Author's Note: Written as a gift for dirty_darella for hd_holidays on livejournal in 2009.
Rose Weasley was usually a sweet, even-tempered child. At the age of two and a half, she was well beyond the maturity level typical for her age. Harry believed it was genetics, since her mother had been the brightest witch of her age. Rose could usually be found reading, which frankly made Harry uneasy. Should two year olds be able to read? Hermione, of course, was ridiculously proud of her little girl. Ron was as astounded as Harry.
When Rose was not reading, she liked to paint. No finger-painting for this little girl, however. She preferred acrylics to oils and would only use certain brushes. She was quite adamant about it. Hermione and Ron gave her whatever she wanted. Rose also liked to listen to classical music, much to Ron's chagrin.
"Why can't she listen to normal music?" he'd complain every time Tchaikovsky would blare from his daughter's room. Hermione would shush him and glance fondly up the stairs.
So when Harry went to the Weasley household on Thursday evening for dinner, like he did every week, he was frankly shocked to hear the unmistakable sounds of a child's temper-tantrum. He'd never, in the two and a half years of Rose's life, ever heard her scream.
Pulling his cloak tighter about himself, he hurried down the walkway to the front door of the pretty white house that was situated in the middle of a Wizarding suburb. Fat, wet snowflakes were falling from a gunmetal grey sky and melting before they had a chance to stick to the ground. Harry knocked out of habit on the blue door but he'd barely tapped twice before the door was swung open by a harried-looking Hermione.
"Harry, thank Merlin," Hermione said in relief, reaching out and grabbing Harry's sleeve. Her curly brown hair was bushier than normal and her deep brown eyes looked a tad wild.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked. "Is Rose alright?"
"Having the tantrum of the century," Hermione said, her voice lowered. "She saw a dog at the coffee shop this afternoon that she fell madly in love with on sight, of course."
"Of course," Harry replied with a wry grin. He pulled off his cloak and Gryffindor scarf and hung them on the coat rack by the door. The scent of stew permeated the air and made Harry's mouth water. Hermione's cooking had definitely improved since they'd nearly starved on charred fish and puny mushrooms in the woods chasing Horcruxes ten years earlier.
Harry loved Hermione and Ron's house. While he didn't understand their desire to live in a neighborhood, surrounded by people, he liked the house itself. It was just the right size for a small family; two stories with two bedrooms on the upper floor. Next to the front door was a cozy living room with plush furniture and a huge fireplace, perfect for floo travel. Many times Harry had fallen asleep on the cushy brown couch with a tassled pillow under his head. Ron called Hermione's décor 'fussy'. Hermione called Ron 'annoying'.
"The dog had to be the size of a bloody pony and the owner, seeing my daughter's deep love, offered to let her ride him, and Ron let her," Hermione continued, looking murderous. "So she got to ride Henry, that's the dog's name, and then wanted to keep him. She understood, after we explained, that he belonged to someone else. Then she started pestering us for one of her own. When we repeatedly said no, this started."
As if to emphasize Hermione's point, Rose let out a wail of glass-shattering proportions. Harry winced.
"I've told Ron that he spoils Rose too much," Hermione muttered, keeping her voice low. "He gives her everything her little heart desires. I knew it would backfire eventually."
Harry decided it would be prudent to remain silent. Hermione thought Ron spoiled Rose too much, Ron thought Hermione spoiled Rose too much. The truth was that the child was just spoiled.
"Weren't you talking about getting a dog anyway?" Harry asked, glancing up the stairs.
"Well, yes, but not right this very moment!" Hermione replied. "We're leaving Saturday for that blasted family get-together in France-"
"Ah yes, the Weasley Family Reunion," Harry said dryly.
"Oh, don't pretend as if you're offended you weren't invited," Hermione hissed. "I know you think you dodged a bullet!"
"I did dodge a bullet on that one," Harry said with a laugh. "You couldn't pay me to be there."
Another scream came from upstairs and Harry and Hermione winced.
"Do you think you could talk to her?" Hermione whispered. "She adores you, you know, and if you calmed her down…"
"What do you want me to say?"
"Just that a dog is impossible right now and we'd think about it when we returned from the…holiday," she said the word with a sneer.
Harry laughed. "Alright, I'll try. But I'm not promising anything."
"That's fine," Hermione said hurriedly. She went to the bottom of the staircase and called out, "Rosie! Harry's here!"
The loud sobs halted for a moment. There were several light thumps as Rose ran to the stairs and hurried down them. Harry saw a blur of fiery curls before a small, compact body collided with his knees.
"H-H-Harry!" Rose sobbed. "Mummy and Daddy don't love me anymore!"
Hermione rolled her eyes and stalked to the kitchen while Ron came down the stairs. Like Hermione, he appeared out of sorts. His hair was standing on end and his eyes looked a little crazed. Biting back a smirk, Harry reached down and picked up the wailing two year old. She buried her face in his neck, but not before he saw her red eyes and streaming nose.
"Ah Rosie, calm down and talk to me," Harry said soothingly. Ron ran a hand through his ruined hair and shrugged helplessly.
"Drink?" he offered. He looked like he needed one, so Harry nodded.
"Sure," Harry replied. "Let's head to the kitchen, okay princess?"
Rose didn't reply. She simply wailed into his shirt. For some odd, mystical reason, Harry was Rose's favorite person on the planet. Every week she had her 'Harry Day' and would spend Saturdays at Harry's flat, giving Ron and Hermione the day to themselves. As such, Harry secretly thought of Rose as partly his. He was sure that Rose would agree.
Stepping through the living and into the cozy kitchen, Harry patted Rose's back reassuringly and murmured nonsense into her ear. He seated himself at the sunny kitchen table and held her in his lap. Hermione was at the counter, stirring the stew with a little bit more force than necessary. Ron was seated across from him and staring at Rose helplessly.
"Okay, Rosie, what's this about?" Harry asked gently. She sat back and her blue eyes looked pitifully into his.
Most of what came out of her mouth next was gibberish. Rose, usually so articulate, seemed to have forgotten how to make full sentences. Harry caught several words like, 'goggie' and 'pretty' and 'want' and 'unfair'.
Interrupting her tirade, Harry said, "You saw the pretty doggie and now you want one of your own? Is that it?"
"Yes," she huffed. "Mummy said we could get a goggie and now she won't!"
Harry shook his head at Hermione warningly. The last thing he needed was for Rose to start screaming again. Hermione huffed, much like her daughter, and went back to attacking the stew. Some splashed onto the counter.
"Well princess, you're about to leave on your holiday," Harry said reasonably. "You can't take the doggie with you."
"Yes we can!" she said, brightening at the idea. Ron groaned and dropped his head onto the table.
"I can just imagine how my mother would take to us bringing a dog to France," he said, his voice muffled by the table.
"What if you waited until you got back from your trip?" Harry asked. "You'll only be gone for two weeks. You're a big enough girl that you can wait that long, right?"
Rose opened her mouth, no doubt about to deny it, but then she stopped. Her red eyebrows furrowed as she thought hard. Harry could practically see the little wheels in her head turning. On one hand, she wanted the dog now. On the other, she wanted to be a big girl. Harry bit back a smile.
"I suppose I could wait," she said slowly.
"That's very mature of you," Harry replied sagely. Rose beamed at the compliment.
