Title: Heart’s Desire
Series: Heart & Soul
Series Order: 1
Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Harry Potter
Relationship: Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, First Time, Soulmates, Alternate Universe
Warnings: Explicit Sex, Explicit Language, Discussion-Murder, Discussion-Child Abuse
Word Count: 82,200
Summary: Nine years after the war, Harry is heartsore and lonely. Agreeing to marry Ginny Weasley just seemed like the thing to do, but their marriage application is rejected by the ministry because he has an active soulmate record in the Book of Souls.
Harry entered the Department of Mysteries through the private floo as he had no intention of starting his new work week with a public appearance. He was an hour early, and most of the offices were empty. The DOM no longer went unmanned overnight, and Harry figured he was directly responsible for that change, but Croaker ran a minimal mission-essential crew for emergency use only.
Harry lowered the hood of his cloak as he entered the director’s office and passed the empty desk where Croaker’s admin normally sat. The door was open, so he paused in the entryway and watched McGregor fold the Daily Prophet and put it down on the desk in front of him. The older man’s gaze narrowed on him.
“If Dumbledore were alive, I’d be up in the minister’s office demanding his arrest and a full investigation into your childhood. I wouldn’t be alone,” McGregor said roughly. He pointed at the chair in front of his desk. “Sit.”
Harry came fully into the room and the door shut behind him. He untied his cloak as the locks flicked into place and took a seat. “Good morning, sir.”
“Don’t good morning me, you little git,” McGregor said roughly. “You grew up in a bloody boot cupboard.”
“I wrote the letter to the editor, sir,” Harry said mildly. “My circumstances are not a secret to me.”
“I don’t know why I never asked you.”
“No one has,” Harry admitted. “Every single time I’ve discussed my childhood with anyone, it’s because I brought it up.”
Croaker frowned and sat back in his chair. “Every single time?”
“Well, you’re getting a deep core scan today,” Croaker muttered. “I notified the minister’s office that you’d be transferring into a covert unit today. He protested vehemently but knows he has no say in how I run my department, nor can he dictate what you do with your career. I did make it clear that if he tried to interfere that you’d probably quit entirely and move abroad.”
“The ICW is appealing,” Harry admitted. “So is the Magical Protectorate, and they’ve tried to recruit me twice in the last year.”
“I just bet,” Croaker said, and his gaze drifted briefly to the paper. “What’s your agenda?”
“Most will think I’m intent on destroying Dumbledore’s reputation, and I can’t say that it’s not galling for people to heap praise on the man when he outright admitted that he knew I’d suffer in the hands of my Muggle relatives and he left me with them anyway. I’d have been better off in an orphanage. But it’s not about him. It’s about me, my parents, and the truth. I don’t want to live my life as an icon, Croaker.” He waved a hand at the paper in disgust. “I’ll never be real to most of the people in Britain. They’ve been judging me against the unreasonable image created of me since I was sorted, and I’m a disappointment to them. They have these expectations of me that have never been fair or even rational. I can’t allow it to continue without trying to…mitigate some of the propaganda that has been put out about me since 1981.
“I can’t have normal, but I want a family, one day, and I’d like something…sort of normal for my kids. Is that too much to ask?”
“It’s not, but you have to know that you might not get that here in Britain.” Croaker cleared his throat. “But that is a discussion for another day. Is it not?”
Harry nodded. “Yeah.”
“For the record, I have ten Unspeakables who don’t live in Britain and haven’t for years,” Croaker said. “One hasn’t been in this country since 1975. He works in research and spell craft these days.” He stood from his desk. “So I don’t care where you make a home. From this day forward, you’ll be an Unspeakable and while the ministry pays your salary, you, like all Unspeakables, stand directly in defense of Avalon.”
Harry nodded as Croaker put a dark wood box on the desk directly in front of him. “I understand.”
“Unspeakable code names officially have no explicit beginning and no end outside of extreme situations. I have three available code names that have traditionally presented as male. Each name has a storied history that stretches across decades. The names are regularly attached to cases and research, so there are no lapses in the use of the names when there is no agent attached.
“This is how we keep our identities secret. Croaker has run the Department of Mysteries for 398 years.” McGregor sat down as Harry worked that around in his head.
“So it wasn’t always your code name.”
“No, my first code name is currently being used by a researcher working on the Veil,” Croaker said. “One day, I see you sitting where I sit.”
“Because the magic of Avalon has declared it so,” Croaker said evenly. “He chose me, and he will choose all those that come after me.”
“And by he, you mean King Arthur,” Harry said evenly.
Croaker hummed. “Had a very productive talk with a chatty old spirit, did you?”
“He depressed the shite out of me,” Harry admitted and sighed when Croaker laughed. “Seriously, we should tell him to stop telling people that deeply tragic and unfortunate story to people. How does that encourage anyone to seek out a soulmate bond?”
“I think you’ll find that his story will motivate you in ways you’ve yet to consider,” McGregor said gravely. He gave a nod toward the box. “Once you put on the hood, it will only respond to your magic, so it can’t be removed against your will or mine. It will obscure your magical signature, your wand, face, and height. We all look exactly the same in the field when we’re fully hooded to outsiders.”
“So I’ll be able to identify Draco from other Unspeakables?”
“And vice versa,” Croaker said. “We don’t hide from each other as it could cause issues with rendering aid during injury. That being said, no Unspeakable but me could take down your actual hood, and your cloak will throw you in magical stasis if you’re critically injured. Your medallion would portkey you to a secure medical ward several floors down, and I’d be notified.”
Harry nodded. “Will you pick my code name for me?”
“Since there are three—I’ll let you have your pick of them,” Croaker explained. “The legacy orbs for each agent are quite old. The first is Apollo. The code name was generated in the late 1920s when we were forced to retire a code name due to a very public death. The name is always attractive to young men, but the first agent to hold the name was a necromancer and he worked under the code name for 43 years.”
Harry winced. “Hard pass.”
“I figured,” Croaker said. “Plus, I’m not sure I want the Master of Death getting a mastery level education in necromancy. The second is Leander, the most formative agent attached to it died in the 60s of natural causes. It’s been an active code name since the mid-1800s—which could be a problem for some since he consulted with the Yard on the Jack the Ripper case.”
Harry made a face. “Jack the Ripper was a wizard?”
“Of course, he was,” Croaker said mildly. “How do you think he got away from his crime scenes? We had to hunt him across the fucking planet, but we caught him, and he was tossed through the Veil in 1894. Regardless, Leander led that manhunt and was often called to consult with Muggle authorities throughout that agent’s life. The code name is the most recently used, but that agent was killed here in the ministry when he discovered and tried to capture an intruder. The identity of the intruder was never discovered.”
“Voldemort,” Harry murmured.
“The intruder was caught in the Hall of Prophecy,” Croaker said by way of agreement. “At the time, it didn’t cross my mind as I had no idea a prophecy had been made regarding Tom Riddle. Such things are automatically cataloged, and it wasn’t reported.”
“A woman named Emmeline Vance worked for me as a researcher during the first conflict. I had an undercover asset in Dumbledore’s Order, and Emmeline Vance wasn’t recruited to join them until the winter of 1978.”
“He recruited her specifically to hide the prophecy,” Harry murmured. “That old bastard.” He sighed. “She was a member of the Order the second time around but died early on. I don’t remember how. Was she still working for you at that point?”
“No, I transferred her out of my department because….” Croaker took a deep breath. “The Head Unspeakable in the 70s was a witch named Dorcas Meadowes, and she was undercover in the Order of the Phoenix for me. The last report I received from her was about a mission with Emmeline Vance she’d received from Dumbledore. They were to meet Dumbledore’s Death Eater spy. Several hours later, her body was portkeyed into the DOM’s infirmary wing. She’d…” He closed his eyes briefly. “It was clear that she’d been tortured and that she’d violated her personal secret to kill herself.”
“Dumbledore’s spy was Severus Snape,” Harry said. “He tortured an Unspeakable for Voldemort?”
“Severus Snape wasn’t Dumbledore’s spy at that time—it was a man named Peter Pettigrew.”
Something knocked loose in Harry’s chest, and he slouched back in the chair with a ragged breath. “He really did set my parents up to be murdered, and I don’t understand.”
“The problem with a prophecy like the one made about you and Tom Riddle is that it protected him,” McGregor said roughly. “It gave him a form of immortality that would’ve been very difficult to circumvent. Had Riddle understood that you’d have been the safest child in Britain. Dumbledore clearly wasn’t prepared to let the prophecy play out as Fate intended, so he injected himself into it.”
“Dumbledore expected me to die that night as well,” Harry said. “So he could defeat Riddle himself—increase his fame and deepen his legacy. The wizard who defeated not one but two dark lords.” He paused. “I mean, I’m pretty sure he made them first. It must have really chapped his arse when the prophecy revealed that he wouldn’t get the glory when he’d done all that work to make Tom Riddle such a fucking monster.” He cleared his throat and sat up straight. “Dorcas Meadowes was captured and tortured because she was the DOM’s Secret Keeper—someone told Voldemort she was the Head Unspeakable.”
“When I tried to question Vance about the mission, she almost swallowed her tongue,” Croaker said. “Which meant at some point, she’d made an unbreakable vow. The only thing I could do is remove her from the DOM, and I did. She protested it, and the minister tried to interfere—I think from Dumbledore’s influence, but no one works in the DOM without my approval.” He waved a hand toward the box. “Go ahead and open it, lad.” He paused. “Unless you’ve changed your mind?”
“I haven’t. Will you be allowing Draco and I to work together?”
“I won’t make a decision until I speak with him,” Croaker said as Harry stood and opened the box with steady hands.
Harry let his fingers drift over the black battle-grade robe. He could feel the magic that had been woven into the material. Croaker place a flat box on top of the robe, and Harry picked it up. He opened it and stared at the medallion. It did a few things—communication, glamour projection, and finally, it housed the enchantment magic that created the hood of an Unspeakable. Harry pulled the medallion free from the box and set it aside.
“I should’ve accepted this when you first offered it. I wanted it before I was ever recruited to the DOM, but I let the Weasleys distract me with their nonsense.”
“The magic is intuitive, and the medallion is sentient,” Croaker said. “It will know when you need to be disguised entirely, when you need to reveal your true face, and when it should project the glamour. Currently, the glamour is a generic male face, but you can change it in any fashion you like once it mates with your magic.”
Harry nodded. “The final code name?”
“Leviathan, the oldest code name on the roster and well-known in various circles. Ten men have carried the code name since its inception, and the last three were criminal investigators. The last was also a War Mage, and he died in 1971 of natural causes. He was semi-retired from the DOM at that point and dabbled in a bit of spell craft creation in the last two decades of his life. He gave his last contribution to the legacy orb for the code name in 1968. He held masteries in charms and arithmancy. Knowledge of those subjects would take you far in your studies of warding and rune craft. The first to ever bear the code name was an accomplished high warlock and parselmouth who specialized in ritual magic. The ones in between were a mixture of disciplines but chose not to give orb knowledge of their subject as it felt in conflict with the founding legacy.”
Harry nodded his agreement. “Razel offered me a dverger orb—for warding specifically.”
Croaker’s mouth dropped open. “You march your arse to the bank at the first fucking opportunity and accept.”
“That’s an order, Potter,” Croaker said. “The Horde hasn’t made such an offer to a human being in over a hundred years. I don’t know how you ingratiated yourself to them, but I wish I could repeat it.”
Harry focused on him. “I apologized.”
“You apologized,” Croaker repeated. “Seriously?”
“I apologized on behalf of my ancestral lines—Potter, Black, and Peverell for failing to afford the Horde the respect they are due and for the use of the word goblin,” Harry said frankly. “And I meant it. They know I meant it—because I was holding the sword of the Baron of Gryffindor when I said it. I didn’t know it at the time, but you literally cannot lie while you have that sword in hand.”
“You have Gryffindor’s sword?”
“No, it’s at Hogwarts, but I did retrieve the sword from the Sorting Hat during my second year. I did try to give it to Ragnok, but he said the magic on the sword would always force its return to the school grounds. It was created to defend Hogwarts, and it will do so for as long as it exists.” He cleared his throat and focused his attention on the medallion. “Leviathan is the clear choice, and I will meet with Razel regarding the warding orb as soon as I recover from whatever the legacy orb does to me. He said it was best to wait and see what I gain from the orb before absorbing one of theirs because it will probably put me down for a week or more.”
“Accept the honor but ask for a month of recovery. You’ll need to check in with Healer Banner after your oath to make sure you’re in a good place magically to take on the legacy orb today,” Croaker said.
Harry nodded and shed his robe, which he placed on the chair he’d abandoned. He trailed his fingers along the collar of the uniform robe and took a deep breath. After a moment’s hesitation, he put the medallion down on the desk and focused on the robe.
“You can change your mind.”
He looked up and found his boss giving him a smug look. “You know, I took this job to despite how awful I heard you were.”
The robe was light despite the expensive exterior and dragonhide lining. It tailored itself to fit as soon as it settled on his shoulders. He took a moment to fix his shirt’s cuffs but didn’t close the robe, then picked up the medallion. “All right.”
“All right,” Croaker said and stood. “Come.”
Harry followed Croaker to the back of the office to a dark green door that opened the moment the older man touched it. The room was bare save a large jagged piece of stone.
He huffed, and Croaker laughed.
“Seriously?” Harry circled the rock, irritated and awed by its existence. “Where’s Excalibur?”
“With Lady Magic,” Croaker said. “If there comes a day when she believes that Britain would be served with a magical king—she will place the sword in the stone, and we will be compelled to reveal it to the public for the choosing. If you put your hand on it—the stone will guide you through the oath you must take.”
“It’s a good thing I can’t talk about this because I wouldn’t be able to help myself if magic wasn’t helping me keep my mouth shut,” Harry muttered.
“You and every other magical person who’s been in this room,” Croaker admitted.
Harry put his hand on the stone, and it lit with gold and white light.
“I, Hadrian James Potter, solemnly swear on my magic that I will be loyal and bear true allegiance to the realm of Avalon and that I will honestly and faithfully defend the realm against all enemies foreign and domestic. I will uphold the laws of the land as long they do not conflict with my known Fate, mission orders, the preservation of my life, or the lives of others. Let be known to Magic that I am an Unspeakable—I will seek the truth, I will endeavor to unwrap the mysteries presented to me, and I will defend Magic herself from harm at all costs. So mote it be.”
“You are an Unspeakable,” Croaker said gravely. “Hadrian James Potter shall be known as Leviathan.”
* * * *
Draco pulled his diary from his dimensional store as he settled down in a chair in front of Croaker. “How is Potter?”
“Currently absorbing a three-hundred-year-old legacy orb,” Croaker said mildly. “He chose Leviathan.”
Draco’s gut clenched, but he forced himself to remain still in the chair. He hadn’t survived the war without learning how to keep his emotions off his face. “Who’s taking care of that process?”
“Healer Banner is overseeing it personally,” Croaker said. “Just as she has with every other orb he’s talked himself into absorbing.” The older man picked up a quill and tapped it gently on the desk. “Potter requested to be assigned as your partner.”
“We discussed it.”
“One of the first things you said to me after you heard that he was coming into the department was that you’d rather not spend a great deal of time with him.”
“It felt like the best choice I could make for myself,” Draco admitted. “I didn’t know how it would be to see him every single day, and I can’t say it’s always been easy. There is a part of me that wishes I’d rejected him years ago—in some subtle way so that he’d have never known we were soulmates. I had several plans to accomplish it. I knew the moment I saw his name in that book that I’d never be allowed to have what Fate gave us both.”
“Because of the Dark Mark.”
“It plays a part,” Draco said. “He hasn’t figured it out yet, and I don’t know how to tell him. The mark is entrenched in my core. I told him I’d never have a magical marriage because of it, and he didn’t make the connection. I wouldn’t have either if I hadn’t studied core bonds extensively in my research into removing the Dark Mark. We’ll never have a soulbond, Croaker, and there’s nothing either of us can do about it. He deserves better than that. Moreover, if I live to see 60, I’ll be really fucking surprised.”
“So you’re going to live a short, miserable life and watch from the sidelines as your soulmate finds someone else, marries them, and has a family with them,” Croaker said, and Draco swallowed back the fury his words stirred in his heart. “Just like you watched him at Hogwarts—make friends that weren’t you, nearly get himself killed without you there to watch his back, and finally he disappeared into a war, leaving you to wonder if he was dead or alive. Think about how miserable you were during those years—when you didn’t know he was your soulmate. How will you suffer now?”
“You’re a terribly unfair man,” Draco murmured. “What choice do I even have here?”
“You could be honest with him,” Croaker said. “And let him make an informed decision.”
“It would be better just to reject him and let him move on.”
“But you won’t because if you were going to reject him—you already would’ve. You’d have never given him a chance to find out at all, and you didn’t because you wanted him to know about you. You wanted him to know what you could be together.”
“It sounds cruel to put it that way,” Draco said. “Because we can’t be anything, Croaker.”
“There is more to life than magical marriages and soul bonds,” Croaker said roughly. “I had neither with my wife, and there wasn’t a damn thing wrong with the life we had or the children we made together. Potter wasn’t raised in the magical world, Draco, and I doubt he puts all that much stock into a marriage bond. He might even balk at it. He’s going to read a book or two on soulmate magic—so he might develop some romantic ideas about a soulmate bond, but that’s neither here nor there. If you break it to him before he has a chance to read about them—he won’t immediately become enamored with the idea of it.”
“I’m enamored with the fucking idea of it,” Draco exclaimed hotly, and his face heated when Croaker just raised an eyebrow at him. “Who wouldn’t be?”
“Allowing yourself to fixate on what you can’t have is just going to make you miserable,” Croaker raised a hand before he could retort. “I’ll leave you to it, lad. Do you agree to partner with Potter in the field, or should I deny his request?”
“I don’t want him in the field with anyone else,” Draco muttered. “He trusts too easily, so if he wants to dart about Britain being a Gryffindor, then I literally have no choice.” He crossed his arms when Croaker laughed. “Why couldn’t he get a job as a healer or a teacher? Something nice and lacking in dangerous situations that will certainly get him maimed for life.”
“Considering his history with Hogwarts as a student—I don’t think he’d survive teaching there.”
Draco made a face. “Merlin, that’s probably true. The castle would probably just swallow him whole one day.”
