The cactus on his windowsill was still alive.
Harry enjoyed looking after it, especially after the rose disaster and the tomato catastrophe. A cactus was easy to look after, and birds tended to avoid it. On the downside, it wasn't particularly pretty, and he couldn't eat it, but he still enjoyed watching it flourish. There was something to be said about a man who had a cactus, he thought. It certainly seemed to deter some of the owls. Most days, he could see a couple of them circling outside his window, hooting mournfully. Usually, Harry glared at them and shut the window.
Unfortunately, the cactus didn't work so well for people who came to bother him. That was what the spells and warning signs in his garden were for. Harry figured that anybody stupid enough to come and disturb his privacy deserved to leave his garden with bright orange hair. It wasn't as though any of his spells were dangerous; they were merely annoying. Several people had tried to sue him in the Wizengamot, but they'd all failed. As the judge had told them sternly, they had ignored all the warnings, and they were trespassing on private land. Harry never bothered to attend those trials. Instead, he just sent a note to Gringotts to allow his lawyer to extract whatever she needed for his defence.
As Harry made himself a bowl of soup, he realised that other than brief visits from his lawyer, he hadn't seen anybody for months. His food was delivered by a Muggle delivery company that he paid once a month. Harry smiled wryly. He tended to come to this realisation once every couple of months. He enjoyed being here, away from the demands of the wizarding world, yet once in a while, it felt strange to be all alone.
"Except for you," he said aloud, turning towards the cactus.
It didn't say anything.
Sometimes, Harry wondered if he ought to get a pet, something other than a pet cactus. The last time he'd spoken to Ron and Hermione, both of them had voiced the notion that he was getting rather 'odd'. Surely a cat would help. Or perhaps a dog. Or even a goldfish. None of them would get along well with the cactus, but at least he'd have somebody to talk to.
"Maybe I should," Harry mused.
The cactus was stubbornly silent. Harry glared at it as he sipped his soup. He made a face. There was something unfortunate about being a recluse. For one thing, the food was terrible. He was an awful cook, and no wizarding delivery service wanted to brave his spells. Not after one unfortunate witch forgot the instructions and ended up being turned purple.
With a sigh, Harry stood up and walked over to the sink to dump the rest of the soup. It looked like he would be having sandwiches for the third meal in a row.
The alarms startled Harry. He was in the middle of considering whether he ought to prune the cactus. There was one spine that seemed to be slightly longer than the others, and he was sure that they were all supposed to be even. As the alarms tinkled, Harry looked up at the window and realised that there seemed to be a dark figure creeping through his garden.
With mounting amusement, Harry watched. The intruder was pretty good. He seemed to be avoiding most of the traps. Of course, most of them managed to avoid the easier traps around the edge. It was the sliding walls that seemed to get them. That and the surprising tiger.
Harry chuckled as he heard the intruder swear loudly. Undoubtedly, he had just walked into one of his thousands of spells. Taking out his wand, Harry pointed it towards his speaker system that was linked in with the garden. There were microphones and speakers located all over his garden so that he could communicate with any trespassers. He had thought about installing cameras as well but hadn't got around to it yet. "I wouldn't go any further if I were you."
"Sodding Potter." The intruder's voice sounded surprised. "I can beat your spells."
Harry frowned. The voice sounded strangely familiar but he couldn't place it. "Feel free to try," he said. He needed some new amusement. The Muggle DVDs he had ordered a few days ago still hadn't arrived and he was running out of ways to entertain himself. Harry had even considered going out to Hogsmeade, but he still remembered the last time he was there. He had been swamped by admirers demanding to know where he had been, witches and wizards asking for his hand in marriage and Merlin knew what else. He was sick of it.
After the war, Harry had tried – he'd honestly tried – to make things better. He'd joined the Ministry, not as an Auror, but as a junior prosecutor to take down the last remnants of the Death Eaters the legal way. At first, it had all gone fine. Harry had been ecstatic the first time he won a case. But then, by the time he had won ten cases in a row, Harry was beginning to get suspicious. The Wizengamot couldn't seem to see past the fact that he was Harry Potter.
The same thing happened in his next job as a Curse Breaker at Gringotts. Harry knew he was given the easy jobs, the ones that would make him look good. The problem was that he wanted a challenge, but everybody kept on treating him as though he needed to be wrapped in cotton wool. The goblins treated him normally, but unfortunately he had to work with humans as well, and it was the humans who treated him like he was made out of glass.
It was around that time that Harry had bought a house in the countryside. It was his place to escape from the rest of the world, and as time passed, Harry found himself spending more and more time there. About two years ago, Harry found himself there almost every day. It was then that Harry decided that he might as well stay. He quit his job via owl post and began working on his complicated set of spells around the garden to keep intruders out. Harry was quite pleased with his spells. Several of them had been new inventions and he'd been able to sell them under an alias to a couple of wizarding companies.
"Look, Potter. I need your help."
Harry was pulled out of his reverie by the voice of the intruder. "Doesn't everybody?" he said irritably. "You're trespassing. Get out of my garden."
The person laughed sharply. "You're not going to even ask why I need your help. I'm disappointed in you, Potter."
"Get out of my garden," Harry repeated wearily. He couldn't help the flicker of guilt at the words, but he was really sick of trying to help the wizarding world. They wouldn't let him have a normal life and yet seemed to come to him whenever there was any sort of disaster. The hypocrisy annoyed him.
"I'm working on something important," the person told him. "All I need is Dumbledore's journals."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "So why don't you just get them?"
He could almost hear the person roll their eyes. "That's what I'm trying to do. I believe you have his journals."
Harry stared. "I think I'd know if I had them."
"Not if he willed them to you and they simply appeared in your Gringotts vault after he died." The person sighed. "Look, Potter. If you'd just let me in then we could talk prop..." Their voice trailed off as the sound of somebody stumbling just outside Harry's window came to his ears.
"That would be the sliding wall," Harry said. "And no, I'm not going to let you in. I don't even know who you are."
"You mean to say you don't recognise my voice? I'm disappointed."
Harry pursed his lips. So he wasn't mistaken; he did know the other person. "Who are you?" he snapped.
The person laughed.
Harry could begin to feel a tingling down his spine. That laugh was unpleasantly familiar; it reminded him of sneers and dark grey eyes that used to glare at him from across the Great Hall. "Malfoy," he said flatly.
"Congratulations," Malfoy told him. "You managed to figure it out. Now let me in before your tiger eats me."
"It's a projection," Harry said irritably. "I wouldn't have a real tiger in my garden." For one thing, it would have meant that he would have lost every single legal battle to date. His lawyer's main argument hinged on the fact that all of Harry's defences were non-lethal.
"You say that, but it still looks hungry," Malfoy said. "Look Potter, I'm not going to attack you or anything. I have a reputation to uphold."
"You control your reputation," Harry pointed out. After all, Malfoy was the lead journalist of the Daily Prophet. Nobody had been more surprised than Harry when it turned out that Malfoy had a knack for journalism. He was the second youngest lead journalist of the Prophet since its inception. There were rumours that Malfoy had a controlling share in the newspaper as well.
"Come on, Potter," Malfoy said. "I'm just asking for a few minutes of your time. Hear me out. I promise you'll be interested."
Somehow, Harry doubted it. He looked over at the cactus. It was stubbornly silent as always. Harry had considered naming it, but he didn't want to grow too attached. The tomato catastrophe was still fresh in his mind. "Fine," he said. "Five minutes."
"That's all I need." Malfoy's voice sounded relieved.
"I don't have Dumbledore's journals," Harry said flatly. "Why would Dumbledore have given them to me?"
Malfoy stared at him. "Because you were his favourite?"
Harry considered this. Unfortunately, it made sense, except for the fact that generally speaking, when people left other people things, they tended to tell them about it. "I would have known," he said, narrowing his eyes. "What are you up to anyway? Why do you want his journals?"
A secretive expression came over Malfoy's face. Harry watched as his lashes lowered over his dark grey eyes. "I'm researching the application of a very important potion that the readers of the Prophet would be very interested in. The exact ingredients have been lost over the years; however, I believe that the recipe would be listed in Dumbledore's journals."
