“I can’t stay at Hogwarts. There’s- I’m not- not again.”
“You know that leaves me with few other options.”
“I… I know.”
“You know the best one is Malfoy Manor.”
Harry glanced away.
Kingsley’s voice was gentle, but firm. “You know I wouldn’t be suggesting that if it weren’t the best way to ensure your safety.” He didn’t mention Hogwarts. He knew. He’d seen Harry go through this the past few months, years, and he-
Harry found his voice again. “It has to be completely voluntary.”
“Of course. But Narcissa and I have got to be… old friends lately, and I doubt she would-”
“Completely voluntary,” Harry repeated, meeting his eyes.
“You know me better than most, Potter.”
“I have your word?”
“My word. As your Minister of Magic and your friend.”
Harry didn’t think ‘friend’ was the right word for ‘adult who watched barely-adult war hero/ex-protégé/traumatized former recluse attempt to put the shards of his life back together,’ but he supposed it was as close as conventional language would allow. “Fine, then. Owl me the details?”
“I’m sending you home with an auror who will be sent the details by Patronus and relay them to you. It’s straight to the Manor after that. You’re to go downstairs and set up security measures on the way out.”
Harry made a half-effort at lightening things. “Jam flavors or childhood pets’ names?”
“Neither. I’m putting more wards on the Malfoy grounds and giving you an artifact for extra security.”
There went all hope of humor. “You’re putting the Trace back on me.”
“I can’t put the Trace back on you. You’ve been of age for four years.”
“‘An artifact for extra security?’” Harry raised his eyebrows.
“It will only activate if you’re in mortal peril.”
"What about the Malfoys?”
“There’s old magic in the grounds, and the house, that will help them if something goes wrong.”
Making eye contact again, so Kingsley would have to tell him the truth, “So it’ll buy them some time while me or an auror sounds the alarm? Possibly but not necessarily enough time?”
“You know our resources are straining, Harry, and I cannot justify wasting them on competent wizards who are already better protected than most of the country.”
“Right.” Selfish. Harry was being selfish. If Narcissa wanted to take the risk it wasn’t Harry’s place to stop her. And the risk she was taking was much less, he reminded himself, so much less than putting the entire school in danger, or worse, risking an attack in public where anyone could- “Will I be seeing you before I leave?”
“Probably not. France wants to hold a public spectacle of a meeting, and if I can’t convince more people to join our security team, I’m going to have to convince the president to bring more of his own security.”
“Can’t risk leaving the country in a time of national turbulence?”
Kingsley gave Harry that look, the one that was shrewd and worried and proud and- not quite disappointed. More like uncertain. Pleading, almost. “You would’ve made a great minister.”
“I never wanted to be minister. I never even wanted to be the Chosen One.”
“Doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be good at it.” He moved on before Harry had a chance to get uncomfortable, “Now, if you’d kindly get out-”
Harry laughed shortly as Kingsley reached for a half-handshake, half-hug. “Best of luck using your valuable time on people more important than me.”
Kingsley stepped back, shaking his head. “I’ll need it. Robards has just requisitioned two muggle vehicles. Why on earth he needs two when he’s only got one auror who knows how to drive is beyond me.”
“Give him one with a reminder taped to the steering wheel.”
“Good advice as always, Harry. If you ever need a job-”
“Yes, of course, I know, call my friend the Minister of Magic and ask for one.” The meeting ended like all of the other ones had. “If I decide to leave retirement, you’ll be the first to know.”
Except when Kingsley said, “Stay safe out there, Potter,” Harry knew he meant it more ways than usual.
They sent him home with Auror Haden, a highly-competent thirtysomething witch known for her excellent judgment in the field and her uncanny ability not to bring cases home with her. It was a good fit for Harry, for the danger he was in, for how personal this was; she knew him, but Haden wasn’t going to let that get in the way of doing her job.
Harry left her in the drawing room with tea and a stack of old magazines and went up to pack. Normally she’d have to stay closer to him, but Grimmauld Place had at least half as much magic as the Manor and Harry had long been used to checking rooms for dark magic before he entered them. It was different in his house- he could feel the magic of it, familiar after years of living there- and he knew when he’d stepped inside that the place was clear.
What did one pack for an indefinite stay at the estate of one’s former enemy? Harry chose the clothes he always wore, faded t-shirts and jeans, jumpers with holes in the sleeves and all his favorite pairs of socks. Grudgingly, because he knew it’d be silly not to, he added dress robes. And dark trousers, and some nicer muggle shirts, because he wasn’t looking nice around them all the time just because they were Malfoys but he’d be damned if he was going to be unprepared.
Once his toothbrush and deodorant and everything else had been jammed into the bag with his clothes, Harry realized he had no room for anything else and started throwing things into his old school trunk instead. It wasn't like he was going to bring his entire bedroom, but he'd gone in hiding enough times to know how valuable a few good books could be.
Harry hadn’t been on a trip longer than a few days since… well, since. If the urge to run, the sensation of it, didn’t still light his nerves like a thousand matches struck at once, he could have said he’d forgotten. If his fingers didn’t twitch toward the knapsack at the back of his wardrobe every time he packed for anything. If his entire body didn’t echo with the familiar ache he hadn’t really felt in years, the feeling of not having the right wand, if the wrenching of apparition didn’t remind him of the adrenaline that just held back the terror, what if I do it wrong, if he didn’t still remember the feeling of keeping yourself from sleep because even if you trusted the person keeping watch you knew in your bones that people were fallible and if something went wrong it’d be your fault.
Harry didn’t want to go to Malfoy Manor, but he wanted to go to Hogwarts even less. At least the Malfoys had done something to make them owe the Ministry. At least he could imagine this was some twisted karmic retribution, some final gesture they’d need to take to guarantee to the wizarding public that they weren’t evil. He had never thought the Malfoys were evil- only cruel, only desperate. Lucius was in prison, but Narcissa, and Draco- they’d had reasons. Reasons good enough for Harry to all-but-insist to the Wizengamot that they shouldn’t be sent to Azkaban. Reasons good enough for him to doubt if they really deserved this, now, after everything the aftershocks of the war had put them through.
Wasn’t his decision to make, though. Killing the hero of the wizarding world would do far more for the remaining Death Eaters’ cause than attacking innocent people would. To Kingsley, Harry’s life was worth whatever risk the Malfoys were taking to protect him, and he hated it. Harry had always hated it. Dive in front of the killing curse to save the Chosen One because Merlin forbid the country lose morale.
It wasn’t like that. Wasn’t as simple as that, Harry knew. But he didn’t want to know it. He wanted to be able to disappear and make it all go away. He wanted to believe that if his name dropped out of the papers for five fucking minutes they’d forget about him and stop trying to use him.
But he couldn’t. Because that was the problem. If they stopped fixating on Harry, they’d start actually attacking muggles, and he couldn’t- couldn’t do that. Let it happen. If he still had a chance to help the Ministry catch them, if his diverting their attention made it easier to stop them-
So he kept doing it. That and everything else they needed from him. Showing up at functions and things and staying present even though he hadn’t gone back to finish school and wasn’t planning on getting a real job. This was a job, in its way, being close by when Kingsley needed some celebrity propaganda or, when Harry could convince him, bait. At least being bait made him feel like he was accomplishing something.