* * * *
Harry woke slowly, a lingering ache teasing around the edges of his consciousness. An indication that he’d been giving pain relief while he’d been in the magical stasis caused by the legacy orb. He shifted a little, curled his toes in his socks, and opened his eyes.
“How do you feel?”
“Tired, a little sore,” Harry murmured but turned his head to focus on Piper Banner. She was probably one of the most attractive women he’d ever seen and he’d thought so the moment he’d set eyes on her. Her husband was the Head Unspeakable, so Harry had been introduced to Piper Banner on his first day in the DOM after he’d take his first set of oaths. “How long?”
“13 hours,” she reported. “But the orb is old, so we expected it to take a while. I’d like to keep you overnight.”
Harry made a face.
“But Croaker told me that your partner is willing to take you home with him and contact me if there are any issues. Helios is in his office.” She stood and pocketed the book she’d been reading. “Take note of any odd symptoms or if you have memory flashes and you have tomorrow off to ensure a full recovery. That’s standard protocol for a legacy orb, so no complaints are allowed.”
“A legacy orb contains knowledge just like any other, but they also contain memories that previous versions of your code name found to be invaluable and worthy of sharing with future generations. Leviathan is over three hundred years old, Harry. The first wizard to carry the code name never revealed his true identity to a single person that worked in the DOM during his tenure.”
“Internal policies don’t allow that anymore,” Harry murmured as he sat up. “Do you know when that changed?”
“In the late 1800s,” Piper said. “There’s no specific reason why. I personally don’t see why a legal name matters—the oath of the Unspeakable doesn’t allow for ethical wiggle room. You either do your job, or you drop dead.”
Harry grinned at her. “It does make things a little easier in this part of the DOM.” He swung his legs around and bent down to pick up the boots he’d abandoned when she’d escorted him to the cot in the small infirmary she ran. “How’s Jamie?”
“Chomping at the bit to go school shopping,” Piper said. “We told him we’d take him in July, but he’s determined to at least go get some books for extra reading so he can be prepared for the very first day of classes. I went by the education department to pick up a few assessments to make sure he’s ready for his first-year course work. My mum let me slide a little bit before Hogwarts, so I could barely put together an essay my first year, and my quillmanship was a genuine crime.” She huffed. “The less said about Thaddeus’ school performance, the better.”
“There is no crueler thing on this earth than a witch,” Thaddeus Banner said loftily from the doorway of the infirmary.
Harry finished slipping on his boots, and they fastened themselves. “Says a man whose never stood face to snout with a nesting Hungarian Horntail.” He paused as he stood. “Sir.”
Banner grinned at him. “You did all right, though.” He frowned. “Not that I wasn’t furious at the time. They had no business putting a 14-year-old in an arena with a fucking dragon. The ministry must have fielded over 1000 complaints about the tournament because of that first event alone.”
“There were more complaints about how boring the second task was,” Piper said sourly as she focused on him. “Any dizziness? Nausea? A desire to go get drunk and have a fistfight?”
“I…” He frowned. “What?”
“The last two wizards to use the Leviathan legacy orb went straight to the nearest pub, got drunk, and started a brawl,” Thaddeus reported with a delighted grin.
“You’re having me on,” Harry accused.
“I wish,” Piper said dryly. “You can read the reports if you’d like.”
Harry sighed and shook his head. “I’m not much of a drinker at all, so I rarely have any inclination toward drunkenness or brawling. I can’t take risks with my magic like that. I might—destroy a building or something.”
“Well, we could always go to Wales,” Thaddeus said. “No one cares about pubs in Wales.”
Piper glared at him. “My mother’s pub is in Wales, husband.”
“I said what I said, wife.”
Harry picked up his robe and shook his head as he put it on, intent on getting completely out of the Banner’s amusing marriage warfare as quickly as possible. “I’ll keep an eye on myself, and I promise not to visit any pubs in the next 24 hours without you, sir.” He skirted around Piper, who was glaring daggers at her husband. “I’ll just lock this door on my out, yeah?”
“You do that little thing, lad,” Piper said with a smirk and flicked out her wand.
Harry laughed and pulled the door shut behind him. He tossed a locking spell at the door as he walked away with a bit of wandless magic and went in search of Helios. He found Draco in his office, staring intently at a piece of parchment while he drew a series of small circles in the air above it with his wand.
“The Greek sun god, huh?”
Draco looked up. “Leviathan? Really?”
“It was the only real choice.” Harry leaned on the door. “The first was a necromancer, and the second one fucking caught Jack the Ripper.”
“Leander,” Draco said. “I was offered that name as well but not a necromancer. I might have picked it, to be honest. Death magic is fascinating, and I’ve done a lot of research already because of the mark.” He holstered his wand.
“What were you doing?” Harry questioned.
“George Weasley put out a series of parchment games—based on Muggle board games. I bought the whole collection for research purposes to make sure he wasn’t doing anything that could lead to problems. His father’s office never investigates Wheezy products, so anything potentially problematic gets funneled to us through the DMLE.”
“Are they a problem?”
“Not at all. They’re fully enchanted to only work for magicals, fun and promote wand precision and critical thinking. I plan to heavily recommend the whole collection to anyone I know with a Hogwarts-aged child. This one was very fun—it’s property-focused, promotes good math skills, and requires strategic thinking. You can play by yourself or with eight others.”
Harry walked across the room and leaned over the desk to look at the parchment spread across Draco’s desk. “It’s Monopoly.”
“You’ve played it?”
“No, but I’ve seen the game. Fortunately, I wasn’t required to play board games with my aunt. What are the other games?”
“Cluedo, Risk, Scrabble, Battleship…” Draco trailed off and flushed. “A trivia game, chess, and checkers.”
“You spent the whole day playing games,” Harry said in amusement.
“I was working,” Draco said primly. “Hard. I had to write reports and everything.” He folded the parchment once, and it whipped around on the desk and transformed into a book. “The best part is that I get to take it home because I purchased it with my own funds.”
Harry nodded. “Probably should buy a few more—might make great Yule presents for any of your friends who have older children. It’ll probably sell out fast.”
“Oh, you’re right.” Draco made a face. “I hate that.”
“That I’m right?”
Draco shrugged. “How do you feel?”
“Tired, mild headache, and stiff from being in the same position for hours.” Harry shrugged. “Could be worse—it was a very sophisticated compared to the blunt-force knowledge orbs.”
“I had a similar experience,” Draco admitted and pulled on his robe. “Well, let’s go. I’ve ordered takeaway.”
Harry entered his flat, performed a few spells to verify he was alone, and set up some temporary proximity wards so no one could enter the place without him being alerted. He paused only briefly as he holstered his wand. Before the legacy orb, he hadn’t known temporary wards were even a thing. They were paper-thin, really, but they would certainly prevent anyone from entering without his notice. The legacy orb hadn’t given him a full-blown education in wards, but he’d gained enough knowledge to know that he really wanted the orb that Razel had offered.
Kingsley Shacklebolt’s owl was sitting on the balcony railing, so Harry retrieved the bird, accepted the letter, and fed him a treat before the owl sailed gracefully out of the flat. Henri was one of the nicest owls Harry had ever met, and he included his own dear Hedwig in that. The note was short, asking for an out-of-office meeting which was interesting, so Harry used his floo to contact Shacklebolt’s office and invited the man over for lunch.
By the time he had a meal together on the table, Shacklebolt was popping out of the floo with a wide, grateful grin. The older man made a show of making his tea as they settled down to eat.
“I’m told you’re in great physical and mental condition despite your wretched upbringing,” Kingsley said. “Not that a healer who has handled your health since you joined the ministry can speak to a single damn thing being wrong with you despite the evidence of past physical and emotional trauma.”
Harry nodded. “I would expect to see a report exactly like that considering how much I paid for the corrective measures.”
“Corrective measures?” Kingsley prodded and dished himself out a heaping portion of shepherd’s pie. “Will you speak on that?”
“After I left Hogwarts and before I sat my NEWTs, I went to France and met with a conclave of healers run by a man named Armand Deering.”
“The Glain Neidr—far more than just healers.”
“Certainly, but the circle he created for me was entirely focused on physical, mental, and magical healing. Dumbledore was just as lax in his care of me as my aunt in many ways. I didn’t starve at Hogwarts, of course, but I wasn’t given proper medical care after any of the altercations I had with Tom Riddle—not even after he crucio’d me.” He winced when Shacklebolt’s mouth dropped open. “It is by the grace of Magic that I’m still fertile. I didn’t even know that was a potential side effect for an underage wizard being hit by the Cruciatus Curse.”
“It’s not well-known because of how rare it is for a child to be put under such a curse,” Shacklebolt murmured. “But Poppy Pomfrey certainly knows. Is this why she’s not at Hogwarts anymore?”
“You’ll have to ask the headmistress why Madam Pomfrey retired from Hogwarts. Since charges weren’t passed along to the DMLE, we can both agree that Pomfrey was probably laboring under some sort of oath to Dumbledore. He had a habit of extracting heinous magical promises from people.”
“I was never allowed on Privet Drive while Dumbledore was alive,” Kingsley said. “But Tonks was. If she were alive—we’d be having words about her failure to do her duty as an auror. She should’ve reported your circumstances to the DMLE.”
“What would’ve happened?” Harry asked curiously. “If the DMLE knew that my uncle spent most of the summer before my fifth year screaming at me and hitting me for having nightmares about Cedric Diggory’s murder?”
“Amelia Bones would’ve come down on your relatives, Dumbledore, and anyone else involved in such a way that lives would’ve been ruined. More than one person would’ve been put in jail since it would’ve revealed how horrible your childhood was. Amelia couldn’t be corrupted and that…led to her eventual death.’
Harry nodded. “Who did it, do you know?”
“Augustus Rookwood arranged for her murder,” Shacklebolt murmured. “I killed him for it, but it wasn’t justice because the damage he caused by ending Amelia Bones’ life can’t be measured. Had she been minister after Fudge was removed from office, the war wouldn’t have been the same. Maybe more would’ve lived.” He paused and sighed. “Maybe more would’ve died. That’s the problem with that sort of speculation—nothing is certain.”
They ate in silence for a few minutes, and Harry served himself a second portion.
“I want to believe you didn’t know about my childhood,” Harry murmured. “Hermione says that wanting to believe isn’t the same thing is as actually believing. I admit that the assumption that you and many others knew has made it difficult to work with some people at the ministry. I feel like there is no single way that Arthur Weasley was in the dark about my abusive childhood especially considering three of his children had to rescue me from Privet Drive before second year.”
“After I read the letter you wrote,” Kingsley began. “I made a list of Order members—before 1981 and after 1992.”
“1992?” Harry questioned. “He activated the Order of the Phoenix after my second year?”
“For some, yes,” Kingsley murmured. “I was inducted at that point, and I agreed because he shared the details of the Chamber of Secrets with me. The idea that Lucius Malfoy had almost succeeded in resurrecting Voldemort made me furious, and the fact that he’d tried to do it in a school full of children…” He took a deep breath and made himself another cup of tea. “But I was blinded by the headmaster’s reputation and the goals he presented outwardly. I don’t know the depth of Albus Dumbledore’s agenda, but, in the end, there’s no way it genuinely served his so-called greater good.”
“Part of me thinks, because of information I’ve gathered as an adult, that he meant for me to die in Godric’s Hollow in 1981 so it would resolve the prophecy and the field would be clear for him to kill Voldemort.”
“He could’ve taken him out before the fucking prophecy was given,” Kingsley snapped.
“Hell, man, why would he have done that?” Harry questioned. “He had to wait until Tom Riddle became Voldemort in full view of the world. Taking out a dark wizard is nothing—it’s small time. Taking out a second dark lord? That’s a fucking legend in the making.”
Kingsley glared at him. “I’m beginning to dislike you as much as you dislike me.”
Harry grinned. “I don’t dislike you, Shacklebolt. I can’t stand your job, so that sort of bleeds over, and I know it’s more about Fudge than you but that asshole nearly got me killed more than once because he was a cowardly idiot. I hate politics, and you eat that shite for breakfast. You practically wallow in smug glee while you play those games. Honestly, at your worst, you remind me of Dumbledore, and that’s no compliment in my world. At your base, you’re a decent person, but you seriously enjoy it all too much, and someone needs to let you know that’s obscene on the regular. I’ve taken that on as my job. You’re welcome.”
“I have a half-dozen complaints about your placement in the DOM on my desk,” Kingsley said conversationally as he pushed aside his clean plate. “If they knew what a fantastic cook you were—there would be four times as many. At any rate, it has generally been decided that my allowing your transfer out of the DMLE and into Croaker’s sphere is the worst possible thing I could’ve ever done.
“Gawain Robards has declared the entire situation untenable and is demanding a meeting with you and Croaker to resolve the matter.”
“And by resolve the matter—he means to plan my career for me in the manner that best suits himself,” Harry said. “Right. Well, we can have that meeting if you want, but I no longer work for that arsehole, and I don’t have to be polite to him.”
“He definitely hasn’t gotten that memo and has declared that he only allowed Croaker to borrow you, and it was time for you to return to the DMLE.”
Harry sighed. “I took the oath yesterday, Kingsley. There’s no coming back from that.”
“True, but Unspeakables have, in the past, moved freely between the departments. You aren’t required to be hooded all the time. Croaker has duties outside the hood, even if no one in the ministry knows his identity.”
“You mean no one outside of other Unspeakables and trusted members of the DOM’s R&D staff,” Harry said and raised an eyebrow when Shacklebolt gaped at him. “Our identities are Official Secrets, Kingsley, but we need to be able to work together. Coordinate schedules, educate ourselves, etc. Some transparency is required.”
“Right.” Shacklebolt frowned. “I’ve never worked with the DOM, so I next to nothing about procedures. It’s all need to know, and even as the minister, I apparently don’t need to know.”
“It’s better that way—allowing the line between the minister’s office and the DOM to blur actually caused problems during the war and the Unspeakables that escaped Britain only did so by the skin of their teeth. Rufus Scrimgeour nearly got Croaker murdered. He spent months in France getting treatment for his injuries, and that’s because Scrimgeour was an arrogant fucker who didn’t know he had Death Eaters working for him. Bagnold and Fudge did way too much policy damage while they were minister. It can’t ever happen again.”
“I don’t disagree, but there are elements in the ministry who don’t like change and will do anything to avoid it. Robards is just one of many invested in shaping you into an asset they can use to their own advantage.”
“Like you,” Harry said and sighed when Shacklebolt laughed.
“I’m honest about it.”
Harry wasn’t certain if that was a good thing or not.
* * * *
He put the trunk he’d purchased on Diagon Alley down in front of him and activated the packing function before walking away. Everything in the room shrank and started to tuck into the trunk. After checking the contents, he retrieved his Firebolt from the front closet then expanded the trunk’s reach to include all of the rooms. With a thought, he stored the broom in his holster. It was at its maximum due to the number of magical devices he was storing. He was considering buying a dimensional store. Or making one of his own design during his mastery work in rune craft.
Harry went onto the balcony and retrieved a stack of abandoned letters. Thankfully, no owls were waiting. He really hoped they weren’t only using Pig for the deliveries; the poor little thing didn’t deserve it. Harry wondered if owls could fly away from home and if so, he was certainly going to encourage Ron’s owl to do it. The letters were tossed in the trunk before he flipped the lid shut. He summoned the trunk, and it minimized as it left the floor and flew to his hand.
Magic wasn’t always great, but it did make some things that could be stupid complicated very easy to manage. He kind of wanted to go to work but knew that Croaker would just send him home. Harry apparated as he actively avoided the tiny urge to find a place to get a drink. He found himself at the gates of Hogwarts though that hadn’t been his intention. He huffed a bit and stared pointedly at the castle—it wasn’t often that she pulled at him, but she clearly wanted something.
He wasn’t all that surprised when Minerva McGonagall appeared on the other side of the gates with a nearly silent pop.
Harry squinted at her as he wondered if he would come to regret going to her cottage in Aberdeen to tell her about the title and the magical legacy he was stuck with. She’d been sympathetic but also a little jaded about Dumbledore and Harry’s place in the world.
“You tell me, lad,” she said dryly as she opened the gates. “How are you?”
“Fine, Lord McGregor sends his very best.”
“I’ll give you detention,” she threatened and sighed when he laughed. “Why are you here?”
“I don’t know,” Harry admitted and offered his arm as they headed toward the castle. She took it with a quick smile. “I was apparating away from my old flat and felt a really hard jerk in this direction, so I let it happen. She hasn’t done that kind of thing since we were rebuilding after the war and the Ravenclaw tower almost collapsed.”
She hummed. “The wards are a little off—have been for a few weeks. I have an appointment with Chieftain Ragnok regarding a few upgrades, but it’s not until after the school year ends next month. Things settled well, despite the damage done by Riddle. She suffered for decades under Albus’ dubious care, and I didn’t notice. You suffered, too.”
“You didn’t join the Order in any real fashion until after Dumbledore’s death. Why?” Harry questioned.
She motioned him into a small salon near the front entrance, and he was relieved as he had no interest in going to her office where Dumbledore’s portrait hung. He sat down and relaxed when a tea tray appeared on the table between the two chairs.
“During Voldemort’s first rise to power, I did not join the Order because I believed it would be a conflict of interest. I acted as a spy for the DMLE and the DOM throughout the conflict using my animagus form. Albus often asked unethical things of Order members that he could justify, but I found it problematic. Often, he failed to see the needs of the individual, but you know that already. As to the second war, he believed I would be better positioned politically and socially if I was not officially involved in the Order because it was an illegal organization. I was his backup plan—the last line of defense for you.
“Over the years, before you came to Hogwarts, I asked about you, and he told me you were fine. He said he had assets in the neighborhood watching over you and that the wards were strong. Once the Order started guarding over you, I asked to be included in that guard rotation in the summers so I could have contact with you while you were so isolated, but he told me no. He said I should keep my distance from you and him while the ministry was trying to ignore Voldemort’s resurrection. Again, he held me in reserve in case he needed someone….”
“With clean hands,” Harry said, and she took a deep breath. “I understand. I don’t blame you.”
“I trusted him, and I regret that more than I can ever say. I’ll live the rest of my life alone because of him and my own fool-hearted loyalty to him.”
“I don’t understand,” Harry admitted.