Harry stared. "Why would they be there?"
Malfoy arched an eyebrow. The expression on his face was so very reminiscent of the looks Malfoy used to give him back when they were both students at Hogwarts. Despite the fact that it was over fifteen years later and there were the first faint lines across Malfoy's forehead, it still took Harry back to his youth. "Dumbledore used to be a potions expert back when he was young."
"Wasn't he pretty much an expert in everything?" Harry muttered.
"Well, yes," Malfoy admitted. "But my sources tell me that he was particularly good at potions and that he collected obscure potions."
"Ah, so you don't know that this potion you're looking for is actually in his journals," Harry challenged.
"Perhaps not, but it doesn't hurt to check under every rock." Malfoy folded his arms across his chest and narrowed his eyes. "Why are you so unwilling to help me?"
Harry almost laughed. "Given our history," he said tightly, "it's a small wonder that I don't throw you out of my house and sue you for trespassing."
"You could do that," Malfoy said, "but then you'll spend the next few weeks wondering why I want to find out about this particular potion. If you help me, then you'll be helping me uncover a long-lost potion recipe that will benefit a lot of people."
"Well, if you put it that way, of course I'm on board."
"Really?" Malfoy looked surprised.
"Of course not," Harry snapped. "I'm not helping you. I don't even know what potion you're looking for or what it does. For all I know, it could be some sort of mind control potion."
Malfoy stared. "You have some imagination, Potter. Perhaps you ought to write our horoscopes."
Harry narrowed his eyes. Malfoy seemed to be dodging his question. "So what is the potion supposed to do?" He wasn't surprised when the secretive closed expression came over Malfoy's face again.
"I can't tell you that yet," Malfoy said slowly. "I promised the editor that I wouldn't tell anybody. He doesn't want anything leaked out. But I can say that if you did know what it was about, then you would support my endeavour."
"I don't think so," Harry said flatly. "I doubt I would ever support anything you do."
"Half a day out of your time," Malfoy told him. "That's all I'm asking for."
"When you were outside, you claimed that all you were asking for was a few minutes of my time," Harry pointed out. Did Malfoy think that he was stupid or something? Actually, knowing Malfoy, he probably did.
"That was so that you could hear my proposal," Malfoy said. There was a hint of exasperation in his tone. "Look, if you help me get the journals, then I'll leave you here alone in your little house in the middle of nowhere." There was a slightly disdainful look on his face as he looked around. "Nice cactus."
"There's nothing wrong with my cactus," Harry said defensively.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "Did I say that there was?"
"You implied it," Harry muttered.
"Okay," Malfoy said slowly. "Your cactus is lovely. Can we move on now? I'm just asking you for half a day. Preferably tomorrow. Do you have anything important on?"
"Of course I do!" Harry exclaimed indignantly. "It's going to be a busy day."
Malfoy just stared at him.
"Well..." Harry trailed off. Admittedly, most of his very busy day involved doing things around the house and perfecting some of the more amusing curses in his garden. He had an idea for one that would make flowers sprout out of any intruder's ears. George had given him the idea a few years ago when he had given his mother a tablet that when dipped in water would dissolve and turn into roses as big as his hand. It was apparently not particularly successful as a prank, but worked really well as a gift.
"I thought not," Malfoy said.
Harry bit the inside of his cheek. As much as he hated to admit it, he was somewhat curious. Just what was Malfoy up to? Over the last couple of years, he had read Malfoy's lead articles in the Prophet and they had always been well-researched and popular. Overall, the Prophet had become less trashy over the years. Despite that, undoubtedly this potion was some sort of populist idea like an anti-aging cream or something. "Well," he said slowly, "I do need to go to Gringotts anyway tomorrow."
"Excellent," Malfoy said. "I can meet you there."
"I never said that I would help you," Harry snapped.
"Of course not," Malfoy said smoothly. "But if we should accidentally bump into each other at Gringotts, say, at around one o'clock in the afternoon? Well, then that couldn't be helped, could it?"
Malfoy was too good at this, Harry decided. There was something practised about the way Malfoy had gone about convincing him. Also, there was something about the way Malfoy looked at him that made Harry feel uncomfortable; his gaze was too penetrating and his words too glib. They seemed to flow over Harry like cold liquid honey, sending shivers down his spine. "One o'clock," he echoed.
Malfoy gave him a satisfied smile, looking for all intents and purposes like the cat that had just lapped up the cream. "Very well then," he said, standing up. He smoothed down his already immaculate robes. "I hope that I shall have the pleasure of running into you tomorrow at Gringotts."
Harry waited for him to leave, but Malfoy just stood there. "I hope you're not wanting me to show you out," he said irritably once the silence had become too awkward.
"I was hoping that you would turn off some of your little toys in the garden," Malfoy said, rubbing his nose slightly. "I passed a few on my way in that seemed rather unpleasant."
"Of course," Harry said. "I'll turn it off right now." He turned around and pointed his wand towards the controls on the wall.
Harry watched as Malfoy turned around and strode towards his front door. Footsteps echoed down the front path towards the gate. Bad choice, Harry thought with amusement. There was a safe route through his garden and it was most definitely not the pathway. He'd turned off his first layer of security but there were a couple of traps out there that were still operational. He stifled a laugh as he heard Malfoy swear. There were several interesting traps that he could have walked into. "Sorry!" Harry called out. "I mustn't have turned them all off."
Malfoy just made a growling noise.
Harry was surprised at how noisy he found Diagon Alley. It felt as though people were looking at him and if he were in the Muggle world, he would have just told himself that it was his imagination. In the wizarding world though, Harry suspected that everybody was actually looking at him. He wasn't sure why he was here. He had thought about it the previous night, and the only conclusion that he had come up with was that he was curious about the potion.
As Harry neared Gringotts, he glanced at his watch. It was a little past one o'clock in the afternoon, the time he said that he would meet Malfoy. He hid a smile as he saw Malfoy standing outside Gringotts. There was a slight green tinge to Malfoy's blond hair. "Your hair is looking particularly... good today," Harry commented. He was pleased to see Malfoy jump slightly.
"Thank you," Malfoy said smoothly. "I'm glad you think so. I really appreciated that spell in your garden, especially after you said that they were all turned off."
Harry couldn't help but feel a twinge of guilt, but he suppressed it. After all, Malfoy was the one who had turned up unannounced at his doorstep. He was the one who had completely disregarded the numerous warning signs. Therefore, it was his fault that he had green hair. "Some of the spells must not have been connected to the network properly," he said.
Malfoy gave a wry smile. "Yes, that must have been it."
Harry shifted slightly. He couldn't help but glance around. It felt as though every second person who passed by was looking at him and Malfoy. "Let's go inside," he said abruptly.
"After you," Malfoy said, a small smirk playing around his lips. He gestured for Harry to walk through the doors.
As Harry turned, he couldn't help but suspect that Malfoy knew why he was so eager to get inside and away from the crowded alley. "So," he said as they stood in the marble foyer, "you want to get inside my vault."
"Just to have a look around," Malfoy said. "I promise I won't steal any of your valuables, Potter."
Harry had only been into his vault a couple of times in his life and usually it was to scoop up a couple of handfuls of Galleons and then leave. In fact, now that he thought about it, he hadn't been back there since he was still a student at Hogwarts. He recalled that the vault had been massive, or maybe he had just been really small. "It's going to take a while," he said slowly.
"That's why I said that it would take half a day," Malfoy said impatiently. "Do you have somewhere you need to be?"
Harry didn't, but he wasn't about to admit that to Malfoy. "Well, hurry up then," he said. He hoped that there was nothing particularly private in his vault that his parents had left him. He had always meant to go through it carefully and catalogue everything, but he had never seemed to get the chance. Usually, he just owled the goblins and they got money out for him. Briefly, Harry wondered whether other family vaults were like that as well. Back when he was a prosecutor for the Wizengamot, they had to examine everything in the vaults of Death Eaters before they could be properly charged. It had been a tedious job.
"You have the key," Malfoy told him.
