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21 May 2008 @ 05:25 pm
HP fic: DIY Messiah (2/4)  


part I

The first person Harry saw when he stepped out the Ministry end of the Floo was a blonde-haired demon.

He hadn’t expected to see anyone he didn’t know, having bypassed rush hour entirely by dint of being horribly, hopelessly late. Albus Severus had stayed up till one am to watch a documentary on dodos, and was virtually unrousable at half-past seven. Once awake, he was happy enough to do as he was told, but actually getting him to that point took twenty-five minutes.

Harry still had hopes of making it to work on time and having breakfast as well, until he went downstairs to find Lily on hunger protest.

Although Sin Hong Spellaway had a reliable and speedy service, their best work was done during the hours most people ate Chinese food: lunch, and dinner. They were rather bemused at being called on to provide a breakfast spread.

In the end, Harry had plenty of time to eat while he waited for the delivery to arrive. Lily, on the other hand, was still sucking down chow mein as he stuffed her into the fire.

And now a blonde demon was standing where his children were supposed to be.

“Lily! Albus Severus!” called Harry.

“Are you looking for the kids who just came out of the fire?” asked the demon. It had a dirty nose.

“Yes! Did you see where they went?”

“The girl one went that way,” said the demon, pointing at the statuary, “and the boy one went the other way. Or maybe the girl went the other way and the boy went that way. I’m not sure.”

“For crying out loud.” Harry shot up a spell. It took the form of two yellow rockets, which went speeding off down the corridor. The demon watched with interest.

A minute later the rockets returned, dragging Albus Severus and Lily by the scruffs of their necks. Both were complaining vociferously at such treatment.

“Harry! You promised you wouldn’t use that baby spell on us again!”

“Why’d you punish me, Dad? I just wanted to find a bathroom. You made us leave before I had a chance to go, and I was bursting!”

“Didn’t I tell you to stay here until I came through?” thundered Harry. Albus Severus and Lily exchanged a look.

“No, actually, you didn’t,” said Lily. “What you said was, ‘jump in the bloody Floo and don’t get off at the wrong fireplace’.”

Harry had, indeed, said that. Damn Lily and her anal-retentive memory.

“Fine, fine,” he snapped. “Did you find the bathroom?” Albus Severus shook his head.

“I can show him,” the demon offered. “I’ve been here loads of times before.”

“And you are?” asked Harry, at the same time as Albus Severus said, “Okay!” Before Harry could repeat his interrogation, the demon had extracted its finger from its nose and led his son off to parts unknown.

“Looks like it’s just you and me, kid,” said Harry.

Great,” said Lily. She turned her back on him and folded her arms. Harry rubbed his forehead, feeling a new wrinkle take root.

It was going to be a very long day.

+++

Lily was at last distracted by cutting out paper dollies from what Harry would later find to be his unsubmitted reports. After fire and other people’s wands, scissors were her most favourite thing in the world. She sat bent over her task, tongue out and curls falling across her forehead. She reminded Harry a little of Ginny – even though he hadn’t known Ginny when she was eight, and Ginny at any age had never exuded the air of a firework about to go off.

Harry sat at his desk, surveying his almost-empty office. The Auror Department had been pared down since Harry’s schooldays, reflecting the declining need for its services. There was still a lot of prestige and mystique associated with the place – hence the Face-Floos and twice as many potted plants as every other department – but applications to the trainee programme had dwindled to almost nothing. The kids who should have been applying hadn’t been born when Voldemort was defeated. Their idea of Dark Magic was nose-biting teacups.

The ferns, water dispenser and Sampson Pye’s desk all bore the ravages of Lily’s ‘inspection.’ Sampson Pye only worked part-time. Harry would be able to replace most of Pye’s collection of stress balls before his next shift. Probably.

Harry dialled Ron’s Floo, but got a busy signal. With a dart of nervousness that was almost fear, Harry wondered where his son was. Albus Severus didn’t like new places or strange people. He’d probably been abandoned by the blonde demon and was lost and lonely somewhere, crying in a stairwell.

“I’m done,” announced Lily. She’d hung the paper dollies from her belt like a row of scalps. “Where to next?”

“We’ll go find Albus Severus,” said Harry, “and have morning tea.”

Lily’s eyes lit up. Harry wasn’t stupid enough to think this was at the prospect of her brother’s company.

They took the lift back to the ground floor. It was crowded with Ministry employees and their offspring, all in various stages of boredom or sulks. Lily regarded them with interest.

“You’re fat,” she told one little warlock, who promptly burst into tears. The other parents scowled at her.

Harry pretended they weren’t related.

