By Blythe & Circe
PART ONE ~ PART TWO ~ PART THREE~ PART FOUR
Harry crossed the road into Smithfield Market just as the last of the packing trucks were pulling away. He couldn't help himself — he craned his head up to look at the roof, a gesture he repeated every time he came here. It was amazing really; hard to believe the place was a meat market. Of course, historically, it was also a place where they burned witches and slaughtered rebel nationalists. Very nasty.
Some days the dragons on the arch stretched a claw at him, but not today. Not for the first time that week Harry's hand twitched to his jacket pocket and came back empty.
He cut through St Barts to one of the arcane, boutique-y side streets that mazed back to Aldersgate, then paused in a shop doorway. Goyle and Smithfield weren't exactly Marauder's Map quality directions and not even his trusty A-Z would be helpful. Thanks awfully, Poppy, Harry thought, and cursed Malfoy. Tuesday evening, just as they'd agreed, but Malfoy wasn't in the shop when Harry'd stopped by. Of course he bloody wasn't. No, instead it was Goyle, Smithfield, Slytherin sodding obfuscation, and an unnecessary trip to Diagon Alley, when the last thing Harry—
He took a deep breath.
Maybe he should just head to the Great Eastern, he thought, and have a drink at the Aurora Bar. It wasn't too far away and the tall, blond Russian consultant who'd been at the office on business all week had a sixth floor room and a standing offer for Harry to fuck him. Which, given the suspect state of Harry's files, might not be a bad idea.
"Gah," he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He really needed that damn wand.
"Excuse me, sir, we're closing." A large man with a bad moustache opened the door, gave him a speaking look (and the message wasn't polite), flipped the OPEN sign backward, and shut the door again.
Harry obligingly stepped back out into the street. He peered through the window, however, happy for the distraction. It was a jewellers — the crest of the Goldsmith's Guild on a little plaque in the display — and there were a number of diamond and platinum engagement bands there, the usual fare.
"I've already ordered for you. Why are you skulking around out here?"
He whirled around. Malfoy was standing behind him, hands jammed into the pockets of an over-sized black jacket with a high mandarin collar. Since Harry had last seen him, Malfoy had acquired stubble in varying shades of gold (no errant ginger for him, of course) and a smudge of dust across the bridge of his nose.
There were a number of things he could say, but Harry wasn't at school any more, nor was he fifteen. He was a successful merchant banker with a flat to die for and an owl who loved him. He wasn't going to get into a pissing match with a stick-fiddler who'd always driven him mad. He was bigger than that.
Stepping closer, Malfoy cocked his head as he studied the display. "If that's an F colour, I'm a garden gnome. I never work with diamonds. No magic in them."
Harry smirked. "There is if your money's on a coup in Sierra Leone."
Goyle and Smithfield apparently translated into Goyle's of Smithfield — an intimate little place by the Guildhall of the Worshipful Company of Butchers.
Harry was surreptitiously watching their fellow patrons. A clearly Muggle couple was laughing over their aperitifs, while at the gracious curve of the bar a witch who bore more than a passing resemblance to Cosine Sinistra drank brandy with a handsome older wizard.
Muggles and wizards. It boggled the mind.
"Surely you've been to enough restaurants in London to realize that not even wizards drink enough to cover the overhead."
Harry shook his head in wonderment. Times changed and he'd been out of the loop. "So, is that really—?"
"Hogwarts professors have social lives, Harry. I know, I know, it's hideously embarrassing, like catching your parents having sex."
Images of Lucius Malfoy flooded his poor, already beleaguered brain. "Ugh."
"Yes, well, imagine my virgin distress when she deflowered Blaise and he insisted on telling me about it in graphic detail during double Arithmancy."
"Wait — Zabini and Professor Sinistra?"
"Harry, even the fortune-telling horse knew about that one." Malfoy paused, rubbing his thumb over the bowl of his wine glass. "You know, I really had guessed solicitor."
"Order more wine," Harry said, and took a bite of blue cheese and walnut. His initial impatience had softened under the influence of the first bottle and the anticipation of the main course to come.
Malfoy tossed off a mock salute and bent his head to the waiter's. Harry was momentarily captured by the aesthetics of the scene and he was taken off guard when a broad shadow fell across their table.
The last time he'd seen Gregory Goyle was just before those final days at Hogwarts. The Slytherins had gradually disappeared from school — Malfoy one of the first, Goyle one of the last — and then things had gotten so complicated that worrying about classmates he'd never liked was the least of his priorities.
He didn't remember Goyle being quite so smiley though.
"Draco, stop molesting my staff."
"Greg, so good of you to leave the kitchen long enough to say hello. That's sarcasm, by the way; you'd have time to know that if you stopped working so hard."
"Harry, nice to see you. Draco said you might be stopping by."
Harry blinked and then again. Goyle's shirtsleeves were rolled up underneath his pristine white apron. The snake of the Death Eater's mark was surrounded by flowering ivy, a tangle of ink turning ugly to interesting and maybe even beautiful.
"Goyle. Uh, hi."
"You see," continued Malfoy, "Greg doesn't understand the concept of work-life balance."
Harry shook his head. "So says the man with bits of wood underneath his fingernails."
"And the markets never sleep, yes, yes, I do realise that I'm preaching to the unconverted, Harry, but I believe that restaurant or no, this man should take more than one holiday a year—" He paused. "—and by that I mean a holiday, not an excuse for interior design."
"You said you liked the Moorish influences in the tilework." Goyle looked long-suffering.