Pulling the key out of his pocket, Harry took a deep breath and walked up to the marble counter.
Harry's eyes widened as he looked around his vault. He was still feeling a little nauseated from the ride down. Malfoy's face had matched his hair for a while but it was now turning back to its normal colour. Behind them, the door swung shut and Harry could hear the sound of the cart speeding away at breakneck speed. The goblin had told them that they could spend as long as they wanted in the vault and there would be a button that they could press on the door of the vault when they wanted to leave.
"Well," Harry said slowly. "This is going to take a while." His vault was bigger than he remembered. In fact, it seemed to stretch out and encompass at least two rooms, both of which were about the size of his cottage. He looked over at Malfoy whose upper lip was curled with disdain.
"Don't you ever clean out your vault, Potter?"
"Well, no," Harry admitted. Looking around, he suspected that cleaning out the vault would be a daunting job even for the most dedicated house elf.
"Well, you should," Malfoy said decidedly. "Do you know if it's currently organised by date? By topic? By object?"
Harry stared and then spread his arms. "I have no idea."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "I should have guessed." He walked over and picked up something that looked like a cup. "Do you realise that this is made of pure gold?"
Harry blinked rapidly. It just looked like a dusty old cup. "It is?"
Malfoy nodded. There was a hint of exasperation in his eyes. "Pure gold," he confirmed. "Very malleable but useful if you need a measuring cup for certain types of potions. Useless as a drinking cup though."
"I wouldn't have used it like that," Harry protested.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow and then turned away to survey the rest of the vault. "Lumos!" he said and the tip of his wand lit up brightly and illuminated the rest of the room. It was far more effective than the dim lighting the goblins seemed to have in the vault. "Assuming your family was intelligent when they applied for this vault, most of the newer things should be stored closer to the door."
"Well, then we'll look here," Harry said firmly. "Look, you don't even know if Dumbledore's journals are here. I mean, what's to say that he didn't give them to Snape or something like that?"
"Because if he did, then I'd have them," Malfoy told him. "I've already asked Severus and he doesn't have them."
"Look, Potter," Malfoy told him. "I've been looking for his journals for a long time. I didn't come to you first. In fact, I was hoping to not need to come to you, but it turns out that my initial instinct was right. They should be here."
Harry was annoyed at the flare of irritation that went through him at Malfoy's words. Why should he be annoyed that Malfoy hadn't come to him first? It wasn't as though he wanted the pleasure of Malfoy's company or anything silly like that. "Well," he said, "you have the rest of the afternoon." Harry looked around the vault dubiously. He couldn't see any sort of ventilation system. "Or until we run out of air."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Vaults are ventilated. The oxygen ratio isn't particularly high so you might feel a little light-headed, but that's so that parchment doesn't deteriorate as fast."
"Why don't people just spell them?" Harry pointed out, feeling rather pleased with himself. It was rare that he automatically thought of the correct wizarding way to do things.
Malfoy let out a long sigh. "How long have you been in our world, Potter? Some parchment cannot be spelled. It's a precaution for top secret documents."
Harry pursed his lips. Now that Malfoy mentioned it, he thought that he could recall being told something like that when he had first started working. "There's no point in standing around talking," he said. "If you think Dumbledore's journals are in here, then start looking."
He watched as Malfoy began picking up objects and putting them down. "You could help," Malfoy pointed out, without looking up. "I promise I won't steal anything."
Reluctantly, Harry turned away and began looking on the shelves. Despite everything, he thought that he could trust Malfoy. It wasn't as though there were any dark artefacts in here that he could steal anyway. Besides, he knew that Malfoy made a ridiculously large amount of money each year on top of whatever Malfoy fortune he had inherited. He didn't need Harry's money. It didn't mean that he wouldn't steal something out of spite, but Harry could always search him as they were leaving.
Wrinkling his nose, Harry picked up what looked like a human skull. "What on earth?"
"Used in anti-ageing potions," Malfoy said as he looked up briefly.
"I knew that," Harry snapped. He had no idea why the skull would be in his vault though. Perhaps his mother was also good at potions?
"Sure you did," Malfoy said sounding absent-minded as he began to dig through a large box.
"If you're right," Harry pointed out, "then it won't be in there. That box is marked from before my parents' time."
"That's assuming that there is any method to the madness in here," Malfoy muttered.
"Why can't we just summon it?" Harry asked after a second. Then a sudden thought occurred to him. "Unless, of course..."
"Dumbledore would have spelled his journal to not respond to summoning spells," Malfoy told him. "It's just a common precaution to take. He wouldn't want any student in Hogwarts being able to summon his journals."
Harry had to admit that made sense. He looked slowly around the vault. "This is going to take forever," he said. "And I'm leaving in a few hours."
"I know," Malfoy said irritably. "Stop pointing that out and just help me look, okay?"
Harry fiddled with his wand and watched as the light from the end bounced off the walls. "If Dumbledore did just make his journals appear in here after he died, then surely he would have wanted me to be able to find them," he mused.
"Maybe he thought that your vault would have had some sort of organisational system, and that way it would have been easy to find," Malfoy said sarcastically.
Harry continued, undeterred. He was beginning to feel like that he was onto something. Even though Malfoy was the one who wanted the journals, Harry felt like he had some sort of stake in it. After all, this was his vault and if they were in here, then Dumbledore would have left him the journals. "Dumbledore knew me better than that," he said.
Malfoy slowly turned his head. "So what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that Dumbledore knew me very well," Harry said. "He would have known that I probably wouldn't have come in here to organise anything."
Malfoy smirked and Harry glared at him.
"So," Harry continued, "that means that if Dumbledore did leave me the journals, and he did want me to find them.... well, he would have put them in a really obvious place."
Malfoy was beginning to look interested. "Perhaps you're onto something," he said, sounding cautious.
"I think I am," Harry said firmly. He turned his head to look towards the pile of galleons stacked in one corner. "When I do come in here – which, isn't very often – I usually go over there to scoop up some money."
"Well, let's go over there," Malfoy said. There was a gleam in his eye as he hurried over to that corner.
Harry followed him. He was about to point out that the pile of Galleons was still rather large when Malfoy suddenly pointed towards something on the far right of the pile.
"Over there!" Malfoy exclaimed.
Harry could just spot what seemed to be a large yellow envelope among the yellow Galleons. The yellow envelop had writing on it. He squinted. "It says Harry Potter," he said with surprise as he walked over. Bending over, Harry picked it up. The envelope was deceptively heavy and as he opened it, he could see several thick journals inside. Pulling one out and opening it, Harry could see cursive writing declaring it: Albus Dumbledore's Journals.
When Harry looked over, Malfoy's eyes were shining with excitement. Harry could feel his heart skip a beat as Malfoy grinned at him. He almost looked like a different person. Harry could feel his palms begin to sweat. "Well?" Malfoy demanded and then the moment was broken.
"It's his journals," Harry confirmed. "I guess you were right."
Malfoy smirked. "Of course I was." He walked over and held out his hand for the envelope but Harry put it behind his back.
"What is the potion?" Harry asked. "Before I give this to you, I want to know what you're working on. What's so secretive that you can't tell anybody?"
Malfoy gave him a considering look. "I'll tell you if you sign a non-disclosure agreement and if you'll help me with the potion."
Harry stared. "You want me to help you? You were with me in Potions class at Hogwarts."
"I don't want you to brew it with me," Malfoy said impatiently. "You can help me gather ingredients."
"What makes you think I'd agree to that?"
"You're curious," Malfoy told him.
"You know I could just keep these," Harry said as he held out the journals. "There's nothing stopping me from keeping them and flipping through them myself to find out what potion you're talking about."
Malfoy waved a dismissive hand. "You wouldn't know what to look for. In fact, if my sources are correct, Dumbledore himself didn't know what the potion was for."
"Just how important is this potion?" Harry asked, his brow furrowed.
"Very important. You could help me," Malfoy said quietly, holding out his hand. "If you give me the journals, we could head off to my office, you could sign the agreement, and then we could work together."