He came across his son sitting on the edge of the restored fountain (which now had a house-elf riding on the centaur’s back; years of diplomatic wrangling and bad blood had come of that remodelling). Albus Severus was licking at an ice-cream – Harry hadn’t even been aware it was possible to obtain ice-cream in the Ministry – and talking nine to the dozen with the blonde demon. The demon’s mouth was liberally smeared with ice-cream, suggesting it had already demolished its cone.

“There you are!” called Harry.

Relief warred with irritation. The blonde demon’s robes were on backwards and buttoned wrong. Its hair was one big tangle dripping on to its shoulders. Harry wasn’t sure he wanted his son associating with someone so, so ... messy.

A memory, or a reflection, of a crazy-haired child in baggy clothes flitted through his mind. He squashed it.

“Hi, Dad!” Albus Severus waved enthusiastically, almost dropping his cone. “We got ice-cream!”

“I can see that,” said Harry, “not being blind.” He pulled out his wand from a hermitically-sealed pouch ringed with anti-Lily wards, and Vanished the drips from Albus Severus’ sleeve.

“Hey, I was going to lick those!” complained Albus Severus.

“Where’d you get the ice-cream? I want some,” said Lily.

“You can’t,” piped up the demon. “Ice-cream doesn’t come from China.”

Harry had read somewhere that the Chinese invented ice-cream. Clearly Lily’s reading had been nowhere like so extensive, for she narrowed her eyes but apparently could come up with no retort.

She rounded on him instead. “Harry, it’s morning tea time,” she said ominously. “And I want egg-fried rice and more noodles and green tea and fortune cookies.”

“The canteen it is,” said Harry. He addressed his son. “Coming?”

“Can my friend come too?” asked Albus Severus.

“Your friend, eh?” Harry raised his eyebrows. “And he is?”

“She,” corrected Albus Severus. “This is Hypatia Malfoy.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Hypatia stood up and sketched a little curtsey.

“You don’t look much like a girl,” said Lily.

“Funny,” said Hypatia. “You don’t look much like a cow, but you still are one.”

“That’s quite enough, thank you!” said Harry loudly. “Er, Hypatia, you’re welcome to join us. However, you can’t kill my daughter, no matter how much you might be tempted. And did you say your name was Malfoy?”

“My last name is Malfoy,” said Hypatia, “yes.”

“And your father’s name is...?”

“Draco Malfoy.” Hypatia looked at Harry like he was touched in the head. “Why? Do you know my dad?”

“You could say that,” murmured Harry.

Hypatia shrugged. “Well, he’s never mentioned you.”

“Huh,” said Harry.

“Hypatia goes to Mr Drumm’s day school,” said Albus Severus, bouncing along beside Harry. “She says he lets them use his wand! Isn’t that cool?”

“Sub-zero,” agreed Harry. He kept prodding Lily to walk on the opposite side of him from Hypatia. The last time Lily looked at something like that, it had exploded and Hermione got extremely annoyed. She’d really liked that cat.

They were all sitting down to scones and jam – except for Lily, who got rice crackers – when Draco Malfoy burst into the canteen, wild-eyed and frantic.

Harry would have known him anywhere. He looked exactly as he had at seventeen – a little sharper around the chin, maybe, and with grey hairs and wrinkles that became obvious as he swooped down on Hypatia – but essentially the same.

“Sweetheart!” Malfoy threw his arms around Hypatia, his sleeves dragging in her whipped cream. “I was so worried.”

Hypatia wriggled around until she could get her scone into her mouth. “I tol’ you I was goin’ explorin’,” she said indistinctly.

“You left me a note,” said Malfoy, “under the In Tray. If Stacey hadn’t needed to dictate that Owl to the Department of Magical Games and Sports, I don’t know what would have happened.”

“You’re ruining my snack,” said Hypatia. “Go away.”

“For pity’s sake, Hypatia –“ Malfoy became aware for the first time of the other people at the table, for he froze. His eyes travelled from Lily’s Weasley curls to Albus Severus’ messy brown hair and bright green eyes, and finally came to rest on Harry himself.

“Potter,” he said, in a shocked little voice.

“You work here?” said Harry. Despite Hypatia’s presence, it hadn’t really dawned on him until then.

“Amazing,” said Malfoy. “Apparently your idiocy is terminal.”

Harry took a deep breath – a thousand thoughts buzzed in his head, what and why and how and Jesus – and let it out – he itched to hurl back a scathing reply, felt his own skin for the first time in years. He laughed.

“Do you want a scone?” he asked. Malfoy looked at him warily.

“Is it poisoned?”

“Only if you prefer your jam that way.” Harry waved at a seat. “You might as well. These lot are in for the long haul.”

It was true: Lily was harassing a canteen worker (the words ‘China’ and ‘ice-cream’ were decipherable even at this distance), while Hypatia and Albus Severus were on their third and fourth scones, respectively.

