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The Sleeping Beauty Curse

Chapter Text

May, 2000

“This is all Hermione’s fault,” Ron said to Harry with excessive gloom.

Harry opened his mouth to agree heartily, but shut it again when he caught sight of her expression. It said, quite clearly, that if he agreed with Ron out loud, he would not be long for this world. Besides, it wasn’t entirely Hermione’s fault, he thought, matching Ron’s excessive gloom without even trying. If anyone was to blame, it was almost certainly Blaise Zabini. It was Zabini who’d swanned by Hermione’s desk in the Magical Creatures Department first thing that morning, after all, and suggested that this would be the perfect way for the three of them to end their work day, didn’t she think? Clearly, Hermione had been so horrified by the idea that she’d temporarily lost her mind and agreed on the spot. Possibly, too, she’d known that Harry would have done exactly the same. Even so . . .

“Oi, Harry! You agree with me, don’t you?” Ron said, giving Harry a glare that indicated that his best mate better back him up or else.

Hermione sniffed. Meaningfully.

“Oh, I, er . . .” Harry said, and decided there was nothing to gain from agreeing with either of the pair of sods: whoever he sided with, disaster would follow. “Perhaps we should just get it over with,” he said, one hand winding itself almost subconsciously tighter round his wand.

“Indeed,” Hermione said, in a voice that suggested she was brooking no argument. “In fact, if you two stopped faffing around, we would already be finished and in the pub.”

A spasm flickered over Ron’s expression. Harry quite understood. Afterwards – well, after he’d popped back to the Auror Headquarters, very quickly – would be the pub, and a happy pint or ten and a life free from . . . what they had to do to earn the pint. But before the pub and the pint . . .

“This is, like, my worst nightmare,” Ron said.

“Oh, really?” Hermione said without sympathy. “You’d better work on that. What will the other Aurors think of you when a boggart jumps out and, instead of it being the usual spider, it’s Draco Malfoy, puckering up?”

Ron reflected on this, and Harry – despite the horror of the situation – couldn’t stop his lips from twitching.

“They’ll understand,” Ron said eventually, pulling a face of disgust as he dragged his mind out of whatever hell pit it was occupying. “Wouldn’t be surprised if everyone’s boggart turns out to be snogging Malfoy after all this. It’s not like we’re the only ones who’ve had to go through this torment!”

“Exactly,” Hermione said, giving her ‘long-suffering’ tone of voice another vigorous workout. “So, for goodness’ sake, let’s go and get it over with!”

Ron’s face fell, and then contorted in a strange way – which Harry supposed was him girding his loins. “Right,” he said, rather strangled, and then raised his chin in the manner of a man facing his doom head on. “Let’s go.”

^^^^^^

It was a bloody weird situation they’d found themselves in, Harry thought as they lined up outside the window of the red-brick, condemned department store that hid St Mungo’s, checking if the coast was clear before they slipped through. Clear of Muggles, at any rate. The area was apparently free of reporters, but in Harry’s experience all that meant was that they were better concealed than usual and the face he’d be pulling in the resulting front-page photograph would be all the more ridiculous.

“Come on!” Hermione hissed, and shoved first Ron and then Harry through – a little more violently than was really necessary, in Harry’s opinion – before following herself. But before Harry could work himself up to complain, Hermione had already smiled at the Welcome Witch in reception and was striding in the direction of the third floor – Potion and Plant Poisoning – at a quick pace, without looking back.

Harry exchanged a glance of despair with Ron, and then turned to follow her, nearly having to run to keep up as she zoomed up the stairs at inhuman speed.

Anyone would almost think she wanted to get this over with.

Harry didn’t want to zoom up the third floor; at least, he wanted to zoom all right – in the opposite direction, and from there he wanted to hide under his bed and never come out again until Hermione swore an Unbreakable Vow that he would never, ever, under any circumstances, have to kiss Malfoy.

“Oh Merlin,” Harry said, feeling his stomach – already at boot level – drop even further, attempting to leave the building without him.

“What?” Hermione called back, slowing down her pace a fraction but not stopping.

“I’m going to have to kiss Malfoy,” Harry said mournfully. It sounded ridiculous. It was ridiculous.

Ron let out a breath that was, on balance, more likely to be one of sympathy than a pant, despite their quick pace up the winding stairs; after all, he was going to have to kiss Malfoy too.

Hermione paused at that and turned to look back. Her jaw was firm and her expression hideously determined. “It’ll be over quickly,” she said in a very Head Girl voice. “Just a quick brush of lips and that’s it.” She shuddered, briefly, before turning and resuming her ascent, and Harry remembered that, yes, she had to kiss Malfoy as well.

“Then we can burn the germs off with alcohol,” Ron said wistfully – and breathlessly – from somewhere behind Harry’s left ear.

Harry wanted to laugh, but he couldn’t quite manage it. The situation was peculiar – and dire. Six weeks ago – six weeks! It felt like years, to Harry – Draco Malfoy had fallen asleep and failed to wake up. At first, no one had cared much, apart from the Auror department, who’d reluctantly added the investigation to their already unscaleable mountain of cases. The Malfoys had managed to wriggle out of any punishment after the war and still had their Manor and their millions, but money – to the Malfoys’ evident surprise – hadn’t been enough to buy them a return to wizarding society. Even now, just over two years after the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry couldn’t think of anyone who’d be willing to say – in public, at least – that they respected, or even much liked, Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy.

Harry hadn’t been able to muster up much sympathy for them in the weeks and months after the war ended – not even for Malfoy, who’d been the star of article after unflattering article discussing and dissecting his role as a ‘baby Death Eater’. In Harry’s less charitable moments, often late at night when he was still in his cramped cubicle in the Auror office and so tired that his actual bones hurt, he’d thought it served Malfoy right: he’d always gone on about Harry’s taste for fame, so now it was his turn, and good luck to him.

Still, even Malfoy hadn’t deserved to be cursed, and when the sorry tale of the Malfoy heir – fast asleep and unable to be woken – hit the news, it hadn’t taken long for the tone of the articles to shift from scathing to something more sympathetic. And when the Sunday Prophet devoted almost a whole issue to an amazing exclusive – that Malfoy was the victim of an ancient love curse, and could only be woken by his true love’s kiss – that was pretty much it, as far as the wizarding public were concerned: it was romantic and charming, and ‘poor Draco’ had definitely been misjudged by them all. Soon the search was on to find Draco’s soulmate – and fast.

Except, six weeks, and several dozen kisses, later, Draco slept on.

Hence today’s little jolly, Harry thought gloomily as they reached the third floor far too quickly for comfort, and Hermione led the way through the door and into the long, almost offensively jolly corridor, studded with multi-coloured doors. Behind one of these doors, Harry knew, Malfoy lurked. For some reason, knowing that the press’s explanation of Malfoy’s condition was complete bollocks didn’t help cheer him up much. He’d still have to kiss the fucker, after all.

When all this was over, he was going to . . . to . . . carry on with his job, that’s what he was going to do, given that most days he barely had time to take a piss, let alone solve all the cases that piled up on his desk. To Harry’s annoyance, Malfoy’s case hadn’t even made it to his desk, let alone to the top of the pile. Robards had taken one look at Harry’s face when he’d heard the news and assigned it to a different Auror. One who hadn’t been to school with Malfoy. As if Harry couldn’t be trusted to be objective when it came to Malfoy, or something! But when Harry had complained, his boss had just laughed heartily and asked Harry if he was lacking for things to do, because he had several other cases he was more than happy to pass over. Harry, who thought that if he had a bigger workload he might literally be crushed under the weight of it, had taken the hint.

Bearing all this in mind, it was probably a good thing, Harry reasoned gloomily as he trudged along the horrible, jolly corridor, that the severe shortage of trained Aurors – and people who wanted to become trained Aurors – had led to his department working more closely with the Unspeakables in recent months. And he thought that if he tried really hard, and instituted a rigorous daily regime of mental exercises, he might be able to avoid their complex secrecy requirements and inconsistent rules from driving him completely round the twist. E.g., right now, as Harry approached his Malfoy-shaped doom, he was perfectly aware that Draco Malfoy had been poisoned by a variation of the Draught of Living Death, with a specific – currently unknown – person spelled to be the antidote, while at the same time completely unable to set the press straight on their ridiculous ‘true love’s kiss’ bollocks for fear of breaking the Ministry’s Internal Secrets Act.

The fact that he had the strongest of suspicions that the source of the Prophet article had been the Unspeakable department itself made it all the more infuriating. It wasn’t that Harry had evidence for this, exactly. But it seemed a remarkable coincidence that as soon as Malfoy’s friend Zabini – who was unspeakable in all possible senses of the word – had taken personal charge of the case, it was suddenly front-page news and Malfoy almost instantly converted from pariah to prince.

Zabini had taken charge, too, of creating a tightly-controlled list of unfortunate witches and wizards required to try their luck at being Malfoy’s Princess Charming. Zabini’s first act had apparently been to classify Harry, Ron and Hermione as ‘people who would never, ever, be the cure to any curse that struck Draco Malfoy’. On the plus side, Harry thought, this strangely unflattering classification had meant six happy weeks without having to kiss Malfoy. On the demerit side, however, it had meant six weeks of vague dread, combined with an irritatingly persistent feeling of guilt. He’d agreed with Zabini, damn it. There was absolutely no way in hell he’d be able to wake Malfoy up. But at the same time – whatever Ron said – it didn’t sit right with him that he wasn’t doing something to help. On balance, despite the futility of the exercise, he was glad to finally be getting it over with.

Harry blinked, realising that in his eagerness to get the thing over with he'd come to an abrupt halt and was in actual danger of going backwards. Hermione, a determined shape up ahead, was walking with great purpose towards a candy-striped wooden door at the very end of the corridor that read ‘Helbert Spleen Ward’ in enormous gold letters. It didn’t seem to have a door handle, so she knocked on it and waited. She had that expression on her face that Harry loved and simultaneously feared – he thought of it privately as her SPEW face. It said that nothing, and no one, would distract her from her annoying purpose. For a moment, however, there was no response, and Harry had the happy daydream that no one would answer the door and they’d be tragically forced to leave immediately.

Ron was clearly thinking along similar lines. The side of his head bashed into Harry’s. “Let’s run,” he hissed. “While she’s not looking.”

Harry, his resolve melting away in the face of imminent peril, could see the wisdom of this approach, but it was too late. The door made an alarming creaking noise, and out of the wood shot what looked like an enormous, thin brass telescope with an equally enormous eye blinking out of its end. “Yes?” a disembodied voice boomed, and the eye whirled around to scan up and down the corridor, stretching far enough to nearly shoot up Harry’s nose.

The eye had eyelashes, Harry noticed as he leapt back, trying not to be skewered. And very bright pink make-up on its eyelid. Out of the corner of Harry’s eye, he could see Ron do a similar contortion, leaping behind him as if it was every man for himself at times like these.

“We’re here to see Draco Malfoy,” Hermione said firmly, as if it was normal to be talking to an eye. “Unspeakable Zabini sent us. We have an appointment.”

The eye retracted back into the door, and Ron shuffled out from behind Harry, his expression a bit sheepish. “What?” he said, when Harry gave him a look, and shuddered. “It was wearing mascara,” he said.

Harry decided not to inquire any further. He had the rest of his life to take the piss out of Ron; right now he had more urgent things to worry about. The door was swinging open, and a head, which had its full, normal complement of eyes, was peering through it. The head was attached to a body, which emerged too, dressed in eye-wateringly bright lime-green robes. “Welcome to Spleen!!!” the woman said with excessive enthusiasm. “I’m Madam Iatric, the Healer-in-Charge. No need for you to introduce yourselves!” she continued with a beaming smile as she ushered them inside, putting paid to Harry’s last-minute, wistful plan of flinging the invisibility cloak back over his head and making a run for it.

Harry looked round quickly, in case of sudden Malfoys, but instead of blonde horrors he found himself in what appeared to be a reception area. The room was completely round, with a central, round desk, and the curved wall was broken up by more identical dark-wood doors than it seemed reasonable to be able to fit in the size of the room. When Harry looked back, he realised he couldn’t even tell which door he’d come in through.

So sorry about the security measures,” Madam Iatric said, clasping her hands together and staring at Harry with very wide eyes, as if he was a new and rare breed of human she’d never seen before. “Obviously, you are always welcome here,” she said with heavy emphasis. “Harry Potter! Here! In my ward!” she added with glee, almost as if to herself. “But with a celebrity patient here in Spleen, we needed a little extra something to keep out the reporters. The media do so love to try and sneak in and take his photo!”

Hermione – going up again in Harry’s estimation – gave a sort of cough that covered up a retch.

“Gosh, where are my manners,” Madam Iatric said, her hands fluttering around her face. She withdrew a short stubby wand from her robes and dashed over to the enormous central desk, giving it a swift tap. A pale blue box popped up, a mass of equally pale blue tissues frothing out of it, and Madam Iatric frowned. “No, no,” she said, tapping the desk again. This time, a dark-wood bench erupted from one side of the desk, nearly taking her legs out from under her. “Sit, sit!” she said to Harry. “I’ll take you through one at a time.” A swish of her wand had a lilac clipboard zooming out of a drawer and slapping into her hand. She consulted the paper on it thoughtfully, then turned a beaming smiled on Hermione. “You first, dear!”

Ron almost ran to the bench and flung himself on to it, in case Madam Iatric changed her mind and made him go first. Hermione gave him a death glare, but then seemed to remember that she was Hermione Granger, founder of SPEW, and rallied. Madam Iatric waved her wand again and the walls of the room seemed to spin, in a faintly sick-making manner, one of the doors coming to rest gently in front of her. Patient: D Malfoy read the brass plate on the wood, which seemed to gently shimmer into existence as soon as Harry looked at it, as if it was pretending it had been there all along.

Hermione raised her chin and followed Madam Iatric through the door. It was, Harry thought, clearly a door of great evil, and he sat down heavily next to Ron, hoping Hermione would come out again unscathed.

Ron was gripping the edge of the bench very tightly and staring in abject horror at the door. “Who’s next?” he said hoarsely. “You or me?”

Harry considered this for a moment. Both options had their drawbacks. “If I go first, does that mean that when you kiss Malfoy you’ll technically be snogging me too?”

Ron gave a mock shudder, breaking out into a grin. “I’d really rather not, mate. No hard feelings.”

Harry grinned back. “Don’t worry,” he said airily, “just because I fancy blokes as well as girls, it doesn’t mean I’d stoop so low as to snog you.”

Ron blinked, and then put on an expression of extreme outrage. “What’s wrong with me?” he demanded, and waved his hand over his freckled face, as if Harry was guilty of ignoring the obvious. “Don’t you have eyes?”

“Yes,” Harry said solemnly. “I’m afraid so.”

Ron gave him a shove. “I’ll have you know I am a very fine catch,” he said loftily. “It can’t be helped if you have terrible taste.”

“Whatever you say,” Harry said, trying not to crack up. But, unhappily, he didn’t have to try for very long, because Hermione suddenly reappeared, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand and looking extremely disconcerted.

“Who’s next, dears?” Madam Iatric asked, marking Hermione’s name off on the sheet of paper on her clipboard with a very shiny quill and looking expectant.

Ron shot up. “Me!” he said, and gave Harry a dark look before he turned, shoulders hunched, and followed Madam Iatric into Malfoy’s private room.

Harry sniggered, and then got put off by the look on Hermione’s face as she came towards him to sit down – a little like she’d been hit squarely between the eyes with a Bludger. “Well?” he asked, after Hermione had fished out her lip balm and reapplied it for the fourth time in a row.

Hermione jumped, as if she’d been lost in her own private little hell. “Well, what?”

The question seemed obvious to Harry, but he asked it anyway, unnerved by Hermione’s very shiny lips. “How bad was it?”

Hermione shuddered. “It was . . . strange,” she said. “He still looks like Malfoy, only . . . only . . . prettier,” she concluded, to Harry’s disbelief.

Prettier?”

“It was quite unnerving,” Hermione said in a faraway tone. “Almost as if he were a different person.”

“But—” Harry started.

Before he could finish, though, Ron shot back into the reception room, as quickly as if he’d been fired out of a cannon, his face a glowing beacon of embarrassment. “Oh Merlin,” he said as he flung himself back on to the bench next to Hermione, pulling a face like he didn’t know whether to laugh or be sick.

“What? What?” Harry asked, but Madam Iatric, clearly sensing danger, was suddenly by his side and inserting a ‘helpful’ hand under his elbow. Harry rose to his feet, entirely against his will, and as he was half-dragged, half-guided towards his doom, Ron didn’t have the common decency to reply.

^^^^^^

“I’ll just sit here, Harry, dear,” Madam Iatric said, perching herself on the very edge of a high-backed chair next to the bed and gazing at Harry with extreme interest. “Oooh, this is exciting!” she added, and then cleared her throat, schooling her features into something she clearly thought was a little more professional, but not managing it very well.

Harry, dithering near the door, looked away from her – which meant looking at the figure in the bed, instead. Draco Malfoy lay, very still, tucked up in white, starched sheets. His eyes were closed, and his chest moved with each breath. With his white-blond hair and pale skin, he should have looked dead. Instead he looked . . . peaceful. Serene.

It was far too disturbing for words.

Harry frowned in mute appeal at Madam Iatric, who beamed back expectantly, stars in her eyes as she gazed at him. “Go on!” she said, still sounding far too thrilled about the whole vile business. “Just a quick peck on the lips,” she added – unhelpfully.

Harry approached the bed. As he got closer – was it his imagination? It had to be his imagination – a soft pink blush spread across Malfoy’s cheeks and down his throat.

“He is asleep, isn’t he?” he asked.

Madam Iatric’s overexcited, awed expression morphed into one that suggested she’d discovered why people said you should never meet your heroes. He supposed it was a bit of an idiotic thing to say. “Yes, dear,” she said, in the determinedly cheerful voice of someone pandering to the hard of thinking.

Harry took another couple of steps forwards and perched on the side of the bed.

It took everything he had not to leap up again when . . . when his weight made the mattress tip slightly, and Malfoy’s head turned towards him. It had to be his weight, right? He shot another – this time more desperate – look of mute appeal at Madam Iatric, which didn’t help matters at all, as her eyes had widened to the size of very wide things, and when he twisted back at top speed to check that Malfoy – the bastard – really was still asleep he pulled a muscle in his back.

Malfoy was definitely asleep. At least . . . he looked asleep, and Harry reasoned that if he’d been Malfoy and had been lying down like that, all defenceless and in his pyjamas, he’d have . . .

He’d have waited until Harry Potter – surely the person he hated most in the whole world – bent down over him, and then he would have punched him so hard that his nose ended up at the back of his head.

Well, that wasn’t a very helpful line of thought.

Harry stared at Malfoy a bit more. What had Hermione said? That he was . . . prettier. He fucking wasn’t pretty. He’d been a pointy-chinned git at school, and while he’d grown into his features, Harry supposed, his face was still too sharp and angular for comfort. But . . . possibly it was down to the cursed sleep, but there was something unsettlingly ethereal about him right now. As if he’d slipped through a curtain from another world, and if Harry closed his eyes, just for a moment, he might vanish.

No, not pretty at all.

Madam Iatric cleared her throat, and Harry nearly fell off the bed. Right. To business. All he had to do was . . . lean forward, which would mean practically lying on top of Malfoy, and kiss him.

He leapt to his feet. Surely coming in from a standing position would be easier? More . . . impersonal? He shot another look at the Healer and found she was now giving him a look that suggested she was about to offer him a bed on the ward too, so he thought he might as well get on with it.

Only . . . if he went in from a standing position, he’d have to support himself with his arms either side of Malfoy’s head, and that would be seriously weird, so he sat down again and leaned in a bit. Maybe if he took it in stages, he reasoned, it would be . . .

But no – this was worse. Malfoy smelled glorious – fresh, and somehow green, like the scent of grass after a rainstorm – and it was seriously giving him the creeps. So he told himself firmly that this was Malfoy, who was a dickhead of the highest order, and leaned in a bit more. It felt like the room held its breath, but as Harry was holding his breath, he channelled his inner Hermione and told himself that the most logical explanation was the correct one. So he closed the gap, pressed his mouth squarely on Malfoy’s – oh Merlin, his lips were so warm – and pulled back again, so fast he gave himself vertigo. The room spun, so he closed his eyes for a few seconds until it stopped.

Thank fuck that’s over, he thought, opening his eyes to check that Malfoy was still sleeping. He was, thank Merlin. Still ethereal, however. Still extremely . . . unpretty. But still asleep. That was the main thing, Harry told himself, trying to settle his churning insides. That was that.

Harry was just about to stand up, to go and tell Hermione that, regardless of the facts, he was going to hold a grudge against her for making kiss Malfoy for the rest of eternity when—

Fucking, fucking hell.

Malfoy made a little sighing noise, as if he’d had a particularly nice dream, his lips curved into a smile, and he opened his eyes.

Chapter Text

“We know you’re there, Harry. Come out before you embarrass yourself.”

Before he embarrasses himself?” Ron’s voice said, leading Harry to suspect that Ron’s body was attached to it.

He didn’t want to come out though. Hermione was crossing her arms, no doubt. Maybe if he just lay there very still, and didn’t make a noise, he’d—

Atchoo!

“If you cast a quick Scourgify in your bedroom occasionally, then there wouldn’t be any dust to make you sneeze,” Hermione said. It was almost her best sanctimonious voice, just a little strained, as if she wanted to laugh, despite herself.

“It’s not necessarily me sneezing,” Harry said, addressing the bedsprings above his head.

“Great use of logic, mate,” Ron said. “Very convincing.”

Harry decided that for the sake of . . . well, not dignity, because that was long gone, but for the sake of his aching back, he’d better come out from under the bed. As far as cunning plans went, he supposed this one could use a little work.

Ron was grinning, but Hermione was – as suspected – crossing her arms, and matching that with a cross expression.

“You’re so bad at hiding, Harry,” she said with a sniff. “I don’t know how you managed to pass your Concealment exam.”

This struck Harry as unfair. “I wasn’t hiding,” he protested. “I was running away! You tossers,” he added, after some reflection.

Hermione didn’t look convinced, and he ran his hand through his hair in frustration, dislodging a clump of dust.

Why were you—” Hermione said, still vibrating with visible disapproval.

“He FUCKING WOKE UP!”

There was a ringing silence. For a bit.

“There’s no need to shout,” Hermione said, in a pained tone.

They considered this. For a bit.

“Well, I reckon he has a point,” Ron said, and sat down heavily on Harry’s bed, pushing aside the open suitcase and the scattered pile of pants and books Harry had been in the process of panic-packing. “If I were him, I’d be hiding under the bed too. Can’t say I’d be too keen to face a world that thinks I’m gagging to take Malfoy up the arse,” he added, under his breath, and dodged as Harry moved to land an avenging smack on his arm.

“Why are you sitting down, Ron!” Hermione was shifting from foot to foot and clearly only half-listening. “We need to go back right now.”