To his surprise, Harry found himself tempted by Malfoy's offer. He'd been alone inside that cottage for far too long. Hermione and Ron came around at the beginning, but the conversations had been too awkward and they hadn't liked the spells he had been putting up in his garden. Nowadays, they just owled a few times a month. Suddenly, Harry realised how much he missed them and missed having somebody to talk to other than his cactus.
"Come with me," Malfoy said. "You don't need to agree right now. Talk to my editor; you might change your mind."
Slowly, Harry nodded.
Malfoy's editor was a burly wizard in his late sixties with a busy beard. He sat behind a large mahogany desk and drummed his fingers on the leather covered surface. "So, Malfoy, you found the journals at last," he said, his eyes sharp.
Malfoy nodded. "Yes, Mr Pinter."
Harry was surprised at the polite tone in Malfoy's voice. "They were in my vault," he added.
Pinter turned to look at him and Harry shifted uncomfortably at the probing look in his eyes. "I thought I made myself clear, young Malfoy," he said crisply, "that this was to be kept under wraps and that you should not reveal anything to anyone."
"He doesn't know what the potion is," Malfoy said. "I haven't told him anything other than the very basics."
Pinter's eyes gleamed as he turned to Harry, the tips of his fingers pressed together. "So, Mr Potter, what sort of potion do you believe a newspaper like the Daily Prophet would want to get its hands on?"
Harry hesitated. "In all honesty," he said slowly, "I'm not sure why you're doing this. You're not a potions company."
To his surprise, Pinter roared with laughter. "Young Potter has obviously never heard of investigative journalism," he said, his cheeks rosy. "When Malfoy first came to me with this story, I have to admit I was dubious. A long-lost potion that was difficult to brew, it sounded like a tale to placate children. I told him that even if he did find the potion, he needed to brew it, test it, and then we could run the story."
"If this worked, we'd even have rights to the potion itself," Malfoy added. "We could sell it to any potions company. The money could fund the Prophet for the next century."
Harry frowned. "So what is this potion?" It had to be something that was very financially lucrative; otherwise, Pinter wouldn't have that expression on his face. Yet it had to be obscure enough to have been lost for centuries.
Malfoy shot a quick look at Pinter who nodded. "Tell him."
"It's a cure for lycanthropy," Malfoy said quietly.
"That was the look on my face when Malfoy first proposed this idea," Pinter said crisply. "But he has brought me the research, the proof that there was once a cure, but it has been lost through the ages."
"Severus said that Dumbledore collected notes on old obscure potions," Malfoy continued. "Some of these were potions that even Severus had never heard of. Some of them were unlabelled and others were missing vital information on the purpose of the potion. After telling Severus about my findings, Severus told me that it was possible that one of Dumbledore's journals contained the cure for lycanthropy, but Dumbledore didn't know about it. He took notes years ago from the journals and those notes tell me that within one of those journals is the key."
"Why didn't Snape say something back then?" Harry demanded.
Malfoy shrugged. "He didn't put it all together until I began this project. It wasn't as though it was neatly labelled as a cure for lycanthropy or anything. Severus thinks that it could have been called a rejuvenation potion or something like that."
"So," Harry said and then hesitated. He looked over at Pinter and bit his lip.
Malfoy snorted. "Why am I pushing this? Why do I want a cure for lycanthropy?"
"Exactly," Harry said flatly.
"It's something that Potions masters have been trying to do for centuries," Malfoy told him. "It's important. Not only for werewolves, but also for the safety of the rest of the population."
"And you're trying to have me believe that you just woke up one day and decided to research this? Something that Potions masters have been trying to solve for centuries?" Harry raised an eyebrow.
"Of course not," Malfoy told him. "I first found the references in ... literature my father had collected. It interested me so I looked further. It was only when I had solid evidence that I came to Mr Pinter."
"Severus has been helping me," Malfoy said. "As you might know, he currently is freelancing as a Potions master. He's vital if I want to brew and test the potion."
"So you're just going to test it on some helpless werewolf?"
Malfoy arched an eyebrow. "You don't think we'd have plenty of willing volunteers? If Lupin was still alive, don't you think he would have tried?"
"So what do you need me for?" Harry asked bluntly.
"I would like your help to procure the ingredients," Malfoy told him. "Assuming, of course, those journals contain what I think they contain."
"You would need to sign a non-disclosure agreement," Pinter said firmly. "This is a discovery of the Prophet and it's going to remain secret until we publish it." His eyes gleamed. "This'll be front-page news everywhere."
Harry couldn't help but feel as though he was being thrown a whirlwind of information. "Why do you need my help?" he asked.
There was a flicker of something in Malfoy's eyes before it was gone. "I believe you will be useful. Potter, you have certain unique talents that may come in handy. But first, we need those journals to make sure that this hasn't been a waste of time."
Harry hesitated before slowly placing the envelope containing the journals on the table. "There are quite a few of them in there," he said. In fact, he suspected that there was a spell on the envelope to make its interior bigger.
"Don't worry," Malfoy said smoothly. "I have Severus's notes. I have a good idea of where to look."
As Harry watched, Malfoy opened up the envelope and pulled out the journals. He began to flip through them rapidly, his eyes scanning the pages. His forehead was furrowed slightly in thought and oddly, Harry found that he had the urge to reach over and smooth out the frown lines.
Pinter pushed a piece of parchment towards him. "Sign that."
Harry looked at it; it was a standard non-disclosure agreement. He had seen plenty of them during his years as a Wizengamot prosecutor. Slowly, he picked up a quill and scribbled his name on the parchment.
Harry was beginning to get impatient. The constant sound of crinkly, dry old parchment and Malfoy's occasional sighs were grating on his nerves. Malfoy had this constant furrow in his brow as though he was deep in thought. "I thought you said that you could find it easily," Harry said impatiently as he sipped his coffee. Pinter had emerged from his office and told his secretary to get them both coffees. It was the only thing that was keeping Harry awake at that moment.
Before they had left Pinter's office, Harry heard him clear his voice. "Oh, and Mr Malfoy, you might want to wash your hair." Malfoy had turned to him and narrowed his eyes.
That had been over an hour ago and Harry's coffee was almost gone. It wasn't particularly nice coffee either. He was pretty positive it tasted like instant coffee, and instant wizarding coffee was worse than instant Muggle coffee. The milk was also burned, which Harry didn't think was possible with instant coffee. "Well?" he demanded.
"Almost there," Malfoy said.
"That's what you said last time," Harry muttered as he flipped through old issues of the Prophet. Malfoy's articles were surprisingly interesting to read.
"And now I'm even closer than I was last time," Malfoy told him without looking up. "Severus's notes were rather rough."
Harry cleared his throat. "I can't believe I'm suggesting this but why don't you get him here?"
This time Malfoy did look up. "Did you just say that it would be a good idea to get Severus here?" His eyebrow was raised. "Who are you?"
"I don't want to see him, but I do want this cure. If there is one," Harry snapped. "If him being here will help then I'm all for that."
"How magnanimous of you," Malfoy said. He looked back down at the journals and ran a finger down the text. "But Severus has already told me everything he knows... ah!"
Harry jumped, almost spilling the dregs of his coffee on himself. "Ah?"
"Ah!" Malfoy confirmed.
"I take it you've found something?"
Malfoy nodded. "I think so." His eyes scanned down the journal page. "This looks like what Severus remembers and what his notes indicate." As Harry watched, Malfoy's face fell. "It looks more complicated than I first thought."
"Well, did you think that a cure for lycanthropy would be easy?" Harry pointed out.
"I had hoped," Malfoy muttered. He looked up. "Do you know much about the origins of lycanthropy?"
Harry hesitated and hazarded a guess. "That we don't know much about it?"
Malfoy snorted. "Good guess, Potter. Yes, we don't know much about it." He waved the journal in the air. "Up until now, we have guessed that lycanthropy has been more of a disease that can be passed on from individual to individual."
Harry frowned. "So if it isn't a disease, then what is it?"
"This potion talks about rejuvenating the base components of the human body," Malfoy said slowly. "If I have the right potion, it's almost as though it's talking about lycanthropy as a genetic mutation."
"A genetic mutation," Harry repeated.
