You shouldn't have done that, you know.
Harry sighed and did his best to concentrate on Lily. She'd been staying with him the last few weeks, and she had demanded a lot of attention, as the only possible compensation for her brothers getting to go off to Hogwarts whilst she had to stay home. Right now she was chasing a paper bird that Harry had enchanted for her through the kitchen, her eyes fixed on its wings as if she could see the spell powering it.
But Lily was involved in her own giggling and jumping and the tiny efforts with her practice wand that didn't hurt the bird at all, and so there was nothing to distract Harry from his own punishing thoughts. Hermione-thoughts, he called them. Sometime during the Auror training process and their struggle to free the house-elves after that, her conscience had got into his head. And now it interrupted him at the most inconvenient times. It affected his work as an Auror, too. Sometimes he actually had to see a Dark wizard fire off a curse before he would consider them guilty.
You could have been gentler on him.
Harry growled under his breath. The sound was loud enough to make Lily turn and look at him in surprise. "What's the matter, Daddy? " she asked.
Harry made the bird dip down so that its wings brushed her hair. Lily smiled, but kept on looking at him, and he had to give her some answer. "I'm thinking about work," he said. "That always makes me grumpy."
Lily accepted that, since she knew it was true, and then stood still and began to fire spell after ineffective spell at the bird. Harry listened to her with a smile. Lily was going through the phase that all young children did, when they believed that wanting to perform a spell badly enough would result in its happening and make up for any pronunciation mistakes. She had yet to learn the phrase that Kingsley was fondest of repeating, "Magic is 1% inspiration and 99% incantation."
And Malfoy's got to learn that, too, if these spells are going to go successfully. The process that Greengrass's notes described was insanely complex, so much so that Harry couldn't really say he understood even now, but one thing was clear: the emotions guided the incantations of the spells as they guided the brewing of the potion and the success of the ritual. And during the spells, Malfoy had to be filled with affection, calmness, and trust.
He'll never make it. Not with the way he treats his son.
But did I have the right to explode at him? When I just lied to Lily, and I haven't always done well at raising my own children?
Harry folded his arms behind his head and thought about it for a moment. But the picture of Malfoy's face was overlaid in seconds by the picture of Scorpius's face as he looked at his father, and by the remembrance of the letters Al had written him from Hogwarts, full of indignation and sympathy over his new friend.
He's afraid of his Dad!!!! Al had written in the latest one, underlining the word "Dad" for emphasis even with all the exclamation marks. I can't imagine being afraid of you. But Scorpius always worries that he'll do something wrong and then his Dad won't want him anymore. His Dad used to read him stories of pure-blood children who had to be abandoned because they didn't please their families. Why would you do that? Scorpius's Dad is a bastard. And then Al had made an obvious, but feeble, effort to scratch out the word "bastard" and substitute "idiot" in its place. Harry's children always had been too honest for their own good; it hadn't been a taste for lying that had got Al Sorted into Slytherin.
Harry felt his mouth settle into a grim line. After what he had seen today, the way Malfoy had looked when considering the notes, as if they were a blessing from heaven despite all their dangers, he thought fear was a common Malfoy family problem.
But Scorpius was only a child. Malfoy ought to grow up and stop making his son's life hell.
I'm glad I yelled at him. At least he looked stunned after I did that, as if it had never happened before. Maybe it'll give him something to think about, and he'll be clearer-minded and less of an idiot when he needs to start brewing the potion and such.
"Daddy, Daddy, look! "
Harry jerked his head up, startled. Lily had managed to singe one of the bird's wings with an Incendio, and now it flapped in ragged circles. Harry smiled and held out his arms, and Lily ran over and hugged him.
Scorpius deserves just as much love, Harry thought, as he held his daughter. And Malfoy better provide it for him. I'll get it for Scorpius if it involves pinning the stubborn bastard's head to the ground and sitting on his neck.
How long had it been since he brewed Veritaserum? Two years? Twelve?
Draco truly could not remember, and that, combined with the way his hands shook as he dropped in the final ingredients and how many times he had to pause and look up the recipe, told him it had been too long, no matter the length of months.
He had started doing this soon after the war: regularly brewing a small batch of Veritaserum, giving it to himself, and then speaking the answers to his own questions aloud in a private place, before a mirror, so that he could watch his facial expressions. It was the best way he knew to get at the truth of how he felt and at the same time avoid exposing his vulnerabilities to the people around him. He had asked himself with Veritaserum if he really wanted to marry Astoria instead of waiting for some less cool and collected pure-blood girl, someone who would let him dominate her, and he had done the same thing when he wondered how committed he really was to maintaining the Malfoy legacy. Both times, the answers had been clear and sharp and soothing.
But now, he wondered how in the world he was going to phrase the question, and he faced the mirror in dread as he placed the three drops on his tongue.
His face was pale, of course, but there were burning spots of color on his cheekbones. They had looked like that since the day before, when he had come home after Potter scolded him and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror.
He affected me. He shouldn't have been able to do that. I'm going to show him that I don't really need to listen to him.
And in the end, he didn't have to worry about phrasing. Veritaserum was a crude tool, if a sure one. He should go with crude questions.
"Do I love Scorpius?" he asked.
At once, the answer came bubbling and dancing up his throat and flung itself eagerly out from between his teeth. "Yes."
All right. One question answered the way I wanted it answered. Draco slowed his breathing and studied his expression. The spots of color had faded a little, he thought, but the grey eyes were still too wide and solemn, as if Draco had just watched his father die.
Too much honesty in thoughts, thank you. Draco had never spoken aloud about his grief for his father, and he was not about to start now. "Do I love him enough to go through with this ritual, the potion-brewing and all the rest of it, and do as I have to do for it to work?" he asked.
"Yes." No hesitation.
Draco relaxed. There was really no other question he wanted to ask. He had proved to himself, if not to Potter, that he did love his son and had never meant to cause him fear. And his own confidence was what he most needed. As long as he had the comfort of sure answers, he could confront Potter calmly.
