It could be argued that the whole of the wizarding world owed Harry Potter a life debt, but for some people, the debt was a little more personal. Which was why Draco Malfoy was sitting at this table at lunchtime on a Thursday, his third glass of wine half-drunk before him; because, in fact, they each owed the other, and it was time to settle up.
He wondered what means Harry had chosen.
Draco had known that they shared a mutual obsession since at least their sixth year at Hogwarts. Not love, never, but something. When Harry had saved him in the Room of Requirement, he'd flown with his arms around the other boy, and felt his own heart beat faster to match the pulse beneath his fingers.
He'd put it away, that feeling. It could only be a distraction, something to disturb the life he so desperately wanted to return to after Voldemort's death. Under Minister Shacklebolt his family hadn't suffered retaliation. Narcissa and Draco's actions were considered instrumental in saving Harry, and the family was granted amnesty, but it was plain that the days when Malfoy was a name to be reckoned with were over.
So Draco had reluctantly returned to Hogwarts for one more year, sat his N.E.W.T.s, taken up a minor position at the Ministry – all the things expected of him. His father chose his son's name, Scorpius; Draco didn't care for it, but he couldn't be bothered to object.
Wizarding life went on around him and as the years passed, Draco registered less and less of it.
Then he received the message from Harry, reminding him of debts owed.
It had been impossible not to know something of Harry's life, though Harry had done his best to shun the spotlight. He even chose an ordinary career – apprenticed to old Ollivander, he'd eventually taken over the wand-maker's shop, though he'd kept the name.
Draco had seen him, from time to time, but they had spoken as little as possible while remaining civil. In the back of his mind, though, Draco never forgot the pounding of Harry's heart.
"Malfoy." Harry's voice jerked him from his reverie.
"Potter." Draco regretted that. "Harry."
Harry's eyebrows went up as he lowered himself to the chair opposite. "Draco, then."
"A debt like this is a bond," Draco reminded him. "Whether either of us wants it or not. I assume you don't or you wouldn't have owled me last week."
"Mm." Harry didn't answer immediately. He raised his hand and ordered – "Another bottle of whatever he's having," he told the man, indicating Draco's glass – and didn't speak again until it had arrived and he'd taken a swallow.
Draco waited in equal silence. Curious though he was as to why Harry had waited this long to settle the debt, he refused to ask.
When Harry finally spoke, it was nothing that Draco expected.
"Why did you marry Daphne?"
"What?" Draco almost dropped his wineglass.
"Why did you marry Daphne?" Harry repeated.
"That's an... odd question," said Draco, trying to gather his wits together. "What does that have to do with my owing you a life debt, and vice versa?"
Harry just shook his head. "I want to know."
"Mother arranged it, and I had nothing better to propose."
"But I hear that you're living apart now?"
Draco squinted at him. "Yes. Since Scorpius married Rosie Weasley."
"I can't imagine your father was too happy about that." Harry gave a short, barking laugh.
"Not especially," said Draco calmly, "but there wasn't much he could do. Daphne and I were agreed that our son should be free to marry someone he loved."
"As you weren't."
"That's right." Draco had dropped his gaze, watching his thumb draw invisible patterns on the table. He didn't want to see the pity in Harry's eyes.
"Marrying for love... isn't always the best course of action either." Harry's voice was quiet.
"It seems to have worked for you."
"Only up to a point."
At that, Draco looked up at Harry again, whose face was pale and set. "What do you mean?"
"I love Ginny. I have to be clear about that. But..."
Harry poured himself another glass of wine, drank half of it in a single gulp, and coughed. "The life debts. All those people I saved, and who saved me, too," he said.
Draco didn't understand the connection. "What about them? I owe you one, and you owe me, too. That's why we're here tonight. Unlike in finance, mutual debts don't cancel out. What does any of that have to do with the fact that you love your wife?" He managed to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
"I've done some looking into how to settle those debts. It can be done by a simple Relinquishment Spell, if both people agree... but there are certain conditions that have to be met." Harry didn't seem to want to meet Draco's eyes; in his throat Draco could see his pulse jumping.
"Such as? And what conditions?" asked Draco, a little impatiently. He wasn't here to play games. If Harry was looking to square accounts, for whatever reason, he wanted to do so and be done with it; he wanted not to have to remember the past any longer, to return to the comfortable numbness that was his life.
Harry shifted the conversational ground again, though. "Do you remember what happened during the war?"
"I remember a lot of things during the war. We saved each other's lives at Hogwarts, that's why we're here now."
"No, earlier than that. When I was captured, and your father asked you to identify me so they'd know whether they ought to summon Voldemort."