Tantrum apparently over, Harry looked up and smiled at Hermione, who sighed explosively and started to put some stew into bowls. Ron chugged the rest of his drink, stood up and planted a kiss on Rose's curly-haired head.
"You'd get me a doggie, wouldn't you Harry?" Rose asked, reaching up to play with Harry's wayward hair.
"Princess, I'd get you doggies and rainbows and unicorns," he replied with a cocky grin. "All in one day."
She giggled brightly and hugged him tight.
"Don't even start, Harry," Hermione warned. "She'll hold you to it."
"But I'm not lying!" Harry said indignantly. He pulled out his wand. "A dog," he said, conjuring a brown stuffed puppy. Rose clapped her hands. "A rainbow." A stuffed rainbow with a puff of clouds at each end appeared next to the puppy. "And a unicorn." The white unicorn with a golden horn popped into existence in Rose's hands. Her happy childish laughter filled the kitchen and warmed Harry's heart. Yes, he spoiled her just as much as her parents did.
"I wish you were coming to France with us," Ron said. "You could keep our little monster in line."
"And willingly be around your mother? I think not," Harry replied with a shake of his head.
"Oh Harry, I'm sure she's gotten better about the situation," Hermione said, placing a bowl of steaming beef stew on the table in front of him. Rose hopped off his lap, picked up her new toys, and hurried out of the room with them, no doubt to put them away.
"Hermione, as far as Molly's concerned, I'm the devil," Harry said. "Forever in her eyes, I'll be the man who broke her daughter's heart to go sleep with men, never mind the fact that Ginny figured it out before I did and broke up with me. And then married a much better man."
"Molly just… well you were always her very favorite young man," Hermione said slowly. "She thought you'd be perfect for Ginny."
"It's not my fault! How many times do I have to say it?" Harry said in exasperation. This conversation always annoyed him. He jabbed his spoon into the stew and then shoved it into his mouth.
"I know it's not your fault, Harry, but don't you think it's time that you and Molly made up?"
"I've tried and you bloody well know it," he said with his mouth still full. Hermione's lips pursed and she said nothing. She'd been there each time Harry and tried to speak with Molly, including the day that Ginny married Neville, and each time the woman had turned her back and marched away. Harry didn't know if the reason was because he was gay, or because he was no longer with her daughter, or a mixture of both that caused such anger.
Hermione looked as if she was going to speak again but Ron cut her off. "Hermione, drop it."
Harry felt a rush of gratitude for his oldest friend.
"Nana doesn't like Harry?"
Harry, Ron and Hermione all turned their heads to look at Rose, who was standing in the doorway and looked like she was about to cry again.
"No, sweetheart, that isn't it," Hermione said quickly. "Of course Nana likes Harry!"
"She just doesn't like that he likes pretty boys," Ron said solicitously. Harry choked on his food and shot Ron and death glare. Ron smiled.
"But… I like pretty boys too," Rose said in confusion. "Will Nana not like me anymore either?"
Harry choked again, this time from laughter, and took a big swallow of pumpkin juice.
"Oh for heaven's sake, can we please just eat dinner?" Hermione snapped. "Nana loves you just fine, Rosie. Don't worry. And you," she said, pointing at her husband with her spoon. "Shut it."
Dinner was always pleasant and this week was just the same. Ron told Harry stories about work with George at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, a job he seemed to really enjoy. Hermione told them a little about her latest project in the Department of Mysteries, but couldn't go into too much detail because of the confidentiality attached to the project. Harry didn't have much to tell them about his life. It was the off season for Quidditch and he wouldn't be back with the Cannons for another few weeks. He spent much of his time in his flat, watching the telly or reading. It was driving him mad, since he was the kind of person who didn't enjoy having nothing to do. He had a count-down on his refrigerator counting the days until practice picked up again. Sadly it wouldn't be until after the new year, which was weeks away.
At one point Rose, finished with her dinner and bored with the adult conversation, reached into Harry's pocket for his wand. He let her, having done so many times before. She liked playing with his wand, usually to make bubbles float out of the tip. Keeping part of his attention on Ron and Hermione's argument about the new adult line of products that he and George were creating (being sure to use words they knew Rose wouldn't understand), Harry also watched Rose swish his wand back and forth. She was very excited to start Hogwarts, even though it was years away. Harry was certain she'd follow in her mother's footsteps and be top of her year.
Harry was feeling utterly content. Maybe he'd challenge Ron to a game of chess, or have a tea party with Rose once dinner was all cleaned up. Ron considered himself too manly for tea parties. Maybe Hermione would join them. Or maybe they'd watch a movie. Something Rose would enjoy. Princesses would certainly be involved. Perhaps he and Ron could play chess while Rosie watched the movie and then she wouldn't feel left out?
Rose suddenly swished her wand in Harry's direction.
Later, when he really thought about it, he'd come to the conclusion that it hadn't been her fault. But as his insides suddenly started to squirm and black hair spouted all over his skin, all he could think was, 'What the bloody hell did she do?'
After seven years of working in the Ministry of Magic, Draco Malfoy still received the odd glare from a fellow Ministry employee. He supposed people just couldn't help themselves. Memories were still sharp in the minds of the public and he, the son of a known Death Eater (released for good behavior or not), was still subjected to their hostility.
At least it wasn't as bad as when he'd first started out. They no longer spit on him.
He'd held his head high, however. He refused to let them know just how much their animosity bothered him. He ignored their angry shouts with a look of disdained aloofness. He calmly Vanished their saliva from his person. He never said a word. And now ten years after the war, seven years after finally gaining a job, he was mostly content.
When he felt the heat of a glare, he ignored it just as he had done for years. Let them call him a bastard (and many other unsavory things). The truth was that he'd stopped caring years ago.
On this cold December morning, he ignored everyone as usual. In the lift on the way to the Department of Mysteries, he occupied one side. Five people crowded the other, as though they were afraid their cloaks would brush his. When the lift reached their floors, they bustled out hurriedly. His was the last stop and so he was alone when the lift doors slid open.
At last he felt safe. This was his area, his home away from home. Here was where people answered to him and treated him with actual respect. He was an excellent Unspeakable and everyone in the department knew it.
He stepped into the spinning room and while waiting for the doors to settle, he pulled out his wand. When the doors were stationary, he lifted his wand in the palm of his hand.
"Point me," he murmured.
His wand whirled for a moment before settled on the fourth door. He let himself into his office. The smell of ink and parchment met him as usual as he swung the door open. Waving his wand at the candles that hung suspended near the ceiling, the hissed to life and the office was lit dimly. As one of the department heads, he shared his office with Granger. The room was large enough that the both of them could have their own research areas and desks. The walls were paneled in dark cherry wood and the floor was covered in hunter green carpet (he won the toss for the color) that felt like clouds under his feet. As usual Granger's side was cleared of clutter with everything in its proper place. His side, however, was not so lucky. While Granger liked to clean up after herself, Draco didn't care enough. Uneven stacks of parchment were on his desk, floor, and shelves. Random quills that he could never find when he needed them laid about, old biscuits that he always meant to throw away were on his chair (that he never used), and an ink stain marred the carpet near his research table. There was almost a visible line where his side of the office ended and Granger's began.
Draco grabbed his tea and report, and settled himself on top of a stool at his research table. He supposed he could just as easily go to his desk, but that meant organizing it. No, he liked the research table much more.
Just as he was comfortable, cup of tea in hand and report spread before him, the door to the office opened. He ignored it, knowing it was Granger. She knew better than to bother him when he was researching.
