Novocaine

Chapter 5

Chapter 5

4th June 1998

After a rather satisfying lunch, Harry and Daphne arrived at Iola Castle in Bath. Upon reaching the outskirts of the estate, they both just stared at it in stunned silence.

"This is as big as Hogwarts," Harry was the first to say.

Daphne could only nod dumbly at his outburst. Iola Castle was indeed as big as Hogwarts and structured almost exactly the same, surrounded by gorgeous greenery all around. However, the castle was made of white stone, and all the interior was done in royal purple and gold, making it look much more regal than Hogwarts. When Harry lifted the suspension charm, they were greeted by ten house elves named Binky, Dinky, Finky, Hinky, Minky, Inky, Linky, Pinky, Rinky and Tinky, all of whom looked extremely delighted to see them.

Speaking to Binky, Harry realised that Iola Castle had remained sealed for over a hundred years, and the elves had grown restless, despite having been under the suspension charm which meant they hadn't aged either. Unlike the Black and Potter house elves, Harry needed to bond with them specifically, which they were all too happy to do. After the elves were accepted, began a long tour and after the third floor, Harry stopped memorising the way and just let Binky rattle off what the hundreds and hundreds of rooms were supposed to be. It took three hours to go through the entire castle and the grounds, and both Harry and Daphne were exhausted by the time it was over.

Promising to call when he needed them, Harry instructed the house elves to keep up with maintaining the massive Iola Castle estate, and he and Daphne departed.

"I don't even know what I'm going to do with that place!" said Harry, as they arrived at the beachside Sea Maiden Cottage in Newcastle.

Daphne chuckled, but nodded in agreement. "I'm sure we'll find a use for it. If we don't, you could give it as a gift to your children," she said.

"That's one hell of a gift," said Harry, shaking his head. He finally glanced at their surroundings and raised his eyebrows. "Another beach property."

"Yeah," said Daphne.

Not as big as Potter Hall or Black Castle, but still bigger than Godric's Pride, the Sea Maiden Cottage was far bigger than a cottage and was likely better described as a manor house. Both Harry and Daphne thought it was also a good location for an orphanage. The structure, both outside and in, was very similar to Godric's Pride but there were more rooms in the Sea Maiden Cottage. However, unlike Godric's Pride, there were no facilities for growing their own food. There was a private stretch of the beach within the estate's limits, and an open field that could be used for Quidditch, but it would need a lot more work to make it a place for children to live.

"I'll put it on the list, regardless," said Daphne. "I won't put Iola Castle on that list, mind you, unless we want to lose a child an hour in that massive place."

Harry laughed and nodded. It was getting close to the end of the day, so they said goodbye to the two elves Ipsy and Kipsy, whom he had bonded with and instructed to look after the place, and decided to return to their respective homes for a much needed rest before tackling the remaining Peverell properties the next day.

Instead of returning to Potter Hall right away, Harry made a quick stop at Grimmauld Place to play with Teddy for a while.

They were down in the living room when Hermione came in, clearly having been out for the day. "Hi, Harry," she greeted, when she saw him.

"Hello," he smiled. "Where have you been?"

"Ginny and I went to see Luna," she said.

"How is Luna, anyway?" asked Harry, having seen her briefly at funerals here and there, though they hadn't really had a moment to talk.

"She's doing well," grinned Hermione. "Their home's being rebuilt so she and her father are going to visit some family in Greece."

"When is she leaving?" asked Harry.

Hermione smiled at him apologetically. "She left this afternoon," she said. "That's why Ginny and I went to see her, because she probably won't be back until it's time to go to Hogwarts."

"Oh," said Harry, feeling a little odd. It would have been nice to see Luna properly, but mostly he was just a little upset that he hadn't heard from her at all.

Hermione sat down and gave him an understanding look. "It's not you she's mad at, you know," she said.

"What do you mean?" asked Harry, startled.

"She feels guilty," said Hermione, and stopped him before he could interrupt. "She can't be mad at her father, because he was doing what he could to protect her. And she knows you won't blame him or her, for that matter, which is probably making her feel worse."

"Then what am I supposed to do?" asked Harry, thinking of the odd girl who had been such a supportive friend for him these past few years. "I don't want to lose her."

"You won't," said Hermione, gently. "Right now, Luna isn't sure how to face you. Neither of you are at fault, but Luna still feels responsible. It won't be bad just to give her a little time. She's been through a lot, and maybe she'll feel better once she returns."

"Luna's always been so...she isn't the type to not speak her mind," protested Harry.

"True, but I suspect even Luna needs to sort her thoughts sometimes," said Hermione. "And like you said, she will always speak her mind, so I'm pretty sure she'll reach out to you the moment she gets back."

"I hope so," said Harry, smiling gratefully at Hermione. "I guess this is kind of a bad time to tell you this since you were trying so hard to make me feel better, but I moved out."

Hermione blinked. "Where?" she asked, surprised.

