Title: Set Me Free
Author: Makoto Sagara
For:2012 H/D Career Fair on LiveJournal
Prompt Number: #254
Career Choices: Animagus specialist (Harry)/Fledgling Animagus (Draco)
Pairing(s): Draco/Harry (pre-slash), Ron/Hermione, Lucius/Narcissa
Summary: Draco has finally completed his Animagus transformation. Too bad he hasn't figured out how to transform back. In comes Harry to the rescue, happy to help before he finds out who it is. After that, well, Draco has some explaining to do!
Warnings/Content Notes: pre-slash, OOC, EWE, DH spoilers, flangst, language, humour, cute kids
Word Count: 18,469
Author's Notes: Many thanks go to Raintenshi and the recently departed Jamie for being sounding boards and pushing me to finish this! Super thanks go to Jokes and Sky for the excellent beta job! You two are the absolute best! (FYI, I had to do some research about tigers. They can see greens, blues and yellows, so they are not completely colour-blind! Woot!) Hope this fits with what you asked for Myworldenough.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is owned by J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Publishing, Warner Bros, and some other companies that are NOT me. I make nothing from this.
It was June fifth, the day of his twenty-fourth birthday, when Draco Malfoy managed to successfully complete his Animagus transformation for the very first time. He'd been sitting outside in the Manor gardens, under his favourite copse of trees when it happened. One minute, he was a highly attractive male wizard of pureblood ancestry which could be traced back to France and Ancient Rome beyond. The next, he was much closer to the ground, covered in stripped white fur, and overcome with the urge to jump into the pond on a few metres from where he was. Ignoring that undignified urge, Draco leaned over the edge of the pond to gaze at his reflection.
His normally pointy –ahem, refined– face was covered in thick fur exhibiting the same stripping as his body, with cute round ears on the top of his head and long, delicate whiskers. His eyes, from what he could tell, had not changed colours, but he was having trouble telling because his range of colours that he could see was vastly decreased, evidently. For all intents and purposes, he was a gorgeous Siberian tiger, if not a little on the smallish side. A terrified squeak grabbed his attention, and he could see a house-elf on the other side of the pond, staring at him as if he was a Dementor. Before he could make a move towards the elf, it squeaked again and disappeared with a loud crack.
Draco attempted to return to his human form, but found he was unable. Frustrated, he let out a growl which sounded less than intimidating. In fact, if he hadn't been the origin of the sound, he would have found it amusing; however, since it came from him, it was humiliating. Looking around, he realised everything did, in fact, look much differently than it did when he was a human.
The sound of heavy footsteps approaching made his ears twitch in annoyance. "Draco," his father said from the paved walkway which led to the pond. "Oh, Mimsy didn't say what your form was. Are you a miniature?"
Draco growled in frustration, using a paw to swipe at one of the fish in the pond.
"Lucius, what is his form?" Narcissa Malfoy asked from the house, coming to stand beside her husband when he didn't answer her. "Oh, he is truly breath-taking. He is a Siberian, yes?"
"I believe so, Narcissa, but he's rather… small." The Malfoy patriarch frowned as he continued to study his son.
"Well, I believe it is because he is a cub, dear," she said sweetly before coming over to stroke the fur around her son's ears. "You are absolutely perfect, love. Once you get used to transforming, your form shall grow to appropriate size." She smiled as Draco butted his head against her legs, leaving long, white hairs on the skirt of her gown. "Darling, have you figured out how to transform back?"
Draco, forgetting about the way it felt so good to have his mother's long fingers scratching his sensitive ears, shook his head sadly before letting out an annoyed mewl.
"It is the opposite of how you transform into the animal form, Draco," Lucius said contemptuously. "You imagine yourself as you look as a human."
"Lucius, since you were unable to even complete the first part of the transformation, I believe that you are unqualified to assist in this matter," Narcissa reminded him mildly. "Besides, you are not helping our son by belittling his efforts."
"He seems to be showing very little 'effort', if you ask me."
"Well, I did not," she snapped before turning to the tiger cub still sitting at her feet. "Draco, darling, you must close your eyes and imagine yourself back in your human body."
Draco did as she said, concentrating on how he remembered himself appearing in the mirror that morning –long, white-blond hair pulled back with a black silk string; impeccable white robes cut in the newest French fashion to hug his bum and trim waist; the simple silver-grey button up worn under the new robes; his angular chin; patrician nose; smoky grey eyes; long fingered hands; and lips many had described as kissable. He sat for many minutes with the image in his mind before forcing his will on his body to change back. Unfortunately, when he opened his eyes, he was still at his mother's feet and covered in stripped white fur. He cocked one rounded ear at her and huffed heavily.
"Draco, try again. This time, think about the way your body feels, not looks," Narcissa said gently as she lowered herself to the ground next to his feline form.
Somehow, he knew it would take a while.
Three hours later, Draco was still unable to recover his human body, and he was growing hungry. Lucius had left after the first hour, grumbling under his voice about last minute preparations for Draco's birthday party later in the evening. Narcissa had stayed by his side, gently coaxing and showing him again and again how the transformation from human to animal to human again was to go by changing into her swan form. By the time the sun was high in the sky, Draco was beyond frustrated and felt as if he hadn't eaten in ages. He stared at his mother in her Animagus form and growled.
Narcissa, showing she was indeed the intelligent woman Draco knew her to be, transformed back into her human form and gave him a grimace. "Yes, well, I suppose my transforming into a bird has not helped you," she said, patting him on the head gently. "Shall we see what the elves have made for lunch?" He gave her a rumbling growl and she sighed. "I am sure there is a duck or something Libby can give you for now." Draco nodded and made to follow her into the Manor at a sedate pace.
"My darling, you cannot give up," she said as they made their way to the kitchens. "After lunch, I believe a nap is in order and then we will try again, all right?" He nodded sadly and managed not to gag when the elves presented him with a lunch full of raw beefsteak. He stared at the bowl before him and sniffed at it daintily. It didn't smell terrible. In fact, it smelled rather tasty. He'd always liked his beef, lamb and goat a little on the rare side, so he squared his shoulders and tucked in. What worried him later was the fact that the meal actually tasted very good.
He refused to look up at his mother when he was done, instead lying down under the table where she sat and trying to get the blood off of his paws and maw as much as was possible. Mimsy popped up beside him and gave him a watery smile. "Master Draco, you is having blood by your ears. Mimsy is getting it for you." The elf snapped her fingers and what felt like cold water being dumped on his head washed over him. "There, now you is looking all clean and proper." Another watery smile crossed the elf's face before she popped away again.
"Narcissa," his father's voice made Draco look up from his spot by his mother's feet and the look on the older man's face made his heart sink. "Have you managed to help our son into successfully transforming back?"
"Unfortunately not yet," she answered calmly, ignoring the way Lucius's eyes burned. Ever since he'd been released from Azkaban for the second time, he'd been a little more forceful with Draco. He claimed it was because he was sorry and wanted to see his son make something out of himself in this new world where the Malfoy money was grudgingly accepted and their company was not as sought after as before, but Draco feared his father wasn't the same. No, he knew his father wasn't the same man. Sometimes, if he felt strongly about something, he'd get this haunted, burning look, like the one he wore now, and the intensity greatly disturbed Draco and his mother. "We have decided a small nap after lunch is necessary and then we shall try again."
"And what should we do about his birthday fête this evening?"
"Oh, it shall have to be cancelled," she said disappointedly. "Even if he successfully manages to get back into his human body, he will be very tired. I remember the first few successful attempts are rather draining as the body's magic endeavours to adjust to the changes."
"Cancelled?" Lucius asked, raising an eyebrow sardonically. As a teenager, Draco had wondered where he'd gotten that particular gesture from and now that the information was staring him in the face, he was a little disturbed. "Fine, I will take care of informing his guests he will be detained and I will attempt to reschedule it for later."
"Thank you, Lucius." Draco came from under the table and stared as his father. The older Malfoy stared back at him, grey eyes cool and evaluating once more.
When he nodded regally, Draco could feel calm wash over him, and he walked over to his father and rubbed his head against the man's legs.
"Humph," Lucius muttered, leaning over to stroke Draco's head softly. "You really are rather gorgeous, my son." And then, the moment of tenderness was over, and Lucius was standing up, looking at his mother evenly. "Narcissa, I will allow you to attempt this mediation, but if he is not turned back by tomorrow, we're calling Potter."
In the seven years since the war, Harry Potter had not done what the Wizarding world assumed he would. He had not become an Auror. He had not decided to play Quidditch professionally. He had not married Ginevra Weasley. In fact, he had not married any woman. He had announced he was gay and not willing to date anyone at the moment. Since his announcement, nearly a year to the date of the Final Battle, there had no trace of him being involved with anyone. He still associated with the entire Weasley family, George and Ron Weasley the most, as the two ran Weasley Wizarding Wheezes on Diagon Alley and he was listed as an investor, but aside from them and a few of the Gryffindors who had remained in the UK from his year, he became distant, claiming he was too busy.
First, he'd concentrated on learning to become an Animagus. He'd studied under Headmistress McGonagall on the weekends, and, proving he was the son of James Potter, had completed his transformation in a little over nine months. When the Headmistress asked him about this speedy mastering of the difficult magic, he'd told her he'd found a few of his father's and Sirius's journals in his various Gringotts vaults. McGonagall only smiled proudly at her former pupil and congratulated him on joining the ranks of the limited witches and wizards who could complete the transformation into Animagi.
After that, he had attended a private meeting with newly re-elected Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, where it was widely assumed the Minister had tried to change the young man's mind about being an Auror. All that was released to the public was the fact Harry Potter had become a registered Animagus, but his form and any distinguishing marks were kept level Ten Restricted, meaning only the Minister, the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and the Head Auror even knew what it was. What the public didn't know was these three people were put under an Unbreakable Vow to keep the information quiet and they'd all agreed to be Obliviated of the information once they left office.
While Harry thought the memory modification was a bit much, he could understand why the three men thought it was necessary. They would never be able to betray him and it ensured that he controlled how much people knew about this new aspect of his life.
Of course, he told the Weasleys, who cheered and praised his new form, but they, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom were the only ones who ever found out.
His third order of business was to speak to Andromeda Black-Tonks about his godson, Teddy Remus Lupin. The two agreed Harry could visit the cottage where Teddy and Andromeda lived at any time and he could take Teddy to his house two weekends every month.
The fourth thing Harry did was attend the very public wedding of Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley as Ron's best man. Ron looked handsome in his midnight blue dress robes which were cut in the Muggle-inspired fashion, and Hermione was absolutely radiant in her white wedding dress. At the reception, Harry had spent most of the night dancing with Ginny, laughing and joking over everything, but one look at the two made it abundantly clear they were only two friends enjoying each other's company. So, when Ginny left that evening with Neville Longbottom, very few of the remaining guests were surprised.