“Your spawn, I take it?” Malfoy delicately picked out a scone from the basket and began patting on butter.

“Yep,” said Harry. “That’s Lily at the counter, and Albus Severus beside Hypatia.”

“Everyone calls me Bussy,” said Albus Severus, spraying crumbs.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” said Harry automatically. He caught the wisp of a smile on Malfoy’s face before he bent over his knife.

“I suppose you’re starting Hogwarts in September,” Malfoy said to Albus Severus. “Hypatia is too.”

“And Scorpius,” said Hypatia. “My horrible older brother,” she said, for Albus Severus’ clarification.

“Twins?” asked Harry. Malfoy shook his head.

“Irish.” At Harry’s frown, Malfoy added, “They were born nine months apart. I think it was the breastfeeding that did it.”

“Eew, Dad!”

The corners of Harry’s mouth lifted. Malfoy caught the movement, and nodded. “Yes. Exactly.”

“So, where do you work? What Department?”

“Accounts and Boring Paperwork.”

Realisation dawned. “You’re A Bit Pissed?”

“Are people still using that nickname? God.” Malfoy made a face. “It’s been nearly twenty years. They should have come up with something better by now.”

“Like what? Angry But Pleasant? Ants Bite Posterior?”

“Those are worse.” Still. Malfoy was smiling.

Harry thought, hard, about why he’d hated Draco Malfoy. He’d been a smarmy little git, and of course he’d tried to kill people. He wasn’t so little now, and Harry actually had killed people, so that left smarmy. Harry thought he could probably handle smarmy, at this stage.

“What about you?” Malfoy was asking. “I heard you’d taken a job here, but gossip takes a while to filter down to the basements, and it’s never very accurate.”

“Auror,” said Harry. Malfoy rolled his eyes.

“How boringly predictable. Although –“ he leaned forward, resting his chin on his hands “– a bit late in the game. My money would have been on you taking a job right after school.”

“I did the training then, right enough,” said Harry. “But I wanted to play Quidditch for a while, so...” He trailed off, not feeling terribly comfortable with going over his every half-assed decision with Draco Malfoy. Fortunately, the kids were getting restive.

Lily was back, green tea in hand, and an expression that said she was determined to drink it no matter the taste. Albus Severus and Hypatia were kicking chair legs (not necessarily their own) and discussing the nastiness of their respective big brothers.

“James used to chase after me on his stupid toy broom,” said Albus Severus.

“So did Scorpius! Only, it was on baby dragons mostly. Mother won’t let us have brooms.”

“Baby dragons?” interrupted Lily. “This Scorpius sounds cool. Why isn’t he here?”

“He’s with Mother,” said Hypatia, “thank goodness.”

“Well, I suppose I’d best be getting back,” said Malfoy. “Tonne of filing to do, as always.”

“You can leave Hypatia with us for a while,” offered Harry. “I mean, if you want.”

“Can I stay, Daddy? Please?”

“All right,” said Malfoy. On passing Harry’s chair, he leaned down to whisper, “Have her back here at four, or when she starts graffiting walls. Whichever comes first.”

His breath was a warm gust down Harry’s neck. Harry nodded, and shivered.

When Malfoy was gone he sat back and watched the kids squabble, not really seeing them at all. He probed his mind like a sore tooth. He could feel the hole where his hatred for Malfoy had once lived, but it was empty now, nerveless. The buzzing anguish of it had disappeared. Like everything else in life, it seemed, this had turned soft and bland.

Then again, maybe not so bland. Someone you didn’t hate might, in time, legitimately become your friend. There were twenty years of Malfoy he didn’t know. Twenty years of newness. Twenty years in which Harry hadn’t had the same ten conversations with him, over and over. Even if his daughter did look like a hobo.

Harry finished his scone, feeling his heart thrumming his ribcage like a guitar. He knew this feeling of old. What was it again? – oh.

Anticipation.

+++

Becoming Malfoy’s friend was a lot more difficult than becoming his enemy.

On Tuesday morning, after Harry had watered the plants and re-written his report on Mrs Fellows’ Boggart in gold ink, Harry betook himself to the lift. As he descended floor by floor, everyone else in the lift exited. By the time the disembodied voice announced, “Basement Level: Stores, Cleaning Staff, Department of Accounts and Boring Paperwork”, he was alone. Even the voice’s voice was less perky at the prospect of it.

Harry stepped out of the lift and was confronted by a rainbow of greys. Grey clouds were clumped outside the windows – which he supposed was better than the view from most basements – while the walls were off-white, the carpets communist storm, and the doors dull steel. These were few in number, widely spaced. Harry walked the length of the corridor before reaching one whose tarnished placard read ‘Dept. A&BP.’