Malfoy sniffed. "And so I do. And the couscous was excellent. But that's not the point."
Harry sat there and listened, hands underneath the table twitching for his wand and toying with his mobile instead. There was something so surreal about the fact that he was dining in this particular company that it almost defied thinking about. Hermione would have been proud, he thought with the tinge of regret that always accompanied those sorts of memories; she always did go on about inter-House cooperation.
"Greg, I'm hungry," Malfoy was whining.
"The bream is superb tonight," said Goyle. And if it was hard to think of Malfoy as "Draco" it was downright impossible to think of this burly restaurateur as "Greg".
"Fuck the bream," said Draco Malfoy. "Bring me my venison."
Harry managed to restrain himself until he was down to the final tender morsel of his exquisitely seared fish.
"So, when can I have it?"
Malfoy blinked, pausing in his rapt contemplation of the pomme frites. "Smooth as ever, I see."
"I thought I'd be getting it tonight." Harry could hear the petulant note in his voice and hated it, but the edginess had been building all week. Being without his wand meant that he'd missed the inside track on the Beijing deal. Being without his wand had meant that Ethan hadn't come down the four points, not even three. Hell, being without his wand had meant Harry'd had to wait for a black cab.
It was intolerable.
"So am I." Harry frowned across the table.
Draco flicked his hand into the air, motioning to the waiter.
Stifling his impatience, badly, Harry waited until the dishes had discreetly vanished themselves. "Malfoy, I'm not trying to be rude, but I really must have my wand. A wand. Any wand."
"Because—" He lowered his voice but it didn't stop people glancing over. "Because."
"Malfoy, I don't want to make a scene in your friend's restaurant." Harry ground out."I'm paying you for it, what difference does it make?"
"Potter, why do you need a wand so badly if you can't use it properly?"
The abrupt use of his surname, the audacity of the question, the return of bloody Malfoy shocked him into silence.
The other man leaned across the table, his grey eyes narrowed and cold, mouth sneering. "You want a wand, Potter? I can give you a wand. Anything you want, won't make a difference and it's not like you'd know any better. That stuff about the wand choosing the wizard, that's not half of it and I'd explain if I thought you'd give a damn."
Harry drew back, feeling absurdly like he'd been struck and not liking it one bit. He remembered now: he didn't like this Malfoy. He didn't like the thought that this Malfoy didn't like him.
"I just need a wand," he snapped. "I—"
Malfoy sighed, pouring large amounts of sugar into the Turkish coffee that had appeared in front of him. With the simple motion he seemed to deflate, shrink back again to a slightly rumpled man with faint circles under his eyes and touchable hair.
"Harry, you were happy to sit down and dine with me an hour ago. A bit pissy, maybe, but I'd attribute that to your natural tendency towards being a git rather than any deliberate malice. I've already told you that you're not my average customer — and trust me, it's no flattery. Listen when I tell you that a wand isn't going to solve your problem."
"I know that. And I thought I already told you that I've done the Harley Street route."
He wasn't going to get into this here, not in Goyle's restaurant. Not in front of everyone. But apparently he was, because it seemed that Malfoy was just as adept at getting under his skin as he had been all those years ago, whether he looked the part any longer or no.
"Do you think you're the first to hassle me about this? Do you think I haven't tried everything. Anyway, what the fuck do you care? It's no business of yours."
Malfoy regarded him over the rim of his cup. "For what it's worth, I do care. You're not the only one who takes pride in his work. And I'm sorry for—"
"Don't even think it."
"—for being an ass just now," Malfoy finished smoothly. "But it would help me greatly if you explained more completely your symptoms."
Not pity, then, thank Christ, but maybe something worse. "I should have known."
"Oh?" Malfoy's tone was stiff again, icy, a sharp contrast to the burning of Harry's own words. Harry felt something twist inside him: was he pleased that he'd effected this, that Malfoy still responded to him in this way?
"Nothing works, alright? Sometimes it does, mostly it doesn't. I can't even sit here without the dishes and the cooking and whatever the hell perfume Professor Sinistra's wearing doing my head in. Is that what you wanted to hear? If a Death Eater came after me, I'd be as helpless as a muggle."
This being Goyle's restaurant it probably wasn't the best time to admit that. For all he knew, Flint was sous-chef while Crabbe washed dishes.
Malfoy said nothing, just sat there looking smaller-than-Harry-remembered in his too-big black jacket. Then he put his coffee down with a clatter. "Harry, the days when I cursed your marmalade with impotence charms or actively plotted to kill you are long past."
"I suppose you're into healing then? Is that why you're so interested? Can you mend my damaged aura, Malfoy? The crystals — I should have known."
Malfoy's face reddened almost comically. Harry felt perverse satisfaction that he'd finally cracked that cold façade and found the heat.
"The cryst — fuck Merlin, no! I'm a scientist! Ollivander trained me!" Malfoy's wand fell from his sleeve into his hand as he jerked up from the table, rattling the sugar bowl. He spun viciously in place and:
Harry stared blankly at the space where Malfoy had been, the rippling aftershocks of the disapparation crawling up his arms and tightening the muscles of his shoulders.
Right. Well, that was probably one of the stupider things he'd done lately. There went his wand. There went Malfoy.
"Pudding?" he suggested.
"Erm," said Harry. "Can I get the bill?"
Goyle sat down in the seat Malfoy had recently vacated. Harry stared at his tattoo. "I didn't really mean that," Harry said, meaning all of it, meaning none of it.
"Sure you did," said Goyle.