“Be my guest,” Harry said, sitting down next to Ron. “Sod work! I’m going on a very long holiday – for, oh, the rest of forever, or until you sort this out for me, Hermione.” He looked over at her. “You are going to sort this out for me, aren’t you?” he asked pointedly. She was wringing her hands now, which was never a good sign. “It was you who made me do it,” he added, a little untruthfully, in case it helped.

It didn’t.

“True love’s kiss,” Ron said, and cackled. “Good luck with that one, mate.”

Harry whipped around to glare at him. “How do we know it was my kiss that woke him up, eh? It could have been a . . . a . . . a . . . delayed reaction! You kissed him right before me, remember. I’m sure the Prophet would be keen to hear all about it.”

Ron gawped. “Mate! You wouldn’t!”

“I would,” Harry said, with emphasis.

“If you two have quite finished,” Hermione snapped. “Are you going to come back with me, or am I going to have to make you?”

Harry turned to glare at her. “I don’t want to,” he said. It came out sounding more pathetic than he’d intended, but he supposed that was probably OK in the circumstances. His fame was trying at the best of times; he couldn’t even begin to imagine how annoying the press were going to be now they thought his so-called ‘arch nemesis’ was his soulmate. How on earth was he going to explain his way out of this one? All the interviews – and all the evidence – in the world weren’t going to help.

Sometimes, when Harry closed his eyes, he could see the front page of last issue of the Prophet he’d ever read, before he’d cancelled his subscription and sworn to never, ever open a copy of that rag again. The headline had read: HARRY POTTER – THE BI WHO LIVED. It had been their best-selling ever issue, apparently. Sometimes, when Harry opened his eyes, he could see the front page, too. More than one person had whipped it out of their pockets as he’d approached, and tried to get him to sign the ‘historic issue’. Harry had cancelled more dates with the bloke who’d sold the kiss-and-tell story behind the headlines than he’d actually gone on! He didn’t know why, but somehow that had made the whole thing even worse. That he’d missed dates to go and do his fucking job, to protect the wizarding world again, and this had apparently been enough to justify selling him out to the press. The Bi Who Lived, indeed. The whole thing made him shudder with embarrassment.

And now . . . as well as having to face the press – Merlin only knew what a wankstain of a headline they'd come up with this time – he’d have to face Malfoy, too. It almost made him more uncomfortable to think of that than anything else. He suspected that overwork and lack of sleep had sent him loopy.

“Oh, Harry, I know you don’t want to,” Hermione said, knitting her fingers together, “but Madam Iatric was frantic when she realised you’d legged it. No one’s sure what’s going to happen next, so we need to get you back to the hospital.”

“I’m sorry, what? Happen next?” Harry echoed faintly. His insides did a little wriggle, like he’d accidentally swallowed a sleeping Acromantula and it had just woken the fuck up.

Hermione frowned at him. “Are you an Auror or an idiot, Harry?” she asked, in a way that suggested she was leaning towards one of the two options more heavily. “Just because Malfoy’s awake now, it doesn’t mean everything’s fixed,” she said in what Harry considered a truly insufferable manner.

“It is though,” Harry pointed out, extremely reasonably. “I woke him up. End of!” He experienced a brief moment of happiness at the thought that at least it wasn’t him who’d have to deal with the resulting paperwork, before it was swallowed up again in dread.

“Oh, honestly, Harry!” Hermione said, in the manner of a small explosion. “Don’t you think it’s even the slightest bit suspicious that whoever cursed Malfoy picked you as the only person who could wake him up? I mean, come on, Harry! You and Malfoy? Why on earth would anyone want to give the world the impression the two of you were made for each other? As much as I hate to say it, I agreed with Zabini about the likelihood of any of us being the antidote to the sleeping potion. I would have been first in the queue to help, otherwise, regardless of personal feelings!” she added, although a little doubtfully, as if she was trying to convince herself more than them. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

‘Yeah, you and Malfoy?” Ron said, in sick fascination. “Most unlikely couple ever. Mind you,” he muttered, as though he couldn’t stop himself, “I thought you and Ginny were made for each other, so maybe I’m not the best judge, eh?”

There was an awkward pause. Harry wanted to say something, but for the life of him he couldn’t think of anything appropriate. It still seemed odd to him that out of everyone – himself and Ginny included – Ron had seemed the most heartbroken when they’d split up, over a year ago now. It was almost as if Ron had felt Harry had chucked him, rather than his sister, although that was a poor way of describing the way his relationship with Ginny had fizzled out into flat, room-temperature romance, leaving only friendship behind. For a horrible, miserable few weeks, Harry had wondered if things would ever be the same again between him and Ron, but Ginny had thoughtfully applied a series of Bat-Bogey Hexes to ‘help’ Ron regain his spirits, and Ron’s brotherly rage had soon overcome any lingering animosity towards Harry.

“Don’t be a dick, Ron,” Hermione said, and when Ron turned a miserable red, she reached over and squeezed his hand. “And sod Malfoy,” she added with feeling, not letting go of Ron. “So what if the curse has progressed in some way while you’ve been gone and he’s suffering without you right now? But we need to get you checked over, and the best place for that is St Mungo’s.”

Harry felt an uncomfortable twinge that was probably indigestion and rose to his feet, almost without his own permission. “Suffering?” It wasn’t like he cared, exactly, but . . .

No, it was definitely indigestion. He probably needed to eat more fibre. Or anything, really – he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a meal that wasn’t a hasty snack between filling in paperwork and attending endless meetings, or a rushed meal after a mission in the field. He was aware that sometimes food turned up in his fridge in Tupperware boxes, with neat handwritten labels, and occasionally he remembered to eat it – usually cold, leaning against his kitchen counter and trying not to fall asleep standing up.

“Yes, suffering,” Ron said, with perhaps a touch more relish than was strictly kind. Luna had talked a lot about needing to be kind to their enemies – their former enemies – after the war, as if she’d thought it necessary.

Perhaps it had been necessary. A bit. Even so . . .

“I’m not going to have to kiss him again, am I?” Harry asked, going straight to the heart of his concern. Who knew how kissing curses, and their potential dreadful aftereffects, worked?

Ron sniggered, the absolute sod.

Harry turned vengefully towards him. “If I have to kiss him again, let me tell you, Ron, I won’t rest until you have to kiss him too.”

Ron’s eyes widened. “Mate!”

“Yes,” Harry continued with relentless focus, “because, as I said, it’s just as likely that it was your kiss that woke him up and he was just taking a short lie in which meant that muggins here got the full benefit of his morning breath, so . . .” He trailed off significantly.

“But . . .! Hermione!” Ron said, terror writ large across his face.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “No one will have to kiss anyone,” she said brightly, and smiled, very wide and very fake. “Can we go now?”

Ron and Harry exchanged looks of imminent doom. But in the absence of a better plan than jumping back under the bed and hoping Hermione wouldn’t notice, Harry thought he’d better follow her lead.

He was marginally cheered, as they prepared to Disapparate, by the thought that however much he didn’t want to kiss Malfoy again, that was probably nothing compared to how much Malfoy wouldn’t want to kiss him.

^^^^^^

It was about as difficult as Harry had expected for them to get back into the hospital without being seen. In the end, they all had to scrunch together into an uncomfortable knot under his invisibility cloak – he carried it everywhere these days, given what the media were like – to sneak their way in.

The sheer effort of managing not to either tread on Hermione’s toes or eat her hair, as they sidled through the swelling crowds in an awkward crab-like threesome, meant that Harry felt like he hadn’t had nearly enough time to prepare himself for what he was about to face by the time they arrived back on the third floor. The corridors were more crowded than before, packed with witches and wizards who didn’t look like they’d been poisoned by potions and/or plants, though maybe they were just hiding it well.

There was a trainee Healer stationed outside the main ward door this time, struggling to keep back the crowds. Harry felt a bit sorry for her. She was the smallest witch he’d ever seen, and if she hadn’t been in uniform, he’d have presumed she was about twelve. The Healer nearly fell over her own feet with shock when they tugged off the cloak, and she waved her wand menacingly at them, before emitting a piercing squeak of shock as she recognised them. “I’m s-s-s-so s-s-s-sorry!” she wailed, accidentally flinging her wand in Ron’s direction as she rushed to lower it. Ron caught it automatically, and offered it back. She reached to grab it, but didn’t take her eyes off Harry, her whole head going redder and redder as she stared at him.

Harry smiled sheepishly at her, hoping she’d take the hint and open the door for them before the crowd pressed in any closer. He knew that people were only being friendly, but a friendly crush was still a crush, at the end of the day, and he could already hear the stage-whispers of, “Look! It’s Harry Potter!” getting louder. Even now, two years on, he didn’t think he’d ever get used to being treated like this. He didn’t want to get to ever get used to it; quite honestly, it drove him round the bend.

“Oh!” the Healer squeaked, nearly falling over her own feet again as she twisted towards the door. As the woman attempted to stop her hands from shaking enough to cast an Alohomora, Harry found he had enough time to feel a bit sick. But not much time though. As he followed her inside, Hermione banging the door shut behind them with a sigh of relief, it had barely crossed his mind to wonder if he needed to get his wand out before an enraged, potentially-suffering Malfoy hexed his head off, when he found himself with . . . with . . . with an armful of someone, rushing at him so hard he had to take two steps back to stop himself from falling over.

Someone who was taller than him, and smelled of greenery, and felt so warm, and solid, and vital that he hugged back for a moment, as if he wanted this . . . this . . .

This hug with Draco Malfoy.

Suffering! Hah! Harry was going to kill Hermione, and then kill her again for good measure. From somewhere that sounded both very close, and very far away, Harry heard the Healer make a squeaky noise of shock that suggested she’d thought Malfoy safe in his room, rather than lurking menacingly in the reception area, ready to leap out and hug people who didn’t deserve it.

Harry flinched, and made a small, instinctual movement of protest, but Malfoy’s grip around him was both curiously gentle and vice-like. He considered kicking Malfoy in the shins, for a brief moment, but before he could carry out this wise and intelligent action, he was seized by a thought so terrible that he could feel all the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end: what if the potion had actually made Malfoy fall in love with him?

It would be unsporting to kick Malfoy in the shins, if he’d been cursed to fall in love with him. Better to kick him in the balls, a small voice added in the depths of Harry’s brain, and that nearly made him laugh, but he couldn’t laugh – not with Malfoy wrapped sinuously around him, all heat and sharp angles and crisp hospital nightwear and what if Malfoy really was in love with him, oh GOD, and

“Six fucking weeks, you absolute bastard,” Malfoy breathed into his hair, so low that for a moment Harry wondered if Malfoy had actually spoken, or just transmitted the information directly into his brain.

“W-what—?” Harry started, but broke off when Malfoy stood on his foot – hard. It didn’t hurt – Malfoy was bare-footed, and Harry had his thick, beaten-up dragonhide work boots on, so it had probably hurt Malfoy more than him – but even so.

The insults, in combination with the foot-stamping, probably indicated, all in all, that Malfoy wasn’t in love with him.

Well, probably. Who knew how Malfoy acted when he was in love? In all the time Harry had known him – and it felt like sometimes he’d been so obsessed with him that Malfoy had crawled under his skin and taken residence in his brain – he’d never seen Malfoy show the slightest romantic interest in anyone other than the ghastly Pansy Parkinson, and even that had been both brief and perfunctory, as if the whole point of their relationship had been to demonstrate that he was top dog in Slytherin and could date Pansy, rather than that he’d actually wanted to.

If Malfoy had dated anyone after the war, well, Harry didn’t know about it. Didn’t want to know about it, he corrected in his head.

“I—” he said, and Malfoy fucking pinched him, right in the side.

Harry suppressed the temptation to stamp on one of Malfoy’s bare feet. The act would be unworthy of him. It was pretty hard to resist, though, and he was glad – well, sort of – when Ron came to his rescue, inserting himself between the two of them and heaving, which had the positive effect of removing Malfoy from his arms but the negative effect of removing his feet from the ground.

“Ow,” he said, from the – hard – floor, but no one appeared to be listening. Hermione was rummaging in her bag frantically – as if she just knew she had a reference book that was the perfect thing for situations like these, if only she could find it – and the tomato-hued Healer seemed to have vanished entirely, unless she was cowering behind the desk. When Harry raised himself to his elbows and looked about in a panic, all the doors were shut tight, and once again he was struck by the disconcerting fact that he didn’t know which way was out.

Harry was at a loss as what to do next. They hadn’t covered this particular situation in his Auror training, which now seemed to him to be a massive oversight. He considered saying ‘ow’ again, this time a bit louder, but when he looked about again and accidentally caught Malfoy’s eye he was struck, all over again, by how . . . how . . . not pretty Malfoy still looked. Even now he was awake, the effect hadn’t worn off, Harry realised with extreme gloom. Had the stress of the day’s events addled his brain? That would at least explain it. Because Malfoy didn’t look all that different, really, as he stood there glowering. His hair was messier, yes – a tangle of over-long white blonde strands sweeping across his forehead and half-covering his pale eyes. And – and it was longer, falling just below his chin, as if he hadn’t had the opportunity for a haircut in a good few weeks. Almost as if he’d been in a coma or something and hadn’t had the chance to go to the barber’s, Harry thought crossly. Though that didn’t explain his complete lack of beard. Harry would have liked a beard. A thick, wild one, for preference, to cover up Malfoy’s sudden, horrendous good looks.

The beard would also have helped conceal, Harry thought uncomfortably, the fact that Malfoy was staring at him as if he was a complete lunatic, his eyes narrowing. But . . . despite the unpleasant expression, there was still something oddly ethereal about his face, his skin. He was radiant, almost, as if someone had lit a warm, gentle fire inside him, which was sending out beams of light to dazzle unlucky idiots who were unfortunate enough to be forced to kiss him.

Harry swallowed. On reflection, it was probably less of a warm, gentle fire inside Malfoy and more of a towering inferno. His eyes were burning. Harry’s wand was in his fist before he knew it, but luckily he had the presence of mind to not actually pull the wand/fist combo out of his pocket. Had the Healers even given Malfoy his wand back yet? It would be pretty crappy of Harry to turn his wand on an unarmed man, even if it was Malfoy.

Malfoy raised an eyebrow so fine that it was almost invisible and shook his head, with obvious irritation, to dislodge the hair that had swept in front of his eyes.

Harry coughed. “Just, uh, getting a tissue,” he said, unclamping his fingers from his wand with effort and rooting for one. He pulled it out and blew his nose ostentatiously. He considered getting up, but the cold, hard floor was so comfortable that he thought he’d just lie there quietly for a while longer, relaxing.

“So love-struck that I literally bowled you over, Potter?” Malfoy said, in tones of sarcasm so deep, they plunged deeper than the deepest depths of a very deep thing. Harry took from this that Madam Iatric had filled Malfoy in about not just the reality of the potion, and its unlikely antidote, but also the whole ‘true love’s kiss’ nonsense. He braced himself again for the oncoming hexing – surely Malfoy must be angry enough to wreak a little wandless havoc? –and decided to take it like a man. He had, in a purely practical sense, been the cause of Malfoy’s six-week nap, he supposed, feeling a wave of tepid, unpleasant guilt wash over him.

But, instead of the hexing, something very strange happened. Rather than Malfoy following up his barb with, e.g., a blow to Harry’s head, he appeared to try to mould his face into a more pleasant expression, and he strode forward, leant down and . . . held out a hand.

Harry gawped at it for a bit, aware he wasn’t pulling the most intelligent of expressions. But it was OK, because he knew without looking that Ron and Hermione were both gawping too. Particularly Ron, he suspected, but he couldn’t make himself move even an inch to check – he was too mesmerised by the sight of Draco ‘I Bear A Grudge Until The Depths of Eternity’ Malfoy reaching down to help him up.

Still, while this sight was certainly unusual, and made Harry feel a bit strange in the stomach-regions, it was a bit of a stretch to extrapolate from this act of basic politeness that Malfoy was, in fact, in love with him. Harry felt a brief pang of sympathy for whoever ended up marrying Malfoy, despite the alarming, sudden unprettiness, and wondered whether if he took Malfoy’s hand he’d regret it. The situation had a curious ring of familiarity, and he was transported – bizarrely – back to, what?, one of the first times he’d met Malfoy, what seemed like a million years ago.

Malfoy had offered his hand to Harry then, too.

“I . . . I won’t, thanks,” Harry said quickly, scrambling to his feet. He didn’t need a hand getting up, after all. He was a grown man with working limbs! He was an Auror, for fuck’s sake. And he certainly didn’t need a boost from a man who’d been in coma for weeks and who badly needed a haircut. Irritation rushed through him. How was it that Malfoy was on his feet, while it was Harry who’d gone arse over tip?

Maybe Ron was Malfoy’s true love, after all, Harry thought nonsensically – and instead of rushing in to save Harry from a hug worse than death, he’d zoomed in merely to protect his Slytherin lover from Harry’s dreadful clutches. If Hermione stopped holding Ron back – because she was, now; Harry could see her death grip on his arm out of the corner of his eye – then it was possible – probable, even – that Ron would leap forward and . . .

No. It really wasn’t likely that Ron would leap forward and snog the face off Malfoy, was it? He’d never shown any tendencies towards such Malfoy-related deviancy before, and it was unlikely he’d start now, especially with Hermione in the room.

Malfoy pulled back his hand slowly and stepped back a couple of paces, almost colliding with the desk. His expression twitched, for a moment, the curtain drawing aside to reveal something akin to pure rage, but he quickly smoothed it back into something more placid and accepting.

It occurred to Harry that maybe rejecting Malfoy’s helping hand had been imbued with more meaning than he’d intended. “You did only just wake up from a coma,” he said quickly, thinking this a reasonable excuse if ever he’d heard one. “Shouldn’t you be, you know, lying down or something?” He looked around desperately for a Healer, who was bound to back him up on this one, but all he could find were Ron and Hermione, who appeared to be having a tense, whispered argument and were therefore about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

Rage briefly flared once more in Malfoy’s eyes. “How considerate you are,” he said, and then snapped his mouth shut, as if he’d meant to say rather more than that.

Harry considered this. The likelihood that the words meant exactly what they said was remote . . . right? Especially taken in conjunction with the rage-light, and so on. Even so . . . “Really, Malfoy,” he said awkwardly. “Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable at least sitting down?” He turned again to Ron and Hermione for support – anything was better than continuing to look at Malfoy, who was seriously confusing him right now, what with his . . . his . . . face and his hair – when—

Bang! Madam Iatric and an elderly man in very formal black robes, edged with violent green piping, burst through one of the doors at top speed, a whirlwind of paper circling round their heads. They were closely followed by the younger Healer, whose head had progressed from red to dark purple, and who collapsed to her knees as she half-fell through the door, wheezing out apologies as she banged the door shut behind her.

The man waved his wand impatiently and the papers circling their heads dive-bombed the desk, making slapping noises as they stacked themselves together in a haphazard manner. Another impatient wave of his wand had a Hands-Free Quill dashing across a fresh, blank scroll, which rose up like a phoenix from one of the desk drawers. Harry squinted, and could read the underlined title: Poisoning case #13976: Malfoy, D. He paused, looking between Harry and Malfoy, and the Quill paused too, dripping purple ink on to the floor.

Madam Iatric and the young Healer joined him in the looking, and the room went very quiet. Harry had a terrible feeling that they were poised, waiting to see if anything else would happen. Nothing was going to, though! Harry had broken the curse – even the memory of his lips against Malfoy’s made his face feel hot – and now he could emigrate to, say, an uninhabited island in the Caribbean, where he would live for, oh, ten or twenty years, until the press had stopped going on about the whole true love’s kiss business. Maybe, by then, Malfoy would have had the common decency to have grown the full, unkempt beard he deserved, while losing several inches of his hairline. Harry would like to see him try to glow, indefinably, then, the fucker.

“Hello,” Hermione said pointedly to the man, and took a swift step to the side as an optical illusion made it look like Ron had elbowed her in the ribs. “My name’s Hermione Granger, what’s yours?”

The male Healer cleared his throat and, completely ignoring Hermione, gave Harry a stare so piercing that he half wondered if wizards could magically X-ray their patients through eyes alone. “Professor Flange, at your service,” the man said, and Harry’s heart sank even lower. Wasn’t that the name of St Mungo’s Chief Healer? He didn’t want St Mungo’s Chief Healer giving him X-ray stares and taking notes. It implied things. “How are you feeling, Mr Potter?” Professor Flange asked.

“Call me Harry, please,” he said automatically, and he could almost feel Malfoy roll his eyes and pull a face behind his back, but when he whipped back round to verify this, Malfoy’s face was curiously blank.

“It is your name,” Malfoy offered, his voice free of sarcasm. He was leaning back against the desk now, his pose casual and relaxed, as if he often hung about in hospital reception areas in his pyjamas, exchanging niceties with Harry while perspiring female Healers gawped at them and wrung their hands.

Had the curse, or the coma, done something terrible to Malfoy’s brain? It was certainly a possibility. Harry felt his insides do a sickening lurch. Malfoy being pilloried by the press was a delicious thing. Malfoy suffering for his crimes was also a delicious thing, whatever Luna might say. But Malfoy somehow spell-damaged and vulnerable . . .

No. Harry didn’t like that idea at all.

Well. Not much.

Particularly if the vulnerability came with unexpected, and uncalled for, hugs – hugs which as yet had not been explained, despite their evident lunacy. Harry could still feel Malfoy’s body pressed against him – the heat of him, even through the layers of clothes between them. Thank goodness he was wearing his full Auror field uniform today, Harry thought gloomily – if there’d been any skin on skin contact, he probably would have spontaneously combusted, knowing his luck. Maybe that was the ultimate goal of the curse, after all: ignition of the sodding Chosen One on contact.

Harry realised that everyone was looking at him, even the Quill, which had a very pointed expression for something made of feathers. He cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably on the spot, remembering that Flange had asked him a question. “Oh, er, I feel fine,” he said. It was a lie, of sorts – he did feel fine, physically, but was it possible to feel entirely fine when you’d kissed Draco bloody Malfoy, even in a medicinal sense? And whether he was feeling fine or not (Harry sent a quick arrow-prayer to Dumbledore, who was no doubt laughing at him from the afterlife: Help!), the assembled media outside were probably picking out wedding outfits right this minute and writing ten-thousand word screeds on their fated true love. As far as days went, he’d definitely had better.

“And yourself, Mr Malfoy?” Madam Iatric asked brightly as the Quill began to furiously scribble down every last detail of this scintillating exchange.

“Yes, fine,” Malfoy said, although he didn’t sound too certain. “Are my parents here yet?” he asked, an edge to his voice. His gaze skittered towards Harry and away again, and Harry remembered – how could he forget? – that Malfoy had been asleep for six weeks and was probably feeling more than a little out of sorts. Perhaps he’d forgotten who Harry was or something – that would explain the hug. Or maybe he was just so pleased to be awake again, after six weeks of dreaming about Voldemort, that he didn’t care who he was hugging. Maybe he’d have hugged Ron, if Ron had been in front of Harry.

Ron had been in front of Harry.