Harry mentally compared it to the foot-square brass plate, affixed to the door of the Auror Department with screws in the shape of gargoyle’s heads. The engraved font was heavily embellished and curlicued to the point where it was almost impossible to read. By contrast, it looked very much like someone had scrawled ‘Dept. A&BP’ on to this placard with a waterproof marker.

Harry hesitated, hand on the (grey) doorknob. The polite thing would be to knock, but no one knocked in the Ministry unless they were going through the Department of Mysteries, and only then because they didn’t want to be hit in the face with an unexpected squid. On the other hand, Harry had once nearly eviscerated the Head of ABP. He knocked.

There was no answer, so he knocked again. And again. Eventually, a muffled voice said, ‘Come in.’ Or maybe ‘Go away.’ It was hard to tell.

Ever the optimist, Harry opened the door. This was easy for about an inch. After that he came up against some kind of insuperable barrier. He pushed with all his strength – not something that was exactly worth boasting about, these days – and managed to clear a space wide enough through which to squeeze.

The cause of the obstruction was immediately clear. Piles and piles of yellowing parchment were stacked in blocks as far as the eye could see, hemming in the door. The barest twitch of Harry’s shoulder set the nearest pile to wobbling. He put out a hand to still it and nearly over-turned it completely.

“I might have known.”

Malfoy was standing between two mammoth towers of parchment, which formed crazy spirals that seemed to intersect with each other as they reached for the ceiling. It gave the impression that Malfoy was standing beneath a drooping paper bower.

He had inkstains all over his left hand and a blot on his nose. Tiny pink lines criss-crossed his fingers. He looked tired, and old.

“Once an intrepid adventurer, always an intrepid adventurer,” continued Malfoy. “Don’t tell me you came down here for an expenses slip. There are memos for that sort of thing.”

“I came to see you,” said Harry. Malfoy lifted his brows, wrinkling his forehead into corrugated iron.

“Singular,” was all he said. He slithered back through the parchment scaffolding with the ease of experience. Harry decided following was as good an option as any. He left the parchment in his wake shuddering like corn in a gale.

Beyond the paper maze lay a window, beneath which two utilitarian desks faced each other. They were stacked high with yet more parchment. Malfoy sank into one plastic chair with a sigh.

“You can sit there if you like, seeing as you insist on inflicting your company on me,” he said, with a gesture to the other desk. “Stacey’s taking another sickie.”

“Who’s Stacey? Your secretary?”

“I wish. No, she’s my companion galley slave. For the moment, at least. She’s taken six days off in the last fortnight. I guarantee she’ll be back bussing tables within a month.”

“Oh.” Harry looked around. Aside from the parchment, of which there seemed to be a never-ending supply, he spotted a hatch leading to a room lined with row upon row of filing cabinets. It stretched back as far as the eye could see. On a little shelf behind Malfoy’s desk sat a kettle, some refugee mugs, and a box of tea-bags.

“I’d offer you a biscuit,” said Malfoy, “but Stacey ate up our week’s supply yesterday.”

“I’m fine.” Harry thought of the scones that were delivered twice a day to the Auror department, on silver trays with sprigs of mint.

Malfoy made no further conversational sorties. Harry realised it was his turn. “Worked here long?” he asked.

“Sixteen years, three months, two weeks, five days and six hours,” recited Malfoy. “And twenty-five minutes.”

“That long, huh?” Harry’s longest job had lasted eighteen months.

“That short,” corrected Malfoy. “What it feels like is an eternity.”

“You don’t like it here?”

“How stunningly perceptive of you. Ouch.” Malfoy made a face and stuck his finger in his mouth.

“So get another job.”

“What, and give up my pension?” Malfoy withdrew his finger and inspected it. A slim cut scored his knuckle. “Damn papercuts.”

“Here.” Harry held out his wand. “Reflugio.

“I don’t bother, usually,” said Malfoy. “I’d be whipping out my wand every five seconds, then, and I’d fall behind on my desperately important work.”

Harry looked at the row of trays on Stacey’s desk, all currently empty. ‘Meal expenses’ read one label, and ‘Stationary expenses’ another. In fact, all seventeen trays were expenses of one sort or another, right down to potions ingredients and shoelaces.

“Stacey – and before her Trevor, Bert, Noreen, Marjorie, Delusine, Henry, Suzy with a Y, and I forget the others – is supposed to look after expenses, so I can deal with the rest.” Malfoy stuck his thumb at the parchment towers. “That’s mainly backlog. The chap in this job before me was some halfwit son of a Minister, who let it get into this state while he made paper aeroplanes all day. And that concludes our tour of the Department of Accounting and Boring Paperwork.”

“Doesn’t anybody, you know,” said Harry, “care?”