"When I was twelve," Goyle told him, "my mother put me on the Kwikspell course. If it weren't for Draco, I probably would have gotten laughed out of Hogwarts."
Harry had a sudden, vivid memory of just how large Gregory Goyle had been at twelve and thought it highly unlikely. "Oh," he said lamely, painfully aware that he was only a fourteen-sickle purchase away from Kwikspell's Remedial Charms Primer himself.
"He was only trying to help," said Goyle.
"That's what they all say," muttered Harry, but his anger was fading, replacing itself with that familiar blend of frustration and self-pity. Chased by regret that he'd clearly offended Malfoy, who probably was only trying to help.
There was a painful pinging against Harry's temples and Malfoy snapped back into existence. Harry felt an almost disproportionate amount of relief. Malfoy began throwing stack after stack of parchment down onto the table.
"Prophet, Sunday the 18th. My column debunking the myths about muggle wi-fi affecting wizarding health. Prophet, three weeks ago. That bollocks about yarrow influencing the magical potency of a fetus. Dangerous and irresponsible, and can you believe it, the mediwizards they've quoted from St Mungo's weren't even consulted before The Quibbler went to print—"
For the first and hopefully only time in his life, Harry looked to Goyle for an explanation.
"Draco writes the Bad Magic column," Goyle said.
And clearly that was supposed to mean something?
Malfoy ignored them, saying eagerly, "You went to see Clytemenestra Kingsfoil, I'm sure. She's since been banned from practicing in Britain. Who else?"
Letting his fingers riffle through the pages of the nearest newspaper, Harry said, reluctantly, "The prominent Healers. Ones with discretion. But when there were no results, I stopped. I couldn't exactly trust that my problem would stay secret and back then, well, I didn't want to put my friends in danger. If it got known that I couldn't—" He stopped, started: "And I don't mind, most of the time."
"Hmmm. By no results you mean no immediate results, I assume." Harry looked for the insult, but Malfoy appeared more thoughtful than disparaging. "I need to think about this."
"I thought you'd been thinking about it all week."
Malfoy's swift little smile was as engaging as it was unexpected. "No immediate results doesn't mean no results."
Goyle's big hand came down on Harry's shoulder briefly before he disappeared back into the kitchen. Harry watched him go, bemused, then turned back to Malfoy.
"I want a wand." Harry stared at him until Malfoy's pale brows rose in acknowledgement. He needed to make it very clear.
"Why do you care?"
"Why do you want a wand so badly?"
"Because I'm a wizard, for fuck's sake!"
There was that smile again. "In that case, I'll expect to see you in my workshop for further tests," said Malfoy, and Harry was left discomfited, watching that smile and wondering just whose point had been made, after all.
It was long past midnight.
The moonlight on the Thames was weak and grey, filtered to negligibility by the promise of next morning's rain. Harry stood at his bedroom window, watching the buoys bob and definitely not thinking about Draco Malfoy.
The annual report of a Korean shipping company lay unopened on the slate bedclothes. He turned his mobile phone over and over again in his hand, considering. He sat on the bed and picked up the report.
Fuck it. Tossing the Koreans aside, he dialed the number. A few moments later, the phone rang.
He lay back on the bed, closing his eyes. "Everything started to go wrong and then it kept on not working. I was never very good at any of the subtleties, you know. It was always so easy. I guess that's because everything else was so hard. I'd just want it, and it would happen. Just before I kil — yeah. It was so strong." He swallowed. "I never had to think about it, about the magic. It was just."
"Part of you."
"Yeah. Part of me."
He'd never mourned it properly, until this very moment, and it hurt.
"The Healers, the worst ones were the ones that tried to make it into my fault, something in my mind. One of them, this asshole, said I was repressing, said I was feeling guilt over what happened." Drawing an unsteady breath, he continued, "Another one said I was afraid. That I'd seen what my magic could do, what I was capable of, and this was a natural defense mechanism, my body's way of telling me no."
Harry waited, but there was no response. Hesitantly, he said — and the words took a while to come because he'd never said them aloud before — "I wondered if it's because I died."
There was a small sound on the other end of the line. After a moment, Malfoy replied, "The weight of anecdote is not data. If we're going to look at possible causation, we might as well throw in the fact that you grew up in a dismal muggle cupboard or the fact that I never once saw you eat a green vegetable during six years at school."
"Thanks, Malfoy. That actually helps."
"Think nothing of it," Malfoy said briskly. "All part of the twenty-four hour service, apparently. You know, Harry, some of us do have business hours."
Harry laughed, when just seconds before he wouldn't have thought it possible. "I'm sorry about tonight," he said.
"Yes, well, the cupboard is responsible for your appalling manners, that's indisputable."
Maybe it was because he'd already said so much. But he couldn't stop himself, couldn't stop his next words from tumbling out. "What sort of men do you like, Malfoy?"
He could feel that old Malfoy smirk.
"I like the ones who make me laugh." Then Malfoy was gone, the echo of his own laughter trailing down the line, brighter than the moon outside.
Open now for a good chunk of the year, St Pancras International had lost its shiny new sparkle but still maintained that certain gloss that only high-vaulted neo-Victorian retrofits funded by multiple levels of government and rabidly active local business associations could successfully pull off.
At quarter past seven in the morning, the longest champagne bar in Europe didn't tempt, though Seb was an ardent supporter of the platform champers shag. In his honour, Harry did a reflexive trawl of the morning café crowd as he passed through on his way to the down escalators. Christ, but it was easy to spot the visitors from the continent mixed in with the ill-dressed commuters. He shook his head – partly in astonishment, partly to drive away the Portuguese man trying hard to hand him a free paper. He would never understand the appeal of British high street apparel, Kate Moss included, not in all of his magically-extended lifetime.
