Harry Potter was out mustering cattle in the East Creek pastures when Draco Malfoy rode into Godric's Hollow Station, so he missed the excitement it caused. The first he knew was when he noticed a small cloud of dust on the horizon, which quickly resolved itself into a horseman, riding as if Dark Voldemort himself were on his tail.
Frowning, Harry turned towards him and urged his own horse into a canter, one hand reflexively checking his gun was in place. As soon as he was in hearing range, the man hailed him.
"Harry!" he called, continuing his gallop until he had reached Harry then sitting back in the saddle and coming to an abrupt and ungraceful stop. Harry also halted.
"You've got to get back to the station, mate – you'll never believe who's turned up," the man said, still breathless from his wild ride. It was Ron Weasley, Harry's close friend and right hand man. Tall, red haired and cocky, he was prone to impulsive acts, and Harry suspected that this was going to prove to be one of them.
"Unless it's the King of England or Fleur Delacour, I doubt it's going to be as exciting as you make it out to be," Harry said dryly. Ron laughed. Fleur was widely considered to be the most beautiful woman in the West, and Ron had dreamed of meeting her since he was old enough to have that sort of dream.
"You think if Fleur Delacour had arrived in Godric's Hollow I'd be out here fetching you?" he joked. "No, no one quite that exciting, but still someone you need to see."
Despite himself, Harry nodded. "Well, you've got me curious. I don't suppose you want to stay here and move these cows for me?"
Ron shook his head firmly. "Not a chance, mate."
"Ah, well. I suppose they'll have to wait until tomorrow." Harry kicked his horse into a canter, and Ron followed suit. They rode side by side across the bare plains towards the station.
After a while, Harry said, "If this turns out to be Mayor Fudge, I'm going to toss you down the well."
Ron only smiled.
It was an hour or so's ride back to the homestead, and as always Harry felt a surge of warmth as they rode over the rise and it came into view. His family had owned this land for four generations, and Harry had been running the station since his father's death about ten years ago, when Harry was little more than a boy. At first the men had doubted him, but he had soon proved his worth. This station was now one of the most prosperous to be found within two days ride.
Harry was twenty six now, a tanned, whip cord man who could ride anything on four legs and outshoot many a sherrif, but this was still the place where Harry's heart resided. This was his home.
Usually the station was silent and deserted at this time of day, the only movement to be seen flies and wind-blown dust. Not today. Today it seemed that every man, woman and child who could talk their way out of work had gathered around the old homestead. The men and women were standing around chattering, and children swung on the poles of the porch.
Unconsciously, Harry had slowed as he observed this unusual scene. Frowning, he turned to look at Ron, who raised an eyebrow at him.
"Well?" Ron asked insolently.
Shaking his head, Harry sped up again. Perhaps Ron was right for once. This was something he needed to see.
Harry rode right up to the gathering before swinging off his horse and throwing the reins to Ron. There was a stir as people noticed his arrival, moving out of his way with guilty expressions. Harry stood, hands on his hips, and surveyed those gathered. Most of them wouldn't meet his eyes.
Hermione, as always, was the exception. She was Ron's wife, a slim, brown haired woman whose calm face belied a ferocious mind. She ran the day to day business of the station with an iron hand. Catching Harry's eyes, she pointed to her left.
Following her finger, Harry noticed a tight knot of men and women, none of whom had noticed his arrival yet. He strode towards them, people moving hurriedly out of his way. As he approached the knot, he heard a well-educated, condescending voice.
"- terribly expensive," it was saying, "but then everyone there is terribly wealthy. Landowner, merchants – you know. Not your sort of landowner, of course. No station owner there would ever dream of mustering cattle himself. Or of making an important guest wait around outside like this," the voice said meaningfully. "I do hope this isn't a reflection of the way this station is run."
"Well, I'll let you decide that for yourself," Harry said, and the knot of people suddenly unravelled, most backing away warily. By coincidence, Harry's eyes caught Seamus Finnigan's, and Harry scowled. Seamus was a good man, and he ought to know better.
"And who might you be?" the man snapped, looking him up and down with a distasteful sneer. Harry returned the favour. His uninvited guest was a blond, aristocratic looking man, wearing riding clothes that looked as expensive as any Harry had ever worn.
"Harry Potter. This is my land." The blond man opened his mouth to reply, but Harry cut him off, saying coolly, "And if you want any hospitality from me you'll change your tone."
The man closed his mouth and gave Harry a second measuring look with slate grey eyes, then inclined his head with a dangerous smile.
"Draco Malfoy," he purred and extended his hand. Harry blinked, but took it and shook firmly.
"The banker's son? I thought you'd run off to make your fortune killing Indians?" Harry asked, shoving his hands in his pockets. Malfoy gave him a charming and insincere smile.
"My, how news does travel," Malfoy smiled at Harry in a way that was meant to be disconcerting. "Yes, I made my fortune. Sadly, I discovered that what I really enjoy is the, well, the thrill of the chase, to use a cliché."
Harry didn't know what a cliché was, but he knew what Malfoy meant. His eyes sharpened.
"Bounty hunter," he said, and it was not a question.
Malfoy inclined his head again in confirmation. "And on the hunt now."
"And I suppose you want to stay here."
"Well, yes, that generally is considered polite," Malfoy drawled.
Harry grimaced, then nodded curtly. "Very well. Hermione!" he called. She hurried over from where she had been not-so-subtly eavesdropping. "Would you mind giving Malfoy house room?"
Hermione looked Malfoy up and down appraisingly. "Of course not, Harry."
"Well, then," Harry said with false cheer, stepping aside. Malfoy took the hint, and allowed Hermione to direct him towards her and Ron's house, but Hermione held back before following.
"Should I cancel tonight's party?" she asked Harry quietly.
"No, just keep an eye on him. And encourage him to move on if you can. I don't want killers on my station," Harry replied. Hermione nodded sharply, then hurried after Malfoy. She was perfectly capable of knocking him out with a beer bottle if he made any trouble.
"Well? Was I right to fetch you?" a voice said from behind Harry. Without turning, Harry knew that it was Ron.
"I suppose," Harry said with a grin. "For once." Ron chuckled.
"I'll try not to gloat too much," he said, then Harry heard him move away. After a moment Harry heard him shouting.
"Oi! What are you lazy sods doing standing around like you've nothing better to do?" Harry grinned, and swung up onto the porch. There was no point in returning to the cattle for the few hours left in the day, and anyway, he wanted to keep an eye on this Malfoy. A bounty hunter in Godric's Hollow? This was going to lead to nothing but trouble.