“Do you? As long as you get your salary every month?”

Harry shook his head.

“The Ministry shows a huge deficit every year,” said Malfoy. “They’re millions of Galleons in debt to the goblins.”

“Oh. That explains all the pro-goblin laws that have been passed lately.”

“Your friend Granger would, of course, call that a victory for the equal rights campaign. But you don’t see anything coming out for the merpeople or the centaurs, who, by odd co-incidence, don’t hold with material possessions.”

“Shouldn’t there be more people employed here, then? To sort out the finances?”

“Yes,” said Malfoy thoughtfully. “There was even talk, a while back, of allocating funds to hire another full-timer to work with me. One who could earn enough to actually live on. It was shelved because the Auror Department needed the cash. Urgent redecoration, I believe it was.”

“Oh.” Harry squirmed down in his chair. It wasn’t his fault, he reassured himself. The Face-Floos had been installed before his time. “So how do you actually get in here in the mornings? Do you enchant the files to move?”

“Absolutely,” drawled Malfoy. “I waste the time and energy it would take to Levitate five million scraps of parchment out of my way ten times a week. No, you idiot, I Apparate down here from the main plaza.”

“Do you still hate me?”

Malfoy actually put down his papers. “No,” he said, after a bit. “Not anything so active as hatred. More a sort of mild repugnance, like one feels for roadkill.”

“Why the hell are you talking to me, then?” snapped Harry.

“At this stage, I’d talk to a gremlin for the sake of conversation. Merlin, I’d even have a chat with Weasley, supposing he deigned to show his face here.”

“Ah.” Harry felt another long-dormant emotion bubble in his chest: anger. Getting angry was like getting high, and he hadn’t felt the rush in years. And this was pure, adrenaline-driven anger, not a poor subset feeling like resentment or frustration.

“I suppose I’ll be going, then,” he said. He didn’t want to. He wanted to stay down here, in this grim little prison, and make Malfoy fight with him.

“You do that.” Malfoy twinkled his fingers at Harry, sarcastically. “Don’t lose your way now. I’m sure the apprehension of all those miscreants has left your brain a bit addled.”

“Huh,” said Harry.

He Apparated back to the Auror department, just in time for Sampson Pye to come on shift and discover the loss of his stress balls. After a scant two minutes Harry discovered exactly why Pye needed them so much.

The next morning, he didn’t even water the plants before Apparating to the basement.

+++

“The canteen,” said Malfoy.

“What about it?”

“It’s full of things to eat. Many, many things. Tea included. And a mountain range of biscuits. There’s no earthly reason why you need to come down here to make tea.”

“No,” said Harry agreeably. The bowels of hell would probably hold more charm than the basement in the Ministry of Magic. And were probably better stocked with snacks, too.

All the same, he set the kettle on the tiny hob and pulled a tea-bag out of his pocket. He didn’t like to encroach on Malfoy’s meagre supply.

Harry had also taken to leaving behind subtle packets of biscuits. He was never thanked for it, and he had a feeling they disappeared into the gullet of whatever temp was assigned to ABP for their sins. It had become almost a game: searching for the one biscuit type that would cause Malfoy to shake off his gastronomic indifference.

Malfoy huffed a sigh. “Well, since you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful. There’s the In Tray. Pick out all the expenses slips and sort them into the right file.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Don’t you –” Malfoy narrowed his eyes “- have a job of your own to do?”

“Sure I do,” said Harry. “Do you want them by date or alphabetical order?”

“Date,” said Malfoy. He still looked suspicious, an expression that became ever more entrenched when Harry poured him a cup of tea.

“How’s Hypatia?” asked Harry.

“Still refusing to bathe,” said Malfoy. “Scorpius keeps trying to push her into the fishpond, to no avail.”

“Lily’s moved on to a chocolate fad,” volunteered Harry. Malfoy never asked about Harry’s children the way Harry did about Malfoy’s, but Harry carried on as if he did. “Everything has to be covered or dipped or mixed with it. I tasted chocolate-covered cod the other night. Disgusting.”

“I can imagine.” Malfoy sipped his tea with his face screwed up, like it was brimful of vinegar. “You didn’t put sugar in this, did you?”

“A teaspoon of milk, nothing more.”

“Right.” Malfoy curled his fingers around the mug. It was freezing in the basement. Malfoy had told Harry early on that fires weren’t allowed in ABP, for obvious reasons. Heating charms tended to fade quickly, although Harry made a point of casting extra-strong ones on arrival. “Hypatia and Scorpius got their Hogwarts letters yesterday. Longbottom still intends on teaching Herbology for a while, apparently.”

“I know. Albus Severus got his letter this morning.”