“Look – if I feel fine, and Malfoy feels fine, then what are we hanging about for?” Harry said, feeling a sudden inexplicable crossness suffuse him like a rising tide.

“Oh!” Madam Iatric said, her eyes widening, and shot a glance of mute appeal at Professor Flange. He said nothing, but he shook his head in a way that boded ill for Harry’s future happiness. “I’m so sorry, Harry, but we need to wait for . . .” She trailed off, and Harry knew exactly what she wasn’t saying.

They needed to wait for him to be prodded, and poked, and tested, and worried over for the next hundred years. And then, if he was really unlucky, Blaise Zabini, his least favourite Unspeakable, would pop up and run all the tests again, but with his snotty nose in the air. Blaise didn’t ever need to actually speak out loud to make it perfectly clear that his job – his life – would be completely perfect if Harry would just deign to go and die in a ditch somewhere, please and thank you. It was too annoying to be borne.

Madam Iatric smiled at him anxiously. “We’ll be as quick as we can! Just some general health checks, to make sure you and Mr Malfoy aren’t suffering any lasting ill effects from the potion, and a few checks by your Unspeakable colleagues, and then you go can go.”

He knew it! He fucking knew it! They were unspeakable all right. Zabini was probably flying over to St Mungo’s as they spoke, sharpening up his disapproving expression until he felt confident he could stab Harry with it, even though the whole thing was pretty much his own fault. If he dared to complain about having his dinner interrupted, Harry thought acerbically, he would take Zabini’s broom and shove it right up his— “Right,” Harry said. “What do you think, Malfoy? What shall we do?”

Malfoy, still lounging against the desk, looked disconcerted for a moment, although that could just have been a side effect of facing a room full of fully-dressed people whilst bare-footed and in his pyjamas. He shrugged one shoulder, hair falling across his eyes again, and his expression smoothed back into careful composure – calm and unruffled, with a hint of superciliousness. And hair. “I think you’ve cured me, darling,” Malfoy said sweetly, turning his pale, intense gaze on Harry in a way that made him feel extremely peculiar. “I’m devastated to hear that you’re not really my true love, after all, but I think I’ll get over it if I try very, very hard. I’m up for a tender embrace to keep the press happy, though, if you are? I know how much you enjoy the publicity.”

The words sounded just like the Malfoy he knew well, Harry thought – sarcastic and childish. But . . . there was something off about the tone and the way Malfoy was looking at him. As if, despite his best efforts, his heart just wasn’t in it. He considered saying something snide in response – he could feel Ron, close by, willing him on – but he found he just couldn’t be bothered. Why should every conversation he had with Malfoy end up with them exchanging insults? It was boring, Harry decided, and he was fucked off with it.

Acting more out of instinct than actual thought, Harry took a step forward and held out his hand. “No hard feelings,” he said, and then wished he hadn’t, because he couldn’t have said anything more trite and meaningless if he’d tried. But he found that he did want Malfoy to shake his hand – very much – so he kept it extended, even though Malfoy was looking at it as if it was a snake about to bite.

“Mr Potter, I really think this would be an unwise action on your part,” Professor Flange said in an authoritative, insistent tone, and took a step forward.

“Yes, Harry, don’t you think—” Hermione said urgently.

Malfoy didn’t turn away from Harry, but his face flushed darkly. He was clearly taking these interruptions as an insult, and Harry couldn’t entirely blame him – whose business was it whether or not he shook hands with Malfoy other than their own? So he kept his hand extended, and Malfoy – after a millisecond’s pause where he appeared to argue with himself – stepped forward decisively and took Harry’s hand in an unexpectedly tight grip.

Harry was just starting to relax and wonder how long it took for a person’s blood circulation to be cut off – it wasn’t so bad, really, being the bigger person, even though it was more painful than expected – when several things happened simultaneously:

Ron let out an ominous gurgle that suggested bad things were afoot.

Hermione gasped.

Madam Iatric and Professor Flange raised their wands as one and set off a piercing alarm, while the young Healer added to the din by screaming at the top of her lungs.

And – the most important of things – Harry looked down, at his and Draco’s joined hands, and saw that they seemed to be on fire.

There was an explosion – or rather, Harry felt rather than heard something explode. It didn’t hurt, which was nice: this was the second time he’d died, he thought vaguely, and it hadn’t hurt either times. And it was quite pretty, for an explosion: the fire was gold, rather than red, and sparkly, and every time he breathed in it felt like he was sucking in all the magic in the world – and releasing it each time he breathed out.

He was in sync with Malfoy, he realised – the light, and the indefinable heat, was pulsing between them. Malfoy looked up at him, and his eyes were gleaming – panic, mixed with awe.

The light flashed so brightly that Harry had to squeeze his eyes tight shut, and even then he could see aftershocks.

When he opened them again, he seemed to be surrounded by every single person in St Mungo’s.

And he was still holding on to Malfoy’s hand, with all his strength.

Chapter Text

“What the actual fuck!” Malfoy said – wisely, in Harry’s opinion – and wrenched his hand away from Harry’s, clutching it to his chest as if he was worried Harry might want to take hold of it again. Harry didn’t want to take hold of it again. He wanted to get as far away from Malfoy as was humanly possible. He wanted to—

He lunged at Malfoy as Malfoy wobbled on the spot, for a moment looking like he was going to keel over. Malfoy whipped out his arm to push Harry away, though – hard – and managed to stay on his feet, although he was screwing his face up as though something hurt.

“Um, a little help, please?” Harry called, looking around frantically for a Healer, any Healer. The alarm was still ringing at full volume, and even as he peered through the crowd around him, Harry could see more patients emerging from behind the dozens of doors in the reception room’s wall.

“Aren’t you . . .?” one man started, before his head vanished behind a cloud of steam billowing from his ears and he was overcome by a coughing fit. “H-Harry Potter?”

The words Harry Potter seemed to be taken up as a choral round, going through the room in waves. Harry craned his head furiously, looking for Hermione – she was bound to be of more help than the Healers in a crisis – but all he could see was pyjama-clad patient upon pyjama-clad patient, a man whose head was furrier than it should be pushing aside a girl who was sprouting leaves to see him better. He yelled Hermione’s name, but if she heard him then he couldn’t hear her, not over the boom of the alarm and the thrilled murmuring of the crowd. The other patients weren’t approaching Harry, but they weren’t moving away, either, and he didn’t fancy trying to force his way through them when Malfoy could barely stand up. He didn’t even know which way was out!

At a loss, Harry looked back at over Malfoy, to check he hadn’t keeled over or sprouted wings or anything in the last few seconds. He thought it was decidedly ominous that Malfoy wasn’t screaming blue murder and threatening the Healers – what with, exactly, now ‘my father will hear about this!’ no longer held any weight, he had no idea, but he was sure Malfoy could think of something. It was the sort of knobber he was. Harry opened his mouth to say so . . . and shut it again.

Malfoy had his hand in front of his eyes, and he was moving it backwards and forwards, as if his hand was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen. His face was carefully blank.

Harry leaned in a bit closer, so Malfoy could hear him over the general din, and hissed, “What’s the matter?” He didn’t really want to know. It was bound to be something awful; he could feel it, right in his gut. Malfoy wasn’t moaning, and since he was the sort to start sobbing over a papercut if he thought it would get someone else in trouble, it must be something really bad to shut him up like that.

“Apart from the obvious?” Malfoy hissed back, his voice very tight, and he shot Harry a slightly fuzzy look that was . . . fearful, Harry realised. He almost reached to take hold of Malfoy’s hand again, but held back; that would be weird, he thought. There was no way that Malfoy would like it. He had to put his hand in his pocket to stop himself, though, the impulse was so strong.

A silence opened up between them, almost as if they’d popped into their own, private bubble outside of space and time, and Harry realised it wasn’t entirely a rhetorical question. Malfoy, bizarrely, seemed to be hesitating, waiting for Harry to say something. So he suppressed the dozens of sarcastic remarks that sprung, fully formed, to his lips, and instead just nodded. “Yeah,” he said, when Malfoy continued to hesitate. “What’s wrong?”

Malfoy moistened his lips nervously, shooting a hunted look at the crowd around them, and then leaned in very close to Harry’s ear, his hair falling forward and tickling Harry’s cheek. “I can’t see properly,” he whispered fiercely, sounding panicked.

“Are you falling asleep again?” Harry whispered back. As soon as the words left his mouth they sounded stupid, but Malfoy didn’t laugh. Harry could feel his breath, their faces almost touching.

“I . . . My mother had an Oculist work an eyesight spell on me when I was a child. It feeds on my magic to keep itself going. There’s only one reason it would stop working,” he said, almost tripping over his words in a rush to get them out.

Harry pulled back a fraction and frowned at the side of Malfoy’s face. Malfoy wasn’t looking at him, seemed to be refusing to look at him. Harry noticed how colourless his eyelashes were, almost invisible against his skin. “Well, sorry to break it to you,” Harry said, “but you’re talking and breathing pretty well for a dead man.”

Something twitched in Malfoy’s cheek, but he didn’t reply or turn his head. He just swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat as if he was choking on it.

Harry felt a rising horrific urge to give Malfoy a hug. It was a perfectly normal reaction, he thought, trying not to freak out. Malfoy looked so . . . so afraid, all of a sudden, and Harry was a decent human being who wasn’t made of stone. He shivered, remembering the intensity, the warmth, of the magic pulsing between them. What had it meant? He still felt on edge, thrumming with something unusual that he couldn’t pin down. Before he could take action, however, to his great relief the ringing alarm finally fell silent, a stream of lime-green-clad bodies suddenly clustering in one of the open doorways and attempting to squeeze through. The crowd murmured with discontent, and pushed back.

“Will you all please BE QUIET!” called a familiar – and very cross – voice. Harry looked over to see Hermione rising above the crowd as if she was floating, although it soon became clear she’d simply managed to force her way to the central desk and climb on top of it. The desk, obviously alarmed by this, spewed out a cloud of pastel-pink tissues, making it appear briefly as if she was half woman, half marshmallow before they floated down again, softly, on the crowd’s heads.

This stern order didn’t seem to have much effect. Instead, the throng of patients seemed to notice for the first time there was another celebrity in their midst, and the ‘ooohs’ only got louder when Ron appeared beside her, looking a bit like someone had stepped on his face. He reached down and heaved up first Madam Iatric, and then the younger Healer, before a very dishevelled Professor Flange appeared to use the pair of women as a ladder to climb up.

“The paperwork this will involve!” Professor Flange shouted. While Harry felt a twinge of fellow feeling, he didn’t think this was entirely helpful. Flange tugged at his torn robe, stood up very straight and bellowed, “Silencio!”

The silence was instantaneous. “Never, in all my years!” Flange said into it, purple with rage. “Forced to use non-healing magic on patients! Entirely! Against! HOSPITAL REGULATIONS!” Indeed, Harry could already see why, one middle-aged wizard with an enormous bushy beard emitting clouds of green breath as he tried to speak. Clearly, using spells on already magically-afflicted patients came with unpredictable side effects. And green-breath wasn’t the only patient adversely – and oddly – affected by the sudden burst of magic; the leaf-girl pulled an odd, breathless face as she started to silently cough up flowers, and several older ladies, who’d brought their knitting with them, seemed to now be speaking in scarves rather than words.

“Harry! Quick! That way!” Madam Iatric called when Flange turned to release her from the spell, and she swished her wand, a closed door seeming to shimmer into existence on a section of the wall that was tantalisingly close. Harry turned to drag Malfoy with him, but Malfoy was already making a dash for it, elbowing people out of his way with a will. The crowd parted, and Harry took advantage of their distraction by zooming after Malfoy, Hermione launching herself off the desk and into the thick of it with a silent battle cry.

Harry made it into the room a fraction of a second after Malfoy, and Hermione zoomed in a few seconds later, craning her neck round the door before she shut it with a bang. As soon as it was safely closed behind them, the silencing spell failed. “Ron lived a good life,” Hermione said without a great deal of sympathy. “We’ll all miss him very much. Apart from the way he mangled a fish-finger sandwich,” she added thoughtfully.

They were in Malfoy’s hospital room. Harry could tell because there, on the bedside table, was the wand he’d used to defeat Voldemort. Malfoy’s wand. It gave him the creeps, a bit, to see it again. Malfoy stared at the wand as if he’d never seen it before and stretched a hand out towards it, before changing his mind and instead sitting down on the very edge of the bed, clasping his hands together so tightly that his knuckles went white.

What had Malfoy said, exactly? Harry’s brain wasn’t working very well. He’d said he couldn’t see properly, that the magic had failed. Harry tried to think, while Hermione put him off by looking extremely anxious. Malfoy wasn’t asleep, wasn’t dead, he just couldn’t . . . He didn’t . . . He . . .

Fucking, fuck hell.

“Have you lost your magic?” Harry demanded, and Malfoy did a whole-body flinch, turning a fuzzy but vicious glare on Harry.

“Not so loud!” Malfoy said. “What’s wrong with you?” He glared a bit harder, and then he squinted an almost terrified glance at Hermione and away again. Harry didn’t like that Malfoy was looking at Hermione like that – not as if he was scared of her, but as if he was scared of what she might have worked out. Hermione was a loss to the Auror department; it often seemed as if she’d grasped the facts of a crisis and was putting a plan in place to solve it before it had even happened.

“Have you lost yours too?” Hermione demanded of Harry, her eyes going extremely wide.

Harry shook his head. He still felt strange, but it was a different kind of strange – like his skin was still ablaze, in an electric, fizzing sense, every nerve ending firing off at once. He felt like he could do anything, cast any spell, his whole body one massive jitter. Usually, he was barely aware of his magic, but now he could feel it thrumming through him, with unusual intensity, almost as if . . .

Oh.

Almost as if it were stronger than usual.

Almost as if he’d only gone and sodding stolen Malfoy’s magic.

“I didn’t mean to take it!” Harry protested, before anyone made the accusation. “How do I give it back?” he demanded of Hermione – who appeared to be having some kind of minor breakdown.

“Oh God,” Hermione said faintly, and she turned to look again at Malfoy.

Harry turned to look at him too. Malfoy was strangely pale . . . until he caught Hermione’s eye, and his face flamed. Harry had never seen anyone go so red before.

No,” Hermione said, but it sounded like she was actually confirming some dread event, to Harry’s ears.

He tried not to panic – and had to try a bit harder when Malfoy, red now to the tips of his ears, and his neck just as scarlet, gave a short, sharp nod and bit his lip.

“Harry,” Hermione said, her gaze still locked on Malfoy, “please don’t touch Malfoy right now. It wouldn’t be—” She cleared her throat. “It wouldn’t be a good idea.”

“Why the hell not?” Harry said – quite reasonably, in his point of view. “Will it give him back his magic?”

“Ye-es,” Hermione said, “but it will also—” She stopped.

“What?” Harry said, growing increasingly uneasy. He loved Hermione, he really did, but even he would admit that she enjoyed showing off that she was half woman, half mobile library, whenever she had the opportunity. If she knew something but didn’t want to tell him, it must be something really fucking awful. Although, he could tell just by looking at Malfoy’s face that it was something really fucking awful, if he was honest with himself. “I’m not going to have to kiss him again, am I?” he asked Hermione, struck by a nameless dread and immediately deciding it was best to put a name to it.

“Ahahahahahaha!” Hermione said, her laugh both shrill and unnerving, while Malfoy seemed to go even redder, although where he wasn’t red he was completely white, in odd splotches. He was refusing to meet Harry’s eye now, in favour of staring at his own toes. They were fine, as far as toes went, Harry thought, but he couldn’t see anything mesmerising about them. Particularly as, if Malfoy were to be believed, Malfoy could no longer fucking see them properly.

The door banged open, and Harry and Hermione whipped out their wands and turned towards it, as one. The young female Healer jumped so high she nearly hit the ceiling, but recovered herself, closing the door behind her with another loud bang. She leaned forward, resting her hands on her knees to keep herself standing, and panted heavily. Her hair was a mess, and her eye make-up had migrated down her cheeks, smearing her whole face with twinkling pastel colours. “Madam – Iatric – sent – me,” she said between gasps, “to – make – sure—” She seemed to run out of breath entirely, and rather than struggling on, she straightened up and inserted herself firmly in front of Harry, blocking his view of Malfoy. She didn’t quite spread her arms and attempt to transfigure herself into an unbreachable wall, but it appeared to be a close-run thing.

Harry, irritated by this, attempted to side-step her, and she moved the same way, as if they were playing Quidditch and she was determined not to let him catch the Snitch. “You should – should sit!” she said, still breathing heavily, and turned to frown at the wall on one side of Malfoy’s hospital bed. “Yes!” she said, and pulled her own wand out, giving it a firm swish. The wall gave an impatient shake, and then collapsed into the floor, vanishing beneath the lavender-coloured lino and revealing a small room beyond it, identical to the one they were currently standing in. “Sit!” she said again to Harry, shooing him over to the bed and giving him a small, apologetic shove.

Harry sat down, although it was more of a case of him losing his balance than anything else, so he shot back to his feet again. “But—!” he protested. Malfoy hadn’t moved a muscle, as far as he could see, though the redness in his skin had faded, bleaching his skin almost entirely white.

It occurred to Harry that this interruption had given Hermione the perfect excuse to not tell him what horrible, terrible conclusion she’d drawn. He didn’t especially want to hear it, but since he was the one living it, he thought he’d better get it over with. “Well?” he demanded of Hermione, who was still standing awkwardly in the middle of the room, though her wand hand had sagged to her side and she was gnawing her lip to shreds. “What the bloody hell is going on?”

To Harry’s annoyance, the Healer replied instead. She seemed to have regained her self-possession a fraction. “Everything is under control!” she said brightly. “The professor has borrowed your friend Mr Weasley and gone to make a few fire-calls, dear, while Madam and the others are helping our patients back to their beds. You just sit tight and . . . sit tight!” she repeated, not very soothingly.

“Harry, don’t panic,” Hermione said suddenly, raising both her chin and her wand arm with determination, “but have you heard of bonding?”

Harry found he was glad of the bed behind him when his knees decided they would like to bend now, please, didn’t Harry know that was what they were for? Though even once he’d sat, his stomach seemed to continue hurtling downwards. It was the sort of sinking feeling he’d only ever previously experienced on the Quidditch pitch – when the magic in his broom had failed, and he was plunging through the air towards the very hard ground. It was the knowledge that you were all right at this very moment, but that quite soon you were going to be a mangled heap and it would hurt very much to put you back together again.

But . . . Bonding? “Some sort of pure-blood shit, isn’t it?” Harry asked, rallying, as he decided Hermione must have gone nuts.

Malfoy snorted, and Harry felt infinitesimally better.

“I-i-i-it might not be that!” the Healer said, her eyes shifting about in the manner of someone clearly not telling the truth, and Harry immediately felt worse again. “Just – sit! Don’t worry!” she said. “Madam Iatric will be here soon!” she continued, and looked longing towards the door, as if wishing for it would made it true.

“How . . . comforting,” Malfoy said in a very low, very tight voice, echoing Harry’s thoughts entirely.

Harry opened his mouth to say something scathing – she might just be a trainee Healer, but he rather thought she should be doing some healing, right about now – when the door creaked open a few inches and nose poked its way around, followed by a face. Harry was just about to be grudgingly impressed at how the Healer had summoned her boss without using either her wand or her voice, when Madam Iatric seemed to sprout a halo of spiny branches.

“Jessica, dear!” Madam Iatric said, a little strained, as she attempted to use her wand as a blunt instrument to whack the branches away. “We could use your help, just for a moment!”

“But!” the trainee Healer – Jessica – said, shooting first Malfoy and then Harry a look of grave misgiving, before turning an imploring look on Hermione.

Hermione didn’t say anything, but she nodded back firmly. She had her SPEW expression on, Harry noticed. It was the sort of meaningful, goody two shoes expression that had consistently fooled teachers into thinking she always obeyed the rules. She did obey the rules, to be fair to her, Harry thought; it was just that her rules didn’t always line up with those of the people in charge.

Jessica was apparently soothed by what she saw in Hermione’s eyes, because she gave a determined kind of squeak, gathered up her robes in one hand and raised her wand in the other, firing off a blast that nearly had Madam Iatric’s eye out and then vanishing behind the door and into the fray.

“Is this a hospital or a loony bin, I wonder,” Malfoy said, his voice thick with both wonder and derision. He was staring at the door now, in preference to his feet, but he didn’t look very well, Harry thought, his insides doing something peculiar.

Hermione ignored this entirely. She raised her chin again, as if she was facing something unpleasant head on, and said, “Harry, I think what’s happened is—”

“Oh God, Granger, do you have to?” Malfoy interrupted, which didn’t inspire confidence.

“Would you rather tell Harry yourself?” Hermione said sweetly. “Or perhaps you’d rather wait until your parents are here, and you can tell them all together. Oh,” she added with a glint in her eye, “Ron might panic and call his mum, too, once he’s helped the idiots outside restore order, and she wouldn’t be the Molly Weasley we know and love if she didn’t rush over immediately. What fun it will be.”

Malfoy didn’t say anything, but his face was very expressive. Was the expression mask of horror or rictus? Harry couldn’t remember.

Hermione nodded. “Right, Harry, this is only speculation this stage, but . . . as I said, I think it’s bonding magic.” She moved to perch next to Harry on the edge of the bed. Harry could feel her looking at his face, and he couldn’t stop himself from staring at Malfoy, who was in turn still glaring at Hermione as if he wished she would drop dead on the spot. “It seems to me,” Hermione continued, “that we’re dealing with two potions here, rather than one. The sleeping potion and,” she hesitated, a note of sympathy in her voice, “the bonding potion used in traditional pure-blood weddings.”

Harry had never heard anything so stupid in all his life. It – it even topped ‘Yer a wizard, Harry’ in a poll of all the really stupid-sounding things people had ever said to him. He tried not to stress out about the fact that that one, in particular, had turned out to be extremely true. “Traditional pure-blood weddings?” he repeated angrily, turning to glare at Hermione, who was clearly talking out of her arse. “Get much call for researching that sort of thing, over in the Magical Creatures Department? Want to open up bonding rituals to the house-elves, now?”

“I’ve been doing a bit of personal reading on the topic,” Hermione said stiffly. “Ron’s a pure-blood,” she mumbled, and went a bit red. As if that explained anything! She seemed to shake herself. “Listen, though, Harry,” she said earnestly, and reached over to give his knee a quick squeeze. “The potion facilitates an exchange of magic – one partner gives up their magic to the other, as a sign of trust, and then has it returned to them. Then there is a final – act,” Hermione said, with uncharacteristic imprecision, “which forms the bond. It’s an unbreakable one,” she added firmly, “so—”

Harry could feel his own blood roaring in his head, his heart pounding so hard he felt nauseous. He could barely hear what Hermione was saying, over the shouting of MARRIAGE! BONDING! MARRIAGE! BONDING! in his head. It – it wasn’t fair! It wasn’t fair! Had he given up his childhood, following a destiny he’d had no say over, to spend his adulthood trapped in something else he had no say over? He fucking wasn’t doing it, he decided, shooting to his feet. No way was he doing it again. But – first things first. Right now, he had something that didn’t belong to him, and he was going to sodding well give it back. “So, right now, all I need to do to give Malfoy his magic back is just shake his hand again,” he asked, although it wasn’t really a question.

