Harry could have sworn it was less than an hour later when there came a rapping on the door, but since the room was quite dark, this obviously couldn't be true. Beside him, Malfoy sat bolt upright, wand in hand. Harry waved for Malfoy to put the wand away and called out for the person at the door to come in at the same time as clicking the light switch beside the bed.
It was one of the catering staff, carrying a large tray. 'Good evening, gentlemen. Mr Finch-Fletchley asked me to deliver this with his compliments and apologies for letting you sleep through dinner. He says he looked in earlier and you were sleeping so soundly, he didn't have the heart to wake you.'
'Thank you,' said Harry, as the caterer deposited the food on the bedroom table. 'If you see Justin, please let him know we'll be right down.'
Malfoy threw himself off the bed as soon as the door shut. He busied himself taking plates off the tray and uncovering them.
'Baked salmon, roast veg, steamed pud. Shall I serve?'
Harry had only just made it to fully upright. 'Go ahead. Is there any tea?'
Malfoy checked. 'No, only mineral water and wine. Oh, hang on, this one's coffee.'
'Why not? We're going to be up all night anyway.'
Harry sat at the place Malfoy had prepared and tucked into the plate of food provided. 'It's good, thank you.'
'Very little effort on my part,' Malfoy admitted. 'About tonight: I'm going to take my broom, do you have your Invisibility Cloak with you?'
'Do you think we'll need them?'
'Can't hurt. I think I'll stay in Justin's clothes, they're more practical for the forest than my Ministry set. What about you?'
Harry swallowed a roast spud as he thought. 'Yeah, same. I could probably do with my Auror boots just for the protection, but Reggie's head might explode if he sees me in them.'
Malfoy laughed, which was a shame because he had just begun to swallow a mouthful and a lengthy coughing episode ensued. After much patting on the back and passing of glasses of water, peace was restored and maintained until the end of the meal.
They had just finished getting ready when Justin appeared at the door. 'Arthur Weasley is here,' he said by way of greeting. 'Are you two ready to go?'
'No thanks to you,' said Harry. 'It's ten o'clock!'
Justin shrugged and helped himself to some of the leftover vegetables. 'And the moon will be setting in less than an hour, so you'll have perfect flying conditions. No point getting you up any earlier, you'd have just risked saying something wholly inappropriate and Reggie would have made more clumsy advances towards poor young Malfoy here.'
'Your concern for my virtue is touching. Shall we go?'
Justin led the way. The rest of the group were camped out in one of the libraries, with Jemima and Emma overseeing the liberal application of alcohol to cover over any oddities of the evening. Phoebe had already been insisting she had seen an albino stag earlier in the day, but Xan and Fan had mostly convinced her it must have been a wild pony.
Harry didn't recognise the door they used to leave the castle, but it brought them out close to the temporary paddocks. Arthur Weasley was there, scratching Milly, the old mare, between her ears. Most of the other horses were sleeping, whether naturally or thanks to Arthur, Harry couldn't say.
'Hello, boys,' said Arthur. 'Harry, I hear you have a mad plan involving a flying truck.'
'Hello, Mr Weasley. I'm afraid it's true. Malfoy says he can help, but we need your expertise.'
'Draco,' Arthur nodded, a little more formally than was strictly necessary.
'Mr Weasley,' Malfoy replied, politely. 'Shall we get to work on the horse truck while Potter and Justin go and collect the centaurs?'
Conscious they were redundant, Harry and Justin walked off into the forest to find the foals.
'They seemed a bit awkward,' said Justin.
Harry shrugged. 'Malfoy's father put Ginny Weasley in mortal peril, and then Molly Weasley killed Malfoy's aunt, so the families have an odd history.'
'Still, you two are getting along all right.'
'Well, no mortal peril as yet, which is quite good, for us.'
They waited until they were well under the tree cover before they each drew their wands and cast a Lumos. It took longer on foot, and there were a few stumbles along the way, but the foals were where they were meant to be, and soon enough they had all made it back to the edge of the forest.