It was shit. But it was good. Harry didn’t know what he’d do if he didn’t have that- the sense of purpose without having to answer to someone. Pacing around Kingsley’s office every day, probably, with a salary and some title like ‘senior advisor’ and a series of Prophet articles dedicated to his rising political prowess. Either that or sitting in his house, doing... he didn't know what he'd be doing. Nothing, maybe.
Sometimes the bait part was absolute crap, being at the right place at the right time to convince someone to make this legislative decision or that donation. But times like now, when it meant someone else wasn’t getting hurt because Harry was taking the risk- that was why Kingsley gave in. He could see through Harry’s excuses, see the guilt Dumbledore had carefully cultivated over years, wearing and wearing the track. Guilt Kingsley had watched him put there, even. Kingsley knew keeping saving people- or not saving, but trying- it was the trying that was important, because Harry had to try or he was a coward and if he didn’t succeed the failure made him want to try that much harder next time- Kingsley knew that Harry was still trying to make up for it. All his attempts to get Harry to stop had fallen through. Eventually he just let Harry get on with it, accepted he wasn’t going to take no for an answer and hoped that after fifteen hundred tries Harry would realize putting himself in danger for others was not going to make up for the risk dead people had taken in a war that ended three years ago, because this Death Eater resurgence was not the war- bitterness, angry survivors, but not the war, not again- never never never never. It couldn’t be the war so that was why Harry kept failing.
It wasn’t that he- this hadn’t even happened that often. Three times, maybe four. The initial fallout that December, stopped by a wave of Ministry raids; the terrorists who targeted him to make a political statement, this one about anarchy; the time they’d gotten the ‘give us Harry Potter or we’ll attack the Ministry’ threats. That one had been the worst, because Harry couldn’t just evade capture and remain a distraction, like he was this time. Harry had been in the room when Kingsley decided his life was worth enough not to comply. When he’d taken the no-negotiation hardline and Harry had- Harry had- he’d tried-
Stop, he thought. You’re digging a hole. You can’t dig holes at Malfoy Manor. They won’t like it. It’ll mess up the grounds. And make you vulnerable.
Harry couldn’t be vulnerable. Not in front of them. For more reasons than he could name. He couldn’t often afford to dwell on the guilt, anyway, because it threatened to drive him mad (it had in the tent all those nights ago and it still did some nights now). Every time he did he dug a hole, worried the same thoughts over and over again until he was six feet under and trapped and still digging, and he didn’t like that Hermione had to figure out how to build a ladder, didn’t like that Ron had to lower a rope, so hard for them to do at first and so painful even once they’d learned how to do it. Because asking them for help was threatening to drag them down with him. And Harry valued the privacy of his own head too much to invite someone all the way into it.
His mind hadn’t been wholly his for seventeen years of his life. It’d take a fuck of a lot of motivation for him to give that up now.
“Ready to go, Mr. Potter?”
“I said you can call me ‘Harry.’”
“Not on the job I can’t. Shall we take this down-”
“I’ve got it,” he said, and waved a hand, and the cup was clean and away in the cupboard downstairs. If he concentrated hard enough he could have heard it clink into place beside the others.
“That really is impressive, you know.”
“Thanks,” he said, not really meaning it. Because being good at magic just made everything more complicated and he wasn’t prepared to dwell on those remembered arguments with Kingsley just then. “Let’s go.”
Haden side-alonged him. It was her job to be in control, and the flashbacks he’d had staring into his closet weren’t so much of a threat when he wasn’t doing the apparition himself. Harry was grateful for the respite. It would’ve made it even harder to walk through the Manor gates if he’d had to relive it all first.
That was another thing. About being him, he supposed. Harry had learned to control his thoughts, to plank over the guilt tracks and wall off the memories when he needed to, putting them behind an objective layer of glass so he could consider them without trapping himself in them.
“I’ve been instructed to escort you inside and then check in with everyone already stationed here.”
“They have an auror security detail?” Harry’s eyes widened. He would have thought that would be something Kingsley would have told him, what with their discussion of wasting resources.
“No. Two of our people were sent over at the same time you and I left the Ministry, but the Malfoys have hired private security.”
“Oh.” Harry supposed that was who Kingsley meant when he’d said he needed more people on his security force. Kingsley wasn’t big on guns-for-hire, but most private security firms hired ex-aurors, former cursebreakers, people with some type of formal training who had decided for one reason or another to get out of the public sector. Most of them were probably stored somewhere in the Ministry records. It was much easier to rescreen and rehire than it was to train new aurors.
Maybe the Minister’s old friend Narcissa would be willing to give him some names, people who might be interested in helping the Ministry in this time of national turmoil.
They passed through the gates, and Harry felt layers and layers of magic settle over him like a thick worn cloak brushing against his skin. He’d felt some of this in the grounds on the walk up, knew the sensation of wards and family property magic from Grimmauld Place, but that was nothing compared to this.
He wondered idly why he hadn’t sensed it before. Not that Harry had been back here in years. Seemed like the sort of thing he ought to have noticed the first time, though. Then again, they probably had twice as many wards up to protect them from the backlash they had to have started getting after the war. And Harry had hardly been this- calm, yep, that was the word for it, calm when your life was risking it for other people and that was all you knew how to do, especially when it was two Malfoys this time instead of an entire school or city or country- he’d hardly been this calm when he’d been there the first time.
Harry knocked. Auror Haden looked at him strangely. He glanced over at her.
“I thought you would have rung the bell,” Haden explained, skeptical.
“Friends knock. Strangers ring.”
Before Haden could respond to Harry’s suggestion, if she’d even been planning on it, the door swung open to reveal an older and more beautiful Malfoy than Harry could ever remember seeing.
The last time had been, what, after the trials? When they were both eighteen and still on the first aftershock, neither of them remotely aware that three years later they’d be thrown into each other’s paths again riding the fourth or fifth or sixth?
Harry’d lost count. He supposed the aftershocks would stop eventually, but until they did he was going to have to keep risking his life. This time it happened to involve Malfoy.
A gorgeous Malfoy, all tousled hair and soft-lit skin and the height of a little age gained and the hints of litheness and grace underneath the dark clothes even when he was standing perfectly still.
Malfoy, he thought. Of course it was Malfoy. Of course he looked like this, of course he had changed.
“Are you going to come in?” he asked, perplexingly amiable, and Harry realized he’d just been staring. No ‘hello,’ no ‘good to see you,’ no ‘sorry it wasn’t under better circumstances.’ He didn’t even know if he could have said any of those things. For the comment about friends knocking he hadn’t actually considered whether Malfoy would think of them as friends- and Harry didn’t, not really, but he knew Malfoy, or had known him, and that had to count for something.
“This is Auror Haden,” Harry said, because it felt like the polite thing to do after skipping the first round of pleasantries.
“I know,” Malfoy said, stepping back. “We’ve met. Ministry functions,” he explained with a nod to Haden. She nodded back, and then she and Harry were in and Malfoy was shutting the door. “Sorry it’s so dark. The house responds more to the weather than it used to. Something to do with the extra wards, I think.”
“It’s no problem,” Harry said. It really wasn’t. The lamps in the entrance hall were all lit against the cloudy sky, half the curtains open to let in what little light they could. It did look like the lamps could have been brighter, though, which Harry supposed was what Malfoy meant about the house responding to the weather. He wondered if Grimmauld Place would have responded the same way and remembered some days when it seemed like it, extra wards or not.