“He was my mentor, Harry,” Minerva said. “Most don’t know this, but I was raised in the Muggle world. My mother was a witch, but she left magic behind to marry a Muggle man she’d fallen in love with. She didn’t stop me from attending Hogwarts and was proud of me for doing so well, but…she was averse to discussing anything about magic or the world she’d left behind. Maybe she believed she’d regret it—I don’t know.”
“How does a private mentorship work?”
“It lasts as long as the master wishes,” Minerva murmured. “And he kept me under contract until…he died. He said it was to shield me, but it was merely a way of controlling me though he told me it was about protecting me because of my half-blood status. At any rate, because I was in a mentor contact, I could not disobey any direct order he gave me. Nor could I marry without his permission. Traditionally, such an arrangement was meant to prevent a witch from being mistreated or socially ruined.”
“He’s been dead for years. Are you still subject to his disgusting orders?” Harry demanded.
“No, but the damage has been done.” She took a deep breath. “I’m far too old to even adopt at this point—I doubt I have the strength to do it magically.”
“But you could have an adoption ritual empowered by another,” Harry said. “In ritual—blood, and magic. I have the power to spare.”
“An unmarried witch of my age would never be given a chance to adopt a child, Harry,” Minerva said and took a deep breath. “It’s done, and I can’t say it’s fine, but I’ve made my peace with it.”
“It seems that Dumbledore was careless with the lives of practically everyone he knew,” Harry said and snagged several cookies to eat. “His personal agenda, in retrospect, is no less dark than Riddle’s.”
Minerva nodded. “Let’s not ruin our whole visit—just know that I’m sorry for what you went through and know that I would’ve stopped all of it if I’d been allowed. Despite appearances, Dumbledore ruled this school with an iron fist, and none of us really had any say in what happened due to employment oaths and, in some cases, personal oaths he tricked people into making. He was good for that—spouting the greater good and asking you to sacrifice everything for his vision of it.”
Harry nodded. “So, the wards?”
“Just in need of maintenance and some reworking. I’m still finding weaknesses that Albus wove into the matrix for his own purposes. I’ll sort it out, but I have no idea why the castle would wish you to visit today. There are no pressing issues that I can discern.”
“No, nothing seems out of place,” Harry agreed, then he smiled. “Maybe she just thought we should have tea.”
“Ah, well, I never turn down tea with a handsome young wizard,” Minerva declared. “Tell me about your love life. I heard all about the Weasley situation, against my will.”
Harry huffed dramatically, and she just laughed, which he took for a win. So, he launched into a tirade about Ginny, the Book of Souls, tragic ghost stories, Draco bloody Malfoy, and how Fate clearly can’t stand him, and he doesn’t know why.
* * * *
Draco rolled over onto his back and stared at the ceiling as fury churned in his gut. Two goddamned nights in his house, and Potter had ruined his fucking life. He’d stopped by the git’s flat after work only to find the place empty and available for rent. Draco had considered sending an owl, and, very briefly, the idea of sending his Patronus across Britain to find his wayward soulmate had also crossed his mind. He’d never done it, but he knew how. His Patronus has changed after he’d achieved his animagus form, which was common, so he couldn’t use…well. He could. But he figured it would be rude to send someone a message via Ukrainian Ironbelly, even if it was just a Patronus versus an actual dragon.
The floo fired two floors below him, and Draco rolled out of his bed, wand appearing in his hand as he left his bedroom at a trot. In theory, only one damn person in Britain could enter his house right now, but he couldn’t be stupid about it. He found Potter sprawled on his sofa, drink in hand. He stowed his wand and leaned on the door frame.
“Sometimes Hogwarts sort of prods me,” Harry said. “And I feel compelled to give her attention. I’m not sure if it’s because of the Peverell title’s relation to the Gryffindor family, or maybe it’s because I pulled the damn Sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat in the fucking Chamber of Secrets and defended the school.” He sighed and took a deep sip of his drink. “So I was leaving my flat today, and when I went to apparate, the bloody castle reached out to me. I went. I always do. In some ways, that school was my first home.”
“Is something wrong at Hogwarts?”
“Yeah,” Harry said quietly. “The wards are corrupt as fuck, and Dumbledore built in a whole series of charms that no one noticed that have prevented McGonagall from communicating with the castle and with the bloody Sorting Hat.”
“You should’ve contacted me,” Draco muttered.
“It wasn’t…well.” He sighed. “It wasn’t a bleeding mystery in the end. There was a kid, a first year, who didn’t want to go home, and the school year is almost over. The castle and the Sorting Hat knew he was in trouble both emotionally and magically, but the corrupted wards couldn’t tell anyone. She reached out to me because I’m not subject to the charms Dumbledore left in place. It’s stunning that something so fucking dark can still be called a charm.”
“Child abuse?” Draco questioned tightly as he retrieved Potter’s empty glass and went to refill it.
“Nothing so dire as my own circumstances at that age,” Harry murmured. “But his step-father loathes him and makes him miserable at home. There is a lot of verbal abuse, and his mother doesn’t seem to care at all that it’s making her son miserable. McGonagall is going to file guardianship papers and declare him a ward of the school. Something that the last two headmasters didn’t allow but was traditionally done before Dippet.”
“It was worse, right?” Draco questioned as he pressed the glass back into Potter’s trembling fingers. “What you endured in that Muggle house? Your letter just skimmed the surface.”
“That was all the detail anyone needed to serve my goal,” Harry murmured. “And yeah, it was worse. It was so goddamned miserable that the people in this country are lucky I’m not interested in running this place. I have magic to burn, and I don’t care if most of them live or die.”
“Yet, you died for us—died to save the magical world from Tom Riddle.”
Harry sent him a baleful look that Draco found more thrilling than he had a right to. “That’s certainly the story Molly Weasley likes to tell about the final battle. I sacrificed myself that day to protect Hermione so she could destroy the last two horcruxes. We had a plan. She believed I would survive it, but I wasn’t sure. But once the horcruxes were gone and the prophecy was met—anyone could’ve killed Voldemort. If I hadn’t survived, she’d have done it.
“I had faith in Hermione.” He shrugged. “It wasn’t misplaced. There came a point when she was very nearly killed during the war. If she’d died—I’d have walked away from all of this without a backward glance. Sometimes, I still think about leaving.”
“You swore to defend Avalon today,” Draco pointed.
“You know that Avalon and Britain aren’t the same thing at all, no matter what the ministry might like to say. Avalon would accept less than 5% of the magical people in this country, and you know it. The disapproval is overt, and the deeper you get into the ministry, the harder it is to ignore. I don’t know how they miss it.”
Draco sat down, despite his best intentions, because Potter was fucking fascinating and no matter how annoying it was—having him close and not hostile at the same time was intoxicating.
“The first thing my father taught me about magic was to ignore it.”
Harry’s gaze jerked to his. “What?”
“You’re probably one of the most magical people I’ve ever met,” Draco said and took a deep breath. “Because you don’t ignore your instincts, and you embrace magic eagerly. It’s clear you see it as a boon. I was taught to see it as the minimum I was due and a tool. It wasn’t until I was outside of my father’s influence that I began to explore the spiritual connections to magic. I don’t know how to see what you see; I don’t know how to feel what you feel.”
“It must be difficult to get rid of that kind of mental conditioning,” Harry said baldly and finished off his second glass of whiskey. Draco started to stand, but Potter’s hand settled on his thigh briefly to still him. “No, I’ve had too much already. I don’t drink for a reason.” He set aside the glass and ran both hands through a mess of black hair. “I was getting ready to leave the castle, and Hogwarts was clearly deeply unhappy about it. So I let her lead me around the place—I ended up in the library. There was only one kid in there, so I figured I’d hit upon the problem.”
“And the headmistress?”
“She disillusioned herself about halfway through the walk, so whatever I found wouldn’t be aware of her. Honestly, she’s a fantastic partner in a fight. So I knew she’d have my back if we were about to stumble across some dark shite that shouldn’t be in the school. But it was just a desperate eleven-year-old-boy who was reading a book on magical law far above his grade level trying to figure out how he could stay safe.”
Harry cleared his throat. “I wanted to leave the school—go find that son of a bitch who’d terrorized that boy and kill the shite out of him. He’s definitely earned a place on my ‘If I Go Full Dark Lord” list.”
“Now that’s a list I’d happily add to,” Draco said and grinned when Harry looked his way.
“You’re stupidly attractive, and I can’t stand it,” Harry said roughly. “I had a crush on you—from when we met in the robe shop despite what a little git you’d been. Then you went and ruined it for me on the train.” He huffed when Draco’s eyes widened in shock. “Shut up. I was eleven, and you were adorable but also an arsehole, so I was confused.”
“I bet,” Draco said with a laugh. “Sorry.”
“It was much worse after puberty struck,” Harry said wryly. “But thankfully, Hermione was around to distract me.”
“She did take a gorgeous turn,” Draco agreed. “The boy?”
“He was trying to figure out if magic would let him divorce his parents,” Harry explained. “I probably should’ve called the DMLE right then and there, but Robards has little to no sympathy for children, nor is he all that fussed about helping anyone who isn’t a pure-blood.”
“So you…” Draco waved a hand for him to continue.
“I walked him through a magical disownment right there on the spot,” Harry said and shrugged when Draco gaped at him. “Minerva didn’t interfere. In fact, she didn’t reveal herself until Magic accepted it, and he was free from those terrible people. Anyways, she took him to her office to start the school guardianship process and offered me a guest suite. It sounded nice, and I know she doesn’t allow howlers on school grounds, so I took myself off to sleep.”
“But here you sit.”
“Here I sit,” Harry agreed. “I couldn’t sleep, which makes no damn sense because we haven’t slept in the same place since Hogwarts, until recently.”
“It’s different now that you know,” Draco admitted. “And I don’t know how exactly. I feel responsible to you—like I owe you something, and that’s irritating.”
“You owe me nothing,” Harry said roughly. “And in that instance, I don’t give a fuck what anyone, including our beloved Lady Magic, thinks.”
“You’d think differently if she appeared before you right now,” Draco warned.
“I’d take a knee, certainly, but it wouldn’t change how I feel about that particular thing. I know what it’s like when someone assumes you owe them something or perhaps believes you owe them everything, and I’m not going to do that to you. I won’t allow anyone else to do it to you, either.
“On the way to the book, I thought about it—how the magical world would treat my soulmate.” Harry frowned and glanced toward the empty glass. “I think a previous Leviathan might have been a functional alcoholic.”
“Doubtful,” Draco said in amusement. “Maybe he was an Ogden. They’re very fond of their own product as a rule.” He cleared his throat when Harry huffed and used the toe of his boot to shift the coffee table in front of them into the proper position. “How would the world treat your soulmate, Harry?”
“Like property,” Harry said roughly. “Most would be thankful you’re a pure-blood even if they never said it aloud. Some would be offended that you’re male, certainly. There would be two camps, in the end. On one side, there would be those who think you should reject me for my own good because you’re the son of a Death Eater, and the other would be the people appalled that you’d even consider rejecting the Boy-Who-Lived. It would be a complete shiteshow, and neither would care what I want at all. Those people have never cared what I want because what they could get from me was what mattered. Sometimes, I wonder if they even deserved to be saved from Voldemort. He was a product of their making, you know?”
“Yeah, I know,” Draco admitted. “Plenty deserved exactly what they did to him and what he wanted them to do them. He had far-reaching plans that would’ve destroyed our very way of life.”
“In the end, I take heart in the fact that while most didn’t deserve the sacrifices I made—some did,” Harry said quietly. “I’d have done it all to keep him from ever laying a hand on you. The thought of it makes me sick.”
“I never intended on enduring that, Potter,” Draco said, and he cleared his throat when Harry’s gaze settled on him. “You must know that.”
“I know what I would’ve done in your place,” Harry said quietly. “And I’d have tried to take him with me when I did it.” He cleared his throat. “I’m glad it didn’t come to that.”
“Yeah,” Draco said. “I took a vow on my magic that I would never under any circumstances marry him. The moment they forced the vows on me, my core would’ve shattered, and I would’ve died. It was such a relief to have that plan in place.”
“Who helped you seal that vow?” Harry questioned with a frown.
“Pansy Parkinson,” Draco murmured. “I did the same for her, though her vow was different. She’d been chosen to carry an heir for him.”
Harry cleared his throat. “You can carry, right? That’s part of your veela inheritance?”
Draco flushed. “I can…yes. But he found the idea of a wizard carrying a child deeply offensive. I was never going to be allowed to have a child of my own.”
“Do you want that?” Harry asked.
Draco stood and cleared his throat. “I can’t…have this conversation with you, Potter.”
“Draco.” Harry took a deep breath. “Just…I…”
“Look, I know your intentions are always good,” Draco said roughly. “But…I learned the hard way that offering you my hand is a mistake.”
He cleared his throat and focused on Harry, who was staring at him. The man looked destroyed, and Draco felt like he’d made the biggest mistake of his life. Realizing there was no apology to be made for speaking his truth, he let silence settle between them. They’d never been on the same page, and there was no use in pretending otherwise.
Harry closed his eyes and slouched back against the sofa. “I’ll take that drink now.”
Draco picked up the glass, poured three more fingers of whiskey, and put it down on the side table next to the sofa. “I’m going back to bed. The guest room is yours. You don’t have to stay, of course, but it would probably be easier on both of us while we adjust to the new circumstances. Just knowing where you are has relieved the anxiety I was dealing with.”
“Same,” Harry said hoarsely. “I don’t mean to be rude, Draco, but please go away.”
Draco retreated to his office upstairs because he knew sleep was beyond him. He curled up in the chair in front of his mother’s portrait, and Narcissa raised one eyebrow at him.
“I wish you were here,” Draco admitted. “I thought the portrait would be a comfort, but I wish I’d never made a copy. Father sent me a wretched letter last week because you won’t return to the portrait at the manor.”
“I hate that house,” Narcissa said. “And I hate him. I’m never going back. I’ve made this my home portrait so he can’t force my return.”
“How…did you manage that?” Draco asked in confusion.
“The house elves hate him, too,” Narcissa said. “If it wouldn’t endanger you, I’d call them all here so you can arrange new bonds for them. I’ve ordered them not to tolerate any sort of abuse from him, so they just pop away whenever he gets drunk and violent.” She waved a hand. “But this isn’t about your father. This is about you and the wretched thing you just said to your soulmate.”
“You heard that?”
“It’s true,” Draco snapped. “We’ve never…we’re so different, and nothing has ever…we just don’t work!”
“You’re far too old, darling, to expect everything to be perfect. Tell me what you know about the man drinking himself sick in your salon.”
“I…he’s loyal, powerful, more complicated than I expected him to ever be, very magical and….” Draco closed his eyes. “Inspiring. This country is lucky he doesn’t want to run this place because a great many of our peers would join any cause he created just because he’s so damn charismatic.”
“You want him.”
“I want…it doesn’t matter what I want because I’ll never have it. I’ve been deluding myself for years, and I should’ve rejected him before he ever knew. I should’ve gone through with my original plan.”
“And he’d be preparing to marry that wretched witch who doesn’t love him and only wants him because of his money.” The portrait sent him a disdainful look when he looked in her direction.
“My real mother was nicer to me than this,” Draco muttered.
“Your real mother never had to deal with you acting like a child at the age of 27,” Narcissa said. “She’d be just as disappointed as I am.”
He sighed. “Did you regret it? Rejecting your own soulmate?”
“He never knew I did it,” Narcissa said. “I spared him the pain of that despite what my parents wanted. They were furious that Fate and magic would interfere in their plans for me. It saved his life as they’d have never allowed him to live, but I regretted it while I was alive, and I suspect the spirit of me regrets it even more. She will not be reunited with her soulmate, ever, Draco. I should’ve listened to the Eternal Knight but protecting Kingsley was more important than…it felt like I had no choice but to reject him directly to the Book of Souls.”
“That kind of rejection is permanent—in your next life, he’ll probably hate you and not even know why,” Draco said softly. “The idea of that makes my heart hurt.”
“And yet, you can’t bring yourself to let your own soulmate into your life in any meaningful way.”
“He deserves better than a half-arsed relationship with me,” Draco snapped. “I’m not even sure if I could give him children with this disgusting shite nesting in my magic! Even if he wanted them with me, what would the Dark Mark do to our baby, Mother?”
“I don’t know,” Narcissa admitted. “I’d do anything to go back and fix this for you, darling.”
“There’s no coming back from what was done,” Draco said.
“Then reject him.”
“I can’t hurt him like that,” Draco said. “I’d rather die first.” He closed his eyes and curled deeper into the chair as he summoned a blanket from across the room. “Sometimes, I think surviving the war was the worst possible thing I could’ve done to Harry Potter.”
The new office he’d share with Draco was one level down from his previous arrangement. The average person in Britain didn’t know the difference between an employee of the Department of Mysteries and an Unspeakable. That was, Harry knew, for the best. The DOM was divided into a series of public and private units. The public units worked the closest with ministry employees outside of the DOM as researchers and consultants. Harry’s first six months in the DOM had been as a consultant only, which had resulted in him collaborating with many different departments inside the DMLE and in the ministry at large.
He thought that often he’d been requested just because of his fame, and many hadn’t expected him to actually do the work. It had been the most irritating part of the whole thing, and he was glad to leave that behind. Harry chose the desk closest to the door, so he really hoped Draco didn’t have a problem with it. He didn’t know how long the man would keep his desk in the R&D department now that he’d agreed to a full retreat into the role of an Unspeakable.
“Robards, Proudfoot, and Arthur Weasley are in the minister’s office waiting for the three of us,” Croaker said roughly.
“Three?” Harry questioned and glanced toward Draco’s empty desk.
“Raven’s coming, too.”
Harry wasn’t sure what the others had done to have to deal with the Director of the DOM and the Head Unspeakable at the same time, but he figured they deserved it. Since the meeting was about him, he wouldn’t be hooded, which was annoying. The whole point of the job change was the ability to move anonymously through the ministry whenever he wanted.
“Robards and Proudfoot are pains in the arse,” Harry muttered as he stood and pulled on his robe. “I’m not going to be polite.”
“I don’t require that of my employees,” Croaker said with a laugh.
A few minutes later, he settled in at the large table in the minister’s conference room with a cup of tea and his diary. He’d made several appointments over the floo and hoped to get some traction on his property purchase. He made a few notes about issues he wanted to discuss with Razel and tucked the self-inking quill into a pocket in the diary when Shacklebolt cleared his throat. He focused on the older man and raised an eyebrow.
