A/N: Thank you to all those who read, and especially to all those who reviewed - your interest in chapter 11 was greatly appreciated, and definitely prompted the swift arrival of chapter 12! As usual, please note that the HP world, and the characters who inhabit it, are (alas) not mine.

A short interlude

Three hours later, Harry found himself in the midst of one of the more... surreal... conversations he'd ever taken part in.

"Really, Kingsley, "Lucius drawled, "chocolate chip is exceedingly plebeian. You will have to come to the Manor, and at least attempt to educate your palate somewhat. One simply cannot reply 'chocolate chip' when the Bulgarian minister's wife asks about one's favourite English biscuit."

It had started out rather harmlessly. Following that awfully tense moment when Harry blurted out about the curse, and the prophecy, and then the decision all three had engaged in, Harry had felt rather wrung out. It had been Lucius who suggested a bit of a break, and a discussion of something a bit more light-hearted, at least for a while.

"And I suppose your aristocratic taste buds rebel if there isn't a different flavour of hand-rolled pure-butter biscuit available for your tea every day, Lucius? And chocolate chip is rather politically savvy, you know– shows identification with the common populace, avoids any whiff of elitism, translates well across inter-national borders..."

They had debated the Snape-as-vampire rumors (which, interestingly enough, Lucius confirmed had been around since he had been a Hogwart's student), and had pondered the strange lunacy of the headmaster and his sweets... and then they had gotten on the topic of biscuits. And politics. Or biscuits in politics – or maybe the politics of biscuits. By this point, Harry wasn't quite sure.

"But chocolate chip also indicates a lack of creativity – and no populace, Kingsley, wants a politician just like them. That hint of elitism in lavender shortbread, that air of gravitas in biscuit rose de reims, the old-money taste of cavallucci, even the authority of a good brandy snap – that feel of weighty, aristocratic history – is what they want. They want somebody to lead, but also to inflate their own egos by suggesting that this individual, who represents them all, is upper-crust, sophisticated – in short, the person they wish to be. And nobody wishes to be somebody whose favourite biscuit is chocolate chip."

In the midst of their argument – ahem, discussion – Lucius had briefly paused to call a house-elf, and now both men were illustrating their point with sample after sample of exceedingly delicious biscuits – which Harry, as apparent arbitrator, was always expected to try. That part, he didn't mind so much. (Nor, he quietly admitted to himself, did he mind the way that the animated discussion had relaxed his – oh Merlin, his soul-mates – to the point where they both lounged, cuffs undone and shirtsleeves rolled up, sniping gently at each other. It was rather... well, rather nice, truthfully.)

"Perhaps, but I think the average voter would also have something to say about a politician whose favourite biscuit are hand-shaped, imported, bittersweet fleur-de-sel macarons, Lucius. There has to be some common ground between politician and voter base, or you risk complete alienation from the general populace. And Valencia-cardamom or fig-and-cold-pressed-olive just isn't relatable – it sounds more like something my mother would keep in a small pot to lotion her hands with than an actual biscuit."

(Deep down, Harry suspected that the entire argument had been started for the express purpose of manipulating him into eating something – perhaps his earlier comment about feeling a bit woozy (since he'd been too nervous to eat much lately) hadn't been the brightest move ever, but Harry had to admit he wasn't really minding the results. Of course, the slightly manipulative care the two men were now directing at him was a little strange, but it was oddly nice at the same time; and now that both men knew about the effects of the curse, Harry was pretty sure he would be subject to a great deal more interference in his health. But, considering he got fed lots of really good biscuits – life, Harry thought, could always be much worse.)

And so Harry continued to munch on his biscuits, drink his tea, and happily bask in the moment, where there the biggest decision to be made involved shortbread versus sugar cookies, and nothing was said about war, or death, or fate and prophecy and fighting.

This was, he thought, something very, very close to absolute contentment.

Of course, eventually they did have to move on to more serious matters. After some time apart, and an excellent dinner, they reconvened at the cluster of armchairs, ready to begin again.

It was, Harry later reflected, perhaps the longest and most difficult conversation he had ever had. It had been Lucius, rather surprisingly, who insisted on absolute honesty – any one of them could refuse to answer a question, but any answers given had to be absolutely, completely honest.

For Harry, who had always loathed dissembling and being kept in the dark, it had been... a revelation. He'd learnt, rather ruefully, the asking the question meant that one also had to be prepared to deal with the answer – something, he found, rather more difficult than he had thought. Lucius, true to his word, had answered every question calmly and breathtakingly, unnervingly bluntly.

"Did you... do you regret your time as a Death Eater?"

A pause.