But then-then another question seized him. His shoulders hunched, and his face became so pale that he looked on the verge of fainting. And then he asked the question, courage or stupidity acting like a lash. He had not been so stupid since the war, but there it was, and perhaps the fear of not knowing this answer was greater than the fear of hearing it.
"What do I love more, the Malfoy legacy or Scorpius? My father's memory or my son?"
There was a long moment when the answer rose like a bird, and Draco couldn't tell what it was or what he wanted it to be, and the silence swung and wavered like a pendulum.
"Scorpius. My son."
And Draco dropped to his knees and put his clammy hands over his burning face and knelt there, in that moment of truth and unexpectedly shattered perfection, and the silence swung and swung, and lasted.
Harry hesitated for long moments at the door to Malfoy Manor. Then he lifted his hand, grumbling under his breath the entire time, and knocked.
The letter in his robe pocket crinkled when he moved. It was from Al, and he said that he was worried about Scorpius. As time passed and they got closer to casting the spells and enacting the ritual-because, after all, Malfoy had said that he would need only a week or so to brew the potion-Scorpius became more and more upset and frightened. Al thought he was reconsidering the decision he'd made to go through with the ritual, but didn't want to say so to his father.
I'll have to persuade him, somehow, Harry thought, as he stared out over the extensive gardens surrounding the Manor and waited for someone to answer his knock. I don't know what I'll say, but he has to give in to his concern for Scorpius. Doesn't he? He has to realize that his son is more important than a bunch of magical artifacts that are probably Dark and should have been turned over to the Ministry anyway.
Harry's lip curled a little when he realized the gardens he was staring at were all perfectly square, with the exact same kinds of flowers planted around them in unvarying patterns. Maybe not, not if he is so chained that change itself is frightening. He planned to do this, and he'll probably argue that that's a reason to go through with it.
The door opened. Harry turned and said, "Tell your master-" Then he stopped, blinking. He hadn't expected Malfoy himself to appear.
"I'm master here," Malfoy said, and then leaned a shoulder against the doorway and closed his eyes. Harry watched him closely. He looked more like Scorpius than Harry had seem him look so far, and he knew the reason for it. Malfoy, too, looked drained, lost and frightened, as if he'd been running on too little sleep.
Good. Maybe now he'll understand what Scorpius feels.
Then Harry winced. He didn't want to wish anything evil on Malfoy, not really. He'd had enough bad things happen to him, thanks to the war. His father's end hadn't been easy, either, and since they had started this policy of regular contact, Harry had heard about his divorce, how it came out of the blue. Malfoy didn't need more trouble, especially when that would give him a reason to pity himself and not think about Scorpius.
"I came to ask you to be master of yourself in a different way," Harry said, and took Al's letter out of his pocket. "Scorpius doesn't want to do this. He's terrified. He doesn't think he can trust you enough for the ritual to take place." That was exactly what Al had said to him, and the words that Harry had determined to speak to Malfoy, because he thought they were the ones that might convince the git. But somehow, they sounded weak and pitiable in the face of Malfoy's continuing silence.
Malfoy opened his eyes. They didn't have the haunted look in them that Harry had expected, but they had been drained of-something. Some spark, some light that had made them flare and leap when Harry confronted Malfoy in the Astronomy classroom at Hogwarts.
"Will you come in and travel around my house with me?" Malfoy asked simply. "This is something you need to see before you can understand the response I'll make."
Harry snorted, a little uneasy at the words Malfoy used. "Travel." As if his house is another country. "I don't see what-"
"You're free to refuse," Malfoy interrupted. "And I know that you came into this mostly for Scorpius's sake, and not for mine. But I'd like you to see this."
Harry clenched his hands together behind him. He didn't know why he was battling this so hard.
Oh, wait. Yes, I do. Because he made life hard for Scorpius, and he doesn't deserve to just get his way.
"What about your wife?" he asked. "She seemed so intent on joining the research at first, but I haven't heard anything from her. What does she think about the potion, the spells, and the ritual?"
"She's against it," Malfoy said. "She thinks that Scorpius ought to live his own life. And I can see the appeal of that answer." He paused. "But I need you to understand why I was pushing so hard for Scorpius to choose something else."
Harry waited a few moments longer, staring into his face. Malfoy betrayed no sign of impatience. In fact, he looked as if he could stand there for days, or at least as if he had uneasy Aurors trying to make up their minds on his doorstep every day of the week.
In the end, Harry had to nod and step forwards. He had come into this case mostly for Scorpius, but he couldn't hate Malfoy. He pitied him instead.
And I can call this a gift of pity.
Potter started out with hard eyes and dismissive glances, as if he thought that Lucius's ghost was still lingering in the shadowed corners of the rooms and he could banish it that way. Draco had expected this. But he still wanted to show Potter the ideal to which he had devoted his life for nineteen years and which he had thought Scorpius would follow him in loving.
It was not worth sacrificing his son to, no. But it was beautiful, and he would not call it ugly because he could not serve it.
He showed Potter, in silence, the Malfoy family tapestry that hung on the wall of the largest drawing room. It bore all the descendents, the aunts and uncles who had died without issue, and the straight line of the last few generations of only children. The Malfoys, unlike the Blacks, did not burn blood traitors off their tapestry. They were Malfoys still, and worthy to have their names embroidered in glowing pale thread, the most perfect compromise between gold and silver that Draco knew.
Potter shifted his shoulders when he saw it. But his eyes lingered, and Draco had to call him twice to show him other things.
He showed Potter the sword that one of his ancestors, Caius Malfoy, had used to defend his home back in the fifteenth century, and had tempered by plunging into the heart's blood of his wife. Perfectly brilliant, a slender spear of ice-colored steel that shone with magic, it could not be used for evil. Potter studied it with wide eyes, and shuddered a little when he heard the legend.