Once his two best friends had taken off on their honeymoon, Harry sat down in a newly renovated Number 12 Grimmauld Place and thought about what he wanted to do with his life. He'd gotten his NEWTs, of course, because Hermione had insisted the three of them do so, even if Ron had also decided against becoming an Auror and wanted to help George at Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes after Fred's death. Harry's grades had been surprisingly good: Os in Transfiguration, Defence Against the Dark Arts, and Charms and Es in Potions and History of Magic (that was a shocker to everyone). Technically, he could do whatever he wished. St. Mungo's had contacted him about their Healer program. Kingsley and Robards, the Head Auror, had guaranteed him a spot in Auror training, even before he'd passed his NEWTs. Gringotts, through Bill, had expressed interest in having him become a Curse Breaker and promised that his adventures during the war were all forgiven, especially since the goblins had managed to recapture their dragon once again. Headmistress McGonagall had even talked to him about the Defence position at Hogwarts. But, none of those options really appealed to him.
Sure, he wanted to help people, and the thought of teaching didn't sound too bad, but those things just didn't do it for him. So, he stayed at Grimmauld Place and tutored Ginny, Luna and Neville in the process of becoming Animagi. Oddly enough, Luna was the first to successfully complete her transformation into a mynah bird. However, she got stuck and couldn't revert back. So, he'd worked with her exclusively for two weeks. By the end of that time, Luna was human again and could transform between forms at will, and Ginny and Neville were able to meditate perfectly well. Two months later, Ginny transformed into a desert hare for the first time, with no complications. And two weeks after Ginny, Neville confirmed Harry's suspicions –Neville was a bear, literally.
It was then that he knew what he wanted to do with his life. Four weeks after Neville's successful change, he'd formed the business "Animagus Recovery" with the promise to help witches and wizards stuck in their animal forms and rescuing Animagi who had been captured by others find their freedom. It was slow going, at first, but once word began to spread about how efficient, polite, and reasonably priced he was, Harry soon had so much work he barely had time to think. He'd wondered about taking in an assistant or partner, but no one stood out, and so he worked as much as he could, but he sent the especially difficult cases to Headmistress McGonagall, who found the extra work satisfying, especially since she lectured the Animagi once they were human again about the proper training and study techniques of such a difficult branch of Transfiguration.
Five years after he opened shop, he was working all over Europe, with referrals in America, Australia, parts of Northern Africa, and even the Middle East. He was in Hungary, helping with a giraffe Animagi near Budapest, when Ron called him about the tiger cub he'd found.
Draco let out an undignified growl when his father had mentioned Potter's name. How could he say something like that? The self-righteous, sanctimonious prat would never help Draco out. No amount of money would allow Saint Potter to condescend to assist Death Eater scum. Surely all of his time in Azkaban had done something to his father's fragile psyche. It was too much! If he couldn't revert to his human form, he'd rather be in a zoo than to ask Potter for help.
"Draco, darling, that is no way to act when Mr. Potter's name is mentioned," Narcissa chided him. "You owe him a great debt for saving your life and for testifying for your father. Merlin knows the Wizengamot could have sentenced him to life in Azkaban if Mr. Potter had not been so nice as to assist us in our time of need." She made a movement to bend down and pat his head, but he wasn't in the mood for coddling and snapped his maw.
"Draco Lucius Abraxas Malfoy," she said coolly and quietly. "If can you decide that you are man enough to try and attack me when I am the only one around here who can help you, then you can just figure this out on your own."
He knew he'd gone too far when she spoke so formally, so distantly, and he regretted it, but his mother wore the expression that said he would have to beg for her forgiveness, and he still had too much pride to do so. Instead, he stuck his furred face up in the air and ignored her.
"Well then, I shall leave you to it." And then, she was gone.
Oh, he was buggered. Mother would tell Lucius what happened in the kitchen. Lucius would snort regally and then call Potter to straighten Draco out. Potter would come and lord over Draco that he was such a better wizard now that he'd defeated Voldemort and had a successful business and was handsome and rich and… Wait… WHAT?
Potter was not handsome. It was the stress. It was getting to his brain –that was all. He had to get away from the Manor. He needed a break from everything. Perhaps he'd even avoid the Muggles and enjoy a trip outside as a tiger. Yes, that was it exactly. He'd leave the Manor and go on an adventure through the English countryside for a few days. Then, he'd come home and things would be normal again.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, bloody buggering hell! Draco snarled as he took in the magically joined metal bars around him. Of course, it came out as undignified mewling and a few growls. He had been running along, enjoying his little jaunt out of the Manor grounds for the first time in a long while, when the metal snapped up around him, making him a captive of whatever sadistic wizard had concocted this contraption. If I knew it was going to end up like this, I would have stayed at the bloody Manor and waited for that pompous arse Potter to arrive, he thought miserably. Merlin only knew what kind of person was going to come out and observe him or how long it would take.
He had just decided to take a little kip when he heard footsteps approaching. Quickly, he leaned against the far bars and readied himself to pounce on his unsuspecting victim. To say he was surprised when he saw the familiar, but older and better looking, form of Ronald Weasley would have been a vast understatement. For one, he remembered vaguely Weasley and his family lived in Ottery St. Catchpole, some one hundred kilometres from Malfoy Manor in Wiltshire. For another, the changes he saw in his former enemy were all for the better. While the Weasel had been gangly and freckled the last time he saw the other man, at the Death Eater trials after the Battle of Hogwarts, he was now broad-shouldered, highly muscled, and if it hadn't been for his shockingly ginger hair, which Draco knew he possessed though his tiger's senses couldn't pick up the colour, he might have been handsome.
"Well, look what we have here," Weasley said as he leaned over the steel cage, a smile gracing his face. "Aren't you a handsome bugger? Shame you're caged."
"Daddy!" A little girl with familiar bushy hair in a colour Draco couldn't process peeked around the man's legs and her blue eyes widened in joy. "KITTY!" When she attempted to launch her tiny body at the cage, Weasley picked her up by the ruff of her dress.
"I wouldn't do it, Rosie. Mummy will be very angry at the both of us if you did," Weasley said softly, his voice fond and adoring. "It seems this kitty is special. We'll have to call your Uncle Harry to help him."
"Kitty 'peshul? Dun worry, kitty. Unca Hawwy hep good," the adorable girl cooed from her father's arms. "Pet?"
"Ron? Have you seen Rose?" Another familiar voice called and Draco let out a low groan. Granger, of course… That explained why the child's hair seemed so familiar. She must be the spawn of the Weasel and the Mudblood. He looked up to see the now pretty woman with frizzy hair glaring at his cage. "Is it an Animagus, Ronald?"
"He's gotta be, 'Mione. You know Harry made those cages especially to catch loose Animagi around the property. Too bad it wasn't one of the larger cages. Poor guy's going to run out of space in a few hours."
"Well, I haven't heard about any registered Siberian tigers lately around the Ministry," she said, smiling at her daughter and holding out her hands to take the girl. "What about you?"
"Nope, no tiger suspects in any cases I can recall from talking to Dean and Terry lately, and nothing around the shop either," Weasley answered, handing over the child. "I'll call Harry in a bit. Rosie is fascinated, of course."
"Of course," his wife groaned. "It's a feline. I'm surprised you stopped her before she tried to break the cage down."
"It was a near thing." Weasley leaned over the bars again, looking at Draco carefully. "I swear I've seen those eyes somewhere before, but I'll be darned if I can remember where."
"There's no point in wondering," Granger responded matter-of-factly. "If he's a stuck Animagi, Harry's the best person to help him out. If not, then we'll call the Aurors to arrest him for trespassing on private property. I'm sure they'll love to deal with a newly unregistered Animagus that could be potentially dangerous. They're still trying to recover from the Johnson debacle."
"True. I'll bring the poor bloke some food while we wait."
"How do you know it's a guy? Maybe it's a woman, Ronald."
"It doesn't matter if it's a bloke or a bird, 'Mione. Cat still needs to eat. Merlin knows when the last time he ate was."
"I suppose you're right," she said, as they headed into the modest, two-storey house which stood only ten metres from Draco's cage. He hadn't seen it until they'd decided he could stay, even if it was tentatively. They must have had some modified repelling charms on the house, which didn't surprise him. Granger was some rising hotshot as a prosecutor in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry. Of course her house had to be special.
Suddenly, Draco was alone in his cage again, forced to wait for Potter, regardless of where he stayed. He cursed his bad luck.
It took Potter four days to show up to his friends' house. In that time, Draco had gotten to know Rose Weasley rather well. It seemed as if she was watched by her fiercely protective grandmother while her parents worked during the day. Molly Weasley was a little more relaxed about letting Rose around his cage, saying something about how Animagi needed to be reminded that they were human while in their animal form or they'd be permanently trapped. Besides, she reasoned with her son and daughter-in-law, if Draco tried anything on her granddaughter, she could always skin him and keep his pelt in her lounge back at the Burrow, which Draco could only assume was the place where she'd raised the Weasel brood.
So, for hours, Rose Weasley sat in front of Draco's cage and prattled at him in a childish mixture of babbling and words he was surprised she knew. She was going to be as smart as her mother, of that he was sure, but she was certainly much more endearing. She talked about her many cousins –Vicki, Louis, Nicki, Molly and Fred– non-stop. It seemed as if the girl had some sort of rivalry going on with Nicki over a doll their grandmother had given Rose at Christmas. In a show of sympathy, Draco butted his head against the bars of his cage, allowing the girl to pull the fur near his ears as she attempted to pet him. He could remember all too well attempting to fight both Greg and Vince over a broom he'd received for his fifth birthday, which the great louts has crashed into the fruit trees in the Manor gardens and broken two days after he'd gotten it. He'd never really forgiven them for it.
Besides listening to her wax poetically, for a three-year-old, about how evil her cousin was, he realised that the little girl was happy and very much loved. She'd taken to calling him Tiggy –after Granger had stressed he was a tiger cub and not just a normal house cat. It seemed beyond the child's comprehension that he was a person trapped in a cat's body, even though she was surrounded by magic, but Draco found that he didn't mind. It wasn't as if a three-year-old could mar his self-esteem or dignity, especially not if she was determined to shower him with hugs and kisses through the cage bars. He was reminded of a time when he owned a Kneazle kitten, and the comparison was humbling.
Just as Molly Weasley called Rose away for lunch, Potter finally showed up.