"To Potter Hall, it's the ancestral Potter home," he said, sheepishly. "Daphne and I have been unlocking all the properties I inherited."

"There are more?" asked Hermione, eyes wide.

"Yeah, we still aren't done," he said.

"What are you going to do with them?" asked Hermione.

"Nothing for now, but they will be useful in some way, I bet," he shrugged.

Hermione nodded, and then shrugged a little. "I'm sad you won't be here anymore," she said.

"I'll still be around," he said, with a look towards Teddy who was starting to look a little sleepy. "I should put him to bed."

"Alright," said Hermione.

Harry stood and picked Teddy up in his arms, rocking him gently before he could start fussing. "Before I forget," he said to Hermione. "Daphne invited me to a study session at her place on Saturday. You want to come? And full disclosure, Malfoy will be there too."

Hermione had looked eager at first, though at the mention of Malfoy she grew wary. "I'll think about it," she said, finally.

"Alright," agreed Harry, and headed upstairs to put Teddy to bed.

By the time he returned to Potter Hall that evening, he was so tired that he barely tasted the delicious summer chicken stew that Minnie served him before trudging upstairs to the Lord's chambers for a well-needed night of rest. The unfamiliar room might have been a problem, but he was so overcome with exhaustion that he was asleep the moment his head hit the pillow.

5th June, 1998

Draco's eighteenth birthday was an absurdly sunny day, so much so that he checked twice that he was still in England and hadn't accidentally apparated away in his sleep. The atmosphere inside Malfoy Manor was gloomier than ever though, when he came down for breakfast.

His parents were both at the table at the same time for a change, and were eating without looking at each other or saying a word. It was like having the Dark Lord back and living here again. Almost involuntarily, Draco looked at the head of the table and shivered a little as he remembered countless months of the Dark Lord sitting there. It made him wonder if his father avoided sitting there now because it reminded him of the same thing.

Draco wished them good morning and sat at his place, the suffocating atmosphere killing his appetite instantly. He would have skipped breakfast entirely, but that would invite fussing from his mother and derision from his father, and he was in mood for neither. He received a half-hearted mumble from his mother, while Lucius ignored him completely as he ate his breakfast.

Not that he'd expected a fuss at this point, and considering his last two birthdays had been the two worst birthdays of his life, Draco still felt the sting when neither remembered nor cared to wish him. His sixteenth birthday was when he'd taken the Mark that still sullied his arm (though it had thankfully started fading since the Dark Lord's death), and on his seventeenth birthday, he had been forced to go on a raid with his Aunt Bella, as his coming-of-age gift. Thinking back to the Muggle village she had burned with fiendfyre while cackling like the deranged lunatic that she was killed his appetite two bites in, and Draco put his silverware down.

Unfortunately, that drew attention from his father. "Are you in a hurry?" he asked, his voice raspy.

Draco wondered how much he'd already had to drink for his voice to sound like that so early in the morning. Still, he was not going to sit here and take his abuse any more. "Yes," answered Draco, plainly.

Narcissa went pale and looked at Draco fearfully as Lucius swelled in anger, blotches of pink appearing on his pale, gaunt cheeks.

"Ungrateful brat!" shouted Lucius, going for his wand, but Draco had been ready for it when he'd first talked back. He pulled out his wand first, putting up a shield in front of him, deflecting Lucius' curse easily. Narcissa screamed and ducked as it bounced off and hit the wall behind her.

Using the split second that it distracted Lucius to cast a stunner at him, Draco rolled his eyes when his father slumped forward unconscious onto his half-eaten breakfast plate. He stood up and put his wand away.

"You can wake him up after I leave," Draco told his mother, who brought a trembling hand to her mouth. He sighed, and tried to soften his tone. "I'm sorry about this, mother."

Narcissa seemed not to hear him, and Draco grimaced and decided to leave. He wondered if he would be getting disowned on his birthday of all things, and while the thought had always frightened the life out of him, he found that it didn't matter so much anymore. He had a new job, and it was odd enough to know he was actually happy about working after being raised to believe only peasants held stupid things like jobs.

He remembered Harry saying how they'd seen the war from two sides, and the words had struck a chord with Draco. He had done some unforgivable things, and knew there was no redemption for that. But at least, he was trying, unlike his parents who seemed to have given up completely, as if they weren't even interested in picking themselves back up after falling as far as they had. He wasn't sure if he was disgusted, ashamed, or if he just pitied them for it.

He flooed to Diagon Alley, wondering if he'd be the first one in that morning, but found Daphne already in her office when he got there.

"Do you just live here or what?" he asked, standing in her doorway.

Daphne looked up and smiled at him in greeting. "No, I just have a lot to do," she said. "What's your excuse? I thought you'd take a day off for your birthday, at least."

Draco rolled his eyes. "What am I, a kid? People who celebrate birthdays after coming of age are the worst," he said.

"And here I had a present for you and everything," she said, opening a drawer in her desk.