Harry had tried to time it right, but unfortunately he was a bit early up to the platform. This meant that he was subjected to a good five minutes of waiting before he was allowed to board the train.
Waiting ... right by the wizarding travellers' lounge, which was hidden between the third arch and a rank of luggage trolleys. Not quite so bad as a stroll through the City, but far from comfortable. One imagined the comforts of the lounge itself were manifold given how the dissonance was making his teeth ache, but Harry was damned if he was going to attempt a walk through the solid wall to see for himself.
Julie, bless her, had booked him Business Premier. So it was with a sigh of distinct pleasure that he eventually settled in, soothed his ruffled nerves and took advantage of the unlimited express breakfast.
Somewhere under the Channel he started to think about Draco Malfoy, so he took that as a cue to pull out the executive summaries that would, Suresh promised, make clear to him how a protein from a Cameroonian bug would cure Alzheimers and stop Harry forgetting what day to pick up his drycleaning.
It wasn't that Harry wasn't interested in the details: he quite liked reading the New Scientist on occasion, but the average chemist's enthusiasm for a groundbreaking discovery meant they omitted vital details like how long R&D was going to take and just how much capital investment they expected for test tubes. Thankfully, the literature wasn't too dense, and by the time the train pulled in Harry was quietly convinced they were on to a good prospect.
Gare du Nord bustled as he pushed his way through the commuters (as opposed to the ill-dressed visitors from the island) and made his way out into the sunshine. The offices of Cortech were situated in Paris's biotech hotspot, just down the rue from the Institut Pasteur, so he flagged a cab and went over his notes en route.
He presented himself at the desk. "Harry Potter. Ici pour Jerome Roubichaud."
Harry had met Jerome before, at a biotech conference in Alsace where Harry had blagged his way through free champagne and the pain of listening to absolute gobbledygook for three days. But it had netted him a lot of useful contacts — the French were big into biotech, third in Europe, and like any good Brit Harry was always happy to stick one to the Germans by scooping the next big thing before they did.
Jerome had a lot to offer Harry. Even if he didn't know it yet.
Perfect English inflection, perfect Gallic complexion, bloody fantastic ass. Yes, Harry thought, grinning in welcome and warmly clasping the other man's shoulder: Jerome did have a lot to offer.
"He'll tell you to make an appointment and clear off," Poppy told him frankly.
"No, really." Harry hooked his forefinger in the knot of his tie and pulled it loose. "He told me I could drop in anytime I was passing." It was vaguely true, if taken out of its original context.
Convivial didn't seem to work on Poppy tonight; given how many PAs he'd been through before Julie, Harry couldn't help but wonder what Malfoy had done to inspire such loyalty.
He blinked at the finger jabbing directly between his eyes. "Your idea. Your responsibility. If he comes out throwing things, I will clear the path for them to hit you."
Laying aside the accounts ledger she had been working on — the painstaking hand-drawn columns made Harry's mind reel from inefficiency — she jumped off her stool to head out the back, where presumably Ollivander's had some sort of consulting room.
Most likely Malfoy would have a fit if his precious schedule was interrupted, but during his walk home Harry had reasoned that someone whose workshop was such a terrifying mess couldn't be all that upset at a little bit of impromptu overtime. Hence the Diagon diversion. It was only seven, still light outside and warm; plenty enough time to pick out whatever bits and pieces Malfoy wanted to put into his designer wand, and maybe they could make it to the pub afterwards. A pub on Charing Cross, thanks very much.
"What the bloody hell is so—" Harry heard Malfoy's grumbles precede him down the hallway; Poppy slid back onto her stool with an I told you so expression of amusement.
"Potter. What do you want? Do you realise — of course you realise, you just don't give a rat's arse, do you — I have a customer. I'm trying to concentrate. Why are you bothering me?"
Harry had expected Malfoy to be a bit irked. Counted on it, really: he'd quite liked the twitchy ranting Malfoy fell into when he thought someone was being an idiot. He hadn't really expected him to go off one quite this much though.
"I have seen you use a telephone, so ignorance of that particular mode of communication can't be your excuse."
When in doubt, blame the post. "Hello," Harry said blandly, "I'm sure I sent Hedwig with a note." Malfoy's raised eyebrows conveyed that an owl-based excuse absolutely wasn't going to cut it, but Harry forged on: "Don't know what must have happened to her."
A small skeptical harrumph from Poppy put an end to any thoughts Harry had begun to entertain about offering unbilled advice on book-keeping. No subversion of the company structure by engaging the workforce, it seemed.
Malfoy was regarding him. "You need my expert consultation right now, I suppose?"
Before Harry could get his tongue around a reply, a lanky teenage girl in the new Falcons kit appeared from the corridor.
"Mr Malfoy? Can I put these down now? The red one's starting to make my hand go numb." Harry couldn't see what she was holding, but her palms were open in front of her. Malfoy held his hand up for pause at Harry and turned to retrieve the items, his tone much less aggrieved.
"The red one, you said?" A notebook flew into Malfoy's hand as he rummaged in his coat pocket for a pencil with the other. His agility gave Harry a flash of adolescent competitiveness — I can do that too — but it didn't linger.
Malfoy scribbled quickly and then shoved everything back into his pockets. "I'm so sorry we've been interrupted. Mr Potter would also apologise but he's an actuary so he has no manners."