“They’ve set up security HQ in the room behind the kitchens,” Malfoy told Haden. “West wing, fourth door on your left. Call an elf if you get lost. And thank you. I’m glad to be working with you.” He said this last part warmly.
Haden gave him another nod. “No need to thank me, Mr. Malfoy. I’m just doing my job. But I am glad to be working with you, as well,” and she walked off.
“What was that about?” Harry asked as Haden disappeared through the door to the wing Malfoy had indicated.
Malfoy turned to Harry. “I know her. She’s a good auror. And this is a job, for me, too. Even if you don’t see taking responsibility for innocent civilians as work.” Before Harry could protest (and he didn’t know how he would have, given it had been partially true), Malfoy continued, “It’s been years.”
“You surprised me. I thought an elf would answer the door. Or an auror, maybe.”
“I haven’t seen you in three years.”
“Yes, and I surprised you. No need to go through that again.” Malfoy spun a slow circle, appraising the doors around the hall one by one until he was facing Harry again. “I’ve got things to do, but I suppose you need a tour.”
“I wouldn’t want to get in the way of your work.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
Harry wondered how that was possible, given they’d started talking to each other in this strange half-cautious half-friendly way and neither was insulting the other and neither was pretending they were strangers, because even after three years they couldn’t be completely.
Malfoy was leading him up the stairs. “I’ll take you to your rooms, first, since that’s the most important place for you to know. They’ve put up six extra wards around that section of the house alone, one blanket privacy and anti-apparition ward and five that will activate when you get in. I presume you’ve got your things magically-compressed on your person somewhere?”
“Trunk. In my pocket.” And the stupid necklace. Add that to the wards.
“Right. Well, there’ll be plenty of room for that, and the elves wash anything left in the hamper. I was told that you can only leave to get any other things if you’re accompanied by two aurors. That sounds a little extreme, not to mention irritating for them to relay information through me instead of just telling you in the damned security briefing we’re all required to attend in two hours.” He was leading Harry down a long hall, finally coming to a stop in front of a door with a rose painted on the handle.
“Guess someone at the Ministry was worried I wouldn’t be able to behave without the reminder.”
Draco smirked. It was beautiful, like the rest of him, so different from any of the expressions Harry remembered, a look that said he’d been expecting this but found it funny, anyway, and Harry had to remind himself not to stare again. “Knowing you, it was probably the Minister himself.”
Harry grinned. “Probably.” He didn’t understand what they were doing, or how they were doing it, talking like the silent resolution they’d made not to hate each other or pity each other or resent each other after the trial had actually worked, had actually stuck. Maybe it had. They hadn’t had a chance before now to test it.
“If you don’t like sleeping here,” Draco said, opening the door and leading Harry inside, “I’m sure we can convince them to move you. It’d be a pain in the arse to recast everything, but I told them they should wait to set up the wards until you got here because people used to danger tend to prefer choosing their rooms when possible-”
“No,” Harry said hastily. “It’s fine.”
Draco met his eyes. Harry had been failing at not staring. “You haven’t even seen it yet.”
“The aurors are stretched thin enough as it is. Don’t want to give extra work to the few we’re stealing from real Ministry duties.”
“Even so, you should look. To make sure you can sleep here.”
Harry tore his eyes away from Draco and glanced around. Then he met Draco’s eyes again. “This is fine.”
“You’re making an awful lot of eye contact today.” Draco's eyebrows were up, expression amused, a fainter version of the smirk he’d worn before but one with much more challenge in it.
“You’re acting like everything’s fine.”
“It is. You’re an adult, I’m an adult, we agreed not to dredge up the past if ever we had the opportunity. This is the opportunity, and, as agreed, I’m not taking it. Neither are you, I don’t think.”
Harry shook his head slightly.
“Exactly,” Draco said. “So, yes, I’m acting like everything’s fine. It is, last I checked.”
Draco smiled, a challenging smile, one that said ‘I dare you to contradict me’ in a way that was meant for friends and not. Whatever they were. “Third time you’ve said it, but I get the feeling you don’t believe it.”
Harry sighed. “I guess I expected… Nothing. I didn’t expect anything. I just didn’t think it’d be like this. Seeing you again. I thought one of us would break or something, forget the war was over and-”
“Do something stupid?” Draco finished, eyes sparkling with bitter amusement this time.
“Well,” Draco said, making for the door, “I can promise you if one of us does something stupid it isn’t going to be me. And don’t be silly. People like us can never forget the war.” Draco leaned in the doorway, pulled up his left sleeve, and Harry wasn’t expecting it. It was too much too fast, made him dizzy for a second before he flitted his eyes back up to Draco’s. “The only thing you seem to have forgotten is that it doesn’t end. It won’t end. History doesn’t work that way. It’s in us forever, whether we like it or not, and everything you or I do has the potential to be scrawled in a history book under the heading ‘aftermath of the war’ and still be considered accurate. True now, true tomorrow, true in ten years. All we can do is hope one day it won’t hurt so much. That we’ll forget the shadow of it, I suppose, since the real thing is beyond forgetting.”
Since. Since since since. Draco’d gone through so many loops of logic Harry didn’t know if he could follow them all. It all made sense to him, somehow, though. Didn’t necessarily make sense objectively, but it made sense to him.
People talking about the war usually didn’t. “I thought we were being friendly.”
“You’ve just told me I’ll always be reduced to the Chosen One, and you’ll always be reduced to a Death Eater.”
“Those things are true. Not pleasant, maybe, but true. And I didn’t want to hurt you when I said them.”
“I don’t believe you,” Harry said. Because people like them knew better than to expect something like that wouldn’t hurt. “But it didn’t sound like you were. Trying to hurt me, I mean. So, in the absence of proof, I guess- sure. Why not. It’s still friendly.”
Draco smiled. “We’re going to get along well, I think.”
“If you didn’t, would you have let me through the door?”
Draco was still smiling. “If I said ‘yes’ would you believe me?”
Harry didn’t answer. Instead he went up to Draco, maybe a little too close, and said, “You still owe me the rest of the tour.”
Harry didn’t think Draco owed him anything. That was why he’d thought it would be so hard to be here. Why he’d thought it would be difficult to put him and Narcissa at risk, because for all Harry had tried to convince himself they might not have paid their debt to society, Harry couldn't really believe they hadn’t. He was there because this was the lowest risk.
Draco looked at him like he could see some of that, like Harry was trying to tell him without saying it, which maybe he was, and said, “I did promise,” and gave him the rest of the tour.
The Manor was big, and old, and there was magic in the walls. There was magic in the air. Harry could taste it when he breathed. Compartmentalization kept the flashbacks out, like it always had. He was good at it. Heroes had to be good at it.
He didn’t want to be a hero. Wasn’t, in most senses of the word. But he was there for a heroic reason, and the pretense of friendliness was worth too much for however long he would have to stay, worth too much to lose it having a breakdown or starting an argument. Harry didn’t know what they would argue about. There was nothing. It was the breakdown part that worried him. He couldn’t fight with Draco unless Draco wanted to fight, and he didn’t. Antagonize him, yes, maybe. Fight, though? No. There would’ve had to have been malice in his voice when he said it. Not the bare honesty of someone stating facts.