Here Harry paused.
'I think,' he said, 'even though it's longer, we should skirt round the edge of the tree cover and come at the horse truck from behind, just in case anyone is looking out from the castle.'
'Is that necessary?' Justin asked. 'The caterers have all gone home, the Howards and their staff are asleep, and our lot are well on the way to being drunk on the other side of the building.'
'It's just such a clear night …'
'Do you have your Invisibility Cloak? Throw it over them.'
'Yes please!' said Domena. 'I'd love to be invisible!'
'It's not big enough to cover all of you,' Harry told her.
'These three can't walk together as closely as people can,' he added, to Justin. 'It'd probably only cover their bodies, so anyone looking out would see headless horses.'
'Sounds wicked,' whispered Allegaro.
'No,' said Bassano. 'I like the tree plan.' He trotted off in the right direction, forging a path through the undergrowth.
'You're not in charge,' Allegaro muttered, but they all followed, nonetheless.
When they broke cover at the back of the paddocks, the black horse truck was gently humming to itself and its gates were open.
'Where have you been?' Malfoy whispered from inside. 'We've been ready for ages. Come on, you three, in you go.'
The foals trotted up the ramp easily enough, but balked when they saw the padded stalls.
'You're not putting us in those as though we were dumb beasts,' Bassano protested.
'I'll be in here with you,' Malfoy assured them.
'Are you sure?' Harry asked. 'It would be more comfortable in the front.'
'I can't drive, and someone needs to keep an eye on these three. Don't be put off by the webbing, it's just to keep us all safe while the truck is being driven, like straps on a broom.'
'I don't mind,' Domena said, and trotted into a stall. 'There's loads of room.'
'Can I share with her?' Allegaro asked.
'Yes, of course. All three of you would probably fit in the one stall, in fact.'
'I'll take this one,' said Bassano. 'So they won't be crowded.'
'That's fine. Do you need anything before we go?'
'Chocolate,' said Domena, who Harry was beginning to suspect was the smartest of the trio.
'Sorry,' said Malfoy.
'I've got a slightly squashed peppermint bar in my pocket,' Justin volunteered.
Harry left them to find hand-holds and lock up the ramp and gate and went to check on Arthur Weasley, who was sitting in the driver's seat.
'Evening, Harry,' said Arthur. 'Nice night for a drive.'
'I take it you're coming along,' Harry replied with a grin.
'Wouldn't miss it. It's been years since I've had my hands on a flying vehicle …'
'I'm still sorry!'
'I know you are, son.'
Arthur leaned over and opened the passenger door, and Harry scrambled in beside him.
'Is this going to work?' Harry asked.
'Should. That young Malfoy's surprisingly good at Flying Charms.'
'Now all we need to do is avoid damaging the truck and get back before dawn.'
'Plenty of time. Stop worrying!'
Justin knocked gently on the outside of Harry's door. 'All squared away back there. Malfoy says he's going to sing to the foals to keep them quiet. He also says he has a terrible singing voice and only knows Ten Green Cauldrons, though he plans to start at a thousand, so you'd best be quick or there could be a cross-species incident.'
Harry laughed. 'We should be all right. Can you keep up the Illusion of there being a truck here until we get back?'
'I can. I'll be waiting for you. Though possibly inside with a thermos and a book.'
'Thank the girls for us.'
'Will do, safe journey!'
Arthur did not turn the lights on, but rather let the truck roll slowly down the road until it reached the border of the property. Then he picked up speed steadily, until Harry suddenly realised they had left the ground and were in the air.
'This is so much better than the Ford!' Harry exclaimed.
'No,' Arthur corrected him. 'My driving is so much better than Ron's.'
The trip passed without incident. Arthur filled Harry in on the most recent developments at the Burrow, but since he had been there the previous weekend, there was not much news. Harry gave Arthur a quick run-down of the day's events, making him laugh on several occasions.