The girl glanced over enthusiastically at Harry's name and Harry recognised her as Angelina Johnson's younger sister. The last time he'd seen her, she'd been wearing a frilly yellow dress and throwing petals from a basket at George's wedding.
Harry sighed. "I'm a banker."
Malfoy waved his hand dismissively; Harry ignored the little payback smile that followed.
"Hallo, Naomi," Harry held out his hand — a bit of a City reflex, but Naomi had the same upfront poise that her sister possessed and she managed to shake hands and flick her ponytail back at the same time.
"I hope you'll have your name on that shirt next season." Harry nodded at the Falcon's strip. According to any Weasley you asked, Naomi was a dead cert for a first division career.
"I've got a summer spot on the juniors."
"That's brilliant," Harry said.
"And your old trophy," Naomi went on, "actually, I got a bigger one because I broke your record for time."
Harry appreciated a frank display of ego in a young woman. "For whistle-to-Snitch?"
"By six minutes, 22 seconds.
"You've ruined my day," Harry said, impressed. "My week. Year."
Naomi flushed a little. "So my mum said I could have a new wand, like. That why you're here, then?"
Malfoy, leaning against the counter, folded his arms loosely across his work coat and cocked his head to the side, expression sliding into interest. He coughed. Meaningfully.
"Yeah," Harry said hurriedly, quite aware Poppy was observing the scene as if it were David Attenborough's take on conflict resolution in the urban male. "Look, love, about that." He beckoned Naomi to come closer.
Out of Malfoy's line of sight, he reached into his pocket. He'd meant to stop by the optician for his new glasses on the way to Diagon Alley, so he had about three hundred quid in his wallet.
"You're pretty quick on the uptake if you beat my record," Harry winked. "It's just, well, I got my appointment time wrong and I'm pretty busy."
"Ha, right," said Naomi. "Course."
To his credit, Malfoy was following along. "Don't be so vulgar, Mr Potter. You're offending my customers."
"Uh," Naomi shook her head vigorously, "No he's not." She grabbed the notes and shoved them in her pocket, and Harry let out a breath of relief that she'd been a good sport. "Really not. I'll just come back tomorrow then, alright?"
Malfoy sighed, glaring at Harry. "No. Same time next Monday."
Harry supposed a better man might feel more contrite about paying off Malfoy's customers to suit his own ends, but a better man would probably be managing the produce aisle at Tesco and queuing up for the bus every morning.
"I'm off after this," Poppy gestured at the ledger on the counter. "Do you need anything?"
"No no," Malfoy said absently, still looking at Harry, and Harry realised that those disconcerting grey eyes had been on him almost unwaveringly since he'd appeared. "Just lock up behind you, ta."
Leaving Poppy casting a nasty-sounding alarm spell, Harry followed Malfoy down the hallway. He wondered if Malfoy would mention the late-night phone call; there was a strange current of familiarity in his demeanour that Harry could only attribute to the midnight disclosures about his problem.
Malfoy stopped in front of a door; Harry peered past him to see a couple of comfortable chairs, their fabric patterned in diamonds by shafts of evening sun through the leaded windows. The room reminded Harry of some of the nicer LSB offices: heavy oak, airy light, intermittent piles of paper. The table was nothing like LSB, though: it was strewn with bits of wood and crystal.
"Hmm," said Malfoy. "I think downstairs might be more suited to our purpose." He took out his wand and the clutter on the table began to organise itself into a series of wooden trays, stacking up neatly to be buckled by a leather strap.
"Do I not get your fancy consulting chambers?" Harry asked, leaning on the doorframe as Malfoy shifted the trays up onto a tastefully arranged bookshelf.
Malfoy looked around him as if he'd never considered the room might be appealing. "By all means, if you wish. I just anticipate you'll be a difficult case whose wand requires obscure elements, and these kits," he tapped the top tray, "only cover so much."
"You're the expert," Harry said.
"Also I'm lazy, and I don't fancy hiking the stairs from the workshop much more today. And I'm dying for a cup of tea."
"Six and a half minutes, eh? That's got to sting." Malfoy had his head tipped back, guzzling Earl Grey, and Harry was watching him swallow.
No he wasn't.
"I've moved on," Harry said drily, Ron's voice at the back of his head. "Besides, I'll bet you fifty Galleons it was only a Plumpton Pass."
Unaccountably, Malfoy's tiny smile seemed dazzling. Harry glanced away, down at the dented wooden surface of the workbench he was sat at. His untouched teacup jittered slightly in the saucer, and Harry stopped it with his fingertip. Anxiety was always the hardest thing to hide.
"Oh — oops, don't drink too much of that. Sorry, wait a second—" There was a scrape of metal on wood as Malfoy summoned a small stool across the floor. He hefted a large glass bottle down from one of the high shelves and poured out a measure into a goblet.
"—you should have this." Malfoy jammed the cork back in with the heel of his palm and gave the goblet to Harry.
"What's in here?" Harry sniffed nervously at the liquid. It was a potion, moving almost imperceptibly of its own accord; the consistency of cream, but the colour of a quality Dutch beer.
"Nothing that will harm you. I'm not going to try and poison my customers, obviously." Malfoy frowned slightly, as if he were more confused than affronted by Harry's question, and dunked his finger in the potion, sucking it off with a pop.
Yes, I see, Harry thought. Either Malfoy actually was a single-minded geek about this wandmaking business, or he was an irritatingly laidback kind of flirt.