He raised an eyebrow when she stood up and walked up to him to hand over a bottle of firewhiskey that had a small silver bow stuck to it. With an amused smile, he accepted it. "I'll admit, it's the best gift I'll get today," he said. "And not just because it might be the only one I get."

"That bad, huh?" she asked, and Draco wasn't surprised she had deduced his home situation as easily as she had. Greengrass was always uncomfortably aware of the people around her, thanks in part to Davis, but mostly due to her very cunning nature.

"Well, I stunned my father over breakfast today, so I would say yes," shrugged Draco, figuring he might as well be honest.

"Well, there's spare couches in the meeting rooms if you find yourself disowned today," she offered with a grin.

"That's cold, you won't offer me a room in the Greengrass Manor?" he asked, half-joking.

She gave him a serious look. "If you do get disowned, it would be only until Harry gets wind of it and he moves to boot Lucius off the family seat and reinstate you," she said, plainly.

Hearing it put bluntly, soothed Draco's nerves a little, not that he had been too nervous to begin with. "Good to know," he said, grateful just the same.

"Sure," she shrugged. "Oh, and have you started studying for NEWTs yet?"

"No, why?" he asked.

"Harry and I are doing a study session with Astoria tomorrow at my house," she said. "He's inviting Granger as well, so I thought I'd ask you too." Draco swallowed roughly, and Daphne seemed to guess where his thoughts were headed, because she smiled a little. "Harry's fine with it, and he's making an effort here," she pointed out.

He heard the implied 'You should too' in her words and nodded once. "Alright," he said.

Daphne beamed at him. "Wonderful," she said. "We're meeting here at nine tomorrow. Don't be late."

"So, Fleur how did it go yesterday?" asked Daphne, as they all held their morning meeting in the conference room.

Fleur smiled. "You were right, Daphne," she said. "Rosette bought the business from Madam Primpernelle, but two years ago, she started developing her own potions that she's been selling. Unfortunately, because she kept the business name as is and didn't really have much in way of advertising, no one really knew about the new products."

"And the new products are really something different?" asked Harry, since he knew virtually nothing about beauty potions.

Fleur nodded at once. "They're unlike anything on the market," she said. "She has a bunch of products, but instead of the standard kind you can buy anywhere, the ones she has come in a variety of scents and the texture is like water, on top of it."

Daphne's eyes went wide. "Scents? Plural?" she asked.

"Yes," said Fleur. "She has four different kinds, depending on what people might be looking for."

"And the effect of the potion isn't compromised?" asked Draco, equally astonished.

"What am I missing here?" asked Harry, slightly confused.

"Beauty potions are very tricky," explained Daphne. "The usual kinds you get, even the ones you import from France or Italy, rarely have anything other than a slightly slimy texture and a standard smell."

"The best, most expensive beauty potions in the world have a water-like texture and don't smell like anything," nodded Fleur. "They do often have a horrible murky brown colour, though."

"So, you see, her managing to make potions that actually work, and for them to have good texture and a range of scents is extraordinary, really," said Daphne. "How did no one hear about this? Even with limited exposure, this should have been flying off the shelves."

"Unfortunately, she's a half-blood, so she went into hiding," said Fleur, with a frown. "The business was closed during this time. She reopened some time ago, but the business is falling apart."

"If she needs publicity, we can definitely do that for her," said Tracey. "I have a few contacts in Witch Weekly, and we can pull some strings."

"What about the business itself? What kind of a shape is it in?" asked Draco.

"The shop needs to be fixed up," said Fleur. "There wasn't massive damage or anything, but it needs repairs. I couldn't really ask about finances or things, but I'd like to invite her to a meeting next week to discuss it in detail."

"Is she interested in having us help her?" asked Harry.

"Well, she did say she wants to keep the business," said Fleur.

"It's worth inviting her to the meeting, at least," said Draco. "This could be a lucrative market and it's best to get a step in right now before the value skyrockets, which it will, once people hear about it."

"Yeah," nodded Daphne. "Beauty potions aren't a necessity, but they will draw in crowds, especially if Witch Weekly does an attractive feature on them."

Harry considered what they had said and nodded slowly. "Fleur, you, Draco and Tracey should meet with Ms. Frost then," he said. "I admit, I don't know much about beauty potions, but I know if it's a good business we should invest in it." He smiled a little as he thought of the thousand galleons he had invested in Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes on a whim. While he would never ask for a return on his investment from the Weasleys, if he could help businesses like Rosette Frost's which would in turn grant him returns that could then be used to help even more people, then it was all the better.

"Alright, Harry," said Fleur, as Draco and Tracey nodded. "I'll do that."

"Anything from Fortescue?" asked Daphne, looking at Draco.

"Well, the rumours are true, at least," said Draco. "Finnian Fortescue is wanting to reopen and is looking for investors."

"Invite him for a meeting as well then," said Harry, immediately.

"Yeah, good idea," said Daphne. "Speak to him and find out what we can do. Make sure both he and Rosette Frost understand that it isn't just gold we can help them with."