He showed Potter, his head half-bowed, the memorial that Narcissa had reared to her brother-in-law Ted Tonks and her niece Nymphadora, both of them victims of the war. It stood in a sunny room that lay just off the gardens, a slender plinth of marble with their names carved on it and a phoenix rising at the very top. The Latin on the back side of the plinth spoke of glory, of light, of mourning that Narcissa had never known them.
He showed Potter what no one who was not a Malfoy had ever seen, their collection of blood artifacts-the ones that would respond to the hand of a true heir alone, the ones that Scorpius had gone through the Gringotts ceremony to inherit. A drum that would summon the bodies of the newly dead and transform them into Inferi. A small turquoise bowl, twined about with flowing strands of emerald like the tendrils of a living plant, that would turn the Manor into an island surrounded with impassable water. A pair of bronze scales that could weigh truth and falsehood. A Death Swan's feather, the only one of its kind left in the world; one clipping from it would provide the world's most potent poison or an antidote to any poison, as the cutter desired.
He shut the last door with a soft sigh and leaned his back against it, feeling as if he had spat out water that had been drowning him for a generation.
Then he opened his eyes and looked at Potter.
Harry told himself that, no matter what one of Hermione's favorite poets said, beauty was not truth and truth was not beauty, and therefore he had no right to be as affected as he was by the things that Malfoy showed him. They were beautiful, but they weren't right.
But they shone brightly enough that Harry could see how they would convince Malfoy they were.
He looked at the other man, because what he had seen was so far outside his experience that he had no idea how to react; he thought Malfoy might give him a cue. And then he saw that the grey eyes were calm, the gaze soft and steady, the head slightly cocked, as if Malfoy wondered how Harry had taken all this.
He has a right to wonder that, after the risk he took in showing me. Of course, Harry would have a hard time explaining what he was doing in the Manor even if he wanted to arrest Malfoy for the illegal possession of Dark artifacts, but he could have made up some lie that would have convinced the Ministry, and Malfoy had to know it.
He rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand and finally spoke. "I understand. I wouldn't easily give up a chance for my children to inherit-that-either." And he probably understood better than Malfoy could guess, since he'd never had much that was his own to pass on to his children. Money and a map and a cloak, but not a house. Not a home. Not treasures that had been carefully hoarded from generation to generation. Not a family tree, even. Harry still knew more about his parents from the Black family tapestry than from any research he had done on his own, because so many of the Potter relatives were dead, either of old age or killed in the first war against Voldemort.
So he could see, without being greedy to possess what he looked at; and he could understand, without approving.
It was an odd position to be in, but he thought Malfoy might understand him back, from the strange way his mouth crooked.
"If Scorpius really doesn't want to go through with this," Malfoy said quietly, "then I won't force him to. But I want to speak with him alone, and make sure that this is really what he wants, not just what he's afraid of." He shook his head. "No matter what you may think of me at the moment, Potter, my relationship with my son is more complicated than my just trying to force him to do what I want."
"It doesn't look like it," Harry muttered, a little resentful about the death of his illusions.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "Really? Even though you would expect Scorpius to be a complete coward if all he cared about was obeying me? Even though I should have crushed his spirit completely and replaced his will with mine if I was such a tyrant?" He sighed, a sound that, Harry thought, concealed a half-laugh. "Face it, Potter, I couldn't do that even if I wanted to. I've always been bad at tyranny of any kind."
Later, looking back on things, Harry identified that moment as the one when he began to change his mind about Malfoy. The great git had a sense of humor about himself.
In Harry's world, no one who could laugh at himself was all bad.
Scorpius came walking out onto the Quidditch pitch with his fists clenched so tightly that Draco could see the whiteness around his knuckles from a good distance away. He sighed to himself and wiped his eyes with one hand. He had done the best he could, arranging to meet Scorpius in the open so he wouldn't feel so cooped and confined as he might in the classroom, and he had promised to keep quiet most of the time and let Scorpius speak the most words. He intended to hold that promise.
Until he saw his son, he hadn't been sure that Scorpius would keep his part of the bargain and come without Albus Potter. But he had. Draco didn't truly dislike Potter's son, but he did think that he would cause an unnecessary complication right now. Scorpius was the one who had to make the decision, rather than his friend's making it for him and telling him what to do.
He has to be independent. Strong. Decisive.
Marching towards him, Scorpius looked like all those things, and it occurred to Draco that there was more than one way of being a Malfoy.
"What do you want, Father?" Scorpius's voice was still scrupulously polite on the surface, but with an undertone of fire that Draco had never heard before. Hogwarts, or the company of his friend, was good for him.
"I want to know if you really want to go through with the ritual and the potion and the spells," Draco said simply, "or if you only said yes because you thought that was what I wanted."
Scorpius opened his mouth, then closed it and shot Draco a suspicious look. "Yeah," he said. "That's what you want to know. And then you're going to scold me if I don't make the right choice."
"The only 'right' choice is the one that stresses you the least." Draco held his eyes and didn't let him look away. They had got through eleven years together avoiding the worst conflicts; Draco had dictated and Scorpius had obeyed, or pretended to obey, not really granting allegiance to the principles Draco talked about in his heart. That had to stop now. They had to understand each other. "I've done too much of the stressing, put too much pressure on you. I'm sorry."
Scorpius stared at him, then swallowed. All at once, his words emerged in a rush. "I thought if I didn't go through with this, you would say that I wasn't your real son because I didn't have your blood."
Draco shook his head. He wanted to hug his son, but he'd never been that kind of man, and he doubted Scorpius would believe it if he tried to turn into one now. He settled for reaching out and lightly laying his hand on Scorpius's shoulder.
"No," he said. "Your mother explained it to me. Yes, the spell resembles a blood transfusion, but it didn't move your blood into someone I never met, someone who would be my son in a way you aren't. It affected my own blood. And hers, too. It ensured that we would never have a child who was, exactly, ours. But, Scorpius, we raised you and taught you and loved you. You are our child in every way that matters."