Harry walked up the pathway to Ron and Hermione's house in Ottery St. Catchpole, smiling at his latest success. Mr. Gregor was a very interesting person once he was back in human body. And he fit his Animagus form of a giraffe –tall, with long, spindly legs and an abnormally elongated neck. Not to mention the profusion of freckles. He was the only person who seemed to have more spots than any of the Weasleys. Yes, his Animagus form was a perfect manifestation of his inner (and outer) self. But, now, he was to help with this Siberian tiger cub that Ron and Hermione caught a few days ago. This would be his first big cat. He was so looking forward to it.
To be honest, Harry was extremely excited to meet this particular Animagus because he was looking forward to knowing another large cat Animagus. Since he'd found out he was a panther, he'd wondered if there were others out there. He'd met many dogs, birds and housecats, but the larger animals were rare. Even rarer were the bug Animagi, like Rita Skeeter, but Harry supposed that was only natural. Her kind of slime was a whole different breed, in Harry's opinion.
He saw Rose sitting before the steel cage, intent on having a conversation with the tiger Animagus, about her cousins again (it seemed to be a favourite topic for his goddaughter) from what Harry could tell. Molly was just walking down to the area the cage was, no doubt to take the little girl inside for lunch. He waved at his surrogate mother, only too happy to stop and chat with her. It would give him a chance to get a feel for the witch or wizard that Ron and Hermione had trapped before he actually tried communicating with him or her.
"So, Molly, how are things around here?" he asked when she released him from the bone-crushing hug she'd administered upon spotting him earlier.
"Oh, well, I know Hermione's rather anxious about that tiger, but he's been really well behaved," the woman said, pushing a few greying red strands of hair behind her ear. "Rose can sit there and babble at the poor thing all day and he just eats it up."
"So, he hasn't attempted to attack or bite anyone?" Harry found this strange, as most stuck Animagi would fall back on their animal instincts in a situation like this. Usually, by this point, the person would be relying on teeth, claws, and any intimidating factors nature gave their animal forms to get away from anyone trying to intimidate them. The fact that the tiger was sitting there, staring at his goddaughter as if they were holding a serious discussion, intrigued Harry, and he wanted to get to know the person behind the furry face. It took a strong person, both magically and mentally, to have that kind of control.
"No, he's been a perfect gentleman, if he's a man at all," Molly answered serenely. "I suppose I should take her in for lunch now, and you can get to work."
"Yeah, I'm just going to take the whole cage back to Grimmauld Place. There's that room that Kreacher and I set up in the basement that'll be perfect for him."
"NO!" Rose's scream got both of the adults' attention. Harry had his wand out and made a move towards the cage, in case it was an issue with the Animagus. Molly also had her wand out and was glaring bloody murder, ready to protect her darling grandchild. "NO! DUN TAKE MY TIGGY!" The little girl screamed again.
Harry stopped two steps away from his goddaughter and frowned. Normally, the little girl was good-natured, taking after Hermione like that, and he'd only seen her so upset when she was tired. He turned to Molly, who appeared just as shocked as he was.
"Rosie, Grandma made you grilled cheese for lunch," Molly said carefully from a few yards away. "Don't you want to eat now?"
"No! Unca Harry gonna take my Tiggy," she wailed. "No!" She threw her tiny body against the steel cage holding the Animagus. "My Tiggy! You can't have him!"
"Rosie," Harry said gently as he knelt before her, "your kitty is really a person, not a regular tiger."
"Liar!" Harry watched in trepidation as Rose tried to pull the quiet feline closer to her through the bars.
"Rose Hermione Weasley," Molly snapped, stomping up to her granddaughter. "You will cease and desist behaving like that this instant, or there will be no more sweets for a week."
Rose's response was to begin crying desperately, her face as red as her hair as tears as big as Muggle quid streamed down her face. "Gamma! Pwease! No take Tiggy!"
Molly frowned before she swept her sobbing granddaughter up to hug her tightly. "Sweetheart, Tiggy is a witch or wizard, and your Uncle Harry is here to help. Don't you want Tiggy to be able to go back home? I'm sure he has a family that misses him terribly."
"Tiggy's family?" Rose sniffled. "Tiggy missing?"
"Yes, honey," Molly continued softly. "While Tiggy's been here, his family is missing him."
"Poor Tiggy," Rose whispered, shooting the Animagus a pitying look. "'S'kay, Tiggy, Unca Harry hep you."
"That's right, Rosie-love," Harry said, patting the little girl's leg. "I'm going to take Tiggy to my house and help him get back to his family. When he's okay, he might come see you. But," he gave her a smile that she returned easily, "if you behave, maybe your dad will bring you to my house over the weekend." Rose nodded her head vigorously, red curls bouncing all over the place. "All right, kiddo, let your grandma feed you lunch so I can get our furry friend back to my place."
"'Kay!" Molly shot Harry a grateful look "Dinner on Sunday, Harry?"
"Wouldn't miss it, Molly," he answered before turning to his new charge. "Okay, Tiggy, I guess we should get going." He had just moved closer to the cage when the tiger cub growled at him.
Bloody Potter, Draco thought sourly as the cage he'd spent the last four days in was jostled and bounced along with the former Gryffindor as they walked down the street to Potter's residence. He looked around and was shocked to find himself in a rather interesting part of Muggle London, a cul-de-sac with townhouses that were obviously the residences of the well-to-do dating from around the time of history that the Muggles referred to as the Regency period. However, they seemed to have seen better days. He wondered how the few Muggles that were walking down the streets couldn't see the two of them, but then remembered that Potter had cast a Notice-Me-Not charm on them after they landed at the Apparation point.
They stopped between two townhouses that needed improvement desperately, if the flecking paint and scrubby yards were any indication. Potter then turned to his cage and smiled widely. "Welcome to my humble abode," he said stupidly.
Draco just stared at his former nemesis, wondering just when it was that Potter went criminally insane when he heard the sound of wards flaring to life around him. And there, between the two nearly ruined Muggle houses was a beautiful version of what its neighbours had been once upon a time.
It was five storeys of beautiful slate-blue siding, with fresh and gleaming white trim. The roof was black slate shingles, with what appeared to be dragons gracing the top. The front yard was a luscious green that made Draco want to roll around on it in abandon, dotted here and there with very pretty flowers that were found in regular English gardens –daisies, hyacinths, a few tea rose bushes in white, pink and green, and violets. The Malfoy heir was impressed. This was obviously the house that Potter had inherited from his mother's cousin, Sirius Black, the posthumously exonerated criminal. But, when he'd heard about this house, his mother had said that it was falling to pieces, a veritable ruin in a run-down neighbourhood.
A look around said that while the neighbourhood was decidedly not the best, there were signs of what Muggles called Urban Renewal. It just seemed that it was slow in coming to Potter's direct neighbours.
Obviously, the rumours he'd heard about Potter renovating the Black house were true. He couldn't wait to get inside.
"Well, Tiggy, what do you think?" Potter asked nervously, flashing a brief smile that confused Draco immensely. However, he decided to give a verbal response to the question asked.
"Merow," he said, butting his furry head against the bars in front of him. He heard Potter chuckle warmly and looked up into warm, flashing green eyes.
"Glad to see that it meets your approval, Your Majesty." Draco sniffed and turned his face up and saw pigeons the size of house cats fly by overhead. Suddenly, he was ravenous and trying to reach a paw through the bars to grab one of the nuisances out of the air. He'd not yet had lunch with Rose when Potter showed up. "Well, I can see that you're not going to be good company until you eat. Let me get you inside so you can get out of your cage and I'll have Kreacher get you something to eat. Once that's taken care of, I'll show you the pond I had put into my backyard. I'm sure you'll love it. I seem to remember that tigers love to play in water as much as they can." The man continued to ramble on until they entered the house.
Harry had no idea why he felt so nervous about having the tiger Animagus in his house. He knew that it was well-kept between the improved Kreacher and Winky, who Harry had asked if she wanted to come live and work with him as soon as he realised that Kreacher was really only good for light cleaning and cooking. Headmistress McGonagall was more than happy to let Winky leave Hogwarts if she wanted, since the house-elf had become even more inconsolable since Dobby's death. It was odd, but after two weeks of the house-elves working together, they'd discovered they were cousins. Winky and Kreacher had been indispensable since he'd started his business as well. It was due to the house-elves that he was able to bring any trapped Animagus to his house and keep them there while he was working with them.
Of course, he adjusted his wards once he'd helped them and they returned to their families. He may not have been in the same danger that he'd been before he finally defeated Voldemort, but he wasn't leaving his house open to all kinds of witches and wizards. He was a nice guy, but he wasn't a fool. After a confrontation with Dennis Creevey two years after the Final Battle, he'd learned to be more selective about who he let in his house, former friend and schoolmate or not.
And now, he had an unknown Animagus in his house. Surely, he should be feeling more worried because of that fact, but really all he felt was the overwhelming desire to impress the other person. He didn't even mind that he didn't know who it was, even though there was a cautious voice in the back of his mind, the one Harry thought of as his Slytherin side, telling him that he shouldn't let the tiger roam his house freely.
Carefully, he levitated the steel cage down to a room off of the basement kitchen of his house, again noting the difference the stone walls made after the thorough cleaning Winky had given them years ago. It was as if the house that the Order of the Phoenix used years ago was a completely different building. All the walls were warm and bright, Mrs. Walburga Black's portrait removed simply by Kreacher and Winky both asking her if she could be moved to a different room. Harry had let the elves put her in the room with the Black Family tapestry, removed all of the books and put in some of the older, more decrepit furniture and closed it off for good. He'd turned one of the bedrooms on the second floor into the new study. Hermione and he had gone through the books as well, separating those of questionable or dubious nature and putting them in secured bookcases. He'd added to the library, of course, with volumes upon volumes from the Potter family vaults at Gringotts.
The room he led the cage into was what Hermione told him used to be a potions lab. He'd had the room protected with Indestructible Charms, so that none of his various charges could ruin the soothing grass green walls or the hardwood floors. Winky had set out enough items for different animals to amuse themselves while they visited. There were balls, Frisbees, stuffed toys, things that squeaked and rang when shaken. Truthfully, Harry was reminded of a rather large pet superstore that had opened a few neighbourhoods over. In fact, he'd purchased around eighty-five percent of the items in this room from there. There were items from Magical Menagerie on Diagon Alley as well, but mainly just magicked toys for housecats and dogs.
"All right, Tiggy, here's your new living space. I'll have Winky bring you some steaks or something for lunch, and then we can start on getting you back to your human self again," Harry said, magically opening the cage from the doorway and watching as the white tiger cub shot out of the steel prison and began rolling around and mewling in happiness. He smiled and shut the door on the cat, calling Winky to take care of the new guest.