'Hermione's right,' Harry concluded. 'Malfoy's trying really hard. Maybe people really do change.'
Arthur nodded. 'Or in his case, grow up.'
After a few minutes, honesty and the sound from the back of the truck compelled him to add, 'Aside from song choices.'
At eight-hundred and seventy-four green cauldrons, the truck made a bumpy landing near Hagrid's hut. Arthur quickly cut the engine and Harry banged on the dividing wall for the singing to stop.
Harry stepped out into the sudden quiet, which was promptly broken by a shattering snore coming from the nearby hut.
Harry opened the rear gate of the truck. 'How was the trip?'
Malfoy grinned and pointed. Domena and Allegaro had happy faces coated in chocolate and mint, while Bassano was asleep on his feet.
'It was terrific!' Domena enthused. 'I want to go flying all the time!'
'That would require an arrangement between centaurs and wizards,' said Malfoy. 'Which I am sure we could organise.'
Harry shook his head. 'Give me a hand with the ramp. We need to get these three home before you thoroughly corrupt the next generation.'
Malfoy helped lift the ramp into place. 'It's not corruption, it's forward planning. Right, you two, out. Bassano? Wake up. You're home.'
'I wasn't asleep. I was meditating.'
Bassano ignored him and trotted down the ramp.
Harry followed him down and looked towards the school. As expected, a figure in a tartan dressing gown was walking swiftly towards them with her wand drawn. He ran to meet her.
'Professor, sorry, it's me. Minor centaur emergency.'
'Harry Potter! I should have guessed. Middle of the night, flying truck, crashing and bashing. Have you got Ronald Weasley there?'
'His father. And Draco Malfoy. And three centaur foals who got lost a long way away.'
'Draco Malfoy? Goodness. The world has changed. All right. Mind you be quiet, it's a wonder you haven't woken Hagrid.'
'I don't think he can hear us over his snoring.'
'Will you be here for breakfast?'
Harry shook his head. 'Need to get the truck back to Cumbria by then, and un-enchant it.'
'Well, come and visit soon. The staff are always asking after you. There's a new Gryffindor first year who's a whizz on a broom, and she's dying to see you. Muggleborn. Though her father's a footballer, which apparently means something. I'll leave you to it.'
Malfoy had just finished securing the truck when Harry returned. 'Any problems with McGonagall?' he asked.
'She was just checking to see who we were. She's going to leave us to it.'
'We could always wake Hagrid and make it his problem,' Malfoy mused.
They listened to another deep rumbling snore, and shook their heads. There would be no waking that.
Arthur appeared beside them. 'Do you two want a hand taking this lot in? The truck will be fine by itself, if you want me to tag along.'
'Couldn't hurt,' said Malfoy.
Harry shook his head. 'If we're delayed, Justin can cover for us not being at breakfast, but not the truck. If we're not back in time, you'll have to leave without us. It'll be fine – Malfoy has a broom, or we can Apparate.'
'I'll wait until four-thirty,' said Arthur. 'Goodbye, little ones. Try not to get into any more trouble.'
The foals promised that they wouldn't, and set off into the forest behind Harry and Malfoy.
'You could just leave us here,' said Allegaro. 'We know where we are now.'
'No!' said Bassano quickly. 'We'll need them to tell our parents where we were so they know we weren't just hiding. And … and Domena's afraid of the dark.'
'I am,' Domena agreed. 'Just like you.'
Harry tried very hard to suppress a giggle, which Malfoy made easier by pinching his arm sharply.
'I'm beginning to suspect that none of you is very old,' said Malfoy.
'I'm five!' Domena declared happily.
'Six,' Allegaro confessed.
'Eight,' Bassano admitted
'I think you were tremendously brave to take care of the other two if you're only eight,' said Malfoy.
