Title: White as Snow
Word Count:4,824 (this chapter)
Summary: After so much death has touched his life, Harry has withdrawn from his own friends in an attempt to protect himself. Of course, nothing ever works out as we plan.
Rating: NC-17 (overall)
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters are the property of J.K. Rowling and her filthy rich agents. No copyright infringement is intended.

Chapter Warning: This chapter contains what some (most?) may perceive to be sensitive subject matter; though, it isn't depicted in great detail. Please be advised that this is necessary to plot development, and I don't drag my poor [borrowed] characters through crap for crap's sake.
A/N:All my love to vampthenewblack, bookjunkie1975, and otta_ff, as always.


White as Snow: Chapter 3

Angry thunderclouds roll in the morning sky, reflecting the sunrise and taking on the semblance of pink bellied dragons. When the first crackle of lightning tears holes in the clouds and rain begins to fall, Harry steps through the front door into the dry, stale air of the house.

The resounding echo of footsteps against wood floors is a sombre reminder of the emptiness of Grimmauld Place. If he tries hard, he can nearly hear the stifled laughter of Fred and George as they tested out their Extendable Ears, listening in on conversations they were all too young to be part of.

Harry takes a moment to reacquaint himself with the house, as if he's forgotten it. He walks from one room to the next, not necessarily going inside them all—not willing to trudge up memories he may have shoved to the back of his mind just yet—but opening doors, and occasionally drapes to let in the morning light. Even that doesn't seem to help drive away the sombre shadows of this place. When he comes to the doors of the drawing room, Harry pauses, pressing a palm to the solid oak. He can almost feel the hands of his godfather on his shoulders as he spoke to him in that very room all those years ago. With a sigh, Harry lets his hand drop, clenching into a fist at his side, and turns away, following Nola into the sitting room. He'll save that space for another day, he decides.

Reaching a hand out, he delicately trails his fingers along the edge of a dusty book case. The air is thicker in Grimmauld Place, pungent with the stench of emptiness. With the flick of his wand, he banishes the dust and cobwebs before oiling a rag to wipe the surface of the shelf, polishing the dullness away from the old oak.

Harry has put off being here long enough. A thick layer of dust has settled over all the furnishings and window dressings, and he can't help but wonder if sending Kreacher to Hogwarts all those years ago had really been the best thing to do. The House Elf never really was much for domestic duties, though, and after his betrayal of The Order, Hogwarts really was the only humane option.

Having no other book cases to organise or walls to clean at his own flat, Harry sets about casting several of the most powerful cleaning charms that Molly Weasley had taught him, before filling a bucket full of soapy water. Sometimes, magic just won't suffice.

Hours pass in which Harry only makes a small dent in the great list of chores needing to be done at Grimmauld Place. The sitting room and kitchen are at least sufficiently cleaned and sparkling. Harry smiles, admiring his work.

"I think that's enough for one day," he says to no one in particular, though Nola does squeak in response from her place in a small, empty urn. "You like that, do you?" Harry asks. "Well, I think it's a bit morbid if you ask me. We aren't bringing it home with us."

Harry sweeps the foyer, careful not to disturb the tattered, moth-eaten curtains that cover the portrait of Walburga Black. After Vanishing the pile of dust and rubbish, he calls for Kreacher, deciding that he certainly can use as much help as he can get. For long moments there's no sign of the elf and Harry wonders if perhaps, over the years, his loyalties have managed to shift to Hogwarts entirely. A loud pop within the kitchen, followed by muffled grumblings of displeasure and hatred, quickly dispel that thought.

"Kreacher," Harry snaps with authority, effectively stifling any further insults. "Get this place cleaned up. Don't remove anything, and don't hide anything," he says sternly. "You're not to leave here except to go back to Hogwarts this evening, do you understand?"

The elf nods grimly but, to Harry's surprise, says nothing as he turns and heads into the dining room.