"Yes– but the griefs I hold, Harry, are selfish. I regret the time wasted, serving a madman who gave no loyalty in return. I regret that my past deeds cause you both uneasiness, and stand in the way,

perhaps, of this bond forming. I regret that Narcissa was killed, and I regret the costs to the Malfoy family. But do I grieve for the Muggles we tortured and killed?"

Another, longer pause, before that sharp grey gaze locked unflinchingly on the other two men.

"No. "

A year ago, Harry knew that he would have seen this as yet another piece of evidence that Lucius Malfoy was nothing but a cruel-hearted, merciless bastard. Now, though - now things weren't quite so clear, and Harry was feeling a bit adrift. They had discussed the Department of Mysteries, and briefly touched on Harry's guilt over Sirius –

"Sirius died, Harry, in the best way possible – doing something he believed in. If one must go, then there is no better way. I mourn his loss, but not the way in which that loss occurred. Grieve, Harry, but

do not let grief run your life – trust both myself and Lucius when we tell you that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that you could have done."

and his guilt over Bellatrix -

"Why, Harry, should you be ashamed for loving your godfather so fiercely that you would do everything in your power to right that wrong? If that is evil, then so be it – for I would far rather you be 'evil,'

then, than to lack that fierce love.''

and even his childhood.

"I might be an Auror, Harry, but I agree with Lucius wholeheartedly – your relatives are the most despicable sorts of... people... to ever grace this planet. They were wrong, Harry, completely, totally wrong.

And no, I don't think this simply because I don't know you well enough – no child, Harry, even if you were the young Grindlewald himself, deserves to be treated so poorly."

Interspersed with this, there had been several emotionally taxing revelations between Kingsley and Lucius -

"No. No, I don't despise you, Lucius. The things that you have done, however, are anathema to everything I have striven for, and everything I have ever worked for as an Auror, or held dear. At the same

time, I have to honor you for your courage, admire you for your loyalty, and esteem you for your strength of will. It will take time, Lucius, but I think that you and I have much to learn from one another."

and between the older men and Harry himself.

"I don't know what I can give you. For all the Boy-Who-Lived rubbish, I'm just Harry - a short-sighted, rather scrawny wizard who is somehow supposed to kill the strongest dark lord in the world. That's not

much of a gift for either one of you."

"You assume, Harry, that 'just Harry' is somehow not enough – and yet I know that Miss Granger, for one, would take umbrage with a statement like that. Personally, all I am looking for, from you, is

honesty, and a chance. Let us take this at whatever speed it might develop. For now ,when either one of you are in need of companionship, or assistance, or are feeling burdened, I only ask that you

remember that you are no longer alone – and I shall strive to do the same. I think that we three have too often been alone. "

It was Kingsley who noticed that all three of them were starting to look rather worn down once more, and, with a swift glance to Lucius, the deep discussion was shelved for the evening. All three men knew that this was just the beginning; tomorrow, Harry would be required to rejoin the general school population in time for Monday classes, and Kingsley and Lucius would need to return to their homes and occupations. There would be meetings, in the next week, to nurture this growing relationship, but beyond that many of their interactions would involve others; Lucius had proposed, and the other two had agreed, that in a week or two it would be time to introduce the potential soul-bonded trio to their nearest and dearest. There was, therefore, a trip to the Manor planned for the week-after-next, to have dinner with both Severus and Draco. Harry had planned a private lunch with just himself, Ron, and Hermione, to introduce the volatile redhead to the idea. Kingsley had mentioned something about Tonks, as his partner, and so a second group dinner had been planned to meet with Remus Lupin and Tonks, over at Grimmauld Place.

This was, therefore, the last calm before the storm occurred, and all three men silently agreed to take advantage of it.

Tea was poured, and the conversation was moved to the large couch, which was much better for casual conversation. They meandered here and there, through a multitude of inconsequential, harmless topics, often punctuated by large spaces of comfortable silence. Eventually, Harry, warm, tired and comfortable, drowsed contentedly, listening to the quiet murmur of the conversation that wound between Kingsley and Lucius. Neither of the older men said a single word when Harry drifted off between them, legs pressed, warm and solid, from hip to knee against Kingsley's. The messy black head nodded sleepily, till Lucius casually shifted so that Harry was pillowed on one of the Malfoy lord's lean, well-dressed shoulders. Kingsley stifled a small smile, and carefully didn't mention the long, aristocratic hand that plucked the glasses that were slipping down Harry's nose, folding them and sending them, with a careless wand wave, to settle on the low table. The Auror did, however, carefully summon two snifters , a decanter, and a warm blanket; he threw the blanket causally over their sleeping third before pouring two fingers of a dark, rich brandy into each snifter, handing one to Lucius before settling deeper into the cushions with a sigh.

Cradling their drinks, both men then sipped in comfortable silence, guarding the sleep of the Wizarding world's greatest hope.