“If you’re ready?” Shacklebolt prodded dryly.
“This isn’t my meeting, Minister,” Harry said evenly. “I don’t know why I’m here.”
“We’re here to discuss your return to the DMLE,” Robards announced sharply. “You’re going to be wasted in the Department of Mysteries, and I’ve put up with this nonsense for months, Potter.”
Harry stared at Robards for a moment. “I’ve been putting with this dragonshite for 15 years.” He tucked his diary into his robe pocket. “And I’m not returning to the DMLE.”
“You signed an employment contract.”
“I certainly did,” Harry agreed. “One with an out clause.”
Robards smirked. “You’ve got 10k to lay down to use that out clause, kid? Because everyone knows you didn’t get the Black inheritance.”
Harry laughed. “Well, first and foremost, Director Robards, I inherited all of the Black money and set the title aside for my godson, who’s currently being educated in Italy. I have so much fucking money I never have to work a day in my life.” He paused as Robards’ mouth dropped open. “So, yes, I could pay that ridiculous 10k fine without a problem. Moreover, my employment contract with the ministry explicitly states that I can’t be made to do a job I don’t want. I agreed to five years in the DMLE, then a lateral move into the Department of Mysteries.”
“Well, I wasn’t the Director of the DMLE when you signed on, Potter, and I don’t agree with that plan at all. I was made to believe your time in the DOM was temporary. The ministry and Britain are better served with you working in the Auror’s Office, so that’s where you will be working from now on.”
“I swore the Unspeakable Oath yesterday morning,” Harry said dryly, and Robards’ face darkened red. “I’m not going to ever work for the DMLE again and, if I’m honest, it’s partially your fault. I can’t stand you, and getting promoted from Head Auror to Director hasn’t made me hate you less. You’re a fame whore, and you want me front and center in the aurors so you can tell everyone the fucking Man-Who-Conquered works for you. It’s not happening. There is a reason why I went directly into the DOM the day before you were sworn in as director. I barely tolerated you as Head Auror, and there was no way I was going to continue in the DMLE in any single way, in any single department with you as director.”
“If you swore the oath, then you can’t quit! And the minister can reassign you.”
“Unspeakables aren’t required to work for the ministry,” Shacklebolt interjected. “They swear an oath to defend Avalon.”
“It’s the same bloody thing!”
Harry sent Raven a look, and the Head Unspeakable sighed. “I know, sir.”
Raven tapped two fingers on the table, and Robards focused on him. “The Ministry of Magic doesn’t have a single thing to do with Avalon. The Department of Mysteries is only marginally associated with the ministry itself. When it comes down to the meat of it, Director Robards, we answer to exactly one person on this Earth, and that’s the Queen of England.”
“She’s a fucking Muggle,” Robards hissed. “Who gives a shite what that old bat thinks?”
“Watch your mouth,” Harry snapped, and his aura flared before he could get control of it. Robards jerked back from the table in shock. He took a calming breath and focused on Arthur Weasley. “Why are you here?”
“As your future father-in-law, I hoped he could talk some sense into you,” Robards said huffily.
“I’m not marrying his daughter, Robards, and even if I were—I don’t let anyone make decisions for me anymore, and I haven’t in more than a decade. If you wanted to use me for your own gain, you should’ve piled on while I was a teenager like everyone else did.”
“You used to understand that you had a higher purpose, Harry,” Arthur said pensively. “You were so brave and….”
“Self-sacrificing?” Harry questioned when the older man trailed off. “Do you even hear the words you’re saying, Arthur? Dumbledore’s been dead for a decade, and you’re still parroting him like he’s got a hand stuck up your arse.” He huffed when Shacklebolt cleared his throat.
“Croaker, you’ll transfer Potter back to the DMLE effective immediately,” Robards declared.
“I don’t answer to you, Robards,” Croaker said coolly. “I don’t answer to a single person in this whole damn building and watch your tone.”
“Watch my tone?” Robards demanded. “He’s a 27-year-old brat who doesn’t know his place!”
Harry was on his feet before he could help himself, and he slammed a rapidly darkening hand on the table between them, scales flicked out. “Would you like to tell me exactly where you think my place is, old man?”
“Potter put your dragon away immediately,” Raven said mildly. “And sit.”
Harry sat and took a calming breath as he forced his scales to back down.
“Croaker is the Unspeakable,” Raven said. “Which means he outranks you, Director Robards. He outranks everyone in this room except for the minister, and in some cases, he outranks even that position. You seem to think an employment contract equals enslavement, which is both unfortunate and disgusting. Potter’s right, you are a fame whore, and you’ve got an agenda that involves banking on him and the mythos surrounding him. It’s obscene, of course, but no more than we’ve come to expect from you since you were promoted.
“You’ve spent years trying to make Potter do what you want in some fashion or another without recognizing that he has the power to utterly destroy you. How long do you think your career would last if he were to trot over to the bank and pick up the Black title? How would you like to deal with a pissed-off Earl of Blackmoor with more money than he needs and a personal agenda that involves the ruination of your life? And he could pick up the title at any point for any single reason. He’s currently the only adult wizard who can legally and magically claim that title. The only reason he hasn’t is because of misplaced guilt.” He held up a hand when Robards started to speak. “Those circumstances are none of your business. This whole conversation is a waste of time, as is. Potter is not returning to the DMLE. End of discussion.”
“Minister!” Robards turned to Shacklebolt with a glare. “I told you what needed to happen.”
Harry’s gaze narrowed, and he glanced toward Shacklebolt, who studiously avoided looking at him directly. “Is he blackmailing you? Is that how he got the directorship? Is that how he even became Head Auror?” Shacklebolt’s pressed his lips together. A sign of a desire to keep a magical oath intact. “I see.”
Robards was pale when Harry focused on him, which was good because while Shacklebolt clearly couldn’t talk about it—the accusation had been made and hadn’t been denied.
“The problem, Director Robards, with making someone swear an oath not to discuss something is that they also can’t deny anything you’d want them to deny,” Raven said. “He can’t tell us you’re not blackmailing him any more than he can tell us you are blackmailing him.”
“Which means, of course, that you are blackmailing him,” Harry said. “You should resign immediately.”
“I’m not quitting my fucking job, you little arsehole, and mind your own business!”
Harry stared for a moment, then focused on Shacklebolt once more. “Is it about that thing we discussed years ago?”
Shacklebolt’s eyes fluttered shut.
“Right.” Harry turned to Croaker. “Isn’t it a threat to Avalon to have the sitting Minister for Magic being blackmailed by a half-arsed wizard with more ambition than sense?”
“The argument could be made,” Croaker admitted. “We could send the question down to research.”
“Or I can kill him right now,” Raven interjected. “No body; no problem.”
“We have a magical pact,” Robards said gleefully. “He’ll be forced to reveal everything if I die of anything other than natural causes.”
“Which means you probably can’t reveal anything as long as he does what you want within legal circumstances,” Arthur said quietly. “You’re a monster, Robards. I’m disgusted to know you.”
“Mind your own business, Weasley. You’re fucking useless.”
“He wasn’t the one cowering in a cellar in London during the final battle against Voldemort,” Harry said baldly, and Robards paled. “That was you. Kingsley can’t act against you, and he can’t order me to keep my mouth shut about you either. He can’t legally order me to return to the DMLE, but honestly, at this point, the last thing you want for me is to be in your face every single day.”
“As your boss, I can make you do what I want, and you will!” Robards snapped.
Harry flicked his herbal case out of his holster and tapped one out. It lit in his hand wandlessly, and he passed the case to Shacklebolt, who definitely needed it. “Here’s the thing, Robards, I’ve never bothered much with you because you’re a coward and an idiot—you’ve never really mattered in the big scheme of things.”
“Well, you can’t stand Shacklebolt, either.”
“I hate the Minister for Magic on principal,” Harry said patiently, then took another drag on his herbal. He blew out smoke. “I cook lunch or dinner for Kingsley Shacklebolt several times a month. Kingsley was there—during the final battle. He fought Death Eaters and protected the students of Hogwarts while you were pissing yourself under your mummy’s house. I tolerate him as minister because of his strength and bravery. No man is perfect, and he’s never pretended otherwise, but you’re preying on a weakness of his that you cannot begin to understand.
“I will not tolerate you as minister, and I know that’s your endgame. It’s never going to happen. I’m decades younger than you, and you’ll die of old age before I run out of money so I can fund the campaigns of any opponent you have for decades. I could ruin your life in a matter of days, to be frank. Let’s say I go have drinks at the Leaky Cauldron and complain to Tom about how Director Robards is bullying me while I’m just trying to do my civic duty. Then maybe I’ll go shopping in the alley, a bit tipsy and sad because of you. Madam Malkin adores chatting with me, and she loves to gossip.
“A good friend of mine works at the Daily Prophet. She likes to interview me—mostly about fashion and whatever my tailor thinks I should be wearing this year. But she’d be ecstatic to get on the front page with an interview of me talking about how miserable my life is in the ministry because of you.” Harry leaned forward a bit. “You’ve been trying to use me for your gain for years now, so you understand how ridiculous my fame is. I’m this whole fucking country’s golden boy right now. I’d have to set multiple people on fire in the middle of Diagon Alley to change that.” He paused. “Well, unless some of them had it coming, then I’d probably just end up in St. Mungo’s for mind healing because the war gave me PTSD, and they’d convince themselves I just didn’t know any better because of my traumatic childhood.
“I’d probably get a few marriage offers—because surely all I need is the love of a good witch or wizard to be set to rights.” He shrugged when Robards glared. “You can’t control me, and you don’t scare me. I faced Voldemort for the first time of my own free will when I was eleven years old.”
Robards turned to Shacklebolt. “He works for me, or he’s fired.”
“I can’t fire an Unspeakable,” Shacklebolt said and plucked another herbal from the case. “These are great, Harry; where do you buy them?”
“The Longbottom Humidor. Augusta grows all her own herbs, and the recipe is a family secret. I highly recommend their entire herbal line,” Harry said and picked up his case to store before focusing on Robards. “Raven, if I were to speak of this secret between Robards and Shacklebolt, what would happen?”
“It would destroy the pact,” Raven said and shot a locking spell at the door when Robards tried to stand. “Head Auror Proudfoot could then arrest the former director for his crimes. But I’d like to kill him, lad.”
“Me, too,” Harry admitted. “But I have an appointment at the bank this afternoon, and you’re booked in the combat simulator. Remember?” He focused on Kingsley, and because he was about to say something painful and terrible—he put a hand on the older man’s arm. “I’m sorry, but this situation endangers Avalon, and we can’t allow that.”
“You had a love affair with Narcissa Malfoy that lasted more than a decade, and John Dawlish killed her because he believes himself in love with you. He found out about the relationship because he was stalking you and overheard the plans you were making regarding her divorce from Lucius Malfoy. He staged the entire raid on Malfoy Manor with the sole purpose of killing her. The head of the Prosecutor’s office kept this information out of the trial to protect you.” Harry lifted his hand away.
Shacklebolt stood from the table and walked away from them. “Head Auror Proudfoot, Director Robards is guilty of blackmail, fraud, and a multitude of other crimes in relation to his placement as the Director of the DMLE. You have full authority to arrest him and investigate every single moment of his life.” He stopped in front of the large window at the back of his office and tucked his hands behind his back. “Get him out of my fucking office, immediately.”
“I need to go speak to Draco Malfoy right now, sirs.”
“Agreed,” Croaker said and waved him off. “Go before Proudfoot gets Robards in a cell.”
* * * *
Draco tossed the last of the quills he had hidden into his packing crate and glanced around his small office. He wasn’t going to miss it much. He’d thought to stay where he was while he transitioned, but the head of research had reassigned most of his boring projects and left him with one regarding ritual spaces shortly after he’d arrived. He wasn’t coordinating with anyone on that research, so there was no need for him to avoid sharing an office with Potter.
The door opened, and Potter entered. “I need you to come with me.”
Draco closed his crate. “I beg your pardon?”
“Now,” Harry insisted. “Don’t stop to talk to anyone, no matter who they are. Just follow me.” He paused when Draco frowned at him. “I know you don’t trust me, but believe me when I say that you don’t want to hear what’s coming down from the DMLE in a public place.” He cleared his throat. “Hood up.”
Draco blinked when Potter touched his own medallion and activated his hood. He did the same without really considering it and grabbed the crate. Mind racing, he followed Potter out of R&D and into a lift that would take them down two floors and into the area where their office was located. In the lift, memos were flying down the distribution tube so fast that he couldn’t keep count of them.
“Is someone…is my father dead?” Draco asked.
“No, I wish,” Harry said and left the lift as soon as it stopped.
Shortly, they were in their office, and Draco put his crate down on the empty desk, relieved that Potter had given him the one by the unlit fireplace.
He turned and watched his partner the door be secured. “What’s going on?”
Harry deactivated his hood, and Draco followed suit out of courtesy. “Let’s sit by the fireplace.” He drew his wand and started a fire. “I need you to know that the only reason I didn’t tell you this years ago is that John Dawlish is never getting out of Azkaban. If he ever does—I plan to kill him.”
“Not if I beat you to it,” Draco said dryly and slouched down in the chair. He unfastened the ties of his robe and took a deep breath. “Just say it, Potter.”
“On the first anniversary of your mother’s death, I came to the property line of Malfoy Manor. I didn’t cross over because I know your father’s wards are vicious, but I was situated in such a fashion that I could see her grave in the family cemetery. I used magic to send some flowers over the boundary.” He paused when Draco’s mouth dropped open. “I do it every year, actually, but I spell them so no one but me can see them. They’re for her, and I wouldn’t want your father to destroy them. I do the same for my own mother, but well, I don’t have to hide hers.”
“I don’t know what to say to this,” Draco admitted. “Thank you, she loved flowers.”
“That first year, I saw another wizard there. He did the same thing I did—I always place a couple dozen white narcissus. He sent blood-red roses. I watched them land on her grave then shimmer away—protected just as I’d protected mine.”
“He loved her,” Draco murmured, and he cleared his throat. “Who?”
Draco’s gut clenched in agony. “What? Why?” He knew that Shacklebolt had no clue that he’d lost his soulmate.
“They were lovers—for more than a decade,” Harry said plainly. “I took him away from the ward boundary, and we ended up in my flat where he revealed the whole thing. He’d been drinking most of the day. I admonished him for being so reckless. Your father would’ve killed him given a chance. He said that he loved Narcissa and had since Hogwarts. And when she came to him some years after your birth and tried to seduce him, he allowed it even though she was married and it was against his deepest held principles.”
Draco had never heard anything so selfish ever said about his mother in his life. He was both furious and heartsick. Words were beyond him, so he just nodded.
“No matter how sordid it was, Draco, he loves her beyond reason—beyond this life even. I’ve never seen such grief or devotion. He’s touched no one but her since their affair began and said that he can’t imagine having anyone else in his life ever.”
What a wretched thing his mother had done, Draco thought and cleared his throat. He blinked back tears. “I see.”
“John Dawlish planned your mother’s murder. He thinks himself in love with Shacklebolt, and when he found out about their affair, by accident, he decided to get rid of the competition. The evidence of the raid was manufactured, and he never intended on killing anyone but her. He thought he would get away with it. He thought Kingsley loved him back and would protect him.”
Draco’s fingers curled into a fist on his thigh, and he exhaled deeply. “You said he found out by accident?”
“He overheard your mother and Shacklebolt planning her divorce from your father.”
“Son of a bitch,” Draco hissed and launched out of the chair.
Potter apparated across the fucking room and in front of the door. “I know you blame him. Hell, I blame him, but…you can’t kill the Minister for Magic. When he retires, and if you still have your heart set on it, I’ll help you hide the body.”
Draco stared for a moment, and all the anger just drained away. “I don’t hate him or blame him. I blame my father. I blame my grandparents.” He ran a shaking hand through his hair. “I have my mother’s portrait.”
“I thought portraits fell out of fashion outside of special circumstances,” Harry said and relaxed against the door.
“My mother considered herself very special,” Draco said wryly. “When my mother was 22, her parents tried to sign a marriage contract for her, but the damn thing burst into flames as soon as my grandfather lifted his quill off the parchment.”
“She had a soulmate,” Harry said quietly.
“Yes, so they took her to the Book of Souls and ordered her to find out who her soulmate was so she could reject him. She went into the chamber, met the Eternal Knight, and used the Book of Souls itself to reject her soulmate. She also vowed on her magic to never reveal his name.” He paused. “A vow that expired after she died and could no longer be punished for revealing it. Her portrait told me years ago that Kingsley Shacklebolt was her soulmate. She told me what she’d done and begged me to look at the book. She also begged me not to do as she’d done with the book as she’ll pay for that rejection for eternity. She called it a crime against magic to commit such an act against the eternal soul of your own soulmate. It’s one thing to say—no, not this time, I’m already in love. But it’s another to say no forever, and that’s what she did.”
“And she seduced him,” Harry said dully. “Had an affair with him. Made him fall deeply in love with her in such a way that he barely lives without her. And he’ll live over and over again without her.”
“I know,” Draco snapped. “I know how horrible it is, but her parents would’ve murdered him, and she made a stupid, thoughtless choice out of fear.”
Harry reached out and put a trembling hand on his shoulder. “Draco.” He pulled, and despite his best intentions, Draco allowed himself to be drawn into Potter’s embrace.
He shouldn’t allow it, Draco thought, but he pressed his face against Harry’s throat and took a deep breath. He shuddered when Potter’s lips ghosted gently against his brow and fingers curled into his clothes.
“I do trust you,” Draco murmured, and Harry stiffened against him. “You’re the best person I know, and I don’t know how you didn’t get sorted into Hufflepuff because you’re idiotically loyal. I don’t trust myself, and you shouldn’t trust me, either.”
“Because of your father or because of the Dark Mark?” Harry questioned and pulled him closer.
It was, at once, too much and too little. Draco hardly knew what to do with himself.
“Both, certainly,” Draco admitted. “The Dark Mark has corrupted my magic beyond repair, and you know that already. I can’t give you want you deserve or want.”
“You don’t know what I want,” Potter muttered. “You’ve not bothered to even ask me.”
“If this is how you comforted Granger, I know why she ran away to Australia.”