"I'm busy," he said in a low voice, his irritation plain.
"I know, I'd hoped to catch you before you got started."
"Weasley," she corrected absently.
"Now is not a good time," Draco said darkly. "I just got a report out of Rome about an arch that went missing a few millennia ago that bears an uncanny resemblance to the one in the Death Chamber. So if you'd please bugger off, I might just make some headway today."
She didn't respond. He turned his attention back to the report but was uncomfortably aware of her behind him. He heard every annoyed huff, heard her toss her cloak onto the back of her chair, the rifling of parchments on her desk, the pouring of tea. She was uncommonly loud and it irked him further, knowing that he'd never focus until she got what she wanted.
"What did you want Gr – Weasley?" Draco asked, turning on his stool and facing her. He didn't even try to hide his annoyance.
"You can call me Hermione, you know," she replied.
"No, that would go against nature," he replied blandly.
"Draco…" She shook her head, causing her ridiculous curls to bounce.
"You wanted something?" he prompted again. The sooner she got it out, the sooner she'd leave him to his work.
"I… have a slight problem," she said. Because she suddenly sounded distraught, Draco finally looked at her.
"Is everything alright?" he asked. They might not have been the closest of friends, but he still respected her and (though it galled him) her family. Ron Weasley still annoyed the hell out of him, but there was a soft spot in Draco's heart for the daughter, who sometimes came to work with Granger. Weasley… Hermione.
"Well, you know I'm about to leave for a few weeks for this family holiday," she said.
"Ah yes, I believe I remember hearing you swearing about it the other day," Draco said with a smirk.
"Yes, well, I recently got Ron and Rosie a Christmas gift but there was a mix-up at the adoption agency…"
"Adoption?" Draco's interest was seriously piqued.
"Yes, you see, I adopted a dog," she said hurriedly. Her words were suddenly flowing out of her mouth as though there were no filter. "They said that I could pick him up after our trip, but they got the date wrong. They expect me to get him now, but I have to leave! And I can't trust our other friends with a dog because you know they won't keep their mouths shut about it, and most of them are off visiting families anyway, and I can't take a dog with me to France! Not only would it ruin the surprise but my mother-in-law would kill me. And I know how you adore animals so…"
Draco was torn. Part of him wanted to decline what she was so obviously asking of him. It still galled him that she had ended up in his house, such as it was, and had learned of his weakness towards animals. He'd been horribly ill and St. Mungo's refused to treat him. Weasley had taken it upon herself to look after him. Somehow that gave her the idea that they were friends. And oddly, in a way they were. They got along much better than Draco would have anticipated. But he still couldn't call her 'Hermione'. It just didn't feel right.
But the chance to look after another animal, a dog this time, twisted his heart.
"You want me to look after this mutt until you return?"
Weasley's face pinched at the word 'mutt' but she nodded. "Don't deny that you want to," she said, her face sly. "I know you."
"I know it, and it baffles me," Draco replied. He took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. He'd been lost from the moment she'd said 'dog'. "Alright, fine. Bring it over this evening. I'll look after it."
"Thank you, Draco!" Weasley said in an oddly victorious voice. "You've really saved me! He's the sweetest thing, just you wait and see. He's ridiculously bright. He won't be any trouble at all."
"Right," Draco said with a roll of his eyes. "What's his name?"
"Beau," she said. "He's a Newfoundland."
"That's his breed."
"I have no idea what that is," Draco said. For some reason the image in his head was a fussy kind of terrier.
"Well you'll see later," she said quickly, backing toward the door and looking as though she were in a hurry to leave. "I have to… work. Memory Room today. Okay, I'll stop by around seven. Thank you, Draco!"
And she then she was gone. Draco shook his head. "Barmy woman."
Harry was livid. Unfortunately, there wasn't really a way for him to express his feelings. Hermione led him to the wrought-iron gates that barred the public from the Malfoy estate. His huge paws all seemed to want to go in different directions and the tail was not helping. It swung from side to side all by itself, leading Harry to walk in a zig-zag instead of straight line. On top of everything else though, was his new sense of smell. He smelled everything. The dirt, the bushes, the birds, the insects, and even the very air. Who knew air had a scent? It all was incredibly distracting. The only thing about his new dog form that Harry found agreeable was his sight. He could see better than he ever had in his life. He saw things humans would never be able to see, colors and shapes that there were no words for.
But he was still a dog. And not just any dog, but a bloody big dog. He had never even heard of Newfoundlands until Hermione had done the research last night and informed him of just what her daughter had turned him into.
Rose, of course, had been delighted.
Harry still couldn't believe that Hermione was going to leave him with Malfoy for two whole bloody weeks.
"It makes sense, Harry!" Hermione had said earnestly over his growls. "He won't tell anyone about you if I ask him not to, he doesn't know our friends. He won't link you to a dog, Harry. We need to keep this a secret!"
He had to give Hermione credit, though. She'd tried to get out of the trip to France to stay home with him, but Molly Weasley hadn't budged, even when Hermione had lied and said there was a crisis at work.
"That is a lie, Hermione Weasley!" Molly had boomed through the flu connection. "I know just how much you don't want to go on this holiday, and don't care! I will not have it ruined because you don't want to be here! No, I will not listen to any more of this. You will come to France and that's final!"
Before Hermione could object, Molly's face had disappeared. She and Ron had exhausted all other possibilities. The only person they could trust was Neville Longbottom, but since he was Ginny's husband he'd be in France as well. At least Ron was on Harry's side.
"Malfoy?" he'd thundered. "You want to send Harry into that ferret's nest?"
"Draco is all right!" Hermione had yelled back. Rosie watched the interaction of her parents calmly while petting Harry, much to his chagrin. Not that having his ears scratched wasn't pleasant, but it was humiliating.
"But… it's Malfoy! The git from school who called you horrible names! Who stomped on Harry's face and let Death Eaters into Hogwarts!"
"Draco has changed, Ron," Hermione replied. "It's been known to happen in people. I would never send Harry into a dangerous situation! Not only will Draco keep quiet if I ask him to, but he is wonderful with animals! Harry will have the best care!"
"I still don't understand why he can't just stay here," Ron grumbled.
Harry silently agreed. He could take perfect care of himself.
"How will he feed himself?" Hermione demanded. "He has no hands! How will he go to the bathroom?" If Harry could blush, his face would have been on fire.
"What if he changes back?" Ron asked.
Hermione then looked uneasy and changed the subject. What if he did, though? Change back while in the presence of Malfoy? It was a long shot, since he'd been changed with a definite spell, but the possibility worried him. There were so many things that could go wrong that it boggled Harry's mind. But a few things were certain – he needed to be kept a secret and he needed to stay out of sight. If the Wizarding world knew that Harry Potter had been transfigured into a Newfoundland by a two year old… Who knew what the reaction would be?
Harry tripped over his own paws and stumbled sideways. Cursing a blue streak in his mind, he tried to right himself but his four legs would not cooperate.
"Harry, I mean… Beau, are you going to be alright?" Hermione asked anxiously.
Harry growled at her. Prudently, she was silent after that. They finally reached the gate, which opened immediately, to Harry's surprise. Apparently the wards recognized Hermione. But when Harry crossed the threshold, an alarm started blaring. Harry winced and reflexively dropped his head.
"Oh, bugger," Hermione muttered.