He replaces the lid on Nola's urn, confining her to her cosy new space, and scoops it up before exiting Grimmauld Place.

oOo

Harry shifts uncomfortably on his barstool. He's already had two snifters of Bucklebee Brandy more than he had intended and, by all reason, his arse should be sufficiently numb by now. It isn't, yet somehow a simple cushioning charm seems to have escaped him.

A thatch of thick red hair catches his eye and Harry turns to greet his friend just as Ron sidles up onto the stool beside him.

"I didn't think you'd come," he says, allowing a smile to creep over his face. "Good to see you, mate."

Harry returns his friend's smile, genuinely pleased to have a chance to visit with him outside of the expectant company of the rest of the family.

"You didn't bring Hermione along?"

Ron shakes his head a little too enthusiastically. "Believe me, she'd want to see you. Thankfully, she was stuck at work late."

"Thankfully?" Harry asks with a bit of a laugh.

"I think she's gone completely mental lately. We're trying to have another baby."

"Congratulations," Harry says, smiling brightly. He knew they had always wanted to have a large family, and Harry couldn't think of two people better fit to be parents. With Ron's devoted nature and playful demeanour and Hermione's protective nurturing, they were sure to be the most well cared-for children in all the world. "That's really great."

"Yeah, well, the process I don't much mind." Ron smiles deviously. "It's the rest of it that's getting to me. She's got books on everything from diet and exercise to ideal positions."

At this, Harry can't help but snort into his brandy. "Maybe she thinks you could use a few pointers."

"I wish it were as simple as that. And even that isn't the worst part. She's been cramming loads of folic acid and fibre into every meal, which means my usual Tuesday night roast and boiled potatoes has turned into liver and okra." Ron sighs pitifully, peeking into his bottle of ale as if wishing for it to refill itself. "Okra, Harry. I didn't even know what that was until a month ago. It isn't right to do that to a bloke."

Harry nods in agreement. Were it not for the months he'd spent in Africa, he probably would have no idea what it was, either. Nevertheless, he laughs at his friend's dramatic outlook on the situation.

Much to Harry's relief, they seem to fall easily back into the routine of comfortable conversation and playful jibes. The two of them talk well into the evening, reminiscing on their school days and holidays spent at the Burrow, all the while avoiding more sensitive subjects, such as war and death. Harry supposes that Ron would rather try and focus his energy on remembering the lighter aspects of his adolescence.

At half past midnight, boisterous laughter draws Harry's attention to the other side of the bar. There, seated on a stool just across from him is, once again, Draco Malfoy. Several people are seated beside him, engaged in what seems to be a rather amusing story. Harry rolls his eyes and groans audibly, inadvertently alerting Ron to his annoyance.

Ron's smile seems sad as he looks back at Harry, shrugging one shoulder and taking another healthy swig of his ale.

"I guess I should just get used to the idea that we're sharing the same city now, shouldn't I?" Harry asks, knowing he doesn't need to elaborate.

Ron nods. "Probably a good idea. He is sort of a constant presence."

Harry groans again and theatrically drops his forehead to the bar, resting it against the slightly sticky resin surface. Drawing several long, calming breaths, he sits upright once more, and finds Ron staring at him with an amused expression on his face. It's obvious he's holding back a laugh, and Harry wishes he wouldn't. Better to be laughed at than to be thought genuinely insane, he's sure.

"I thought you two got on all right after the war."

"We were civil. Not best mates, by any means." Harry remembers a time, be it brief, when he actually thought they could be friends. A few long months of coexisting at The Leaky Cauldron had born a mutual understanding of one another, but it wasn't long after that Harry had left the country. Harry didn't need any more friends. He had already begun the process of shutting out the ones he did have. "I seem to somehow be in all the wrong places at all the wrong times. Maybe I should stick to Muggle London to avoid anymore run-ins. I'm sure he wouldn't be caught dead there." Harry picks up his drink, inhaling the bitter-sweet scent of aged oak and berries, before taking a sip.

"Don't be so hard on him," Ron says, casting a sympathetic glance across the bar before turning his eyes back to Harry. "A lot of things have changed since the war, mate."

"Obviously. But Malfoy's still a wanker."

