After a very short time, Draco decided that he disliked Angus McLaggen with an intensity that had before been reserved solely for teachers. Draco's hatred was special and cold, and people had to earn it; but dislike could be freely distributed, like largesse. Draco disliked many of the people he encountered, but most of the time they didn’t keep popping up like a weed growing under his shoe.
On the first day of his two weeks, Draco arrived to find both Granger and Weasley in situ. This horrified him more than he could express, given that he was not supposed to have any particular feelings about either of them. Showing outright disgust towards them would probably be frowned upon and would almost certainly put paid to his little interview sessions with Potter. And Draco needed those sessions. They led by the most direct route to the reason Draco had returned to England at all. To what he had been waiting for since he was sixteen, the thing that had exhibited such inexorable pull that day in Kali's: his testimony at the trial of Dumbledore’s murderer.
Potter gave the outward appearance of delight at his friends' presence, however. Draco paused at the door under the pretence of straightening his robes and took several deep, hopefully calming breaths. This did not go unnoticed. Draco heard Weasley whisper to Potter the pleasant observation that ‘the reporter’ looked like a ‘bloody faggot.’ Weasley’s eye for fault-finding was the only thing he had in abundance, as Draco well knew.
Potter blushed at Weasley's description and made no reply, although Draco doubted he had any niceties about Draco’s feelings on the matter. More like that he was holding on to a semblance of politeness, or that Weasley hadn’t spotted the Potter-Peter connection. Draco was almost sure that there was one.
Weasley was in fact looking as if he’d gone forth and prospered with the irritating single-mindedness he’d always possessed. Of course, the war had ended when Weasley was seventeen and champing at the bit. There was a fortune to be made in ransacking the assets of dead or otherwise engaged Death Eaters. It went under an official title of 'appropriation,' which basically provided an official excuse for stealing. Certainly a poor boy with an eye to the main chance would have 'appropriated' enough to set him up in the lifestyle of his choice. Weasley’s face was fatter, his robes more luxurious, and his hair looked as if it had been cut by an expert and not by one of his multiple siblings with a pair of shears.
He stood as an odd contrast to Granger -- or McLaggen, Draco supposed, although the husband hardly deserved a first name either and Draco foresaw difficulties ahead on that score. Granger’s hair was both limp and static, a particularly uncouth combination, and she looked exhausted. The smudges under her eyes were as lavender as the sheets the salesman at Whistbean's had rhapsodised over, once he realised how much Draco was planning to spend on them.
There were children everywhere, seeming to proliferate by the second. Neither spouse was anywhere to be seen. Weasley had his hand on the handle of a monstrous contraption, lime green in colour, which housed two shrivelled walnuts that Draco found on closer inspection to be babies. He wasn’t sure how big six-month-old infants were supposed to be, never having partaken of their company before, but he was sure that they were meant to be rather more human-looking that that. As for the rest, they seemed to find hiding beneath Potter’s bed and chuckling to be the most delightful activity in the world. They weren’t crying, although if Draco was any judge they soon would be.
“Hi, Michel,” said Potter. He swung his skinny legs off the edge of the bed. Draco wondered if Potter realised that two of Granger’s offspring were making periodic grabs for his ankles, and made up his mind to kick them as soon as he thought he could get away with it.
“Afternoon, Mr Potter,” replied Draco. He kept a close grip on his Butterbeer bottle, in case any child should imagine it would be fun to make off with it. He would lay bets to Weasley’s twins having the evil eye.
“This is Hermione McLaggen, and Ron Weasley, my friends,” said Potter, waving a hand at them. Draco could almost see through it. “And Ron’s twins, Bert and Ro, and Hermione’s kids, Matilda, Maud, Mary, Martin and Angus.” Potter gestured at each of them in turn, sometimes bending under the bed to do it. Angus appeared from behind the bedstead when his name was called, giving Draco such a fright that he almost missed the last name. But there was no mistaking the person who stepped out of Ron’s shadow. “And Ginny Wood, Ron’s sister.”