There was a loud crack and suddenly the alarm went silent. Harry looked up and almost did a double take. Draco Malfoy was there, but he had changed. It then struck Harry that he had not seen Malfoy in nearly ten years, since the end of the war. They moved in completely different circles. Malfoy was no longer a skinny, pointy-faced teen. He'd grown broader and taller, his face no longer full of sharpness. Instead his cheekbones were straight angles and his eyes were a piercing grey under elegantly arched eyebrows. The only pointy bit left was his chin, but it was rather dashing instead of amusing, as it had been in school. Harry could admit, if only to himself, that Malfoy had definitely improved with age and had Harry not known who he was, he would have found him quite desirable.
But Harry did know who he was and so, after the initial shock, went back to thinking of Malfoy as a git. He'd always be a git.
"This is the dog?" Malfoy said. His voice was different, deeper and smoother. Hermione nodded, looking at Harry brightly. Malfoy shook his head. "That's not a dog. It's a cow. No wonder the wards went berserk."
Harry grumbled and shifted closer to Hermione.
"He's a large breed," Hermione said defensively. "Is that a problem?"
"No, no not at all," Malfoy said absently. "He'll be fine. I was just… surprised."
"Yes, well, he's a total sweetheart and he'll be a good boy, won't he?" Hermione's last words were said in her low, menacing voice just for Harry. He resisted the urge to growl at her again.
"He'll be here alone during the day while I'm at work," Draco said. "I'll let him have the run of the grounds. I'll just ward off the stables and owlry."
"He won't attack your other animals, Draco."
Other animals? Harry was going to have to live with other animals?
"Just a precaution," Draco said dismissively. "So, is that all then?"
"Yes, that should be it," Hermione replied. She dropped to her haunches and touched Harry's ear. Harry grumbled incoherently again. But he suffered in silence and pled with his eyes for her to take him back with her. He didn't want to stay with Malfoy. How was he going to be civil to the prat? "Alright, Beau. You be nice and I'll be back soon. It'll be okay, I swear. Love you."
Yeah, love you too, you traitor, Harry thought darkly as she stood, gave him a bolstering smile, and Apparated away.
It was quiet after the sharp crack of Apparition. Harry looked at Malfoy. He was frowning, staring at the spot where Hermione had vanished. It was startling how attractive he'd become, in a remote kind of way. He appeared slightly standoffish, his face closed. Harry had never really thought of Malfoy as anything other than an enemy and while he still did, he also couldn't help but admire Malfoy's appearance. He was very well put together in an outfit of tan trousers, white button-down shirt and sweater vest. His hair was impeccable and styled back off of his stunning, reserved face.
When that face turned to him, Harry forced himself not bare his teeth. It was confusing how part of him was attracted to Malfoy's appearance, and yet the other part, the larger part, still despised him.
Malfoy's face suddenly changed. The cold demeanor dropped and a smile spread over his striking features. He crouched down slowly and held a hand out to Harry.
"Hey, boy," Malfoy said in a soft, warm voice. Harry was stunned. He decided he preferred the distant Malfoy. "Come here, Beau. Come on, boy!"
Harry didn't move. There was no way in hell he was going to let that slimy ferret put his hands on him. Malfoy, instead of getting discouraged by Harry's refusal, laughed softly and stood up.
"That's alright, Beau," he said. "We have plenty of time to be friends. Come on up to the house and we'll get settled."
Harry sullenly shuffled after Malfoy down the drive. Like hell they'd be friends. The walk to the manor was much different in daylight. Harry had only been to Malfoy Manor once, ten years ago, when he'd been caught by the Snatchers. Not the best of memories. Merlin, he hated it here. Yes, the lawns were beautiful and the gardens spectacular, but the beauty of the place couldn't change his feelings about its owner.
"You'll have to be here by yourself during the day next week," Malfoy said. "You can have the run of the grounds, but please leave the peacocks alone. They're not too friendly to other animals."
As if being summoned, suddenly five large white peacocks ambled out from behind a row of hedges. They regarded Harry with pure hostility. Unconsciously, Harry moved to Malfoy's other side so that he was between Harry and the huge birds. Malfoy laughed again.
"They won't hurt you unless they're provoked. I wouldn't recommend it."
The manor came into view and Harry was filled with the strongest urge to run away. So many bad things had happened there. He was sure a day wouldn't go by where he wouldn't think on Hermione's torture, or Wormtail's strangulation. The memories were so vivid that Harry flinched and stopped in his tracks. He wouldn't go into that house. He wouldn't stay here. Malfoy stopped, realizing that Harry was no longer with him.
Harry couldn't move. It was like a spell was keeping him in place, refusing to let him run. His heart pounded erratically and he broke into a sweat beneath his fur. Malfoy frowned and started toward him. Harry couldn't even growl. All at once he was astonished to realize that he was afraid. Not angry, not irritated, not even under a spell, but scared.
Malfoy crouched next to him, closer this time, and regarded him. "Beau, it's okay. I know it's a new place, and you've been in an adoption center, and your person has already left you for a while, but you'll be more than safe here. I'll take good care of you. No one will hurt you here."
They already did, Harry thought. But his terror was subsiding enough that he was annoyed with himself. He had to go into the manor. He would stay because Hermione asked him to. How stupid that just looking at the place would make him fall to pieces. Next to him Malfoy lifted his hand as though he were going to try to pet him.
Harry shoved himself forward before Malfoy touched him. He'd stay, and he'd behave just like a dog should, but he would never let Malfoy touch him.
What a strange dog, Draco thought.
Beau marched toward the manor as though he was headed to be shot. He was a beautiful breed, as large as a pony with sleek ebony fur. His head had to be the size of Draco's torso. He walked almost like a puppy, as though he wasn't sure of his feet and Draco found that adorably endearing.
But something was off about him. He seemed afraid of Draco's touch. Perhaps he'd been abused by a previous owner? Well he wouldn't be the first animal that came into Draco's care that had been beaten. Draco would just have to be patient. There was something oddly beguiling about the dog and Draco felt himself wanting to snuggle him. Perhaps it was the sad look in his pretty green eyes, or perhaps because Draco was just such a sucker for anything with fur or feathers.
Beau stopped on the front porch and sighed as he looked at the door.
"Granger told me you were smart," Draco said conversationally. Beau looked at him with mixed curiosity and hostility. Draco hopped up the front steps and opened the massive front door, allowing Beau to go before him. "If you're so smart, do me a favor and not terrorize my cat."
Beau ignored him, instead opting to look around the foyer. Draco had lived there for so long that he hardly noticed his surroundings anymore. The manor from his childhood had been full of priceless artifacts; paintings, ancient relics, knickknacks made of pure gold and silver. The manor of his present was much different. They were all gone now. At first it had almost hurt Draco to put them up for sale, but now he didn't mind so much. They were objects of a dark family history that he'd rather forget. True, now the manor was much draftier without cursed suits of armor and tapestries hanging about. But at least it was brighter.
"Come on boy," Draco said brightly, leading the way to the kitchen. "Hungry?"
Beau's ears perked up a bit, almost against his will. Draco chuckled and took him through the mostly empty drawing room. A few pieces of furniture remained, a couple old and decidedly uncomfortable chairs and a sofa. The chandelier that had fallen ten years ago had not been replaced. The dining room was completely void of anything. He'd burned the table himself after he'd returned home without his mother and father, who'd left the country for France. This room held the memory of the first time Draco had actually ever witnessed death up close. The cold effect of such thoughts had long since left him, however. He could finally walk through the room with no dark thoughts at all.