"I know," nodded Draco. "Oh, and Davis and I scouted out the office building yesterday."

"Yes, and we called in your house elves to help," said Tracey, looking at Harry. "They said they should be done by this afternoon."

"What's it look like?" asked Daphne.

"It's two floors," said Tracey. "The ground floor has a lobby and reception area, and there are smaller office rooms that we thought would be perfect as meeting rooms. The floor above has more offices we can use. The house elves were quick with their work so the place has been fixed up and they were almost done painting when I left last evening."

"They'll be done with it by now," said Draco. "We would just need to get furniture and things set up."

"Yeah, Maribeth drew up what we would need," said Tracey, with a grin. "I showed the elves and they said they would build most of it and have it set up like we wanted by this afternoon."

"Harry and I will likely be done by late afternoon today," said Daphne. "We can all go and see it then and all of you can move your things in by the end of the day today, so that we have the proper offices when we are meeting Rosette Frost and Finnian Fortescue next week."

"Splendid," nodded Tracey. "Let's get going then, shall we?"

There were murmurs of agreement as the meeting came to an end. Harry felt a rush of gratitude at the hard work that was being put in by everyone, including the house elves. The burden he'd felt the day before was a little lighter, knowing he wasn't in this alone.

"Harry," said Daphne, drawing his attention. "Should we go? We have the last three properties to cover today."

"Right, yes," said Harry, hastily. "Let's go."

With the next set of instructions unsealed, Harry and Daphne arrived at the Arc in Stratford.

"Er, this isn't a mansion, is it?" asked Harry, once they had entered the foyer after lifting the suspension charm.

As it turned out, the Arc was much more of a museum than an estate. There was a wing of the estate used as residence, but the rest of it was filled with paintings, sculptures and various pieces of art and artefacts from all over the world. And the majority of the estate was a massive library, filled to the brim with books and tomes.

A team of four house elves resided with the Arc, named Irin, Mirin, Kirin and Lirin, all of them extremely well-versed in curating and caring for the artefacts and items on the estate. In fact, the library was so well-catalogued and had a very sophisticated system of finding what one needed with ease that Harry knew he would have been a much better student at Hogwarts if he could just write down what he was looking for and the relevant books would come to him.

"Can you put this in place in other libraries too?" asked Harry, as even Daphne seemed impressed at the level of enchantment.

"Of course, Master," piped up Mirin, who was the house elf in charge of the library.

After bonding with the house elves, Mirin was sent to the other properties to put the system in place in all the libraries. The remaining house elves informed him that this estate had been closed for several decades and the previous lord had been a connoisseur who had accumulated most of the artefacts there. After promising to take a proper tour some other day, Harry renewed the wards before he and Daphne departed for the next estate on their list.

The Eustace Mansion was quite extraordinary, and not just because it was in the heart of England's National Forest. It was a willowy structure with all the outer walls covered in crawling vines bearing little white flowers, and there was a hush about the place, even after the suspension charm was lifted.

"It's beautiful," murmured Daphne, and Harry was surprised to see the look of awe on her face.

Instead of the manicured gardens or even open fields of the other properties, the estate sat on a natural, undisturbed meadow, and when they went inside the main house which was no bigger than a large cottage, they were met by four house elves named Pip, Fern, Flo and Roz. While the main house only had six bedrooms, a kitchen, two studies and three day rooms, there was a separate building that was just as big that housed a massive Potions laboratory. On the grounds between the main house and the Potions lab were ten different greenhouses, each one of them twice as big as the ones at Hogwarts.

Pip showed them around, and even Harry was impressed at how extensive the Potions laboratory was. The greenhouses were extraordinary as well, with an aqueduct system on the inside to care for the plants of all kinds. The woods surrounding the property had a number of magical creatures residing in them, including a herd of unicorns, a couple of whom cautiously approached Daphne when they were taking the tour. The property had only been under suspension for about eighty years or so, the last lady having been a recluse potioneer who grew her own ingredients, cared for the creatures, and did her research which was kept carefully in a safe in one of the studies of the main house.

"You should properly examine the research," Daphne advised him seriously. "Actually, that goes for any specialised magic we find on these estates. And don't share them with anyone."

"Why not?" he asked.

She gave him a slightly exasperated look. "It's your family magic," she said. "We all guard our family magic closely."

"Well, what's the Greengrass family magic?" he asked.

Daphne gave him a calculating look and then shrugged. "I can't tell you the specifics, but it's poison," she said.

"Poison?" he asked, shocked.

She nodded, seemingly not bothered by his reaction. "Poison," she said again, without elaborating.

He thought back to how the magic should be closely guarded, and nodded back. Curiosity was pushing him to ask, but he knew he wouldn't get an answer out of Daphne.

"That is to say, just because it's closely guarded, doesn't mean you can't use it," said Daphne, smiling a little when he didn't push the issue. "For example, I can manufacture and sell a poison that's known only to my family. The secret to making it shall remain with the Greengrass family but the product can always be sold."