Harry forced himself to look over at Malfoy, to see what he thought, but Malfoy had unhelpfully tipped his head forward just enough that his hair fell in a veil across his face, concealing his expression. OK, so his hands were clasped together in his lap, rather than stretched out longingly towards Harry and his stolen magic, but . . . that didn’t necessarily mean anything, did it?

“Oh!” Hermione said, also rising to her feet. “Yes, but don’t!” she continued, her voice urgent. “It’s . . . it’s not as simple as that!”

It seemed a no-brainer to Harry, though. He had Malfoy’s magic – and all he had to do was shake hands with him to return it. Once they’d done that, they could find out how to reverse the potion before this ‘final act’ that Hermione had euphemistically spoken about made the bond permanent. It was probably kissing the bride, Harry thought with no amusement whatsoever. This time, he decided, he would be in charge of the investigation, rather than those wankers in the Department of Mystery. A second potion! How had they missed something so fucking obvious?

It struck Harry that Malfoy was being suspiciously quiet. He couldn’t understand how he could be so calm about it. Malfoy couldn’t even see properly right now, he’d said! When Harry considered what losing your magic would feel like, he just . . . couldn’t. It was appalling. And he’d lived as a Muggle for eleven years! What would it be like for Malfoy, who’d known nothing else but magic? When Harry looked again at Malfoy though – and actually saw – he could see that Malfoy’s entire body was trembling, very lightly, however hard he was trying to conceal it. He realised, too, in a flash of painful insight, that Malfoy probably didn’t expect Harry to give his magic back.

“How can you even think that?” he accused.

Malfoy blinked – and turned his head to stare at him, in an unfocused but nevertheless sarcastic way. “I beg your pardon? What am I thinking?” he said, reaching up with a dithering hand to push his hair out of his face.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Harry said, and strode across the room. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Hermione reach out to try and grab him, but she was a fraction of a second too slow. Harry could see panic bloom in Malfoy’s face – which alarmed him slightly – but his course was set now, and he’d snatched up one of Malfoy’s hands before he’d engaged his brain enough to wonder if perhaps talking things through first would have been a better idea.

The explosion that followed was no less alarming – and beautiful – than the first one. Except . . . this time Harry felt as if he was being emptied out, slowly but surely, until nothing remained of him except his beating heart and the feel of Malfoy’s warm skin against his own.

“You fucking idiot,” Malfoy said, wrenching his hand away from Harry’s and fixing him with a withering stare that seemed to see into his very soul.

Harry strained to remember his Occlumency, just in case, but . . . nothing happened. He tried again: nothing. Just as he was starting to panic – he couldn’t cope without his magic, how had Malfoy managed it, even for a minute, what the fucking fuck was he going to DO – Malfoy reached for his hand again, and it felt like . . . safety.

The magic this time was different. Tamer. It swirled around and through him, washing over him like a warm bath, full of comfort. And through it all, Malfoy was there, sitting on the bed in front of him, his presence strangely reassuring. Better the devil you know, Harry thought fuzzily, tightening his grip, but that wasn’t exactly right – because he trusted Malfoy. Sort of. At least – he knew where he was with Malfoy. He—

Malfoy gave him a look that was so burning it seemed to scorch its way through Harry’s body and out the other side. He wet his lips, pinned in place by the intensity, the sheer unnerving oddity of Malfoy’s stare. Malfoy had never looked at him like that before. Like Malfoy was starving to death and Harry was treacle tart. Harry had the strangest feeling that instead of holding hands with his schoolboy nemesis, he was standing with someone he’d never met before. Overwhelmed by nerves, and a flicker of terror, he dropped Malfoy’s hand, and Malfoy immediately looked away, the tension between them sagging into nothing.

As soon he’d let go of Malfoy, though, Harry felt a horrible emptiness deep in the pit of his stomach, and he was reaching out to grab Malfoy’s hand again before he’d fully considered that maybe this was the spell’s doing and it might be wiser to let go of him before anything worse happened. This time, though, there was no rush of magic, no glittering lights; no heat, or fire, or sparkle. He just felt . . . normal.

“Well, go on then,” Malfoy said testily, fixing him with a sharp look but not pulling away. “Do some magic, you idiot.”

Harry, feeling rather stupid, pulled out his wand with his free hand and made a quill dance across the desk on the other side of the room.

“Pass it over, then,” Malfoy said, and held out his free hand.

Harry stared at it stupidly for a moment, and then handed over his wand.

Malfoy used it easily and naturally, without comment, as if he’d been born with it in his hand. When he’d finished, he passed it back, and then dropped Harry’s hand again.

Instantly, Harry felt the magic vanish. He waved his wand, but there was nothing – he might as well have been holding a stick of celery or a Christmas cracker.

Malfoy let out a sigh so deep it plunged to the centre of the earth, and then out the other side. “Yes, well done, Potter,” he said with aching politeness. “I didn’t think it was actually possible for our situation to get any worse, so I applaud your great achievement in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.”

Well, Harry liked that! Presumably Malfoy was better off, at any rate! He glared at him, and opened his mouth to tell him so, and . . . shut it. Malfoy was squinting up at him again, as if he was trying for his best ancestral scowl but couldn’t quite manage it without being able to see his target clearly.

“Oh God,” Hermione said. “Oh God.”

This, Harry thought, wasn’t helpful. Neither was the sense of relief – and the tingling current of magic that ran through his arm – when he grabbed Malfoy by the wrist. “So am I right,” he said, “that if Malfoy and I want to continue doing magic, we have to spend the rest of our lives holding hands?” He’d meant to say it with deep, cutting sarcasm, but to his own ears he just sounded stunned.

“I told you not to do it!” Hermione protested, which Harry thought was equally unhelpful.

Harry collapsed down next to Malfoy on the side of the bed. Malfoy jerked his hand as Harry moved, twisting his wrist, and their fingers slid tightly together. Harry couldn’t have said for sure if Malfoy had meant that to happen, but neither of them pulled away from it either. “Surely people who complete this bond thing don’t end up like this?” he said weakly, more at Hermione than Malfoy. He didn’t want to look at Malfoy; it was bad enough he was willingly holding hands with him. “I reckon I’d have noticed!”

Malfoy seemed to execute a full-body cringe. “Tell me I’m not going to have to actually say out loud what completing a marriage bond involves,” he said piteously. “Potter, you can’t be that ignorant.” He took a very deep breath. “In case it’s not clear,” he continued, a hint of desperation in his voice, his hand very hot in Harry’s, “we haven’t completed it yet. Trust me! You’d have noticed!”

Harry decided that he really wasn’t having a good day. Maybe, if he was lucky, he’d just have to change places with Malfoy and do the whole Sleeping Beauty thing himself for a while – a nice nap for the next six weeks would do him good, he decided. He certainly needed to find a way to de-stress, and he couldn’t think of anything finer. Anything that could distract him from what Malfoy was saying. Harry wasn’t stupid. He just – there was no way – he couldn’t—

Harry turned to Hermione and found she was eyeing the door with great wistfulness, her cheeks a violent red. Still, Harry had long ago come to the conclusion that you couldn’t win against an enemy you couldn’t name. And, if you didn’t name it yourself, Harry told himself firmly, there was always a risk that someone like Blaise Zabini would come along and name it for you – using an expression of high condescension and talking in words of one syllable, as if he didn’t quite believe you had a working brain.

“Er, Harry,” Hermione said, wringing her hands – wringing her fucking hands! “You know when a man and a woman – or, ah, two people – love each other very much, they—”

Was . . . was Hermione about to give him a talk about the facts of life? Harry thought he’d almost rather take all his clothes off and make mad love to Malfoy there and now, in front of her, than suffer Hermione giving him a talk about the facts of life. Beside him, Malfoy made a snorting, choking noise that suggested that he was thinking along similar lines.

“Hermione! Stop,” Harry said quickly, before it could get any worse. Malfoy sagged against him briefly, to his shock, their shoulders pressing together, before he seemed to realise he’d done it and straightened up like a shot. This put Harry off a bit, but he tried to rally, in case Hermione used his silence as an opportunity to insert either the word birds or bees. “I had a girlfriend for a year!” Harry protested spikily. “I wouldn’t point this out normally, but you seem to have forgotten!”

“Harry Potter, the Boy Who Dated,” Malfoy murmured beside him, tone scathing. He’d stiffened right up, in a way that hacked Harry off, although he couldn’t have explained why.

“What was that?” Harry demanded. “I just – I don’t know why everyone acts like I’m some kind of monk!” he said, and winced with embarrassment. “I’ve – plenty of times! In the last year, too!” he protested. The words dropped into a silence that said everyone around him was trying very, very hard to pretend they’d gone stone deaf.

“Yes, all right, Potter,” Malfoy said woodenly, after they’d all stared at the floor / wall / door for a while. “I’m sure bards are composing epic songs about your hundreds of erotic conquests even as we speak.”

Hermione laughed, and then covered her mouth with her hands, as if she couldn’t believe she’d done it.

Harry tugged his hand out of Malfoy’s crossly, trying not to flinch at the sudden, odd sensation of something missing. It was a bit like someone had chopped off his leg and the stump had healed over; it didn’t hurt, and he couldn’t feel it, but he still knew it was gone, with every fibre of his being. “There’s no need to take the piss out of me,” he said stiffly, and then, before either of the two fuckers in the room could disagree, he added, feeling a bit like he was going to cringe so hard he’d cringe all the way out of his own skin, “I just – obviously, neither of us want to complete the bond. I only wanted to be sure it isn’t possible for us to do it by accident!”

“I – don’t think it’s possible to have sex by accident,” Malfoy said, his tone so sweet it was almost sticky, “but it sounds like you’re more of an authority on the subject than me.”

Quite possibly he’d deserved that, Harry thought as he felt his head heat up to boiling point. But even so . . .! Harry closed his eyes at this sarcastic bluntness, and tried very hard not to die.

Chapter Text

Tea was good for shock, Harry knew that. Mrs Weasley had told him, and occasionally he forced some down to show willing. Tea wasn’t good for shock, though, if it was a spreading puddle on the lino, surrounded by shards of former teacups. They were nice teacups, by the look of it. Harry sometimes wondered if he’d ever be served tea in chipped mugs again, rather than the best crockery. Fine china seemed to follow him now, wherever he went, like an upper-class plague.

Harry didn’t blame Hermione, exactly, for wanting to tell Madam Iatric what had happened between him and Malfoy while she’d been busy wrangling her other patients, but he wished she’d at least waited until the Healer had set down the tray bobbing along behind her. Tea would have added a welcome air of normality to the whole situation. He’d been perfectly willing to spend a few minutes drinking tea, while Madam Iatric pretended he hadn’t last seen her battling a plant-woman, almost certainly in violation of hospital rules, and he pretended Malfoy hadn’t just said – what he’d just said. There was a difference between knowing something to be true and hearing it confirmed, and Harry decided he would have been happier to remain ignorant after all.

Except – it hadn’t been confirmed, Harry thought stubbornly, pushing down the rising panic and trying to remain logical. Just because Hermione had her suspicions, and just because Malfoy had the same suspicions, and – and so did the trainee Healer, Jessica – it didn’t mean anything, did it? All they knew for certain was that he and Malfoy had lost and regained their magic in turn, and now required a physical link to maintain their powers. Just because that was exactly what happened in the first stages of this stupid, ridiculous, antiquated pure-blood bonding potion shit, it didn’t mean it was the stupid, ridiculous, antiquated pure-blood bonding potion shit.

Harry stared at the puddle of tea. Malfoy, next to him, squinted at it. And Harry felt a lump of something enormous and wriggling grip him in the centre of his chest, making it hard to breathe.

Hermione swished her wand, Vanishing the mess, when it became clear that otherwise they might all sit there staring at it forever. This seemed to help Madam Iatric recover the power of speech. She Summoned a large, floral armchair, the arms fraying and the fabric faded, and collapsed down into it. “We leave you alone for less than five minutes . . .!” she said, flabbergasted. “All you had to do was sit still!”

There wasn’t much Harry could say to that. He was sitting still now, all right. It was just, he was sitting still right next to Malfoy, and it wasn’t like things could get any worse. Not . . . accidentally, at any rate, Harry thought, cringing all over again. He glanced over at the clock on the wall, which developed a face and smiled at him, even though it was showing the time as twenty past eight and so was obviously broken. It couldn’t be possible that he’d only woken up Malfoy up a couple of hours ago. He felt like he’d been in St Mungo’s – well, apart from his brief return home to cower under his bed – for at least three months solid.

“Gryffindors like Potter always spring into action without considering the consequences,” Malfoy said with cutting kindness. “They can’t be blamed for it. It’s just the way they’re made.”

There . . . wasn’t much Harry could say to that either. He supposed he could hex Malfoy, in place of speech, but he thought that the fact that he’d have to hold Malfoy’s hand while he did it would take away some of the pleasure. Besides, he could barely summon the common manly courage to turn his head and look at Malfoy right now, let alone reach over and actually touch him. He still felt like he was boiling alive in a pan of his own embarrassment, and being so close to Malfoy was only making it worse. He felt disinclined to move and put space between them, though, for some reason. Was it the magic thing, he wondered, trying not to go mad. It . . . it didn’t feel like the magic thing.

Madam Iatric shook her head and, pulling out a sheet of paper and a bright-pink quill from her robe pocket, made some rapid, bright-pink notes. A few swift waves of her wand and the paper multiplied itself several times, each piece folding into a small, white bird, which zoomed out of the door. “Others must be informed of recent developments,” she said on a sigh, when Harry twitched. “I do hope my staff won’t take the blame for this,” she said, and gave Harry a look that was ripe with meaning. “Spleen Ward is usually an extremely civilised place to recover in! If we’d had the Auror assistance we’d requested, to guard Mr Malfoy . . .” she added significantly.

Had St Mungo’s requested an Auror bodyguard for Malfoy? If they had, Robards hadn’t said anything to Harry. Probably, Harry thought gloomily, because he’d known Harry would have felt duty bound to volunteer for the job. There must be something fundamentally wrong with him, to constantly worry over someone like Malfoy, who would never worry about him in return.

“Don’t worry, Madam Iatric, it’s entirely Potter’s fault,” Malfoy said politely. Harry winced, wondering if it would be a good idea to say out loud that he would have guarded Malfoy if he’d known it was an option, but decided this would only make things worse. “I’m sure he’s enough of a gentleman not to let a lady take the blame for his own mistakes,” Malfoy added, as if to twist the knife further.

“I wonder why, exactly, it was that someone wanted to curse you,” Hermione murmured, almost quietly enough to be inaudible, but not quite. She was perching on the bed on the other side of the room, her arms folded and her back very straight.

“Pardon?” Malfoy asked, his tone still polite.

Harry was just starting to properly brood over the fact that Malfoy was able to talk like a normal human being, even to the point of sarcasm, while he could barely even remember how to breathe – was it out then in, or in then out? – when the door banged open as loudly as if it had been blown off. Harry hoped it wouldn’t be Zabini, even as he hoped it would be. Sometimes it was best to swallow the frog.

It wasn’t Zabini. Harry tried to sink down into the floor without moving, so his boss wouldn’t see what an amazing cock-up Harry had made of things in such an impressively short amount of time. Robards often told him he was Head Auror material; Harry suspected he wouldn’t be saying that now.

“What the bloody hell have you gone and got yourself mixed up in this time, Potter?” Head Auror Robards roared, sweeping into the room like a hurricane, one of Madam Iatric’s little white note birds crushed to death in his fist. A cluster of Healers – who’d clearly been lurking outside the door in case Harry did something else crashingly stupid – had evidently thought to follow him in, but the sheer weight of his irritation made them take several hasty paces back, some taking those paces all the way out of the reception room entirely and away to somewhere Auror Robards wasn’t. “If this is a way of telling me you need a week off work, then request denied!” His gaze flicked from Harry’s face to Malfoy’s, taking in their proximity on the same bed, and he raised his black, bushy eyebrows. “Canoodle with whoever you like, Potter, but DO IT ON YOUR OWN TIME!” he said.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Harry stuttered, trying not to die inside, but Robards was unstoppable.

“You KNOW how much work there is to do right now! Back to your desk THIS INSTANT and prepare for your mission to—” He broke off and glowered at the remaining people in the room. “TOP SECRET!” he yelled, and waved menacingly at the brave souls who were still standing in the doorway, until they cracked and dashed away, one even waving his wand to send the door slamming shut in Robards’ face.

The issue, Harry thought with extreme gloom, was not that his boss was shouting at him. The issue was that Auror Robards was as soft-hearted and soppy as a baby Crup, and he only shouted when he was really, really worried.

“Oh Harry,” Hermione said, sounding both cross and disappointed in him, while Robards stalked around the room, wand held high, conducting an entirely unnecessary perimeter check with an ugly scowl on his face. “You’d agreed to go back to work after we’d . . . finished here? I thought we were going to the pub!”

“Only for a bit!” Harry protested, in the face of this unfair attack. Was this really the time? They certainly weren’t going to the pub together now. And – and it seemed heartless to talk about going to the pub like that, in front of Malfoy. If they’d been in the pub right now, drinking away the memories of Malfoy’s unnervingly attractive sleep face, it would have meant Malfoy was still asleep. Presumably, Malfoy would rather not still be asleep, even considering . . . Even considering. “I would have joined you and Ron after I’d finished my work,” Harry added when Hermione didn’t reply, just twisted her fingers in her robe.

“You never finish your work, though,” she said in a small voice, and looked upset.

Great, Harry thought. Fucking great. Not only was he shit at his job, by the sound of it, but he was also shit at being a friend. It was lucky he didn’t have a boyfriend right now, he thought viciously, because no doubt he would have proved to be shit at that too. How the hell was he going to get out of this . . . this thing with Malfoy, he thought despairingly, getting stuck in self-pity. So what if Malfoy had – it was OK, Harry could admit it in the privacy of his own head – grown into someone almost fanciable, while Harry wasn’t looking? He was still Malfoy, under all that hair and glow. Malfoy, who hated him, and who was straight, and who would presumably cut off his own head before he agreed to marry anyone who wasn’t a pure-blood woman who could provide him with an heir.

If it was a bond. If, Harry told himself desperately, squeezing his eyes shut as he reminded himself that it hadn’t been proved. Not yet.

Robards had, apparently, finished his perimeter check, because Harry could hear him engage Madam Iatric in a tense, whispered conversation. He couldn’t hear the words, but then again, Robards had such a disbelieving, shocked tone to his voice that Harry didn’t want to hear. Whatever he was saying, it was bound to be terrible for Harry’s ego.

The darkness behind his eyes made the urge to reach out to Malfoy almost overwhelming. Harry just wanted to . . . check, that he was still there, beside him. He tried to breathe evenly – it was OK that he didn’t have his magic right now, he didn’t need his magic right now, it was OK, he’d be OK, oh God oh God oh God oh—

Harry nearly jolted out of his own skin, his eyes snapping open, when Malfoy slid a hand round the back of his neck, slipping cool but gentle fingers just beneath the neck of his shirt. The relief he felt was so bizarrely intense that Harry was glad he was sitting down; he could barely stop himself from shaking.

Malfoy leaned over towards Harry’s ear, his hair tickling Harry’s face. “Calm down, scarhead,” he said quietly, with a hint of the supercilious Malfoy of old. “It’s only me – your darling husband.”

“Ha fucking ha,” Harry said, feeling some of the tension leave his body in a great whoosh. He tried not to twitch as Malfoy lightly rubbed his thumb against his skin. The sensation was disconcertingly comforting, and Harry couldn’t work out whether it was the simple relief of knowing he could once again access his magic if he needed it, or if it was something more nebulous and alarming. Either way, it felt too intimate by far. Harry didn’t feel able to ask Malfoy to stop, though – what else would he suggest? Stop stroking my neck, Malfoy – let’s hold hands instead? No, it didn’t bear thinking about.

“Are you going to rein in this blustering buffoon, or do I have to do it?” Malfoy asked in dulcet tones, thumb still stroking. Harry had to suppress the urge to shiver, it felt so . . . well. It felt good. “We probably shouldn’t entirely alienate the Healer-in-Charge, given the circumstances.”

Malfoy’s words finally made it through to his whirling brain. “Robards is not a—!” he started, indignantly, and then stopped. It was, perhaps, true that Auror Robards wasn’t showing himself off to his full advantage. He had, in fact, left off the hissed whispering, in favour of full-on shouting. Madam Iatric, who was opening and closing her mouth in the manner of a goldfish, without apparently managing to get a single word out, looked extremely startled. How she, or any of the Healers in the building, hadn’t come across Robards in full ‘Do Something To Heal My Auror Or Else!!’ mode before, though, Harry had no idea. It seemed a daily occurrence that Robards was forcing them to go to hospital for treatment for a papercut. “All right, all right,” he said testily, getting to his feet and pulling away from Malfoy’s touch with inexplicable reluctance.

Harry had a brief moment of hope that, on touching Robards’ forearm – his uniform sleeves were roughly rolled up to display scarred, tough skin – he’d feel his magic flowing again, thus proving that his current predicament wasn’t entirely centred on Malfoy, but it was quickly extinguished. Robards did, however, halt in full flow, and turned a face that was more concerned than angry towards him.

“What the fuck have you done, Potter?” Robards demanded.

“We can’t entirely blame scarhead,” Malfoy slipped in, coming up behind Harry and resting a hand lightly on the small of his back, sending shivers up his spine. Was – was Malfoy trying to be supportive? He wasn’t sure he liked supportive Malfoy. It made him wonder what he was up to.

Robards manfully ignored Malfoy. “Was there really any benefit, Potter, to waking up this little shit?” he asked. “Could you not have left well alone?”

“I’m glad to hear that you and your team were making every conceivable effort to catch the person who cursed me and to see justice was done,” Malfoy said sweetly.

“What do you think, Potter?” Robards asked him. “Is your conscience smiting you?”

Harry winced. “Er,” he said, and wanted to say more – it wasn’t his fault! Zabini was in charge! He’d asked to be assigned Malfoy’s case, sod it! – but he was finding it hard to concentrate. Malfoy’s supportive – suspicious – hand was so light against his back that he should have barely been able to feel it, but Harry seemed to sense it through his shirt, through his outer robes, and even through his skin, an odd buzz of sensation that wasn’t unpleasant. He wasn’t convinced that he wasn’t just imagining it – and yet . . .

He shivered, and Malfoy removed his hand. The sensation remained for a brief second, like a ghost.

“Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the situation,” Hermione said, also getting to her feet and stepping forwards to address Robards – Harry could almost feel her mentally adding, And you’d BETTER have been trying to get justice for Malfoy, however much of a little shit he is, or ELSE – “we’d be a lot better off thinking practically, rather than pointing the finger of blame.”

“Oh YES?” roared Robards.