Beau's nails clacked on the wooden floor and Draco made an absent mental note to put a charm on the hardwood so that he wouldn't scratch it. He opened the swinging door that led to the kitchen and let the dog go before him.
The kitchen was Draco's favorite room, and not just because he liked food. It was huge and really the only homey place in the entire manor. The walls were paneled in dark wood, the floor was made of stones, and the counters were granite. Even though it was a dark room, the windows brought in plenty of sunlight and the island in the center of the floor always had some sort of baked delight spread out for him. Today it was cupcakes with at least an inch of frosting slathered on top. Draco's stomach rumbled at the sight.
"Master Draco," said a high, wheezy voice. Draco looked up and saw the only house elf that remained, Martin, standing on a stool over the sink, cleaning carrots.
"Martin," Draco replied. "Are those for the stable?"
"Yes, Master Draco," Martin said.
"Excellent. Martin, this is Beau. He'll be staying with us for a few weeks. He's Granger's."
"Weasley's," Martin corrected.
Before Draco could reply, something strange happened. Martin looked away from Draco and toward Beau. His large brown eyes widened impossibly and he dropped the carrot he was holding.
"Martin?" Draco said curiously.
Martin turned quickly back to the sink, picked up the carrot, and scrubbed furiously. Draco sincerely hoped that his trusted elf, who hadn't batted an eye at scarred horses, broken-winged birds, and overly-friendly felines wouldn't suddenly have an aversion to large dogs.
"Carrots is almost ready for gimpy horses, Master Draco," Martin said quickly.
"They're not gimpy," Draco muttered. "But thank you."
The swinging door slid open and Draco's attention was captured by his cat. Her pitiful meow sounded through the huge kitchen. She was probably the most unfortunate thing Draco had ever seen; her fur was a mismatched quilt of white, orange, and black with huge brown splotches that looked like mud. Her ears were too large for her head, her whiskers were bent and curled at awkward angles, and her tail was too long for her body. But even with all these unfortunate qualities, she was the kindest animal. She never met a person or creature that she didn't immediately want to be friends with, even if that person or creature didn't necessarily return her affection. Draco had found her on his property eight years before when she'd been just a kitten. She had been underfed and ill, and Draco had fallen in love.
"Amelia," he said warmly, bending down to pick her up. She turned until she could wrap her little front legs around his neck and shove her forehead against his mouth. Draco gave her a smacking kiss and his chest seemed to lighten as she purred. She had that ability– to calm and nurture him. She was such a mothering little mess.
"Amelia, this is Beau," he said, nodding to the dog, who was looking at him as though he had four heads and a tail. Draco frowned. He'd never felt so judged by an animal in his life. Amelia looked down and her curiosity was immediately piqued. Draco gave Beau a warning look. "Be nice, or you're going to spend two weeks outside in a hut."
Draco would have sworn that the dog gave him a disgusted look. His lips and muzzle scrunched in what could only be dismay. But Draco still put Amelia back on the floor and watched warily. Just as he expected, she marched right up to Beau and investigated, her little pink nose twitching as she sniffled at him. Beau sat down and stared at the unfortunate little cat but didn't appear to want to attack. Amelia, falling in love instantly, began to rub on his forelegs. Draco snickered as Beau jumped to his feet and tried to back away, but Amelia was nothing if not insistent. Beau skittered around the kitchen with Amelia following, making adorable chirping meows and trying rub on him some more. Draco took pity on the dog and picked Amelia up and set her on the island, where she continued to watch Beau with her tawny eyes filled with love.
"Come on Beau, I've got food for you," Draco said brightly. Perhaps he could bribe Beau with food. Dogs loved food and the people who gave it to them, right?
With a final scratch to Amelia's ears, he walked to the pantry and retrieved the bag of food he'd kept fresh since the last dog he'd fostered. When he came back out, Martin had the carrots in a basket.
"I's taking these to the stables, Master Draco," he said quickly and before Draco could say anything, he was gone.
Draco sighed. Just what he needed – his only servant to be terrified of big dogs. Deciding to deal with that at a later time, Draco pulled down a big bowl and filled it with dog kibble. He set it on the floor and looked at Beau expectantly. Beau, it seemed, was not impressed by his offering.
"What?" Draco demanded. "Not your favorite flavor?"
Beau inched toward the bowl, took a sniff, and winced. He then backed up and sat his large furry rump on the floor and gave Draco a baleful look.
"I know you're hungry," Draco said, kneeling down. "Just try it?"
Beau was not swayed. Draco tried everything he could think of to get the dog to just have a taste, but Beau wouldn't budge. Draco slid the bowl closer, but Beau turned up his nose. He rolled a few little bits of kibble toward him, but Beau simply stood and walked away. Annoyed, but not discouraged, Draco picked up the scattered bits of food and decided to try again later, when Beau was certain to be hungrier.
"What shall we do now?" Draco asked cheerfully. Beau grumbled, a deep rumbly sound from his barrel chest, and looked out the glass door to the back gardens. "Want to go outside?"
Beau turned around and walked through the swinging door, back into the dining room, leaving Draco alone in the kitchen. Curious, Draco followed. Beau made his way all the way back to the foyer, where he flopped down on the rug while facing the door. He was spread out everywhere, taking up way too much space. He laid his head down and simply stared at the door. The sight broke Draco's heart. Poor thing wanted to go home.
"Well," Draco said with a sigh. Beau rolled his eyes to give him the barest glance before turning his attention back to the door. "I'll be in my study. Not that you know where that is, or even what I'm saying. But I'm here if you need me."
The dog made a noise and had he been human, Draco would have sworn it was a snort of disgust.
The floor was not that uncomfortable, really. Harry would prefer a sofa, but from what he saw of the drawing room, nothing would fit his bulk. Where had all the furniture gone? Where was the splendor that Harry vaguely remembered? There was hardly anything left, even in the foyer. The walls had huge square spots where, obviously, paintings had hung for centuries, but now they were just bits of wall that were cleaner than the rest.
Harry found himself curious about Malfoy's life. What had happened? He hadn't heard anything, but then he hadn't cared about Malfoy. He wouldn't have noticed anything about him in the papers or even listened if his name had been mentioned. After the war, Harry had mostly forgotten about the git. Now he regretted that, only because he was so insanely curious about why the manor, which had been undeniably beautiful, was like an empty shell. Where were Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy? Where were the house elves? Surely the Malfoys would have had more than one?
And then there was Malfoy himself. Around Hermione, he'd been distant and coldly polite. The moment she left, he was a completely different person. Did he just like animals that much? Or did he hide his true personality from the outside world? Was Draco Malfoy actually a decent human being?
Harry doubted it. There was no way someone could just turn warmth on and off like that. Harry would have bet his broomstick that the moment he did something Malfoy didn't approve of, he'd revert to his old self.
Suddenly wanting to test that theory, if only to prove to himself that he was still right about Malfoy's true nature, Harry lumbered to his feet. Following Malfoy's scent, which he'd been forced to inhale when Malfoy had gotten too close, Harry started climbing the stairs. The woodsy-minty smell permeated the whole house, but was more focused where Malfoy had recently been. The scent took a left at the top of the stairs and Harry followed.