“The man is mad,” pronounced Malfoy. “The workload of a teacher is bad enough, let alone that of someone in charge of a whole school-full of brats. And combining the two is just cause for committal.”

“I guess he wants to keep in touch with the kids.”

“They have very little to do with it. Hogwarts runs on a system that’s been laid down for centuries. It’s the admin work that will kill him.”

“Maybe his wife will help him.”

“Maybe.” Malfoy gave a choked-out cough, which over time Harry had come to recognise as laughter. “It’s still hard to reconcile chubby little Longbottom and Headmaster Longbottom, Esquire.”

“I hear you,” said Harry. He caught Malfoy’s eye and they shared a rare moment of complete accordance.

It was over too soon, as Malfoy finished his tea and began harassing Harry to start on the expenses. It was soothing work, to begin with. All the expense types had different coloured forms. It wasn’t until Harry read ‘Erumpent horn, 5 G’ on a form for meal expenses that he realised the colours meant diddly-squat to the people actually filling them in.

“Bloody hell,” he swore. “What is wrong with people?”

“I ask myself that every day,” said Malfoy, dabbing at another papercut. “Especially with regard to you. No answers have yet been tendered to me.”

“I’m just...” Harry struggled to find the words. “Bored,” he finished lamely.

“Poor you.” Sarcasm dripped from Malfoy’s words, like blood from a squeezed leech. “A fortune at your disposal, a beautiful wife, a huge circle of friends and admirers. Not to mention three young children, which is usually enough to defeat boredom single-handedly. What the hell is missing from your life? A Dark Lord to defeat?”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“I, for one, would prefer a lifetime of boredom for you than an undefeated Dark Lord for the rest of us. Sorry.”

“I thought it would be different, that’s all,” mumbled Harry. “Ginny, my friends, they don’t – they don’t see me, anymore.”

Malfoy sighed. “I’ll tell you one thing, then you either cease this self-indulgent babble or leave my office. Love and friendship don’t come on and off like light switches. You have to work at them if you want them to grow. Feed them. Trim them. Do other gardening-type things. Otherwise they will die.”

Harry fiddled with the pink edge of #3431, ‘dragon-hide boots, 245 G’. “I suppose,” he said. “Hey, how do you know about light switches?”

“My ex-wife is married to a Muggle. You pick up a few things.”

Ex-wife?”

“Divorce, Potter. It happens.”

“Why?”

“Why generally, or why specifically in my case?”

“Specifically in your case, you dolt.”

Malfoy scowled. “It’s the sort of thing that results from marrying someone you met on a cruise, like I did. Or when you marry a fallen Death Eater who’s so far below you he earns five Galleons a week scraping other people’s plates, like she did.”

Harry’s eyes were the size of cartwheels as he processed this. Malfoy rubbed a paper cut irritably.

“Astoria is a lot younger than me,” he went on, in slightly less strident tones. “Seven or eight years, to be precise. Young enough to miss out on most of the horror of the war. Young enough to find the bad boy image alluring. At least for a while. Till the money ran out.”

“Bad boy?” repeated Harry. “Since when are you a bad boy? As I recall, ‘frightful wimp’ is the more appropriate term.”

Malfoy gave him a very long, very flat look. “I know that. She wasn’t so particularly clear on the matter. Or particularly particular. Still, I got two children out of it. One won’t wash and the other is ashamed to be seen with me, but you can’t have everything.”

“Sorry,” said Harry.

“For what? It’s just what I deserve, isn’t it? A coward who chose the wrong side, that’s me. You’re thinking it’s a paltry bit of justice, at that.”

“I’m not, actually.” They were silent for a few moments. “You don’t know me as well as you think you do.”

Malfoy snorted. “You may have a few grey hairs, but you’re still the half-crazy fool who’ll rush in where angels fear to tread, and never puts his mind where his mouth is. If you’ve learned enough humility in the last twenty years to turn to me when there’s no one else left, it’s as much as you’ve done. And it isn’t very much, is it?”

Harry clutched the side of the desk, bile rising up his gorge. With an effort, he reined in the instinctive lash of wild magic. He stood up, painfully.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he ground out.

“If you say so.” Malfoy was already distant, absorbed in the accounts.

Before he left, Harry slammed down a packet of Marshmallow Fancies. They were a long shot, but right now Harry didn’t care.

He splashed water on his face in the men’s room. He was still breathing heavily with the effort of controlling his rage – and shame. He wasn’t much of a friend to anybody, Malfoy or Hermione or Ron. When was the last time he’d Owled Seamus, dropped in on Quality Quidditch Supplies, had a conversation with Hermione that didn’t leave him weeping with the tedium of it?