Draco stared at Ginny. Her hair was a crimson flag that draped over her shoulders as if they were a casket; her lips looked like crushed strawberries and her robes were just a fraction too low for respectability. He knew, with the knack he’d always had, that he’d just made an enemy. She placed her hand on Potter’s shoulder, making sure to curl her fingers in a little. Despite the gold ring there it was nothing more or less than an act of possession. Mine.
Babe, he’s all yours, Draco wanted to say, but it was the wrong moment for it. Instead he adopted an air of carelessness, propping one hand on his hip, tucking stray hairs behind his ear with the other. He was aware of Weasley’s none-too-well-covered sneer, but he had eyes for no one but Ginny. She tossed her head at his stare and asked, would any one like some coffee? No? And she flounced off, presumably to fetch some coffee, which she pronounced with an American twang.
“That’s some bunch,” remarked Draco.
“This is Michel Rodriguez, he’s a Spanish reporter,” said Potter.
“I know you,” Angus piped out. Draco glared at him and he closed up against the bedpost, like an oyster.
“Shh, Angus,” said Granger. Her voice was as wan as her face, which bore not a scrap of makeup despite how much it called out for it. “You can’t have met him before, this is his first time here.”
“No it’s not,” muttered Angus. He busied himself with untying two of the girls’ pigtails, at which view another was sniggering at behind her hands and waiting for the onslaught of tears. Granger was more interested in potential scalpings than in her son’s back-talking. She descended on the girls with a maternal squawk as soon as she saw what was going on, elbowing Angus out of the way and setting the girls to snivelling. Angus had been doing a fine job on his own and would have untied them without either noticing. Typical Granger.
“Actually,” said Draco, “Angus’s right. I was here yesterday.”
“You were?” Granger looked wrong-footed, which made Draco’s inner child wriggle with glee. “Why are you back, then? I thought Harry was only giving one question per reporter.”
She had developed the seriously annoying habit common to mothers, of talking of everyone else in the third person and as if they were in some way mentally deficient. Draco wondered if she’d always been like that, or if her frequent pregnancies had inculcated her into higher and higher grades of irritation-causing. She should be Grand High Mistress of the cult by this stage.
Draco spoke to Weasley, however. “Yeah, well. That was before me.”
Smugness was an art, requiring control and delicacy, which was why Weasley was going to be common and suffer for it for the rest of his life. Draco was vindicated to observe that Weasley turned the same shade of green as his pram at Draco’s pronouncement.
“You’re a little earlier than I expected.” Potter passed a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans to Angus to distribute. This Angus did fairly and without fuss, although he soon had his box retrieved by his mother on the whinges of a daughter who wanted another. It set up a chain reaction of whinges from those who now had less. Draco spotted Angus resting his head against the bedpost with an expression of great weariness soon afterwards.
Meanwhile he absorbed Potter’s words. Why, they almost passed for an apology! Draco couldn’t countenance it. He did see Potter wince when Ron’s twins began to wail in sympathy with Hermione’s daughters, who had evidently been sweet-deprived their entire lives. Ron, exhibiting an enviable deafness no doubt brought on by six months of fatherhood, merely rocked the pram and made no effort to soothe his children or to shut them up. If they’d been Draco’s they’d have got a swift Silencing Charm in the mouth, that or dummies dipped in brandy, so it was on balance quite lucky he wasn’t likely to ever be in a position to be a father.
“It’s of no matter.” Draco scooted a child away from the bed with his shoe so that he could get closer. “As it happens, your friends can help you to answer my questions -- the ones you promised to answer, remember?”
“I remember.” Potter looked a little uncomfortable at the idea.
Draco pulled over a chair with a Summoning Charm. Angus saved a child’s fingers from being squashed by its legs by dragging it back by its robe collar, for which action he received a severe reprimand from his mother. Draco was starting to wonder why Angus bothered, because he so clearly wasn’t getting anything for it. Then again, Draco had never understood the concept of voluntary philanthropy.
Draco sat down and settled his robes over his crossed legs, smirking at Weasley’s scowl. “As Mr Potter seems to be experiencing some reluctance on the subject, perhaps he would permit me to pursue the topic on his behalf?” He glanced over at Potter, fast enough to see him hide a smile behind a hand.