'Yes,' said Harry, getting in before he could be pinched again. 'You even pulled a bow and arrow on someone you thought was a Muggle. That was courageous. Albeit, hopelessly against the Statutes of Secrecy. But you know better now.'
'My Mummy always says you run for the trees, tossing your hair and whinnying,' said Domena. 'That way they just think they're drunk and don't say anything.'
'Your mummy is very wise,' Harry said.
'I miss her,' said Domena. 'I hope we find her soon.'
'I'm sure we will,' said Harry. 'Let's just keep walking until you foals see something that looks familiar, or we hear hooves.'
A half-hour later, they were still walking.
'You would think,' said Harry, 'that given everything is written in the stars, they should have known when and where we were going to be and shown up promptly.'
'I've never put much faith in Divination,' Malfoy replied. 'All very wet and amorphous and after the fact. Name one prophecy that ever came true.'
Harry was silent for a moment.
'Aside from you killing Voldemort. Any one.'
Harry laughed. 'Should we stop for a rest? Give them a chance to find us?'
'Yes!' said the foals in unison.
They sat down in the next clearing, which was pleasantly dry and soft.
'You three have a little nap,' said Malfoy. 'Auror Potter and I are going to come up with a brilliant plan. We'll wake you in ten minutes.'
Before he had even finished speaking, the foals were asleep.
'I hope you have a good plan,' said Harry. 'My best one is impersonating Dolores Umbridge, and I think that's more likely to get us shot than anything else.'
Malfoy shook his head. 'My best is levitating these three while they're sleeping, tying strings to their forelegs, and pulling them around behind us like balloons. They're too tired to keep going, they're only foals.'
'How did you get so good at making animals fly?' Harry asked.
'This job,' Malfoy admitted. 'Goblins are complete bastards to negotiate with, but they think a flying bunny is the greatest comedy the world has ever seen. So I bought a couple of rabbits and trained them up. The bunnies think it's fun, the goblins think I am a genius. That's how I managed to convince the board of Gringotts to listen to Shacklebolt's proposal on taxation.'
Harry had to bury his face in his arms to muffle the sound of his laughter. For a few minutes all he could manage were occasional gasps of 'Bunnies!' and 'Goblins!'
Once he had managed to pull himself back together, he forced his face into something approximating serious. 'I would have thought you'd hate the idea of taxes.'
Malfoy shrugged. 'It's worth considering. We do need infrastructure. St Mungo's can't rely on charity from the old families forever, and people who are new to money aren't always the wisest at disposing of it thoughtfully.' He paused, and looked at Harry. 'What? Stop gaping. I'm allowed to have reasonable political views!'
'Of course you are. I'm just …'
'Ah. Thank you. So, balloon centaurs or Umbridge, which is less likely to get us shot?'
Harry shook his head. 'Obviously, we unshrink your broom, and you go flying through the forest at a great rate of knots, skilfully avoiding trees, while wearing my Invisibility Cloak, so the centaurs don't mistake you for a vampire and shoot you.'
Malfoy grinned. 'You have real issues with vampires.'
'I'm not the one who goes around arresting them.'
'Beeton was only doing his job. Anyway, why am I borrowing your cloak rather than you borrowing my broom?'
'I was being nice. And safe – the middle of a forest is not the best place to try out a strange broom.'
'It's not the best place to fly a broom you know well, either. But I suppose it's that or sit here till dawn, or one of us goes in search and the other one guards the foals.'
Harry sat up suddenly. 'Malfoy, don't move. There's a spider.'
Malfoy turned his face slowly in the direction Harry was pointing. 'What, this?' He smiled at the small creature on a delicate thread of silk that had descended nearly to his shoulder. He blew gently, making the spider scurry back up the strand, collecting silk as she went.
'Sorted,' he said.
'Not quite,' said Harry. 'Duck!'
Malfoy's legs obeyed the tone in Harry's voice and threw him out of the way, just in time to avoid the Stunner Harry threw past him.