"You didn't say that when you were talking about Malfoy traditions and how much you wished I would fulfill them." Scorpius's eyes were enormous, and his hands were shaking a little, as if he wanted to believe Draco but didn't quite dare. He seemed to notice their trembling in the same moment Draco did, and put them safely behind his back.
"I know," Draco said. "But I've thought about it, and I asked myself questions-" no need, yet, for Scorpius to realize how literally true that was "-and I know that I love you more than the Malfoy traditions. It was a surprise to me, but I do."
Scorpius licked his lips, wavered, but looked ready to accept the absolute belief in Draco's voice. "Then what happens if we can't find any other cure and I can't ever inherit the Malfoy artifacts?" he asked at last.
"We'll try different ways," Draco said. "I would still like to pass the Manor on to you, because it's your home, and the other artifacts, because they're beautiful. But we'll take a less dangerous route, and I won't be upset or die cursing you if we can't find a way."
Scorpius stepped close to him and hugged him. It was so sudden that Draco froze, but luckily he managed to get his arms around Scorpius in return before he could get nervous and move away. The hug didn't last long, but the fact that it happened at all was the wondrous thing. Draco couldn't remember Scorpius hugging him since he was three years old and Draco had begun to tell him how undignified embraces were.
"Thank you," Scorpius said. "I-that's a lot better. I wasn't looking forwards to that." His face shone with relief.
I did force him into this. He was afraid. Draco gripped his son a little tighter, though Scorpius squirmed uncomfortably and seemed to want to step away. Potter was right. I'll be better if I can. I have to.
I want to.
Harry wasn't really sure why he kept looking up the Malfoys.
The case was solved and done, as far as he was concerned. They hadn't had a chance to use the Grimoire of Haunted Blood. Malfoy had decided not to force his son through the ritual, and Scorpius, Al told Harry, had seemed a lot happier since then. He had really done all he could, and maybe more than he should, when he'd gone after Malfoy in the Astronomy classroom like that. That should have been the end of it.
But it wasn't. Maybe he had too many tales of Scorpius from Al to listen to, which reminded him Malfoys could be human, too. Maybe he'd heard one too many sly digs from Ginny about how he showed more passion towards Malfoy than he'd ever shown for her. Maybe there was the fact that Malfoy had looked calm, and beautiful, and accepting, that day he showed Harry around his house, and when Harry fell hard, it tended to be for men who were doing the right thing.
Be that as it may, he sent Malfoy an owl or two some weeks after the matter had been handled to Scorpius's and Al's satisfaction. Or perhaps three owls. Each time he praised Malfoy for what he'd done in regards to his son, reassured him of the fact that the Ministry had no idea about their family's involvement with the Grimoire, and then asked what he was doing.
Malfoy finally answered the third owl. Harry thought he could smell the faint bewilderment arising from the penned words as Malfoy admitted that he didn't have any business meetings this weekend, and so he could accept Harry's invitation for a drink in the Leaky Cauldron. If Harry really wanted, of course. If he wasn't too busy himself. If he wanted to be seen in public with a former Death Eater. There were more qualifiers in the letter than agreeing words.
Harry was grinning as he shot back another letter accepting the acceptance before Malfoy could come up with some excuse to back out. From various ways that Malfoy had behaved around him, he wagered Malfoy had never dated another bloke.
Time to convince him that it's an option.
This was a bit of fun, Harry told himself as he ran a comb through his hair-unsuccessfully, as usual-later that evening. If it never went anywhere, well, that was fine. Harry could always use another friend.
But if it could. . .
The image of Malfoy's face after he shut the door on the room full of artifacts came to Harry again, beautiful as an icon.
If it could, I'd be stupid not to pursue the chance.
Draco blinked as he walked into the Leaky Cauldron. He could see Potter immediately-not because he'd taken a central table, but because he'd chosen one that faced the door, and was evidently watching for Draco. He raised his drink to him in a toast at once.
And the way Potter watched him made something gather together in a tight ball in Draco's groin.
Frowning, a little baffled, he ordered a drink from Tom and made his way over. Potter actually stood up and drew his chair out. Draco halted and blinked.
"Why did you do that?" he demanded.
"You deserve a little courtesy now and then." Potter's gaze was unwavering, bright. He looked as if he were a predator stalking prey, Draco thought. His uneasiness increased, but so did that tight pull in his belly. "And God knows I showed you precious little of it in the last few months."
Draco ended up nodding and sitting down stiffly, after which Potter pushed his chair back in. Too many people were watching, he told himself. Refusing would make him look stupid and would convince the public that he wanted to revive his old feud with Potter.
But he knew the real reason.
He was being courted. It had happened when women angled to catch him seven years or so after the war, just before he had married Astoria. By then, the taint of his name had faded enough, with Lucius's death, for them to find his money alluring.
But a man. . .
And as he felt Potter's fingers brush lightly across the back of his neck, toying with his hair, and his skin grew taut and hot beneath the touch, he thought he might know why Astoria had divorced him.
Potter began to talk to him. It seemed to Draco later that the conversation was little more than bubbles that burst and floated away inside his mind, leaving nothing of substance there. But they glittered at the time, and called attention to themselves, and made Draco laugh. He reckoned that everyone needed an evening now and then where they weren't entirely serious.
And then somehow it was several hours later, and Potter was escorting him to the threshold of the Manor. Draco paused with one hand on the door itself, heart pounding furiously, wondering if Potter would expect to be invited inside. Yes, it had happened once before, but that was for a special occasion, and they still weren't on a first-name basis.
Instead, Potter lifted one hand to him, nodded amiably, and then trotted back down the gravel path to get beyond the anti-Apparition wards.
