting him as he went. Draco's knees quivered again, and he pulled Harry in for a long, sustaining kiss.
The rain was still falling, a gentle spreading dampness as they kissed. By the time Draco and Harry made it to the side of the building, they were both soaked through again, their clothes clinging to their bodies and leaving no doubt about the effects of all their kissing. Harry held onto Draco a little more firmly than needed for a side-along Apparition. He held on exactly as he had when Draco had first been drenched in the rain: as though he didn't want to let go.
"Harry." Draco felt Harry's body shiver as he said his name. Draco pushed him against the hallway wall, and said it again. Harry cut him off with a kiss, and Draco threaded his hand through the messy black hair he'd been longing to touch all week.
"Draco." The thrill that hearing his name brought was unexpected, and Draco pulled Harry up the stairs.
"I need to get you naked, right now."
"Yes," said Harry. "Yes."
By the time Harry had dragged them into his room, they were indeed both naked. Harry pushed Draco onto the bed, and rubbed his palm across the Tinkerbell tattoo on Draco's side. Draco squirmed, Potter's firm touch both arousing and embarrassing.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of, your tattoo. It's your fluffiest feature."
Draco groaned. "That really doesn't help, Potter."
"I like it. I like you," Harry said, bringing his mouth to Draco's neck. "But I want you to call me 'Harry'." He kissed along Draco's neck. "Now let's see about getting you to remember my name properly."
Later, as Harry screwed him with achingly deliberate slow, deep strokes, ramming the headboard against the wall with each thrust, Draco called out his name until his throat was hoarse. "Harry," he said. "Oh, fuck. Harry."
In response, Harry bent down and kissed Draco's back, until Draco turned his head so that they could grasp a half-kiss from the sides of their mouths.
When Draco came with one final "Harry!", he collapsed forward on the bed as his knees finally gave up entirely. Harry's weight pressed down on top of him as he pushed into him once, twice more, and came himself.
The sky had darkened, and the world was quiet by the time that Draco awoke. He stared around him, confused, but stopped when he saw Harry's sleeping face. Harry's glasses were probably still halfway down the stairs, and Draco could see his thick dark eyelashes, so nearly feminine and yet not quite; he drank in every feature of Harry's face while he could.
He'd never really thought that this was a possibility. But then what had Weasley said? Something about Harry never playing for anyone. Why had Harry played for him? Had he—
Harry's eyes opened, and he smiled. "Fancy finding you here," he said.
"Why did you play for me?" asked Draco.
"Can't you tell?" said Harry, reaching out to touch Draco's cheek. "I didn't know how to say it in words."
"Why don't you play for anyone else? You're really good, you know."
"I don't know. I think… maybe I've had enough attention. I don't want everyone looking at me. I… I only wanted you to look at me." Harry smiled slyly. "And I saw the effect it had on you. Your face goes all pink, and you part your lips and you look like sex itself."
"Oh, yes, you do." Harry lay back, facing the ceiling and smiling. "I'd never thought of you before like that, not until I saw you listening to me play. But then, I'd think of you sometimes, when I… you know."
"I wanked in the bath to that passage about you and the merman in your biography."
"I told you that it wasn't true."
"Don't ruin it for me! Or maybe…" Draco's hand began to explore beneath the sheets "Maybe I could be the merman?"
Harry turned his head to stare at Draco, then laughed. Somehow, the tangle of mouths and limbs that followed became less about lazy warmth and more about heat and drive, and Draco ended up fucking Harry with a relentless energy borne of more than one week's pent-up desire. Finally Draco had to admit to himself how long he'd wanted this.
As he moved, his heart squeezing tight and his breath coming in ragged gasps, Draco looked down at Harry's face, red and slack with pleasure, and he knew that he wanted Harry to feel boneless, to lose himself to the moment as thoroughly as Draco himself had. He understood Harry's need to hear his name: Draco wanted to hear his own.
Draco leant down to kiss his lips, to bring them closer.
"Draco," whispered Harry.
Draco groaned and shifted, changing his position until Harry wasn't capable of talking.