“She ran away to Australia because she met a really hot witch from there and, also, her parents refused to come back to Britain,” Harry said against his hair. “I’m about to take advantage of this situation.”
Draco wanted to laugh, but he found his breath caught as Harry gently laced their hands together. “Harry.” He huffed even as he clenched his hand against Potter’s. “I should curse the shite out of you.”
“Well, if I’m gonna get cursed after I let you go—I might as well earn it,” Harry said roughly.
Draco leaned in for more because he couldn’t help himself, and Potter was an attractive bastard. He stilled to keep from trembling as Harry pressed his cheek against his skin. He’d expected the beard to be coarse, but it was soft—like silk—and the glide along his jawline was probably the hottest thing he’d ever known. Recklessly, he imagined that feeling along his inner thigh and actually went weak in the knees.
“Pansy thinks you’re probably the shag of the century,” Draco confessed.
Harry hummed under his breath. “I do take such things very seriously. Do you often speculate about my sexual prowess with your best friend?”
“I mean…” Draco shrugged a little as Potter’s free hand clenched on his hip. “Sure, off and on since 5th year.”
Harry took a deep breath and gently loosened their fingers before releasing him. Draco made himself take a step back as he took a ragged breath. “It’s going to come out that she had an affair.”
“When my father hears….” Draco took a deep breath. “For fuck’s sake, I haven’t said that shite in years.” He went back to fire and threw himself into the chair. “He’ll do his level best to murder Shacklebolt, you know that, right? Why did this come out?”
Harry sat back down then explained Robards and the blackmail situation.
“How did you know?” Draco questioned. “How did you see it when no one else has for years?”
Harry’s hand clenched on the chair arm. “It’s…a magical quirk. I think today was the first time I’ve been in the same room with both of them in a very long time. Kingsley was stressed and not his usual smugly amused self. He really enjoys political games and manipulating the shite out of people. Honestly, he should’ve been enjoying himself a lot watching Robards fail to get what he wanted from me, but he wasn’t.”
“What do you mean by quirk?” Draco questioned.
“I’m a parselmouth,” Harry said.
“Yeah, Potter, I remember.” He laughed despite his best efforts. “It was such a surprise.”
“After my maturation, my parselmagic settled deep in my core. Maybe it would’ve earlier if I hadn’t been carrying a horcrux. At any rate, one of the quirks of having parselmagic is the ability to sense deception.”
Draco turned to stare at him in shock. “What?”
“I mean, I might not know what someone’s lying about, exactly, but I can suss it out pretty quickly with the right questions. It’s why I was such a good field operative for the aurors. Robards didn’t understand my magical circumstances, or he’d have avoided me like the plague.”
Draco considered that. “Tom Riddle wasn’t a parselmouth.”
“No, I’ve always suspected he used some sort of ritual to make himself a beast speaker. Considering his appearance, I imagine it was a serpent binding ritual.”
“Makes too much sense,” Draco muttered. “He certainly couldn’t tell in some magical fashion when he was being deceived, but he was deeply paranoid, prone to tantrums, and vicious.”
“The inability to moderate his mood was more to do with the fact that he’d torn his soul to pieces trying to achieve immortality,” Harry said roughly and stood. “I have something for you.”
Draco raised an eyebrow. “What?”
Potter pulled a shining galleon out of his pocket and offered it.
“I don’t…need an allowance, Potter.”
Harry laughed. “Just take it.”
Draco took the coin, and Harry pulled a second out. “What are we doing?”
“Just push your magic into it—like you’re activating a rune.”
He did as instructed, and he was rewarded with a little push back. “What…is this?”
“It’s a modified protean charm—one attached to my magical signature. It will only respond to you, specifically. The magical push you got back is me—it’ll tell you I’m okay.”
Draco felt his cheeks flush. “Why…”
“So you can sleep,” Harry said simply. “As long as you have it nearby, I’ll be able to get the same push from you.”
“You’re not coming back to Grimmauld Place?” Draco asked, shocked and far more hurt than he wanted to let on.
“It’s best that I don’t,” Harry said. “I don’t want to intrude, Draco. I’m a needy bastard, and I know it. So I’m going to do my best to…give you the room you clearly want, and if…hell…when I cross the line, just tell me.”
Draco didn’t know where the line was, and he wasn’t sure he could draw it. He slid the coin into the pocket of his waistcoat. “I don’t know what to do with myself. I really hope Shacklebolt knows what kind of hell is coming his way.”
“He does,” Harry said. “He told me years ago that he sort of hoped your father would take a shot at him. It’ll get him killed, you know. Lucius doesn’t have the magical strength he used to have due to the drinking. He’s no match for even a junior auror, much less the assets that are assigned to watch Shacklebolt’s back.”
Draco stood. “Good.” He walked over to his desk and opened his crate. “What’s on your agenda for the afternoon?”
“I’ll probably get ambushed by Raven shortly and be made to explain myself; then I’ve got a review plus some testing for my mastery placement. I’ll be meeting with Razel after work to make my property selection, and I’ve made reservations to spend the next few nights at the Willow Tree.”
Draco raised an eyebrow but just nodded. It was one of the most exclusive and expensive magical hotels in Britain and in the top ten for Europe. It was unplottable, only reachable by portkey and warded on par with Gringotts. “It’s a good choice.” He focused on his crate for a moment before clearing his throat. “Have you picked your personal secret?”
“I’ve had a personal secret since the war, Draco,” Harry said quietly. “It was Hermione’s idea—so if we were captured, we could end it on our own terms. Ron refused to make a vow on his magic at all. He said nothing was worth his own life.”
“I know,” Harry said. “I should’ve forced one on him about the fucking horcruxes, but I invested a lot in trusting him.”
“Or someone invested it for you,” Draco said pointedly. “Don’t you wonder about that? If Dumbledore was controlling you?”
“I had an eroded loyalty charm on my magic when I went to France for healing—it was core-level, which I was told would require a lot of magic or a lot of power. Dumbledore had both when he had the Elder Wand. They couldn’t tell who I’d been made to be loyal to, but I figure it was him. Croaker thinks I might have been spelled at one point to make people avoid asking me questions about my Muggle relatives, but Piper didn’t find anything.”
“It might have been on an object,” Draco speculated. “Something you wore nearly all the time.” He paused. “Like those awful round glasses you wore all through school. Though recently, I wished you were wearing glasses so you’d be less attractive, but it wouldn’t be much of a detraction.”
“Thanks, I think,” Harry said with a look in his direction. “They were a liability as I really couldn’t see much of anything without them, and I knew I couldn’t afford that kind of weakness in law enforcement, so I got corrective work done by a dverger healer. It hurt more than a crucio. I think I might have begged her to kill me at one point.”
“I’ve heard it’s a nightmare, and you can’t be sedated for it,” Draco said. “Someone should be working on a better solution. I mean, even a monthly corrective potion would be better than that sort of torture.”
“It only lasted about 30 seconds, but it was the longest half-minute of my whole damn life,” Harry said and sighed when Draco laughed. “Honestly, Malfoy, fuck you.”
* * * *
He made a choice without visiting any of the properties, hired a team to clean it for him, and left the bank agitated. Harry had also made an appointment to absorb the orb that Razel had offered him. He’d chosen a date a month out so he’d have some room to get settled into his new position and come to terms with whatever relationship Draco allowed them to have.
Harry knew he shouldn’t have gotten in Draco’s physical space because it only made him want more, and it had been a while since he’d had anyone that close to him. Well, there was Ginny, but he really didn’t count her at all, which made him feel like an arsehole. The sex had been lackluster, at best. In retrospect, it was kind of annoying how much he’d been willing to suffer. It made him want to go back to Piper Banner for another scan, just to be sure.
He glanced at his reflection in the window of Flourish & Blotts before he entered the bookstore. His glamor had activated as he left the bank, which was pretty fascinating. While he didn’t currently need it, he had wanted it. The medallion had responded to that desire immediately. He’d tailored his glamor to change the shape of his face, hide his beard and the scar, and change the color of his eyes. He wasn’t necessarily the vain sort, but he had made the glamoured appearance attractive because he figured Draco would be a bastard about it otherwise. Draco’s own glamour was somehow more attractive than he was naturally though he’d gone for a dark blond look and a waif-like appearance that bordered on gender-neutral.
He bought a few books on various forms of magic and snuck one on soulmate magic into the pile so he could get a handle on whatever he was going to have to deal with when it came to living on the edge of his soulmate’s life, then grabbed a few titles on property warding so he’d have some kind of reference regarding the different forms of warding when he took on the orb. Orbs taught theory, but he was on his own for practical work. Harry wasn’t worried—he’d always had an easier time of it on the practical side of magic.
At a metal works shop just short of Knockturn Alley, he purchased a few platinum bracelets to practice his rune work on, then used the portkey to go to the Willow Tree. It was, to his amusement, located on the outskirts of Surrey and the grounds were stunning. It was like something out of a fairytale. He checked in and threw himself on the stupidly huge bed. He knew he wouldn’t be sleeping without a potion, so he was glad to have gotten a few from Piper before leaving the ministry.
After a few hours of reading, he stripped off his clothes, downed a sleeping potion, and as he started to fall asleep, there was a little push against his magic. The galleon he had clutched in his wand hand heated briefly. He hoped it was enough for Draco because it wasn’t even taking the edge off his own desire.
“It’s cold, Speaker. I want to lay in the sun.”
Harry let the tiny snake curl around his wrist as it complained. It had the wrong temperament for any sort of spy work, but he’d already known that to be true based on breed. The magical version of the ringneck snake had terrible, fussy personalities. It had been purchased for its size, but the size was also a problem as it was too small for any substantial amount of spellwork to actually stick. The damn thing’s magical core wouldn’t be visible to the human eye if it were a physical thing.
“What’s it saying?” Draco asked curiously.
Harry looked up and across the office where Draco was working. “He hates it down here and wants to lay in the sun. He’s not getting his preferred food, and he’s alone, which is depressing him. Ringneck snakes live in colonies of their own kind and don’t like others of any sort at all. They prefer lizards and frogs to insects. This one has only been fed slugs for months, which is part of their natural diet but not this guy’s favorite by a long shot.
“R&D purchased him for some sort of experiment that I was assured, repeatedly, was humane and non-painful then passed him along to me in the hopes that I could teach him to spy.” He frowned. “Do you know what they did to him?”
“One of the ongoing research projects for us locking the ministry down to prevent intrusions like Nagini’s during the war.”
Harry sighed. “Nagini wasn’t a snake.”
“What?” Draco questioned.
“After the battle, Newt Scamander came to Hogwarts to retrieve the body of Nagini for a proper burial. She was a cursed witch—a family blood curse. He called her a Maladictus. He knew her before her permanent transformation. He didn’t know how she came to be Riddle’s pet, but he was horrified by her circumstances and her death. I’m just glad that Neville wasn’t there to witness his reaction to her corpse.” Harry took a deep breath. “Regardless, Nagini was a witch stuck in a snake form, so I’m not sure any ward could’ve properly identified her as a threat due to the duality of her circumstances.”
“I thought the Maladictus was nothing more than a legend,” Draco said. “Would he be upset if I reached out to ask some questions?”
“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “He’s an old man, Draco, and the situation was clearly a painful one for him. I wouldn’t want him to be bombarded by all of R&D on that subject. He doesn’t deserve that.”
“He got to you a bit, right?”
“It was like looking at my future,” Harry said roughly. “If Voldemort was Grindelwald’s mirror, then I’m Newt Scamander’s. Dumbledore led all four of us around by the nose to manufacture fame for himself.”
“You really believe that?” Draco questioned.
“Yes,” Harry said. “In his own way, Dumbledore sought immortality, too. He wanted to endure—like Merlin.” He ran his finger along the tiny snake’s back. “This guy would be better served terrorizing small reptiles in Croaker’s garden. Do they have any more snakes?”
Draco winced. “Well, I mean, not really.”
Harry sighed. “They lost them in the ministry.”
“Yeah,” Draco admitted. “But none of them are venomous.”
Harry stared at him. “Draco, the one I’m currently holding, is highly venomous for magicals. He’s not dangerous because his fangs can barely penetrate our skin, but he could be milked easily and used to poison someone.” He sighed and stood. “Now I have to go ask those fucking idiots what kind of snakes they actually bought. You’re a Slytherin—how can you be so snake ignorant?”
Draco frowned at him. “The only snakes I know are the ones I use for potion ingredients, Potter.” He watched him pull on his robe. “Don’t call Pansy ignorant—she’ll curse the shite out of you.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Harry muttered and left their office with one more dirty look in his partner’s direction. Draco’s laughter followed him all the way to the lift.
He kept his normal appearance as he was the only parselmouth in the building, as far as he knew, so this was definitely more a task for Harry Potter than Leviathan, much to his regret. He went straight to Pansy’s desk since he’d gotten the little snake he already had from her. She raised one dark eyebrow at him.
Harry sighed. “How many snakes did you buy, how many have you lost, and do you still have the invoice?”
“We bought ten, you have one, and the rest are at large.” She flicked a hand as she opened a drawer and started rummaging through it. “They’re not dangerous. It’s just annoying.”
“A half teaspoon of venom from the one I’m holding could kill a grown man,” Harry said flatly. “At least, a grown wizard. They’re largely harmless for Muggles, but their venom actively attacks the magic in our body.” Her mouth dropped open. “Did you buy these snakes from that bastard dealer on Knockturn Alley?”
She offered him the invoice. “I….yes. He said they were all harmless.”
“Five coral snakes, the two ridgenecks, and three…infant pit vipers. We’ve got a big damn problem here, and we must regain control of the vipers first.”
“Infant? Those vipers are four feet long!”
“A magical pit viper is often referred to as a land shark and can get as large as 20 feet by the end of their first year,” Harry said flatly. “They’re just six months old per your receipt, which means they’re still in the infant stage. They’re aggressive, territorial, and known to kill if they’re threatened. The coral snake has the second-strongest venom of any snake on the planet—magical or not. But like the ridgeneck, they have a piss-poor delivery system.”
Pansy made a soft shocked sound. “Are you…of course you’re serious. You’re incapable of making a joke.”
Much to his amusement, Croaker deployed the entire DOM to capture the missing snakes. It took them a little over 12 hours to find them all, so Harry stumbled back into his hotel suite at the end of the day exhausted, irritated, and already mentally drafting a new policy for the purchase of fucking snakes for the department. He planned to deliver it personally to everyone.
By the time room service had arrived, he’d showered and was running his coin across his fingers as magic danced over it. Draco had been holding his for a half-hour solid, and Harry wondered if he should go to Grimmauld Place despite his stated intentions. He ate and sent little pulses of magic to Draco’s coin periodically to offer whatever assurance Draco was looking for.
Finally, when his partner didn’t stop, Harry went to the floo, threw some powder in, and said the password for Draco’s floo. He settled down on the rug and rested back on his hands just as Draco appeared in the fire.
“What’s wrong with you?” Harry demanded.
“My soulmate’s in an unplottable location, my father is on a bender because he found out my mother cheated him almost their entire marriage, I spent the whole fucking day looking for bitchy snakes, and I lost a bet.”
“What was the bet?” Harry asked curiously.
“Oh, Daphne Greengrass agreed to marry Theo Nott. I didn’t think he’d get anywhere with her,” Draco admitted. “So I bet Pansy that he’d be lucky to get a handful of dates, and I said she’d never agree to marry him.”
“He’s a prick,” Harry muttered and took a deep breath. “If she’s a friend at all—you should work to get her to dump him. How long have they been dating?”
“Ah, well, he tried to crawl into my bed just three weeks ago. But I’ve heard that he’s a lousy shag, so that was a non-starter of the first order. I can’t believe a beautiful and intelligent witch like Daphne would settle for him of her own free will. She should be checked for potions and shite.”
Draco made a face. “I’ll murder that arsehole if he’s potioned her. I swear to fucking….” He trailed off and took a deep breath. “I’ll need to contact her parents. If she’s been potioned or charmed into a relationship—a simple conversation won’t dissuade her. They’ll need to take her to a healer.” Draco frowned. “I didn’t consider that to be an option. I mean, he’s not a great person, but….”
“I expect the worst of everyone,” Harry admitted. “And that’s the truth. I have a sleeping potion, which I’m going to take in about an hour. I’d hoped the magical connection would calm this thing down.”
“It’s hypervigilance,” Draco said. “Your situation is fluid right now, and it would be easier for us both if you would just stay in my guest room.”
“Magically, sure, but emotionally it’s not a….” Harry trailed off. “I’m trying to do the right thing here, Draco, and you should let me.”
“That thing you do—deception recognition. Do you do that to me?” Draco questioned.
“I’ve always had a very difficult time reading you,” Harry admitted. “I do feel…welcome in your space despite the words coming out of your mouth regularly, so there’s that.”
“Then why aren’t you here?” Draco demanded.
“Because we both deserve better than the bare minimum, and that’s all you seem prepared to give,” Harry said tiredly. The floo flared briefly, and Draco disappeared from the flames. He’d expected it, but it was a disappointing reaction nonetheless.
Harry stood up from the floor, pocketed his coin, and went to find the book on soulmate magic he’d purchased. Draco clearly knew a lot about the topic, and it was time he caught up. Several hours later, he was half-finished with the book and nowhere near wanting to go to sleep. The first chapter alone had cleared up a lot for him on the Draco front, and he knew why the other man was hesitating on practically everything.
Draco had never struck him as the sort to deny himself anything, so it had been surprising and disheartening to find out that he’d known about their soulmate potential for so long but hadn’t said anything to Harry. It had felt like rejection from the start of that very first conversation. As he’d read through the information about soulmate magic, core bonds, and marriage, Harry had come to realize that Tom Riddle had struck the final blow. Despite his death, he’d defeated Harry and left him to live half the life he’d more than earned.
In the end, he took a pepper-up potion, showered, and went to work an hour early. The DOM was quiet as the day was far from getting started for most employees, but he knew the person he was seeking would be there. Harry wasn’t all that surprised to turn down the hall to the Book of Souls room and find light streaming out of Esmeralda Forth’s office. Every room on the hall was dedicated, in some fashion or another, to love and the magic that could be borne out of it—good and bad. He stopped in front of the door where love itself was studied. It had surely once been a bright red but hadn’t been repainted in years as it looked faded and worn. The wood was weathered as if it had once been exposed to the elements.
“Most people ask why I don’t repaint that door.”