Draco shook his head and shut the door behind himself. He didn't know why he felt-well, slightly disappointed. His own reactions made no sense to him sometimes.
"They didn't deserve to lose. They were playing fine until halfway through the game!" Ron waved his mug above his head, butterbeer slopping over the side and into his face.
Harry arched an eyebrow. "Halfway?" Even for themselves, the Chudley Cannons had played a spectacularly bad game.
"Well, through the first quarter of the match," Ron admitted. Then he took another drink and thought about it, his face gradually growing gloomier and gloomier. Harry stifled a laugh. "Maybe the first ten minutes," Ron said. Harry shook his head gravely. "Five minutes? One?"
"They were losing from the beginning, Weasley, you should know that."
Harry could feel the tension in the pub alter as Malfoy's voice echoed through it. The people here were Ron's friends and Harry's, men and a few women they usually saw only after a game. Because they saw them so little, they would usually talk over the game until dawn and mention all the ways that the team could have played better without once being truly angry. Outsiders weren't welcome.
Especially not outsiders that some of them would recognize as having had a Dark Mark on their arms during the war, Harry thought, but he was already standing and moving forwards. Malfoy leaned against the doorway, in the most casual pose Harry had ever seen him use. Of course, he also knew, as though someone had told him, that that was done solely because of all the tension in the room.
"Welcome," he said, loud enough to catch the attention of people who had been staring into their butterbeer or Firewhisky or stronger concoctions, as if that would somehow change the past and make the Cannons winners. "I didn't know that you knew where this pub was." That was about the politest way he could think of to ask what Malfoy was doing there.
"I knew enough to find the way to it." Malfoy was bristling, though to anyone else's eyes it might not have looked like it. But Harry had seen more of him than he thought most people except his ex-wife and his son had, and he knew what the sudden stiffness in his shoulders meant, and the slightly jerky way he raised an eyebrow. "I didn't know enough to realize it was private."
But before he could turn around again and leave, Harry snorted, rolled his eyes, and said, "Private? Not bloody likely." He leaned towards Malfoy and confessed in a loud whisper, "Here, the only criterion is whether you like the Cannons. They'd let in a mountain troll as long as he'd cheer for Breaker and Woodsmith."
Malfoy stared at him for a moment too long, and then gave a tiny smile and stepped into the room. Meanwhile, some of the people who didn't want a confrontation were turning back to their drinks. They were grateful that Harry had given them an out, Harry knew.
Ron was too busy staring to object at first. And then he was too drunk to be really offensive when Malfoy sat down at their table and he pointed and said, "Harry, that's Malfoy."
"Yes, well spotted," Harry said dryly. "Was it the blond hair or the pale pointy face that gave him away?" Malfoy choked beside him, but Harry thought it was on a laugh and not on a noise of indignation. At least, he hoped so. All he needed was to try and soothe two highly angry people at the same time.
"But what's he doing here?" Ron stared back and forth between the two of them, even sticking his face in Malfoy's as if he assumed that he was wearing a glamour that would fade on close approach.
Malfoy tensed up again, but once more Harry cut in. Malfoy had made a sacrifice, of a kind, by coming here in the first place, and admitting that he wanted Harry's company enough to face rejection. The least Harry could do was smooth over his entrance. "Because he's a Cannons fan like the rest of us. Though I suspect his allegiance is rather new." He cast a glance at Malfoy to tell him that he'd better go along with the lie.
"I don't see how you can say that, Potter." Malfoy sniffed and cocked his head to the side, as if he thought that somehow made him more attractive. Harry was more than a little miffed to admit he was right. "The Cannons have attracted my attention ever since I saw a game between them and the Falmouth Falcons when I was ten."
That placated Ron in a different way. "The game where Seeker Thomas fell off his broom twice running?" he asked.
"Oh, yes," said Malfoy, nodding solemnly. Harry had to bite his lip to hold back a laugh. Both the expression Malfoy wore and his ambiguous initial words seemed to pass muster with Ron, but then, Ron was a bit drunk right now.
"Glory days, glory days." Ron raised his mug in toast to Malfoy, which Harry wished he had a camera to take a picture of. At least he could put it into a Pensieve memory later. "They almost scored ten points that time!"
And then Ron and Malfoy started talking about Quidditch, and Harry sat back and reveled in the totally unexpected feeling of having two parts of his life come together without smashing each other to fragments.
Potter was, Draco suspected, a bit drunk.
They were walking slowly away from the pub where the Cannons fans met, on a dark street touched only by the light of stars. Draco felt more than he saw the flakes of fast, fleet snow falling. He pulled the hood of his cloak over his face and cast a Warming Charm.
Potter, the great idiot, was staring up into the snow instead, and his smile was wide and simple and silly. He extended a hand as if he would collect the flakes of snow to take home, never mind that they melted the moment they touched the heat of his palm.
"I wanted to ask you something," Draco said. He had come to the pub with the original intention of asking the question and leaving, but once he saw Potter sitting among his friends, he had decided to force a confrontation. He wouldn't let Potter date him in secret and conceal the fact from everyone he knew as well as the newspapers, whom Draco could agree didn't deserve to know anything about it.
Potter stiffened and tilted a too-keen glance sideways at him. Honestly, Draco thought, exasperated for no real reason. He doesn't have to be an Auror on duty all the time. "And that was the only reason you came after me tonight?"
Draco wondered for a moment what he should reply. The problem was, he thought, rubbing his face, that Potter was likely to be dissatisfied both with the real answer and with a lack of honesty. Draco knew how to read people like his parents, who were devoted to the ideals of pure-blood families. He didn't know how to read someone like Potter.
But he had already taken a risk by coming here tonight, and if sitting around in a pub for two hours discussing the Chudley Cannons with Weasley, of all people, didn't argue that he was willing to take more, he didn't know what was.
"I came to ask you a question," he admitted. "But I followed you into that pub and sat with you because I wanted to."