Freedom, freedom, freedom, Merlin, Potter's useful for something, Draco repeated over and over to himself as he rolled and stretched and breathed in deeply the clean air in the room that looked as if it was set up for domesticated animals. Part of him wanted to be affronted, but he was still too grateful to have escaped the cage that had become too small after the first night he'd been forced to sleep in it, much like Weasley had predicted. He didn't even care that he was acting undignified. There was no one there to see him behaving this way and he was determined to enjoy himself. However, he was stopped short when the familiar pop of house-elf Apparation sounded close to the door.
He rolled over to his stomach, ready to pounce on the creature if it did anything to him, and took a good look at his intruder. It was knobbly-kneed and had long, floppy ears and large, green eyes like other house-elves, but it looked almost regal in its lace doily dress. There was something else about this elf that seemed off. Some part of his brain was screaming that he'd seen this creature before, but he couldn't place it. So, he brushed it off as unimportant and watched it as it moved around.
"Master Tiggy, Master Harry is telling Winky to be having your dinner ready," the elf squeaked, identifying the creature as a female. "Winky is bringing you steaks and some fresh water. Master Harry is to be coming back when he is done with his dinner. If you is needing anything, just make a noise and Winky will hear." And with another pop, Draco was alone and with food.
Food, food, food, food, yummy steaks, I think they're porterhouses, yummy steaks, so hungry, much better than whatever the Weasels had, yummy, yummy, yummy was all that crossed his mind as he tucked into the large plate of meat. When he was sure that he couldn't eat another bite, he turned to the water dish and lapped up every drop of the liquid until the dish was dry. Then, he decided that it was time for a nap. He needed to get his beauty rest if he was going to have to deal with Potter in a little bit.
He padded over to a pile of pillows that looked extremely comfortable after his harrowing ordeal with the cage and sniffed at them delicately. They smelled of lavender, vanilla, and some other sort of perfume he couldn't place, but they definitely seemed as if they hadn't been used by another animal, and that was all he cared about at that point. With a jaw-cracking yawn, Draco curled up on the pillows, and soon he was drifting away into a deep sleep.
The sound of the door opening had Draco from a deep sleep to ready to attack in less than a second. When his eyes landed on the form of a relaxed and smiling Potter, he drew back his lips and growled, determined to go back to sleep. The stupid prat just continued smiling and walking closer.
"That's no way to behave, Tiggy," he said, sitting in front of the extremely irritated tiger cub.
Merlin, does he ever shut up and just go away? Draco thought. And I wish he would call me anything but that ridiculous nickname that Rose Weasley gave me. It's fine if the girl wants to do that, but he's a grown man! One would think he'd try to find another name for me.
"All right, since this is going to be your home until we can get you comfortable enough to get back into your human form, I hope you like it," Potter continued as if Draco hadn't just given him a glare that would have sent a sane person running. "Now that we've had naps and lunch, we should both be ready for the beginning exercises. Are you going to participate?"
Draco took another look around at the room he was currently in. While it was a veritable castle compared to that wretched cage he'd spent the last four days in, he missed the Manor and his parents. He supposed that cooperating with his former rival couldn't do any harm if it worked. He'd get to go back home, and his parents would make sure that Potter was compensated for his time. It seemed like a win-win situation to him. So, he nodded regally to the man before him, who responded by smiling even wider.
"Excellent! Now, I'm sure that you've tried all the standard exercises of visualising your body and the way it feels, am I right?" Draco nodded, feeling guilty over the many hours of work he'd done with his mother to no avail. "Hey, don't feel bad, Tiggy. God, I wish I could call you something else. That's not really a very cool name, is it?" Draco snorted, turning his head up to stare at the ceiling. "Well, what can I call you? Tiger's pretty boring. And I can only think of Sher Khan from the Jungle Books, but he wasn't very nice. Besides, I think he was a Bengal tiger, not a Siberian. Hm, why don't you try to give me a name?"
Draco just stared at the man in front of him, pretty sure that Potter was certifiable. How in the world was he supposed to communicate with the stupid human while he was stuck as a tiger?
"I know it sounds silly, but just look around the room and see if there's anything that you'd like to be called. Otherwise, I'm going to start calling you Stripes, whether you like it or not."
Merlin, Tiggy is better than Stripes. This moron is really going to try my patience, Draco snarled, stalking away from his pillow bed and looking at the objects in the room. He came upon a pile of stuffed animals intended for dogs and started swatting them around until one in particular caught his attention. It was an Asian-styled dragon with ice-blue fur for scales. He mewled in pleasure before picking the plush up with his teeth and dragging it over to his helper and dropping it in his lap.
"A dragon, huh? Well, I guess that's okay, but it doesn't seem quite right. A former friend of mine, named Shinichirou, from Japan once told me that the Japanese word for dragon is 'ryu', so what do you think?"
Draco thought about it. While it was strange, he supposed it would work. So, he nodded and mewled again, making the man smile once again.
"So, Ryu, since we're going to be pretty close for a while, how about I show you to that pond I mentioned? You could use a bit of a bath, if you don't mind me saying. Those cages may be self-cleaning, but they don't get everything. And while we're doing that, Winky'll clean up in here so it'll be ready for you when you're clean and fresh." Draco nodded and allowed Potter to pick up him.
The days soon passed, and Draco came to be a little fond of his former rival. Potter had the most adorable habit of rambling when he was embarrassed, but Draco hadn't figured out the triggers yet. Instead, he contented himself to listening to the other man talk and his friendly efforts to get Draco comfortable enough to attempt to reclaim his human body. However, after four days with Potter, he realised that he'd left his home nine days previously and his parents were probably going crazy with worry.
To his shock, he found that he also missed the little girl who'd befriended him while he was trapped at the Weasley house. While Potter's ramblings were amusing and endearing, Rose had a way of talking directly at him as if he was her best friend in the whole world. It made him realise that in the years since Voldemort's defeat, he hadn't been close to anyone but his parents. He'd been surrounded by the same circle of people who he'd known before the war –well, the ones who had survived –but he wasn't anywhere near them as he'd been before his sixth year at Hogwarts.
Pansy had ended up marrying Nott and giving him an heir. Daphne and Blaise had also gotten married. There was talk between his parents and the Greengrasses about a possible union of Draco to Daphne's younger sister, Astoria, but in the five years the idea had been discussed, nothing had ever come of it. Greg had married Millicent and they'd moved with her parents to Germany. Adrian Pucey had moved to America with Li Su after their marriage, and no one had heard from them since.
All in all, Draco really didn't have friends anymore. He spent most of his time either studying for his Potions Mastery in an attempt to follow some of the footsteps of his godfather, Severus Snape, or helping his father with all the investments that the Malfoy fortune was built upon.
It was a sad thought that Rose Weasley was probably the first person to actually become a friend to Draco in the last seven years. His only friend was a three-year-old child –and the child of two of the people he'd spent his entire school career torturing and trying to break down. He could see the bitter irony in it.
And, then there was Potter. He was pretty sure that the man was only being so nice to him because he was unaware that his "Ryu" was actually Draco Malfoy. And once he knew, well, he'd probably refuse to help him because of their shared history.
When Potter walked into the former potions lab to start the day's session on the fourteenth of June, Draco buried his head in his paws and refused to get up from his pillows. He ignored the near begging that Potter was doing to get his attention. It was the sound of a much larger cat growling that finally made him look up.
And his breath felt as if it had been stolen from his body. Before him was a humungous black panther, with fur so dark that it was nearly blue-black when the candlelight struck it. The panther had the greenest eyes he'd ever seen, except on Potter in his human form up close. And the only thing marring the beautiful dark sheen of the creature's fur was a white patch of fur in the shape of lightning bolt above its right eye. Potter's a panther, Draco thought dazedly. If he was a little bigger and had longer whiskers, he could almost be a Nundu. Merlin, he's beautiful.
The large panther gave a low rumble that came from his massive chest and nudged Draco with his head, causing the smaller tiger cub to topple over. The gesture almost made the white cat angry before his instincts informed him that it was an affectionate move, meant to be playful. Draco righted himself with a feral grin before pouncing on the panther. They traded teasing nips and growls, continually knocking into each other. Draco spent a lot of time climbing off of the ground to renew his attacks to the huge cat, but he felt light-hearted and free for the first time in a very long time.
He didn't know how long they played with one another, but he could feel his body tiring out and gave a pitiful mewl that made Potter huff in amusement. Draco took that as a sign that their play-time was over, and crawled over to his pillows to lie down. He was surprised when the panther joined him, curling up around him in a protective gesture that felt oddly right. He licked delicately at the large black paw near his head and closed his eyes, feeling safe and secure.
For the next two days, Harry transformed into his panther form frequently for his little tiger cub to make him feel comfortable. Ryu seemed to enjoy having another cat to frolic and play with, but he refused to attempt to regain his human form. Harry could tell after spending so many years doing this that the other Animagus had put up a block and wasn't actually trying. It was the must frustrating case he'd ever dealt with, and yet he knew that when he succeeded in getting the cub to return to a human again, he'd be fulfilled.
It didn't help his frustration though. And he had just yelled at Ryu about not trying and wasting both of their time. The tiger had growled and before Harry could do anything else, Disapparated with a loud crack. He'd never experienced this with any of his other cases, and to say that he was surprised would have been like saying the Sahara was a little hot during the middle of the day. Just as he was about to run out to talk to Winky and Kreacher to help him search the house for their guest, he heard a chime from the kitchen's fireplace signalling a Floo call.
He ran to answer and was surprised to see Ron's face in the fire, talking to Kreacher. "Hey, Ron, what's wrong?"
"I should be asking you that mate," Ron answered. "Rose and I were out in the yard and all of a sudden Tiggy showed back up. I had to lock my daughter up in her room and chase him into an area where one of those cages is located to get him contained. Is there some reason I have a tiger Animagus in my yard, again?"
"Ryu and I got into a fight because he's not trying to reclaim his human form. He got mad at me and growled. When I went to placate him, he fucking Disapparated right in front of me."
"What?" Ron squawked. "I didn't think it was possible for Animagi to do any magic in their animal forms."
"Normally, it's not, but Ryu's pretty powerful. I can levitate things, but I've never tried to Apparate while in my panther form."
"Bloody hell, 'Mione's going to have kittens when she finds out what happened."
"I'll come and get him. Just give me a few minutes and I'll Floo over there."
"Yeah, mate, see you soon," Ron said before cutting off the Floo-call.
"Merlin, who in the hell is Ryu?" Harry muttered before heading through the fireplace to his best friend's house to collect the tiger for the second time.
Getting the Animagus back to his house was nearly impossible. Rose again tried to impede Harry removing her friend, and screamed when he called the tiger Ryu. It took both Ron and Hermione to get the girl away from the cage that her Tiggy was in. After Rose's removal, Harry had to deal with a growling, unhappy Siberian tiger cub all the way back to Grimmauld Place.
"I know you're not happy about this, Ryu, but the only way you're going to become human again is if you actually try."