Hermione winced a bit, but stood her ground. Thank Merlin, Harry thought, trying not to sag with relief. If he’d had to choose anyone to take charge of a difficult situation, it would be Hermione. Well, and Ron. Where was Ron, anyway, it occurred to him. He’d last seen him in amongst the crowd of plant/potion-poisoned patients, looking half-trampled. Knowing Ron, he’d accidentally been swept up and classified as someone who needed immediate, urgent treatment, possibly to his brain. The Healers weren’t to know that that was what Ron was always like. It wasn’t their fault.

“Yes! There are things we need to do right now, rather than stand here shouting at each other,” Hermione said witheringly. “We need to make Harry’s safe,” she continued, ticking things off on her fingers as she spoke, “we need someone competent in diagnosing and treating potion poisoning to check him over –” here, Madam Iatric made a noise of grave offence and stood up so tall that her head nearly hit the ceiling, “and we need to think about what we’re going to tell the media tonight, so they leave him alone as much as possible.”

Malfoy cleared his throat. “It’s good to hear you have my best interests at heart, Hermione,” he said, his voice dripping sugar.

Hermione turned and gave him such a withering look that Harry presumed it was only the fact that Malfoy couldn’t see properly that meant he was still alive right now. “We’ve always been such close friends,” she said politely, in what was in no way intended to function as a killing blow.

“Jumping jellybeans, if you want to have a lovely chat, you can do it on your own time, Granger,” Robards snapped, shoving his hands into the pockets of his robes in a faintly alarming manner, as if he had to do it or else rise up and become a strangler. It wasn’t clear whether he wanted to strangle Hermione or Malfoy most, or possibly both together. He did have two hands, after all, Harry thought, realising he was starting to feel a bit hysterical again. “I’ve checked the room for listening devices, so we might as well start with the obvious, then: who cursed the little shit. Presumably he knows?”

“I don’t think you’re meant to call crime victims little shits,” Malfoy said, his tone almost as polite as Hermione’s had been. “And as for who cursed me – I have no idea.”

“No?” Robards inquired. His voice shaded into heavy sarcasm. “Were you not there at the time?”

Malfoy wrinkled his nose, as if he could smell something rotten. “Is this an interrogation?”

Robards drew himself up to his full – not inconsiderable – height. “Should it be?” he said, his eyebrows also rising up towards the ceiling.

There was a highly uncomfortable silence. Harry tried not to leap to the obvious conclusion that Malfoy was hiding something, and then concluded he’d already leaped. It was bloody suspicious, though – if Malfoy knew something, why didn’t he just say it? And if he didn’t, then there was no need to be so evasive, was there? It was like he wanted to be suspected of something nefarious. But . . . surely even Malfoy, who was shit at plotting, wasn’t quite such an unspeakable idiot as to come up with a plot that could potentially leave him in a coma for weeks? That could end up with them . . . married? Harry supposed Malfoy’s reputation was now vastly improved in the eyes of the world, but even so. The Malfoy family’s overriding concern had always seemed to be the long-term success of the Malfoy family. They weren’t going to last much longer if their only heir married another bloke, now, were they?

Harry’s mind circled back to the incontrovertible fact that, thus far in his life, Malfoy really had proved himself to be shit at plotting. “Did you arrange all this?” he accused, wheeling round to glare at Malfoy.

Malfoy did a sterling job of glaring back, despite his blurred vision. “Yes, of course, and I’m enjoying it so much,” he said.

“A confession!” Robards roared, and Malfoy rolled his eyes.

“I don’t think he actually meant it, sir,” Harry said doubtfully.

“A confession’s a confession though,” Robards said with a shade too much glee. “Let’s whack him in a cell and get back to work, shall we?”

Robards didn’t mean it, Harry thought. Well, he probably didn’t mean it. Either way, it was either the best, or the worst, possible time for Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy to burst into the room, depending on your perspective. Harry’s perspective was that if he never had to see either of the rotten pair again it would be too soon, and he was immediately struck by the disturbing notion that Malfoy’s parents were now sort of his in-laws, at least for the moment.

Ron shot into the room almost immediately after, his face flushed with annoyance. “You’re not allowed in here,” he protested at the Malfoys’ backs, and was roundly ignored. “Harry!” Ron said, sounding overwhelmed by relief, and half-ran over to him. “Thank Merlin you’re all right. I tried to stop the fuckers,” he said with irritation, waving his wand at Lucius and Narcissa, “but they seemed to think they had the right to come in!”

Harry supposed they did have the right. Malfoy was their son, after all. In fact, he almost felt glad Narcissa had come as he watched her hug Draco so tightly it was unlikely he could breathe. When she’d come in, his face had done a strange crumpling thing, as if he’d been about to cry, and he’d run to her, as if she was a person worth running to. Lucius, on the other hand, had only given a second or two’s pause – to check his devil spawn was really, truly awake, Harry supposed – before squaring up to first Robards, and then the unfortunate Madam Iatric, and starting to shout.

“Hard not to hex them, isn’t it,” Ron muttered to Harry, and then seemed to realise what he’d just said, stammering out apologies that only made Harry feel worse. It wasn’t as if he felt worried, exactly, that anyone was going to attack him – they were in a hospital, after all, and Robards had proved himself pretty quick off the draw. That wasn’t even mentioning Hermione and Ron’s reassuring presence. It was more of a constant, low-level anxiety: that someone would . . . that someone would hurt Malfoy, he realised uneasily. That they’d take him away, or stop Harry from being able to touch him, and there would be nothing Harry could do.

Hermione walked over to join them while Harry was trying to process what he’d just thought and not managing it very well. “This is not an atmosphere conducive to healing,” Hermione said sniffily – and loudly – in his ear. “Are you all right, Harry?”

Unfortunately, her words coincided with a lull in the proceedings – Robards had an incandescent look on his face that suggested he was mentally consulting his Field Spells Against Enemies manual – and Lucius Malfoy turned his full poisonous expression on Harry, who he appeared to clock for the first time, if the way his face morphed into spiteful incredulity was anything to go by.

“You!” Lucius spat, and then appeared to be unable to go on. Harry hoped this state of affairs would endure.

Alas. “You disgusting deviant. How you even dare to touch my son with your filthy—”

Deviant? Harry went simultaneously hot and cold with rage. He hadn’t thought Lucius could sink much lower, but there he was, plumbing new depths of prejudice. Hermione gripped his elbow as Ron took a vengeful half-step forward, and—

“Father, that’s enough,” Draco hissed, extracting himself from his mother’s arms faster than a Firebolt’s top speed. “Don’t embarrass yourself. Unfortunately, this is not Potter’s fault,” he added, into the poisonous silence.

Unfortunately . . .? Well, Harry liked that. He felt hot wetness prickle at his eyes, and he blinked it away furiously. He would not be upset by anything Lucius Shithead Malfoy said, he told himself firmly, even as he recognised he wasn’t upset by Lucius – he was upset by Draco, and his piss-poor defence. Did Malfoy think like his father did? That Harry – who’d been publicly bisexual for a short enough time for it to still feel very raw and odd whenever anyone who wasn’t a friend brought it up – was . . . disgusting? And . . . and Malfoy fucking well did know who’d cursed him, didn’t he? Probably because it was King of Shit Plans, Draco Malfoy, himself! Harry felt his headache thump, right between his eyes.

Lucius shut up at his son’s words, pressing his lips tight shut; his sneer didn’t falter though, even when Narcissa put a pale, slim hand on his arm. Harry couldn’t tell whether it was meant to be comforting or restraining. “Of course it’s not Mr Potter’s fault,” Narcissa said, every syllable a drop of freezing water. “I’m certain he wouldn’t have waited so long to help our son if he’d known he was the solution, would he now?”

“He should have waited longer,” Ron said, sotto voce, and while Harry agreed with the sentiment, on a deep, unkind level – it was growing increasingly likely that it was Malfoy’s own bloody fault he’d slept for a hundred years, to his mind – he didn’t think saying it out loud was very helpful. The assembled crowd had shown, so far, a perverse inclination towards shutting up at the precise moment someone said something uncomfortable under their breath.

“All the manners I’ve come to expect from a Weasley,” Narcissa said, her words dripping icicles. Hermione bristled by Harry’s side, still gripping his arm as tightly as if it was the only thing stopping her from casting an Unforgiveable, and Robards emitted a noise like a tea kettle on full boil. Harry shut his eyes so as not to see the resulting carnage. It was bad enough that he had to hear it.

The darkness behind his eyelids was preferable to looking at Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, Harry supposed, but on the negative side, it was much easier to concentrate on the shouting. He took some deep breaths – in, out, in, out – and forced himself to re-open his eyes. Harry had lost his patience for drama, if he ever had it, and he found he was sick to the back teeth of this room, these people. Even Ron and Hermione had left his side now to wade into the fracas, and Narcissa had let her son go too, to corner Madam Iatric and, from the look on the Healer’s face, say deeply unpleasant things to her. The only calm spot in the room was, surprisingly, Malfoy himself: a pale figure in the midst of chaos, dressed only in his pyjamas, still barefoot.

For some reason, the sight of Malfoy’s bare feet was suddenly too irritating to be borne. The floor was cold, and hard, Harry thought, feeling his anger rising. What was wrong with everyone? He stomped over to Madam Iatric, ignoring the way Narcissa bristled as he came near. “Malfoy looks cold,” he said pointedly, his voice rising in pitch as he spoke. “Is it Spleen policy to deny patients footwear, or something?”

To Harry’s discomfort, everyone seemed to have stopped shouting for a moment, purely to listen to him waxing sarcastic over Malfoy’s cold feet. Narcissa, by his side, narrowed her eyes and gave him a very thoughtful, piercing look, before turning to Madam Iatric and saying, her tone as cold as Malfoy’s toes, “Well?”

Madam Iatric pursed her lips and slashed her wand, as if she’d rather be slashing something else – Narcissa’s throat, perhaps – a flash of white streaming under the crack at the bottom of the door and zipping along the ceiling like a streamer, before it squished together and fluffed out again with a pop, two enormous fluffy slippers falling to the floor.

Rather than look at either of the women’s faces – they looked ready to spring at each other – Harry turned and accidentally caught Robards’ eye. He shot Harry a black look. We’ll talk about this later, he said, communicating through the medium of eyebrows alone. Harry didn’t look forward to it; Robards, despite all appearances to the contrary, actually cared about his Aurors’ welfare, and Harry knew he was in for a concerned grilling.

Harry didn’t really want to look at Malfoy, to see what sort of mocking face he was pulling, but he did anyway, because – he supposed – he was just that sort of idiot. Malfoy, however, had wrapped his arms around himself and was chewing his lip. His gaze flickered briefly, guiltily, towards first his father, and then Harry, before he stared with more determination at the floor. Harry was reminded, with force, of what Lucius had said about him, and felt like a complete idiot for showing any kind of decency towards Malfoy at all.

The room was quiet and awkward as Narcissa walked over to her son, her nose in the air, and passed him the slippers, bending forward to whisper something inaudible in his ear. And then it was just as quiet and awkward as everyone watched Malfoy drop them to the floor and slide his feet into them.

Malfoy looked up and gave Harry a peculiar, colourless stare. “Thank you,” he said. “I didn’t know you cared.” The words sounded as if they should be sarcastic, but somehow they didn’t feel it. It was too peculiar. Harry could feel his headache continue to beat at his brain, and he resisted the sudden urge to run away. He didn’t, though; he just continued to stare at Malfoy, and Malfoy continued to stare back.

Just when Harry thought he might possibly die of awkwardness – there was always a first time for everything – the door once again slammed open. On the plus side . . . No, there wasn’t really a plus side. As far as Harry was concerned, there was never a plus side where Unspeakable Zabini was concerned.

Zabini grinned his smooth, irritating smile. “Hello, all,” he said, and waved at Malfoy, like the dick that he was. “Draco! So lovely to see you on your feet again. Mrs Malfoy, always a pleasure,” he added, giving a half-bow, before looking around the room and deciding no one else was worth his time. He whipped out a green-silk handkerchief and dabbed carefully at the corner of his mouth. “I was just dining with my mother,” he said, and then left a pause, as if he expected someone to apologise for the inconvenience he was suffering. “But I heard it was urgent,” he continued, when no one did, “so I left before dessert.” He stowed his handkerchief away again in the top pocket of his fashionably cropped dress robe, and gave Harry another beaming, infuriating smile. “Well, what did I miss?”

^^^^^^

“So here’s what we know,” Kingsley Shacklebolt said on a sigh, and then paused, his whole forehead a frown, and stared down at the parchment in front of him. Harry thought he could see disbelief in his face. He didn’t blame him. It probably wasn’t the first time Kingsley, who’d been an Auror far longer than he’d been a politician, had had a serious meeting in a hospital room at gone eleven at night. But, on the other hand, it was probably the first time he’d had a serious meeting in a hospital room at gone eleven at night about the fact that one of his colleagues had accidentally got married to a Malfoy. A Malfoy who was, right now, wearing extremely fluffy slippers. Somehow Harry thought the presence of the fluffy slippers, and the floral armchair that Kingsley was currently sitting in, didn’t help with the dignity of the situation.

The only good thing about Zabini turning up at St Mungo’s had been how extremely keen he’d been to get back to his mother’s luxury apartment and eat his pudding. In no time at all, he’d accomplished what Hermione had been trying to nudge the Healers into doing for hours – giving Harry, and, by his side, a strangely quiet and compliant Malfoy – an extensive health check. Professor Flange himself had been called back, still trailing paperwork, to oversee it, while Zabini sucked his teeth and gave Malfoy encouraging thumbs-up whenever Malfoy was stupid enough to look over at him.

Harry had wondered out loud why the tests seemed solely to check that the potion Malfoy had taken had no further surprises in store, rather than anything more proactive. He’d harboured half a hope that the Healers, supported by Zabini’s dubious Department of Mysteries expertise, would simply be able to reverse the effects of the ‘bonding’ potion, so he could go home with his magic, and his dignity, and drink so much alcohol that he’d wake up the next morning with no memory at all of the day’s events. Malfoy, however, despite his blurred vision, had first shot him a look that could have stripped paint, and then he had wondered out loud if Harry actually liked horrible surprises, because it was certainly starting to seem that way. Harry liked Malfoy winning an argument even less than he liked horrible surprises. So he restrained himself to simply saying, “Of course, if you feel that way, darling, the more tests the better,” and enjoying the way a muscle jumped in Malfoy’s cheek.

It was just Harry’s luck that the tests proved what Hermione had suspected all along: Malfoy had been given two potions, both with Harry brewed to be the . . . antidote, so to speak. Harry had done his job when it came to the sleeping potion – a rare twist on the Draught of Living Death, Professor Flange had pronounced, and Zabini had looked pleased with himself and said, “See?”, as if he’d proved himself and his department competent. The bonding potion was even more straightforward, Flange had said, shaking his head while his Quill made frenzied, unreadable notes. From a medical perspective, Harry and Malfoy were entirely fine. All they needed to do was complete the final step of the bonding ritual (the final step! Hah! Flange’s careful euphemism didn’t make the thought of it any less toe-curlingly embarrassing, in Harry’s opinion) and the potion would restore their magic to them permanently, leaving them free to live their lives.

Free to live their lives married. As silver linings went, it wasn’t up to much.

On the plus side, no one had forced him to spend any time with Malfoy’s parents, even during the tests. He’d half expected Malfoy to demand his father’s constant presence, but Malfoy had shaken his head firmly when it had been suggested, with a sidelong glance at Harry and away again, so quick that Harry had almost missed it. Should Harry suggest Malfoy’s parents join them in this meeting, now? He didn’t really want to; there was a reasonable chance Malfoy would agree and he’d find himself surrounded by Malfoys. There was always a risk of Weasleys too, he thought with slight guilt. He loved Mrs Weasley with all his heart, but the whole situation was embarrassing enough without introducing her into the equation. Besides, there was always the risk she might try to fix things by marrying him off to Ginny; if Ron had been upset when he’d split up with Ginny, Mrs Weasley had taken it as a personal challenge to get them back together. He still had to fight the urge to Disapparate whenever her name was mentioned.

“Are you paying attention, darling?” Malfoy said, in such a sickly sweet tone that Harry lurched to immediate, revolted attention.

“Of course!” he said, and tried to mean it. If he didn’t pay attention, Malfoy might remember that his parents would probably want to be involved in tactical Ministry meetings about their own son’s future happiness.

Harry considered this for a moment. Ugh.

“Er, Malfoy, don’t you want your mum and dad here with us?” Harry asked, wondering if he sounded as gloomy as he felt.

“No, thank you,” Malfoy said, inexplicably, his tone a little tart, and reached over to place a hand on Harry’s wrist. Harry felt hot and cold all at once, although he knew Malfoy had only done it out of comfort for himself; he must be getting a headache, Harry thought, spending so long without being able to see properly.

“I don’t want to keep you both long,” Shacklebolt said, sounding exhausted. “I bet you’re knackered. You can call in whoever you like, but I’d advise against making any rash decisions right now. You’ve both made enough of those today already, eh?”

“Both?” Malfoy said, so softly that Harry wasn’t sure if he’d imagined it – it was the sort of arsey thing Malfoy would say, when there was blame on both sides. OK, he thought a little uneasily, maybe there was more blame on his side, but only marginally. And once they’d kicked off the whole fucking bonding thing, what was he meant to have done – sat around happily, full of Malfoy’s stolen magic? No – fuck that.

Shacklebolt cleared his throat. “Right, then,” he said, a warning note in his voice. “In summary! You, Malfoy, drank a dark potion administered by persons unknown—” He paused here, clearly in case Malfoy wished to make a dread confession. Malfoy didn’t. “—and fell into a cursed sleep, only able to be woken by the person the perpetrator chose as the antidote to the sleeping potion.”

“Yes, yes,” Malfoy interrupted irritably, his fingers tightening a little on Harry’s wrist. “The world’s greatest hero, Harry Potter.”

Shacklebolt continued as if Malfoy hadn’t spoken. “Harry here woke you up through brief physical contact—” Harry could feel Malfoy twitch a little, at that — “and then, like massive numpties, the pair of you indulged in further physical contact, against the advice of the Healers, triggering the bonding spell. I don’t think I need to go into any further embarrassing detail about that, now, do I?”

Harry wanted to say something about that – he felt like he was two-foot tall – but nothing helpful came to mind. The fact that it was true made it a bit tricky to challenge. Clearly Malfoy, frozen by his side, was having the same issue.

“So,” Shacklebolt said. “Now we come to the heart of the problem. Believe me, I have no interest in prying in your personal lives. Professor Flange and Unspeakable Zabini tell me that you are both, technically, fine, and this temporary problem with your magic can be easily resolved by completing the bonding ritual.” He sighed so hard it nearly blew the parchment off his lap, and he had to grab it to stop it shooting away. “It seems to me it is no one’s business but your own whether you fancy completing the blasted ritual or not – although your parents, Draco, have already spoken to me loudly, and at great length, about how unacceptable a solution that is, and Molly was at great pains, Harry, to impress upon me that you and her daughter—”

“Heaven forbid I get in the way of Potter and Weasley’s great love story,” Malfoy interrupted quietly, but somehow poisonously, by Harry’s side, slipping his fingers off Harry’s wrist and folding his hand into his lap.

“I’m not dating Ginny any more!” Harry found himself protesting to the chilly, pale side of Malfoy’s face. Malfoy was very much not looking at him, and Harry was alarmed to find he wanted him to. And – he wanted Malfoy to hold his hand. It was just the bonding spell though, he told himself firmly. His missing magic reaching out to him, via the medium of a skinny, pointy dickhead. “We split up ages ago,” Harry continued loudly, trying to cover up his sudden confusion. “And that’s nothing to do with anything!”

“No?” Malfoy said, his tone suffused with polite disinterest, as if he was talking about the weather. He was still not looking at Harry though. And . . . Harry supposed, trying to pin down any emotion that wasn’t embarrassment or confusion, perhaps whether he was dating someone was marginally relevant right now. At least, it was if Malfoy thought they might . . . complete the bond. Harry felt his face heat with the fire of a thousand suns.

Oh God. Surely Malfoy didn’t – wouldn’t want . . .

Shacklebolt cleared his throat loudly. “Harry, believe me, it’s not that I don’t care about your situation, as a colleague and a friend – I do, very much so. As Minister for Magic, however, my main interest in this matter is that our future Head Auror – and perhaps even Head of Magical Law Enforcement – currently finds himself unable to access his magic without holding hands with a Death Eater.”

Harry squirmed uncomfortably, still feeling as if his face was giving off as much light and heat as the entire solar system. Did Kingsley have to put it quite like that?

Former Death Eater,” Malfoy said coldly, by his side. “And may I remind you, I wasn’t convicted of anything at all. Thank you for speaking up for me at my trial, Potter,” he added with heavy emphasis, still obviously addressing Kingsley.

It had been . . . right that he spoke up for Malfoy, Harry thought, trying not to feel doubtful. Malfoy had made poor decisions, but he’d made them out of fear for his family. Sort of. He hadn’t deserved to go to Azkaban or anything like that. But . . .

Not to mention the fact that we are still in the dark over the motive behind the attack on you both,” Shacklebolt said, ignoring Malfoy entirely. “I worry that this was the plan all along – to leave you vulnerable to attack, Harry.”

Harry winced, but Malfoy said nothing, just sat there like a stone. It . . . wasn’t entirely fair though, was it? Malfoy was the one who’d been poisoned, who’d been asleep for six weeks, who could have been asleep forever if Harry hadn’t woken him up. Harry remembered, though, his suspicion that Malfoy knew more than he was saying about who’d cursed him, that it might even have been Malfoy himself who’d done it. Ugh. He was too tired for this shit. Either Malfoy had fucked himself over, or someone else had used Malfoy to fuck Harry over: either option was a crap one.

“Please don’t think me unfeeling, Draco,” Kingsley added. “It just seems unlikely to me that whoever gave you the potion meant to kill you. If that had been their aim, they could simply have poisoned you from the outset, or given you a sleeping draught with no antidote at all so you slept forever.”

This cheery assessment of Malfoy’s safety failed to lighten the mood, for some reason.

“Harry,” Shacklebolt said gently, “believe me, we’re going to do our best to fix this for you. I’m told no one’s ever reversed the bonding process midway through, but that doesn’t mean you should do anything hasty.”

Harry felt a little bit like he’d been asleep for a long time and had just been woken up by someone tipping a large bucket of iced water over his head. He’d known, technically, how shit a situation he was in, but Kingsley’s words seemed to suddenly make it horribly real. “I shouldn’t do anything hasty?” he echoed, in disbelief. “Even though I’m midway through a fucking bonding ritual with someone who hates me and no one’s ever reversed it before?”

Malfoy said nothing to that. Harry had no idea why Malfoy’s silence was so . . . so . . . disheartening. It wasn’t like he wanted Malfoy to leap up and deny he hated him, exactly. But there was something unpleasant about the fact that he didn’t, the lack of response somehow more eloquent than mere words.