Potter spun around to face him. Draco started back, thinking Potter must have seen someone creeping in to attack, but instead Potter took his hand and leaned forwards to look intently into his face.
"Good," Potter whispered.
Then Potter let his breath rake across Draco's cheek and held his lips an inch away from Draco's, increasing his tension until his heart made his body vibrate. And then he moved away and continued walking casually down the street.
Draco stood quite still for a few minutes before moving after him. Bloody tease, he wanted to mutter, but he wouldn't add any more satisfaction to Potter's sideways glance, which he knew was just waiting for something like that.
"So what did you want to ask me?" Potter prompted, when Draco had begun to think they would walk the rest of the way down the street to the Apparition point in silence. Potter's pub was right on the border between Muggle and wizarding London, and it was best to get out of sight of the Muggles as much as possible before Apparating.
"It's about Scorpius," Draco whispered, and looked to the side, because he couldn't watch Potter's face whilst he asked. "Communicating with him is getting harder instead of easier. I'm trying to acknowledge that he's right to fear the ritual and that we don't need to do it, and that I value him for more than his blood. But he's getting more aggressive. His last letter was a long rant about how I need to step away and let him live his own life, when I'm trying to do exactly that. He forgot paragraphs, even."
"You get paragraphs?" Potter asked, with a tone of amazement. "I'm lucky if Al and James remember to put spaces between words."
Draco was able to turn around then, because he had a glare armed and ready. "If you're going to make fun of me, Potter-"
"No, no." Potter shook his head, his grin fading. "I just need time to think, and your worry over paragraphs let me laugh."
Draco wanted to say that every Malfoy born was trained to write correctly before being sent to school, but for all he knew, Potter was likely to say that was another instance of Draco's encouraging Scorpius to be too Malfoy for his own good. But Potter walked with his head bowed now, the corners of his lips flexing as if he were mouthing words, and Draco thought it best to keep silent.
At last, Potter said, in a temperate voice that didn't at all fit with the inane words he was spouting, "Have you ever heard the saying 'Magic is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent incantation?'"
"Have you ever heard the saying 'there's a time and a charm for everything?'" Draco retorted, acidly, stepping away from him. "If you think that a proverb that was stale with Merlin's death is going to help me-"
"No, no." Potter looked up at him, and his eyes were intense. Draco was a little unused to getting intense looks from Potter that weren't hostile, so he hushed and let himself be spoken to. "I'm not just giving you the saying and nothing else. But it's something I've been thinking about for a few years now, with Al especially. Al's a good kid, but he cost me more effort to raise than Lily and James, because he's more complicated than they are. I'd do something that worked with them, and with him it was still wrong. It just got him upset with me. But then, Al was fine when I got a divorce from Ginny, where James shouted and stormed and Lily shut herself in her room and wouldn't come out for days.
"There's magic in everything, Draco. That's something Hermione told me once. She means that other things are as special and as strong as magic, of course, but I think it has some literal meanings for us. We're wizards. Magic gets into everything, whether we want it to or not." For a moment, there was a smile on his voice, though there was none on his face.
"And we have to take the sayings about magic seriously when we raise our children in a magic-rich world. It would be nice to have a spell that takes care of everything complicated about children. But instead, just like spells don't get invented that often, we have ninety-nine percent incantation-effort, study, learning, mispronouncing the words. Saying the wrong thing." He turned towards Draco and put his hand on his arm. Draco could have told him that he didn't need the touch to make sure Draco was paying attention, but his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth with surprise.
"I think Scorpius is testing you right now," Potter said softly, "pushing to see how much he can get away with. He'll always be waiting for you to snap that he's gone too far and try to put him back in his place. So you just have to keep up the patience and the understanding-which is harder than anger.
"But I don't know that. I do know that you've made an effort to treat him like an adult most of his life, however. Why not do it now? Explain to him that you're puzzled and that you'd like to know why he's so angry, and what you can do to make it right. He might tell you the truth, and he might demand a new Firebolt or something equally ridiculous, and he might not answer at all, but at least he'll know what you feel."
Then Potter coughed and dropped his hand away, as if embarrassed by the fact that he'd touched Draco when he didn't mean to tease him. "At least, that's my suggestion," he finished lamely.
It might not be the right one, Draco thought. But it's better than the interpretation I would have expected him to put on that proverb, so it doesn't waste my time.
Draco leaned forwards and cupped a hand under Potter's chin, turning his face to the side so he could kiss his right cheek. Potter started and shivered, and Draco hoped the kiss caused him one half the shivers that it did for him.
"Thank you," he murmured, and Apparated. He didn't think he wanted to stay there one more moment, for fear of ruining all the incantation that Potter had just put in.
"Why are you asking about this now?" Harry didn't know why Ron had chosen a moment when he was busy with a late report to ask about Malfoy's showing up at their pub. He had been content to let it go for a week, and he might have let it go for an hour more, Harry thought irritably, putting his finger in the file he was consulting and glaring at Ron.
"I didn't think that much about it at the time," Ron said.
"I wonder why," Harry said.
Ron flushed-for some reason, even though he repeated the performance with every match the Cannons played, he was always embarrassed to be reminded that he got drunk-and then cleared his throat and went on doggedly. "But why was he there, mate? Even if he's really a Cannons fan-" Ron said that as if it weren't possible for someone to be a Cannons fan who wasn't born that way "-he didn't have to come celebrate in our pub."
Harry let out his breath as a little sigh of air, holding Ron's eyes. There were all sorts of answers he could give, but only a few that would be true to what he hoped to build with Draco. And he had made a habit in the past five years of never lying to his friends. If he had, then he would probably still be married to Ginny and sneaking in his liaisons with men on the side.
"No," Harry said. "He came to find me. I helped him with a problem his family had, which concerned his son." Ron nodded a little, probably building up his own equally plausible story in his mind; he knew that Scorpius and Al were friends. Harry was glad, because the one part of the story he was not about to tell was Malfoy's and Scorpius's private business. "And since then, we've seen each other, and talked, and-" He shrugged a little, helplessly. "I'm dating him."