Ryu responded by growling and attempting to claw at him through the cage's bars.
"Fine, you can act like that," Harry said, turning around and leaving the tiger in the cage. He needed some space from the other Animagus. Obviously, he was going to have to push harder to get this person to reclaim his or her original self. However, he was going to have to sit down and think about this because he'd run out of the usual things to try. He'd just made it to the top of the stairs in an attempt to go to his study when the doorbell rang. "Who in the world is that?" he asked himself, waving Kreacher away from the door.
He opened it to see Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy standing on his doorstep. "Good day, Mister Potter," Narcissa said with a cool tone.
"Mrs. and Mr. Malfoy," he replied with a tight smile. "To what do I owe the honour of this visit?"
"Mr. Potter, perhaps you could invite us inside before your neighbours begin to become suspicious?" Lucius Malfoy said, sounding just as cool as his wife, aside from the sneer of the one word. Harry stepped aside to let the two older wizards into his house.
"Kreacher, if you would get some tea and bring it to the blue parlour," he said calmly to the very stunned, old house-elf standing behind him before showing his guests into the nearest room. The two tall, regal blonds walked passed him into the open parlour door and sat down on the plush sky-blue couches as he joined them. "Not that I don't appreciate the social call," Harry stated dryly when he'd served tea all around, "but can you explain why you've shown up on my doorstep?"
"Fine, I will be as blunt as I possibly can," Lucius said, obviously taking control of the conversation. "Our son, Draco, completed the Animagus transformation on the morning of his birthday. However, he was unable to reverse it. My wife was helping him to remedy that; however, Draco's temper got the best of him after several hours of working at it and he ran off the property."
"That's unfortunate, but I don't see how it's my problem," Harry answered serenely. While he felt inclined to assist Narcissa if he could, he held no such compunctions towards Lucius or Draco. He felt that the two Malfoy men should have been grateful for the fact that he'd spoken up for them at all during their trials. They certainly had sent him obsequious enough letters after their releases from Azkaban, although looking at Malfoy's parents made him wonder just who actually wrote them.
"Mister Potter, please forgive my husband," Narcissa said quietly before Lucius could open his mouth again. "We would like to hire your services to track our son down and then assist him with his Animagus transformation."
"That's impossible," Harry said regretfully. "I'm currently with another Animagus. I don't take two cases at the same time. You may want to try and contact Headmistress McGonagall." Lucius and Narcissa traded indecipherable looks that reminded Harry oddly of Arthur and Molly for some reason.
"Contacting Headmistress McGonagall is unacceptable, Potter," Lucius said after a few minutes of silent communication with his wife. "Draco's form would be of a considerably larger size than her housecat form. It's not feasible for her to deal with him if he were to fly into a temper."
"I was unable to deal with him, regrettably," Narcissa added. "My form is that of a swan, but it became more difficult the longer I tried to assist him."
"What is his form?" Harry asked, intrigued despite himself. Swans were rather large birds and temperamental, as well. If Narcissa Malfoy couldn't handle her son's form, he had to be something that preyed on birds.
"A Siberian tiger," Narcissa answered.
It was hours after his discussion with Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy about Draco and his disappearance. When those words left Narcissa's mouth, Harry felt like he'd been betrayed by everyone around him. Without ceremony, he asked his guests to follow him and led them to the old potions lab where their son was. He shut himself in his study on the second floor with a quick order for Winky or Kreacher to come get him when they left the holding room.
Of course, looking back, everything made sense. The dragon plush when Harry asked about his name, the way that Harry's patience seemed to be in short supply with the tiger, and the familiar near sneer the Animagus wore all added up to Malfoy. Ryu indeed, he snorted to himself. I should have bloody well have known that it was bloody Malfoy here to ruin my life.
Narcissa had been insistent that Harry continue working with Draco, saying that she and Lucius had spoken to their son and that money was not an object when it came to assisting their child in his time of need. Lucius had just barely managed to not sneer at Harry and his house-elves. Reluctantly, Harry had agreed to continue working with Draco. However, he did take great satisfaction in telling Lucius that he could stuff his money. He made it plain that if the Malfoy patriarch had asked, Harry would have been more than happy to tell him to go to hell.
So, here he was with Draco Malfoy in his home and he knew who it was exactly. He'd agreed to work with the prat, even if the other Animagus was still stuck, to get him back to his normal pointy, snobby self. If there was something worse than this, Harry wasn't able to see it.
He looked at the clock and saw that it was time for supper. After he ate, it was time for another discussion with his houseguest. And this time, he wasn't taking no for an answer.
Draco paced the edges of the cage, thinking about the rather shocking visit he'd just received from his parents while he was being held prisoner by Potter. The only thing his father could ask was what he had done to get locked up like some common animal. As if he could actually answer the smug wanker.
His mother, on the other hand, had been totally understanding, explaining that since he was already here at Potter's house, he would continue to reside, but that she'd attempt to speak to the black-haired wizard about her being allowed to come and see him at tea time every day. Draco wasn't so sure that the other man would allow his mother access to his private abode every day, but he sincerely wished it, especially since she was an Animagus as well, unlike his annoying father.
However, dinner was approaching, and he hadn't seen Potter since his parents had left. He didn't know if he should be worried or not. And he hated this feeling of anxiousness and being uninformed. It left him open, exposed, weak, and he was already coming to this problem in a position with very little power. The door suddenly banging open caught Draco's attention and he looked towards that direction to see Potter coming in with a plate of meat.
"All right, Malfoy," he said coldly. "This is how this is going to go from now on. Every morning, we're going to do the concentration exercises until lunch. Until tea time, you'll have time for exercise or nap, whatever you want. Your mother will be over for tea and that will be in the parlour. The two of you will be there or the backyard and I will be with you both. No exceptions. After tea, you'll have an hour in the pond. Then, more concentration exercises until supper. After supper, you're free to do what you wish. Any questions?"
Draco looked up into cold, green eyes and sadly shook his head. He knew that when Potter realised who he was that it wasn't going to go well. This was the one time he'd hoped he was wrong.
"Great," Potter responded unenthusiastically. "I'll see you in the morning." He swished his wand and the cage disappeared. And Draco was alone again.
True to his word, the next three days progressed just like Potter had said they would. They sat in the room that Draco had begun to think of his own after breakfast to lunch. Then, Draco would play with some of the toys available with a freedom he hadn't allowed himself since he was a small child, stare out the magicked window of the room that overlooked the garden, or nap until tea. Then, he'd walk through Potter's house until he reached the parlour and sit down next to his mother while she and Potter had strained tea times.
After tea, Potter would transform into his panther form, and the two Animagi would enjoy the pond in the backyard that was magically warmed for an hour. Then, they'd do more concentration practices. Then, they'd enjoy supper, which Potter allowed Draco to eat at the table in his kitchen, claiming it was easier to clean than any of the other rooms. After that, Potter would disappear into his study, and Draco would pad silently back to his room.
It wasn't the most social of times, but they got along reasonably well. During their afternoon practice time on the third day, Draco was finally able to remember what it felt like to be human. He mewled in happiness, and Potter rewarded him with a guarded smile.
"Seems like you'll be back at Malfoy Manor in no time," he said before heading out for supper.
Something in the other man's voice sent a pang of regret ringing through Draco. He couldn't explain it. Yes, he missed his human body. It wasn't the easiest thing to be smaller than even the house-elves, but he knew that he'd be missing something once he returned home. The very thought made him feel queasy. He curled up on his pillows and put his head on his forepaws to sulk.
Once he was human, he'd go back home to all of his father's expectations and the obligations of the Malfoy heir. He'd begun to enjoy the freedom of being away from everything. And, if he was totally honest with himself, he'd begun to enjoy Potter's company.
Sure, the other Animagi wasn't as open or friendly as he was when he didn't know who Draco really was, but neither was he like he'd been back at Hogwarts. It was almost as if the two of them were friends. Well, they were at least very genial acquaintances. It was more than Draco had dared to dream of before now.
And he found that his assessment of the other man was correct at the time. Potter was handsome, and fit, and kind, and a whole host of other things that Draco had put on his list of traits for potential mates years ago. The only problem was that he still didn't like Draco. And the blond didn't think he could deal with that right then. In fact, he didn't even want to face the other man and he decided to visit his newest friend again. Maybe she would cheer him up.
When Malfoy didn't show up for supper, Harry went to the other room to find him. Unfortunately, it was empty, aside from a few stray white hairs on the pile of pillows the tiger normally lazed on. A sense of overwhelming panic set in and he tried to think of how Malfoy could get out of the house without him noticing, and that was when he remembered the bastard could Apparate in his Animagus form. Just as he was about to run to the kitchen and begin contacting Malfoy's known associates, he heard the Floo flare and Ron's voice bellowing for him.
The black-haired wizard ran into the kitchen to find his normally laid-back friend fuming, his face a very odd shade of orange, even through the green flames. "What's wrong, Ron?"
"That bloody tiger is back here! Hermione had just gotten Rose's attention to get her in for supper and we heard that cage snap shut. Now, she won't leave the damn thing alone. She's screaming and crying again."
"Malfoy's there? Thank Merlin," Harry said, letting his heart rate return to normal.
"Malfoy?" Ron asked. His face was losing the orange shade and going a very pale, nearly sea foam green. "The tiger is the pointy git? Merlin, 'Mione, go get Rosie NOW!"
Harry could hear Hermione in the background, questioning her husband. "Tiggy is bloody Malfoy! I'll not have that smarmy bastard anywhere near my daughter!" The redhead turned to face Harry. "You have five minutes to come and remove him from my property or I'll skin him for a new foot rug before my desk." The Floo closed with a whoosh, and Harry stood there blinking in confusion.
I thought that Ron had gotten over his hatred of the Malfoys. Besides, it's not like Malfoy's hurt Rosie any of the times he's been around her. He sighed and decided to Apparate directly to his best mates' house. Hopefully he could talk some sense into the hot-headed redhead.
"Really, Ronald, if what you're saying is true, then Malfoy has been here three times now and he's yet to even act as if he is going to hurt Rose," Harry could hear Hermione saying from the side yard where he'd picked up Malfoy the previous two times before this one. "Your behaviour is uncalled for, and I hate to admit it, but you're being a bit of a berk, dear."
"Hermione, it's Draco sodding Malfoy," Ron shouted at his wife. "Who knows what dastardly deeds he's been scheming! Besides, he's been staying with Harry! I think someone should stay with him to watch Malfoy!"
Harry looked at his best friend and began laughing so hard that soon he had tears streaming down his face. Hermione joined him by giggling daintily, and even Rose was chuckling at the silly expression her father was wearing. "What's so funny?" Ron yelled at Harry.