"It could be another source of income you mean," he said, understanding why she wanted him to take the time and look at all the new family magic that was now his.

"Well, yes, there is that," she admitted. "But mostly because this magic has been lost all this time. You shouldn't throw it out into the open, but definitely pass it on to your heirs." She sighed as she considered her words carefully. "Magical research has been slow these past few years, and it's another way we have regressed. I hate to admit it, but Muggles have continued advancing while the magic we use today isn't too different from the one in the past. There have been a few discoveries here and there, but not on the scale of twenty, thirty, even fifty years ago. Bringing back older magic will push new research as well, and is one of the ways the wizarding world can advance."

"How can we make it happen?" asked Harry. "I don't really have the brains for this kind of work."

"Neither do I," said Daphne. "Magical researchers are their own brand of brains. But that doesn't mean we can't help. Most researchers just need the right funding and a lab to start. I know we are just starting out with the orphanage and the Diagon Restoration Program, but we can consider an institute of some kind in the future to further magical research."

Harry's eyes went wide as he thought about it. "That sounds incredible," he said.

"Like I said, there are many ways to give back to the world," smiled Daphne. "But, we cannot rush with any of it. It has to be a slow, but steady walk."

"I know," nodded Harry, and then grinned at her sincerely. "Thank you."

She looked a little surprised. "Why?"

He shrugged, still grinning. "I always feel hopeful when I talk to you," he admitted, honestly.

Daphne turned an attractive shade of pink and glanced away. "Even when I warn you not to rush into things?" she asked, her voice sounding a little breathless.

"Yes," he said, seriously. "Because I know that means you are giving it proper thought. And if you've given it proper thought, then I feel like we can work towards making it happen. That gives me hope." He felt Daphne's gaze on him and it made him want to blush. Instead of turning into a stuttering mess, he quickly glanced at his watch. "Should we take a break for lunch?" he asked.

He heard Daphne clear her throat. "Yeah," she said. "Yeah, let's do that."

After a quick lunch of pepper and lemon spaghetti with basil and pine nuts, followed by a decadent sangria cake, courtesy of Minnie at Potter Hall, Harry and Daphne went to the last property on their list, which was the Pride Farmhouse in Dundee. The lunch had been mostly silent, both of them feeling a little introspective, so when they got to the Pride Farmhouse, Harry made himself focus.

It was a cottage not unlike Eustace Mansion, but it was set in an empty field and surrounded entirely by rows and rows of…

"Grapes, yes," said Daphne, with interest.

"It's a vineyard," said Harry, eyes going wide.

This was the only property on their list that hadn't been placed under a suspension charm, and the house elves were surprised, yet delighted to meet him. There were seven of them that lived there. Merry, Terry and Sherry looked after the vineyards, Berry and Ferry were responsible for making and bottling the wine, while Gerry and Kerry looked after the rest of the house and maintained the wine cellar which was in a separate building to the main house and was twice the size of the Hogwarts Great Hall.

When Gerry gave them the tour, he pointed out the wine that was kept in casks, barrels and bottles in the cellar, and the various types of grapes and techniques that were used to make them.

"Hang on," said Daphne, slightly confused. "Some of these grapes won't grow here in Dundee. The soil and climate wouldn't be right for it."

"It be the family secret, Mistress," said Gerry, cheerfully.

"Oh," said Daphne, and Harry had to appreciate her restraint because she looked like she was dying to know.

Apparently, despite his words, Gerry still informed them that the entire property was under an enchantment, with each part of the vineyard under different climate charms to mimic the conditions of different wine regions. Even the soil had been brought in specially and enhanced with magic for growing the grapes correctly.

"You'd better not say more," Daphne told Gerry, and smiled when Harry looked at her questioningly. "The climate charms and the ones to enhance the soil like he's talking about are the family magic. I haven't heard of climate charms that can mimic a region, especially not several under one property. The most that climate charms can do is mimic basic weather patterns. To have something that's so self-sustaining that's been kept going for so long with house elf magic is...beyond everything we know."

"Right," nodded Harry, the implications sinking in. It also explained why the property hadn't been put under the suspension charm, considering the complex charm work that had gone into making a property in Dundee capable of making wine from regions all over the world. The wards were also finicky when Harry had to update them, and he was exhausted by the time he was done. "We're done, right?" he asked Daphne.

"Almost," she smiled. "I think it's a good idea to gather all your elves in one place. You did tell them you'd give proper orders once you were done."

Harry nodded, and after they returned to Potter Hall, he and Daphne spent some time discussing the orders they would be giving the house elves. Once they had a tentative list prepared, Harry called all his house elves. It was odd to just think it and then forty elves, including Kreacher, were all in the day room of Potter Hall. With so many of them, Annie was quick to take charge as the head house elf, and she ushered them to be quiet and await orders. Harry would have been at a loss where to start, but Daphne was more than capable of handling it.