“Don’t worry, Potter,” Malfoy said brightly, after the silence had congealed into something lumpy and unpleasant. “Once the foul deed is done and we’ve completed the bond, you can sleep with as many Weasleys as you like. Marital infidelity is practically tradition in pure-blood circles, you know.”

Shacklebolt made a choking noise, and Harry regretted with fierce intensity his previous wish for Malfoy to break the silence. He sort of wished Malfoy would never speak again. “I am not – with you, Malfoy. Don’t be bloody ridiculous.” It came out sounding more emphatic, and more unpleasant, than Harry had intended.

“Trust me, Potter, you are the last person on this earth I would ever willingly sleep with,” Malfoy snapped back. He was very still, apart from his fingers, which were winding so tightly into the fabric of his pyjama bottoms that they were going white.

Kingsley cleared his throat. He’d been clearing it so much over the past few minutes, Harry thought crossly, that he must be giving himself a sore throat. “Oh good,” he said. “Hasty decisions, I see.” He pinched the bridge of his nose with a finger and thumb, and then turned a forced smile on them both, leaning forward in his armchair. “I have a dozen reporters outside St Mungo’s right now, waiting for me to confirm what they already know – that Draco here’s been woken up by his true love. For some reason they have the idea that might be you, Harry. I can’t think why,” he said with heavy sarcasm. “It’s not as if you were snapped going into St Mungo’s with your friends and then leaving alone shortly after, looking as if you were going to have some sort of heart attack.”

Whoops.

“Until we can sort out some kind of more permanent solution, it’s not going to be safe for the pair of you to be out of touching distance,” Shacklebolt said firmly. “Given the circumstances, it seems obvious to me that we should simply confirm the story, for now.”

“True love’s kiss . . .?” Harry said faintly, thinking this was the worst idea in the history of bad ideas, but unable to think of anything else even slightly better to counter it with. They had to tell the press something, and the truth just wasn’t going to do.

“I’m afraid so. It’s the most plausible excuse for why you’ll be in each other’s company so much. It’ll be dangerous – for both of you – if the public find out you’re as vulnerable as you are. And that includes the person who cursed you in the first place, Draco. If they think you’ve completed the bond, and Harry has permanent access to his magic again, they’re much less likely to attack him – or you, Draco, to get to him. It will buy us some valuable time to investigate properly and make our best attempts to reverse the spell.” Kingsley sighed again. “I know you don’t get on with Blaise, Harry, but he’s heading up the team who work in the Love Chamber at present. If anyone’s going to be able to tackle this thorny problem, it’s him.”

Harry didn’t know what to say to that. He was so tired his brain hurt. Problem upon problem seemed to be tangling together in his mind, and the more he tried to focus on any one thing, the more it knotted into incomprehensibility. Malfoy wasn’t saying anything, either. Which was good, in that Harry didn’t think he had the mental energy to cope with any snide remarks right now, but bad, in that Malfoy wasn’t coming up with any bright ideas to get them out of this mess either.

Harry faced the idea of the whole world thinking he was now madly in love with Malfoy, and found it made him feel very peculiar indeed.

Kingsley sighed. It was a wonder he had any breath left in him. “It’s late. Why don’t you both go and talk it over somewhere a bit more private, get some sleep. The press can wait until tomorrow morning for their statement. It will do them good to spend a night in the fresh air.” He stood up and stretched widely. “You can stay here in the hospital, or I can organise an escort if you’d prefer to go elsewhere?”

Harry nodded immediately at the word ‘elsewhere’. He needed to get out of the Spleen ward, with its pastel walls, and pastel floors, and Malfoy’s lurking parents, before he went insane.

“I’ll speak to Gawain about it now,” Kingsley said. “Think it all over. I’ll see you both in my office at the Ministry tomorrow at – shall we say nine o’clock?”

Harry nodded again, not sure what else to do in the face of no reaction or protest from Malfoy whatsoever, and Kingsley slid out of the room, shutting the door behind him with a very quiet click.

For a moment, all Harry could hear in the room was his own heart beating and the faint sounds of Malfoy breathing, a little too fast to be normal.

“There – there must be some way of getting out of this bonding thing,” Harry said firmly as one of the many swirling questions in his mind presented itself for attention. “What did they say – it’s a potion for pure-bloods? I’m not one.” He thought about it. “And I’m not a girl, either,” he added, in case Malfoy hadn’t noticed this key fact. “And neither are you!”

Malfoy didn’t move for a moment, just sat there, his whole body suffused with tension. Then he started laughing, dropping his face into his hands, his shoulders shaking. Harry didn’t really think this was a laughing matter, but then Malfoy didn’t seem to be laughing with much humour, now he came to think of it. Was he actually having hysterics? Harry sat there, frozen in indecision for a moment. He suspected Malfoy might feel better if he could access his magic, but at the same time, if he tried to touch Malfoy, there was always the chance Malfoy might wallop him. Where should he touch him, anyway? His hands were otherwise engaged, covering his face, and his pyjamas covered most of his skin. Harry considered patting him on the head, but then thought that, on balance, he’d prefer to live than die.

Happily, Malfoy seemed to pull himself together. He turned his face towards Harry, hair falling in soft strands across his cheeks. He was smiling, sort of. There was something wild and discomforting about his expression, though. “Ten points to Gryffindor,” he said, “for Potter’s amazing powers of observation.”

“Yes, all right,” Harry said tetchily. “I was just saying.” And then, because he didn’t like the odd look in Malfoy’s eyes, and they were stuck in this hell together, after all, so why the fuck shouldn’t he, he reached out and grabbed Malfoy’s hand.

Malfoy clearly felt the same; at least, rather than leaping away as if he’d touched something putrid, his fingers tightened around Harry’s in an uncomfortably intimate fashion. It was unnerving, and didn’t get less so when Malfoy looked away almost immediately, as if he couldn’t meet Harry’s eye. Harry felt the relief of his magic returning – a very low level buzz that he’d never really noticed until it was gone – and yet, that same relief was almost outweighed by the way holding hands with Malfoy made his heart palpitate. What the hell was wrong with him? Malfoy was still, well, Malfoy. Just because he was acting like less of a superior arsehole than usual – well, marginally – it didn’t mean Harry should start coming over all funny about it. It was almost certain that this lack of superiority was another plot of some kind, to lull Harry into a false sense of security before . . . something. Harry couldn’t decide what that ‘something’ was. If – if he died, would Malfoy inherit all of his magic, or something? The thought made Harry feel nauseous. No. Malfoy was a git, but he wasn’t that much of a git. And he wasn’t that good an actor, either. He’d always acted like a loon whenever he’d been up to something. Now, he just seemed – well, bewildered, mostly. Bewildered, with a side of sarcasm.

And he was still holding Harry’s hand, staring fixedly at a spot in the room that very much wasn’t Harry. Almost as if he was nervous.

“What do you want to do now?” Malfoy asked the wall, after the atmosphere became so heavy that it threatened to crush Harry’s lungs; at least, he was finding it difficult to breathe, and that seemed a reasonable enough excuse.

What did he want to do now . . .? Harry swallowed hard. “I . . .” he said, his mind becoming a terrifying blank. This seemed to make Malfoy loosen up, for some reason.

“I didn’t mean that,” Malfoy said, with a snort. “No Obliviate could possibly be strong enough. No – I meant, do you want to go . . . home,” he said, trailing off at the final word. Presumably, Harry thought, as it occurred to him that ‘going home’ now meant ‘going home together’, wherever that was.

“I’m not going anywhere near Malfoy Manor,” Harry said firmly, thinking he’d better make that clear from the outset.

Malfoy pressed his lips together. “What sort of a . . . place do you live in?” he asked, and then shook his head. “No – best not to speculate. You don’t live with any Weasleys do you?” he said, his tone suddenly changing from self-possessed to sharp and anxious.

Harry had the strongest impression that when Malfoy had said ‘place’, he’d actually been thinking ‘shithole’. The fact that he’d kept his vitriol inside, rather than rubbing it in Harry’s face, unnerved him. It was almost as if Malfoy was making an effort to be polite. He . . . mostly had been polite, all along, Harry realised. Well, polite for Malfoy. It was suspicious. Harry realised Malfoy was still waiting for an answer and his face had creased into something unpleasant. Was he really that worried about having to see Ron again? “No, I live alone,” he said, slightly puzzled.

Malfoy’s face visibly relaxed. “Ugh. Fine. Whatever, then. I’m sure I can cope. Really, your . . . home is the least of my worries right now.”

Your . . . home. Harry tried not to grind his teeth. Malfoy had left the space for the insult, but hadn’t actually come out and said it. That was better, right? At least Malfoy wasn’t making a fuss about them not going back to Malfoy Manor together. Harry was so ready to go home and hide in his bed for the rest of forever.

. . . with Draco Malfoy.

It dawned on Harry that by rejecting Malfoy’s house, he’d basically invited Malfoy to come back to his. Had he tidied up that morning? Had he tidied up in the last . . . week? Maybe Malfoy’s unspoken opinion that his home was bound to be a shithole was, depressingly, actually right. Harry didn’t feel much warmth towards the place, to be fair. He barely spent any time there. It was less of a home and more of a place to sleep, on the occasions he managed to actually leave the office. Maybe staying in St Mungo’s would be better, after all. But then again, Harry felt like if he had to sit in the hospital any longer, smelling the strange clean smells and having Healers look at him with a mixture of awe and deepest sympathy, he might scream.

“I suppose I’d better go and let my parents know what’s going on,” Malfoy said, not sounding overwhelmed with joy about the prospect. He compounded this impression by not moving. “They’re probably still waiting for me in the reception room.”

“I’ll go with you, if you want,” Harry forced himself to say, because . . . because . . . because it was the right thing to do, he told himself firmly. Nothing to do with the warm weight of Malfoy’s hand in his own, and the strange reluctance he could feel emanating from the quiet figure beside him. OK, so Harry thought Malfoy’s parents were tossers. But Malfoy liked them well enough, didn’t he?

Malfoy stiffened, as if Harry had said something extremely weird. “No thanks,” he said after a moment, removing his hand from Harry’s and drawing his fingers through his hair, bullying it into place behind his ears. “I don’t need the help of an orphan to talk to my own mother and father,” he added spitefully, sounding more like the Malfoy Harry knew than he had in hours.

Harry found this strangely heartening. “Off you fuck then,” he said heartily. “I presume you can see well enough not to walk into the doorframe?”

Malfoy shot him a look so sharp it could have sliced bread. “Try not to miss me too much,” he said sourly, rising from his chair and making his way quickly to the door and out of it.

As soon as the door shut behind him, Harry discovered there was only one thing worse than being stuck in a room with Malfoy: being stuck in a room without him. He was just considering whether to have a panic attack, or to throw what was left of his dignity away and chase after the blonde prick, when the door opened again. Harry felt relief for a brief moment – it wasn’t just him who had gone round the twist – and then realised it wasn’t Malfoy. Instead, Ron and Hermione, both looking knackered, came in, shutting the door behind them with a quiet click.

“What are you still doing here?” Harry asked, shutting his eyes and reaching under his glasses to rub them hard with his fingers. “I thought you’d left hours ago.” He glanced at the wall clock to see it was pushing half eleven. It was still Monday, but only just.

“And leave without finding out how you are?” Hermione said indignantly. “Honestly, Harry. We were waiting outside in case you needed us.”

“Malfoy sent us in here,” Ron said, his forehead creasing. “Malfoy.” He folded his arms across his body and slumped into the chair next to Harry. “He was almost polite,” he added in disbelief. “To me. What the hell’s wrong with him?”

“Other than the fact he’s been asleep for weeks, and woke up to find himself practically married to me?” Harry said. “Or was that meant to be a rhetorical question?” he added, knowing he was being unfair, but feeling too tired to stop himself.

“Right, right,” Ron stuttered. “Sorry, mate. But, er, still,” he said, a bit wretchedly. “You’ve got to admit it’s weird that these things have made him, well, a bit less of a dick than usual.”

“He might have been nicer before he fell asleep,” Hermione said dubiously, also sitting down. “We haven’t spoken to him for a couple of years, have we? Maybe he just . . . changed. Naturally.”

They all considered, for a moment, the likelihood of Malfoy spontaneously becoming a better person.

Hermione shook her head slightly, as if shaking off an odd dream. “That’s beside the point right now. Are you OK, Harry? We saw Kingsley, but he wouldn’t tell us anything.” She bit her lip. “You don’t have to talk to us, of course. It’s just – we both really want to help.”

Harry really, really didn’t want to talk. Saying it out loud, he reckoned, would make everything feel unpleasantly real. But Ron and Hermione were his best friends – his family. And besides, Hermione already knew what had happened, really. So, trying not to wince, he told them everything.

When he was finished, Hermione looked at him, very firmly, and said, “You must not, under any circumstances, let Malfoy persuade you into completing the bond. You don’t love him, and he doesn’t love you. You deserve so much more than that.”

That . . . was not what Harry had expected Hermione to say. He felt his cheeks go hot, for the millionth time that day. “There’s no way he’d try to do that,” he protested. “This is Malfoy we’re talking about, remember?”

Hermione shot him a look of concern. “No?” she said. “Not even to get his magic back?”

“No!” Harry said, and then didn’t feel entirely sure himself.

Hermione reached over and squeezed his arm, while Ron made supportive retching noises. “Ugh, Hermione, stop it,” Ron said, after a particularly enthusiastic retch – like he’d been trying to sick up a Hippogriff – had led to a short but violent coughing attack. “It’s bad enough I had to suffer Mum today, without you giving me mental images like that – it was very hard to get her to go away again without seeing you, Harry,” he added, turning to Harry. “She nearly started a duel with Mrs Malfoy before she went,” he said thoughtfully. “I suspect she would have won, but apparently it’s against the rules to hex people on hospital grounds, even if they’re not patients.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, and then gave Harry an even more concerned look of concern, if that were possible. “Do you . . . trust Malfoy?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t trust him further than I could throw him,” Ron said darkly.

Given that, under current circumstances, if Harry threw Malfoy too far, he’d have to fucking run straight after him and get him back to make sure he could access his magic again, Harry found Ron’s statement a bit on the irritating side. “Of course I don’t trust him!” he snapped. “But I know him. Well enough to be sure he wants out of this bond as much as I do.”

“Well . . . good,” Hermione said, sounding unconvinced. “I agree with what Kingsley advised you, though – don’t make any rash decisions. We can fix this, I know we can. I’ll start doing some research as soon as I get back to the office tomorrow. My boss won’t mind. Don’t worry, Harry.” She stifled a yawn.

“You should go home,” Harry said, trying to sound positive and upbeat.

Hermione didn’t seem fooled. “Hm,” she said. “Promise you’ll fire-call the moment you need us? Whatever time it is?”

Ron slapped him on the back a bit too heartily; Harry nearly fell off the edge of the bed. “Uh, yes, I promise,” he said, when Hermione narrowed her eyes.

“Good,” she said, sounding a bit more like herself. “Right then, we’ll—”

The door flung open again, once again revealing . . . someone who wasn’t Malfoy. Harry tried not to wince when he saw Robards looming in the doorway, his forehead one big wrinkle of concern. He hoped he wasn’t in for another helpful, awkward lecture from someone who cared about him. It was all getting a bit wearing. And – didn’t anyone in the wizarding world have the common decency to knock?

Hermione had clearly had enough too. “We’ll see you tomorrow, Harry,” she said quickly, and she and Ron stood up, Ron contorting his features into an expression that Harry presumed was meant to indicate ‘supportive optimism’ rather than ‘concerned constipation’. Hermione dithered for a moment before stepping forward to give Harry a lightning-fast hug. “It’ll all be fine,” she whispered in his ear. Harry would have loved to know how, exactly, but he appreciated the thought.

“Potter!” Robards said, taking a step inside the room as Hermione and Ron edged past him and out. “Kingsley’s brought me up to speed, so I’m off home for a few hours’ kip.” He lowered his voice very slightly. Probably only the whole third floor could hear now, rather than the whole hospital. “A word of advice,” he said, “it’s none of my business who you screw, but I’d suggest there are better helpmeets to be had than that whey-faced nightmare, so bear that in mind, eh?” He then proceeded to join the ranks of people who’d hit Harry on the back so hard that day he’d nearly fallen over. “I’ll see you tomorrow, and we can get the sharpest minds on the case. Kingsley claims this is that turd Zabini, but frankly I remain unconvinced.”

“Funny how you seem to have an urge to solve the case now Potter’s involved,” Malfoy said sourly, re-entering the room at the worst possible moment, but happily, for Harry’s sanity, not accompanied by his poisonous parents.

Robards didn’t even twitch; he really did have the hide of an Erumpent, Harry thought, grudgingly impressed. “Seems to me you already know what happened,” Robards said without breaking a sweat. “Eh, Malfoy?”

Malfoy raised an eyebrow. “I hardly know what to say to such an accusation.”

“The TRUTH would be a good start,” Robards boomed, and then glanced behind him guiltily into the reception room to see if he’d roused the whole world from their slumbers. At least, Harry presumed most of the patients were asleep in their private rooms; it was the middle of the bloody night. Robards sniffed, when no Healers leapt out to chastise him, and closed the door with exaggerated care. He then folded his arms, giving Malfoy a very long, knowing look. “I reckon, though, that if you thought you were in any further danger from your assailant, you’d be doing a whole lot more cowering right now, so I’m just giving you fair warning, Malfoy. Tomorrow you’ll have to spit it out, whether under interrogation or under your own steam. Tonight, I’m just too damn tired to care about your petty evasions.” He waved a hand dismissively. “Harry, it goes without saying – keep an eye on this tosser, OK? I’d like to sling him in a cell right now, but given the circumstances I suppose I’d have to sling you in it too. So . . .”

The old Malfoy – the one Harry thought he knew – would have stormed out to get his father at being treated like that, Harry thought. This new, unknown Malfoy just stood there and took it, although his mouth was a very set line. Harry was torn between sympathy – it wasn’t fair of Robards to treat Malfoy like a criminal when he was, still, technically a victim here, despite his suspicious reticence – and the desire to shake Malfoy until his teeth rattled.

Malfoy plastered a bright, shining expression on his face, with obvious difficulty. “Well, shall we?” he said determinedly, turning to Harry. “I have my wand, and Mother will send on some of my things, if you’ll allow me to let her know the address. If not, I – I suppose I can slum it.”

Harry considered the idea of Narcissa Malfoy, and by extension Lucius Malfoy, knowing his home address, and found he wasn’t overwhelmingly keen on the idea. It wasn’t as if he’d put the place under a Fidelius Charm, but even so. The way Lucius’s lip had curled as he’d said the word ‘disgusting’ about Harry, and Malfoy’s silence at this insult, flashed into his mind, and something insidious slithered round his ribcage, squeezing the breath out of him.

“Salazar, this is going to be fun,” Malfoy said under his breath, when Harry was attempting to force himself to say That’s fine while his brain was telling him, with some heat, that it really wasn’t fine, and why the hell should he put up with this kind of thing, anyway?

Harry opened his mouth – he hadn’t entirely decided what to say, but he thought the words fuck and off might feature somewhere in there – but Malfoy cut him off before he had the chance to get started. “It’s fine, I get it,” he said, in an unnaturally cheerful tone, although an underlying tetchiness still bled through. “So – shall we?” he repeated, and then added, more quietly and uncertainly, “Harry,” as if he was also determined to fuck with Harry, in any way he could.

Had Malfoy ever called him by his first name before? Harry couldn’t remember. If he had, he’d never said it without sarcasm. He found himself strangely thrown by this – as if Malfoy was a real person, who he could potentially be friends with, could grow to like, rather than someone unpleasant he’d been forced to tolerate at school. Not that it was as simple as that; it was never as simple as that, where Malfoy was concerned.

Was – was Harry meant to start calling Malfoy Draco now? He wasn’t sure he could. Malfoy was giving him a funny look now though, which Harry doubted was just the dodgy eyesight, so he stammered out, “Ah, sure,” and then wasn’t sure what to do next. Malfoy retrieved his wand from the small table by his hospital bed and helpfully stepped over and took hold of Harry’s hand, which had the negative effect of shutting down his brain even further.

Robards scowled at their joined hands as if they were a deep, dark personal insult. “You’re taking him back to yours then?” he asked, as if it was the worst question he’d ever had to ask anyone ever.

“Er, yes,” Harry said.

Robards sighed deeply. “Right, then. I’ve got a squad of Hit Wizards ready. They’ll surround your place, in case you’re attacked.” He glared at Malfoy, in case Malfoy hadn’t got the tremendously subtle implication that he expected Malfoy to be the source of any attack. Harry tried not to shift uncomfortably. Not just because it wasn’t fair to treat Malfoy like that, even if he was intrinsically a dickhead, but also because he knew that the Hit Wizard department was down to two. Three, if you counted the office Kneazle, which certainly had a nasty stare when it hadn’t been fed on time. “Harry, just yell if you need them,” Robards added ominously.

“Sounds like you plan to ruin our night of romance,” Malfoy said – like a sod.

Robards made a noise as if he was gearing up to start shouting again, but he hadn’t decided what to shout yet.

“Are you going to Side-Along me now?” Malfoy said, turning to Harry and ignoring Robards entirely. “I don’t know where you live, you see,” he added facetiously. “I’m presuming your Auror lord and master has been intelligent enough to get the anti-apparition wards removed from this room, so we don’t splinch ourselves to death. Though maybe that would be a fitting end to a truly shit day.”

Robards made a spluttering noise that Harry hoped didn’t mean he was about to have a heart attack. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Harry,” Robards managed to grind out through a very clenched jaw, and stalked to the door, flinging it open.

Harry could predict what was going to happen next; Robards was going to slam the door behind him, waking up the whole hospital. And, as a side effect to slamming the door, he was going to leave Harry on the other side of it. Alone in a room with Malfoy. Holding hands.

Harry didn’t stop to think any further. He just squeezed Malfoy’s hand tightly, pictured home as hard as he could and twisted into the dark.

Chapter Text

They landed – of course they did – in Harry’s bedroom, the wall lamps flickering on immediately to cast a dull, soft glow that failed to hide his unmade bed. Harry braced himself for instant derision, but to his bewilderment Malfoy simply pressed his lips tightly together. He didn’t even pull away; just stood there, still holding Harry’s hand uncomfortably tightly, as if it might be dangerous to let go.

“Ugh,” Malfoy said after a few awkward seconds, and Harry tried not to bristle. His room was a bit unloved, maybe, but it wasn’t that bad. “I hate Apparating,” Malfoy added, and loosened his death grip on Harry a fraction, before taking several deep, steadying breaths.

“Oh,” Harry said, at this unexpected admission.

“Were you planning on taking a holiday?” Malfoy added, with a little more edge to his voice.

“No?” Harry said, and then took another look at his bedroom. There was a suitcase on his bed; also, scattered socks and underpants. It seemed like a very long time ago that he’d fled home after waking Malfoy up, planning to take a long trip to somewhere far away. He should have taken that trip, he thought with some heat. If he had, he’d be sipping elf-brewed wine in a hammock under a palm tree right now, rather than holding hands with Draco fucking Malfoy in his bedroom as the pair of them surveyed his underwear. There was a lesson in there, he thought – next time he should flee his responsibilities without a backward glance.