"It smells chalky." Harry swirled the goblet around and watched the liquid cling to the sides, dropping back down. "Like earth." He took a cautious sip, watching Malfoy across the table from over the top of the goblet. Surprisingly, the liquid didn't taste chalky; it tasted like resin, like salty sap, but with some kind of effervescence that kept it from sticking and glugging in his throat.
"All of it," Malfoy gestured, and Harry drained back the last, tipping the goblet up into his mouth. The odd taste remained, and Harry gulped down the glass of water that Malfoy slid over to him.
"It's to aid concentration. It'll just stop you thinking about whether you've got clean socks to wear tomorrow, or, I don't know, the fluctuating yen. Whatever's on your mind that won't help me."
"Just so you know," Harry said, "if you are poisoning me, I have friends in low places."
"Oh how fascinating," Malfoy blinked at him. "Did you know that Terry Parkinson is my godfather?"
It was hard for a City banker not to skirt the edges of the Clerkenwell syndicate, geographically if not professionally. Harry had managed to stay off the Parkinson radar since he'd made the connection that Pansy's father and the less-than-mainstream financier were the same bloke. Shell companies were one thing: money-laundering from a man who could cast Imperius was another.
"There's a businessman who's maximised his crossover potential," Harry said casually.
The sun had begin to set as they talked, the sky peachy through the glass doors at the far end of the workshop. Harry watched as Malfoy brandished his wand around, adroit and precise, murmuring spells as he went. The goblet flew off to some far corner; a new set of trays appeared on the work surface in front of them; lights flickered on under the bench, revealing a light-panel beneath Malfoy's omnipresent pile-of-papers. Sitting down opposite him with a thud, Malfoy rucked his hair back and clasped his hands behind his head.
"So how much of this do you want explained as we go along? I don't imagine they taught you much science in your accounting course."
After his two days at Cortech Harry felt like a latent bio-boffin. He definitely had an excellent grasp on the RNA transcription processes involved in neurogenesis. At least ... he remembered the buzzwords. Technical vocabulary always stuck in his head, because after seven years at Hogwarts, clearly his brain translated all weird bits of jargon into spell incan'tations.
It would probably all go over his head — but he did think it would be fun to watch Malfoy in nerd-mode.
Harry tugged authoritatively at his cuffs. "Just keep talking until my eyes glaze over."
"Very well." Malfoy picked up his quill and tapped an imaginary point in the air.
"We know pretty much nothing about magic. Scientifically, that is. Biochemically, we're at about the same level as Aristotle was as regards physiological mechanisms—"
"Okay, okay, eyes glazing already." Harry held up his hands. "Think Sunday Times supplement level of detail."
Malfoy looked only mildly put out. "Lightweight."
"I spent last week in Paris listening to Alsatians rattle on about cyberbotanica and bioinformatics. And you don't have the sexy accent to make it worth my while."
"Says the Surrey boy," Malfoy coughed.
"You still see most of your old friends?" All of a sudden, it seemed very important to Harry that he know all about Malfoy's life outside Ollivander's."
Malfoy put down his quill and started to unstack the pile of trays. "You sound surprised. Why wouldn't I still see my friends?" He glanced up at Harry, bemused. "That Sorting business was about relationships just as much as personality, you know."
"So are you seeing anyone?"
When Malfoy frowned, one side of his face squinched up entirely, rearranging his even features into lopsidedness. Then the frown morphed back into the maddening little grin of amusement that Harry was beginning to think of as Draco's natural state.
"Not so as you'd notice," Malfoy said.
"How carefully do I have to look?" Harry shot back before he could stop himself.
"Oh dear," Malfoy shook his head, "I think you've metabolised my potion far too quickly."
The efficient way that "metabolised" rolled off Malfoy's tongue was terribly appealing to Harry. So was the skew of Malfoy's collar, pulled aside by the weight of his work coat, revealing skin. Harry leaned forward slightly.
"No no no, Harry. It's not me that I need you to concentrate on—"
There was a slight whistling through the air as Malfoy brought his hands together; the crack was sharp, cutting through the singular tug that kept him riveted on Malfoy. All of a sudden it broke: the dazzling aura surrounding Malfoy diminished, and Harry darted out his hand from reflex.
"—focus on your magic. That's better," said Malfoy.
Caught between Harry's fingers, a snitch vibrated. Its wings were a beautiful flutter of silvery motion, the surface textured and warm and alive. Harry breathed out slowly, realising with relief that the snitch wasn't hurting him, wasn't causing that queasy discomfort like most magical objects.
"Mmm," murmured Harry, cupping the snitch between both hands, letting it batter against his palms. The buzz was wonderfully familiar, an old friend he'd missed for years. It wasn't just the snitch; as well, the prickle of awareness at the base of his skull was newly resurgent, slotting his senses back into a world where they had more than five capabilities. He eyed up Malfoy's wand, sitting on the bench at arms reach, wondering what he might achieve.
"I like this potion," Harry said, stroking his thumb along the spine of the snitch's wing. "It helps."
"So do I," Malfoy said ruefully. "Sadly, the body builds up a tolerance. I'm sure it'd be classed as restricted if I bothered to register it properly."
"You should patent it." Harry opened his palm as the snitch folded its wings into itself and began to respire sleepily. Carefully, he put it in his pocket.
"Ever-vigilant for a business opportunity, aren't you?" Malfoy tutted. "You ready?"
Harry nodded. He felt unusually — pleasantly — calm. He'd never been overly enthusiastic about the mumbo jumbo yoga classes Ahmad occasionally conned him into, but it was the closest he'd come of late to his present sensation of ... connectedness.