Afterwards they shared a cigarette, smoke curling around them, and Draco felt a moment's trepidation. Who knew what would happen next? As he watched the cigarette tip brighten as Harry held it to his lips, he decided that it didn't matter. He was here, with Harry.
Harry and Draco. Somehow, it worked.
The cheek-aching cold of winter had finally set in, but in Harry's bedroom, nestled in blankets and eiderdowns, Draco was warm. The fire in the grate helped too, and Draco sat up, better to appreciate the sight of Harry standing naked at the window. He had only had the pleasure of the view for a few weeks, and he was still greedy for the round, high buttocks, the thick, strong legs. His favourite part of Harry's anatomy however, was hidden from view. From Draco's view, anyway.
"Anyone could see you," Draco said.
"Who? Most people can't even see the house." Harry opened the window, and Draco pulled the eiderdown around his shoulders.
"Hurry up, it's bloody freezing."
"Yes, your fussiness." Harry took the note from the owl sitting demurely on his windowsill – unfazed by the sight of the Chosen Prick – and after he'd patted it on the head, it flew off. Once the window was shut, Harry came to sit on the edge of the bed while he read the note. He turned to Draco, his eyes bright and a broad smile on his face. "Read this; I've got to have a quick word with Kreacher."
"For Merlin's sake, put a bloody dressing gown on or something."
"Want my naked body all for yourself, do you?"
"Yes! And hurry up."
Draco skimmed the terrible handwriting of Ronald Weasley. No wonder Harry had been so happy: the missing violin had been found, squirreled away in the basement of a not-so-scrupulous antiques dealer's house in Paris. And on further investigation in the DMLE archives, the true owner of the violin had been discovered. Charlus Potter had reported it stolen in 1934. The DMLE wanted to return it to Harry.
"I don't understand," Draco said when Harry returned. "1934 seems very early: wasn't that before Mrs Snettisham's time?" Harry shucked his dressing gown and got back into bed before replying. He pressed cold toes into Draco's leg.
"It turns out that her father-in-law was the thief. When she married into the family, I think he recognised a kindred spirit. Ron said that she confessed to having been selling off the contents of the house for years, but that she hadn't stolen any of the pieces herself."
"Why try to blackmail us?"
"Why not? From what I understand, she was having a bit of break from selling. You know, lying low."
Draco raised an eyebrow. "By taking on the hero of the wizarding world?"
"And his blond sidekick."
"I am not your sidekick, Potter."
"Oh, 'Potter' is it again?"
"It is when you call me names."
Harry's hands, rough with callouses, slid under the sheets and along Draco's ribs. "I'll have to find some way to help you remember my name." His hands continued further down, and Draco closed his eyes and flopped back into the pillows.
"That's a start."
Draco shivered as Harry pulled the covers away, but didn't complain as Harry climbed down the bed, kissing his way down Draco's chest until his mouth was just touching the end of Draco's prick.
"Wait," Draco said. "I want to see."
"Better to help you remember?"
"Something like that." Draco sat up, leaning against the pillows and headboard and looking down at the mess of black hair and green eyes, looking back up at him. Harry's pink tongue peeked out, and Draco inhaled shakily as Harry swept it around the head of his cock. But as warm and thrilling as Harry's touch was, it was the look he gave him that rooted Draco to the spot and stole his breath. Fierce possession mingled with a softness that was nothing to do with sex, and Draco knew he was lost.
A short while after – or perhaps a long while later, Draco found it hard to tell when distracted in such a… satisfying manner – there was a discreet knock at the door. Harry, thankfully, threw on his dressing gown before opening it.
"Ah, Kreacher, thank you."
The house-elf was balancing a most welcome tray of tea and bacon sandwiches on one hand; in the other, he bore a simple but worn violin case.
"Yes," said Potter simply. "It is."
Draco sat in bed, sipping his tea from a non-chipped, almost transparent tea cup, while Harry opened the case and tuned the violin.
Harry began to play, his eyes closing as the bow moved over the strings. The music sounded familiar, the notes bringing that sweet ache to Draco's chest again. He'd never truly had the words to describe that feeling, but now, listening to Harry play his violin, Draco realised that he didn't need words. The music said it all.