"You're probably right." Ron sets his bottle of ale down. "But there are two sides to every story, you know."

Harry watches his friend closely from over the rim of his glass as he chugs the remainder of its contents.

"You must be pissed," Harry says, setting his own glass down and eyeing Ron's half-empty bottle. "There's no fucking way the Ron Weasley I know would ever take to defending a Malfoy."

Ron offers Harry a wry smile and raised eyebrow. "I swore an oath to treat each person I come across with compassion and understanding to the best of my ability," he says as if he's reading directly from the Auror Code of Ethics. "Even if he is a git." They both snort with laughter for a healthy measure of time before Ron continues. "It's my job to see the grey areas where I used to only see black and white."

Harry doesn't know quite how to respond to that. Many things have changed in the years since the war, some more significantly than others, but Ron's complete shift in attitude concerning Draco Malfoy is one thing Harry would have never in a million years imagined possible. He's oddly proud of his friend's ability to put school age animosity behind him and Harry wonders why he himself can't follow suit.

"So, what's his story, then? Or is that against that code of yours to share?" Harry asks. He knows he probably shouldn't concern himself with such things that could be inferred as gossip, but the brandy seems to have loosened his grip on reason.

Ron shakes his hair out of his eyes before gesturing for the barkeep to bring another round.

"His case isn't mine. I know about as much as the next guy. The purebloods had a hard time after the war, believe it or not. They tried to stick to traditions while incorporating a few...new things."

"Such as?" Harry's interest is certainly piqued. Centuries old prejudices proven unjust in the light of the war would surely lead to varying levels of frustration and anger among the older pureblood families. He wonders what the Malfoys would have possibly bent their own rules for.

"Well, I think most were pretty determined to convince what was left of the wizarding world that they didn't want to discriminate anymore. Purebloods were married into well-to-do Muggle-born and half-blood families. I think it made a lot of them sick to even consider it."

Harry accepts his drink from the crinkle-eyed man who casts him a disapproving look but says nothing. Harry knows he's likely had more than the barkeep typically allows, but he isn't being loud or belligerent, and he certainly isn't causing any problems. The tingling of his teeth and fuzzy feeling on his tongue tell him that this will be the last round, at any rate.

He swirls his brandy in the snifter before taking another sip. "Don't tell me Malfoy there was one of them," Harry says derisively.

"Actually," Ron begins. Harry's disbelieving eyes snap up to meet his friends. "His dad was sent to Azkaban, his mum had no choice but to try and scrape together what was left of their lives. He was married to a pretty girl who had Muggle parents...anyway, the personal parts aren't relevant, I guess. His wife and son got into an accident in Muggle London two years back. Neither of them made it."

Harry's gaze—which had been on Malfoy throughout the better part of Ron's brief explanation—snaps back to his friend again. "You must be joking."

Ron cocks an eyebrow. "Does that sound like a joke, mate?"

"No," Harry says, rubbing his hands over his face before letting out a long sigh. "No. I'm sorry. It's just...hard to believe."

"Malfoy there," Ron gestures with his chin to the blond man on the other side of the bar. "He refuses to believe that they're gone. There's nothing to say where the bodies were laid to rest, or even when the funeral took place. But the coroners, they saw them. Hell, even Malfoy himself saw them...he just doesn't remember."

Harry feels an icy chill pass through his soul. No record of where they were laid to rest could very well mean that Malfoy was telling the truth that night in Godric's Hollow; he really was looking for something. And to think, when Malfoy had told Harry his family was gone, Harry thought he had meant his parents. Nothing could have prepared him for this.

"It's an open and closed case. Except that it isn't closed...We have no leads, nothing to suggest foul play." Ron shakes his head. "I've heard of it happening hundreds of times, though—mostly to Muggles—where someone experiences trauma and their brain sort of shuts out certain parts."

"Like amnesia?" Harry asks with genuine curiosity.