"That's what I said," Malfoy said irritably.
Harry bit his tongue and resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "So what do we need to do to make the potion?" Harry asked.
"A lot of things," Malfoy said, running his finger down the page. "Most of them can be bought at the local apothecary. Some of them are restricted by the Ministry so they'll have to be specially ordered in. However, this ingredient is worrying me."
Walking over, Harry looked over Malfoy's shoulder at where he was pointing. He squinted down at the scrawl. "It says something about Beltane? And ... some sort of plant?"
Malfoy nodded. "It's a blossoming purple mayflower."
Harry stared. "That's a terrible name."
"Yeah," Malfoy admitted. "Plus, it's difficult to find. We need to get the flowers and they only bloom once a year on the night of Beltane."
"Yes, Beltane," Malfoy said impatiently. "You know, the night where the veil between worlds is thin and there are lots of bonfires. Otherwise known as the first of May. To make this potion, we need to go out on that night and pick the blossoming purple mayflower, which is only found in the Forbidden Forest."
"This gets better and better," Harry muttered. He was beginning to wish he'd never let Malfoy into his house.
Malfoy gave him a pointed look. "You haven't heard the best part yet. From what I've heard, the blossoming purple mayflower is guarded by snakes. Looks like I'll need you to come along with me for this expedition."
"Great," Harry said flatly.
"Was there any reason you needed me to come along today?" Harry shifted uncomfortably as he looked around the busy streets of Diagon Alley. "It's not as though you need me to help you buy things. I'm sure you have plenty of experience with that!"
Malfoy gave him an unreadable look. "I may need your help today."
"In Diagon Alley? What, because somebody might attack you here?" Harry said. "You've already got Dumbledore's journals off me. I said I'd help you collect that flower thing. You don't need me for anything else."
"You could go home," Malfoy offered. "Since you believe that you really don't need to be here."
Harry hesitated and bit the inside of his cheek. "Since I'm already here, I might as well stay."
Malfoy snorted. "Well, come along then."
After a second, Harry followed him into the crowds. He wrinkled his nose as the smells of Diagon Alley assaulted his nose. After a long time of having to deal with nothing else other than the smell of his own terrible cooking and his plants who kept on dying, his nose really didn't like being outside among so many people. "So where are we going?" Harry asked as they passed several apothecaries.
Malfoy turned his head for a second and smirked. "I know this little shop down Knockturn Alley that sells purer ingredients."
Harry glared at the back of his head. "Figures," he muttered. He should have known that Malfoy wouldn't have just bought the ingredients in a normal shop. He had to go down a notoriously dangerous alley and buy potions ingredients in a shop that was just as likely to sell Dark Arts products as it was to sell normal ingredients. He watched as Malfoy disappeared down around a corner. With a sigh, Harry glanced around and then ducked his head to follow Malfoy down the dark little narrow alleyway. Almost immediately, the din of Diagon Alley died away. If he didn't know better, then he would have thought that Knockturn Alley was shielded or something. Harry looked around rapidly. Where had Malfoy gone?
Harry turned his head and saw Malfoy beckoning from the doorway of a dingy little shop that proclaimed to sell the world's best potions ingredients. "Come on," Malfoy told him.
Letting out a deep breath, Harry followed him inside the store. "So what are we getting?"
Malfoy took a folded piece of parchment out of his pocket. "A lot of things," he said cryptically. "You probably don't want to know the origins of most of it."
"Great," Harry said. "If this doesn't end up being the right potion..."
"You'll probably talk to all of your little friends at the Ministry and they'll delve into my life for the last ten years, and try to find something to charge me with," Malfoy said dismissively. "I know your technique, Potter. But don't worry. This is the right potion."
"I hope so."
There was a jangling noise as the curtain that blocked off the view to the back of the store moved. A very tall woman emerged. Her eyes glittered as she looked at them. "Mr Malfoy and Mr Potter. What a surprise."
"Emily," Malfoy said politely. "We're here to acquire some potions ingredients."
"Then you've come to the right place," she said smoothly. "What did you need?"
Malfoy handed the folded piece of parchment across to her. Harry watched as she unfolded it and her eyes flicked over it. Then, without another word, she spun around and disappeared into the back of the store.
"Are you sure that we should be here?" Harry asked softly. He looked around the dark and dusty interior of the store. There were a couple of herbs hanging from the ceiling, but most of the shelves were empty except for cobwebs. "It doesn't exactly look..."
"Yes," Malfoy interrupted, his voice equally quiet. "Don't let appearances deceive you."
Harry pursed his lips. He hadn't been particularly enthusiastic about the idea of going into a store in Knockturn Alley in the first place and frankly, this store looked like nobody had been in here for years.
The curtain jangled again and Emily reappeared, this time with a basket full of what seemed like fresh potions ingredients. "Despite what you might think, Mr Potter," she said crisply, "my store is perfectly well stocked. I prefer to prevent would-be thieves from having access to my best ingredients."
Harry could feel his face flushing. "I didn't mean anything..."
"Of course you didn't," Malfoy drawled. "How much do we owe you?"
Emily named a figure that made Harry's eyebrows shoot up. Just what ingredients was Malfoy buying? The figure she named was similar to the amount that Harry had spent for his last broom and that had been a state-of-the-line, not-yet-released model.
To Harry's surprise, Malfoy pulled out a fairly large bag of clinking coins out of one of his pockets. "I think you will find that contains the appropriate amount of money," he said silkily. "Plus a small gratuity."
Emily's lips curled into a sharp smile. "Thank you, Mr Malfoy."
Malfoy set the bag of coins on the table and took the basket of ingredients from Emily's arms. "Have a good day."
"Have fun brewing," Emily told them, her eyes gleaming.
Somehow Harry wasn't surprised when Malfoy turned up in his garden the next day. "Let me guess," Harry said as Malfoy ducked to avoid a sudden hammer blow to the head. "You want me to help you brew the potion?"
"For Merlin's sake, shut off your spells!" Malfoy exclaimed. There was a sudden pause and then Malfoy's voice sounded surprised. "Is that a sunrise over your garden?"
"That spell always malfunctions," Harry muttered. "It's supposed to turn your robes multi-coloured."
"Well, then, I'm glad it didn't work," Malfoy snapped. "Shut off the bloody spells and let me in."
With a sigh, Harry walked over to the control system on his wall and shut off the spells. "You should be able to walk through safely now. But I'd avoid the path."
Malfoy made a growling noise.
"You sound like my tiger," Harry said with amusement. He tilted his head but there were no more sounds from the garden. Obviously Malfoy had heeded his warning and was now avoiding all the other spells.
A minute later, there was a sharp rapping sound on his front door. Harry yanked it open and saw Malfoy standing there, hair slightly ruffled. "Potter," Malfoy said smoothly, "I need your help with the potion."
Harry stared. "You need my help with the potion?" he repeated incredulously. "Why? Do you want it to explode?"
Malfoy rolled his eyes and walked into Harry's house without invitation. He sat down in front of the dining room table and began pulling all sorts of odds and ends out of his bag. "I'm sure even you couldn't manage to screw up chopping up ingredients."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Harry muttered as he closed the front door. He could still remember how exasperated Hermione had looked when he had accidentally chopped the roots into cubes when they were supposed to be long rectangles.
"This potion has a lot of ingredients," Malfoy told him. "Severus isn't helping me with the menial work so that leaves you." He began taking out lots of small containers out of his bag. "When you've finished, put them into these containers and label them."
"Why can't you chop them up?" Harry asked.
Malfoy laughed. "I need to study the journals more to make sure where we need to go tomorrow."
"Uh huh," Harry said and sat down next to Malfoy. Somehow this all sounded like a complicated ploy by Malfoy to come and annoy him.
Malfoy pointed at the first bundle of roots. "You need to chop them up into one centimetre cubes, exactly. I only got twice the necessary amount so don't screw up."
Harry blinked. Malfoy got twice the necessary amount? That was ridiculous. "I'm not that bad," he protested.
"I saw you during Potions class," Malfoy pointed out. "You are. But don't worry, Potter, even you can't screw this up. I'm right here."