The signs of decline in the manor continued on the second floor. The walls were completely bare and where there should have been long rugs covering the wood floor, there was nothing. It looked like no one lived there at all.
All of the doors were closed, except for one halfway down the hall. Harry followed his trail toward the opening and inside. The 'study' was simply a room with an old, massive desk, where Malfoy was seated and pouring over parchments. The fireplace was empty, even of signs of old fires like ash or blackened wood.
Harry went to Malfoy's side. Luckily with his huge size, his head was taller than the desk and he could see what Malfoy was doing, not that he could understand it. The parchments were full of symbols that Harry didn't recognize. When Harry huffed, Malfoy became aware of his presence. Malfoy's eyebrows rose and his mouth turned upwards with surprised pleasure.
"Beau!" Malfoy said, clearly delighted that Harry had come to find him. Harry felt guilty for the briefest of moments, until Malfoy raised his hand to try and pet him again. Harry flinched back. "Alright," Malfoy said softly. "It's okay. I won't touch you yet."
Or ever, Harry thought sourly. He glanced over Malfoy's desk, deciding how he would raise Malfoy's ire. Right in front of his nose was an ink bottle. Perfect.
Harry snatched the bottle quickly in his large mouth and backed away. Malfoy watched him, one blond eyebrow arched curiously. Harry waited, thinking that Malfoy would try to get the bottle back. When Malfoy didn't move, Harry opened his jaws and dropped the bottle. Just as he'd hoped, the lid flew open and black ink splattered all over the floor. Pleased with himself, Harry looked at Malfoy.
Malfoy eyed the ink, then looked back at Harry. "Is there something you need, Beau?" he asked politely.
Harry growled, marched back to the desk, and stole a mouthful of Malfoy's parchments. Malfoy didn't move to stop him. Harry moved away again and tossed the parchments into the air. They fluttered down, spreading in all directions with some landing in the spilled ink.
There, Harry thought, now he'll get angry.
But Malfoy did not appear to be mad. He slipped from his chair to the floor on his knees, bringing himself to Harry's eye level. His grey eyes were kind and concerned, not livid as Harry had hoped.
"Do you want some attention, boy?" Malfoy asked softly. "Do you want to play? I'll play with you if you like."
Harry huffed in vexation. This was not how Malfoy should have reacted. Harry wanted him to shout, stomp his feet, and throw a tantrum. Anything to revert to how he'd always been. But Malfoy just knelt there, staring at him with a level of patience that Harry never thought Malfoy would have.
Irritated beyond regular sanity, Harry turned and left the room to go back to his spot in the foyer. Just looking at Malfoy annoyed him.
Beau still wouldn't touch the dog food. Draco had tried, but the dog wouldn't eat. He was starting to get concerned. Was there something wrong with him? If he still wouldn't eat in the morning, Draco was going to take him to get checked up.
But it was time for bed at the moment. He found Beau once more on the carpet in the foyer. His black fur was almost impossible to discern in the darkness.
"Beau?" Draco called out. A familiar huff of breath was his reply. "Come on boy, it's time for bed."
Though he was obviously reluctant, the dog followed him up two flights of stairs. Draco considered it progress that he wasn't ignored. He led Beau to his bedroom and lit the candles with a wave of his wand. His room was the only one in the manor that had not changed in years. He'd readily sold nearly everything else in the entire house, but he'd kept all his own trinkets. It was kept clean and bright, with the hunter green walls and cherry wood furniture. His view was of the front lawns through a huge bay window. He had his own bathroom attached with marble counters and gold fixtures.
Beau entered his room slowly, almost as though he feared attack. Draco watched him curiously. He slunk forward, eyeing everything from Draco's massive sleigh bed covered in a silver counterpane to the bookshelf in the corner.
"I've got something for you, Beau," Draco said in a bright voice. Beau turned his immense head and looked at Draco over his shoulder. Draco pointed his wand into the empty corner and conjured a giant dog bed, complete with bright red cushion. "How's that?"
Beau looked at the bed. Then he looked up at Draco and Draco could have sworn his expression was unimpressed.
"Do you not like it, then?" Draco asked.
Beau walked to the bed, turned about in a circle on the cushion, and flopped down, his huge lungs exhaling a vast breath of air.
"I guess it's alright?"
Beau didn't even look at him. Draco rolled his eyes and got ready for bed, glancing over at the dog often as he changed into his pajamas and brushed his teeth. But Beau did not move or even acknowledge Draco's presence. As Draco slipped into bed, he glanced over at Beau one last time. He still had not moved. Wondering if perhaps Beau had some form of canine depression, Draco fell into uneasy sleep.
He wasn't sure what time he jolted awake. It was either very late or very early. Shrugging off the remnants of his nightly nightmare of masked killers and snake-like faces, he reflexively looked over to Beau's bed. It was empty. Draco sat up straight in alarm. His bedroom door was open.
He hurried out of bed, through the open door and down the hallway. The house was silent around him. Where could the dog have gone? Draco specifically wanted him in his own room because there were old enchantments on the manor that could be very unpleasant if someone, or something, walked into them. The silence was reassuring in that regard because it meant Beau hadn't tripped anything. But where to search…?
There was a clank from downstairs. Draco held his wand at the ready, in case Beau had mixed himself into something. He jumped down the stairs three at a time and hurried though the living room. There were more noises; scratching and thumping. Draco was through the swinging door, his heart beating hard with worry, but he stopped short.
Amelia was sitting on the corner of the island in the middle of the kitchen, looking at the open refrigerator door curiously. From where Draco was standing, he could see Beau's large black hindquarters. The rest of him was hidden behind the door and obviously going through the cooler.
"Beau?" Draco called.
The dog jumped; there was a thwack as something, probably his huge head, hit a shelf. Draco bit his lips together to force the smile that wanted to slide across his face from showing. Beau backed up awkwardly and peered around the side of the door, a bit of sandwich meat between his jaws and pink frosting on his nose. Draco looked over to where the cupcakes had been earlier and saw only empty counter space. Draco couldn't help it. He laughed.
"You big hairy thief," Draco said, shaking his head. "You want people food instead of dog food?"
Beau looked panicked as Draco moved forward. He tried to back away further, obviously unsure of what Draco was going to do next, but the cabinets stopped him. Draco knelt down, torn between being amused and exasperated. Amusement won.
"I'm going to end up spoiling you, aren't I?" Draco said softly. Beau's eyes darted around for a moment before settling on Draco. Slowly, almost like an offering, he dropped the lunchmeat onto the floor. "Well I don't want it now," Draco said wryly. "You can keep it. But if I start feeding you real food, you'd better start liking me, dammit. I've never had to work this hard for an animal to trust me."
Draco made Beau a large plate of slices of meat, while fixing himself tea. Beau attacked the food like a starving man would a feast after days of hunger. Draco winced every time a fleck of Beau's drool would fly off and spatter the floor, but it was nothing a wave of his wand wouldn't fix.
Perhaps not so strange a dog, really. Most dogs liked the food people ate more than the food they were supposed to have. But most dogs weren't so picky that they would refuse their own kibble after waiting long enough. Maybe this was how Draco could get Beau to like him. Coercion by lunchmeats, he thought with a smirk.
Beau readily went back upstairs with Draco after his meal and seemed all too happy to collapse in his basket with his legs in the air. Draco watched him for a time, even after the dog's snores began. Such a funny creature, Draco though. Sometimes overly dignified, huffing and sighing like a spoiled child, and sometimes there was no dignity at all. Like when he was throwing ink bottles, raiding refrigerators, and sleeping on his back with his legs splayed.