"Are you listening to yourself, Ron?" Harry asked between guffaws. "Malfoy's stuck in his Animagus form. He's not doing anything but sucking at completing the transformation back to his human form. And, if he tried anything, I'm a fully trained wizard and I could skin him myself. Besides, look at him. My size is about ten times larger when transformed. I hardly need protection from Malfoy, of all people."
"Truly, Ron, you're behaving erratically," Hermione answered when she'd managed to calm herself. "Malfoy, tiger Animagus or no, would never hurt a small child. For one, he's not his father. Two, Malfoy has actually been doing great charity work with the war orphans. I've heard nothing but good things about him from the people that run the organization. Three, you're both grown-ups, supposedly, and just look at him. He's rather pitiful right now."
"I don't care what either of you say about him. Harry," Ron turned towards Harry, "if you think you can handle him, then I'll leave you to it, but I don't want him near my daughter again. Find out how he's leaving your wards. I'm going to find a way to block him out of my property." And with that, the redhead turned on his heel, picked up his child and stormed back to his house, despite the little girl's protests of wanting her Tiggy back.
"'Mione, I'm really sor-"
"Don't apologize, Harry. I know you're not to blame for this," she said gently, patting him on the cheek. "He is right about one thing, though. You must find out how Malfoy is Apparating right through your wards. I thought you tightened them after that last fiasco?"
"I had, but magic used in the Animagus form is understudied," he answered with a huffy sigh. "And if I set my wards to block out all Animagi, then I'm blocking myself out as well."
"Hm, yes, that does seem tricky," she said with a gleam in her brown eyes that Harry recognised from school. "I needed a new side project. I'd finished helping Fleur with researching Veela fertility last week. I'll look into this for you, but promise me that you'll keep Malfoy at your house, please?"
"Yeah, I'll see what I can't do with him. I am sorry, 'Mione."
"I know, Harry. Don't worry about Ron. He'll come 'round soon. Or he'll find himself sleeping on the hard bed in the guest room." She smiled mischievously before following her husband inside. Harry turned towards the captured Animagus.
"You just love causing trouble, yeah?" he asked, feeling a little fond for the fuzzy feline before him. "And if you stay in a cage anymore, I'm going to think you have a thing for it." He received an indignant growl that he was sure would have been a roar of outrage had Malfoy been bigger than a three-month-old cub. "Okay, Malfoy, let's get you back home for supper, hm?'
Four days later, nearly two weeks to the date that Potter had first found Draco at the Weasleys' house in Ottery St. Catchpole, Draco was able to transform back. No longer was he furry or small. He stood before Potter, towering over the former Gryffindor, his face stretched wide with a triumphant grin. When Potter returned his smile, Draco didn't think, he acted. He grabbed the other man in a tight hug and began laughing like a madman.
"I'm human again," he cried. "Dear Merlin, it feels absolutely wonderful!" He could feel Potter trying to get away from him and he loosened his hold, but didn't let go completely. "Thank you so much, Potter. I couldn't have done it without your help."
And saying that didn't sting as it once would have. Not when the other man was gaping at him like a fish out of water, somehow still appearing oddly attractive. And when he opened his mouth to say something that Draco knew was going to be stupidly self-deprecating, the blond bent his head down a little and kissed him.
Potter's mouth was still slightly parted, lips stiff and unmoving for a few brief seconds before the dark-haired man came to life. What had started off as one-sided was soon a battle for dominance between the two wizards, all tongues, teeth and heady desire. Draco could feel those strong, calloused hands all over him –one in his hair and the other stroking his back and bum almost reverently. He kept his hold on Potter tightly, having pulled the slightly smaller man up from the floor while they snogged.
However, the necessity of breathing made them part, and yet Draco kept his hold on Potter. The lips he'd just released where red and shiny. Those green eyes that called to him even while in his Animagus form were dark with desire. He felt a certain part of his anatomy twitch at that look and nearly giggled with giddiness. His libido had been nearly nonexistent since sixth year at Hogwarts. It was one of the reasons he'd refused to listen to his parents prattle on about Astoria Greengrass's dubious charms. And now, one kiss from Harry Potter had him nearly gagging to shag the man through the floor.
When he made up his mind to go back in for another kiss, Potter shook his head and pulled against Draco's arms, making him release his hold. "No, I'm sorry, Malfoy, but no," Potter panted, refusing to meet his eyes.
"Fine," Draco said, trying to fight down the disappointment and anger he felt at yet another rejection from Potter. "Would you mind terribly if I showered?"
"O-oh, no, of course not." The other man took a few steps back, face and neck flushing prettily. "I'll have Kreacher show you to a guest room that's set up. You can shower and he can lay out some clothes your mother brought over for you."
"I'll see you after then?" Potter asked, sounding as if he really wanted to see Draco at his dinner table for some unfathomable reason.
"I would like to return home, if you don't mind," he said stiffly.
"Um, well, usually I have the Animagi I help stay here for a few days after they regain their human form so that they can get the switching down perfectly." Draco looked at the way Potter bit his lip nervously, trying desperately not to remember the way it felt to kiss those full bits of flesh. He was failing, unfortunately. "But, um, if you don't want to stay, I can tell your mother how to help you when she comes for tea."
The Malfoy heir considered telling Potter to shove his gallantry, to let him know that he didn't want his pity. He wanted more than that, but what exactly, he couldn't tell. Slowly, he thawed and continued to watch the other man with sharp eyes.
"Um, listen, Malfoy, I, uh, I'm sorry if I misled you," Potter finally said.
"Don't worry about it, Potter," he returned, shoring himself up for more rejection, because that was all he got from the other man. "If you'll excuse me, I'd like that shower now."
"Oh, yes, Kreacher!" The old, grey-haired elf popped up between the two men, his green eyes impossibly wide as he stared at Draco. "Take Malfoy to the guest room and put some clean clothes out for him on the bed."
"Yes, Master Harry," the elf responded, never taking his eyes from Draco. "You is to be coming this way, Master Draco Malfoy." Without a word, Draco left the other man standing in the old potions lab, determined to be back to normal before he saw him again.
Draco left that day after tea, unable to stay in Grimmauld Place for a second longer with Harry sodding Potter. His mother was ecstatic, in her calm and collected way, to see him back. She grabbed his left arm and squeezed it tightly, her eyes shining with an intensity that he'd seen so rarely. The last time had been at the Battle of Hogwarts as they and Lucius hugged in the Great Hall.
That one squeeze ripped through the walls of ice he'd layered around himself to protect him from the danger that was being around Potter. For a second, his world came crashing down, and she could see that he was wounded, unable to obtain, yet again, the one thing he'd wanted in his entire life. And then, her hand was gone and he was able to slide the mask of indifference back into place with no one but his mother the wiser that he was sure to die slowly when they returned to the Manor.
"Your father shall be so pleased to see you, my dear," she said finally. "He was most worried that you would not want to return to us."
"Mother, you had Potter there to play hero," he drawled lazily, hiding the effort it took to be so nonchalant. "Did you really think that he wouldn't save the day, yet again?"
Narcissa turned to Potter, who'd been quiet since Draco returned from his shower, pressed and perfect for the first time since he'd transformed on his birthday. "Mr. Potter, you have indeed lived up to your reputation once more. If you would be so kind as to send the bill for your services to the Manor, I shall make sure that you are paid for your time and effort."
"That's not necessary, Mrs. Malfoy," Potter said, blushing a rosy shade. "As I said before when you came here the first time, I only assisted in the beginning because Malfoy was at my friends' house. There's no need for payment."
"Mr. Potter, I assure you, if you are attempting to try and negate the payment for your services because you feel you owe me for the time that I lied to the Dark Lord, we were even when you spoke at the Death Eater trials. Now, I am in your debt. I do not enjoy this feeling, and seeing as how this is your living we are discussing, I really must insist that you accept payment."
"Forget it, Mother," Draco said, eyeing the woman next to him carefully. "If Potter thinks he's too good for our money, there are plenty of others who don't feel that way."
He could hear Potter growing indignant behind him, but he didn't even bother to turn around to see what affect his words had on the other man. "I will send a bill later, Mrs. Malfoy," Potter said through clenched teeth.
"Thank you, Mr. Potter," Narcissa said with a soft smile.
"Before you leave, I have a list of exercises you should practice with Malfoy every morning so that we can avoid mishaps like this again." A sheet of parchment was placed in Narcissa's hand. "Also, you can reach me by owl, should anything happen. I'm sorry that I can't offer you tea, but I have another case that's waiting for me to go and consult with."
"Of course, Mr. Potter." Narcissa placed a cool hand against Draco's cheek, letting her nails scrape light lines down his pale skin. "We shall speak to you later. Come along, Draco, darling."
"Yes, Mother," Draco responded, wondering how much she was going to make him pay for his one insult to Potter.
His mother was evil, Draco decided two weeks after leaving Potter's house. She kept to her word with helping Draco to smoothly transform between his human and tiger bodies. She'd also begun throwing parties, calling them teas, where she invited every eligible witch and wizard his age, except for Potter. To his shock and amazement, everyone invited showed up to Malfoy Manor, some whispering about seeing where the Dark Lord stayed during the brief second Voldemort war, others whispering about how much money the Malfoys had and how handsome the heir of the family was in his light summer robes.
And he was being forced to entertain them all. At the end of every tea, Narcissa would select one particular witch or wizard to stay for supper, and then she and Lucius –who surprisingly seemed to approve of his wife's actions– would sit and grill their guest about everything. Draco wasn't allowed to disappear. Oh, no, he was supposed to sit and be attentive to whatever victim his parents had selected that evening. He was supposed to escort them around the grounds after pudding, trying to find "common ground" his mother told him.
He longed for the freedom and comfort of being with Potter once more. Even in the last week of their forced reacquaintance, with its inflexible structure, he'd been given more freedom to do what he wished when he wished than his parents were allowing him now. Draco refused to acknowledge the hollow feeling in his heart when he was forced to think about the dark-haired wizard or how a flash of red hair brought to mind a child that had clung to the cage and babbled to him with a light-heartedness that he'd envied.
He was pretty sure that his mother was doing all of this to get him to talk of what happened that last day at Potter's house before she arrived, but he'd refused to speak of it ever again. He was unwilling to relive the second rejection out loud. Bad enough that he had to experience it, but to voice it would be too much of a strike to his already diminished ego. Mother or not, Narcissa would have tried to solve the problem, and Draco had had enough of his parents meddling in his life. It was just easier to deal with the endless sea of faceless nobodies his parents were shoving at him.
However, after fourteen of these wretched experiences, his patience had worn thin. He was unable to sleep restfully. His appetite was all but nonexistent. And he was forced to use charms and glamours to cover up the damage to his looks. It was only a matter of time before he cracked, and his mother knew it. The look she was wearing as she watched him with their newest guest said she was just waiting for the opportunity to make him confess what had occurred.