“I considered that once,” Harry admitted but then focused on her. “A fresh coat of paint wouldn’t hurt anything.”
“It can’t be painted,” Esmeralda said. “Originally, all the doors on this hall were painted black, but as the purpose of each room was defined, the doors changed. When I was younger, I couldn’t figure out why the door for love was so worn and old.”
Harry reached out and ran his fingers along the distressed wood. “Love endures. It can’t really be destroyed—just like energy itself. It can be changed, though. I’ve seen love twisted and ruined to such a degree that it looked like the worst experience possible.”
“That is the nature of humanity,” she said. “You wished to speak with me?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “And the Eternal Knight, if that’s okay.”
“Well, I can only speak for myself, and you’re welcome to break your fast with me this morning. My house elf brought food enough for two, so I knew I’d have a visitor.”
Harry nodded and followed Madam Forth into her office. “How do you suppose she knows?”
“You’ve asked a simple question, lad, but the answer will be startling,” she warned.
Harry grinned at her and took a seat at the table in the back corner of her office as she’d silently instructed. “As such things always go with you, Madam Forth.”
“The house elves that work within the ministry are bonded the magic of Avalon, much the same as the ones at Hogwarts,” Esmeralda explained. “And now, you are as well. Avalon recognizes your oath and accepts your service, Mr. Potter.”
It felt right, which was startling, so he accepted it with a nod and poured himself some orange juice. “I read a book on soulmate magic last night instead of sleeping.”
“Ah.” Esmeralda nodded as she buttered a scone. “Must have been a tough read in your circumstances.”
“It cleared some things up for me,” Harry said neutrally. “And I feel like if I make the wrong move in this situation—I’m going to lose a lot.” He cleared his throat. “Maybe more than I can survive this time. There has to be a limit, right?”
“There damn well should be,” she muttered darkly.
“I’ve known moments when it would’ve been a relief to die,” Harry murmured and avoided her gaze so he could get the words out. “But, I couldn’t let Riddle get the best of me because it would’ve made my parents’ sacrifices meaningless.”
“Nothing could make their sacrifice meaningless,” she snapped, and Harry blinked in surprise. “Don’t you dare think such a thing ever again—they died for love, and that is everything.”
“I don’t know a lot about love,” Harry admitted. “Affection was in short supply growing up.”
“I read that shite you wrote in the Prophet,” the older woman said. “Took a trip to Canada yesterday afternoon while you lot were hunting up those snakes that ridiculous little witch bought without researching it. I lectured Faraday about it—it was a damn fool assumption on his part to just pick a random Slytherin to go buy a damn bunch of snakes. I told him he should’ve come to you for it, and he said….”
“Faraday can’t stand me,” Harry pointed out. “I don’t know why. I didn’t even meet him until last year.”
“Well, he went to the day school, which is quite a shameful situation for a pure-blood as most expect to be invited to Hogwarts. Dumbledore put a limit on the number of students invited every year—I’m glad to see Minerva removing that restriction and hiring a proper staff to run the school.”
“Dumbledore was an empire builder,” Harry said. “But also, it needs to be said that the smaller population of students allowed him to influence and manipulate them on a deeply offensive level. An issue of control as well, I’m sure.”
“You have an interesting perspective on Dumbledore,” she said. “I never bought into his leader of the light dragonshite, but I didn’t realize what a bastard he was.”
“How was Canada?” Harry asked curiously.
“Cold,” she muttered. “But I’m sure your relatives would send their apologies if they knew how to contact you.”
Harry nodded and acknowledged, privately, that he should probably be concerned about what she’d done, but he wasn’t. “How did you know where they were?”
“There is very little in this world that can be truly hidden from me,” she said.
Harry decided to let that go because he figured knowing how or why such a thing was true would only be to his detriment. “Back to Hornbuckle Faraday.”
“Ah, well, beyond the schooling issue and the general resentment that arises from that, there is the problem of you being you.” She waved a hand. “Your magical circumstances are to be envied, lad. An archmagus is rare, but in your case, it comes with fame you overtly disdain, and well, there’s your face.”
“What about my face?” Harry questioned with a laugh.
“You’re very attractive,” she said and grimaced like it was horrible. “And men like Hornbuckle Faraday are in no single way prepared to deal with the likes of you—he feels inferior to you in every way that counts.”
“I’m not going to participate in a prick measuring contest with that idiot,” Harry muttered.
“You needn’t,” Esmeralda said and raised an eyebrow. “Fortunately, we’ve been able to confirm, for a fact, that your father wasn’t a centaur.”
Harry groaned as his face grew incredibly hot. “Madam Forth.”
“I’m 143 years old, lad,” she said. “I do what I want, and I say what I want.”
He exhaled loudly and slouched down as he sipped his juice. He had no argument against that, so he ate the food he was given and waited until she finished so she could open the door that would lead to the Book of Souls.
The walk to the book was different, less stressful than what he’d experience the first time. Harry put his hand on the book and lifted it so the book could open. He stared at their names for a long moment, then brushed his fingers gently over Draco’s name.
“I’m here,” the spirit murmured. “You had a question for me.”
Harry walked away from the book, and it closed. “I’ve questions about soulmate bonds.”
“I never had one.”
“Because you vowed to have a chaste relationship,” Harry said. “You said a chaste bond when we talked earlier.”
“It wasn’t….” Gawain frowned and looked away. “It wasn’t any sort of magical connection. We weren’t allowed that in life because of his marriage.”
“Did your circumstances lead to the rules used by the Marriage Authority in modern times regarding the Book of Souls?”
“The Book of Souls was created because Arthur was denied his soulmate, yes,” Gawain murmured. “Merlin invested himself in making sure soulmates were allowed to make a decision regarding their soulmates before a marriage could get in the way. The Marriage Authority cannot create or accept a contract without verifying that both parties are free from obligation.”
“Obligation?” Harry questioned. “What a weird thing to say.”
“It’s an accurate thing to say,” Gawain said mildly. “There is a duty attached to such things—both personally and magically. Some shy away from it for various reasons—the love of another, familial demands, societal pressures…etc. There was a time when many tried to dissuade such pairings as yours and mine. A bleed-off from the Muggle world, but fortunately, that sort of bigotry did not really get a foothold in magical society. Muggle-borns often bring innovative ideas into our world, but sometimes they bring deeply ugly and problematic beliefs that do not serve them or us.”
Harry nodded. “Yeah, I know.” He cleared his throat. “Do you know anything about the Dark Mark?”
“Riddle’s mark?” Gawain said. “I know it exists and is obscene. I know you can’t remove Draco’s for some reason.”
“It can’t be removed because of a betrothal bond that Riddle embedded in it,” Harry said plainly. “Even in death, he’s trying to lay claim to my soulmate, and I want…I want to resurrect him and murder the shite out of him.”
Gawain grinned. “You are the Master of Death.”
Harry huffed and shoved his hands into his pocket. “Draco’s been maddeningly difficult regarding the soulmate situation, and I didn’t understand, but last night I read a book on soulmate magic, and I realized…that he and I can’t bond in any single fashion because of the Dark Mark. No marriage bond, no soulmate bond, and I’m not sure he could carry a child.”
“Plenty of marriages don’t have bonds,” Gawain pointed out. “For many, it’s not an option for several reasons for various people, and not having it would not cause undue issues emotionally or magically.”
“I agree,” Harry admitted. “I never anticipated a soulmate bond, so it’s not something that disappoints me, and a magical marriage would be nice, but I don’t consider not having one a deal-breaker.”
“Adoption is a choice, but I’m more than willing to carry. It would be more difficult and require a ritual…” He shrugged.
“Why are you having this conversation with me instead of him?” Gawain asked curiously.
“I don’t know—things went so wrong with your relationship with your soulmate despite how much effort you both put into doing the right thing. Well, the right thing in my case would be to reject Draco and let him go have whatever happiness he can have without the burden of being in my life.”
“It must be exhausting to spend your whole life sacrificing what you want for the sake of others,” Gawain said.
“Well, it’s not….” Harry frowned and lowered his gaze. “With magical power like mine, I have to be careful about the things I take for myself. I think you and I both know how easily people can turn on you if they feel threatened.”
“Some of the bastards in this country deserve to feel threatened,” Gawain retorted. “He’s yours. Have him.”
Harry flushed. “It’s not that easy.”
“It’s not that complicated either,” Gawain said wryly. “If he didn’t want you—he’d have already rejected you, and you know it.”
“I should’ve stayed in Esmeralda’s office despite her speculation regarding my dick.”
“You’re a terrible influence.”
* * * *
Potter wasn’t in their office, which put Draco off his stride immediately. He had a few reports to review and send off, so he focused on that and brooded until Harry strolled into the room, removing his robe. His gaze drifted over Potter’s body, taking in the dark grey suit with more interest than he should’ve allowed himself.
“You were shorter than me at Hogwarts.”
Harry glanced his way. “Yeah, I remember.”
“You’re taller—not a common side effect of magical maturation.”
“I had correction,” Harry said. “There were physical and magical issues because of my childhood and the war. I sought ritual healing as it would’ve taken years to correct with potions.” He sat down at his own desk, pulled out a diary, and several files from his in-tray. “I’m going to be tasked with buying snakes, and I’ll probably go to Belfast. Did you want to go with me?”
“Yeah, of course,” Draco said, and his stomach tightened a bit as Potter offered him a smile.
“You’ll need a broom. The snake breeder that I prefer has a large property, and there are powerful anti-apparition wards on the property to prevent theft and to contain the elemental vipers that he breeds.”
“I keep one holstered—I have three pockets in mine. Wand, broom, and winter cloak.”
“I’m considering creating dimensional stores for my runecraft project for my mastery.” Harry paused. “Wand, broom, and herbal case.” He grinned when Draco sighed. “I’m allowed a vice, Malfoy.”
“As you say, Potter.”
“I fucking saved the world, ya know.”
Draco sighed because it was true, and that was annoying. He certainly was pleased with the basic outcome of the war, but the gloating was galling. “It would be easier, if expensive, just to buy a dimensional store.”
“True, but I don’t want a regular thing,” Harry admitted, and Draco focused on him. “I want to build a war bracelet.”
Draco blinked. “A what?”
“A war bracelet—bottomless dimensional storage originally designed for the ICW’s War Mage division.”
Draco considered that and figured that was information that Potter shouldn’t have. “You’ve gotten some interesting information from your legacy orb.”
“True. I mean, that’s probably not well-known, but it’s not a secret or anything as far as I can discern from the information I have. I bought a book on magical device construction to review the basics, and I’ll be talking to Raven about it during my mastery assessment. He suspects I won’t need more than six or so months to gain the practical expertise to achieve the mastery at an international level, which he suggested I pursue.”
“It would make people less inclined to question the accomplishment,” Draco said by way of agreement. “Where were you? Before? You’re almost two hours late for work.”
“I was actually an hour early for work,” Harry said. “I had breakfast with Madam Forth then a few meetings. Plus, Healer Banner wanted to take a scan to make sure that the potion I took cleaned up the remnants of that old loyalty charm.”
“Yeah,” Harry said. “I was thinking about the glasses.”
“What about the glasses?” Draco asked. “Where are they?”
“I tossed them in Paris,” Harry admitted. “I went straight from the bank to the healing ritual with the conclave to a clothing shop to get new things because nothing I had fit due to the physical corrections. I had to use temporary tailoring charms just to look decent.” He frowned. “At any rate, the glasses were with the rest of my old things, which I just threw out. The next time I saw Molly Weasley, she asked where the glasses were several times and said she thought the healing I’d gone through was a waste of money. She was really bent about the amount, and the fact that I told her that how I spent my money was none of her business.”
“Well, she expected all of that money to basically be hers,” Draco pointed out.
“The rules of the Potter and Peverell estate disallow that.” Harry shrugged. “I pointed out to her that the Potter line was patriarchal, and there was ancient magic in place to keep it so. Ginny would’ve never had any power in that magical house. They don’t know about the Peverell title, and I’m glad for it at this point.”
“Who does know?” Draco asked curiously.
“Well, you, of course.” Harry grinned when Draco rolled his eyes. “Croaker, Esmeralda Forth, Ragnok, Razel, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Minerva McGonagall.”
“Your relationship with Shacklebolt is baffling,” Draco admitted. “And I don’t know what to do with him. Should I tell him that my mother was his soulmate?”
“No, never,” Harry said quickly. “Merlin, Draco, the man suffers enough. The thing is that I hate the Minister for Magic—it’s like this deep abiding magical kind of thing that I tried to work on but failed with. Kingsley, as a person, is amusing to have around. I don’t like his little manipulative games. He thrives as minister, but I find the whole political machine of the ministry nothing short of an atrocity. I blame the ministry for Riddle’s rise to power, the resurrection, and for the deaths of everyone that were killed during the war.
“I needed support, and this place folded like a fucking house of cards because of weakness and avarice.” Harry huffed as a memo landed in his inbox. He picked up and unfolded it. “Northern Ireland is a go.”
“Have you commissioned a portkey?”
Harry made a face. “No, why?”
“How are we getting to there?” Draco asked suspiciously. “I’m not bloody flying over the ocean.”
“I was going to chain apparate—Manchester, Isle of Man, Belfast.” Harry raised an eyebrow. “Problem?”
“I…can’t do that, Potter,” Draco admitted. “I don’t know anyone who can.”
“Well, you know me.”
“Chain apparition is a combat skill that no one gets taught in Britain,” Draco exclaimed. “And doing it across open water twice is…” He huffed. “How far have you traveled that way?”
“When Hermione was in Italy, I would visit her once a month. I’d start in London—then Paris, Lyon, Milan, and finally Rome.”
“Who taught you?”
“I…no one taught me,” Harry admitted with flushed cheeks. “I learned to do it during the war. That’s how Hermione and I evaded Voldemort and the Snatchers. We moved in and out of the country repeatedly after Ron left us.”
“Precision chain apparition together?” Draco questioned.
“Well, I normally handled all of that—I have no issues with bringing a side-along for apparition. In fact, I learned to do that before I was old enough to apparate legally.” Harry shrugged. “Stop looking at me like I’m insane, Draco. Did you want me to go get a portkey?”
“No, I hate portkeys,” Draco admitted. “They give me the worst sort of headache.”
* * * *
Draco released his hand as soon as they appeared at the apparition point outside Maxim Flourish’s snake farm. “Have you been here before?”
Harry nodded. “A few times. The first time was when I was considering a snake familiar, but none felt right, so I left empty-handed. I’ve also come out here to purchase snakes for Ragnok as he doesn’t like to come here himself and the only parselmouth he has on commission with the bank refuses to set foot in the UK.”
“Armand Deering,” Harry said. “He hasn’t been in the UK since his wife was murdered by Death Eaters in the 70s. I suppose we’re lucky he didn’t raze the entire fucking country because, from all reports, she was precious to him.”
“Soulmates, perhaps,” Draco said. “I’ve never met him. Have you?”
“He’s the high warlock of the conclave that handled my healing, so, yes,” Harry said. “He offered me a mentorship in parselcraft, but I said no because I’d already obligated myself to the academy and the ministry. I wish I could’ve given him a couple of years, though, because my parselmagic is…reactive and has been since the end of the war.”
“Do you know why?”
Harry considered what to say but, in the end, just decided on the bald truth. He motioned toward the path. “Half a kilometer until we’re behind wards, then we can fly the rest without running the risk of hitting commercial air traffic. As to the parselmagic thing—it’s most certainly related to the fact that I’m no longer carrying a horcrux. I think the horcrux was using my parselmagic to power itself. Hermione thinks my parselmagic was protecting me from the horcrux. But either way, it was tied up in the horcrux, and after it was gone—it flooded into my core.”
“Your side-along apparition is very smooth,” Draco said, and it sounded kind of like a complaint.
“That bothers you?”
“It’s weird—don’t do that for anyone else if you can avoid it. The speculation regarding your magical ability and power levels doesn’t need to increase.” Draco frowned as they walked. “It’s bad enough that you can apparate silently; that’s practically the stuff of urban legend. Not even Dumbledore could do that.”
“No, but the sound he made was minimal.”
“Exactly—minimal, not non-existent,” Draco explained huffily.
“I can make noise,” Harry said. “I mean—a lot of noise if I’m in the mood for it. It’s an excellent method of distraction in a combat situation. I used to apparate into groups of Snatchers and throw portkeys at them. We’re talking sonic boom level noise—it was so disorienting for them that they didn’t even know what going on until they were spinning off on one of Hermione’s portkeys.”
“Where did you portkey them?” Draco asked curiously.
“Most often, to a prison facility that the Order of the Phoenix set up, but there were a few special portkeys that we designed for specific targets. And those targets ended up in the ocean off the coast of South Africa.” Harry shrugged when Draco looked his way. “Sharks. Your father was on that list, but I never got close enough to deploy the portkey.”
“Too bad,” Draco muttered. “Do you still have it? We could stalk him.”
Harry grinned. “No, Hermione destroyed the ones we had left just in case someone realized we’d been killing high-ranking members of Riddle’s inner circle via shark-infested waters.”
“Did they all die?”
“Every single one,” Harry said. “More likely from drowning than being eaten by a shark since the portkey dropped them underwater, but it’s the thought that counts, really. I mean, I really hope Greyback got eaten by a shark because that’s just karma, but dead is dead.”
“I feel like I missed entire aspects of Granger’s personality,” Draco said conversationally.
“She set Severus Snape on fire in first year,” Harry responded dryly. “Because she thought he was jinxing my broom, but it turned out to be Professor Quirrell who was hosting Voldemort.”
“That was the highlight of my first year,” Draco admitted. “The whole thing—jinxed broom and Snape being set on fire.”
Harry sent him a dirty look as he pulled his broom. “Mr. Flourish is a bit of a loner, and an arsehole, so don’t take anything he says seriously.”
“His brother is very personable,” Draco said.
“Well, there’s a reason why they don’t live anywhere near each other—I don’t think they’ve been in the same place since they were at Hogwarts and apparently sorted polar opposite.”
“Like you and I,” Draco pointed out.
Harry shrugged because, over the years, he’d come to terms with the fact that he really should’ve sorted into Slytherin. “I doubt some of our peers would’ve survived my sorting anywhere but Gryffindor. And frankly, most of my housemates are only alive today because of childhood nostalgia. I’d like to set quite a few of them on fire just on general principle.”