An Acromantula, roughly the size of one of the foals, was blasted backwards, screaming as it went. The foals woke in confusion, Bessano drawing his bow and arrows out as he clambered to his hooves. Malfoy rushed to them, wand drawn, and began to reassure them.
'It's all right, Auror Potter was on guard. But we should move further into the forest. That made a lot of noise, and it's likely something heard it.'
'I'm scared of spiders!' wailed Domena.
'You hold onto my tail,' Bassano told her. 'I'll make sure they don't get close to you.'
Harry checked on the Acromantula. He didn't think that he had killed it, but it was hard to be sure. Malfoy came over and took a look.
'That's disgusting,' Malfoy said. 'Thanks for not letting it eat me.'
'That's all right. You're not huge, so it probably would have come after me next, or the foals, and that would have been a worse cross-species incident than any flotation-related issues. I don't think Beeton could have managed the paperwork.'
Harry was pleased to see a smile flash across Malfoy's face. Gnashy-fanged spiders aside, this was turning out to be a reasonably enjoyable evening. 'Should we press on?'
Malfoy nodded. 'First complaint about sore hooves and I am floating the lot of them,' he warned.
'Floating?' said Domena. 'Are you going to make us fly? Oh please! It looked like so much fun!'
Harry clapped his hands. 'Come on you lot, there'll be no flying for anyone if we all get eaten.'
It was on the stroke of midnight that they met their first adult centaur. Firenze stood at a crossing in the centre of the path they were taking, head held high, as though he were listening for them on the wind.
'Well met, Harry Potter,' Firenze intoned. 'You have come to return our young, who had wandered. The stars foretold it.'
'Uncle Firenze!' cried Domena, galloping forward to barrel into his flank. 'Oh I missed everyone, and we went ever so far, and the food wasn't very nice, except for the chocolate. And there was a giant spider that was going to eat us! And we flew in a truck! And Mr Malfoy from the Ministry says that if my Mummy says it's all right, he'll put a spell on me so I can fly one day.'
'Mr Malfoy said no such thing,' said Malfoy.
Firenze hugged the foal and laughed. 'You are well. And you Bassano? Allegaro?'
'We're fine,' said Allegaro. 'Bassano protected us.'
'Allegaro helped a great deal,' said Bassano in fairness. 'And Domena wasn't very naughty.'
'I was very good,' said Domena. 'Can you please call Mummy?'
'I will call all your parents,' Firenze said, lifting a horn to his lips. He blew three deep notes, which rang through the night.
There was a moment of silence as the last note died away, then thundering hooves could be heard from every direction.
Harry grabbed Malfoy's arm and drew him close to Firenze, who stood strong and stable and much larger than either of them.
Bane was the first to arrive. 'Bassano!' he cried wildly, and grabbed the foal up in his arms and held him close. Then he put him down and gave him a sharp shake, 'Never do that again!' before holding him tightly again.
Through it all, Bassano smiled delightedly.
'Is Bassano Bane's foal?' Harry asked Firenze.
'Could you not tell the moment you saw him?' Firenze asked.
'It's been a long time since I saw Bane,' Harry admitted.
At that moment, Bane looked up. 'You!' he roared, and leapt towards Harry.
Malfoy flung himself in the way. 'Run, Potter!' he shouted.
Bane skidded to a halt and looked at them, confused.
'Why should he run?' he asked.
Malfoy mirrored the confusion. 'Because you were attacking him?'
Bane thought for a moment. 'I meant to say thank you. I feel I left out the vital word.'
Harry squirmed out from behind Malfoy. 'That's all right. It was our pleasure. The foals were very resourceful and brave.'
Bane looked down at Bassano, who was still tucked under his arm. 'Is that so?' he asked with pride.
'Mr Malfoy?' Domena trotted over with a beautiful female centaur in tow. 'This is my Mummy. Mr Malfoy promised he would do a spell to make me fly if you didn't make any complaints.'