“Certainly,” said Potter. "You’re the one with -- or without, wasn’t it? -- the Quick-Quotes Quill, after all.”
Draco allowed Potter to share a conspirator’s smile with him, just for the look on Weasley’s face.
“Excellent,” said Draco. “Either of you is welcome to answer, as the questioning does concern the two of you. I did some research when I arrived, and I believe both Mrs McLaggen and Mr Weasley were companions of Mr Potter’s during his time at Hogwarts?”
Weasley nodded, grudgingly. Granger, always eager, bobbed her head and said, “Yes, that’s right.”
“And you were even, shall we say, sweethearts, doing a line together?”
This time it was Weasley who said “Yes,” because Granger was blushing and wouldn’t look at either of them.
“So the real question is, if this was the case, what prevented Mrs McLaggen from consenting to be Mrs Weasley, instead?”
“Now, just see here,” roared Weasley, who had increased in lung power as well as stature since Draco had last seen him. Granger said “Oh” several times and clutched some children to her, perhaps hoping for a distraction. Instead they squirmed and shrieked for their freedom.
“Please.” Potter’s soft voice cut through the cacophony like the prow of a smuggler’s ship. His friends stopped and stared at his earnest face. “I do want to know, I just … wasn’t sure how to ask.”
“Fair enough.” Weasley rubbed his hairbrush of a moustache with one huge hand. “I guess we haven’t exactly brought you up to date.” He glanced over at Granger, but her face was buried in the crinkling curls of a sulky-faced child, one not quick enough to get away. “But why’s he got to be here?” Draco found a thick finger prodded far too close to his nose for comfort. He flared up.
“Because your precious friend asked me to, Weasley,” he hissed. “An easy concept to for you to understand, surely, given how you’re used to begging --”
“Michel!” Potter looked shocked, Weasley incandescent with anger, and Granger frighteningly thoughtful. Draco recoiled, cursing his quick tongue. If that hadn’t gone and broken it he didn’t know what would.
“Excuse me,” said Draco, breathing heavily. “In Spain -- at home -- it is an insult we use on those who do not accord us the proper respect --” He coughed and passed a hand over his face, staring out through his fingers.
He had placated them. He could see it in the way Weasley shrugged, as if to say ‘Foreigners, eh?' and Granger sent him a frown in response. Draco caught a glimpse of Angus, staring at him with popping eyes, but he put it down to the odd ways of children in general. Angus should be used to rows in the home; in fact, he should be able to give guided tours. Five children were enough to give two people something to argue about for the rest of their lives.
“I promised him I'd ask, that's why. I promised to find out why you didn’t get married, like you said you would before --” Potter's outflung arm took in the bed and the room bristling with researchers and equipment, but he found sufficient description in “-- this.”
Weasley began a summary protest, which was interrupted by Granger and a squeak from the child she was squeezing.
“Oh, never mind, Ron,” snapped Granger. “He deserves to know, and the papers were bound to find out some day. Better to make it a backnote in Harry’s first interview than front-page news, don’t you think?”
Draco doubted that Weasley thought at all, but he kept his opinions to himself. Weasley just grunted, which at least suited his porcine appearance.
“It’s simple, really, Harry,” continued Granger, with nary a glance at Weasley. “People grow and change and they don’t want the same things as they did when they were younger. When Voldemort -- oh Ron, honestly, after all this time -- died and you, well, you know, everything was so different. I wanted to start making things normal again straight away, to build a proper life, and Ron --”
“I wanted to see the world,” said Weasley. A curious hunger lent a brief brilliancy to his features. “I wanted to travel, and see all those places my parents could never afford to take us, Ireland and America and Paris and Egypt again --” Draco gave an involuntary start “-- but Hermione wanted to settle down.”
“I wanted us to buy a flat, for God’s sake,” retorted Hermione. “It was hardly a life sentence.”
