Chapter One - A World Away
Chapter One - A World Away
Harry watched the passing landscape with growing disinterest as the carriage bore him along the rocky path. The sound of the horse's hooves, the jingle of the reins, and the crunch of gravel were the only sounds in the heavy blanket of darkness surrounding him. On both sides of the carriage stretched miles and miles of thick, overgrown moorland. As little to see at night as there was during the day.
With a weary sigh, Harry turned away from the glass and leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes and trying to reassure himself that this was indeed the best course of action for himself – and for his marriage.
He had left Draco behind in London, with their children, and had come looking for something out here on the lonely moors of Yorkshire, hoping to find…whatever it was that he thought he was missing.
He did not miss his husband, nor did he think that he was likely to. They had grown apart, drifted away from each other in the tumultuous wake of adulthood, leaving behind Hogwarts and the war and entering the monotonous world of everyday life. A regular existence that did not hold any of the flash and excitement of their earlier passion for love - and for eachother.
Harry pulled his cloak up under his chin, shivering slightly in the damp air.
He knew that Draco wasn't feeling any of the misgivings about their relationship that he was. Draco was content to settle, to adapt to their lacklustre routine of going to work and coming home to a dignified meal, of giving Harry a peck on the cheek as he swept past. Of patting his children on the head and indulging them with a smile before retiring to his den for the remainder of the evening.
Draco was a good and attentive father, Harry did not begrudge him that, but he also knew that he needed more, deserved more. He didn't want to settle. He was only twenty-one and he wanted variety, fire, passion, love, romance – he wanted a life beyond the mundane. Draco seemed content to live the life that everyone expected them to, whereas Harry, simply wanted to live.
He still loved his husband, in his own way, he supposed. But he just couldn't shake the feeling that there was something more out there…waiting for him.
Harry's eyes snapped open as the carriage came to a halt.
'Here you are Mr Potter - Malfoy Estate.' The driver's hoarse voice carried down to him from the front of the carriage, bringing about the end of their journey.
Harry slowly opened the carriage door and stepped out.
His black cloak swirled around him in the harsh winds whipping across the moor as he looked up at the large mansion. The grand building stood tall and proud against the inky-black curtain of night. The moon lending a little light to illuminate the creeping vines on the sides of the manor and the seemingly endless expanse of towers and windows laid out before him.
The driver lit his pipe as he stared up at the old place from beside Harry. 'Oldest buildin' around,' he said, the broad Yorkshire accent lending him a common, yet friendly sort of character. 'How does tha' like it?'
'I don't know,' Harry replied vaguely, eyes still roaming the strange property. 'I'll have to see it in the daytime, I suspect, to get a real feel for the place.'
'Aye, thy will. But tha' will like it soon enough.'
Harry glanced at the man strangely. He seemed very sure of himself. 'I think I can manage on my own from here. Thank you.'
The old driver turned and climbed back onto the carriage to hand down Harry's belongings, pipe still hanging from between pressed lips. Harry set his trunk and bag down on the rocky terrain, then searched his pockets for a few galleons to give the man.
'Thank you, Mr Potter, but I'll take nowt o' th' soart. I get wages enough from Master Malfoy. Good-night.' With that being said, the old man tipped his cap and alighted onto the cab once more, as nimble as any man of twenty or thirty.
Harry re-pocketed the coins with a shrug, his gaze already returning to the shadowy mansion that would be his home for the next little while. It had been in the Malfoy family for centuries, and it was Draco who suggested it as an ideal place for Harry to 'get away' to.
Harry picked up his luggage and started up the walk. His eye caught a sudden flicker of light within the manor's many windows and he stopped abruptly. He turned back to the cabby, opening his mouth to call out, but the man and his carriage had already turned and were making their way back down the dark road.
Harry squared his shoulders and continued up the long walk, luggage in hand. He reached the door and set down his trunk to pull out an ancient brass key from within. The key fit into the lock easily enough and he opened the giant door with a gentle push.
The foyer was nothing like he had been expecting. From the appearance of the outside of the place, he would've thought that the inside was in the same condition; dusty, dirty, and uncared for. But it had obviously been swept and cleaned quite recently by the look of it. The antique furniture dusted and the wood shining.
Harry took out his wand and cast 'lumos' to help him find his way. He placed his heavy luggage at the bottom of the sweeping staircase and looked around for candles or light fixtures of any kind. He noticed a multitude of candelabras lining the walls and even forming a large chandelier above his head. With a flick of the wrist, he lit all of them at once.
Harry sighed in satisfaction as the entryway lit up, scaring away the dark corners and looming shadows in the unfamiliar surroundings. Harry smiled a little and bent down to drop the heavy key back into his trunk.
'Master Potter, I presume.'
Harry jumped and stopped just short of shrieking in a most undignified manner. A man in what appeared to be servants dress was standing in the doorway to the next room, the wavering flame of his candle lighting his lined face from below – creating a slightly eerie effect.
'Who are you?' Harry asked, managing to stop himself from placing a hand over his still racing heart.
'My name is Colin, sir. I am the head manservant here at Malfoy Estate. May I take your bags for you?'
Harry didn't move. 'How did you know I was coming? I was led to believe that the place would be empty this time of year.'
Colin smiled somewhat thinly. 'I was foretold of your arrival by young Master Draco. He wanted to make sure that you were properly taken care of during your stay.'
Harry immediately felt guilty. If only Draco knew the real reason he was out here. 'Oh, well…how many, er, servants will be here?' Harry asked, uncomfortably. He was never one for the posh lifestyle of being waited on hand and foot, even though his husband was quite fond of it.
'A minimum of twelve of the usual live-in staff will be here to help you, as well as a few of the groundskeepers who will be coming and going to see to the gardens and whatnot.'