He would never flee his responsibilities without a backward glance, he thought gloomily. Even if Hermione would let him, he just wasn’t that sort of person. He could, however, flee his underpants. “I’ll show you around,” he said with determination, and took advantage of the fact that he was holding hands with Malfoy to drag him from the room and out into the hallway, closing the door on his bedroom – and his pants – firmly behind them. As Harry did so, Malfoy murmured something that could have been, “I’ve never been so aroused,” but Harry decided that deafness was the only way he could come out of this situation still sane, and so he didn’t hear him properly.

Still, he thought, trying to be bright, at least Malfoy had shown no sudden urge to leap on him now they were alone and try to take his magic back by . . . er, by . . .

“You’ve gone red,” Malfoy said very low, into his ear. He was much too close for comfort. Harry tried to release his hand surreptitiously, but Malfoy was strangely difficult to shake off.

“Stop taking the piss!” Harry said crossly, and tugged his hand out of Malfoy’s, immediately using it to cover up an enormous yawn.

“Sorry,” Malfoy said, not sounding very sorry. “You know, I never could decide if you did what you did during the war because you’re astonishingly brave and self-sacrificing, or if you’re just a complete idiot. Right now, I’m learning more towards idiot.”

“Right,” Harry said, not sure where Malfoy was going with this, but deciding that if he could ignore it he absolutely would. “So, this is my house. It’s a bit big for one, but the Estate Witch said it was better to buy for the future, so.” He shrugged. “There are a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom on this floor that I use, and—”

“If I had cooked up a plot to get you under my control, you’re pathetically vulnerable right now,” Malfoy said, clearly not to be distracted from his wanky purpose. “Just saying.”

Harry considered this. “Malfoy, you’re in my house, you’re wearing white fluffy slippers and you’re squinting,” he said, too tired to get angry. Malfoy’s words sounded like a threat, but at the same time they sounded like a parody of a threat; as if Malfoy felt he had a role to play, so he might as well say his lines as not, even though his heart wasn’t in it. “I think I’ll probably be OK.”

“But you don’t know if I have any accomplices,” Malfoy protested, with an air of mild irritation. “They might be poised, ready to swoop in and . . .” He trailed off, clearly not ready to commit to what, exactly, his evil henchmen would do once they’d swooped.

“Oh? Do you have accomplices, then?” Harry said on a yawn; it seemed that now he’d yawned once, he couldn’t stop. He really needed to get to sleep. If they stayed up much later, it would be time to get up again.

“No, of course not,” Malfoy said, as if he was half-offended by the question, “but that’s hardly the point.”

Harry considered pointing out that any accomplices would first have to fight their way through a couple of Hit Wizards to get in through the front door – the Floo was invite-only, and the windows ruinously expensive spell-proof glass – but decided he couldn’t be bothered. Besides, Nicolas and Derek would probably be glad of something to do; they’d arrested all of the known Death Eaters months ago. They’d probably welcome a burst of excitement and terror to stave off the boredom of the interminable follow-up paperwork. Sometimes Harry almost thought the sods would be happy if Voldemort managed to rise again – as a ghost, say – to get them out of the office. “Come on,” he said instead, and he started off down the hallway, opening doors as he went. “Bathroom here,” he said, and then, “guest bedroom. You can sleep here,” he added, addressing the inside of the room. There was something odd about it that he couldn’t pin down for the moment. “I’ll lend you some things for the night, and then tomorrow we can – well,” he said non-committally, aware he wasn’t speaking with much grace, but unable to promise he’d be ready to let more than one Malfoy know his home address. It was bad enough one had to know, to be honest, although right now even Malfoy didn’t know exactly where he was. Couldn’t Malfoy’s mother just give him his stuff at the Ministry, anyway? How much did he sodding well need? It wasn’t as if this situation was going to last very long, he told himself firmly. He was uncomfortably aware he didn’t find himself very convincing, however.

When he forced himself to turn around, Malfoy was loitering in the wide, yellow-painted hallway like a tosser, arms folded and eyebrows raised. “What?” Harry asked, getting frustrated.

“You haven’t even asked me who cursed me!” Malfoy said, derision thick in his voice, leading Harry to decide that the day’s stresses and strains had sent Malfoy completely round the twist. OK, so maybe he wasn’t being the perfect host, exactly – he felt a twinge of guilt at the fact that Malfoy was in his house with just the clothes he stood up in, and the twinge turned into more of a twang when he remembered that he wasn’t even wearing clothes, just hospital-issue pyjamas. But even so! It was no explanation for why Malfoy kept trying to goad him into an argument. It was almost as if the wanker would have preferred Harry to be horrible to him.

Harry considered this idea for a moment, and found he didn’t care for it. “Go on then, who cursed you?” he said, attempting to have the patience of a saint.

Malfoy looked thrown for a moment, and then unsure, as if he hadn’t expected the question.

Harry found he didn’t have the patience of a saint, after all. Or rather, he did, but only presuming saints had patience for very short bursts and were grumpy bastards for the rest of the day. “For fuck’s sake, Malfoy, will you—”

Draco,” Malfoy said unexpectedly. “Not Malfoy. Draco.” He pulled a very awkward face and shifted from foot to foot, shaking his hair out of his eyes. “And it was Pansy. Who cursed me,” he added redundantly.

“You what?” Harry asked in disbelief. Pansy Parkinson? It sounded like complete nonsense. If Pansy was going to pick anyone to first wake Malfoy with ‘true love’s kiss’, and then bond with him, it was going to be, well, her, wasn’t it? She’d always sucked up to Malfoy at school.

Malfoy made an obvious attempt at his usual shitty demeanour, and raised his chin very high. “I know my first name is unusual, but it’s not that hard to pronounce if you really work at it. Go on, give it a try. Drayyyy coe,” he said, drawling out the syllables.

“Yes, I know what your name is,” Harry snapped back, unable to suppress a flash of anger. He didn’t know why, exactly, but the idea of calling Malfoy by his first name, as if they were chums, was just . . . ugh. He didn’t want to, and he didn’t see why he should. Just because they’d been stuck in the shittiest of situations together, it didn’t mean they had to actually be friends, did it? Particularly if this was how Malfoy treated Pansy, one of his actual friends. Clearly, Malfoy had no concept of loyalty. “I was talking about – Pansy?” he said scathingly. “Come on. I don’t know what you’re playing at, Malfoy, but I wish you’d just shut the hell up and go to bed.”

A matching flash of anger sped across Malfoy’s face. Harry had the strangest feeling it wasn’t because of what he’d said, though, precisely; it was because he’d called him Malfoy again. “Fine,” Malfoy said, through clenched teeth, and strode into and across the dark room, sinking down on the small sofa under the window and putting his head in his hands. “Don’t believe me. I suppose I deserve it,” he said petulantly to the carpet. “I was just trying to . . . Ugh. What’s the point. Goodnight then, Potter.”

It was the name thing, then. The realisation made Harry feel oddly unwell, particularly when he looked over to see Malfoy’s shoulders were trembling. What was he meant to do now, exactly? Leave Malfoy to sulk? Harry found he didn’t much like the idea. Malfoy was annoying, yes, but he’d been remarkably accommodating so far – for Malfoy, at any rate. It seemed unkind to repay this basic level of humanity with distrust.

Besides, Harry thought uncomfortably, he hadn’t even lent Malfoy so much as a toothbrush, so far. He wasn’t sure he even had a spare toothbrush. And it dawned on him, now, what had struck him as different about the bedroom – the lights hadn’t turned on. His whole house was lit by magic – automatic gaslights and wall-mounted candles that twinkled on when a witch or wizard entered a room and turned off when they left, or on command. It had seemed convenient when the Estate Witch had explained it to him. It was convenient. Except, now it fucking wasn’t. Harry considered the fact that he lived in a house where he couldn’t turn the lights on and off without holding hands with Malfoy, and wished he’d gone for something a little less modern.

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” he said, almost as annoyed with himself as he was with Malfoy right now. “All right. Tell me all about how Pansy Parkinson cursed you, Malfoy. Draco,” he amended, the word sounding really fucking odd on his tongue. Malfoy didn’t move, but the line of his shoulders relaxed just a fraction. So little that Harry could almost have imagined it.

He hadn’t, though.

“Well, go on then,” he added, feeling another yawn almost split his face in two. “Or I might fall asleep on you.”

Malfoy’s shoulders seemed to consider this for a moment. Then he raised his head, to give Harry a curious look. Harry could barely see him, in the gloom of the room, but the large window, curtains still drawn wide open, was letting in enough dim light that he seemed to almost glow. There Malfoy was – pale, ethereal, curious, backlit by a thousand million distant stars. Harry felt deeply uncomfortable, all of a sudden, on a fundamental level – the darkness and the strangeness combining in his gut to make him feel things he couldn’t express. He’d done a good job so far, he thought, of blocking out exactly what the bonding spell would require from him – from them – to get their magic back, but . . .

This morning, he would have said the idea of . . . of . . . of doing that with Malfoy was a complete impossibility. But looking at Malfoy now – backlit by starlight – he seemed like a complete stranger.

“You’re planning on falling asleep on me?” Malfoy echoed. “I hope you’ve changed your sheets in the last century, then, Potter. Harry,” he amended with heavy emphasis, as if to point out what a jerk Harry was. “Is that why you’ve inexplicably failed to turn on the lights?” he continued scathingly. “Though mind you, I’m going to struggle to be your pillow if you continue to dither in the doorway.”

Harry felt sweet, glorious relief at this rush of – well – of Malfoyness. It helped to counteract the whole starlit nonsense, and reminded him that Malfoy wasn’t a stranger at all. Was, in fact, someone he knew quite well. There was little he liked about him, in fact, he reminded himself as Malfoy raised one pale, thin eyebrow at him – even though, of course, he probably couldn’t even see Harry other than as a distant, dark blur.

“If I suggest you come and sit down next to me, will you take it as a come on?” Malfoy asked sweetly, and Harry felt a glorious, natural urge to punch Malfoy in the jaw.

“Yeah, fuck you,” Harry said, and when Malfoy snorted, he realised that maybe that hadn’t been the optimal choice of words. He felt all his blood rush to boil his cheeks, but he was tired, damn it, and annoyed, and these things fuelled him enough to allow him to stride across the room and plonk himself down next to Malfoy. Not touching him, though. He didn’t much fancy all the lights switching on at once, to illuminate the fact his face was currently emitting enough heat to fry an egg in under a minute. “We’re not going to do that,” he said firmly, which didn’t help with the flaming cheeks thing, but he wanted to say it again. “We’re going to find another way to fix this. All right?”

Malfoy snorted again, the noise even more derisive. “Sure, whatever you say.”

Harry tried not to grind his teeth at this complete lack of confidence. “So!” he said brightly. “You had something to tell me. About Pansy,” he prompted, unable to stop the note of doubt creeping into his voice.

Malfoy didn’t reply for so long that Harry had almost decided to just get up and leave – with dignity, rather than storming off in a huff, although he wasn’t sure how he’d manage to convey this vital difference – when Malfoy finally spoke. “I’m telling you this as Harry Potter, our mighty saviour, rather than as an Auror, you understand,” he said.

Harry wasn’t sure he did understand. “I am an Auror, though,” he said, because it was true, and ignored the whole ‘mighty saviour’ business, because it was typical Malfoy and he couldn’t be bothered to rise to the bait. “If you tell me something, I can hardly pretend I haven’t heard it tomorrow when I get to work.” As soon as he said it, Harry realised – remembered – that he wasn’t going to work. Wouldn’t be going to work for some time, unless a miracle happened. He’d be going to the Ministry, yes – but as a victim, rather than as someone to rely on. He stared at his hands, rather than turn his head and see Malfoy smirking at his idiocy.

If Malfoy was smirking, though, it didn’t show in his voice. He just sounded irritated. “I really don’t want to tell you this, Potter,” he snapped, and then seemed to catch himself. “Harry,” he amended, a note of derision in his voice. Harry wasn’t sure, though, whether the derision was aimed at him or at Malfoy himself. “But I’m going to. I just . . . I’m telling you this. That’s all. You. As a gesture, because—” He broke off. “Never mind that,” he said dismissively. “Either you get it or you don’t. I just want you to understand that I don’t want to tell you, but I am telling you. I know you’ll feel duty bound to report it,” he added, as if that was some kind of terrible character flaw.

“Of course I’ll have to report it!” Harry said, feeling his temper flare. “People can’t go about poisoning other people!” He didn’t add even if they’re you, but it almost felt as if he didn’t have to say it out loud for Malfoy to know he’d thought it. Still, Malfoy said nothing, which had a chilling effect on Harry’s anger. He didn’t want Malfoy to sit there saying nothing. It made him feel like he was in the wrong, even though he definitely wasn’t. “I . . . I suppose I can try to keep any investigation as quiet and low-key as possible,” he said. “You can hardly expect me to cover up a crime!” he added crossly, feeling like a pompous arsehole, when this failed to elicit anything from Malfoy other than silence.

“No, I suppose not,” Malfoy agreed without much enthusiasm. He took in a sharp breath, and then said, in a bit of a rush, as if he wanted to get it over with as soon as possible, “There is no reason at all why you should know, or care, but my parents were on the verge of arranging a marriage for me with Astoria Greengrass. Yes, Daphne’s younger sister,” he added disagreeably, answering a question Harry hadn’t asked out loud. “Astoria’s a well-brought-up pure-blood girl,” he continued, his tone sharpening into something unpleasant. “I suppose Pansy had thought I’d sunk low enough that I would no longer care about blood status. It obviously came as a shock to her to find that I still do.”

You do, or your parents do?” Harry found himself asking, and he turned to look at Malfoy for the first time since he’d sat down.

Malfoy looked back. He was disconcertingly close, his face mostly shadow. “Is that the important part?”

Harry wet his lips, feeling his heart speed up uncomfortably.

Malfoy looked away and shrugged. “I’m a Malfoy,” he said, in an off-hand manner that didn’t fool Harry for a moment. “We marry pure-bloods. It’s what you might call a family tradition.”

“Yes, all right, there’s no need to be sarcastic,” Harry said, stung. “And your story is already sounding a bit tenuous, I’d just like to point out. It’s a bit of a leap from Pansy being pissed off at you getting married to someone else, to her turning you into a living corpse. I mean, I know she’s a cow, but that’s a pretty big overreaction, it seems to me. How do you even know it was her who did it?”

“I wasn’t aware I was being sarcastic,” Malfoy said – sarcastically. “And clearly you’ve never pissed Pansy off before.”

“There was that whole Voldemort thing,” Harry was unable to stop himself from saying.

Malfoy said nothing; the silence was very loud.

Anyway,” Malfoy said eventually, when Harry had started to wonder if it would be best if he just chucked himself out of the window, “the last thing I remember, before I fell asleep, was Pansy bringing me a cup of tea. She was very insistent I drink it.” He shrugged. “I drank it, I fell asleep. It seems quite convincing to me. Pansy never was the brightest,” he said with some bitterness. “I have no doubt she thought it would be amusing for me to fall asleep and be woken by you, of all people. A bit of revenge on us both – she never liked you, if you couldn’t tell. I expect she thought someone with your heroic reputation wouldn’t make me wait quite so long, though,” he added pointedly.

“How the hell was I meant to know it was me who’d wake you up?” Harry protested, stung by this.

Malfoy snorted. “Telepathy, perhaps? Or maybe,” he said with heavy sarcasm, “when Pansy had achieved her aim and you then failed to leap into heroic action, she wrote you a few letters to prompt you into action?” He paused significantly. “Tried to visit you, when you didn’t reply?”

Harry thought guilty of the pile of post on his dining room table. He didn’t really use it to eat off; it was more of a storage space for all the mail he didn’t ever want to open. The table groaned with it. Soon, he’d have to either open the stuff, or admit defeat and incendio it all unread. He could picture Pansy’s frilly handwriting now, if he thought about it – from the outside of the scrolls. He made it a point of principle not to open things he thought might annoy him, and there was no way anything from Pansy would do anything other than annoy him. It had annoyed him enough that she’d tried repeatedly to see him at work. If he was honest, he’d been worried she was trying to apologise. He didn’t want to hear apologies from Pansy Parkinson. Nothing could be more unwelcome. Except – perhaps there was one thing that was more unwelcome than apologies from Pansy. It was letters from Pansy that weren’t apologies, and which he belatedly realised he really should have bloody well opened. “What do you mean, though – when Pansy had ‘achieved her aim’?” Harry said instead, madly irritated with himself.

To Harry’s surprise, Malfoy allowed him to evade the issue. He let out a quiet breath, sounding almost upset, and said, “Who do you think was among the first to try to wake me up?”

“Beats me,” Harry said, puzzled by this question. “Robards didn’t assign me your case. I did ask him to, you know!” he said, just in case Malfoy thought he hadn’t cared at all. “Didn’t you ask Zabini when you saw him earlier? I’d have presumed Pansy, rather than Goyle, but you know your own friends best.”

“It was Astoria,” Malfoy said sharply. “Apparently, there was quite a long article in Witch Weekly about how humiliating it must have been for her – my rumoured fiancée – when she failed to wake me up, proving that she wasn’t my love match. Did you know that Pansy’s a columnist for that rag now? I hear Rita Skeeter taught her all she knew.”

Oh. Oh. Harry felt like a dick. Had Malfoy . . . wanted to marry Astoria, then? For some reason, the thought made something heavy stick in his chest, like he’d swallowed something the wrong way and it was trapped in his throat. He didn’t feel able to ask that, though. It was too personal a question. Just because he and Malfoy had been thrown together into a scenario that gave every impression of intimacy, it didn’t mean they were actually intimate. It felt important to remind himself of that as he sat next to Malfoy in the semi-darkness, Malfoy spilling his secrets as if he trusted Harry. Malfoy didn’t trust Harry, and Harry had no real reason to trust him either. But – “And you don’t want Pansy to be punished for this why, exactly?” he asked, supremely unimpressed by the whole business. “You never struck me as the sort of person who’d be shy about getting their own back,” he added.

Malfoy stiffened at his side.

“What? It’s true! I’m amazed you haven’t already told your father and had her hunted down and—” Harry broke off before he could say anything worse.

“You don’t have to believe me,” Malfoy said, his voice tight. “I just hope that once the truth comes out you’ll have the decency to make sure it’s dealt with discreetly, rather than splashed about all over the press. She was a friend once, despite it all.” He let out a long breath, and when Harry half-turned towards him, he was staring down at his hands, knotted together in his lap. “Haven’t you ever had a friend let you down? No – I’m sure you haven’t. Perfect Potter and his perfect pals. They wouldn’t ever do anything as gauche as disappoint you. I’m sorry I suggested it.”

Harry considered this. There was that time when Ron had stormed off, like a dick, in the middle of Horcrux hunting, because . . . well, partly – mostly – because of jealousy. But he’d done his utmost best to make up for it! It hardly compared. OK, he thought reluctantly, perhaps Pansy had tried to make up for what she’d done, but even so – there was a big difference between storming off in a huff because of jealousy and putting someone in a coma for the same reason! And it wasn’t just the whole cursed coma business, either. Ron had never fed him a potion that spontaneously made him marry Malfoy. It was fuckery on a whole new ridiculous level. Why was something like this even allowed to be a thing? Harry felt a brief longing for Muggle life, where no handshake would ever accidentally cause a wedding, and where divorce was – he presumed – a simple matter involving lawyers and shouting.

“I really doubt Pansy thought the potion would end up bonding us together,” Malfoy added, sounding supremely hacked off, as if he’d read Harry’s thoughts. “She always was a sucker for act first, think later. I bet she never even read the label. Really, in that sense she was almost a Gryffindor,” he added facetiously.

“You know, I wrote to you, after the trial,” Harry found himself saying. “I wanted to meet up and . . . well, talk, I suppose. About what had happened.”

“Mmm,” Malfoy said disagreeably. “Did you?”

“You know I did!” Harry reached over and grabbed Malfoy’s wrist, their knees knocking together as he did so. Malfoy didn’t resist, didn’t pull away, but the expression he turned on Harry was less than encouraging. “You sent it back,” Harry continued stubbornly. “Shredded into pieces.”

Malfoy looked at him steadily, his eyes sharp. “Well, I didn’t read it first, if that helps.”

“Why not?” Harry asked. He felt bizarrely hurt. Malfoy’s skin was hot under his fingers, and he felt like he was going a little mad.

“You didn’t speak up for my father at the trial,” Malfoy said. As if that were reasonable.

“I was never going to speak up for your father.”

“Yes,” Malfoy said simply. “I know. And?”

And what? And . . . “Would you like a cup of tea?” Harry asked suddenly, and released Malfoy’s wrist. He wasn’t sure if he had any milk. Or, come to think of it, whether the kettle would work without magic. Were there even any teabags? He usually drank coffee, so thickly brewed you could almost stand a spoon in it. He hoped he’d washed the pot the last time he made it.

Malfoy stared at him, and then gave a sharp laugh, as if he found something humorous about the whole thing. Harry wasn’t sure if there was anything funny about the fact he was clearly having a mental breakdown, but at least one of them was enjoying themselves, he supposed.

“If you sent me a scroll now, I suppose I might read it,” Malfoy said.

“Yes?” Harry managed to get out.

“Yes,” Malfoy said firmly. “And in reply, I would write: I do not want to talk about the war.”

“Right,” Harry said.

“I haven’t finished,” Malfoy said. “I don’t want to talk about school either, thank you.”

“Right,” Harry said again. And then something possessed him to ask, “What – never?”

Malfoy gave him a very old-fashioned look. “Do you really want to talk about these things with me? We had so much fun together, if you remember.”

“Er, no,” Harry said, feeling conflicted. The war – school – it was like a scab he wanted to leave alone, so it could heal, but couldn’t stop himself from picking at. He seemed to spend most days adamant he’d try to move on, to think of something else – to be someone else, someone who was more than a boy born to save the world, and had fulfilled that destiny already – and failing miserably. Who was he without the war, anyway? What was the point of him now?

“See,” Malfoy pointed out, his tone snide. “We’re already having such fun, and we’ve barely begun.” He reached over and pressed his hand gently on top of Harry’s for a fleeting moment. He seemed to leave an imprint of warmth on Harry’s skin, like an invisible brand.

“Do – do you want to stick your head in the Floo and ask your mother to send over some of your things?” Harry asked, spur of the moment. He didn’t distrust Narcissa Malfoy any less; but maybe, right now, he trusted Draco Malfoy a little more.

Malfoy gave him an odd look. “It’s the middle of the night. She’ll be asleep.” His tone wasn’t convincing; neither was the idea that his mother would be asleep right now, rather than pacing the floor worrying. Harry almost felt bad for her. Almost. “Harry . . .” Malfoy said, and then stopped, as if he’d been going to say something more but had lost his nerve.

“Yes?” Harry prompted, when the silence grew awkward. It didn’t take long, to be fair.