Ron stared at him. As some moments went by, Harry grew concerned and waved a hand in front of his glazed eyes just to make sure that Ron could still see. That at least made Ron shake his head and snap out of it.
"All right," Ron said. "All right. I want to come up with a new rule right now."
Harry stared at him warily. He was breathing hard, and Harry didn't really like the look on his face, although he couldn't say he disliked it either; it was not Ron's "I'm-going-to-hex-you" expression, which meant it was an improvement on the way Harry had thought he would react.
"In the world out there" Ron said, stabbing a finger towards the windows, "you can date Draco Malfoy." He sounded only a little like he was strangling on a large cat. "But in here," and he pointed at the floor of the office, "is the world where you don't. We won't discuss it, we won't disagree about it, and if you ever come in with a love bite on your neck or something like that, then you'll cover it up decently before I see it. Understand?"
"Yes, Ron," Harry said gravely. "I understand."
Ron nodded back and marched out of the room, his head held high. Harry shut the door, cast a few discreet Silencing Charms on it, and then leaned back in his chair and laughed himself sick.
Draco smiled. Scorpius never used to call him that, at least not past the time he was five and had learned better from Draco's disapproving stares. He was using it now as a means of defiance, Draco thought, probably encouraged by his friend Albus Potter. He had strutted through the front door, too, and stood looking at Draco with over-bright eyes now, as if he wanted to say that the Christmas holidays at Malfoy Manor had better be informal, or else.
"Scorpius," he said, and held out his hand for his son to shake. Scorpius shook it, peeking about the room from the corner of his eye, as though he thought Draco had set up a trap to administer the punishment he wouldn't give Scorpius himself. Draco felt a small surge of sadness that Scorpius would distrust him this much, but he had caused most of that himself. "I'm glad you're home."
Scorpius waited. Draco arched an eyebrow, and finally Scorpius shook his head and trotted into the small sitting room to welcome Astoria, who was staying with them until Boxing Day.
Potter had been right. Scorpius needed some room to rebel, and the moment he figured out that Draco wouldn't punish him for just expressing his opinion and not having his hair in perfect order, he would probably calm down. He already sounded calmer in his letters since Draco had just replied to him mildly and never snapped.
Draco had already told Astoria, when she first arrived, that he understood now why she'd divorced him. She'd put a hand on his shoulder and smiled at him with more friendliness than she'd shown in years.
"I wondered when you would see it," she said. "But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that it was Potter who showed you the way. You've always paid more attention to him than anyone I can think of."
And now, Draco thought, dropping his head back against the doorway, I'm free to think about him all I like. That's rather-pleasant.
And he wouldn't be true to the ideals he still honored if he didn't take advantage of that freedom and pleasure, would he?
Harry blinked and stumbled towards the front door when the knock on it was repeated for the twentieth time. His head pounded, and he stopped on the way there to lean against the wall and lament his life. He always told himself that he was going to resist his and George's annual tradition to hold a drinking contest on Christmas evening, after all the kids had been put to bed, and he always failed. But at least his friends should have known better than to come knocking on Boxing Day morning.
"Ron, I'm going to murder you," he warned as he opened the door.
"I feel more fortunate than usual not to be Weasley, then." Malfoy straightened up-he'd been leaning on the doorway the way he'd leaned on the doorway of the pub-and raised his eyebrow at Harry. "A fine reward for my patience. Though, I must say, I can take another." His eyes swept appreciatively over Harry's body.
Harry flushed. Al, James, and Lily always wanted to stay at the Burrow for Molly's Boxing Day breakfast, but Harry and George's tradition meant Harry spent the night alone at home and probably wouldn't be up until noon. Since his children weren't here, he had felt free to wander about in his pants. And of course he hadn't changed when he came to the front door; Ron had long since seen him in worse conditions.
"Erm, sorry," Harry said.
"Did I sound offended?" Malfoy's voice was so low that Harry had difficulty hearing it through the throb of the hangover. "Besides, I have a gift for you, and I'm sure you know how insistent I can be when I want something. Put on some clothes, pity though it is. You'll need them."
Harry blamed it on the hangover, but he obediently went to put on clothes without thinking about the fact that Malfoy was going to take him somewhere strange or feeling bad that he hadn't got a gift for Malfoy in return. And then he came out the front door and let Malfoy press his wand to his temple as though they'd never been enemies. Malfoy whispered something, and Harry's headache was gone.
"What-" he started.
"Charm that my father developed," Malfoy said briskly. "But Professor Snape made him promise never to teach it to anyone else. The professor made a good portion of his money selling hangover cures on the sly, you know."
Harry gaped at him. Malfoy looked serenely back. Whatever change in his soul his words indicated, they hadn't managed to ruffle his outward demeanor. "I want you fully aware and able to appreciate what I'm going to show you," he said. "Shall we go?"
Gazing into his eyes, Harry thought he was seeing the stronger side of the man who had shown him the Malfoy artifacts in the Manor.
And he couldn't distrust that man.
He held out his arm. "Let's go."
The Side-Along Apparition took a moment only, and then Harry was squinting through a dazzling storm of light. He thought for a moment they had arrived right in the middle of a snowstorm.
No, he realized, slowly, a few minutes later. It was snow, all right, but it all lay on the ground before them-and above-and to the sides. They were standing on the slope of a truly magnificent, steep hill, with other hills rising and falling all about them in jagged curves and gentle humps both. Snow refracted the light, scintillated in it, and tossed it aside like Lucius Malfoy tossing Galleons. Harry did shiver a bit until he remembered to cast a Warming Charm, but it was hard to remember when he'd last seen something more beautiful.
"Where is this?" he whispered.