With a sigh, Harry grabbed one of the knives and began chopping. When he looked up, he could see Malfoy had spread out Dumbledore's journals across the other half of his table and was currently studying them intently. He wrinkled his nose. Harry shifted uncomfortably on his chair; somehow, this seemed almost like a homely scene. He watched as Malfoy pushed his blond hair away from his face before giving himself a little shake. Why was he watching Malfoy anyway? Harry didn't want to think about that. He turned away and focused on chopping the roots.
Harry took a deep breath and stared at the tree line. "So we need to go deep into the Forbidden Forest."
Malfoy nodded again.
"And we need to find a grove or clearing with a bunch of snakes in it, convince the snakes not to attack us, and then collect a bunch of flowers?"
"You will convince the snakes," Malfoy pointed out. "After all, you're the one who can speak to them."
"Oh great," Harry said faintly. This was beginning to sound like one of those exercises he would much rather avoid. Despite the fact he'd been into the Forbidden Forest numerous times as a kid, it was different now. For one thing, he knew exactly what the forest contained now. Plus, he'd seen pictures of dead bodies that had been taken out of the forest of witches and wizards who thought they could handle the horrors.
"It's for a good cause," Malfoy said, sounding almost cheerful. There was a grin on his face that made Harry want to smile back.
Instead, Harry glared at him. "This is just so you can get a good story out of it," he accused.
"That is part of it," Malfoy admitted. "But a cure for lycanthropy would be great. Imagine it, no more werewolves."
Harry hesitated. He could still remember clearly the pain Lupin had gone through as a werewolf and that was with the potion that Snape had supplied. There were a lot of werewolves out there who weren't nearly as lucky. Plus, there were others out there – more wolf than man – like Fenrir Greyback who preyed on hapless humans.
"Come on then," Malfoy said irritably as he strode forward. The sun was just beginning to set and the entire edge of the forest seemed to glow an eerie reddish orange colour. "We have to do this tonight or we have to wait another year." He disappeared past the first line of trees.
With a sigh, Harry followed him.
As soon as he had stepped past the first few trees, it became pitch black around him. "Lumos!" Harry said softly. A few steps ahead of him, he could see Malfoy do the same. A soft bright light appeared out of both of their wands.
Malfoy beckoned him forward, the light of his wand casting strange lights on his face. "What are you waiting for?"
"Where're we going?" Harry demanded as he caught up to Malfoy. He didn't particularly want to spend the entire night wandering the Forbidden Forest until he got eaten by some sort of scary monster.
"The journals say that the flower grows in a clearing near the centre of the forest," Malfoy told him.
Harry groaned. It had to be the centre of the forest. It couldn't have been near the edge of the forest or even a little bit into the forest. With effort, Harry firmed up his chin. He had been a Gryffindor. He ought to be braver than this. In fact, Harry was rather surprised that Malfoy had come this far. Lifting his wand up higher, Harry looked at Malfoy's face. It was rather pale and Harry thought he could see sweat beading up at the temples.
Malfoy turned his head and gave Harry a sharp look. "We'd both be better off if you looked around us instead of at me."
Harry glared at him but lowered his wand. As they both walked forward, Harry was careful to scan their surroundings for any sign of movement. All around them in the shrubbery, little bright eyes appeared. Harry shivered. The eyes seemed to be following them as they strode down the path. He didn't want to think about what sorts of creatures the eyes could belong to.
They walked along silently for a few minutes before Malfoy stopped and held up a hand.
"What?" Harry said as he tried to look over Malfoy's shoulder.
Quietly, Malfoy pointed ahead of him. Harry squinted and could see a centaur drinking from a well. "Shh," Malfoy said quietly. "We don't want to anger them. They consider the forest to be theirs and theirs alone."
Harry nodded as they both inched sideways off the path until they couldn't see the centaur or the well any longer. His heart was still pounding. In a way he was glad that they hadn't bumped into anybody else so far. A centaur might get angry, but it was unlikely to kill them. There were other things in this forest that would be glad to eat two wizards for a midnight snack.
Malfoy grabbed onto his arm and pointed towards another pathway that was winding away into the darkness. "That looks like it heads off to the centre of the forest," he hissed.
Harry shrugged. His sense of direction was terrible. He and Ron had once got lost in Hogsmeade while drunk and had walked around in circles for hours.
Malfoy snorted softly. "Why am I even asking you?" Without another word, he walked forward silently towards the pathway.
Harry narrowed his eyes and glared at the back of his head before following.
Malfoy stopped abruptly in front of him.
"What now?" Harry demanded, but his voice was still soft. He knew how much noise tended to carry in the forest.
Slowly, Malfoy turned around, his face white. He pointed a finger in front of him. Harry stepped around and gulped. They'd definitely found the right place.
"That's a lot of snakes," Harry said faintly.
Malfoy nodded. "Well," he said as he pushed Harry forward. "What are you waiting for? Do your thing! Talk to them!"
Harry could feel his knees trembling. He hadn't done this in years and he never really liked it. Normally, he would speak to one or two snakes. He'd never tried to speak to an entire clearing of snakes before. As he took a small step forward, he could see the snakes writhing around the clearing. In the centre of the clearing, there were small bushes with bright purple flowers. "What are they doing?"
"Who cares?" Malfoy snapped. "Just talk to them and tell them not to attack us!"
Harry could feel his heart clench as Malfoy's voice carried and some of the snakes closer to the edge of the clearing turned their heads towards them. "I think they can hear you..."
"Snakes can't hear anything. They feel vibrations."
Harry glared. "Well they can feel your vibrations," he whispered.
Malfoy pointed towards the snakes. "Go and talk to them!"
Biting his lip, Harry stepped forward and cleared his throat. A few of the snakes looked up, their eyes gleaming in the darkness. "Excuse me," he said softly.
"That was in English!" Malfoy informed him.
Harry resisted the urge to turn around and punch Malfoy. He concentrated on one of the snakes intently. That seemed to be the only way he could activate his power. "Excuse me," he tried again.
This time, most of the snakes turned their heads and looked in his direction. They seemed to sway as Harry gulped. "Well, that's not English," he could hear Malfoy saying behind him, but Harry ignored him.
"Would you let us pass?" Harry asked.
The snakes wobbled but didn't respond.
"Will you let us pass in peace?" Harry tried again.
A couple of the snakes hissed at him but most of them just turned away.
"What's wrong?" Malfoy demanded.
"I don't think they're ... I don't think they care about us," Harry said with surprise. He spoke at a normal volume but the snakes still seemed to be ignoring him.
Harry shrugged. "I have no idea. Maybe the flowers make them calm. Maybe all that writhing is some sort of mating ritual. All I know is that if we walk forward slowly we should be able to pick the flowers with no problem."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow but he took a couple of steps forward into the clearing. A few of the snakes looked up, but mostly, they just ignored him. "You're right."
"No need to sound so surprised," Harry grumbled. "Looks like you didn't need my help after all."
"I suppose," Malfoy said, his voice sounding guarded.
Harry narrowed his eyes. Now that he was here, and now that he had said the words, he suddenly realised how true they were. Malfoy hadn't needed his help for any of this. "You suppose?"
Malfoy raised an eyebrow.
"You didn't need my help at all!" Harry exclaimed.
Malfoy stared at him. "Of course, I did. I wouldn't have got Dumbledore's journals if it wasn't for you."
Harry had to admit that was the truth. "But for everything after that, you didn't really need me," he snapped. "Come on, going to the apothecary? Surely you could have done that by yourself!" He had suspected that something was wrong a week ago at Pinter's office, but now he was positive. "Was this all some sort of ploy to get to me?"
Malfoy held his gaze for half a second before looking away. His face was still pale as he looked towards the snakes, but they still seemed to be ignoring them.
"Ha!" Harry said. "So it was a ploy."
"It's not what you think," Malfoy said quietly. "Look, if you'd just listen..."
Harry shook his head. "This is all some sort of trick," he snapped. He had no idea what sort of trick it was or what Malfoy wanted from him, but there was a deep-seated feeling inside of him that told him that Malfoy hadn't told him the entire truth. Harry took a step backwards.