"What do I do?"
"Tell me what you like," Malfoy gestured to the trays. He opened a drawer to his side and took out a strange contraption that looked like the innards of a pair of binoculars perched on a brass stand. "Or what you don't like, if that's easiest."
Divided into dozens of square compartments, the trays were full of different types of wood; strange scales, sinews and feathers, bits of dried plants; the last tray held rough crystals and rocks of different colours and translucency.
"Wood first." Malfoy placed a tray in front of Harry. Most of the compartments were completely inert to Harry's touch as he dithered over the slivers of wood and bark, their contents grey and insipid.
It wasn't too bad, though. Harry took his time, enjoying how little effort it took to sense the background thrum of magic. "These are the only two I like." He picked out the pieces, one a milky colour, the other dappled and knotty, and dropped them into Malfoy's outstretched palm.
Two more trays of wand-wood and only one other sample appealed, a golden piece with a straight grain. Malfoy made small noises to himself as he wrote notes, peering through his magnifying contraption alternately at Harry and the samples.
"What are they?" Harry couldn't make out Malfoy's handwriting upside-down.
"Cedar," Malfoy held up the dappled stick, "everyone likes the smell. This is rowan, and that's holly, which is probably just force of habit."
"I liked my old wand," Harry said. "Can I not have holly again?"
"The rowan will be more effective." Malfoy sat up. "It might take you a little longer to get used to, but what suits you as a teenager isn't necessarily going to work for you as an adult."
Harry felt a little sidelined. That wand had (not to understate matters) done plenty for him as an adult. "How do you know that?"
"Because it's my job." Malfoy turned the binocular-thingy around so the main lens was facing Harry. "Your old wand worked so well for you because of its history, Harry. Not through being perfectly suited — except for the phoenix feather, that was a bit of genius on the old man's part — but because you, in a manner of speaking, made it your bitch."
Malfoy smiled. "And now I'm going to make you an even better wand. Here, pay attention for two minutes while I explain." He held up the piece of holly took and took another from the tray. "At a very basic level, magic interacts with your body as a waveform, like light. Look through the big lens, just at the outline of my left hand."
Through the glass, Harry focused on the edge of Malfoy's fingers. The lens magnified everything, showing the nibbled tips of Malfoy's fingernails and smudges of ink over callouses. His hands were outlined with an untidy vibration, like the air molecules were brawling with magic.
"Wow," Harry said, pulling back to look at Malfoy's contraption, "this is brilliant. You normally only see magic—"
" —when it's about to kill you, yes." Malfoy looked terribly smug, but Harry didn't blame him. "Look again, right hand this time."
Harry swivelled the lens and peered at Malfoy's other hand. The magic around the piece of wood seemed much more orderly. Concentrating, Harry could even make out a regularity in the way the air was vibrating, a steady sort of oscillation that seemed to perfectly suit Malfoy's low-key persona. "So that's presumably your wand-wood?"
"Apple," Malfoy nodded. "I'm not fond of holly, so it's a more extreme difference than I was seeing on you, but I wanted to make the point that there's a systematic basis to all of this. Ollivander knew it but he didn't bother with it after a while. But then he was pushing two hundred."
Malfoy put the pieces of wood back in their trays and set them aside, turning the rowan around in his fingers. "I have some lovely heartwood that'll do nicely," he said absently, and then snapped his head up. "Right, so. To make a long story short, wands are a conduit for magic. You get a boost from anything that interacts positively with the natural frequencies you happen to buzz at. But wood and core are just the norms of the European craft, a lot of East Asian wands are ceramic, for instance."
Harry had heard a lot of passionate pitches in his career, yet Malfoy's fondness for his vocation wasn't overwhelming, just quiet and genuine. "What about the gemstones?" he asked. "That's new?"
"My own little harmonic amplification," Malfoy said, "useful and sparkly."
The core was done and dusted in a moment; Harry had poured over the trays despondently while Malfoy had rummaged through a back cupboard.
"Don't even bother," Malfoy called, "I know I have one here somewhere." He returned to the workbench with even more dust smudges on his white coat, clutching a handsome crimson feather in a piece of cloth.
"Phoenix?" Harry took the feather; almost immediately, it suffused him with the happiness of cloudless skies and a warm fireplace, and he laughed. "That would be a yes."
"That was Ollivander's real gift," Malfoy wrapped the feather up in the cloth again; careful, Harry noticed, not to touch it. "He had a knack for choosing the right kind of core. Probably helped that he travelled so much, saw so many things. There are cupboards and boxes in this place I still haven't sorted through."
"Do you? Travel much, I mean?"
"Poppy does most of it," Malfoy said. "I hate portkeys, long-distance Floo is still too experimental, and aeroplanes make me nauseous for days. If there's a train or a boat I'm alright."
Harry made a face. "Urgh, I hate boats. I had to take the ferry to Rotterdam once and my colleagues all thought I was drunk."
"Ah, the unpredictable joys of a magical constitution," Malfoy grumbled, rearranging trays again. "I wrote about it a few months back. One of the apothecaries off Knockturn was trying to get rich importing muggle gingko extract and claiming it stopped any sort of motion sickness. Obviously it doesn't, it just makes the person remember in detail how they threw up all the way to Majorca."
Harry eyed Malfoy. "That sounds like personal experience."
"Moving on to the gemstones," Malfoy yawned. "Sorry, I've been doing this since seven this morning and I'm knackered."