“You knew I couldn’t aff --” Weasley began to snarl, but he caught himself and turned bright pink about the ears. “Anyway, the long and short of it is that I went to Skye to visit Charlie for a few weeks -- he was taming a couple of Ridgebacks that You-Know-Who turned out to have been corralling. And when I came back hadn’t Hermione got herself up the pole from that git McLaggen.”
“Ron!” exclaimed Hermione, sounding out-and-out scandalised. Tears were standing out in her eyes and she was clutching her prisoner child so tight it yelled in distress. Draco watched them, mouth open, scraping every last bit of vindictive pleasure that he could from the situation. He didn’t bother to assess Potter’s reaction, which would no doubt be some tedious display of repressed horror and propriety.
“What? Harry wanted to know.” Weasley thrust his chest out.
“You could have put it a little more delicately,” hissed Hermione. “My children --!”
Weasley looked momentarily shame-faced, but the becoming emotion did not last. “There you go, Harry,” he addressed to the ceiling. “There was nothing for it but to be a groomsman at my girlfriend’s wedding and listen to my mother carp on about it for about three hundred years, as if it were my fault!” His voice quivered with righteous indignation.
“That’s a little -- extreme,” said Potter. Draco turned to look at him for the first time since the beginning of the whole soap-opera. He looked a little paler than before and it made the dusting of freckles stand out on his nose, but apart from that he seemed unshaken.
“What d’you mean?” asked Draco, in an undertone. Weasley and Granger had commenced a heated exchange of old wrongs, not loud enough to be heard and not remotely interesting to anyone but themselves.
Potter started a little, as if he’d forgotten that Draco was even there. Draco took a careful sip of Polyjuice Potion and waited for Potter to finish woolgathering.
“I don’t know.” Potter's voice was measured, as if he were uncertain how the next words were going to fall. “I mean, I’ve missed heaps. But when I was growing up, even back then, single mothers weren’t thrown out, or anything terrible. They got given money by the government. I quite clearly remember Aunt Petunia being very offended by that, for some reason.”
“Ah.” Draco tapped his nose. He noted the way Potter’s eyes followed the digit with some distraction. “Social security, I think it’s called? But that’s all very well, Potter, because you’re thinking of Muggles, not wizards.”
“You mean to say --” Potter finished by making his mouth an almost perfect circle. Draco had to resist the temptation to poke his finger inside, as he’d a terrible habit of doing to his mother’s goldfish.
Instead he nodded, once, burdening the gesture with as much weighty significance as possible. “She’d never have worked again, for one thing. Which would have been all right, because people always take shop girls and cleaners and the like without questioning their references, but for someone up high in the Ministry, or Ministry-funded or Ministry-sanctioned research units …” Draco crossed a finger over his throat.
“And what about McLaggen?” Potter’s face was alight with guilty curiosity, which Draco had long ago realised was a natural reaction.
Draco shrugged. “What about him? He could deny everything. Once the baby’s been born St Mungo’s can run tests and the like, but not before. And by that time, she’d have been ruined anyway.” He didn’t feel sorry for Granger, exactly, considering that she’d brought it all on herself. Her children were relatively innocent, however. He tried to revise this opinion when one set up a loud wail, but all he could summon up was an urge to kick it. It did nothing to absolve him of faint stirrings of pity.
“It’s one of the many reasons I’m glad I’m gay,” reflected Draco, mainly to himself. He spoke into a pool of silence that turned every head towards him. Most with open mouths, which weren’t half so tempting in terms of sticking his finger in.
Potter made a noise that suggested that he’d just had all the air vacuumed from his lungs.
“Oh, yes,” said Draco, to the unspoken question, “far more acceptable than toting a bastard born out of wedlock, as we’re much less of a drain on society. Most of the greatest magical discoveries were made by confirmed bachelors with no distractions. Mrs McLaggen will back me up there, I’m sure. Of course, we do still get the occasional homophobe, like dear Mr Weasley here, but,” he leaned forward to pat Potter’s knee in a comforting and calculated overly-familiar manner, “we generally find that it’s denial.”
“I’m warning you, you little slut --” Weasley began, looking like a post-box with a beard. Draco went for his wand, but someone else got there first.