Draco liked him. Of course, when it came to animals, it didn't take much for Draco to fall in love. But there was something special about this one. Draco looked forward to finding out what else made this dog unique.
Amelia was going to be a problem. After being stuck in the manor for three days so far, the ugly little cat was hardly out of his presence. Why she seemed so enamored of him, Harry had no idea. Weren't cats supposed to be afraid of dogs? But she followed him everywhere. He was so used to her presence by now that he usually forgot about her. She'd wait for these moments of weakness to suddenly rub herself on his front legs, or his face, whichever was closer at the time. But while that had been startling at first, he was used to it. Much more disturbing was when she'd wait for him to sleep.
Harry found that if he slept on his back in his basket, he was much more comfortable. Amelia, it seemed, realized that his stomach was quite comfortable. So she'd wait until he'd fallen asleep and then would proceed to crawl on top of him and lay down. The first time Harry woke up was an unfortunate experience he tried to forget. Needless to say there had been quite a bit of barking, yowling, chirping, and kitty claws where Harry really didn't want them. Malfoy, the prat, had been endlessly amused.
After that Harry tried to sleep on his stomach. Sadly, he just moved to his back in his sleep and Amelia would be waiting patiently for her moment of infiltration. At least now Harry knew she'd be there and wouldn't try to behead her. Amelia seemed to think that meant he wanted to be her friend. Harry did not like cats. He barely tolerated Crookshanks and that was only because he belonged to Hermione. But no matter how many times he growled (secretly; Malfoy scolded him if he was caught), Amelia would always come back and gaze at him adoringly.
Easier to elude was Malfoy, but Harry was starting to feel bad about it, which only annoyed him further in this annoying situation. Malfoy seemed to have endless amounts of patience, something maturity must have given him because 'patience' hadn't been among Malfoy's character traits in school. Every day Malfoy would try to gain 'Beau's' friendship. He'd speak sweetly in a soft voice (which did unmentionable things to Harry's insides that he didn't understand and didn't want to), he'd try to bribe him with more and more succulent food, he'd offer to play and he even hunted up a ball for such events, not that they ever occurred.
Harry had been steadfast in his refusal to let Malfoy get close, both physically and emotionally. But the prat wasn't making it easy. Harry was slowly (very slowly), beginning to realize that Malfoy might not be such a bastard anymore.
Malfoy actually made him real food. He'd tried with the dog food a few more times, which Harry wouldn't touch, but now he didn't bother. He seemed more than happy to share his breakfast of eggs and bacon. He made Harry steaks and tried to befriend him with lunch meats. It was perfect; free food without the hassle of cooking. Harry hadn't eaten so well, so often, in years because he could never be bothered to cook just for one..
Harry had eventually gotten bored with staring at the front door and dreaming of home (and irritated with Amelia's presence) and sought Malfoy's company with the thought to annoy him. Surely driving Malfoy spare would be more fun than lying around for hours on end. It became apparent quickly that Malfoy couldn't be angered. At least not by an animal. And Merlin knew, Harry tried. From shoving at the chair Malfoy was sitting in to knocking over furniture, Malfoy could not be swayed. He'd simply look at Harry with pity, as though something were wrong with him, and that made Harry stop quickly. He couldn't stand that look on that face. So now, instead of lying in the foyer and staring at the door, Harry laid in Draco's study and watched him work. Other than knowing the he worked at the Ministry, Harry had no idea what Malfoy did professionally. He still wasn't sure, but it seemed to have a lot of paperwork.
Malfoy would take regular breaks to go outside and soon enough Harry's curiosity got the better of him. On Saturday afternoon, on Malfoy's third trip outside, Harry followed. Malfoy didn't comment. He simply held the door for him and they walked side by side to a huge old building that turned out to be stables.
It was at this moment when Harry's heart, so hard towards Malfoy for so many years, began to thaw a little. It wasn't just unfortunate cats that Malfoy seemed to take a liking to; it was unfortunate animals in general. Various stalls held horses, both magical and normal, who appeared to be in need of special attention. Malfoy went down the line of horses, introducing them to Harry as if all parties concerned were human beings.
"This is Jackson," Malfoy said proudly, stopping before the stall of a tall, skinny black horse. Harry went a little closer. "Jackson, this is Beau. He's only visiting for a little bit."
Jackson looked down his long nose at Harry curiously. Upon closer inspection, Harry noticed scars along the horse's flanks. Some were small, but some huge and ugly jagged tears that appeared not to have healed properly. Malfoy rubbed Jackson's snout after filling a huge trough of hay and moved on. Harry followed, curious. Next Malfoy paused next to a grey winged horse.
"This is Bolt," Malfoy said. "He's also just a visitor, staying with me until someone else will adopt him. He's still healing, but I'm afraid he'll never fly again."
Harry now recognized the horse as a Granian, a winged horse most commonly seen in the magical racing circles because they were bred to be fast flyers. But Harry noticed that one wing was in a strange sort of sling, as though it had been broken. Bolt gazed at Harry with wise, sad eyes and Harry had the sudden urge to hug the poor thing. Malfoy pressed his lips to the space between Bolt's eyes and moved on.
Each horse he was introduced to had some sort of injury, or an obvious past of abuse. One was missing an eye, one an ear, another a leg, and each winged horse had one wing that was in the same strange sling as Bolt's. It took a while, but it finally dawned on Harry that Malfoy had saved each of these animals. The winged horses were like foster children, staying with Malfoy until they found a new home. But the rest, the sad, abused horses with missing limbs and old scars, Malfoy kept and cared for.
Harry didn't know what to think. It went against everything Harry and ever known of Draco Malfoy, but he couldn't deny what was in front of his eyes. Malfoy loved those animals, cared for them and helped them get better. Why, Harry had no idea. After the stables had come the aviary, where he was introduced to Malfoy's birds. Most were perfectly normal, but again were the ones that were sick or hurt that Malfoy tended gently.
And there was Amelia. Malfoy treated her like a beloved child, and she adored him as well. If she wasn't sleeping on Harry at night, she was laying over Malfoy's stomach in his bed. Harry walked into the kitchen the previous morning to find Malfoy with Amelia in his arms while he put some drops in her eyes, for purposes Harry didn't know. But Amelia held still for him and then pressed her head to his mouth for a kiss afterward.
All these things made Harry wonder just what kind of man Malfoy had become, because it was obvious that all the prejudices that Harry had held onto for years no longer applied. Hermione had tried to tell him over and over, but he'd ignored her. Conscious of these new thoughts, Harry stopped trying to be a pest. But he still wouldn't let Malfoy touch him. He hadn't changed his mind that much.
Harry was in the kitchen, finishing the breakfast Malfoy had made for him (sausage and bacon in a huge heap), when Malfoy reappeared. Harry looked up and paused. Malfoy was dressed for work. It was a far cry from his habitual dress code of denims and sweaters. Amelia, who was seated once again on the island, chirped in her strange little voice and arched her back in a huge stretch. Malfoy grinned at her and rubbed between her ears.
"Well Beau," he said, looking down at Harry. "I'm off to work. I have to leave you alone for a few hours. Look after everyone for me, yes?"