Ron nods. "Something like that. More selective, though, I think. At first he didn't remember anything at all. He didn't even know that he had a family beyond his mum and dad. Then he came across an old Prophet article in some library archives one day. There was a picture of the accident. He started trying to piece things together, kept coming in to the Ministry demanding more information." Ron shakes his head in disbelief and downs the remnants of his drink. "Hermione says it's some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

"Certainly could be," Harry puts in. "I mean, it affected us all a bit differently."

He can't take his eyes off the other man across the bar now, and when Draco's gaze lifts and meets Harry's, suddenly it's clear why those eyes looked so familiar that first night Harry had seen him in Godric's Hollow. Grey irises are clouded with sorrow, desperation, and lost hope that Harry recognises from his own reflection in the mirror each morning.

oOo

"I swore an oath to treat everyone blah-blah..." Harry mocks half-heartedly as he flips through the file on his desk.

Nola peers down at him worriedly from within her urn atop the shelf. He doesn't want to admit that he's jealous of Ron, but it would be foolish to not acknowledge it. He definitely wishes it were him who had managed, in spite of everything, to grow up so well-rounded.

Malfoy is a right arsehole, there are no two ways about it, but since the conversation with Ron at the pub last week, Harry can't help but think that perhaps he should be helping the other man.

Harry, after all, knows perfectly well what it feels like to lose people you care about. Try as he might to compare their situations, to weigh their losses against one another, he still can't even begin to imagine the pains of losing a child. Ink pools on the parchment where the tip of Harry's quill rests unmoving and forgotten as his mind wanders. He thinks of his mother and how desperate she was to save him, even at the cost of her own life. While he has been told—and shown—numerous times the strength and power of that magnitude of devotion, it's still something so far beyond comprehension to one who has no one to love so deeply. A vivid image flickers through his mind of a devastated Molly Weasley, cradling the lifeless body of her son, and Harry's heart aches for them. All of them.

Which is precisely the reason he has pushed people away all these years. Harry knows what loss is. He knows the feeling of failure when you can't save everyone around you, when the people who care about you die fighting for you. And when he thinks about it, which he often does, he knows that all of the people in his past who have died have done so for him in one capacity or another.

With a sigh, Harry closes the file and slips it into his desk drawer to be looked over with a clearer mind tomorrow. It's been a long day, after all, and it only just occurred to him that he hadn't even stopped for lunch. After some thought, Harry scribbles a note onto a piece of parchment to be sent off with one of the Ministry owls, and sets off for the day.

Andien looks up from her desk across the hall, swiping her fringe out of her eyes and smiling cheerfully when she sees him.

"Good evening, Mr Potter. I was beginning to think you'd never surface for air." She grabs a tin from within her desk drawer and pops the lid off. "Biscuit? You must be starving."

"Actually, I hadn't thought much about it until just now," Harry says, taking a couple of the treats.

"I made them myself," says Andien, with a hint of pride as she replaces the lid and sets the tin back in its place.

Harry thanks her, not one to forget his manners, and promptly drops the biscuits into his coat pocket as soon as he is certain he's out of her sight. He realises that he's no longer a teenager, but the memory of a determined Romilda Vain stands fresh in his thoughts and he'd rather not take any risks. Besides, Hell hath no fury like a Nola who has missed lunch.

oOo

Even with the assistance of modern technology, it's still taken hours. Harry lacks the proper know-how when it comes to some of these Muggle conveniences. He supposes perhaps the Ministry doesn't need a new filing system after all, if it would be anything like searching through what must be thousands of microfilms and newspaper archives as he has for the last two hours. His wrists ache from the angle at which he's been typing on the keyboard and his head is beginning to throb as his eyes scan the screen for relevant information but, at last, he's found something:

Fatal Accident Blocks Tower Bridge; 3 Dead

Traffic was backed up on Tower Bridge early evening Saturday due to a fatal crash involving three vehicles. Officials say that a waste disposal lorry was sideswiped when a car, operated by Thomas Ludlow, swerved unexpectedly into oncoming traffic, causing the lorry to overturn onto a vehicle beside it.

Ludlow was taken to The Lister Hospital in critical condition where he was later pronounced dead. Occupants of the third vehicle involved, Farraline Fenwick-Malfoy, 22, and her infant son, Arius Daniel Malfoy, 9 months, were both killed instantly upon impact.