It was a difficult moment. Bane's nostrils flared and several of the other adult centaurs looked indignant, but Domena's mother knew five year olds.
'Is that so, dear?' she asked. She looked up with a smile. 'And does Mr Malfoy know how to make beasts fly?'
'He does, actually,' said Harry. 'Quite well.'
'Excellent,' said Domena's mother. 'In that case, we will have a lengthy discussion on the matter at a more opportune time. My name is Reman, you should come and speak with me next week.'
'Draco Malfoy,' said Malfoy. 'From the Centaur Liaison Office.'
There was another pause. This time, Bane broke it with raucous laughter.
He clapped Malfoy on the shoulder and told him that his mind was admirably convoluted, while Domena insisted that Malfoy should sort things out with her mummy now.
Allegaro waited silently off to one side with two golden palomino centaurs. When he caught Harry and Malfoy's eyes he pointed at them and mouthed they were his parents.
'Come,' declared Firenze. 'Celebrate with us!'
Harry's conscience gave a twinge. 'Arthur is waiting back at the truck …'
Malfoy pulled a face. 'Surely we can manage a few minutes …'
An hour later, a laden broom more or less flew above the treeline back towards the horse truck.
'I told you not to drink that second glass,' Harry yelled in Malfoy's ear. 'Centaurs weigh ten times as much as you do.'
Malfoy turned his head to reply. 'It was protocol! They were so pleased to find out that the Centaur Liaison was important enough to warrant the head of the department.'
'You're just gloating because you finally had a centaur ask a favour from Creatures!'
'Absolutely! Ow! No need to hold on so tightly!'
'Missed it by miles. Stop panicking. Is that mistletoe on your boot?'
'I think it's elm, you didn't completely miss that one. And stop whining, I'm hardly holding on at all. The last time we were both on a broom you nearly broke my ribs.'
'We were being pursued by deadly magical fire. It was clearly different. Besides, you were really skinny, there wasn't much to hold onto.'
'I had been out starving in the woods!' Harry protested.
'All the more reason to accept centaur hospitality! Making up for your years of privation!'
'That doesn't make sense!'
'Shush, I'm about to land. Don't distract me!'
The landing was actually more successful than most of the flying had been, though it was also loud enough to wake Arthur Weasley, who had been sleeping in the truck.
'I was just starting to worry,' he said, opening his door and climbing down. 'Did you get them all home safely?'
'We did!' said Harry. 'But then Malfoy decided we should have drink with the centaurs and then things were less focussed than they could have been.'
Arthur took a closer look at them. 'Oh dear … The mud and twigs, I understand, but Harry, there's an owlet in your hair. Set it free. There's a good lad. It's big enough to fly home. Right. Stand still, the both of you. Scourgify! That should be enough to keep the truck clean. As for your heads …' He shook his own head at them, though he was clearly stifling a laugh.
'My apologies in advance, this is going to hurt a bit. Sobrium rapidus.'
Harry and Malfoy both dropped to their knees, heads in hands and groaning.
'Give it a minute,' said Arthur, soothingly. 'It will pass before you know it. There you go. Do you need a hand getting up?'
Harry staggered to his feet, then helped haul Malfoy to his. 'Where did you learn that?' he asked Arthur.
'Your father,' Arthur admitted. 'He and Sirius invented it back in the Seventies. It was necessary; your mother made him promise not to go out on the town after they got married.'
Harry wasn't sure whether to be proud or horrified, but was certain he would work it all out by the time his ears stopped ringing.
'Come along, into the truck. We can all fit in the front this trip. If we shake a leg we can all get back to our respective beds in time for a few hours' sleep before dawn.'
In fact, Harry and Malfoy were asleep with their heads together about two minutes after Arthur swung the truck into the air. Harry woke only as they bumped back onto the Cumbrian road that led to Naworth Castle. Malfoy opened his eyes, failed to focus, and closed them again.