And he'd leave before that happened.
"My son," Lucius called from behind Draco as he stared out upon the part of the vast gardens that held the magical plants he used in his Potions Mastery studies. "I know that things between us have been strained for a while."
Father, your attempt at diplomacy with me is rather amusing. A while, he says. How about more like a decade? Draco thought viciously before building back up his ice shields around his mind and heart. "Yes, one could say that, Father."
"If you needed to confide in me, Draco, about anything, I am willing to listen."
Draco turned and stared at his father, trying to keep the shock and disgust he felt off of his face. "Did Mother put you up to this?"
"Actually, no," Lucius said with a sneer, looking out on the grounds as well. "Narcissa is determined to have you confide in her. I'm fairly sure that she has something in mind for you that I might object to, and that is why she has concocted this endless sea of annoying teas and suppers. She believes that I think we are searching for a suitable spouse for you. I know that she has her heart set on someone else, someone I would not approve of."
Draco couldn't help it. He scoffed. Lucius would rather die than let Draco end up with Harry "the Chosen One" Potter. Or kill his son. Draco wasn't so sure what Lucius would do anymore, truthfully. "Perhaps, but I wouldn't know, Father. I haven't told her and I have no intention of doing so. It is over, and if she can find someone who doesn't disgust all of us, then I'll marry him or her."
"Hm," Lucius said noncommittally. "All this drama leads me to believe that it is someone whom I know I would not approve of, but that they would be a great addition to our family circle." A large, warm hand on Draco's elbow made him turn to stare into grey eyes that burned intensely. "My son, I wish for you to listen to me and listen carefully. I have made some very detrimental mistakes in my life. They, sadly, also affected you and your mother. They nearly ended our line before you were of age.
"There are two things that I have done well in my life. I have loved you and your mother with my entire being. And I have raised a son that will learn from, but not repeat, my mistakes." Lucius sighed, and the scary burning, intensity in his eyes banked low. "If it is Potter, and I pray to the gods that it is not, I will not disinherit you." A small twitch of the lips signified that Lucius was trying not to smile. "However, if it is a Weasley, you will find yourself penniless and homeless before you can blink."
"Don't be disgusting, Father," Draco sneered. He could see his father relax a tiny bit. And it was then that he decided to do something that he hadn't done in a very long time. "What would you suggest I do?"
"Draco, fight for what you want. Do not sit back and let life happen to you as we have done these last few years. Fight back and take what you desire. That is what it means to be a real Malfoy."
He'd lied to Narcissa Malfoy the day she'd taken Draco –and just when had Malfoy become Draco– back to Malfoy Manor. And he'd done it to protect himself from the way his stomach had flipped and flopped when the blond kissed him. He'd lied to Draco as well. Merlin, he'd lied to everyone involved –all because he was too scared to deal with the way that being around the tall, aristocratic blond affected him.
In the three weeks since they'd last seen one another, Harry had thrown himself into any kind of work he could find. He'd received a few calls in the last week from clients around Great Britain about trapped animals in his specifically made cages, but when he went out to deal with the supposed Animagi, the cages were empty. He'd talked to the home owners and found out that they'd had what appeared to be Siberian tigers of various sizes at every call. Just like he knew would happen, Malfoy was growing into his Animagus form now that he was able to transform freely.
Harry didn't know whether to be happy about that or irritated that Malfoy was obviously playing with him. The more calls he got about the mysterious white tiger, the more he leaned towards extremely frustrated.
When Ron and Hermione had called him twice in four days about Malfoy being on their property, he'd had enough. "Hermione, have you figured out what it would take to contain Malfoy?" he asked, running his hand through his hair in annoyance.
"Have you thought about putting specially formatted Anti-Apparation wards on the cages especially tuned to Malfoy's magical signature?" his friend asked as she made lunch for her daughter.
"No," he huffed. "I don't know why either."
"Well, that's something, right?" She turned around and stared at him with knowing brown eyes. "We aren't the only ones calling you about this, are we?"
"No, I've had nearly non-stop calls about Malfoy for the last week." He slumped down into one of the chairs at the kitchen table and started banging his head against the table-top. "And I don't know what I can do to get him to stop."
"You could always head over to Malfoy Manor," she suggested with a strange tone of voice. "I've heard that they've been having teas and dinners for single witches and wizards our age. I can only assume that Malfoy's parents are attempting to find him a suitable spouse."
Something that Harry was refusing to acknowledge settled across his mind at those words. He shoved it back to reside with the occasional thoughts his still had about his aunt and uncle, behind its own mental cupboard door, one he had no intention of opening any time soon.
"-RY," Hermione yelled, her cheeks flushed in annoyance. He blinked to let her know he was paying attention to her again. "Harry, if you're going to slip into your own brain, would you mind terribly doing it in the living room. I have to feed Rose her lunch, and you're in my way right now."
"Sorry, 'Mione," he said, knowing that he was blushing profusely. "It's just that I, uh, I was…"
"Save it, Harry," she said finally. "I think I know which way your thoughts were bent. Are you ever going to tell me what happened the last day that Malfoy was at Grimmauld Place, or will you force me to bribe it out of your house-elves?"
"Voldemort will return from the dead again before I tell you, 'Mione."
"Well, it has to be juicy if you're so adamant about not telling anyone. Did he snog you?" When he didn't answer, the teasing smile she was wearing faded. "Oh, dear Merlin, he kissed you?" She drew her lips into a thin line. "Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time."
"What?" He couldn't have heard her correctly. It sounded as if she was saying she didn't seem adverse to Malfoy snogging her best friend.
"Well, Harry, you two have always been… intense, I guess that's the right word, when it came to one another. And, I hate to say this, but you two were obsessed with each other back at school. Sixth year ring any bells?"
Sixth year did ring bells for Harry, but not the ones that Hermione was trying to bring up. What he remembered was Malfoy in Moaning Myrtle's loo, bending over the sink and crying while the dead girl's ghost attempted to comfort him. Then, the blond was trying to cast a Crutiatus on him. The swift decision to use an unknown spell on Malfoy. The blood. The water. The swift, sharp and cold tones of Snape before he attempted to patch up his favourite student/godson. The overwhelming sense of guilt and horror at what he'd done. And finally, that horrible, deadly night on the Astronomy Tower with Professor Dumbledore, before the old wizard's body flew through the air and impacted on the hard ground many, many metres below.
He shook his head to dispel the ghosts of the war. "If you say so, 'Mione. I just know that the bloody git is driving me absolutely insane. I haven't had one day without someone calling me about him showing up somewhere in the Kingdom."
"Harry, why don't you go to tea at the Manor? You could always force him to stop there."
"Do you think it would work?" he asked, not daring to sound hopeful.
"It couldn't hurt," his friend answered. "Now, do you mind?" She waved a small piece of leftover Shepard's pie. "Your goddaughter needs to eat before I send her over to her grandmother's house."
"Why do you do that? You know Molly's just going to try and force poor Rosie to eat over there too."
"I'll not have Molly telling me that I'm a bad mother because my daughter inherited Ron's stomach."
"'Mione, Molly's not going to-" One look at his best friend's face had the words dying before they even reached his mouth. "Okay, so, you really think I should go over to Malfoy Manor? I haven't been invited to any of their pretentious teas."
"Well, you'll definitely want to wear something a little nicer than your regular clothes, Harry," she said with a light smile as she took in his torn and faded jeans and one of the few remaining t-shirts he'd kept from his days of living with the Dursleys. "I think those dress robes you wore to George's wedding would be perfect."
He groaned. "'Mione, really? Can't I just go there in my normal work attire? It's not like I intend on staying for tea so I can chat it up with Lucius and Narcissa."
"Harry, wouldn't you like to shock Malfoy into silence?" He thought long and hard about her question and his desire. Then, he nodded. "Then, wear the dress robes. And style your hair. I have some Sleekeasy's, if you need it."
"No, I'll be fine," Harry said as he stood up from her kitchen table. "I'll let you know how things go later. Thanks, 'Mione." He gave her a brief kiss on the cheek before he Apparated directly to his house. He had a tea to get ready for, evidently.
When the wards pinged before tea time, Draco held his breath. For the last week, he'd been showing up at houses that had Potter's specially made Animagi cages to set off the owners. And right before Potter showed up, he Apparated away to the next spot. It was rather fun, but Draco had tired of the game after the fifth day.
It had all paid off, however, if the wards were correct.
Draco looked over at his father, who looked rather bored and unexcited. "Are the wards correct, Father?"
"I never had them remove his magical signature after the war, Draco, so I can only assume so," Lucius drawled serenely.
"What are you two talking about?" Narcissa asked, looking between the two men with mounting excitement building in her blue eyes.
"Not what, Mother, but whom," Draco said with a self-satisfied smile. "He's finally taken the hint."
"Would you care to enlighten your poor mother then, darling?"
"You'll find out soon enough," Draco answered, placing a kiss on her cheek before rising to lead both of his parents into the large parlour which had been set aside for the afternoon's tea. It's always lovely when prey willingly steps into the trap, he thought merrily.
Draco looked over the collection of miscreants that had gathered in his family's formal parlour and wanted to bang his head against the Queen Anne coffee table in front of his couch. Besides Potter, who was looking utterly scrumptious in his forest green dress robes with the black trim and had evidently found a brush to tame his hair nicely, there were other people that Draco remembered from their time at Hogwarts. Lavender Brown, the Patil twins (the Ravenclaw appeared bored out of her mind), Ernie Macmillan (a Hufflepuff, for Merlin's sake, what was his mother thinking), Morag MacDougal, Tracey Davis, and Marcus Flint made up the rest of the party.
While he watched Potter flounder as he tried to speak to Draco's parents and scoot away from Brown and the Gryffindor Patil simultaneously, Draco amused himself discussing Flint's Quidditch career with the Falcons and Davis's latest holiday to Sicily. Macmillan seemed to be trying to chat up both of the Ravenclaws, who were staring at him as if he was an interesting species of new bug. He had to force himself not to laugh at Potter's obvious discomfort as Brown attempted to whisper something in the dark-haired wizard's ear. However, when Potter's face flushed from his collarbones to nearly the roots of his hair, Draco could feel the muscles near his right eye twitch and his fingers flex towards his wand.
"How long do you think Potter will let that slag embarrass him before he shoves her off?" Flint asked Davis beside Draco.
"Oh, I'm not sure," the brown-haired witch said, giggling daintily behind her hand. "I don't think she's going to get very far with him, however. It was all over Hogwarts in our sixth year how she and Ron Weasley behaved in Gryffindor Tower."
"Yes, she called him Won-won, if I remember correctly," Draco added, not bothering to look over at his two friends. "Rather undignified, if you ask me."