They crossed over the ward boundary, mounted their brooms, and took flight. One of the best parts about having a partner with good broom skills was that Harry didn’t have to fly like an old man. His last partner, in the aurors, had been a stodgy middle-aged wizard who’d used a department broom because he’d never had one of his own. He did keep his pace sedate in deference to the situation he was approaching. The snakes would feel him coming, and if he was speeding around like a lunatic, they’d get frantic.
The main building for the snake breeding operation was a nondescript barn that looked utterly harmless, which was amusing since it housed the most dangerous snakes on the planet. They landed, and Maxim Flourish came out of the barn with a scowl in place.
“You’ve got my girls all worked up, Potter. I’ve got over a hundred preparing to lay eggs.”
“I have three infant vipers that were purchased erroneously by the ministry—they’re from Singapore.” He raised an eyebrow.
“I’ll take ‘em,” Maxim declared and stomped back into the barn.
Harry took a deep breath and focused on Draco as he stored his broom. “So, listen, this is going to be pretty intense. If it gets weird for you—don’t feel that you need to stay.”
Draco made a face at him. “I can handle myself around snakes, Potter.”
“Have you been around a snake of any significant size since Nagini?” Harry demanded and winced when Draco paled. “Right. There are snakes in this barn twice her size. His pride and joy is a Grand Medusa, and she weighs as much as an elephant. One of her heads would make two of Nagini.”
“Okay, I’ll take care with myself.”
“One of the last visions that bastard sent me was Nagini eating Avery alive. I know you were in that room when it happened.” He pulled off his robe. “Take off the robe—it could be used to pull you into one of the pits.”
Harry opened the door as Draco pulled off his robe and stepped inside. There was a burst of noise as all the snakes started trying to talk to him. He hung up his cloak and waited until Draco did as well, then offered his partner his hand as the snakes went artificially silent as Maxim activated silencing charms.
Draco frowned at him.
“This is about safety, Malfoy. Take my hand,” Harry said and glared only briefly when Draco huffed. “Yes, I’m sure your Slytherin pride is utterly destroyed right now. But I need to demonstrate ownership, so none of these snakes see you as a potential food source.”
Draco accepted his hand with a flush. “Ownership. Really?”
“It would be easier for me to believe that bothered you if you weren’t blushing like a boy,” Harry said dryly and tugged him along the wide path that wound through the barn.
“You’re the worst, Potter.”
“You’d know,” Harry responded with a laugh.
At the back of the barn, past the breeding pits, a large cage housed the Grand Medusa. Harry paused in front of her, and magic shimmered over the cage as Maxim joined them.
Two of the heads wound around the central one and hissed nonsense while the dominant head flicked out her tongue briefly. “Hello, Speaker. You’ve not visited in over a year. Have you mated? His magic tastes…sad.”
“He’s not mine yet.”
“Good luck in your mating dance,” Ursa declared. “I have laid an egg this year—my last one. Would you please tell Maxim?”
Harry nodded and focused on Flourish. “Ursa has laid her last egg. She’ll want to raise the offspring and keep her close until she passes.”
“Ah,” Maxim frowned and reached into the cage to stroke each of Ursa’s heads. “My lovely sweet girl. How much time, do you think?”
“I have less than a year,” Ursa declared. “But my life has been a good one—Maxim kept me safe and well-fed. None of my sisters were granted such a life of leisure. I trust he will take care of my daughter. Her name will be Zira.”
“She is grateful for the gentle and safe life you’ve given her and expects she will not last another year,” Harry said. “She’d have her daughter named Zira.”
Maxim smiled briefly, then huffed. “Zira it is.” He patted Ursa once more then motioned them to follow him. “Show me the vipers and tell me what you’re here to purchase.”
“I need at least one intelligent, emotionally savvy snake I can train to spy and a few that can be taught to test defenses on behalf of the DOM in a variety of situations. I won’t be working directly with all of them, so they need to understand English and obey commands in English despite their disdain for nonspeakers.”
“Unimportant as long as they are smart enough to follow instructions and magical enough that I can embed behavior limiters to prevent them from killing and eating my co-workers,” Harry said and released Draco’s hand as they were led into Maxim’s office.
“Any personal purchase on the table? Because you’d have your pick.”
“I didn’t feel any push to speak to any of them but Ursa,” Harry said. “But I’ll take a tour to make sure.” He inclined his head toward Draco. “This is Draco Malfoy—he works for the DOM as well.”
“I know a Malfoy when I see one,” Maxim muttered. “Pretty, posh bastards—the whole lot of them.” He waved a hand. “Followed the trials—sorry you were put through all that dragonshite, lad.”
“Thank you, Mr. Flourish,” Draco said.
“Got a bit of veela in ya,” Maxim said. “Be careful around the pits and keep close to Potter—they won’t bother anyone they think belongs to him.” He paused. “That’s true of any snake you might encounter, by the way. Stick close to Potter—no snake on this planet is going to cross him.”
“Why?” Draco asked curiously.
“Because he’s their king,” Maxim said simply and took the box Harry offered. “Let’s see what’s going on in Singapore these days.”
Harry watched Maxim walk away with the stasis box he’d put the vipers in and shoved his hands into his pockets as Draco turned to stare at him. “What?”
“King?” Draco demanded.
“I survived a basilisk bite—they sense that in me. Even if they don’t know that I killed it, they make the assumption. It offers me a certain amount of respect, but it’s more about fear. If I could kill the most dangerous of them, then they know none of them are safe if they make an enemy of me.”
Draco exhaled noisily. “Merlin, Potter. Your circumstances are goddamned ridiculous.”
Harry just shrugged and laughed a little.
None of the snakes were especially compelling, and Harry couldn’t help but wonder if he was anticipating more from a familiar situation than could be actually achieved. His magical relationship with Hedwig had been especially rewarding, and he missed her in a profound way. Maybe he just wasn’t going to move on from her loss, despite what everyone said, and that was a pain all its own.
He spent most of his Thursday morning spelling the snakes he’d bought for R&D to prevent them from killing anyone outside of self-defense and had taken them to Pansy, who’d adored his choices and promised to protect them. He’d made it clear that all three would defend themselves, and he’d put charms on them that would inform him if they were injured in any single fashion. The fourth snake, he gave to Thaddeus Banner. They’d decided on a transcripted surveillance situation that the snake could activate at will.
He’d also suggested that Banner take himself off to France and get Armand Deering to wake up his latent parselmagic. Thaddeus had admitted that the stigma around parselmouths had made that a non-starter for him as a young man as his wife’s parents would’ve never approved of their relationship and eventual marriage. Oddly offended by that, Harry had left the Head Unspeakable’s office and returned to his own to brood.
“I have three reports left to write,” Draco said, and Harry turned to focus on him. “If you’d answer a few research questions, I could finish them today, and we’ll get the field case assignment for the rest of the ritual circle investigation. Croaker stopped by earlier and let me know that he wants us on it based on the research I’ve done. It’s not an emergency situation, currently, but it could turn dramatically.” He waved a piece of parchment.
Harry retrieved so he could review the questions. “What’s going on with the circles?”
“Misuse—four so far have been reported defiled,” Draco said. “All four need to be investigated before clean-up can begin. I was tapped originally to just do the research, but the move into a field unit will open me to take on both parts of the case.”
Ritual defilement required sacrificial magic. The thought flicked through his mind though it wasn’t something he’d realized he knew, then settled a bit as he realized it was new knowledge from the legacy orb. His occlumency had improved by leaps and bounds after his second orb, even though the orb itself hadn’t been about the subject, so the legacy data wasn’t rambling around his head like loose marbles, but he hadn’t spent a lot of time organizing it either.
“So, we have four dead people to search for as well,” Harry said. “Magic makes getting rid of a body far too easy.”
“Depending on the type of ritual done, the body might still be intact,” Draco said. “Some rituals would force the preservation of the victim.” He grimaced. “But it would be ghastly.”
“What sort of ghastly?” Harry questioned though he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“Well, that kind of death magic would be about resurrection, and you’ve seen one of those.” Draco winced, and Harry shrugged it off. “It would depend on how much magic was invested in the body. The more magic there is, the more resistant it would be to outright magical destruction. You couldn’t just—vanish a body or blast one to pieces. Transfiguration wouldn’t hold for more than an hour or so. The best bet would be—well, doing what Granger did. Ocean disposal is a good choice due to sea life.”
“She considered sending them to a dragon preserve but worried it might hurt the dragons to eat Death Eaters.”
Draco grinned. “Who did you manage to portkey into the ocean?”
“Yaxley, Greyback, Goyle Sr, Mulciber, and Dolohov a few months before the final battle. We were actively hunting all three Lestranges, Macnair, Pettigrew, Rookwood, and your father. I outright killed as many as I could during the final battle. It was galling when your father surrendered pretty much immediately, and I couldn’t justify killing him. I know a part of you still loves him, but….”
“Don’t,” Draco said firmly. “The part of me that loved that man died the day I realized the betrothal bond is permanent. That son of a bitch ruined my life, destroyed my mother, and got away with murder because of pure-blood rhetoric and his so-called surrender in the final hour.”
Harry nodded and focused on the questions when Draco went back to writing. He pulled out some parchment, made a list of search terms, and stood. “I’m going to go pull some materials from the library. Do you have a book list?”
“I need Magical Theory by Slinkhard and Practical Charms by Asterberry. Plus anything you might find on ancient ritual circles that are currently unclaimed in Britain.”
Harry nodded and went to the department library. One of the bigger regrets he had about Hermione’s mad dash from Britain was she’d never seen the DOM’s library, which housed at least two copies of every non-fiction magical book ever written. With the right permissions, Harry could pull a book written by Merlin himself from a shelf. He’d never told her as he had no idea what sort of materials she had access to on her job and didn’t want her to be upset about what she was missing out on.
He pulled the books that Draco wanted, set up search terms with the archive, and watched as selections were made on his behalf. Soon he had a stack of about ten books which was about what he’d expected. “You done?”
Harry picked up his books as Hornbuckle Faraday came to stand by the index. “Sure, I left a memo about the snakes I purchased in Northern Ireland for you and your staff. Croaker asked me to draft a report about the ones that were purchased from Knockturn Alley, and the owner will be investigated by the DMLE for his reckless behavior.”
Faraday shrugged. “It’s not my problem if one of those idiots gets themselves killed because they didn’t research properly.”
Harry considered that and inclined his head. “Here’s hoping they don’t get you killed in the process—we found one of those vipers in your desk. If you’d opened that bottom drawer and startled her, she’d have strangled you. Even at six months, a viper is strong enough to break all the bones in your body should she have been inclined.”
He walked off while Faraday stared at him in horror. He was definitely reporting that dumb shite to Croaker. But first, he owed Pansy Parkinson another conversation. Harry dropped off the books, promised to return shortly, and went in search of Draco’s best friend. He found her at her desk, reading and taking notes.
“Hey, Potter, thanks for the new snakes.” She looked up and put down her quill. “They’re really helpful. So is that transcription spell you gave me. I’ve had several discussions with Nema this morning.” She smiled brightly.
“Can we speak privately?” Harry questioned and inclined his head toward the conference room.
“Sure,” she agreed and stood. “I’m not telling Draco’s secrets, though.”
“It’s charming that you think he has any,” Harry said dryly as he followed her. He secured the door, and she activated the privacy charms. “Faraday is a problem, but I figure you know that.”
“He’s a jealous git,” Pansy said. “He complains a lot about not going to Hogwarts, but how’s that my problem or whatever?” She crossed her arms. “He sat his NEWTs before I even got my letter, for fuck’s sake. Did you hear something?”
“He wasn’t fussed about the fact that you could’ve gotten yourself killed by following his orders regarding the purchase of those snakes. He feels untrustworthy, so you need to watch your back and spread it around to anyone you feel might have earned his ire one way or another. He has no regard for your life, at the least, and might actively try to get you killed at the most. I don’t consider him an overt threat because he’s weak, but even a coward can be just as dangerous as anyone else in the right circumstances.” He paused. “Especially a coward. They can’t be predicted when things are their worst.”
She nodded and glanced out into the bullpen where the rest of her team was. “Are you going to speak to Croaker about this?”
“Certainly,” Harry said. “Faraday is already on thin ice because of his lack of oversight regarding the snakes. He’s also irritated the pure fuck out of Esmeralda, and that’s job-ending around here.”
“Do you think he hoped I’d kill myself by buying the wrong snake?” Pansy questioned.
“Well, you got lucky,” Harry pointed out. “Because if that was his expectation—he had good reason for it.” He shrugged when she huffed. “Look, you don’t see Gryffindors running around trying to say they know everything there is to know about griffins or trying to keep them as pets. Snakes are more accessible, certainly, and they’re attractive in a variety of ways due to the life span of magical ones, but you need to educate yourself, Pansy, before you go shopping again. Your fucking sorting didn’t give you some sort of immunity to venom. Honestly.”
She pressed her lips together and scrunched up her nose. “You know, when Draco first told me, I just didn’t see it. But you’re standing there—lecturing me about my terrible shopping habits—it’s like you’re practically the same damn person.” Pansy frowned. “Except for the fact that you’re hotter. Don’t tell him I said that.”
“There is no single way I can keep that to myself,” Harry told her gravely.
A few minutes later, he strolled back into their shared office, shedding his robe, which he put on the rack with Draco’s. “Pansy thinks I’m hotter than you.”
“She has a beard fetish,” Draco said without looking up from his reading. “It’s been leading her terribly astray for years.”
Harry laughed as he sat down at his desk. “That explains a lot. Someone should tell Terry Boot why he’s getting nowhere fast with her.”
“She has other standards he has no hope of meeting,” Draco said. “He’s a dumb bastard, really, and she can’t stand that. It’s why she won’t date Ron Weasley, despite the fact that he’s asked her out multiple times. I also told her what you said about him being a piece of shite to his girlfriends, so she spread that far and wide in a confidential fashion.”
“He’s faithless,” Harry said quietly, and Draco’s gaze met his. “Thoughtless and has a terrible temper. I think he hit his last girlfriend, but I couldn’t get her to admit it. I did give her the money to move out of his flat; he has no clue.”
“Son of a bitch,” Draco muttered.
“Yeah, in more than one way.”
Harry focused on the questions, wrote his thoughts, and added information from the resources he’d gathered. None of it was difficult, but the reporting process for the DOM could be tedious at times. It was necessary, however, since most of the UK’s magical management policy came from them in some fashion or another. The British Ministry of Magic had been leading the research front for generations in Europe, and Harry figured that was a problem. Innovation was slow in the magical world because no matter what the DOM put out—the minister’s office and the Wizengamot’s response were glacial.
He finished the first question and sent it across the room with a flick of his fingers. Draco caught it without looking up for his reading and put the parchment down on top of his book. Harry watched him read through it, then nod slowly.
“What?” Harry questioned.
Draco flushed. “I thought I would have to edit this to fit into the report, but…I won’t. You played the idiot well at Hogwarts, ya know.”
Harry shrugged. “It paid to be underestimated across the board.” A letter sailed into the room, and he caught it with a huff. Owls weren’t allowed in the DOM, but there was a delivery slot for them that led to the memo tube.
“It’s from Sir Ross Weasley.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Draco muttered. “Does he have any say in the current mess? My father never discussed the Weasley family structure for obvious reasons.”
“The Weasley family is patriarchal,” Harry said conversationally. “The Pruitts are the exact opposite. Molly might rule her own home and immediate family, but Ross Weasley is the boss of the whole thing, no matter what she’d prefer. Moreover, he’s chosen Bill as his heir over Arthur. It caused a huge argument a year after the war, but he wouldn’t be dissuaded.”
He turned the letter over in his hands for a few moments before he set it aside and went back to work.
“You’re not going to….” Draco trailed off when Harry shook his head.
“I’m working, and he can wait. I won’t ignore it outright, but I’m done letting the Weasleys destroy my workday.”
* * * *
Harry activated all the protections on his robe shortly before he apparated to Shell Cottage, where he insisted upon meeting. He was never going to the Burrow again if he had a choice, and he didn’t trust Ross Weasley, so going to the man’s home was also completely out of the question. Bill and Fleur both worked for the bank, and Harry knew they’d have hell to pay if they were to directly cause harm to one of Gringotts’ wealthiest clients.
He’d had to take the day off work to deal with the Weasley situation, but fortunately his new home was ready as well, so he had plenty to do to fill up the day and not feel like it had been wasted on dealing with Ginny’s mess.
The door opened as he approached, and Bill offered him a little smile. “Harry.”
“Bill,” Harry said with a sigh. “Everyone here?”
“We’ve kept it small—just Uncle Ross, my parents, and Ginny. Ron tried to stay, but I sent his arse packing immediately. I’ve already told Uncle Ross that Ginny’s lying about the paternity of her child, but protocols demand he verify before he requires a list of names from her.”
“Pretty sure you won’t have to look further than Michael Corner,” Harry said as she stepped inside.
“Harry.” Fleur stepped forward, embraced him, and kissed his cheeks. “You grow more lovely by the day.”
Harry laughed and barely refrained from patting his warm cheeks. He’d never been more grateful to be immune to veela allure.
She stared for a moment, eyes bright, then smiled beautifully. He wondered what she saw when she looked at him. “You lucky lad.”
“What?” Bill questioned as Fleur released Harry.
“I’ll tell you later, love,” Fleur said and cleared her throat. “Tea, Harry?”
“No, thank you. I’d like to get this unfortunate situation over as quickly as possible.”
He allowed himself to be prodded gently toward the kitchen, where everyone was already gathered around the table. Harry sat and ignored the huffy sound Molly made. Fleur’s kitchen was warm and inviting in a way that put him at ease which was only a little concerning. He trusted her and Bill both, so the circumstances were only socially uncomfortable.
“You didn’t offer him tea,” Molly said hotly.
“She did,” Harry inserted before Molly could unload regarding Fleur’s abilities as a wife and hostess. “I declined. I’m not here to socialize, and there’s no need to pretend otherwise.” He focused on Ros Weasley. “Sir, I’m sure Bill has told you how the birth control rune I have placed works. There is no single way I’m the father of Ginny’s child. I will allow Bill, and him only, to verify this with a paternity charm.”
“There is no need for this hostility, Harry,” Molly chastised. “That silly rune obviously failed, and we need to manage this situation to protect Ginny’s reputation and your honor.”