Weasley’s mouth moved even more rapidly as he found that no sound emerged from within it. Granger tucked her wand back into her sleeve and said, sounding quite calm, “Ron Weasley, you‘ll keep a civil mouth in the presence of my children. Otherwise, you’ll probably find out that I can still remember most of the Half-Blood Prince’s spells, even after a decade or so.”
Weasley frowned furiously, but shut his mouth, probably realising the futility of moving it.
“Look, Ginny’s brought coffee!” Potter's mouth was twitching. “Hermione, do you want some? Michel? I don’t actually drink it, but it was very kind of her --”
“No, thank you,” said Draco. His response was more swift than polite, but he wouldn’t have put it past Ginny to have poisoned his cup. She might not recognise him, but he still remembered her Bat-Bogey Hex. Too well, sometimes.
Granger shook her head as well, given that her hands were occupied. Ginny, looking disgruntled, passed a cup to her brother and took one for herself, which still left three cups sitting on the cardboard tray. “I suppose I’ll have to offer these to the researchers, seeing as no one wants them,” she sniffed.
“You do that,” encouraged Draco. They shared a rapid look of daggers and knives before she stomped off. Draco wondered if Potter thought she had a nice arse; she couldn’t possibly be waggling it so for anyone else’s benefit, after all.
“Speaking of researchers,” said Potter, with something of his former boldness, “why are they here, Hermione? I’m sure you’ll know.”
As flattery went it wasn’t much, in Draco’s opinion. Granger seemed to agree, for she just frowned and said, “They’re monitoring you.”
“What for?” At Granger’s stubborn silence, Potter dropped his playful façade. “Come on, Hermione! This is me they’re researching, unless you’re telling me that some Aurors just happened to set up a base in a hospital storeroom. I want to know why.”
“It’s highly confidential,” attempted Granger. She picked her baby out of a bassinette on the floor and rocked it.
“It also just happens to be my life,” said Potter. Draco wondered that Granger didn’t react to the clear note of danger in his voice. “If you don’t tell me, I’m just going to leave. I feel much better. I need to see about my bank vault --”
“No, you can’t do that!” Granger almost dropped the baby. “You have to stay here and --”
“And what? What, Hermione? I’m not sick, I’m not contagious, all my bones are okay. I can’t see anything wrong with me.”
“No one has defeated someone like Voldemort before,” said Granger. “They want to find out how his magic worked and they can only do that by studying yours.”
“My magic?” Potter glanced down at his wand hand.
“I have to be getting going,” announced Granger. In quite a short time she was whisking out, ending the Silencing Spell on Ron with a word. He followed soon after, although Ginny appeared to be flirting with Peter.
“That wasn’t much of an answer,” observed Draco.
“You have another two weeks,” said Potter shortly, “you’ll make up the deficit.”
“That wasn’t what I meant.” Draco forgot if he was supposed to be lying or not.
“They’ll have a good reason for what they’re doing, I suppose -- but when you’re finished your interviews, I’m leaving.”
“Where are you going to go?” Draco tugged a pillow out from under Potter’s elbow and proceeded to strip it.
“Dunno,” said Potter, observing Draco with interest. “I have some property, but I’m not sure it’s habitable. What are you doing?”
“Close your eyes,” instructed Draco. Potter, like the trusting fool he was, obeyed. In a trice Draco had changed the covers and when, a minute later, Potter peeked, Draco whacked him over the head with a fuchsia pillow. He nearly fell off the bed.
He emerged with his hair as tousled as a kitten’s ruff and a calculating expression. Before Draco had time to think, he got the other pillow full in the face. He slid off his chair and lay on the floor with the pillow concealing his expression. He left it a few seconds, then moaned a little.
Potter immediately snatched the pillow away, looking worried. “Are you all --” he began, and then saw Draco’s face, which was twisted up with sniggering. “Right,” finished Potter, and slapped him with the purple pillow.
In a few seconds a staged battle was afoot; a few minutes was all it took before the air was filled with floating feathers. Draco, who’d had cause to rip apart a few pillows in his time, had forgotten how wizards stuffed their pillows. Soon he could barely see through the clouds of duckdown, although Potter seemed to have no trouble landing blows on Draco despite his glasses.