They were facts. That was why Harry hadn’t shouted or cried out or protested at all or punched him in the face. Because if Malfoy couldn’t say things like that to him they weren’t going to get along. That was the point, he thought. It was a test to see if Harry was committed to this- this thing they had to do. And he was, so he hadn’t snapped, and Draco seemed pleased by this and kept acting friendly the whole rest of the afternoon. He didn’t say another word about the war, didn’t even make another joke about the Chosen One’s savior complex. There were only suggestions of jokes, things like ‘knowing you it was the Minister himself,’ but Malfoy never said them. He just let Harry catch the flash in his eyes and then it was gone, replaced by a professional flickering of warmth that was welcoming without being obvious about it.
Accommodating, maybe. That was the word. Considerate. It was intensely considerate of him to have thought Harry would want to choose his own room. Harry didn’t think that was a lie, either, because the more he saw this Draco the more he knew his honesty. Draco didn’t lie. His comments were deductive and useful, his compliments based in fact, his reactions backed by expressions that promised they were the same underneath the polite restraint, underneath the composure. If Draco wanted to laugh he laughed, once or twice, short, and his eyes promised all the mirth that might have been behind it. The same emotion less concentrated.
He was like that with everything. Just enough but not pushing. He held the door open for Harry, but acted like it was such a natural thing that Harry didn't once feel weird about it. He made pauses in speech or movement, hesitations Harry felt rather than saw or heard, when he came across the spaces that could mean tortured friends or dead professors to Harry. He didn’t make them into voids, suck the meaning out; he let them exist without making them a big deal, because he could tell that Harry didn’t want to.
At every turn Harry got the sense that he was a guest in Draco’s home. He’d said it was work, and the way he talked about entrances and exits and wards indicated that was as true as everything else he’d said, but this was also where he lived and he cared whether or not Harry felt comfortable there. Wanted him to as much as was possible.
Which, if Malfoy was going to be like this, it might be.
His mother was out. She’d be back by dinner at seven and would check in with security later; they needed to get to the meeting.
Harry hadn’t realized it had been two hours.
“The tour was slower than usual,” Malfoy explained when Harry pointed this out.
“Didn’t think you’d know what to do with yourself and wanted to make sure you knew I wasn't going to bite before we got to talking about how, precisely, our lives might depend on each other.”
Harry could feel the meaning as clear and honest as if it were a ripple of magic, a caress of it, reassuring him. Like, yes, I bite, I almost did back there talking about the war, but not you, to you I mean well.
Which was fucked, in terms of logic, but it was- that was Malfoy. He supposed they had always made sense to each other, in their way, in a way other people couldn’t really understand.
“Thank you. For that and for… this. For putting yourself at risk like this. Opening your home, and everything.” Harry thought when the word ‘home’ came up it’d taste like bile or blood or something equally unpleasant, but instead it just tasted like truth. A truth that ached a little, but truth nonetheless.
“We all have to do our part to save the innocent muggles.” He held Harry’s eyes. “You’re welcome.”
The meeting was tedious and repetitive and included most of the things Draco had told him on the tour and little else. Harry wondered about that, wondered if Draco had done it on purpose or if he’d even had an idea of what the meeting would cover.
Harry wasn’t confined to the house, per say, but he couldn’t leave it without auror escort. Even the grounds were too risky; he had to stay within the perimeter, which went from the front gate to the house to the gated outer edge of the closest back garden, the farthest he could go if he wanted any semblance of privacy.
It was fine. He’d gotten used to auror escorts at fifteen. By twenty-one they were as tried and familiar as an old coat, comfortable for necessity if for no other reason. He knew the whole Auror Department. Hell, he’d looked after Haden’s cat the last time she’d gone on holiday.
There'd only be one auror stationed there all the time. They were banking on the house security, on the locket, on the wards the other two had come before Harry and Haden to put up or check and recheck. The extra wards on his rooms were there to protect him when he was vulnerable. If, by some miracle, someone managed to get through the layers and layers of protection on the house, Harry would either have had time to react to the situation or be behind six additional wards. They would wake him up if he were asleep, send a signal to the Ministry, activate more of the house magic than either Harry or Draco was comfortable with (because this wasn’t Harry’s house, it wasn’t his magic to take, and that could mean Draco and Narcissa had less of a chance and that was… another of the things Kingsley did that Harry wished he could call unacceptable but couldn’t because he didn’t want the responsibility that would give his opinion that much weight). All of this would hopefully buy him enough time to prepare or escape. Kingsley preferred escape. Harry never had.
Harry’d had years to prepare for the possibility of there not being enough time. Years and years to learn that feeling, every inch of it, down to his bones. Didn’t matter. Still felt like shit. Still gave him goosebumps. Made him want to start digging the self-pity hole or the sanity grave or whatever it was he was doing when he started torturing himself with ‘not enough’ and ‘too late.'
He wouldn’t have Ron and Hermione to get him out this time. Harry was treating this like quarantine; he wasn’t going to let them get dragged into the crossfire if more lives didn’t depend on it. All he’d have was a secure Floo channel and his existing knowledge of Ron and Hermione’s schedules, which, if he was being honest, was questionable at best. Sorry we can’t come to the fire right now. Please notify us of your crisis and return to your bad memories after the flash.
Worst came to worst he could always try Malfoy. They would both hate it, but Harry had a feeling it’d be a way to give that back- some of that truth Malfoy had found it necessary to fling at him for whatever convoluted reason he’d done it. Harry had plenty of that stored up for rainy days. He was willing to share.
After the meeting Malfoy said, “It’s not like you have to dress for dinner, but you should try to be on time. Mother sometimes likes to do courses and it throws the timing off when someone’s late.”
“Don’t house elves know the best food stasis magic known to exist?”
“Yes, but not all Malfoys are as patient as I am.”
“That’s refreshing,” Harry said. “That you’re patient. At least now, when you haven’t gotten tired of me yet.”
“I got tired of you years ago, Potter. I expect no matter how much you’ve changed a part of me always will be.”
That was true, Harry thought. Because he’d always be tired of Malfoy. They were doing something new, this refusing to go over it and over it, but Harry still knew him. Still knew the reactions he’d have even if they were different from the ones before, could still get close to predicting them, and had, he thought, almost remastered it. Three hours werer enough. “I hope for both our sakes your patience holds.”
“I think there’s about a 50-50 chance.” Draco held eye contact. They weren’t smiling, neither of them. Draco was joking but he wasn’t smiling. Maybe not entirely joking.
Finally Harry said, “I’ll see you in an hour, then,” and retreated.
“Harry! So good to see you,” Narcissa said, embracing him. He hadn’t expected that. Malfoys surprising him up and down that day. “I only wish it had been under better circumstances.”
This was not unprecedented. He had seen her once or twice, run into her in the street or the Ministry and talked. They’d gotten coffee once, years ago, when Harry had just convinced himself to go outside again. It was the next summer, the summer after that first one, the summer after the summer after the war, and Harry had decided instead of apparating everywhere- because that was better than the risk of being spotted in the street- that it would be alright to start walking. Alright to take the risk. He’d only been walking for a week when he turned a corner and saw her, just sitting down at an outside table with an icy glass of tea. She had invited him to sit, and he’d said yes, thinking, she saved your life, of course you should.