"Why did you say you didn't know it was me? You agreed that it was probably Hermione and Ron, and I know I looked unlike myself because I'd been jinxed, but you must have known. I've always wondered... I should have asked when I returned your wand after the war. I don't know why I didn't."
Draco felt the blood rushing to his face, and sipped at his wine to cover it. "I... I don't know."
"I don't believe you." Harry's words were quiet. "Most of the time you were a bit of a coward – you were, don't bother to quibble – but there were moments when you took risks, and that was one of them. So why?"
The scene came back to him as if it were yesterday, not thirty – Merlin, was it thirty? – years ago. Harry's face, distorted and desperate. His father demanding that he come close and look. The rapid pounding of his heart as he lied, turning quickly away.
Did it matter now if he told the truth?
"I couldn't be responsible for your death. I didn't want anyone to die... but especially not you."
"Not after I'd used Sectumsempra on you?"
"No." The memory slipped, turned into the fire in the Room of Requirement, himself holding Goyle, waving desperately; his not-quite-astonishment that Harry came back for him. He'd been terrified, unable to stop his own screams, appalled that Crabbe had used uncontrolled fiendfyre. For the rest of the battle he'd been in shock, hardly knowing what he was doing. "I still have scars from that, though."
"You do?" Harry looked startled.
"Yes. Faint though." Draco shrugged. He didn't want to say that he ran his fingers along the scars, sometimes, thinking of Harry.
"Oh. I'm sorry," said Harry, regret plain in his voice.
"You have worse ones, I think." Draco's eyes flicked to Harry's forehead.
"We all have them in some way."
They were quiet for a bit, then, before Draco said, "You've been asking me a lot of questions. What does this have to do with settling our debts?"
"What? Oh. Yeah. There's the Relinquishment Spell, but it's not the best choice if there are unresolved strong emotions present between the two parties involved. And, well, I had to ask because if you had those too, then I needed to know."
Draco took a second to process that. "Too," Harry had said. "So what's the alternative then?"
"Um. It depends on exactly what type of emotion it is." Harry swallowed. "In my case it's not exactly hate."
"Not in mine, either."
"As I said, I love my wife." Harry's words came in a rush, now. "But sometimes that's not enough. She knows, I've told her, and she's not exactly happy about it but willing to let me do this."
It sounded as if Harry were asking Draco to be his bit on the side... but surely Draco was misunderstanding. He just looked at Harry, waiting.
"I've never forgotten the way you held onto me," Harry went on. "Practically throttled me. But I've never felt more alive than I did then. I need to feel alive again."
No. Not after all these years of resigning himself. He wouldn't, he couldn't bear to... Harry was still talking.
"Just a kiss. That's all. If a kiss resolves the emotions, then we're squared and the Relinquishment Spell will work and we won't ever have to go through this again. Do you agree?"
"There's no alternative, is there?"
"Not unless you want to risk dying, still owing a life debt."
Of course he didn't. "One kiss, then. Not here."
"No." Harry finished his wine, leaving the rest of the bottle untouched, and tossed a couple of Galleons on the table. "I'll Apparate us, if you trust me."
Trees rose up around them as Draco gasped from the usual pressure of Apparition. "Where are we?"
"Forest of Dean. One of the places I hid that year. Cold, frightened... not a great time. At least Hermione was with me, and Ron for most of it."
Draco nodded. The only good thing about his own experience that year – and neither of them had to say which year they meant, he noticed – was that his parents were there too.
"We came here because it's private, and I figured you'd be disinclined to do something straightforward like get a room." Harry smiled wryly. "I admit I wouldn't be keen on the chance of publicity myself. Besides, waste of money for one kiss."
The filtered sunlight caught on the glasses he still wore as he lifted his hands to Draco's face, brought their lips together.
If this was supposed to resolve their emotions, Draco thought hazily after a few minutes, it hadn't quite worked for him... and didn't seem to be doing any better for Harry, who was trembling against him.
"That may have been a miscalculation," said Harry.
"Possibly." Regret rose like bile in Draco's throat.
"I'm... going to have to think about this." Harry sounded lost, confused.
"Yes." Draco didn't need to think, really; everything he'd denied for decades had come crashing home. He almost hated Harry at that moment for making him feel again. "Yes, you do that." There was no question of performing the Relinquishment Spell now and they both knew it. "You know where to owl me. I have to get back to work, I'm hours late already."
"Nothing. I'll be in touch."
Back in his office for a shortened afternoon, Draco buried his face in his hands for a few moments. Then he raised his head, forcing himself to breathe calmly, and lifted the next piece of parchment from the stack that waited.