Police say that the driver of the vehicle which lost control was not under the influence of alcohol, and it was simply a matter of unfortunate circumstances.

No other information is given. Harry wants to be sick. Even if he isn't particularly fond of Malfoy, no one deserves to lose a child, a baby. With some difficulty, Harry prints the article and accompanying pages surrounding the date of the incident in the hopes of finding more information.

Accepting the papers and picking up Nola's urn, Harry thanks the librarian, who is giving him a decidedly odd look, and makes his way home.

When he arrives back at his flat, Hermione's owl is tapping impatiently on his kitchen window. He isn't sure how long it's been waiting out in the cold, but the sharp nip to his wrist as she enters informs him that it's been too long for her liking.

The letter is a response from Hermione informing Harry of Malfoy's wife's name. Attached are several articles similar to the one Harry himself had found, none of which mention the name "Malfoy" at all, which explains why it was difficult for Harry to find anything. None of the papers Hermione has sent say anything differently than what Harry has already read for himself.

oOo

"Mr Potter?" Andien's voice is soft and gentle as though after these months, she's still under the impression that Harry is easily startled. "Draco Malfoy wishes to speak with you if you've got time," she says, the expression on her face both apologetic and enigmatic at once.

Harry suddenly feels as though a hand has reached into his head, gripping his brain with the strength of a cave troll. He had been expecting Malfoy since he'd sent a note a week ago, but he thought the other man would have responded more promptly. After all, he knows Malfoy spends a great deal of time stalking the halls of the Ministry for Harry to run into him so often during his own scarce hours here.

Still, he would rather kiss the arse of a Hungarian Horntail than have a conversation with Malfoy in confined quarters with no witnesses present to stop either of them hexing each other. Unable to think of a reason to put it off, Harry nods his consent before signing the sheet of parchment and filing it away.

When Malfoy steps into Harry's office, he's wearing the same sort of expensive yet casual clothing that Harry often sees him in, and a frustratingly impassive expression. In his hand, he holds a file similar to those that Harry has looked at dozens of times. A faint hum of magic passes through the room as the door clicks closed behind Malfoy. The ministry performs inspections and registrations on each wand carried into the building, but Harry learned that anyone with a criminal record must leave theirs at the security check point before being admitted beyond the Atrium. He wondered how Malfoy was able to hand his off so willingly each time he came here. Now it was a bit clearer. Harry narrows a glance at him, impressed that the other man is able to perform wandless magic, but, of course, not willing to say so.

From the shelf above, Nola peers down at the intruder, a barely-audible growl vibrating through her. Harry eyes her curiously, wondering if she'd dare perform her aerial attack on anything that wasn't a piece of parchment folded into an aeroplane her same size.

"Please tell your squirrel to stand down," Draco says as he moves farther into the room.

"I don't actually speak squirrel," Harry answers before he's had the chance to consider his words. "And she isn't a squirrel," he qualifies. He'd also like to ask how Malfoy is even aware of Nola's existence as every time the two men have run into one another, she has been safely stowed away in one of Harry's warm pockets, but instead, he waits for Malfoy to speak.

Not wanting to be rude, Harry offers the other man a seat. Malfoy takes a worn slip of parchment from his pocket and tosses it down on the desk before sliding into the chair. It's the note Harry had sent him which simply read: Malfoy, I'd like to speak with you, when you have time.

"I hope this means you've reconsidered," he says.

"Actually, I have."

Glancing up, Malfoy side-eyes Nola who ducks down into her urn with her ears back as she watches him.

"What made you change your mind?" he asks.

Harry isn't sure he wants to betray Ron's secret, so rather than telling Malfoy where he heard the story, he simply shrugs and replies, "I did some investigating."

"Let me guess. You found nothing suspicious." Malfoy's tone does not seem at all shocked. Simply accepting. "Cold facts in Muggle newspapers. I know how this goes, Potter. It isn't new to me. I'm aware of the fact that no respectable journalist in wizarding London would care to report this type of incident–"

"Why not?" Harry cuts in, curious to know how someone once so proud of the wizarding world seems to hold ill feelings toward it now.