"A piece of land that the rest of Britain has forgotten exists," Malfoy said calmly, his voice also soft and in perfect tune with the land around them. "My family preserved it, at one time, as a private refuge in case our name lost so much prestige that we had to retreat from general society. But my father didn't use it that way, and neither did I. Here is, simply, perfection, and a retreat from the noise and pollution of the Muggle world instead of our fellow wizards." He turned and waved his wand. Harry looked over his shoulder.
He thought his heart would stop when something giant and blue floated towards them, but a moment later, he realized it wasn't really a dragon. Instead, it was a dragon's wing, scalloped along the edges and fringed with the claws. It looked as perfect as if it had that moment been cut off the living body. Guiding it with his wand, Malfoy settled it flat on the snow in front of them, and then climbed over the edge of the wing, to sit in its bowl, as if he did this sort of thing every day.
He looked back at Harry with a glint of challenge in his eye, but his voice was still exquisitely polite. "Coming?"
Harry swallowed several times and looked down the slope of the hill. He couldn't tell how jagged or steep it might be, under all that snow.
He could hear Malfoy's sneer in his voice, though he wasn't looking at him. "Scared, Potter?"
And there was the echo of the twelve-year-old's voice in speaking it, there was the echo of all they had been and were, but Harry was thinking of what they were going to become, so he smiled, said, "We aren't as young as we were, after all," and then sat down on the wing behind Malfoy and clasped his arms around the other man's waist.
Malfoy sat quite still for a moment, as if he really had expected some other response from Harry and didn't know what to do now. But then he shook his head and cast a spell that set off a small explosion in the snow behind the wing, propelling them forwards like the release of an anchor.
The wing slid swiftly and smoothly, the edge flapping up and down as if it bore them through the air. Harry still found himself swearing and clutching at Malfoy, though. The wing didn't even have the rope handles on the sled that Harry had bought Lily last year, and if one of them flew off and into those claws. . .
But he was only swearing when he wasn't laughing madly, the particles of flying ice and snow stinging his throat.
Up and down and up and down they went. The surface of the hill beneath the snow seemed to be made of many smaller hills, their sides more or less round, but Harry and Malfoy still leaped into the air more than once, and then came back down on some other little hump or hillock that once again threw them high. And then they hit what had to be a huge rock, and flew.
The wing spread perfectly once they were in the air, whiffling with a noise like a tossed ball. Harry thought he felt its surface parting company with his arse, and yelped indignantly even as he grabbed at Malfoy.
"Relax," Malfoy yelled over his shoulder. "It's only snow."
Harry barely had time to register the words before the wing, which had begun to whirl the longer they traveled, fell away completely. Harry yelped again before he realized they were just a few feet from the ground. He'd had far worse falls in Quidditch.
They collapsed into the snow together. Harry smashed his face into a drift and had to let go of Malfoy to search for his glasses. Even the Warming Charm couldn't prevent him from shivering as flakes tumbled through his fingers, and he recast it as he sat up, shoved his glasses onto his face, cast another spell to clean them, and stared at Malfoy.
Malfoy grinned back at him. His cheeks were flushed with the cold, his hair mussed and tumbled in every direction until it looked more like pale straw than Harry had ever seen it. His hands were shaking as he cast a Warming Charm on himself.
But his eyes couldn't quite meet Harry's, and as Harry watched, he swallowed, a bob of his Adam's apple that told Harry what the real problem was.
Not cold but nervousness.
How hard must this have been for him? He took me to a secret place that belongs to his family, and then he sledded with me in a way that he must have known would make him lose his dignity. It's one thing to relax a little around his son, but to do it for me-
We've been friends for months and he's still cautious.
And then Harry figured it out, and reached out for Draco's hand, sliding his fingers between the shaking ones, smoothing them up to his shoulder, and latching them into the disheveled hair.
Idiot. He's trying to say that he's ready to go beyond friends. He couldn't have sent a much clearer signal, other than speaking the words-and that would be harder for him still.
When Draco had already gone to so much effort, Harry thought it would be churlish of him to misread the signals.
"Thank you," he said, voice low, and then showed Draco in what sense he meant those words.
Draco gasped as Harry's tongue slid over his lips, tracing the lower one thoughtfully. Draco expected a similar amount of attention to the upper one, but he should have remembered that Harry was never symmetrical if there was no compelling reason to be. He shoved his tongue into Draco's mouth like a rude guest intruding into a dinner party and making it all about him.
But the sweetness and warmth he brought along with him, which stung more than the snow working its way down Draco's neck in some ways, was not something Draco would ever expect of an unwelcome guest.
Harry hauled him and pushed him at the same time, in a complicated gesture that ended up with both of them kneeling in the snow, face to face, kissing like awkward teenagers. But Draco had gained some experience in reading people since Hogwarts, and he'd gained a few Harry-specific instincts in the last month. He knew this was Harry's way of repaying him for the trust he'd shown so far, letting them kiss exactly alike, rather than shoving him back into the snow and taking control.
At the same time, the tight grip of his arm around Draco's shoulders said he could do that, if he wanted to.
Draco put an arm in the same place around Harry's shoulders and dragged him more firmly into the kiss. Harry sighed into his mouth and finally drew back, grinning at him with eyes brighter than the snow.
"You're a much better father to Scorpius now than you were," he said thoughtfully, and Draco stared at him, because no one he knew would say it that bluntly. "Think you're ready to be a better lover as well?"
Draco knotted his free hand into Harry's hair and yanked. "Astoria never had any complaints," he said.
"But I'm not Astoria," Harry said, and made a gesture at his crotch. "There's this little matter of different genitals."
Draco snorted with laughter and dropped his head forwards until it rested against Harry's shoulder. No, Harry wasn't the fastidious partner he'd dreamed of, but then, Draco'd had a hard lesson in the last few months of how little perfection gained him.
On the other hand, there was no need to give up all standards.
"I think," he said with great care, "that we'll both do all right."