"All of you have special skills," said Daphne, with a small smile. "So, you will be given tasks best suited to those skills." She pulled out the list from her robes and consulted it. "Since Annie is the head house elf, she will coordinate everything. If there are issues, concerns or questions, they should come through Annie." Daphne looked at Harry, who nodded and the gathered house elves agreed when he did.

"Harry also has rules he wants all the house elves to follow," said Daphne, and nodded at Harry to go ahead.

"No punishing yourselves," he said, firmly. "If you do something wrong, tell Annie and she will let me know and I'll decide what's to be done. But you won't hurt yourself or each other. That is absolute."

Some of the house elves looked surprised, but all of them looked relieved as they voiced their agreement.

"Secondly, I once knew an elf who liked to be paid and he sacrificed his life to save mine," said Harry, feeling a lump in his throat. "He was an honourable house elf," he added firmly, when almost all of them looked shocked at the suggestion of payment. "Now, Daphne told me that house elves who are bonded like all of you are to me, will grow stronger with my magic. I know house elves traditionally consider that the highest form of payment. However, if it is not sufficient, you may approach me, privately if you wish, to speak about pay."

All of them shook their head at once, a little horrified at their Master thinking that being bonded to him wasn't sufficient payment already. Harry wasn't surprised because Daphne had said as much when they'd talked about it before calling in the house elves.

"Next, uniform," said Harry. "You may wear whatever you wish, since you all have different jobs. All I ask is that they should be clean and made to fit you properly. I won't give you clothes, but you can approach Annie and she will find you materials you can make your uniforms with."

"Can we be making a request, Master?" piped up Annie.

"Yes, Annie?" asked Harry.

"Minnie be making a sample uniform, Master," she said, and clicked her fingers. Her faded tunic dress changed into a neat, white pinafore with a red ribbon tied in a bow around her waist. Finnie did the same to show the male house elf uniform, which was a pair of white calf-length trousers and a white short-sleeved shirt, with a red sash around the waist.

"You may wear that if you wish," Harry told the house elves, many of whom agreed eagerly. In the end, all of the elves, even Kreacher, decided to wear the uniform, and Harry saw Daphne's amused smile at the house elves all decked out in the new uniforms that Rinnie and Minnie had apparently made on Annie's direction.

"And lastly, you will not work till you drop," he said, remembering Daphne telling him to add that. "There are a lot of you and there will be lots to do, but do not push yourself beyond your magic. That's an order. If I ask you to do something that is beyond your capacity, you will tell me, clearly and immediately. You won't be punished for it." Harry smiled. "And it goes without saying that since you will all be keeping my secrets, I will consider you as family. So, before I hand out your orders, I am going to tell you what I am planning to do."

In quick sentences, he explained his plans to build an orphanage. When a lot of them looked extremely happy to the point of tears, Harry was a little confused.

"House elves hold children in high regard," said Daphne, helpfully. "They make extraordinary caretakers and won't allow anyone to harm them."

"That's wonderful," said Harry, beaming at the house elves. "There is a lot I want to do for the wizarding world and I want all of you to help me in whatever way you are able. Alright?"

There were eager words of agreement and vigorous nodding from all the house elves.

"Now, then, some orders," he said. "Kreacher, you should remain at Grimmauld Place. I am assigning you to look after the house and helping Andromeda. Her orders are to be followed like you would follow mine."

"Yes, Master," nodded Kreacher, pleased as can be.

"I would also like you to finish cleaning up all the upstairs rooms," said Harry. "Ratty will come to help you."

At the prospect of another Black family house elf coming to help, Kreacher looked eager. He quickly voiced his acceptance, promising to have Grimmauld Place in top notch shape before the weekend was done.

"Annie, you will remain at Potter Hall," said Harry, and she nodded with a bright smile. "Minnie will stay here to cook as well. As for Finnie…"

And on and on it went, as Harry handed out orders that Daphne had painstakingly written out. There was at least one house elf on every property, charged with the upkeep, with a couple more at Potter Hall to clean and look after Harry. All seven of the Pride Farmhouse elves stayed on their property, continuing their work in making the wine. Mirin from the Arc was tasked with working on all of the libraries, and two others from that estate were sent to catalogue all the art works on the rest of the properties. Elves like Finnie and Matty who were at the Potter and Black estate and specialised in groundskeeping and farming were sent to Godric's Pride to assist with that work. Many of the Iola Castle house elves were highly skilled at repair and renovations, so they were on standby for when they would be needed for various projects. The house elves at Eustace Mansion were joined by other elves good at Herbology and Potions to assist.

There was also a standing agreement that if there was work that needed urgent attention, Annie would coordinate with one of the house elves who was free and send them along to help. Of the two elves who had fixed up the new GSC HQ, one was assigned there permanently to clean and look after the HQ. While there were quite a few house elves without direct orders for the time being, they knew that once the orphanage got underway, they would have lots of work as well. For now, they were all pleased that they were considered part of Harry's family, and when he nodded at them to leave, they all disappeared with a series of loud cracks, excited as can be.