"I don't think Potter cares about that, but she's just the type for Weasley," Flint responded. "I heard he ended up with that Mudblood girl though."
Everyone in the room fell silent, turning to stare at the bulky Beater as he realised his faux pas. Draco took the opportunity to look at Potter again, and he appeared to be biting back a tirade that was sure to lambaste Flint within an inch of his life. It was the green eyes promising death that made Draco react. "Really, Flint, how uncouth of you. That word is vastly inappropriate. Besides, Granger has turned out to be a rather pretty woman and is a fantastic mother to an adorable little girl."
"How would you know, Malfoy?" Brown and the dim Patil managed to ask him at the same time.
"If you must know, I had the fortune to run into Ronald Weasley and his wife and child recently. While their house has nothing on the Manor, it appears to be comfortable and well situated. It is far from the hovel we all assumed back at school. Besides, Rose Weasley grows on one after a while." He knew he'd said the right thing when Potter smiled at him warmly, mouthing the word Tiggy so that only he could see it. He just barely managed not to blush at the other man's intense staring.
"Mr. Potter, would you like to tour the gardens with me?" Narcissa asked coolly, turning the attention away from Draco. He would have jumped up and kissed his mother soundly on the cheek if it hadn't been extremely disgraceful and if they were a more demonstrative family.
"Yes, Mrs. Malfoy, I'd love to," Potter responded, standing and offering her his arm. The room watched as the regal woman took the proffered appendage and they strolled out of the room.
"I don't remember him moving like that at school," Davis whispered to Draco conspiratorially.
"He didn't," he responded. "It's something very recent, I think." He could remember watching Potter move like that, but it was in another form.
"Mr. Flint," Lucius's icy tone drew all eyes to him, "I would like to speak to you privately, if you would be so good as to follow me to my study." It was not a request, as Draco knew intimately. Marcus nodded mutely, pale and stricken looking, as he raced to catch up to Lucius's long strides out of the room.
"Well, it looks like Flint won't be back," the Gryffindor Patil said in a show of brains for once.
"And I'm almost afraid to think what will happen to his family after Mr. Malfoy's through with them," Macmillan added, cementing Draco's opinion that the Hufflepuff was as big an idiot as he was back at school.
Draco had to clench his fingers before he hexed everyone in the room but Davis, who was wisely remaining silent at his side. "Tracey, would you like to see the gardens as well? I'm sure we can catch up to Mother and Potter in no time." He looked at his former Housemate intensely until she gave him a weak nod.
"I'd love to, Draco," she managed primly as she took the arm he was holding out for her and allowed him to escort her outside at a leisurely pace. She waited until they were outside before speaking again. "So, it's Potter, is it?"
"What ever do you mean, Tracey?"
"Don't play stupid, Draco," she said coolly. "I did pay attention at school, unlike Pansy and those awful Gryffindors in there. Besides, rumour has it that Astoria Greengrass hasn't a shot in Hades of getting your name attached to hers."
"I don't dislike her, but I find her dreadfully boring," he said after a few minutes of silent contemplation.
"Yes, and she's nothing like Potter." She gave him a knowing smile. "We may not have been close back at school, Draco, but my eyes and brain have always worked. You only ever came to real life when speaking about or to Potter. Or when the two of you were trading insults and injuries. It's a wonder that Pansy seemed to miss it. Daphne and I both worried about her. But, she's married to Theo now and happy as a lark with her son, Demetrius."
"And what is your point?"
"I'm merely stating facts, dear," she answered. "And, if one were to look back at Potter's previous relationships, all two of them, it makes sense that he's gay."
"What does Potter's abysmal taste in women have to do with him being overly happy?"
"Muggle term, darling, American in origin, I think. What I'm saying is that Potter's a ponce, nancy-boy, shirt-lifter, homosexual. Need I go on?"
"Are you certain?" He tried to remain cool while his heart raced in his chest and hope flared to life.
She levelled dark eyes on him in disbelief. "Where have you been? He announced ages ago that he preferred men, breaking many hearts along the way. That's why I found Brown and Patil so amusing. I'm sure they're convinced they can "set him right" or some other rubbish."
"I hadn't heard anything about Potter's love life, to be honest. We've stopped subscribing to The Prophet since the war, Tracey."
"There's nothing to report, if I've heard correctly. All he does is work and hang out with his friends from school."
"He's an excellent kisser, nonetheless," Draco offered. He watched as his fellow Slytherin stared at him before she broke out into a sly grin.
"Well, congratulations, Draco. I'm sure that once you tame him, you two will be the envy of Wizarding Britain."
"You can't really tame him, Tracey. You just go along for the hunt," he whispered as they drew up to Potter and his mother.
"I ask that you forgive me for my earlier rudeness, Mr. Potter," Narcissa Malfoy said as she held onto Harry's arms while they strolled through the beautiful ornamental gardens around the Manor. "It seems that my husband and son were expecting your arrival today and saw fit to not tell me about the change in plans."
"I… Mrs. Malfoy, it was a last minute decision of mine to come," he said, flushing in embarrassment. "I hadn't known about the teas you were holding until Hermione told me about them."
Narcissa gave him a small smile. "And how is Miss Granger recently?"
"She's, uh, fine, I guess," he answered, remembering Hermione telling him that Mrs. Malfoy refused to call her by her married name. "Her job and my goddaughter keep her pretty busy, but she seems happy."
"I am glad to hear that. It appears that my sister failed in breaking her then, and I am grateful for that." He couldn't tell what she was trying to convey with her tone of voice because it was the most neutral thing he'd heard on the planet before now. "Mr. Potter-"
"Please, call me Harry, Mrs. Malfoy."
"Then I insist that you call me Narcissa, M-Harry," she said warmly, flashing him just the tiniest of smiles. "Now, Harry, I am well aware that something happened between you and Draco while you were assisting him at your home." He opened his mouth to respond, but she held up a pale hand to silence him. "I do not need to know what transpired. It is enough to know that something has occurred. Lucius and Draco seem to believe that I have not noticed their plotting as of late, but they are very mistaken."
"I would never assume that you're unaware of what goes on around here," he said with a blush.
"Thank you, Harry." They continued along in silence. "What are your plans for the future?"
"I haven't really made many beyond the immediate, to be honest. I work a lot. I have been considering hiring someone to help me with all of the work that I do have."
"Are there many Animagi who require your assistance?"
"In Britain, not so much, but I get referrals all over the world now. Sometimes, I can give cases to Headmistress McGonagall, but not often because she's so busy."
"Hm, well, I'm sure that your friends would love to help you as well," she said, and something in her voice got Harry's attention, forcing him to look at her directly.
"I'm sure they would, if they didn't have busy lives of their own. Besides, it's hard for those who haven't experienced the Animagus transformation to help someone who's stuck. I'm sure that you know that already."
"That is very true. Lucius was rather unhelpful while I was assisting Draco."
"Mrs. Malfoy, I'm just going to ask you bluntly, because I'm rubbish at all this subtlety, but are you offering your help?"
He was surprised to have her laugh at him. "Oh, no, Harry," she answered cheerfully. "I am afraid that the Malfoy reputation is a little too much for normal people to accept my assistance. And working with Draco has shown me that, although I have more patience than Lucius, I do not have it inside myself to work with someone who is wilfully obstinate." She peered up at his conspiratorially. "I hope that I can trust you with that secret, Harry."
"Of course, Narcissa," he said, catching her upbeat attitude. "I wouldn't dream of telling anyone. Besides, who would believe me?" He gave her a wink that had her laughing again. He found that he rather liked the way Narcissa Malfoy sounded when she laughed. It was soft and gentle, like April rain, he thought sentimentally as he shook his head. "I'm rather sorry for showing up unannounced."
"Well, I admit to being rather amused when the house-elf announced your name along with the rest of the day's guests, but I was hardly upset," she said after a few steps. "If anything, it was nice to see Draco smile again."
"Oh?" Harry frowned. What in the world was he supposed to do with that information? So, Malfoy had been upset since their parting. It sort of explained why he'd been torturing Harry for the past week then. When the blond git was upset, he took it out on his favourite target.
"Harry," he whipped his head to stare at the beautiful blonde woman on his arm and swallowed nervously, "you are going to speak with my son today." It wasn't a request, but Harry nodded anyway. "Good, because here he is with Miss Davis."
"Mrs. Malfoy, Potter, imagine seeing you here," the dark-haired witch on Draco's arm said, smiling widely. Harry shoved down the irrational jealousy he felt as he saw how comfortable the girl looked practically dangling her cleavage on her escort's arm. "I simply must speak to you privately, Mrs. Malfoy. If you don't mind, of course, Draco?"
"Not at all, Tracey," the blond drawled, flashing the woman an amused smirk.
"Wonderful," she replied, taking Narcissa's unoccupied arm. The older witch gave Harry an irritatingly familiar smirk before allowing the younger woman to drag her away.
"I always assumed you got that particular expression from your father," Harry said clumsily, refusing to look at the man beside him.
"No, that would be the sneer that I inherited from him," Malfoy answered carefully. "At least, that's what Pansy always told me when we were children."
"I could see that, I guess." They fell into a very awkward silence, filled with the tension of their last real face to face. "Listen, Malfoy, the reason I came here today-"
"You wanted to tell me to stop harassing you, am I correct?" Harry looked over to see one pale, thin eyebrow lifted pompously, situated over those intensely staring grey eyes that hadn't really left Harry's mind since their last meeting.
"Yes," he said through clenched teeth, trying to control his reaction to the other man. He wiped sweaty palms against his thighs. "You're interfering with my job, and I don't appreciate it."
Malfoy was silent as he continued to stare before nodding oddly and turning his eyes to watch the two witches that were still strolling arm-in-arm in the gardens before them. Harry assumed they were trying to keep a reasonable distance so they could eavesdrop, but not make it obvious that was what they were doing. Unfortunately for them, Harry had grown up with the Weasley twins and with an Invisibility cloak. They were rather blatant, in his opinion.
"I will acquiesce to your request, Potter," Malfoy said, sounding almost bored. "On one condition."
"What's that then? My first born? I hate to disappoint, but that's not likely to happen, Malfoy."
"No, you allow me to take you out to lunch one day next week."
"You... you're asking me out? On a date?"
"As inane as you make it sound, that is precisely what I am doing."
Harry weighed his options. He could tell Malfoy to shove his proposal and continue to be harassed by the annoying fellow Animagus or he could agree and see what happened between the two of them. The butterflies that had congregated in his stomach swooped in nauseating patterns at the thought of the latter. He'd known what he was going to say as soon as Malfoy asked. So, gathering some of that vaunted Gryffindor courage, he turned to the other man and gave him a small, nervous smile. "Okay, but I pick the day."
~ Finite ~