And now she was standing here in front of him without an unkind word, again, not a hint of displeasure or distaste at the inconvenience he was causing her, the worse-than-inconvenience.
And yet somehow she didn’t sound as honest as Draco. Her son, Harry thought. He was endangering her son.
Dinner was cool and almost familiar. Their conversations were complicated, dances around the significant without saying anything that might offend. Harry found it unexpectedly easy to reconcile this with the Draco of earlier. He didn't know exactly why. When they’d been alone Draco hadn’t been like that- but then, that hadn’t really been alone, not really. Harry and Draco had been alone, but not- not in the normal sense. It didn’t matter Harry wanted to kiss him, didn’t matter he didn’t know why for that either, because they had deadlines and responsibilities and it wasn’t really a private moment. There wasn't danger in the possibility that someone might have walked in and heard Draco tearing Harry down with precision- anyone could have, and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Nothing would have been shattered, nothing broken by the intrusion. Because they weren’t getting too close.
That was it. In Narcissa more than Draco. They didn’t get too close. Harry was used to this. It was how he’d lived his life for ages. Pick up a fit bloke in a coffee shop, but don’t get too close. Take that girl from the club on a few dates, but don’t get too close. Have Ron and Hermione over for all the insignificant holidays, but don’t get too close.
Because even though he was closer to them than anyone else, there were still some things he couldn’t tell them.
Harry had a feeling he could have told them to Draco, and Draco would have laughed. Not that restrained one, either. He would have really laughed, thrown his head back and let peals of it escape his lips in confirmation of Harry’s words as much as to say ‘Potter, you’re absurd.’ He was absurd, he knew it, and Draco could see through him. Even when neither of them was trying.
He’d known Draco again for all of four hours and he felt like he’d known him for years. Like in all the time that had passed Harry had been just close enough to watch Draco change, so all of him made perfect sense now.
Harry wondered if Draco was good at reading people. If he was deducing what he was about Harry, and acting on it the way he was, because he was good at reading people, or if he’d snapped back to knowing like the click of something where it’s supposed to fit the second Harry stepped through the door.
After dinner there was an interlude to all three of them dispersing for the evening (or maybe an exitlude for dinner): coffee. Some of the tension dissolved, three sets of shoulders melting into the backs of armchairs and warm dark liquid easing the chill from Harry’s skin. It mellowed him, warmed him from the inside out, and he saw some of the social caution thaw in Draco and Narcissa. They weren’t quite so formal about everything, quite so careful. Harry didn’t know if it was change of venue or x number of minutes spent with him. He didn’t know if he’d come to dinner the next day and find them frozen again or still this relaxed.
He realized he didn’t care, because this wasn’t awful. It wasn’t a nightmare. It was just work. Draco’s casual tones reminded him that it was just work. Narcissa’s notes of appreciation for the Ministry’s thoroughness reminded him it was just work. The way he felt a smile come unbidden to his lips when Draco finally, finally made another joke about him reminded him this was just work.
Because if Draco was really playing, if he really wanted to see how far he could push Harry, he wouldn’t be doing what Harry expected. He’d be doing the opposite. Making a joke about there being ‘no higher honor than hosting Potter in our humble abode’ and following it with a sincere word about ‘doing his best to make this as painless as possible’ was- it was Draco again. Doing what Harry’d come to expect in the past few hours with the twist of what he’d expected before them. I’m still Draco, you’re still Harry, we’re going to get through this as best we can.
Maybe ‘I’m still Malfoy, you’re still Potter’ would have been more accurate.
But Harry didn’t want to call him ‘Malfoy’ anymore.
“It’s been a day, Harry.” Hermione’s voice dragged him away from his tenth reiteration that Malfoy had become a decent human being since they were in school.
Since everything. “I know.”
“And you don’t have to reassure me. I've heard about all he's done. And I trust your judgment, even if the repetition is starting to be a bit of a red flag.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I just…”
“Can’t believe it?”
Hermione sighed, and Harry heard her say something over her shoulder but couldn’t make out the words. “I know,” she said at the end, and Ron’s figure came into view next to her.
“’Mione’s got to go to work.”
“What? You just got home ten minutes ago!”
“I know,” she said with an apologetic smile, “but it’s an important case. I’m sorry I couldn’t talk more. We’ll have to find a time again soon.”
“Yeah. See you later. Good luck with… everything.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you, Harry.” She went.
“What’s been going on with Malfoy, then?” Ron said, easy as anything.
“Depends what Hermione told you.”
His ears went red, visible even through the Floo. “Nothing. Honestly, mate, if there weren’t actually people out to get you I’d think you were getting a bit paranoid.”
Harry grinned. “Constant vigilance, Ron." Then he frowned. "Hasn’t she been working overtime for a month?”
Ron shrugged. “No getting around it. We’ve caught a handful of the bunch that’s after you, but with the specific confessions they’re making prosecution’s a bloody nightmare. We know they’re doing it to fuck up the case. We just can’t figure out how- never mind. You don’t need that. Work, you know? You’re busy enough with- what have you been doing?”
“In the twenty-four hours since I’ve been free, you mean?”
“Nothing much. I can’t bother Kingsley from here. Mostly today I’ve just been wandering around. Probably go down to the library after this and do… something. I could try writing one of the reform bills Kingsley complains someone ought to write.”
“Going to start petitioning the Ministry to actually get something done?”
“I’ll probably be rubbish at it and give up halfway through. Maybe someone in his office can fix it up enough to be worth having the Chosen One’s name slapped on it.” Harry realized a second too late that the bitterness was there, that the phrase hadn't come off the way he’d intended it.
Ron caught it. He always caught it. “Hey. Don’t do that to yourself.”
“Sorry,” Harry said, too quickly.
“It’s not me you should be apologizing to, mate,” Ron said with a sigh. “I just don’t want you getting cooped up in there and start… you know?”
“Yeah.” Start falling back into old patterns, he maybe would have said. Start losing the ground you’ve gained so far, losing the ability to be a functional human being. Harry had grasped for that, clawed for it. He wasn’t better, but he could sort of start to see himself approaching it. The Ministry was work even though it wasn’t. His love life was healthy even though it wasn’t. His mental state was livable even though it wasn’t.
“Well, if you ever need to talk…” Ron didn’t push him like Hermione did. He didn’t say ‘you ought to see a professional, Harry.’ Sometimes ‘we all need help’ but never ‘you should to go to a mind healer.’ Never from Ron.
That maybe made him a shitty friend, Harry realized. Not intentionally, just- misguided. Because Hermione was right. Harry was hell-bent on not listening to her, hell-bent on preserving the sanity people didn’t expect him to be able to keep hold of. Keeping everyone else out. But she was right. He should see someone.
Harry sighed. “I know. Firecall you.”
“Right.” Ron looked a little relieved. Something in Harry’s tone, maybe.
Something that reassured Ron Harry wasn’t getting obsessed with Malfoy again. That’s what they were thinking. Harry suspected it was what Hermione had said to him earlier. But Harry couldn’t bring it up to them. He couldn’t let them know he was aware of it, because that would- they’d think he was justifying it. And he had nothing to justify. He thought Malfoy was beautiful and liked to stare at him. He thought Malfoy was telling the truth. He liked the way Malfoy treated him better than the ways other people did. Harry couldn’t explain these things to Ron or Hermione. He had, after all, only been at the Manor a day- Hermione had a point. But he wasn’t doing anything stupid, like lashing out or falling in love or Merlin forbid trusting him.