Malfoy laughs dryly. "Because, Potter, my wife's family wasn't part of the wizarding world. She was Muggle-born...I'm sure that amuses you."

"I'm surprised, I admit. Few things actually amuse me, though," Harry says, leaning back and twisting his wand around in his hand.

Malfoy rubs at the back of his neck, gazing down at the desktop between them. "I don't really know where to start," he says, after a few long moments of silence. He looks up at Harry again, his eyes shining in the dim light of the office. "None of this seems like my life at all...none of it." His voice sounds far away, as if he isn't even speaking to Harry at all. "Her father was a well-known surgeon, her mother an attorney. I had to rebuild my family name after the war. Had to prove that I was worthy, redeemable."

"Sort of a cowardly way to do it, don't you think?" Harry is so used to the snide back-and-forth bickering of their past that the words fall from his lips before he even has a chance to consider them.

Malfoy doesn't lose his temper or snap back at him like his school-aged self certainly would have, though. "Yes," he says, matter-of-factly. "It would have been, if that were the only thing I'd done to prove myself." His eyes flash with determination as he glares at Harry. "But it wasn't."

Harry doesn't need to question him further to know that he's telling the truth. He remembers the letters from Hermione over the years following the war. He knows the work Malfoy did to rebuild Hogwarts, even without the assistance of magic. The restriction imposed by the ministry was just. Malfoy had spent his life knowing only the convenience of magic. To live without it for a year was a fitting punishment for him. Harry would have liked to see for himself the work Malfoy had done without it, the physical labour of rebuilding a castle and everything else that had been destroyed.

"I don't know that there's anything I can do to help you, Malfoy. But I'm willing to try. You understand that if they're gone, they're gone. There isn't anything that can be done to change that." Harry isn't sure exactly what Malfoy's extent of knowledge is concerning metaphysical magic, but he certainly hopes the other man doesn't expect him to be able to bring people back from the dead.

"I do understand. I just...I need to know that he's really gone."

He, not they. Harry wants to ask the meaning behind that, but he thinks now is not the time.

"And if there is nothing else?" he asks instead. "If it isn't some scheme against you? What then?"

Malfoy shakes his head slowly, his eyes scanning the office as if he's trying not to look directly at Harry. "I don't know. I'll have closure, I suppose. I just...I wish I could remember. I can't remember anything, Harry."

The sudden use of his first name sends a slight shock through Harry. During the time they'd stayed together at The Leaky, they had eventually lost the formality of calling each other by their surnames, but Harry had forgotten about that until just this moment.

"What do you mean you can't remember anything?" he asks, though he knows full-well what Malfoy means. He still doesn't want to let on that Ron gave him any information at all.

"I didn't even know I had a family at all until I came across an article in a Muggle newspaper. The names weren't at all familiar to me but, of course, Malfoy was. I did some checking around, spoke with people I hadn't seen since the war. No one knew anything. It was as if I'd gone away from the wizarding world entirely. The Aurors, my mother...they knew. They said it was a car accident and that I was too traumatised to remember." Draco scoffs. "As if I hadn't been through enough in my lifetime? Why won't those memories disappear? Why this? Then I started to suspect that someone had altered my memory deliberately."

Harry has no good answer to offer. No comforting words or easy solutions. All he can do is listen. Malfoy does have a point. If he'd gone through his teenage years living in a house with Voldemort and his clan of Death Eaters, Harry is certain he would have suffered through plenty of traumatic experiences.

"I thought, if only I could remember. If only I knew what he looked like, perhaps I could help to find him. What if he really is out there somewhere, alive and well? I've had world renowned healers try to reinstate my memory, and over time, bits have come back, but I still can't recall everything. They can't restore all of it without destroying my mind entirely."

Harry nods in understanding. He's certain the Aurors would have checked into the possibility that Malfoy had been Obliviated, but that's definitely what seems to have happened.