'Sorry,' Harry whispered. 'I was planning on keeping you company on the drive. That sobering spell's punishing!'
'It is,' Arthur agreed. 'Sirius used to laugh, because he could go home and crash out, while your dad had to pretend he was completely fine until your mother thought it was an appropriate time for them to go to sleep.'
Harry smiled. 'I like hearing about them. Even the disreputable stuff.' He looked down at the head on his shoulder. 'May as well leave him there until we park.'
'The two of you looked very sweet,' Arthur teased him. 'If it wasn't for the fact you spent your formative years trying to kill each other, I would be charmed and convinced you were a delightful pair.'
'He's all right,' said Harry. 'Quite good in a corner. He was fun to work with today, and I've accidentally let his department score an enormous political coup, but I think Kingsley will be fine with it.'
Arthur nodded. 'And you? You're good with it?'
'Sure. Hermione wants Malfoy to succeed, and I suppose I do, too. He's … he's thoroughly decent.'
'I'm spectacular,' Malfoy murmured into Harry's lapel. 'And brilliant. You said I was brilliant earlier.'
'I said your idea was brilliant, it's not quite the same.'
'Totally the same.'
Arthur smiled at them, and quietly reversed the truck into its space.
Justin was halfway to them by the time Harry opened his door. 'How was it? Did it all go to plan?'
'More or less,' said Harry. 'Thanks to Arthur, and some quick thinking from Malfoy, combined with my genius for giant spider stunning.'
'Do I want to know?'
'Excellent. Arthur, all fine with you?'
'Surprisingly easy. This is a good truck, far less eccentric than the old Anglia! It's almost a shame to take the spell off it, we've managed about two-hundred-and-fifty miles in a bit over two hours, and using no petrol. I sometimes wonder if, given the climate crisis, it wouldn't be worth sacrificing secrecy for … well, shouldn't say such things in front of you, should I, Harry?'
Harry pretended he hadn't heard.
Arthur grinned. 'Though if I applied for a research grant …'
'Do I need to clean the truck out?' Justin asked.
'The foals were very careful,' Malfoy said with a yawn. 'The only rubbish was a peppermint-bar wrapper, and that's in my pocket. I'll clean your jacket before I give it back to you.'
'Brilliant! Could not have asked for better! You two look done-in, though.'
'There was a lot of walking,' Harry explained. 'And then some fleeing, and then some drinking. All in all this has been quite a big day for one I was planning to spend at my desk.'
'I understand,' said Justin. 'You two may as well go off to bed, and stay for breakfast in the morning. And thanks, Mr Weasley, it was wonderful of you to come up on such short notice.'
'Not at all. Anything for Harry – and I don't mind helping out the Ministry's better plans. I've got a question, though. How did the foals get here in the first place? I mean, it's a hell of a distance, even if they ran the whole way – from what I can work out they'd only been gone a few days. And it's quite the coincidence that you were here, Justin.'
'Isn't it!' said Justin cheerfully. 'Very lucky. I don't suppose we'll ever know.'
Malfoy shook his head. 'We'll know eventually. I'm going to launch an investigation when I go up to talk to Reman.'
Justin frowned. 'I'm not sure it's worthwhile spending Ministry funds on something so unlikely to succeed.'
Harry frowned, too, and looked at Arthur, who was once again trying hard not to laugh.
'You might be right,' said Arthur. 'I'm going to see Kingsley about funding research into efficient Muggle vehicles on Monday. Want to come with me and plead the case?'
'I would love to!' said Justin.
'I'll owl you. Good night, lads. Get inside before you fall asleep out here.'
Harry nodded, and followed Malfoy off towards the castle. Happily, Malfoy seemed to remember where their room was, and how to get there.
Halfway up the tower stairs they ran into a figure in a flowing white gown.
'Ghost,' Malfoy muttered from the lead.
'Where?' the figure squeaked.