Harry was just. Waiting. “Night, Ron.”
Harry sat back on his heels. It was almost dinner. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans again, though these jeans weren’t as nice as the ones he’d worn to his Very Important meeting with Kingsley. The hems were frayed he’d worn this pair so often.
They were his favorite. They fit the best.
Harry went down on time. He wasn’t trusting Malfoy, but that didn’t mean he wanted to rock the boat. They had a truce. Harry didn’t know how deep it ran. He had to be careful. The warning Hermione had laced into her words was a good one. She had been using the ‘be careful, Harry,’ tone. He knew it from nights in the tent and days spent walking the perimeter.
he was trapped like that again, Harry wanted to do all the same things. He wanted to walk that path with his feet, not just his mind. He wanted to walk through all the corridors of the house and beat a dirt path into the grass just inside the boundaries of the wards. Ron was right. He was already feeling this and he’d been there a day. Hermione was right. He had to be careful.
It was just-
Good advice didn’t mean anything when Malfoy looked at him like that.
“Hello,” Malfoy said, dropping into his chair. “Have a nice day?” He was looking at Harry like he was more than mildly interested. Like he cared whether or not Harry’s day had been nice.
It was the first time Harry’d seen him since the night before. “Bit boring. Expect I’ll start writing a tell-all memoir just for something to do.”
Narcissa laughed. It tinkled, delicately chiming like a bell.
Alright, Harry thought. Back to being frozen, then. “What did you do today?”
“Foundation work, mostly.” Yesterday Harry learned Malfoy worked for the Malfoy Foundation instead of just owning it. He didn’t know what they did- he knew Kingsley worked things out with Narcissa whenever the Foundation and the Ministry had to be involved with each other, but Kingsley had never said much about it to Harry.
Draco hadn’t volunteered an explanation, and Harry hadn’t asked. It didn’t seem to fit into this fragile thing they were doing at dinner.
He’d ask at coffee. “If there’s ever anything I can do to help you should let me know. I’ve never done especially well locked in a house.” That was true. Harry had felt ten times better the first day he’d gone into the Ministry to do a favor for Kingsley. It was like he’d forgotten, being in the house so long, what it was like to seem like a normal person. To just do things, like he wasn’t fighting to keep his memories from burying him.
Now it was easy as breathing. Just had to get the hang of it. Compartmentalization. Three months of grieving and four doing a little more than he wanted to at the Ministry and his ability to shove the horrors of his past from the forefront of his mind was good as new.
“You aren’t locked in. Except at night, and even then you could still leave,” Malfoy said. “Though I suppose needing an auror escort to exit the wards is somewhat disheartening.”
Harry would've had to call another one in from the Ministry to meet their requirements, and he wasn't going to. “Just a bit.”
They kept talking like that, skirting issues, until it was coffee.
Time for Harry to ask. “What kind of work do you do at the Foundation?”
“All types of charity work. We have to be careful not to get involved in too much, because there will always be too many good causes, but it’s- really rewarding.” There was this expression on Draco’s face, something like, ‘this is how I’m trying,’ and it was clear he didn’t have to ask how Harry was.
Harry was doing it just then. “What were you working on today?”
“Nothing important. Property stuff.” That was a lie. It was the first time Malfoy’d lied to Harry since he’d come there.
Narcissa yawned. “I think I’m going to bed early, darling. As ever, let me know if you need anything, Harry.”
“Goodnight.” Narcissa swept from the room.
This was alone.
Harry was making it be. “Why did you lie to me just now?”
“Are these the effects of the strong magic you’re rumored to have? Indirect legilimency?”
“No. Ron and Hermione lie to me all the time. Loads of people lie to me. It’s just you, I think.”
“But you can tell when they’re lying?”
“Not always. Stop avoiding the question.” Harry was pushing. Harry didn’t do that.
Except now he was. And Draco was challenging him back. “What if I don’t want to answer? You’re being awfully rude to someone who’s invited you into their home.”
“Malfoy.” Harry said it like, ‘we both want to discuss this, don’t we.’
Draco seemed to agree. “What did you mean, it’s just me?”
“I meant since I came here I felt like you were telling the truth- didn’t- I just knew. It felt different when you said that.”
“You just knew?”
“You sound like Snape.”
“I- what?” Malfoy looked confused, cautious.
“There’s the honesty I was- it’s- something he said to me once. When I said that about you. No one trusts my instincts.”
“You have instincts about me?”
“I have instincts about everything. Why did you lie?”
Malfoy smiled. “It wasn’t technically a lie. I was withholding.”
“It felt like a lie to me.”
“Yes, I suppose the unimportant bit was. Why am I entertaining this?”
It was Harry’s turn to smile. “Because I was right.”
Harry felt guilty. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“Wasn’t going to. Just.” Draco shook his head. “I didn’t want to tell you because I keep it close. When I talk to you I feel like I might accidentally say too much.”
“You keep talking to me, though.”
“Notice how I avoided you today.”
“I haven’t been here that long.”
“No, you haven’t. And yet. Here we are.” Draco stared at him.
Harry stared back.
They held eye contact until Draco broke away and started bouncing his foot. His legs were crossed, his posture impossibly relaxed despite the conversation they’d just been having, and Harry would have thought the foot bouncing was a very un-Draco-like gesture if he hadn’t been living in his vicinity for twenty-four hours.
Harry sighed. “Why’d you really say that yesterday?”
Foot still bouncing, “I was trying to get a rise out of you.”
“Did it work?”
Draco’s smile was challenging again. “I think you’d know better than I-”
“Did it work?” Harry repeated, a bit more insistent this time.
Draco’s smile got soft. A little wondering. Still all behind that layer of whatever professionalism or caution or restraint he had up all the time. “No. It never does with you. Go the way I planned. It always- you always do something to surprise me. When we were in school I’d expect cruelty and get rage. It wasn’t even directed at me, half the time, like-” like mine wasn’t directed at you, he didn’t say. Harry just knew it. Draco knew he knew it. “I don’t know why I expected... but that’s not important. What’s important is that I said it, and you didn’t jump down my throat about it, and that… let me know you’re different. Than before, I mean.”
“I wanted to.” When Draco didn’t show recognition, Harry added, “Jump down your throat about it.”
The smile fell from Draco’s face to be replaced by seriousness, gravity, the kind of gravity Harry had used to get Draco to keep looking at him a moment before. “Why didn’t you?”
Harry smiled. “Isn’t this more fun?”
They went back to talking about unimportant things, and Harry wondered if it counted as victory this time. Not getting too close.
Every time Draco lied he did it smiling. He warned Harry before the words made it out of his mouth.
Draco had let him help with some of the paperwork for the Foundation, all of it connected to shelters for people the Ministry or the muggle government didn’t have the resources to help. Harry hated that excuse, ‘didn’t have the resources,’ but he’d learned that it was legitimate. Most of the rich fucks still controlling the Ministry insisted they focus their efforts on rebuilding national confidence. Harry didn’t know what withholding assistance from muggleborns whose lives had been ruined by the war had to do with rebuilding national confidence, but he’d been the figurehead of enough Ministry-sponsored fundraisers to know Kingsley, at least, was doing all he could to direct the funds to the people that needed them most.