Harry looked at his face in the mirror. Ginny’s gentle guidance meant his hair didn’t look so much like a disaster zone. His glasses sat wonkily, as they always had since Malfoy broke his nose, but the frames were thick, black, fashionable. He looked like what he was: a well-heeled, respectable Ministry employee.

It wasn’t really enough.

+++

“But why not?” asked Harry heatedly.

“Do you think I control the Minister’s purse strings?” Hermione sounded exasperated. She took off her reading glasses and pinched the reddened skin of her nose. “This sort of thing has to be cleared with half a dozen committees –”

“How many committees cleared the Face-Floos?” Harry challenged her. He had his answer in Hermione’s rising blush. “You did it for Ron. I get it. Can’t you do this for me?”

“I’m sorry.” Hermione spread her hands: universal gesture of conciliation. “I honestly don’t have the funds right now. A lot has gone into drawing up this new deal with the centaurs. We’re going to have to start paying them rent for the use of the Forbidden Forest.”

“What will centaurs do with money?” asked Harry, thinking of what Malfoy had said about them.

“I have no idea. Eat it? Melt it down for scrap? Either way, they want it, and we have to give it to them. Otherwise we risk having an uprising on our hands.”

“Fair enough.” Inspiration struck Harry. “What if I were to donate money? Could you siphon it into ABP?”

“We’re looking at an awful lot of money,” cautioned Hermione. “At least twenty thousand Galleons per annum for a full-time, Grade I salary, not to mention another five or ten thousand for the improvements you’re talking about.”

Harry gulped. A once-off loss of ten grand was nothing – Ginny spent that on clothes every year – but even he would feel the hit if he paid out twenty thousand for the next decade or so.

He pulled out a chequebook. “Look, here. I’ll write you a ten-grand cheque right now. In return, I want the refurbishment started this afternoon.”

“And the full-time staff?”

“I’ll have to think about that,” said Harry. “In the meantime, I can put in a few hours here and there. The Auror Department isn’t exactly buzzing.”

“Ron does seem to have an awful lot of spare time to devote to the Junior Quidditch League,” conceded Hermione. “Very well.” She watched as Harry scribbled a cheque. “You know I would have done this myself if I could. I simply –”

“Don’t have the money?” Harry leaned across Hermione’s groaning desk and kissed her cheek. Hermione went pink with surprise. “It’s fine. Honestly.”

“What’s brought this on?” asked Hermione. “I didn’t realise you even registered Malfoy’s presence before now, let alone fostered a deeply hidden desire to augment his well-being.”

“I didn’t,” said Harry. “Know he worked here, I mean. As for the rest ... I don’t know. I suppose I can’t remember why I used to hate him so much.”

“He did some terrible things when he was younger,” Hermione reminded him.

“So did I.” Harry smiled thinly. “I’ve given up keeping score. I still don’t like Malfoy very much, but I want to at least give him a chance. I think he’s earned that much.”

“If you say so.” Hermione didn’t sound convinced. “I think it sounds more like you want to save him. You always did have a –”

“Saving people thing?” Harry said it along with her. Hermione had trotted out that old line so often it was starting to limp. “I’m sure you wouldn’t have left Malfoy to die in the Fiendfyre. Even if he is, well, Malfoy.”

“No, of course not, but –”

“This isn’t that different.”

Hermione looked like she very much wanted to argue the point, but she pressed her lips together. “I’ll get the maintenance team on the Floo,” was all she said.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“How about dinner, tomorrow night? Our place. To celebrate Albus Severus and Rose getting into Hogwarts.”

“I think that was a given,” said Hermione dryly.

“Still. Say you’ll come.”

“I’ll come. Does Ron know?”

“Not yet,” said Harry, hoping Ginny wouldn’t get mad at being sprung with an impromptu dinner party. “But he will.”

+++

“Merlin on a stick,” groaned Ginny. She was sitting at the kitchen table, eating gherkins with whipped cream. “I hope you weren’t expecting a lavish do. I think there’s about three things in the pantry, and they’re all chocolate.”

“We can order in some stuff,” said Harry. “Caterers, or whatever.”

“Or whatever is right.” Ginny viciously bit the end off a gherkin. “I wish you’d given me some notice before you turned into Miss Sociability 2016.”

“These are our friends, Gin.”

“Correction: they are your friends. My friends are the girls from the Daughters of the Great War, my old dormies from Hogwarts, and mothers who have kids in the day school. And when I invite them over, I don’t ask you to organise a three-course meal for them. In fact, ever since you whined so much about that Wicked Witches party I held, I make sure you’re not even there.”

“Those things were disgraceful,” said Harry.

“You didn’t seem to mind so much when I wore some of them for you.”

Harry licked his lips at the memory. It was an old one. Pre-Lily, in fact.

I’ll cook, then.”

“Oh, really? What? Rashers and pancakes?”