One of the dumpy research witches hurried over, shrieking, “You can’t do this! Some of these instruments are highly delicate! Stop!”
“Who are you telling to stop?” demanded Draco. “Is this, or is this not, Harry Potter’s room?”
“But -- the mess --”
“What are you, a Muggle?” asked Draco in scathing tones. “Reparo!” He presented the freshly-stuffed pillows for inspection. “Does this meet your standards?”
“Don’t do it again,” she warned, sniffing in a way that strongly recalled Ginny Weasley, and scurried off.
Draco turned to Potter, ready to share a triumph of insubordination given that there was no one better around. He found Potter gasping, clutching the bed for support. Draco dropped the pillows and moved closer. “Potter?” he asked. He didn’t know what to say; 'You’re looking kind of blue, there' didn’t seem to suffice.
“Out of the way,” came an impatient voice from behind Draco. He was pushed aside by Ginny Weasley. She dropped to her knees beside Potter, rolling up her sleeves with the air of someone about to plunge her hands into mud. She spared a glance for Draco, one which burned. “You. Out. You’ve done enough damage for one day.”
“Mrs Wood?” called one of the researchers. “Do you require some assistance?”
“Rejuvenating Potion,” replied Ginny. She gripped Potter’s face between two fingers and twisted it about. “The next hour’s dose as well.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Potter,” whispered Draco. He fancied Potter winked at him, but that might have been spasms.
He walked out slowly, not even worrying about bumping into Rosaline. Instead he encountered Angus. He was loitering about the lobby while one of his sisters had a full-body tantrum, lying on her stomach and beating her tiny fists into the floor.
“Hello Mr Michel.” Angus curled his incongruous eyebrows together like writhing caterpillars. “When are you going to write your story about Uncle Harry?”
“None of your business,” snapped Draco. “And he’s not your uncle, nitwit.”
“I know that,” replied Angus, with great dignity, “but Mother likes us to call him Uncle. She says it gives him a semblance of a family.”
“Some family,” sneered Draco, wondering how old Angus was. Seven or eight, or younger?
“Where’s your family, Mr Michel?”
“In Spain, somewhere,” said Draco. They were somewhere. Languishing in prison or buried ‘neath the clay; no one had ever seen fit to inform him, and he still hadn’t thought of a way to find out without blowing his cover. Perhaps he could drop in a general question about former Death Eaters tomorrow?
“I don’t think so,” said Angus.
“I really don’t care, one way or another, what you think,” said Draco, although it wasn’t true. He was a little frightened by Angus, who had a way of looking at him like his brain was a piece of clockwork and Angus knew what made it go.
Ginny caught Draco just at the door, where he was preparing his mind to Apparate to his hotel. Her gaze wasn’t half so complicated as Angus’ but it saw what Angus probably missed, given that sexual preference wasn’t such a big deal when you were seven.
“I don’t think you should keep visiting Harry,” she said. “I know he wants you to, and you probably will, but you over-excite him. He needs some calm.”
“Calm?” repeated Draco, curling his lip. “Woman --” he pronounced it like the curse it was “-- he’s been asleep for the last eight years. How much more calm can you get?”
“Don’t act like you know everything, Mr Rodriguez.” Ginny's eyes flashed. “You don’t, I can assure you.”
“But I will.” Draco smiled lazily. “Potter has given me access to pick his brain for the next fortnight. That’s plenty of time.”
“Potter,” echoed Ginny, with a narrow glare. “Who are you, Mr Rodriguez?”
“Someone who’d like to remind you that you are married, Mrs Wood,” said Draco, with a significant glance at her wedding band. “Potter really isn’t your responsibility any more, even if he once was.”
“Harry is always going to be my -- responsibility,” said Ginny. “And that’s from someone who’d like to remind you, Mr Rodriguez, that you are a man.”
She whirled on her heel and sprinted away, displaying her ankles for the world to see.
“Gee, thanks for that,” said Draco to himself, and turned his mind to Apparition.