Harry exhaled loudly and purposely avoided looking at Molly. “Bill, the charm?”
“Wait,” Molly snapped. “I have questions for Harry about where he’s been staying and this soulmate situation.”
“That’s none of your business, Mum,” Bill said tiredly. “Harry can live where he likes, and his soulmate is none of your concern.” He drew his wand. “Harry, this charm will reveal any children you’ve fathered—born or not.”
Harry nodded. “Go ahead. I don’t expect any surprises.”
“Paternitas revelare.” The charm tingled a bit, and he glowed for several seconds, then it sort of fizzled and dissipated. Bill cleared his throat as he stowed his wand. “Ginny, who’s the father of your child?”
“It has to be Harry!” Ginny shouted. “I only used the fertility potion with him!”
Harry groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose as Bill laughed in what looked like shock. “For fuck’s sake, Ginny, did you honestly think a fertility potion in your body would circumvent magic on my body?” He stared at her as she paled, and her eyes welled with tears. “And for the record, trying to trap a wizard into marriage with a pregnancy is disgusting.”
“We were already getting married. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t change your mind!”
Harry turned to Ross Weasley. “Sir, at this point, I must ask you that you tell your family to leave me the fuck alone. The only Weasleys I wish to speak with, outside of work situations, going forward would be George, Bill, Fleur, and any children they may produce.”
“What about Ron?” Molly demanded. “He’s your best mate.”
“He’s a terrible friend and a user,” Harry said flatly as he stood. “And stop stalking me or whatever you’re doing, Molly. I don’t need or want your oversight. Where I sleep is my own damn business and none of your concern.”
“Someone has to watch over you! You don’t have any family!”
Harry took in a ragged breath even as Fleur cursed under her breath in French. He didn’t know the exact translation, but he agreed with the tone. He turned to Ross. “I mean it—make them leave me alone, or I’m going to start filing complaints with the DMLE and do my best to shame you into making your family behave. I’m really tired of Molly’s interference and Arthur’s bone-deep weakness when it comes to her terrible, fucked up behavior.” He focused on Ginny who was sitting in the same place, face hard with fury. He’d seen that expression on her face before, and it reminded him, oddly, of 16-year-old Tom Riddle. “I solemnly swear on my life and magic that I will never under any circumstances marry any witch from the House of Weasley.” The oath settled while everyone else gaped in shock.
“You can go to hell,” Ginny said tightly. “Ron was right—you don’t deserve to be a part of our family. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“You were thinking you’d like to marry my vault,” Harry said snidely and apparated out of pure damn frustration.
He landed at the boundary of his new home and looked at it for the first time. It was a lovely, restored peel tower with some modern renovations. There had been a few drawings in the real estate book, but it hadn’t really demonstrated the old-world charm that seeing it in person allowed for. A dverger stepped out of the wrought iron gate built into the large stone fence encasing the house and formal garden.
“Mr. Potter,” the dverger said gruffly but offered his hand. “Got a lady dragon back at the bank who wants to come guard your new property. It’d be a favor to us all if you’d stop by and assure her that it won’t be necessary.”
Harry laughed as he shook the man’s hand. “Of course, my apologies. Marigold?’
“Marigold,” Stonehelm confirmed and rolled his eyes, then focused on the house. “Damned fool dragon. At any rate, the place is clean—had a doxy infestation and a bogart which is not much in the scheme of things considering this place was originally built in the 1400s and hasn’t been occupied in decades. Nothing firm on the actual date of completion but back then, these defensive towers went through a lot of renovations and hands. I think this might have been a Muggle construction at one time—got lucky building it on the cusp of a ley lake. We’ve got a good tap, and the wards will be strong when you activate them.
“There is one issue. We found a stasis box in the cellar. Since it was discovered post-sale, it is yours to do with as you wish. Frankly, considering what is inside it—it was always going to land in your lap.” Stonehelm shrugged when Harry raised an eyebrow. “It’s a coatl—looks to have been in stasis for several hundred years.”
“Is that a common find?”
“Stasis boxes—yes. Coatl? Never seen one in person in my damn life until today. We opened the box but did not end the stasis as no one on my team is prepared to deal with that kind of threat. Most of the time, when we find a stasis box, it’ll be full of food or perhaps the remains of a beloved familiar or pet. It was fashionable at one time to keep creatures such as that in stasis to be buried with you.” He flicked a hand. “At least for you magicals. Doesn’t seem proper to me. Anyway, this coatl is alive and your problem. Congratulations. You’ll need to register ownership with the ICW.”
“Fantastic,” Harry muttered and frowned. “Do you have an hour or so to spare?”
“I can still add to your invoice,” Stonehelm said by way of agreement. “Why?”
“I have the contents of my flat in a packing crate.” He pulled the shrunken object from his pocket. “I’m going to unpack it, but I’d like it all to be checked over for tracking and observation charms. I’d rather not put anything down in my new home that could be used to invade my privacy.”
“Sound reasoning,” Stonehelm said and held out a hand. “I’ll take that back to the bank for investigation. Shouldn’t take more than a half-hour or so. Razel sent a catalog detailing all the furniture you have in the Potter vault. If you mark the pieces off, we can have it delivered within the next two hours or so if you start now.”
Harry passed the crate to him and nodded. “Thanks, Stonehelm.”
The dverger passed him a small, flat black stone. “The ward matrix is ready for you. That key needs magic so hold it for a bit while I’m handling the rest of this. You shouldn’t activate the wards until after furniture delivery since it’ll just add to your bill if we have to charm all of it to pass through your wards.”
Harry nodded. “Sure.”
“It’ll need blood, too, but save that for when I return. I put the stasis box on the work table we have in the kitchen.” Stonehelm apparated at that point, leaving him alone.
Harry let his gaze drift around the property to the expanse of beach stretched out to the left of the keep. The loch looked calm and peaceful—as if it wasn’t brimming with life. There were two merpeople colonies, the plesiosaur pods and a nest of water serpents, all making their home in Loch Ness. Honestly, the ministry was lucky that the plesiosaurs were the only ones Muggle-baiting considering the state of the charm work on the whole thing. He’d make sure to tell the denizens of the lake that he was making his home near them within the next few days.
The ground floor consisted of a kitchen, living space, and a room he decided immediately to use for an office. The kitchen itself was large enough for a large dining space, and he wasn’t going to mess with anything formal. He’d signed off on a new stove and cooling cabinet—both were already in place. The table in the kitchen was smallish and clearly conjured. The one from his flat was too small for the space, but he knew there was one that would sit eight in his vault. He mentally marked that off his to-do list.
In the center of the conjured table was the stasis box. It had a bit of dirt on it, which told him that it must have been buried in the cellar. It was an odd choice, and he wondered what had made the previous owner put such a valuable and useful magical creature in stasis then bury the box. Disgruntled, he brushed dirt from the lid, and his magic coiled gently inside him in such a way that he found himself near speechless. He took the lid off without another thought and stared in wonder at the entirely black serpent. Most coatl were a mixture of red and gold, so the appearance was a little startling.
Harry pushed his fingers into the stasis field and stroked the black scales gently. He felt utterly captivated as he curled one hand around the coatl’s body and gently drew her out of the field. She woke by degrees, her body warming and curling around his forearm with a shiver of what felt like contentment. Her wings fluttered free after a few moments but then settled fully against her skin and nearly disappeared. She could almost pass for a viper due to her melanistic appearance. As she fully settled, her feathers seemed to blend fully into her scales.
“Ah, you pretty little thing,” Harry murmured and stroked her body.
“Speaker,” she hissed as she lifted her head and curled her body so it rested on the top of his hand. Her tongue flicked out. “Wizard.”
“My name is Harry; what’s yours?”
“The last to companion with me called me Serpent.”
“Well, that won’t do at all.” Harry rubbed his thumb across her head as their magic entwined gently. He’d never felt anything like it—not even with Hedwig, who he’d loved so dearly that her death had broken his heart. “How about Anwen?”
“What does it mean?”
“It’s Welsh, and it means beautiful,” Harry murmured. “I almost named my owl that—I knew a little girl in primary school named Anwen, and she told me what her name meant. I named my owl Hedwig—it’s a German name, and it means battle-duel essentially.”
“I will be Anwen since I can’t be Hedwig which is also a nice name,” Anwen said. “What year is it?”
“2006. What’s the last year you remember before you went to sleep?”
“My companion was ill, and his enemy wanted to steal me away. He said he would keep me safe from the bad wizard. It was the year 1605.” Anwen trembled against his hand. “He kept his promise.”
“He certainly did,” Harry agreed. “Will you stay with me?”
“Yes, your magic is perfect.”
“So is yours,” Harry admitted. “I’ve never felt anything like it.”
She rubbed her head along the top of his head and hissed nonsense. Harry had always considered the noise a sort of purring for serpents and other magical reptiles. The dragons at the bank did as well.
“Stonehelm told me he found a coatl.”
Harry looked up and found Ragnok and Razel standing in the archway leading out of the kitchen. “She’s…yeah.” He cleared his throat. “You can add the market value of her to the sale.”
“No,” Ragnok said roughly. “We didn’t know she was here when the property was purchased, so we didn’t own her. Does she need any sort of healing? The only one I’d recommend is Armand Deering.”
“She feels healthy, magically and physically, but I’ll take a trip to Paris as soon as I can and speak with Armand,” Harry said as Razel approached. “Did you want to hold her?”
Razel nodded. “Yes, of course, I do. I’ve never seen a coatl outside of a book.”
Anwen gamely accepted the transfer and fluttered her wings.
“You little flirt,” Razel said with a delighted grin. “Merlin, Harry, what a fantastic find. Her magic feels utterly pure.”
Ragnok jointed them and carefully ran one finger along Anwen’s body as she curled around Razel’s arm. “Lovely. Name?”
Razel hummed under his breath. “Perfect, I’ll prepare the paperwork for the registration. You can expect a few inquiries—I’ve never read anything about a melanistic coatl. We have a few wand makers who might want feathers when she sheds them. This might be what was missing for you when we attempted to make you a staff.”
“I think I can’t have a staff because the Elder Wand doesn’t want to share me,” Harry admitted. “But maybe I could draw one of her feathers into it. Alter the magical signature of it a bit.”
“Very good idea,” Ragnok said. “It’s already altered its appearance, so it clearly wants to be hidden or lost to mythology. Did you look at the catalog?”
“I didn’t, my apologies.” Harry flushed. “I can make do with what’s in my crate when Stonehelm brings it back.”
“He found tracking charms on practically every single piece of clothing you own,” Razel said flatly. “Another reason we’re here—it’s a weirdly constructed charm that wasn’t noticed on any of the normal scans. Fyreaxe suggested we look for obscure magic since you were concerned enough about being surveilled to request that we look for it.” He waved a hand. “We need to check you over.”
Harry frowned and shrugged out of his robe. “Fantastic.”
* * * *
The floo fired, and Draco stepped out. Harry glanced him over as he shed his coat to take in a dark grey sweater, distressed black jeans, and a pair of very expensive dragonhide boots. Frankly, he looked good enough to eat, and Harry was well on his way to being done waiting for Draco to be honest with him.
Draco looked around. “I thought you were joking about buying a keep.”
Harry took his coat. “It’s a peel.”
“It’s a 600-year-old keep,” Draco said with a laugh.
“Come into the kitchen,” Harry said. “I want to activate the wards, and the ward stone is in the cellar.”
“It’s pretty empty around here,” Draco pointed out.
“This furniture is from my flat. I have some shopping to do—from the vault and probably from a few craftsmen. I didn’t want to spend any more time in the hotel as nice as it was.”
“I’ve never been, but my mother used to rave about it,” Draco said as they went down a narrow staircase. “How many floors?”
“Three, plus the root cellar,” Harry said. “I’ve enough room for four bedrooms currently, but I can easily see how I could add onto the place without destroying the aesthetic.” He went to the stone and touched it to open the magic up.
“Are you sure?” Draco questioned.
“You’re my partner and my fucking soulmate, Draco,” Harry said. “Of course, I’m sure.” He raised an eyebrow when Draco hesitated. “Can I come and go as I please from Grimmauld Place?”
Draco flushed. “Shut up.” He put his hand on the wardstone, and Harry handled the spells easily enough since Ragnok had taught him and hadn’t left until he’d mastered it. “You said you had something amazing to show me?”
“She?” Draco frowned at him. “You’ve got some witch here?”
Harry grinned at him. “Jealous?”
“No, of course not, but I don’t want to be introduced to your little tart.” He crossed his arms. “Or have dinner with her.”
“There’s no tart,” Harry assured. “And it’s just you and me for dinner, I promise. I made some chicken and a potato casserole thing I got out of a book.”
He’d made Chicken Cordon Bleu, Potato Dauphinois, and croissants, plus a dessert since he knew Draco preferred French food over anything else. But he wasn’t going to acknowledge how much work he’d put into the meal. He led Draco back upstairs and plucked Anwen from the nest she’d made out his clothes basket and a few towels.
Draco’s mouth dropped open as her wings flicked out. “Is that a…Merlin’s pants, Harry, where did you get a coatl?”
“She was buried in the root cellar in a stasis box where her previous owner hid her to keep her safe from a dark wizard. She’s agreed to be called Anwen. We started forming a familiar bond the moment we touched.”
“Wow.” Draco gently took her when Harry offered. “She’s…perfect. I’m so pleased for you.”
Harry watched a blush form on Draco’s cheeks. “Thanks. I’m going to take her to Paris on Saturday so that Armand Deering can take a look at her. He already agreed to set aside his entire afternoon for it. You can come if you like.”
Draco shook his head. “No, he doesn’t deserve that.”
“What do you mean?” Harry questioned.
Draco paused only briefly and gave Anwen back to him with a trembling hand. “My father killed Armand Deering’s wife. It was how he earned his place in Riddle’s ranks. I have to think if Deering knew he’d come here and kill the shit out of Lucius no matter what it cost him. Part of me wants to tell him, but I heard he’s stopped drinking from the bloodstone and has grown quite elderly as a result.”
“He’s 128 and showing every single day of it,” Harry said quietly. “And you’re right—he’s very frail. I wouldn’t…I don’t know what Lucius would do to him if he got the upper hand. It’s not worth the risk, but I’m gonna kill the bastard that fathered you the first legal chance I get. I’m sorry in advance for any hurt that might cause.”
Draco nodded. “Dinner?”
“Yeah, I made an onion and garlic bisque to start.”
“You’re…you’re a lot,” Draco admitted as he sat down. “Wine?”
“I went with a chardonnay since the main is chicken,” Harry said and brought a bottle to the table. “I want to talk to you about a book I read.” He poured wine for them both and sat down across from his partner. “But if you don’t want to—that’s fine.”
Draco took a sip of wine, made a pleased sound. “What’s the title of the book?”
“Soulmate Magic & Marriage Bonds by Hedwig Fromm.” Harry watched Draco carefully put the wine glass down and drape his napkin over his lap. “The stasis charm on the soup is attached to the spoon.”
Draco nodded and picked up the spoon, and the soup started to steam gently in front of him. “I read that book years ago—shortly after we learned you couldn’t remove my Dark Mark. I also read a book called Core Bonds by Louis Delacour, but it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.”
“We can’t bond,” Harry said, and Draco just nodded.
Harry focused on his soup for a few long moments, unspeakably furious to have his suspicions confirmed. “I should’ve taken the necromancer orb.”
“So I can resurrect that motherfucker and kill him several hundred goddamned times,” Harry snapped, and he took a deep breath. “Sorry.”
“No, I mean, it’s a great goal,” Draco said. “The soup is very good. I don’t…know why you invested so much time in this whole cooking thing.”
“My aunt forced me to cook, but it was simple stuff. Honestly, I grew to hate a lot of it. I turned to French, Italian, and Greek cuisine out of self-preservation at first. But I’ve been browsing through a Thai cookbook recently. I know a few traditional Indian curries. Anyway, there was a time when ordering takeaway was impossible for me. I didn’t trust anyone or anything for several years after the war. I used to buy my raw ingredients in France exclusively while wearing a glamour.”
Draco stared at him in shock. “I think you overestimate the intelligence of your enemies, Harry. I don’t know a single Death Eater smart enough to even consider tainting your food supply. Most of those people probably don’t even know where their food comes from because they use house elves and delivery services.” He looked down at the soup. “But I appreciate the results.”
“Is the bond important to you?” Harry questioned.
“I…I did always believe I would have a magical marriage at least,” Draco said and averted his gaze. “It’s terrible to know how much I’ve…we’ve been denied. You deserve better than anything I have to offer.”
“You’ve still yet to ask me what I want,” Harry pointed out flatly and took a sip of his wine as he sat back. “So, I’ve been thinking about that part, and I realized that you’re afraid I’ll reject you by accident if I clearly define what I want.”
“It’s how I planned to do it,” Draco admitted. “I wrote it all out and practiced it for hours that day. I went searching for you and found you flying over the Forbidden Forest.”
“The day of the final battle, when I surrendered to him as a distraction, I walked into the Forbidden Forest with the Resurrection Stone in my hand. I tried to use it but was subjected to more of Dumbledore’s manipulation instead. I dropped it after the enchantment ended then stepped on it to push it into the dirt. It was my intention to leave it there, forever.”
“And?” Draco prodded.
“It started to…torture me,” Harry said. “It’s corrupted because of what Riddle did to it, but its connection to the Master of Death has not been muted in the least. I had wretched waking visions and nightmares to the point where I could barely function over that last week. I was above the forest searching for that fucking thing so I could get some peace. I have to carry it with me, everywhere I go.” He cleared his throat. “I lied to you about the contents of my holster. I have a secondary dimensional space built into it that holds all three Hallows. The holstered wand is my first wand—holly and phoenix feather. It is the only wand accessible to anyone that I carry. The dimensional pocket I built into the band is crude—a rough solution—but it’ll do until I can create the war bracelet.”
“Can I…see them?”
“After dinner,” Harry suggested. “We can talk about my circumstances a bit more because they matter, and being what I am isn’t something I can just stop doing. I already tried, and I came away with the knowledge that if I tried again that I would be severely punished by Magic herself.”
Draco nodded. “Do you want a bond?”
“Want it? Yes, of course. But I don’t need it, Draco. At the end of the day, I just want to be happy and safe. That might not seem like much….”
“No, such a life would be precious,” Draco said quietly.
* * * *