Swallowing hard, Draco entered his father's study. It was easy to see the effects of the Ministry raid. Cabinets remained open and emptied, papers strewn about. He ignored the mess for now, in favour of going directly to the bookcase and looking for anything that might have the answers he needed. Though he knew some might be in the main library, Draco had a feeling his father kept books concerning the bond in his office – possibly even in his desk or another locked location – to keep Ariella (and possibly himself) from snooping.
He found only three to start with, but it was better than nothing. He took a seat in one of the 'guest' chairs – he wasn't foolish enough, nor ready, to sit in his father's chair just yet.
Draco's head jerked up as the door creaked open, revealing Ariella.
"Sir? We're due at Theo's in an hour."
He glanced up at the timepiece on the mantle. Had he really spent the second full day in a row holed up in the study?
Bookmarking his spot in the text, he rose, stretching. "Thank you for coming to get me."
"Of course. I thought you might like to freshen up a bit before we left."
"You thought right."
"Have you found anything?"
He could tell she was nervous about asking, about pressuring him, but it didn't bother him. Not about something so important.
"Perhaps. I'll know for sure with more time."
"Of course, Sir. Thank you."
He nodded as they entered his room. She went almost immediately to his desk, her back to him, giving him privacy as he showered and changed. She put her head down, closing her eyes just for a bit.
Feeling a tap on the shoulder, Ariella turned. "Are you ready to go?"
She nodded. "I don't really have anything appropriate to wear," she said, rising as she gestured to her outfit. It was more of his old clothing – just some slacks and t-shirt. Draco looked her over. While he doubted Theo would mind how she dressed, it still wasn't the best.
Grabbing his wand from the nightstand, he pointed it at her, muttering a quick transfiguration spell to turn the t-shirt into a long-sleeved blouse. It wasn't his best work – certainly not after a year without practice – but it was good enough.
"Perhaps our first trip to Diagon Alley will be to get some clothes that suit you."
"I wasn't asking for – "
" – I know you weren't," he said, cutting her off. "But you can't just keep wearing my old things."
"We aren't going anywhere. Theo's is the most important place we're going to be traveling any time soon. Tonight's only important because we're 'officially' meeting Grant. I don't see why it matters when they don't suit you and they fit me just fine."
He couldn't disagree with her, per say. He could force her, but he wouldn't. Not yet, at least. Not while they were still adjusting to life after prison.
Luckily for them, the floo hadn't been disconnected (except internationally), and while it was being monitored, they weren't prohibited from leaving the Manor. They flooed directly into Nott House parlour, where their friend was waiting for them.
"Welcome. Thank you for coming."
"Of course. It's good to be out of the Manor," Draco replied easily, with a firm handshake.
"I'm sure." Theo snorted despite himself. "Come in. Grant's just inside."
"How much have you told him?"
"I haven't. Not yet. I've mentioned that our friendship is…complicated, magically speaking. But I haven't gone into any details."
"And you trust him?"
He nodded. "I do. We're serious about this relationship and even if we do eventually break-up, I doubt he'd tell anyone."
Draco nodded, understanding what Nott was saying and knowing he could trust Nott's judge of character.
Theo led them into the small, family dining hall. Seeing the young man again, Draco did indeed recognize the former Ravenclaw keeper. A bit shorter than himself, with light red hair and sharp hazel eyes, he came forward as the three entered the room.
"Grant, Draco Malfoy and Ariella Lyons. Malfoy, Ariella, this is Grant Page."
"I remember," Ariella said, not unkindly as she shook his hand. Draco simply gave a single nod as he shook Page's hand. It was a stiff interaction, but given all that had happened, that was not entirely unexpected.
"Shall we?" Theo asked, gesturing to the small table, where hors d'oeuvres had already been set out. As they sat, Ariella looked to Draco. She didn't know how she should serve, given the circumstances. He gave her a nod. It was easier to have her serve during a meal. Less demanding and repulsive.
She began making his plate, but as she placed it down in front of him, Grant stood up, glaring at Draco.
"Seriously, Malfoy? Making her serve you like she's your pet servant? Have you learned nothing by now?"
"She is my servant."
"She is my servant," Draco repeated, carefully keeping his voice level. Grant's head swivelled to meet his boyfriend's gaze.
"Is he serious right now?"
Theo nodded. "Sit. Please. Draco and Ariella are both my friends. It's important to me you get to know each other. But I brought them to better explain than I can why things are complicated. I'm tied to them in a way I'm not to anyone else."
Clenching his jaw, Grant sat.
"Show him," Draco said. "Your arm. Show him."
Slowly, Ariella slid her sleeve up to show the bonding mark. Grant's eyes widened as they slid up and down her arm, zeroing in on the bottom part off the bond mark.
"Why are your initials on the bond?"
"That was a safety precaution. I was already spending so much time with her, with them, especially during the war. It seemed only fit that we would…officially tie me to it. To help with its demands."
"What are you talking about?"
"The bond demands certain things from myself and my family. Having a close friend to both help fulfil those requirements and act as an intermediary is helpful. This isn't meant to shock you. But rather, make you aware of the circumstances. Theo is going to have to participate sometimes and you aren't going to like it."
"What type of participation?"
"Grant," Theo said softly. "We're already telling you more than most know. You don't want to know much more. Trust me. Please."
He swallowed hard, but just nodded, before turning back to Malfoy. "I'm…sorry I overreacted."
"I know my family's reputation. My reputation, from school. I understand. No harm done," Draco replied, calmer than Ariella would have thought.
"I hadn't realized the rumours at school, the recent papers, weren't exaggeration," Page continued, before turning to Ariella. "And you're alright?"
She startled for a moment, glancing at the others for a moment, before nodding. "They take care of me. Make sure I am. Thank you for asking, though."
"You weren't kidding when you said it was complicated," Grant commented later that night, once the guests had left. Theo shook his head.
"No. I wasn't. I thought it best to have them explain directly."
"I suppose I hadn't realized how…literal you were being when you mentioned being tied to them."
"Yes. I should have used different wording. That bond is overly-complex. I doubt anyone knows the full extent. It's something Mr. Malfoy brought back into use."
"How did you become involved? Can I ask that?"
"Malfoy – Draco – well, you remember what he was like in school. He was worse when we were younger. Especially to Ariella. I cornered her one day in the common room while she was serving him – not discreetly, mind you – and asked about it. Malfoy thought I'd be repulsed and leave her – come to the "right" side of it or some shite like that – "
" – have they met you?"
Theo laughed. "They didn't know me well then. Obviously that didn't happen, though I know she's still scared I will – abandon her, I mean. About a year and a half after that or so, Malfoy found out exactly how harsh his father was being – I can't say more than that, so please don't ask – and things started to change, especially when the war started picking up. I already knew a lot about the bond, was already helping with it, and I suspect Malfoy was getting tired of punishing her for telling me things as I asked. So he tied me to the bond directly. For safety reasons, especially during the war. I did ask about being removed or not, but he said to please give them some time being out of prison and then we'll rediscuss it."
"You mentioned – hear me out, please – you mentioned being involved. Please can I ask that?"
"It's not easy to explain. Just know – please – I wouldn't cheat on you. And that what I do, I do because of my friendship with both of them and because of that damned bond."
"But what do you mean – ?"
" – Grant. We're trusting you with this. Not many know the truth and even less know details. Please. If you need to know more, we'll tell you then."
"Okay." He slowly nodded. "I remember her being startled when I called out to her. That I knew her name, even. But she didn't seem to mind I'd interrupted her, especially when I asked after you."
"I'm glad you did. It led us here."