And then there was Draco. Doing this. Smiling brightly when Harry asked what drew him to this project and parroting, “We all have to do our part,” like the first day. Not meaning it. Using it as an excuse to cover up his real reasons for getting involved in this specific charity.
And smiling. To let Harry know he was lying about it.
“I think you’re beautiful,” said Harry, then, just because.
Draco stopped smiling. “I know. You were staring at my arse every time you weren’t making eye contact on the tour. If I went across the room right now you’d-”
“No.” Harry shook his head. “If you went across the room I’d watch the lines of your back. The way the muscles moved under them. I’d watch how graceful you were, just walking, just going a few feet in your own house. More graceful, maybe, for knowing this place so well. And looking like you belong here.”
Draco looked unbothered, a hint of a smirk flashing in his expression. “So it’s aesthetic appreciation, then?”
Harry smiled with just his eyes. It was a close thing, not letting it get to his lips. He wanted to. “On the first day I was staring at your arse.”
Draco looked confused. Not like he didn’t believe Harry, like- like he could tell that Harry was lying. Sort of. Because Harry had thought he was beautiful then, too. So he was technically… withholding.
Draco’s expression settled into polite amusement. “I guess that’s fine, then. Seeing as how I wanted to rip those jeans off you yesterday. The calves were alright, but the thighs? Merlin, Potter. No one should go out looking like that. It’s dangerous. Seducing people left and right without realizing you’re doing it.”
He knew the jeans were fine. This was all Malfoy. “I thought that was part of the appeal.”
“It is, usually. You acknowledging it sort of fucks it up.”
“Sorry. I’ll play clueless next time.”
Draco frowned. “Don’t.”
“Knowing looks better on you than clueless.”
They just got back to normal after that. Harry kept reminding himself not to get too close. It wasn’t hard with Malfoy, actually, because even though Harry knew he could say anything to him, he also knew Malfoy was making an effort to keep him at arm’s length. Malfoy had said it, said he was afraid of telling Harry too much, and something about Malfoy being worried about it made it easier for Harry not to be.
They both had a vested interest in not getting too close. Harry didn’t know what Malfoy’s was. His honesty didn’t reveal that much, didn’t run into things deep enough that it could have.
They were being friendly. They were talking. They weren’t getting too close.
Harry’s days fell into a pattern. This pattern was much easier than the one he wanted to walk around the property, much, much, easier than the one the sight of specific rooms wanted to burn into his skull. Get up, eat breakfast, find Malfoy, ask for work, do it if there is some, don’t if there isn’t any. Half the time Malfoy wasn’t even home during the day. He had a real job, after all, one that didn’t stop because Harry Potter was secretly living in his house. Every once in a while Harry would be in the entrance hall when he came in (because the whole house had anti-apparition wards- the ones on his room were just stronger).
Malfoy looked happy. He would open the door, step in, take off his scarf once the days had started having a chill, look a little flushed even when they didn’t. He looked warm. The inside kind of warm.
It was the kind he tried to reach out and offer to Harry in small things. The ways he was considerate. Sometimes he’d even do the ‘this is what I’m doing, this is how I’m doing it’ expression in a way that insisted Harry could do it to.
But Harry didn’t really know how.
He’d been trying. This whole thing was him trying. He had done everything that was asked of him and more. He had gone to all the fundraisers. Sponsored all the Ministry resolutions. Shook hands. Smiled and nodded at the offhand comments about him being Minister one day, because even if he wasn’t on the Ministry payroll there were still people who thought it’d flatter him to imply he should be.
And he was doing this, now, again. Time number four or five or however many national security threats Harry was on by then.
He got updates mostly from Ron. Kingsley was so entangled with the French government that he couldn’t block out more than an hour for an actual national security meeting, which wasn’t helping the Auror Department. Kingsley had to know it’d look bad, former auror not able to stick around for the entire meeting, so whatever was going on with France had to be a mess. Harry felt guilty about it because he wasn’t there to help. He wasn’t there to sit in on the meetings and give the stupid fucking press conferences and fundraisers that’d get the aurors the funding they needed to get things done without the diversion of resources Kingsley didn’t have the time, let alone the ability, to divert. Harry was doing ‘important international liaison work.’ That was his excuse for being out of the society pages for so long. That was the explanation they were feeding the press to keep someone from catching onto his connection to the Auror Department’s biggest case in years.
Ron couldn’t tell him that much, but Harry could see from the exhaustion in his face that it was just getting more complicated the farther they got in the investigation.
“I’m sorry I can’t do anything,” Harry said, meaning it.
“Nah, mate. There isn’t much you’d be able to do without official security clearance. You’re doing us more good over there than you would be here. Trust me.”
Ron’s voice only went up at the end like that when he was lying. Harry didn’t know if he should push it. “I could be helping Kingsley.”
“Ah. Well.” Ron rubbed the back of his neck, looking uncomfortable.
“It’s not really… I mean, technically it isn’t classified, but most of this stuff’s on a need-to-know basis, and I think it’d be safer if-”
Ron sighed. “Kingsley’s got a new Junior Minister.”
Harry blinked. “How’s that need-to-know information?”
“You know how it is. He’s still in the trial stage. No official press releases until they’re sure he can help Kingsley get a handle on the auror funding problem.” But Ron still looked uncomfortable.
“Well, I…” Ron took a deep breath. “He’s supposed to be doing all the things you do.”
“Your job, Harry. Or your unofficial duties, or whatever. The things Kingsley delegates to you because you’re retired and bored.” Ron had never argued with Harry’s retirement joke, had always known that in some ways it wasn’t a joke. That even though Harry tried to help out wherever he could at the end of the day he was done. He knew Harry was done. He never argued. He wasn’t arguing now.
Except calling it a job didn’t make it feel like Harry was done.
A stupid fucking test, an uncertainty, planting a seed of doubt, or trying to dig one out of himself. Whatever it was Malfoy was trying to do when he’d said it. It doesn’t end. It won’t end. It’s in us forever, whether we like it or not.
“Harry?” Ron sounded scared.
“Fuck. Sorry.” He had to know he hadn’t hurt Harry. Harry couldn’t let Ron see that a memory had just cracked him open and was letting all the other ones out.
“Are you alright?”
“Look, Harry, I didn’t mean-”
“Ron.” He smiled. It felt like the smile Draco gave him when he was lying. Ron didn’t know that smile. “I’m fine.”
Years of compartmentalization made Ron believe him. “Alright. Things have been hectic for a while, and really Kingsley shouldn’t have left that job open as long as he did.”
How long had it been? A year, Harry’s memories told him from behind the glass. Except they weren’t behind the glass anymore, they were flooding him. It’s been a year since Kingsley fired the last one. The seat’s been vacant for a fucking year. He left the interim Junior Minister in, but that had been just a title. Kingsley had tried to take everything on himself before. That’s why he fired the idiot his advisors had recommended to him, just before he fired the advisors. “I’m glad he’s found someone. It’ll make dealing with France easier.”
Ron laughed. “I hope so. Are you sure you’re okay?”
Compartmentalization. Since. There was no other way to do this. “Yeah.”
“Still helping with the Malfoy Foundation?”