'Oh…ah, thank you.' Harry swallowed, trying to think of a polite way to let Colin know that he and the rest of the staff will most likely not be needed for the duration of his stay. 'I really don't think it's necessary for you all to be here on my account,' he began.
'Master Malfoy insists on at least ten servants here atall times,' Colin interrupted smoothly, tone as cool as his gaze. 'We are happy to assist you in any way. May I lead you to the dining room, sir? You must be famished after such a long journey.'
'Er, yes, thank you.' Harry stumbled over his feet as he quickly made to follow Colin through to the adjoining parlour. He was led through a series of large rooms; beginning with a very posh-looking lounge (which Harry privately thought of as 'stuffy'), a music room – that had a slight echo due to it's size and lack of furniture – and finally on through to a remarkable looking dining room. Among other things, it housed a large and elegant oval dining table made of gleaming mahogany, with about ten chairs set around the perimeter.
It was much too large for just himself, and Harry felt a little ridiculous as Colin pulled out a chair and he found himself in the position of head of the table. It was a lonely experience to say the least, but the food more then made up for any awkwardness that he might have felt at the formality of the occasion; servants standing at his side, ready and waiting to accommodate him should he have the need.
When his plate was clean and wine glass empty, Harry wordlessly followed Colin the manservant out of the dining area. The sweeping staircase in the foyertook them up to a maze of corridors, twisting every which way across the expansive mansion. Any wall space not currently occupied by a door was decorated with gloomy portraits and lavish hanging tapestries; the colours of which had long since faded to a muted palate of earth tones.
Somewhere – Harry thought perhaps the North wing of the house – Colin stopped and gestured to a pair of black painted doors before them. Unconsciously, Harry held his breath as the man turned the handles and pushed them open. They swung inwards to reveal a large room decorated with elegance and taste, but not in the usual Malfoy style. It was beautiful but not gaudy, neither gold noroverly ornate mirrors adorned the walls here. Harry released his breath and immediately took a liking to the room.
'The toilet is through there.' Colin indicated a door on the far side of the room as he walked in and set Harry's trunk and bag down beside the bed. 'This wardrobe is empty and you may use it for any personal belongings that you wish to store. There will be clean towels every morning and tea is served at four. Is there anything else you need, Master Potter?'
'No, thank you.' Harry stood by the large bed and wondered if he was supposed to tip the man in a situation like this.
'Ring the bell if you require anything, then. Goodnight, Master Potter.' Colin's smile was forced and stiff as he gave a slight bow and exited the room.
Harry watched him leave. He did not like Colin, but the man was obviously good at his job and a loyal employee of the Malfoy family – his family. Harry yawned and stretched his arms over his head, his body still slightly sore and cramped from a day's travel in that old carriage. He headed for the en-suite and took a long, unhurried shower, washing away the grime and sweat that came about from sitting in the same clothes for hours on end. As promised, there were already fresh towels laid out on the marble vanity table beside the hand basin.
Harry wandered back into the bedroom with a towel knotted around his slim waist, his glasses hung over the edge, and his hands busily working another towel through his wet hair. He put on a warm dressing gown and flopped back onto the large, but beautiful, bed.
He was just about to drift off when he the sound of clattering hooves broke through his sleep. Harry opened his eyes, blinking sluggishly. The hoof beats came to a stop right below his window, followed by the distinctive sound of hushed voices.
Harry quickly jammed his glasses back onto his face and rushed to the window. He cautiously lifted one side of the heavy silk drapes and peered out.
He could just make out the presence of two men on the ground below. The shorter of the two was very slight in stature and was taking the reins from the other fellow. Harry was almost positive that it was Colin. The taller man however was hidden from view by an imposing black cloak and hood.
The horse whuffed impatiently and shifted on long, slender legs as the two men conversed quietly.
Harry crouched down and pressed his ear to the cold glass, desperate to hear. Unfortunately, he was too far up to make out anything clearly. Colin was speaking quite intently about something. The taller man suddenly looked up towards Harry's window.
Harry ducked out of sight, breathing very fast. After a few minutes, he sat up on his knees and peeked out from behind the drapery once more. He could only see Colin leading the dark stallion towards the stables. The mystery man was gone.
Harry bolted back to the bed and dived beneath the heavy blankets. He pulled them all the way up to his chin and tried to calm his rapid breathing.
He realized that he had made the catastrophic mistake of leaving his wand in the loo with his dirty clothes at the exact same moment that his bedroom door creaked open.
Harry inwardly cursed at the fact that he was lying there facing the window like a twat instead of towards the door. Apparently he was a little rusty in his wartime subterfuge tactics. He could only hold his breath and squeeze his eyes shut, praying that whoever it was meant him no harm and would leave quickly.
Harry let out a sigh of relief as the door closed and the soft sound of footsteps retreated down the hall. His mind was a whirl of thoughts as he flipped over onto his back and slipped his arms under his head, staring up at the ceiling.
His heart was still racing and his palms sweaty. He wondered whom the stranger was, what business he had here at the Malfoy Estate, and just why had he come up here to watch him sleep?
Harry tossed his glasses aside and closed his eyes. He vaguely wondered why he didn't just chase after the midnight visitor and demand to know who he was.
But that would take all the fun out of it, now wouldn't it? His inner voice taunted. If inner voices came with faces, his would definitely be smirking right about now. What would your life be like without the occasional good mystery and life-threatening adventure? How long has it been since the last one…?
Harry shoved the thought aside, deciding to leave it until tomorrow, and he eventually drifted off to sleep.
He did not hear the door opening again some time in the night. The feeling of soft, warm hands caressing his body, touching everywhere, he chalked up to just another one of those strange dreams that always followed with a good wank in the shower the next morning.