Malfoy stared at him. "Where are you going?"
Harry waved his arms towards the bushes loaded with purple flowers. "If you want to collect them, go ahead. I'm going home."
"You can't do that," Malfoy snapped.
"Sure, I can," Harry told him. He hesitated. He didn't actually want to leave Malfoy all alone in the forest. The path they had taken to get here seemed to be relatively safe but that didn't mean anything. There could have been creatures lurking in the shadows that hadn't attacked them. "Look, you don't need to brew the potion this year. Come back next year with somebody else."
Malfoy frowned. "Look Potter, we're already here. I'm not going to come back and do this next year! You don't need to collect the damn flowers if you don't want to."
"See!" Harry exclaimed. "I told you that you didn't need my help."
"So what if I didn't?" Malfoy exploded. "It still doesn't mean that you should go storming off into the forest by yourself."
Harry pursed his lips. "I'll be storming out of the forest, actually," he said tightly. Without another word, he turned around and walked away.
Almost as soon as Harry walked out of the forest, he began to feel guilty for leaving Malfoy in there alone. He hesitated at the edge of the forest and bit his lip. Should he go back in there? Harry suspected that if he tried to find Malfoy again, he would get lost. He had taken an inordinately long time finding his way out of the forest.
"Malfoy will be fine," Harry told himself quietly, but the guilty feeling still hung over him. The look of betrayal in Malfoy's eyes twisted his heart. What if something happened to him?
With a sigh, Harry sat down on the dewy grass. He was going to wait until Malfoy came out of the forest safely. Assuming Malfoy had a better sense of direction than he did, it shouldn't take more than half an hour. If Malfoy wasn't out in an hour, well, he would go and find him.
Uncomfortably, Harry shifted on the damp grass as he stared at the edge of the forest. Sure, Malfoy might have had some sort of ulterior motive for dragging him out here, but he really shouldn't have left him alone in a clearing full of snakes.
Harry wasn't sure how much time had passed before he suddenly noticed a light in the forest, moving closer. He narrowed his eyes and could just make out a small figure in the forest, holding a wand. The small figure seemed to have a large bag of something by his side.
Harry smiled wryly. Maybe he had spent longer getting out of the forest than he had originally thought. Either that or the flower-gathering hadn't taken very long. "Malfoy!" Harry called out as he stood up, wincing at the wetness of his robes.
Malfoy stopped at the edge of the forest. Harry could see the anger in his eyes even at this distance. "Go away," Malfoy snapped.
As Harry watched, Malfoy strode over to where they had stashed their brooms. He grabbed a broom and mounted it. "Wait," Harry said as he hurried over, but Malfoy had already risen up into the air. Harry sighed as he watched Malfoy fly off.
A single purple flower floated down to the ground and Harry picked it up.
"What do you want?" Malfoy asked abruptly. His hand was holding the door open, just enough for his face to poke through. It was blatantly obvious that he didn't want to see or talk to Harry.
Harry could feel his stomach twist slightly as he saw the cold look, pinched look on Malfoy's face. "I want to talk," he said and then hesitated. "Can I come in?"
"I'm sorry..." Harry said. "I'm sorry for just leaving last night."
Malfoy's eyes flashed. "You left me in the middle of a fucking field of snakes."
"They wouldn't have attacked," Harry protested. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Harry regretted them. He'd come here to apologise and instead he'd managed to antagonise Malfoy even more. Malfoy's lips twitched and his hand moved to close the door but Harry stuck his hand out to stop him. The door slammed against his hand. "Ouch!"
A brief look of sympathy flickered over Malfoy's face before it hardened again. "You deserved that, Potter."
Harry winced. "Probably," he agreed. "But I'm sorry, okay. Can we go out for a drink then? I want to talk."
Malfoy snorted. "You want to go out for drinks with me?"
"I want to explain why I left last night," Harry told him.
"I would have thought that was fairly obvious. You decided that I didn't need your help. Except you didn't decide that when we were in Diagon Alley or when we were mincing up the ingredients, you decided that when we were in the middle of a field of mating snakes!"
The words were out of his mouth before Harry could stop himself. "Well, you were a Slytherin, you can't mind them that much."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "It wasn't as though the Slytherin common room had snakes everywhere. In fact, we didn't have any."
"I know." Harry could have kicked himself. After being a recluse for so long and only having a cactus to talk to, his mouth seemed to be running away with itself.
"You know?" Malfoy's voice was dangerously quiet.
"I, um, may have been into your common room once or twice," Harry mumbled.
Malfoy's face darkened and Harry prepared for the worst. He was rather surprise when Malfoy gave a rather bitter laugh. "And they thought that Slytherin House were the bad ones."
"We needed to investigate," Harry protested.
"Uh huh," Malfoy said, a sceptical look in his eyes. "And what would you have said if I'd snuck into the Gryffindor common room. In fact, what did you tell me a few days ago when I stepped into your garden?"
Harry bit his lip and decided not to tell Malfoy about the Polyjuice Potion that they had used. "I'm sorry. About last night and about sneaking into your common room. Come on, I can't just stand here on your doorstep all afternoon. I'm sure your neighbours are wondering what's going on."
"My neighbours aren't nosy people," Malfoy said pointedly.
Harry let out a long breath and tried to speak calmly. There was just something about Malfoy that infuriated him. "I just didn't think you needed me for most of this potion gathering exercise. I mean, I don't know much about potions, and those snakes weren't very aggressive."
Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "There was still a field of them."
"They weren't attacking you," Harry pointed out.
Malfoy closed his eyes and leaned against his doorframe. "If I tell you why I asked you to help me on the potion, will you go away and leave me alone?"
Harry frowned and then nodded.
He was surprised when Malfoy's pale cheeks coloured slightly. "I wanted to talk to you," he said.
Harry blinked rapidly. Malfoy wanted to talk to him? "What?" he spluttered.
"I wanted to talk to you," Malfoy said, his voice slightly louder.
"I heard you," Harry said. "I... but... why?"
Malfoy shrugged. "Is it so odd that somebody would want to talk to you, Potter?"
Harry had to admit that wasn't so odd. The odd part was the fact that Draco Malfoy wanted to talk to him. "Yes, but you? Why?"
"You're not that bad," Malfoy said, his tone exasperated. "In fact, you can be quite entertaining at times."
Harry's mouth dropped open. There was something in Malfoy's voice that was beginning to make him wonder.... Certain things he had noticed over the past few days were now slotting into place. The looks that Malfoy kept on giving him, the fact that Malfoy had come to him instead of using some sort of underhanded method of getting the journals. "You wanted the pleasure of my company?" Harry said, with disbelief.
"I suppose," Malfoy said slowly, his cheeks pink.
"Oh." Harry wasn't sure what to say. His heart was suddenly hammering in his chest and he was feeling flushed as though he had a fever. He had never considered the idea that Malfoy might like him. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do with this information.
"So," Malfoy said. "I told you why. Now can you remove yourself from my doorstep?"
Harry took a step backwards. Malfoy's words were still echoing in his head. Malfoy actually wanted to talk to him. Malfoy enjoyed his company. Harry found his eyes drawn down to the paleness of the skin on Draco's hand that was propped up against the doorframe. There was a fluttering in his stomach and suddenly, Harry realised something. "Look, Malfoy," he said quickly before the other man could close the door.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow.
"Do you still want to go out for that drink?" Harry said hurriedly before he could lose his nerve.
Malfoy's eyebrow lifted even higher.
"Maybe, now?" Harry added.
"You want to go out for a drink with me?" Malfoy said, sounding disbelieving. "I suppose you want to quiz me more on the potion and my motivations."
Harry shook his head. "I thought we could talk about... uh... " He frowned. He hadn't had a proper conversation for ages. His letters to Ron and Hermione tended to be mostly asking them about their lives. He wasn't sure he knew how to hold a real conversation any more. "Cacti?"
"Cacti?" Malfoy's lips twitched.
"Cacti," Harry confirmed. "I have a cactus on my windowsill."