“Gives me something to do.” When Draco was home. When he wasn’t Harry had to fight the tingling in his skin that was telling him to run. To leave.
He’d thrown away the shovel, but he still wanted to get under the dirt, where it was safe. Burrow under it, get out of the wind.
Harry would have still been trying to bury the memories if living in Malfoy Manor hadn’t finally convinced him what he should have learned years ago. That it was impossible.
So, he’d been hung up on this for a while, then. On Draco being right.
Wasn’t fair he’d got there so much bloody sooner than Harry. Harry would have thought at some point he’d realize he was doing the Junior Minister’s job and not getting paid for it. That it wouldn’t take an extended leave of absence and a veiled implication that Harry would be jealous of another person helping Kingsley. Or the country. Whoever he was supposed to be helping when he kissed the arses of the people Kingsley didn’t have time for.
“We really are doing everything we can. I’m frustrated enough here.” Ron didn’t say ‘I can’t imagine how hard it is for you doing nothing’ because he didn’t have to. Harry knew he meant it. Ron had spent plenty of time in the tent with him.
“I’ve got to go bring dinner to Hermione, she’s-”
“Using cleaning spells instead of showers again?”
Ron shook his head. “She’s left the office once the past three days. And that was to run home to find some old case notes.”
“Tell her if she doesn’t come home I’m going to the Ministry myself to convince her.”
Ron snorted. “With or without the escorts?”
After a second, Ron’s expression sobered. “Think that’ll startle her enough to realize she deserves a break?”
“Probably not. But it’s worth a try.”
“Good luck with Hermione.”
“Thanks.” Ron sighed and ended the call.
Harry hadn’t seen either of them in person in three months.
“Have a nice Floo call yesterday?” Draco sounded genuinely curious. He had reason to be. Harry’s life was a drama playing out in his house.
Harry would be interested, too. “Yeah. How’d the meeting go?”
“Oh, fantastic. Richardson wants to set aside three square kilometers and sell them.”
Harry laughed. “I thought the point was to stop gentrification.”
“It’d be a miracle if we could find someone to convince him.” Draco tilted his head. “Your Floo call didn’t go well.”
Harry had learned about four days into their cohabitation that Draco was as good at noticing Harry’s lies as Harry was noticing his; Draco just wasn’t as obvious about it. Giving Harry space. Preserving careful distance. Like the three feet of entrance hall tile that separated them now. “Kingsley’s finally replaced me.”
Draco looked at him. Really looked. And then, quiet, concerned, “I thought you didn’t work there.”
“I didn’t want to admit I worked there. There’s a difference, apparently.”
“Ah.” His expression was unreadable, and Harry didn’t like it. Draco’s expression was only unreadable when he was thinking about something too serious to show Harry.
Kind of like Harry’s must have been, when he talked about his friends, or the Ministry, except this time it wasn’t. He wasn’t hiding anything from Draco. Not this, at least. “I was unofficial Junior Minister for over a year, and I fucking hated it.”
Malfoy’s eyebrows pulled in. “They didn’t even give you credit. All the Prophet ever said was ‘philanthropic advisor to the Minister.’”
Harry wanted to talk again. He wanted to pour some of these things into Malfoy, so he didn’t have to be the only one who knew them anymore. “I wouldn’t let them. And it would have been more dangerous, anyway. If I let them put me on the payroll that’d make it real. My quest for redemption. Trying to make up for the war. This thing that you’re doing with charity work and I was doing helping Kingsley with his attempts at internal reform until my being the Chosen One got in the way. Again.”
Malfoy’s voice was barely audible. “Your being the Chosen One is what made you do it in the first place.”
Harry was closer. Close enough to hear him. “I know.”
“Kingsley shouldn’t have let you do that for so long.”
“Your friends let you lie to yourself.”
“Why?” The word was exquisite, delicate, as carefully distinguishable from the air around it as Draco’s eyelashes were from each other.
“I thought it would hurt less.”
“Not by a long shot.”
Draco smiled, beautiful and vulnerable and open and bitter- he always got bitter when he was this vulnerable, like he didn’t want to need to be vulnerable at all, and he almost never showed it to Harry. Never this much. Never like this. Never while he was saying, “I can’t promise this will hurt less.”
Draco’s smile softened a little, sharpened a little. Cautious and challenging. “Trusting me.”
“I just want someone to get it.” In that moment, Harry’s voice sounded more honest than it had sounded, even to him, in years. Years he’d been saying he was fine and years he hadn’t meant it. Because of this.
Because he hadn’t had anyone to be honest with. Or to remind him he might- that he didn’t have to be fine. “I know,” Draco said, and when he did Harry could hear his honesty reflected back. More open than Draco had ever been with him ever.
And Draco hadn’t lied in weeks.
Draco’s lips were softer than Harry expected them to be. They pressed his with gentle insistence, nothing like the falling-forward of Harry seeking Draco’s lips this first time. Draco’s breath was warm, a hint of peppermint snaking into Harry’s mouth, ghosting across his tongue. The kiss was tentative, on both sides, because for all Harry had felt he needed it, he didn’t want to scare Draco.
When Draco pulled back he was breathless. Harry was breathless. Too little breath for a kiss like that.
“Stop hiding,” Draco said.
“I’m not,” Harry said, and kissed him again.
“You are,” Draco said, pulling back a second time. “You’ve been hiding for months. You’ve been looking at me this whole time, seeing more than I wanted, telling me I’m beautiful-” because this was a thing they did, Harry couldn’t stop after the first time and Draco’s light responses never gave him a reason to- Harry kissed him again- Draco broke it off again to finish, “Telling me I’m beautiful and never proving you mean it.”
“I’m proving it now.”
“No you’re not,” Draco said, and turned his face away. “You’re trying to convince yourself you’re not broken.”
Harry froze, resisting the urge to fall back a step because he couldn’t gain this much ground just to lose it to Malfoy saying the right thing again.
Draco didn’t turn back to him, but he had to feel Harry’s tension. He smiled. Too bitter. “Am I wrong?”
Harry laughed. Draco’s eyes snapped back to him. “It was perfect.”
“What was?” Harry thought he could see panic, but Draco was doing that closed-off thing again.
“You should have stopped after you said about me being broken.”
“I didn’t say that.” Draco’s eyes widened. “I didn’t say-”
“Sorry. Trying to convince myself I’m not broken.” When Draco didn’t reply, Harry continued, “It would have been perfect if you’d left it like that. But you gave yourself away.”
“I don’t-” Draco started, but Harry was leaning in again, and Draco closed his eyes before their lips met.
Harry kissed Draco like he meant it. Pressed his body into Draco’s as he did. The kiss was just heat and want and need. There was nothing else there. No hesitation in the way Harry tasted every inch of Draco’s mouth. No hesitation in the way Draco’s hands slid up his back like he was trying to get closer, even though they were as close as they could get with jackets and shirts and skin between them.
Harry had found a new place to bury himself, a person to lose himself in, and the exhilaration of it was so overwhelming he didn’t know what to do with it. He didn’t know where to put all of this. All he could do was pour it into Draco, say ‘I want to be this, I want to do this, I want to get lost’ and take everything Draco was giving back to replace it. Because Draco was giving something to him, too, pouring ‘I get it, I get it, I know, I know’ into Harry and nothing had ever felt as good as that.
Draco made him certain that nothing else could.