"That went very well," said Daphne, looking as tired as Harry felt.

"Don't suppose I can call it a day and go right to bed," he said.

"Afraid not," smiled Daphne. "We should pop by the new HQ, especially since Kinnie said it's ready, and Tracey, Fleur and Draco have moved their things in."

Harry nodded, eager to see the new HQ, despite being tired. It was almost five in the evening, but he and Daphne went to the Verdant offices, and then all of them walked down to the new GSC HQ which was further down from Gringotts and away from prying eyes while still being in a good part of the Alley, just like Draco had said.

The outside was nondescript, but there was a large mahogany sign that said 'GSC Consultants' in neat gold letters on it above the doors. A pair of glass double doors opened into a sunny front lobby that had an empty reception desk and a waiting area. There were neat brown leather upholstered chairs and sofas in the waiting area, and all the furniture was polished mahogany with gold accents. The walls were painted a light shade of beige and the carpet was the same dark brown as the furniture. The warm lighting made the lobby look inviting, yet professional at the same time.

The hallway next to the reception desk led to a corridor that had two meeting rooms on one side and a conference room opposite it. Both meeting rooms had brown leather sofas, coffee tables and empty filing cabinets. The conference room was bigger than the one at Verdant and had room for eight people.

"This is all for visitors," said Tracey, nodding at the meeting rooms and conference room. "We have another bigger conference room for staff upstairs."

The stairs were at the end of the hallway, and Draco pointed out another door near the stairs.

"We can use this entrance to enter and leave," said Draco. "Especially you, Potter, since you can't really just walk past the reception and waiting area if your involvement is a secret."

"Where does it come out?" asked Daphne.

"An empty dead end, so you can just apparate there and then walk in," said Tracey.

"It's one of the reasons I liked this building," said Draco, and Harry nodded back gratefully.

Up the stairs, and there were many more rooms than ones downstairs. Draco and Fleur had adjoining offices with a door in between, while Tracey had the office opposite them. There were a couple more empty offices, and a larger conference room like Tracey had said.

Harry's office was the biggest room on the floor and was at the end furthest from the stairs towards the front of the building so he had a view of the Alley from his window, though Fleur assured him that people wouldn't be able to see him from the outside.

"There's a floo in here too," said Fleur, nodding at his office which was bare for the time being but had a desk and some chairs, and a couple of filing cabinets and empty bookshelves just the same. "One of the smallest rooms has been made into a floo room, but it isn't connected yet. I sent off the authorisation request to the Ministry, so it should be sorted out by next week."

"Thanks for doing that," smiled Daphne gratefully.

Fleur smiled back, as they continued the tour. There was also a break room on the floor with a small kitchenette for their use, and next to it were facilities for toilets and showers. Another room had been turned into an archives and records room to store all their files properly.

Harry looked at Daphne. "You could even move the Verdant offices here," he suggested.

Daphne paused. "Better not," she said, finally. "I'll use an empty office when I'm here, but I think it's better to have the offices separate. In the meantime, I'll ask Maribeth to come work here to assist with the admin work until you find someone specifically."

"That will be a big help," nodded Fleur gratefully.

"Oh, and Kinnie will be staying on as a permanent house elf," said Harry. "If you need anything, call for her."

"She did a great job," grinned Tracey. "This looks wonderful, doesn't it?"

"It does," nodded Harry, pleased at the new HQ. He fought back a yawn and realised that everyone else looked exhausted as well. "Thank you for all your hard work," he told them, seriously.

"Don't mention it," said Tracey, cheerfully while both Fleur and Draco looked a little embarrassed. "You pay a good salary, so it's fine."

The joke dispelled the awkwardness, and with that, they all started taking their leave, ready for the weekend after a busy week. Harry saw Daphne speak to Draco with a serious look, but he shook his head with a smile and then left.

"What was that about?" asked Harry.

Daphne sighed a little. "He's having issues with his family," she said. "I said he should stay at the Leaky or something, but he said he's going home."

Harry frowned with worry. "Should I…?" he began, but Daphne shook her head.

"It's not our place to interfere unless he asks for help," she said. "He's trying his best to be better, so even if it's hard for us to watch from the sidelines, it's not about us. If he wants to stand up to his family, he will do so on his own. We'll help if he wants us to, but not until then."

"Right," said Harry. "Did you ask him about tomorrow?"

"Yeah, he said he'll come," said Daphne. "You and Granger should get here around nine as well, and I'll let you all in through the wards."

"Alright," agreed Harry. "You going home?"

"Yeah, believe it or not, even I'm tired," she said, smiling a little.

"Good night then," said Harry, as they walked out to the apparation spot outside the back entrance together.

"Good night," said Daphne, and disapparated away.

When Draco got back to Malfoy Manor, he fully expected to be ambushed, so he was already on edge. But when he did arrive through the floo, he only saw his mother sitting in an armchair nearby, a half-empty bottle of sherry in her hand.