“I make good pancakes.”

Ginny sighed. “I know you do, love. I’m sorry. I just don’t feel right, lately. I’m snapping at everyone: you, Mum, the kids.”

“Maybe you should see a Healer.”

“And be laughed off the premises? No. Everyone gets tired sometimes.” Ginny polished off the last of the cream. “I’ll go shopping tomorrow. We’ll get something together, I promise.”

Harry wrapped his arms around her from behind. “Love you.”

“Huh.” Ginny Banished the bowl to the sink. “Would you love me so much if I weren’t such a superb housekeeper?”

“I would definitely love you so much if you weren’t such a superb housekeeper,” said Harry solemnly. “I love you madly, just the way you are.”

“I do believe you’re getting soppy in your old age,” said Ginny.

She didn’t say ‘I love you’ back.

+++

Malfoy was sweating and very red in the face. He’d taken off his robes and was sitting in a white t-shirt and jeans. Sadly, Harry didn’t have long enough to appreciate the incongruity of Draco Malfoy, pureblood fascist, wearing jeans.

“You’re behind this, aren’t you?” shouted Malfoy, as soon as Harry Apparated. “It’s a sauna in here! It’s like sitting on Satan’s buttocks! This bloody chair is melting!”

“All right, all right, keep your hair on.” Harry hid a smirk. He’d discovered the hairbrush and mirror Malfoy kept in a desk drawer, divined the concern he felt over his receding hairline from the occasional, nervous pats. It wouldn’t be right not to needle him over it, given their history.

“Did you not grasp my meaning?” Malfoy’s voice wasn’t one decibel calmer. “I can’t concentrate. The heat has given me the headache that ate Japan, and what is with the painting?”

Harry looked where Malfoy was pointing. He felt himself recoil. Hermione was a huge fan of Francis Bacon, but she hadn’t been allowed to indulge her predilection in the more conservative upper echelons of the Ministry. Here, she’d allowed her taste free rein, and the results were hideous and disturbing. To say the least.

“First things first,” said Harry. “Where did they put the thermostat?”

“The what?” said Malfoy sulkily.

Harry glanced around the office. Swanky new chrome desks had replaced the rickety old ones, with chairs to match. In place of the shelf, a fully-fitted kitchenette had been installed. There was nothing to be done about the piles of backlog, but the designers had thoughtfully draped a tapestry across the divide. It featured a unicorn being fondled by a vapid-looking blonde woman, who could have been a remote relative of Malfoy’s.

Next to the blood-curdling painting was a small white box. Harry flipped open the lid to reveal – yes! – a dial. Hermione had long ago adapted Muggle central heating to run on embedded charms in her own house. She’d clearly gone down the same route here. Harry wondered why she’d thought putting the thermostat to forty degrees was a good move, though. He quickly spun it back to eighteen.

Malfoy collapsed into his chair, fanning himself. Under his pale fringe his face was a brilliant scarlet. Sweat patches had formed under his arms, and Harry noticed that his feet were bare. He had a daisy chain tattooed above his left ankle.

Malfoy followed his gaze and grimaced. “I was drunk.”

“I assumed as much.” Harry moved to the new cupboard and opened it. Therein rested a range of delicate china, four boxes of teabags, and an epic collection of Marshmallow Fancies. Harry held up a packet inquiringly.

“I like them,” snapped Malfoy. “That’s allowed, isn’t it?”

“Oh, certainly.” Harry smothered a smirk. He’d definitely won that one.

He scooped the mess of papers out of the In Tray and took them to the other desk. He was already sorting through them, looking for coloured forms, when Malfoy said – sounding almost tentative – “What are you doing?”

“The expenses,” said Harry. “What does it look like?”

Malfoy’s mouth made an O, but no sound came out. Harry decided he quite liked Malfoy when he was silent.

Which meant that he quite liked Draco.

Perhaps it should have come as more of a shock, but really, Harry had been expecting it. He’d wanted Draco for a friend, as having him for an enemy no longer seemed to be an option, but like and dislike hadn’t really come into it until now. .

When he was finished the first round of accounts, Draco made tea. And poured two cups.

part III
 
 
Current Mood: pensivepensive
Current Music: into the dark (ben lee)
 
 
 
Mordynmordyn4 on April 10th, 2009 01:28 am (UTC)
Before Harry could repeat his interrogation, the demon had extracted its finger from its nose and led his son off to parts unknown.

NOOOOOOOOOOO no no no no no nooooooo. Oh, no.

I just had to stop and tell you how gross that was.

Cheers! :D
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: realityscoradh on April 10th, 2009 03:19 pm (UTC)
Aw, that's nothing. I was watching colonoscopies for an hour yesterday. You ain't seen nothin' yet...