'Oh, sorry, Phoebe, I thought you were, actually.'
'No, it's just me, off down to the kitchens for a snack. You two?'
'Coming back from the same mission,' said Harry. 'We slept through dinner.'
'I did see the ghost,' Phoebe confided as they passed each other. 'And I saw a spectral stag this afternoon, too, bounding out of the forest.'
'Probably just an albino,' Harry said quickly. 'I hear they're enormous good luck to spot.'
'Yes, they portend weddings,' Draco called back down the stairs.
Harry waited until they were inside their room until he smacked Malfoy. 'That poor girl – what if her boyfriend dumps her?'
'She'll get another one, it'll be fine.'
Malfoy sat on a chair and pulled his boots off. 'I'm so tired, I could sleep here,' he declared.
Harry kicked off his own boots, swiftly followed by his jacket and trousers. 'More bed for me,' he said, sending his shirt after the other items and crawling under the sheets.
Malfoy stood up and undressed. 'You're a wretched soul, didn't even throw me a pillow.'
'I never believed for an instant you would stay there long enough to require one.'
'Fair enough. Lights?'
Harry flicked the switch off, and felt Malfoy climb into the bed beside him.
'It was Justin, wasn't it?' Malfoy asked.
'I think so.'
'You really have no idea?'
Harry could feel Malfoy shrug against the sheets. 'No, he doesn't gain anything by it, and it's just been a lot of work for him. I've come out of the day ahead, but he has no reason to wish me well.'
Harry was pleased to learn he was not the most oblivious person of his acquaintance.
'You can't see any other motivation behind him bringing us here.'
Harry reached out and poked Malfoy in the arm. 'Here.'
'Oh.' Malfoy moved suddenly to the far side of the sheets. 'Oh! That's … Where did he get that idea from? You're not Wood!'
'Probably from me,' Harry admitted. 'Sorry I'm not Wood.'
Malfoy crept back a little towards the centre. 'From you?'
'I was trying to stop you sleeping with Wood,' Harry confessed. 'I think I was jealous.'
'Were you?' Malfoy's voice sounded bright. 'That's quite pleasing.' He crept back toward Harry a little further. 'Truth be told, I'm not particularly upset you're not Wood.'
Harry grinned into the darkness. 'Shame Justin sent us off on an exhausting wild horse chase rather than just locking us in a room.'
'Don't be ridiculous, we'd have hexed each other.'
'And now?' Harry asked hopefully.
'I cannot tell you how tempted I am to make jokes about consonants, but I live in fear you'd not get it, and then our tentative rapport would be shattered.'
It did take Harry a moment.
'Except I'm far too tired,' said Malfoy, running a hand through Harry's hair in apology.
'Me, too,' Harry confessed, rolling over so his arm crossed Malfoy's chest. 'But in the morning, it's the weekend.'
'Does this mean I drop the investigation against Justin?' Malfoy asked.
'Whether he's fool enough to send anyone to get us up for breakfast.'
Malfoy sat up and reached over to the small table on his side of the bed. He whispered a low series of syllables, then lay back down.
'Locking charm,' Malfoy said, arranging himself beneath Harry's arm again. 'You'll need to master that until Pansy stops trying to kill you in your sleep.'
Harry laughed. 'I'm lucky, Hermione's quite fond of you, which means Ron has to be, too.'
'We can holiday with your friends,' Malfoy joined in the joke. 'Hang on.'
Harry felt a hand softly sweep across his face. 'What is it?' he asked.
'If you slept in your glasses, I was going to have to call a halt before things went any further.'
The hand had not been withdrawn, and Harry felt fingers trace his lips, and then a gentle kiss press to them.
'We can lummox together,' Malfoy whispered.
Harry wasn't sure if Malfoy was speaking more slowly due to falling asleep, or if his own ears were hearing more slowly because he was. But he did hear the end of the sentence.
'It will start a trend – it will be bigger than flying rabbits.'