Resisting the urge to sigh or scream, Draco approached her warily and took the bottle out of her hands, worried when he saw her unfocused gaze and the smell of alcohol on her breath.

"Draco," she said, not resisting as he took the bottle away.

"Yes?" he asked, still on edge as he set the bottle on top of the fireplace.

"You should move into the townhouse," said Narcissa, her voice surprisingly steady while her gaze was still shaky. "I'll send Mitty to cook and clean for you."

"Was it Father's idea?" he asked, realising that Lucius wasn't around but still not relaxing his guard completely.

"I managed to talk him out of disowning you," she said, her gaze finally focusing on him. Draco almost flinched at the bloodshot eyes, knowing she would have to have been crying for it to happen. "But if you stay here, you'll kill each other." She choked back a sob. "I don't know what you have been doing, and I am not sure I want to know. I just want you to be able to live your life."

Draco swallowed against the lump in his throat. "Will you be alright if I leave?" he asked.

She shrugged, apparently not caring. As much as Draco wanted to ask her to come with him, he knew she wouldn't.

"Fine," he said, finally. "Tell Mitty to pack up my room and move it into the townhouse. I'll go on ahead."

"Mitty already did and is there waiting for you," said Narcissa, summoning the sherry bottle with her wand and taking a long sip.

Draco fought back a laugh of disbelief. He had been kicked out of his family home on his birthday, and he wasn't sure if that made it the best or worst birthday. Without another word to his mother, not that she seemed to care judging by the way she was drinking, Draco flooed to the townhouse.

Not a stately manor by any means, the Malfoy townhouse in London was still a substantial property that his father used occasionally. When Draco got there, it was tidy as ever, and he found Mitty waiting for him. Draco actually liked Mitty quite a bit, mostly because he had come with Narcissa as part of her dowry, and he tended to favour Draco a lot.

"Welcome, young Master," greeted Mitty, brightly. "Mitty arranged young Master's new room. And dinner be ready too."

"Thanks, Mitty," said Draco.

"Mistress also asked Mitty to give you this," he said, handing him a sealed letter.

Draco accepted it with a cautious nod and unsealed it, wondering what she needed to say in a letter that she couldn't when he just saw her.

Dear Draco,

You might think of this as a cowardly way of telling you, but I doubt I was in a state to speak much sense by the time you came to Malfoy Manor. Don't worry, as pathetic as I might have seemed, I am still in control of my faculties and won't do anything foolish.

Lucius and I have hit rock bottom. There is no getting around that. The only good thing is that you haven't fallen with us, my son. It will take time for your father and I to regain our determination to rise once again. But I realise that if you stay around us, we will drag you down, and hurting you is the last thing I want. I meant it when I said I didn't let Lucius disown you, but the truth is that even he knows deep down that disowning you won't help in the slightest.

The Malfoy name is mud and being under the thumb of Potter isn't doing us any favours, and I don't know if it is envy or pride that we feel towards your determination to carry on so resiliently, despite it all. I don't know if I will ever know the answer, but you are still our son, mine and Lucius', and we love you more than anything in this forsaken world. That is an unshakeable fact and it has never changed. For the time being, I think some time apart is needed, for both Lucius and I, and for you. We are still family and shall always remain so, no matter what, but I think this is what we need right now.

In the meantime, I have asked Mitty to bond with you as your personal house elf and told Lucius to turn over the townhouse ownership to you as well. The instructions to update the wards and such are in the envelope with this letter. Your trust vault in Gringotts is still yours and if you need more, you only have to ask.

I hope you will find your own path in this world, Draco. Remember, I love you more than anything.

Love,

Narcissa.

P.S. I asked Mitty to bake your favourite vanilla chiffon cake. Happy Birthday, my darling boy.

Draco dropped the letter, tears rising in his eyes. He let out a loud scream of frustration, and sank into an armchair by the floo. Slowly, he exhaled and leaned his head back, smiling despite the tears in his eyes.

It was messed up, horrible, and yet so, so kind, considering his parents. He wondered how a normal person would see this situation, and as soon as he thought that, he felt himself scoff. He was a Malfoy. He would always be a Malfoy, as his mother said. Normal was never even on the cards.

With a sigh, he picked up the letter and envelope he had dropped and took out the instructions to update the wards. He crossed off all names, allowing only himself to enter the townhouse and then bonded with Mitty.

The townhouse only had four bedrooms, a study, parlour, and a kitchen and dining room, but they were all big rooms and all the bedrooms had ensuite bathrooms, so Draco figured it was better than living at the Leaky or on a couch in the office. It was his own space, and he supposed this was his new start on life.

The past wouldn't be erased, but like the Mark on his arm, it was fading slowly as he wrote a new future for himself. It wouldn't be easy being alone and fighting against the current, but he had to do it.

That was the only path he could see before him, and as terrified as it made him, he couldn't wait to start walking on it.