Harry tried not to sound disappointed. "I was going to suggest a quick drink afterwards. It's a nice night."
Malfoy paused as he adjusted the lens stand. "Perhaps not," he lifted his head up to smile, a little bleary now that Harry looked closer. "But I will most certainly say yes the next time you offer."
"Noted." Harry took in the array of crystals in front of him. "Choosing?"
Malfoy nodded, yawning again and summoning his teacup.
No-one in Harry's circle had any acquaintance with gemstones other than the panicked office consultations about engagement rings. The furthest Harry got in identifying the stones was guessing that the dark green ones were emerald and the nice blue ones were sapphires. Quite a few held some sort of resonance, though none gave him the thrill of the wood or the feather.
"They all feel ... vaguely useful," Harry picked up an intriguing column-shaped crystal, sea-green on the outside with a pink and white centre, a sort of Brighton Rock. "What's this?"
Malfoy glanced over. "Tourmaline. It's called a watermelon slice, with those colours. Poppy has it in her wand, actually."
Flamboyant enough to suit her, Harry thought. "Where'd you find her?" he asked, curious.
"Not so much found as acquired," Malfoy told him with a wry grin. "Her father's a proper Welsh nutter, a kind of nature journo for the WWN. Very ... enthusiastic. Poppy came in one day about two years ago with a fantastic collection of dragon scales and after I found out she knew where to get Diricawl feathers, well. If I'm not careful she'll be a full partner before I know it."
The warmth of recollection still in his eyes, Malfoy suggested, "Hold the rowan while you're choosing. It'll give you some contrast."
Malfoy was right; as soon as Harry closed his hand around the smooth piece of wood, the gemstones took on different grades of intensity. He chose two that felt better, brighter than the others, and set them aside. "These two are okay. Next tray?"
Malfoy made his scrunched-up face again. "I knew you'd be difficult. No, there are no other samples. Just my own collection." He sighed, put down his tea, and picked up the two stones Harry had chosen.
"Iolite." Malfoy looked interested. "This isn't that popular. It's strange, it works with two different types of magic. Has this property called pleochroism—"
"I thought it was a sapphire," Harry interrupted. The potion was beginning to wear off; he could feel his attention slipping.
"Used to be called a water sapphire," Malfoy mused, getting up. "And zircon. Hmmm. Might work, but it's far too brittle for you. I only ever put it in wands for old ladies who just use their wands on special occasions."
Harry briefly flashed back to the be-hatted customer from his first visit, and thought about how such a garishly twinkling gem would suit her.
"Right." Malfoy placed a large shallow case on the table, snapping open the clasps on the sides to open it out. Inside, dozens of clear boxes contained dazzling gems - proper cut stones, the type Harry saw in Theo Fennell's window at the Exchange. Each box had a small hand-written note card bearing the gem's name and what Harry thought must be the carat weight.
It was a beautiful collection, and Malfoy looked pleased when Harry said so.
"How long have you been a rock nerd?" Harry teased.
"Since my mother hired goblins to quarry out a lake just before I went to Hogwarts. It annoyed my parents if I got grubby and talked to the diggers, so of course I did. They're completely bonkers, those creatures, but they know their precious stones."
Harry picked up his piece of rowan and started to examine the gemstones. Some of them were huge and seemed to be of interest because of the flaws in the crystal. One piece of quartz had a starburst of gold threads inside it ("Rutilated quartz," Malfoy explained) and another cloudy flat stone looked like a miniature landscape of green moss.
"I like — oh. Fuck." Harry backtracked over the piece he was reaching for, feeling the strangest shiver spread up his forearm and across his shoulders, a liquid flush that made him shudder. Malfoy glanced at him sharply and flicked his gaze down to the stones.
"Which was it?"
"Wait—" Harry started to pick them up one by one, knowing as soon as he touched the right box. He plucked the lid off and took the stone from its cushion, cradling it in his palm. It was a deep green sparking with hints of other colours, cut in an oval about the size of his little fingernail.
"Alexandrite," he read from the card, "Urals, Russia." Harry closed his eyes briefly. "Never heard of it, but it's the one for me."
"So I can see," Malfoy said softly. "Tell me what it feels like?"
"Warm. Shivery. Powerful, like magic is buzzing in the tips of my fingers." Harry reached over and tapped them against Malfoy's forearm, aware that he was breathing rather fast.
"Ow, static." Malfoy flinched. He watched Harry through the lens for a moment, shaking his head slightly. "Good god, it's definitely the one for you."
Malfoy cast a daylight version of Lumos with his wand. "Let me show you something." He levitated the stone in the air between them, suspended in the light at the tip of his wand. The colour was fascinating; the greenest of greens, yet Harry kept seeing gold and red flashes from the facets.
"Now watch. Nox, Lumos," said Malfoy, gesturing upwards to turn on the artificial lights over the workbench. The alexandrite was now a blood colour, just as intensely red as it had been green, and giving off the same multicolour flashes.
"That's not magic?" Harry blinked, catching the stone as Malfoy dropped it back into his palm.
"Nope," said Malfoy. "Just an accident of geochemistry. They're absolutely beautiful, but extremely rare."
"Damn," Harry frowned.
"And horrendously expensive. That one is probably worth your secretary's salary."
Harry pressed a finger against his stone, loath to stop the heavy warmth. "So what does that mean?"
Gently, Malfoy took the alexandrite from him and placed it back in the box. "It means we go to the gem fair next week," he grinned. "And you get to bring your chequebook."
PART ONE ~ PART TWO ~ PART THREE~ PART FOUR