Malfoy then smiled down at him and Harry's stomach clenched. Malfoy really was ridiculously attractive. The thought no longer aggravated Harry when he thought it. It was simple fact. Malfoy was good-looking. But he was still Malfoy. A new, strange version that loved animals, but still Malfoy.
Malfoy then kissed the top of Amelia's head and left the kitchen. Harry heard the whoosh of the floo and as soon as it quieted, he felt uneasy. What was he to do for the whole day? With disgust he abruptly realized that he'd begun to trail Malfoy like a lost puppy. Now that he was left to his own devices, he felt adrift.
Well. There was one thing he could do, now that he knew he was alone. He could have done it with Malfoy there but that would have felt a little too dangerous, even though he knew he'd never get in trouble.
He was going snooping.
So far he'd only seen the drawing room, dining room, kitchen, study, and Malfoy's bedroom. There was an entire manor waiting for him and now that he knew Malfoy wouldn't go looking for him, he couldn't wait to get started.
He bounded out of the kitchen as fast as his ungainly body could take him. Behind him, he heard Amelia's chirp and a thump as she jumped from the counter. Resigning himself to the fact that he'd have a spying partner, he made his way to the stairs. Amelia made it to his side and joined him in his journey.
Most of the doors were closed, but a few were slightly open. He nudged open one at random and stuck his head inside. The room was completely bare. Oddly disappointed, Harry left and moved on. Amelia watched him, her golden eyes bright with curiosity. He stopped at the next ajar door and repeated the process of sticking his nose inside. It too was empty. Tamping down his irritation, he continued on. Amelia opened the door before him this time, no doubt wanting to be useful.
Empty. Every single room he looked into was completely bare of furniture, wall hangings, rugs, tapestries, everything. There were obvious signs that there had once been a great many things in the manor, but they had vanished. Harry investigated every single open doorway in the entire building and found nothing. His sensitive nose didn't find a trace of anything interesting. Everything was gone.
Harry flopped his rump down in the middle of the corridor on the third floor and looked around in confusion. What had happened? Where was everything? Where were the house elves? The magical artifacts? Malfoy's parents? He'd thought on these things for the last three days but now, after having explored and been left alone, he was beginning to feel as though he were missing something important.
There was one room that might give up answers, but it would be a terrible invasion of privacy. So far he'd only looked into rooms where the doors had been open. Of course, he would have looked into the closed rooms as well but he didn't have thumbs to turn door handles. But what if…?
Harry lumbered to his feet, cursed his awkward body, and trudged forward with his scraggly sidekick. Amelia, at least, appeared to be enjoying herself. Harry loped down the corridor and made his way to Malfoy's bedroom. Aha! The door was open! Perfect.
The room was kept clean and neat, everything put away. Luckily Harry could open drawers with his mouth. His first stop was the chest of drawers. Amelia sat and watched as Harry dragged each drawer open and peeked inside. Just clothes. Next was the wardrobe. The doors could be nudged open with his nose. Robes were hung inside with military precision by color, from white down the line to black. Boots and other shoes were placed in neat little rows. But nothing of any interest, though one of the pairs of boots looked just a bit too girly for Harry's taste.
Next was a little desk under the window. The first drawer revealed quills, ink, and parchment. The next showed a book that stated 'BANK STATEMENTS'. Harry desperately wanted to look, but couldn't figure out how to get it out of the drawer. He gave up after almost pinching his nose and moved on. The final drawer showed hundreds of envelopes, all from France. The penmanship on the front was small and elegant, and Harry's interest was immediately piqued.
Letters from a woman? It had to be a woman. In France? Harry managed to get a mouthful of letters and quickly dumped them on the floor. There was an unfortunate amount of drool on some of the envelopes, but that couldn't be helped. Now, how to get the letters out of the envelopes so that he could read them? Harry sat and stared at the missives, completely stumped. He didn't have hands and his mouth was too large. Would he have to give up? It looked that way. The thought was incredibly disappointing.
Amelia took that moment to rub on his legs. Harry sighed and looked down at her and she gazed back adoringly. She really was an ugly little thing. She then looked at the letters. To Harry's astonishment and delight, she hopped over and began to nudge them around until she could step on one end, fit her little mouth inside the slit where a letter-opener had slashed the paper open, and bite the letter inside. She then pulled the note out, dropped it, and looked back at Harry hopefully. Unsure of just how to thank her, but grateful and ecstatic, he grimaced internally and licked her on the top of her head. She purred loudly.
Harry pulled the letter to him with his huge paw. It had been folded in half, the beginning part of the letter hidden. All he could see was-
…odd look, but society here is too refined to make any sort of comment. We don't receive many invitations from our neighbors, but the solitude is most welcome just now. As for the portraits, I don't see why you shouldn't be rid of them. Of course, they're not my ancestors. Your father doesn't seem to care either way just now, but you never know how he'll feel in the future. The items in the sitting rooms can all go. Do whatever you can. Write again soon, darling.
Mother. Malfoy's mother. She had written this from France. Did she and Lucius live there now? Why hadn't Harry heard about it? Of course, Harry hadn't cared one way or the other about Malfoy since the battle at Hogwarts. What had she meant about the portraits and items in the sitting room? It was all very infuriating to Harry that he was so in the dark. He couldn't understand any of it – the empty manor, the veterinary practices of his school nemesis, said nemesis's personality transplant.
If there was one thing Harry couldn't stand, it was not understanding something and not being able to have the answers. Hermione was usually there to tell him. Perhaps someday, when he was changed back, he'd ask her about all this. But for now, unless his little partner in crime pulled more letters out for him, he'd have to just wait.
Speaking of partner in crime, Amelia was no longer with him. He looked around the bedroom, but she was gone. Perfect. How the bloody hell was he supposed to get the damn letter back in the envelope? After a frustrating few hours of trying to get the envelope at the exact right angle, and pushing the letter with his paw until it slid back inside (the trick was to brace the envelope against something. Harry would never admit how long it took for that thought to occur to him), Harry was ready to find Amelia and skin her deserting little hide.
But as he started to march toward the bedroom door, he spotted Malfoy's bedside table. Exasperation evaporating behind sudden devious interest, Harry changed direction. All Harry knew was that most people hid the things they didn't want the world to see, the most personal things, in the bedside cabinet. Merlin knew if anyone looked in Harry's bedside table, Harry would be mortified. Ignoring that thought, Harry pulled the top drawer open.
Thanking whatever deity was listening that Rosie had fallen in love with a big dog and not something too little to get into tall drawers, Harry peered in. A book, a nail file, a comb, and a bottle of pills that were labeled 'Aleve'. He shut the drawer and opened the next one. More books and a bottle of lubricant. Most guys had lube, Harry thought with a smirk. Maybe Malfoy was normal after all. He moved on to the last drawer.
His doggy jaws dropped open and his eyes just about bugged out of his head. He'd found the jackpot alright, but he was definitely not amused. Inside were magazines. Porn mags. While this was perfectly normal in itself, what set it apart was that they were gay porn mags. On top of that, Harry had a few of the exact same issues for himself.
Malfoy was gay. Why this shocked Harry, he had no idea. But Malfoy was gay, and he had the same porn that Harry did. And the very idea of Malfoy wanking to the same stuff that Harry did didn't disgust Harry nearly as much as it should have. In fact it was strangely… interesting. The thought that Harry was interested in Malfoy wanking was enough to have him shut the drawer with a shove of his nose and run from the room in horror.
He was not interested in the image of Malfoy wanking. He was not.