Malfoy sighed. "Look, Potter, how about we let me pick the conversation topics."
"So..." Harry hesitated.
Malfoy stepped outside and closed the door behind him. He smoothed down his robes. "I suppose we can go into Hogsmeade for that drink."
It was dark and noisy inside the pub, but Harry didn't feel uncomfortable. Several of the other patrons looked over at them as they sat down at a booth, but Harry just ignored them. Malfoy raised an eyebrow as Harry ordered them both pints of butterbeer.
"You still drink that?"
Harry shrugged. "It's nicer than some of the other wizarding drinks."
"That's because it barely has any alcohol," Malfoy pointed out. "You did know that, didn't you?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Of course, I did!"
"Just checking," Malfoy said with a smirk as their beers appeared in front of them. He took one sip out of his and wrinkled his nose. "This is really quite sickly."
"It's still nicer than Firewhiskey," Harry said.
"I think everything's better than Firewhiskey," Malfoy muttered as he waved his wand to flag the bartender down. "Can I have something else," he said, pointing at his drink. "Anything else?"
Harry laughed as, half a minute later, a Firewhiskey appeared in front of Malfoy. "Serves you right, Malfoy."
Malfoy just glared at him.
"So," Harry said as he took a gulp of his butterbeer. "I guess you managed to get the flower things last night?"
Malfoy nodded. "Severus has already started brewing the potion. It should take a week or so to complete and then it'll be ready for testing."
"Don't you need Ministry permission or something?" Harry asked, with a frown.
"Not if we have consent from the werewolf," Malfoy said. There was a twist to his smile. "You know the laws for werewolves. Even Granger couldn't get them upped to full human status."
Harry looked down into his butterbeer, feeling awkward. He hadn't been out of the house in such a long time and even before, he had never exactly been smooth in situations like this. "Did you know that Severus was the one who said that you might have Dumbledore's journals?" Malfoy said abruptly. Harry suddenly had the notion that he wasn't the only person feeling out-of-his depth. That made him feel better.
As what Malfoy said sunk in, Harry looked up from his beer and stared. "Snape suggested that you come and find me?"
Malfoy snorted. "He did. I thought it was strange but he insisted that you would have the journals."
A sudden thought occurred to Harry and he almost spat out his butterbeer. "You don't think... you don't think that Snape put them in my vault?"
Malfoy tilted his head to one side, looking like a bird. "No, of course not," he said finally.
Harry nodded. "You're right. But imagine if that happened! It'd be as though Snape was playing matchmaker."
There was a sudden flare in Malfoy's eyes, and Harry gulped. "Matchmaker," Malfoy repeated evenly.
Harry could feel his stomach doing back flips at the sudden heat in Malfoy's eyes. It wasn't just his stomach either. It was strange. He wasn't attracted to Malfoy, was he? Yet, his cock twitched; it seemed to be distinctly interested in the way Malfoy seemed to be examining him intently.
Perhaps Malfoy just liked him as a friend. Harry realised that he didn't like that idea - maybe it was just because he had been celibate for a really, really long time, but was it possible that it was Malfoy in particular he wanted to be interested in him? Harry gulped and fidgeted in his chair, hoping he wasn't giving anything away about his sudden and inconvenient feelings. "So," Harry said quickly, wanting to change the topic. "Have you been here before?"
Malfoy stared at him. "You're a terrible conversationalist."
Harry narrowed his eyes. "You're not that much better." He couldn't help but feel a sense of relief. They were on familiar, comfortable ground before. He couldn't have been attracted to Malfoy, regardless of what his cock seemed to think about the matter. It was just a brief moment of weakness, nothing more. It wasn't as though he hadn't been attracted to men before. They just didn't happen to be his childhood rival from Hogwarts. Harry looked down at his beer to stop himself from visually tracing Malfoy's face.
Malfoy smirked. "Least I don't keep a cactus on my windowsill."
"Hey!" Harry protested as he gestured for the bartender to refill his butterbeer. The bartender pointed his wand over and the glass refilled itself. "I bet you have some very odd habits."
"I don't," Malfoy said smugly.
"No, you just don't think they're odd," Harry told him.
Malfoy rolled his eyes lifted up his shot glass of Firewhiskey and downed it in one go.
Harry lifted an eyebrow. "I thought you didn't like that stuff?"
There was a strange look in Malfoy's eyes that sent a shiver down Harry's spine. "Then," he said slowly, "why'd you drink it."
Malfoy shrugged and gestured for the glass to be refilled. "It's better than butterbeer."
"You said it was worse before."
"It's better to get drunk with."
Harry opened his mouth to ask why Malfoy wanted to get drunk but then he closed it again. Undoubtedly Malfoy would use the opportunity to berate him about leaving him in a field of snakes. He looked up from his butterbeer to see Malfoy downing the second shot of Firewhiskey like it was water. Malfoy licked his lips and Harry found himself holding his breath at the sight of Malfoy's tongue. Why couldn't he stop looking at Malfoy? It wasn't even as though he was drunk or anything. Over the past few days, Harry had found himself increasingly noticing small things about Malfoy. Like the way he kept on brushing down his robes or the way Malfoy always arched his left eyebrow.
"You're staring, Potter," Malfoy said bluntly.
Harry gave a start. He considered denying it, but he had been too obvious. "I'm just wondering why you're drinking so much Firewhiskey," he lied.
Malfoy's eyes glittered. "I don't think that's what you were thinking."
"Of course I was," Harry protested. He was curious, now that he thought about it. For somebody who claimed he hated the stuff, Malfoy sure drank it awfully quickly.
Malfoy's grey eyes were dark and Harry shivered as he stared into them. Malfoy's tongue darted out again to lick his lips. "So I'd have the courage to do this..."
Harry inhaled sharply as Malfoy leaned over. He could smell Firewhiskey on Malfoy's breath but somehow it didn't smell as terrible as it normally did. Malfoy's lips were soft and warm and sent a curl of heat down to Harry's stomach, making his cock even harder. The kiss was awkward, their teeth clicking together before Malfoy shifted and moved closer to him, but it was still one of the best kisses Harry had ever had. "Oh," Harry said as Malfoy pulled back. He could feel his heart pounding.
Harry suddenly realised that he did like Malfoy. There was no other explanation for the pleasant shivery feeling that went through him and his very strong urge to push Malfoy down and snog the hell out of him right there in the booth. "That was..." Malfoy said, seemingly speechless. His cheeks were flushed.
"That was good," Harry said quietly.
Malfoy seemed to recover. He straightened up and winked as he looked down at Harry's robes. "I think we can go back to my place now."
After a brief pause, Harry nodded.
Harry carefully poured a tiny amount of water into the container that held his cactus. He had found that it only needed a very, very small amount of water to survive. He then poured more water into flowerpot that held the rose next to the cactus. "There," he said, with satisfaction. "Now you can both grow nice and strong."
Malfoy's arms encircled his waist from behind. "You're odd," he said, his words muffled slightly.
"Probably," Harry agreed. He shivered as Malfoy's lips brushed the tip of his ear.
He could almost hear Malfoy raising an eyebrow. "Probably? I'd say that it's definite. You're talking to a cactus."
"And a rose," Harry pointed out as he put the water container down on the windowsill. "Don't forget the rose."
Malfoy snorted. "How could I forget? The damn thing has a very strong smell."
"A nice smell, though," Harry told him. He sniffed slightly. His kitchen had smelled much better since the introduction of the rose. He just hoped that this one would survive better than the last time he had tried to introduce roses.
Malfoy just laughed.
"So," Harry said as he turned around. "Do we have a date for the first test?"
Malfoy nodded. "If all goes well, next week. And then, if it works, my article should appear in the Prophet within the month."
"Excellent," Harry breathed out as he leaned forward. Malfoy's lips were soft against his own and his breath tasted of mint. Harry shivered as he could feel Malfoy hardening against him; he could feel the familiar rush sweeping through him. Harry didn't think he could ever get tired of this. His own cock twitched pleasantly as Malfoy moved his hips.
Malfoy pulled back, his eyes gleaming. "Bedroom?"
"Of course," Harry said with a grin.