“Fuck off and go to bed, will you?” Malfoy said with forced brightness. “Unless you want to stick around for a shag, I suppose. Get it over with.”

Harry shot up and was halfway across the room before he realised it had – of course – been a joke. Not a joke in good taste, though, he thought stiffly. “Um,” he said, and turned around to face Malfoy again.

Malfoy’s eyes were glinting in the darkness. “No, I don’t want a cup of tea, yes, I know where your bathroom is, and no, I don’t want to borrow any of your clothes. Ugh.”

“When . . . when you hugged me earlier,” Harry said, emboldened by the fact that there was, once again, some distance between them, meaning that, once again, Malfoy could barely see him, “why did you do that?”

“Really?” Malfoy asked, a note of mild derision in his voice. “I wouldn’t have to explain it to Granger, you know.”

“Yes, well, I’m not Hermione,” Harry said, folding his arms across his chest.

“Thank Merlin,” Malfoy said with some heat, and then seemed thrown by what he’d just said.

“But no, really – I want to know,” Harry said, when Malfoy didn’t explain himself. Why he wanted to know, he couldn’t say. It just seemed important. Maybe Malfoy would have hugged anyone, he thought gloomily. Maybe his brain had been addled and he’d mistaken Harry for Astoria, or something. All of a sudden, he didn’t really want to know, after all, but it was too late to say so.

“Oh God,” Malfoy said, sounding slightly embarrassed. “You are beyond belief. So. I’d just been woken up from a curse, if you remember,” he said, his voice strengthening into sarcasm, “with you to thank. What a lucky boy I was! And since you weren’t there – I don’t know, perhaps you had sudden important business elsewhere, a letter to post, or an orphanage to open, that kind of thing – the hospital staff very kindly told me all about the potion I’d been poisoned with, and how they thought that there was a good chance you might actually be my true love after all, because –” he put on a high, squeaky voice – “it would be soooooo romantic if the enemies turned lovers, wouldn’t it, and wouldn’t they make a delicious pair – one light, one dark, one heroic and one brooding and reformed?” He made a very convincing vomiting noise. “Either way, it was clear to me that you deserved to suffer a bit too, especially as you’d fucked off and left me to it. What a hero! I hope you enjoyed our tender moment,” he added seraphically.

Whatever explanation Harry had expected, it wasn’t that. “I thought you might actually be in love with me!” he protested, infuriated.

Malfoy looked at him across the room – once again backlit by starlight, his expression clear and bright, despite everything. “Yes, and what a hideous, appalling thought that must have been,” he said sweetly. “I mean – it’s not like we’re married or anything, is it?”

Harry tried not to squirm – and failed. “Er, right. Goodnight, then,” he said, deciding to put a full stop at the end of this particular topic. The room, the conversation – Malfoy himself – had all grown too much for him. It would be too much for anyone, he thought gloomily, which failed to cheer him up much. “Yell if you need me,” he added awkwardly. Why would Malfoy need him, exactly? He dreaded to think. He braced himself for sarcasm, but . . .

“Goodnight, Harry,” Malfoy said softly, without a trace of sarcasm or mockery in his voice.

Harry decided that there was no indignity in flight. So he fled, closing the door behind him and dashing to the bathroom as if a pack of werewolves was chasing him down. The room was all in darkness, and he thanked Merlin that wizarding society had adopted good old-fashioned Muggle plumbing as he used the toilet at top speed and gave his teeth a hasty brush. The shower was going to be an issue, he thought as he zoomed out into the corridor and almost ran to his room – he didn’t know why the idea of meeting Malfoy in the corridor held such terror, but it did – but he decided he’d worry about that tomorrow morning. Right now he needed to sleep.

Harry sat on the edge of his bed and fumbled with the laces of his boots, tugging them off and chucking them aside. He briefly considered taking his clothes off and changing into his pyjamas, but his body decided against it for him, and he fell back on top of the duvet, suddenly so tired he almost wanted to cry. The room was almost spinning, as if he was drunk, and he closed his eyes, convinced he wouldn’t be able to sleep. Malfoy was there, behind his eyelids – pale and pointy, his hair in his eyes, biting his lip as he looked up at Harry from under barely-there eyelashes. Harry opened his mouth to tell him to leave him alone, but the words wouldn’t come out, and the world fell away into an odd tangle of sensations and memories – the feel of Malfoy’s hand pressing briefly against his own, and the way his voice had sounded as he’d told Harry that Pansy had been a friend, despite it all.

Chapter Text

Harry woke up with a start to the blare of his alarm clock. He had a pounding headache, and he felt as rough as a badger’s arse. He noted that he was still in his uniform, his glasses squished uncomfortably up his nose, and for a brief moment he wondered if he’d drunk so much the night before that he was suffering from memory loss. When he reached for his wand to turn off the fucking alarm, though – he wasn’t great at mornings, and Hermione had given him, as a ‘thoughtful’ gift, an alarm that required a lengthy incantation to turn off to ensure its victim was truly awake – yesterday’s events smacked him in the face, like an unkindly-aimed Bludger.

Harry wanted to lie back down and brood for a bit, before taking a very long, hot shower to try to make himself feel less like complete shit. To his despair, though, he realised he couldn’t turn the alarm off without magic, and – the cherry on top of the burnt cake – he couldn’t turn the shower on without magic, either. So much for brooding. If he attempted it, he’d only end up trying to throw the alarm clock through the wall. He had an annoying memory that the manufacturer had installed cushioning charms on the clock, for just this eventuality.

Harry creaked up and off the bed, feeling approximately a million years old, and gave the clock a death stare that failed to kill it. He ran a hand through his hair, in an attempt to flatten it, picked up the blaring clock and made his way to the spare bedroom, his desire to turn the alarm off before his brain leaked out of his ears warring with his desire to sink into the floor and never have to face Malfoy again. He needed a wash, and a litre of coffee, at the bare minimum, before he could do it.

To his relief, the door to the bedroom was open, so at least he didn’t have to face the prospect of knocking and waking the fucker up. He’d experienced the sleeping beauty thing once; he thought a second exposure to it might kill him stone dead. When he peered in, however, Malfoy was nowhere to be seen. Harry began to feel faintly uneasy. The bathroom door had been ajar when he’d gone past it, so where was Malfoy? He stared a bit more inside the room. There was no evidence that Malfoy had ever been in there. The bed looked unslept in, the sheets pristine and unwrinkled.

Harry gave himself a mental shake and took himself and the alarm – which was now wailing at the volume of approximately a hundred really angry Howlers – back into the hallway and down the wide main staircase to the ground floor, striding through the black-and-white chequerboard floor of the large entrance hall and hoping that the fact that the door at the far end was ajar was a good indication that Malfoy lay beyond it. The feeling of relief when he saw Malfoy’s back, as he stood in front of the open fridge in the kitchen, was almost indescribable. Harry strode towards him and, in almost one movement, dropped the alarm clock on the floor – it bounced – caught Malfoy’s wrist with one hand and swished his wand with the other, chanting the nonsense verse to turn the instrument of torture off.

The sound of silence was glorious; Harry almost wept with it.

Malfoy pulled away, turning to face Harry. He looked terrible – grey and drained, his hair a tangled mess. “Well, you look like shit,” Malfoy said, by way of greeting, and Harry pulled him into his arms, burying his face in the side of his neck, in response.

For a frozen moment they stood there like that, Harry wondering why the fuck he’d done that, while he simultaneously felt the relief of reconnecting with his magic, of having Malfoy close, thrum through his entire body, making him relax from head to toe. The tight band of pain that clutched around his head, threatening to squeeze his brains out, eased a little, too.

“Do you know that there’s absolutely nothing in your fridge?” Malfoy said judgmentally. He didn’t pull away, though, his hands coming to rest, lightly, against Harry’s back, as if morning hugs were a perfectly natural part of their relationship and not to be commented on. “No, wait,” Malfoy amended. “There’s something that possibly used to be milk, before it mutated into something with an intelligence all of its own, and a green thing, the origins of which I prefer not to speculate about.”

“I don’t cook much,” Harry said, realising he sounded as tired as he still felt. He’d thought he’d slept all night, but his brain was buzzing; he suspected he’d had dreams he was grateful not to remember. “Sorry,” he added.

“Yes, so you should be,” Malfoy said, and snorted. “You really are a massive wanker, you know. I was sure your house would be a glorious monument to the wonders of Muggle life, but honestly, is there anything in this bloody house that works without magic?”

“Er, well, there’s the toilet,” Harry mumbled into Malfoy’s hair, “and—”

“It was a rhetorical question,” Malfoy interrupted. “The Estate Wizard really saw you coming, that’s for sure.” He pulled away from Harry a fraction and gave him a colourless look. “Feeling better?”

Harry flushed miserably. “Not really.”

Malfoy rolled his eyes and slipped a cold hand into one of Harry’s, while pulling away with impatience. “Pass over your wand, will you? I left mine upstairs.”

Harry passed it.

Malfoy gave it an odd look, and then gave Harry an even odder look.

“What?” Harry asked.

“Nothing,” Malfoy said petulantly, and looked over towards the worktop. Harry could see that he’d set out some mugs next to the coffee pot – he gave a mental thanks to Merlin that it was clean. Malfoy moved his wrist in a well-practised swish, and the fire lit under the stove-top kettle to boil the water. “We’ll have to take it black,” Malfoy said. It sounded like a complaint. “I don’t suppose you have any sugar?”

“I don’t take sugar,” Harry said.

“No, of course you don’t.”

“I’m sweet enough already,” Harry added cheerfully, just to piss Malfoy off. Malfoy didn’t say anything, but he twitched, and Harry thought this was success enough. He was starting to feel marginally better. Maybe it was the prospect of imminent coffee.

In no time at all, the kettle whistled cheerfully. There were some benefits to living in a house powered by magic, Harry remembered; kettles that boiled water in under thirty seconds, speeding up his access to caffeine, were high on the list. Malfoy swished Harry’s wand to turn off the fire, then passed it back without comment, padding over to lean against the kitchen counter. “I’d suggest we sit at the table in your dining room,” Malfoy said snidely, “but we might be buried alive by all the mail you haven’t opened.”

Harry took from this that he was to finish making the coffee, and so he did, passing Malfoy a mug filled to the brim. Malfoy took a cautious sip and pulled a face, squinting down with distaste at the mug, but carried on drinking. He really did look tired, Harry thought, taking a throat-burning gulp of his own coffee. He almost suggested they sit in the second, larger dining room, but decided against it. He hadn’t been in there for months; there were a number of rooms in his house he hadn’t been in for months. The house, despite the Estate Witch’s promise, really was too big for one wizard alone, and Harry had got no closer to filling it with a family of his own than when he’d moved in. “I think I’ve got a headache potion somewhere, if you want it,” Harry offered.

Malfoy looked strangely taken aback by this, staring at Harry as if he’d just said something peculiar, but eventually he replied, “Yes, please,” and stared back at his coffee as if it was suddenly fascinating.

Harry went to Accio it from the drawer in his bedroom, and then remembered he couldn’t. He briefly considered clutching at Malfoy again, but then decided it wouldn’t kill him to use his legs occasionally and went to fetch it. It felt a long way up to the top of the house and back again. Usually, the stairs moved automatically, carrying him along. It was lazy, now he thought about it, but decided he didn’t care. He was usually on his feet all day, and sometimes on his feet all night too. Robards seemed to be training him up to be an Auror – he still technically had a year to go before he was fully qualified – while simultaneously giving him a caseload that would make an Auror of twenty years’ service weep.

When he re-entered the kitchen and passed the headache potion over, Malfoy unstoppered the bottle and drank it down without pause, his brow smoothing out as it took effect. “Thanks,” he said, not sounding very grateful, and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers, screwing his eyes shut for a moment.

It struck Harry that Malfoy had just drunk a potion he’d been handed, without comment. Malfoy, who, the last time he’d drunk something handed to him, had ended up asleep for weeks and woken to a nightmare. Was he an idiot, or something?

Malfoy could clearly feel Harry’s stare, because he opened his eyes again and made an attempt at a sneer, with only moderate success. “Whatever stupid thing you’re thinking, stop it. It’s annoying.”

Well, Harry liked that.

Malfoy gave his coffee mug another scathing stare and tipped it up to his mouth, draining it. “Ugh,” he said, and shuddered. “Now, I suppose we’d better get ready to go and have a lovely day out at the Ministry,” he said with deep, aching sarcasm, and paused expectantly. “That’s the point when you’re meant to spontaneously offer to lend me some robes. And some underwear too, I suppose, though I shudder to think of it,” he added, and shuddered, as if to underline his point.

Harry thought about his boxers, and then he thought about Malfoy wearing his boxers and decided there was something wrong with his brain. “I – I did mean it, last night, when I said you could Floo your mother and ask her to send over your stuff,” he said quickly, because he was disturbing himself, and however little he liked the idea of Narcissa – and, by extension, Lucius – knowing his address, he liked the idea of spending the day knowing Malfoy was wearing his own underpants even less. He was having trouble enough with his imagination, and its tendency to apply unnerving words like attractive and appealing to Malfoy, as it was, without giving it more ammunition to fire at him.

“But it’ll be much more romantic if I turn up wearing your clothes, don’t you think?” Malfoy said sweetly.

Harry gaped at him, and Malfoy pulled a sour face.

“Come on. Do I have to spell everything out? Look – I know you don’t want my parents to know where you live. This is me being considerate, if you can imagine such a thing. Just go and get me some clothes, OK? I’m only slightly taller than you,” he said, tilting his nose in the air, “so your best robes will only be marginally too short. A towel – clean, please – and some soap would also be good,” he prompted, and then flapped his hands, as if to encourage Harry into action.

“The shower won’t work without, er,” Harry said.

“Of course it won’t,” Malfoy said. “Silly me, to presume someone brought up by Muggles would have taps.”

“I do have taps!” Harry protested. He did, as well – it’s just, they were on the sink. The shower activated immediately a wizard walked into it, adjusting the temperature and flow to suit, as if by – well, magic. For someone brought up with a plastic showerhead that slotted on to the bath taps, and splurted out a stream of water that was alternately freezing and boiling, it was bliss. It was because he’d been brought up by Muggles, really, that his house now was the way it was. Pure-blood twatty families with ancient ancestral mansions had the household chores carried out by an army of house-elf slaves. There was no way Harry wanted a house-elf to do his dirty work. Looking back at his childhood with an adult perspective was odd, anyway; to some extent, he’d been the Dursleys’ house-elf, just with a sponge to clean the dishes, rather than a wand. So, instead of an elf, he had the latest in labour-saving magic, and extremely glorious it was too, in his opinion.

Harry realised Malfoy was looking at him. Looking at him, while he thought deep, grateful thoughts about cleaning magic. This reminded him, too, that he was a wizard, and even if he did have to touch Malfoy to cast a spell right now, he knew at least half a dozen that would adequately replace a shower, in a pinch. He strode over to Malfoy, took hold of his wrist without comment, and cast one of these spells now.

“Thanks,” Malfoy said, not sounding very grateful. His skin still looked grey-tinged, the bags under his eyes dark and puffy. “Call me old-fashioned, but I never feel entirely clean washing with magic. Still, better that than having to suffer the ignominy of using a tap.”

“You’re welcome,” Harry said, and dropped Malfoy’s wrist again, feeling a bit like punching something. Not Malfoy, especially. Possibly the wall. Or maybe, if he tried hard enough, he could knock himself out. It had to be possible, didn’t it? “I’ll go and find you something to wear now. Will Gryffindor robes do you?”

Malfoy choked a bit. “You wouldn’t,” he called to Harry’s back as Harry walked out of the kitchen, heading towards to the stairs.

“Don’t worry, my Gryffindor robes wouldn’t want you to wear them either,” Harry called back, and then dashed up the stairs before Malfoy could throw something at the back of his head.

^^^^^^

At precisely ten minutes to nine – nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds early for their appointment with Kingsley, not that he was counting – Harry, dressed in a fresh set of uniform robes, Side-Alonged Malfoy directly to the Ministry’s visitor’s entrance. They could have walked, of course, but Harry felt strangely uncomfortable about the idea of revealing to Malfoy just how close he lived to the office. Malfoy, sod him, looked far more comfortable in the royal-blue dress robes Harry only ever brought out for boring formal dinners with Ministry bigwigs than Harry had ever done. Malfoy had refused, in the end, to borrow any of Harry’s boxers. Harry was trying very, very hard not to think about the implications of that in too much detail.

At precisely seven minutes and three seconds past nine, Kingsley was already ushering them out of his office, to see Robards. Harry had a gloomy feeling that this next appointment wouldn’t go nearly so smoothly. Not that smooth was anywhere near synonymous with enjoyable, or easy, that was. It was just, there hadn’t really been that much to discuss with Kingsley, in the end. Harry, addressing the wall, had told it firmly, without being prompted, that he was not going to complete the marriage bond with Malfoy. It wasn’t the sort of man he was, he’d told the wall – and it was true, he thought gloomily. He’d tried casual sex a handful of times in the past year, and found it less than satisfying. The thought of spending the rest of his life married to someone who didn’t love him was almost more terrifying than the idea of spending the rest of his life without magic. No – it was more terrifying. He didn’t say any of this out loud, though.

The wall hadn’t had much of a response to this. Neither had Malfoy. At least, not out loud. When Harry had managed to pluck up the courage to look at him, his jaw was clenched and he looked strangely pissed off. It was probably because Harry hadn’t given him the chance to say it first, Harry thought, and tried not to stress out. He supposed they should have discussed it all this morning, rather than having a tense and stupid conversation about taps, but it was too late now. Besides, Harry thought, it wasn’t like Malfoy had ever been shy about expressing his opinions, when he thought Harry was doing, or saying, something stupid.

And, of course, once they’d made the only decision possible – to try to reverse the incomplete bond – they had to follow through with the only other decision possible: to pretend to be a couple while they did so. It made sense, Harry thought uneasily, even if Malfoy had been telling the truth about Pansy and they were at no further risk of attack from Malfoy’s assailant. Just because all the known Death Eaters were now either in custody or beyond the veil – at least, those who weren’t Malfoys, who, as ever, seemed to be treated as a special case for very little reason – it didn’t mean that there was no one out there who held a grudge against Harry for stopping Voldemort. The thought of it becoming common knowledge that separating him Malfoy meant separating him from his magic brought Harry out into a cold sweat. He knew he had dozens of enemies, and every case he worked as an Auror brought him one or two more.

And it wasn’t just his safety at risk, either. He thought that if it had just been him, he could have sucked it up, despite the danger. But, although Harry didn’t like to think about it, there were plenty of witches and wizards from ‘his’ side, so to speak, who wouldn’t think twice about extracting a little mob justice on Malfoy, in retribution for the loss of their loved ones. There were those who saw that Malfoy hadn’t been punished, and hated him for it. Sometimes, when he was having a really bad day, Harry could almost see their point. Either way, Kingsley seemed to have predicted exactly what Harry was going to say, because although he sighed a lot, and looked grim, he told them he’d already started to arrange a full-scale press conference for that afternoon, and they should spend the rest of the day preparing for it. He’d set up a number of appointments for them beforehand, he added – predictably, but nevertheless annoyingly. Robards, it seemed, was to be their first trial of the day.

Harry was of the opinion as he and Malfoy left Kingsley’s office side by side – not quite touching, but not far off it – that if he spent the rest of his life preparing for a press conference about his whirlwind marriage to Draco Malfoy, he still wouldn’t be ready. He doubted talking to Robards would help. Particularly, he thought with unease, as Robards had threatened to arrest Malfoy only yesterday. He almost opened his mouth to tell Malfoy that he’d protect him, if Robards started on at him again, but decided against it. Malfoy had shown no difficulty in standing up for himself before now; there was no reason why Harry should open himself up to derision.

Still, Harry was unnerved by the fact that Malfoy was so silent beside him. “You OK?” he asked, his voice low, as they walked.

“Yes, I love that everyone’s staring at me and I can’t tell if it’s because they despise me or because they think it’s romantic that you rescued me with your heroic lips,” Malfoy murmured acerbically.

Harry had barely noticed the other Ministry employees in the hallway. They were always staring at him, he’d noticed, whether he’d done anything to make them stare at him recently or not. Even his own Auror colleagues showed an unhealthy tendency to stare at him with awe in their eyes, when they thought he wasn’t looking. Well – apart from Ron, that was. If Ron ever stared at him with awe, he’d know his friend had sustained a terrible head injury and needed immediate medical attention. Harry wondered now, though, if maybe he’d got a bit too used to ignoring people as a matter of course. “Oh.”

“It’s fun, too, getting to treat the whole world as a blurry obstacle course,” Malfoy added.

Harry considered this for a moment, and reached over to hold Malfoy’s hand before he could say anything else along these lines. Malfoy flinched, and then – oddly – went red, a blotchy colour that spread across his cheeks and down his neck, colouring in the tips of his ears, before he shook his head to hide himself with a curtain of hair.

“Might as well start as we mean to go on,” Harry muttered awkwardly, trying to ignore how squirmy his stomach suddenly felt. Malfoy’s fingers were warm, and soft, in his. He’d forgotten how much he enjoyed holding hands with someone, he supposed, hit, all of a sudden, by a horrendous wave of loneliness.

“I . . . Yes,” Malfoy said, quiet and breathy. “I suppose.” He cleared his throat. “Remember you’re meant to look happy about being my true love,” he said, sounding a little more put together. “Not like you’re about to be sick.”

Since Harry did feel a bit like he was going to be sick, he decided to ignore this. Before long, they’d reached the heavy oak double doors on Level 2 that led to the Auror Headquarters. He felt even more ill about the idea of going through, but Malfoy, whose skin had returned to the grey-tinged pallor of this morning, rather than overripe tomato, shot him a look that suggested he was custard coloured, so he pushed open the door and pulled Malfoy through after him.

It wasn’t the first time that entering his office had caused everyone inside to stop their conversations and stare at him. He usually countered this with a cheery, “Good morning!” and this normal interaction seemed to remind people that he was Harry, rather than the Boy Who Lived, and that maybe they were acting like twats. He’d been looking forward to the day when they forgot to do the whole staring routine, and treated him as Harry right away; so far, two years into the job, he hadn’t made much progress. Today, at least, they had a real reason to stare, he supposed – it not being every day that he entered the office hand in hand with Draco Malfoy. It seemed as if all his colleagues – some of them retired, and some of them not even part of the wider Magical Law Enforcement Department – had crowded in this morning, to gawp at him and his . . . Malfoy.

Ron wasn’t there, though, Harry noticed. He couldn’t decide whether he was pleased that Ron had been spared the sight, or disappointed not to see his friend. Then he remembered it was Ron’s scheduled day off, and cheered up. He suspected Hermione had forced him to stay at home, so as not to make a fuss.

“Good morning!” Harry said cheerily, as usual, which didn’t seem to break the ice but did at least seem to spur Robards to extract himself from the press of people and glare at Malfoy. “Er, sir?” Harry prompted when Malfoy had glared back, unblinking, for long enough that Harry’s own eyes had begun to water in sympathy. Harry noted that Malfoy, although he’d loosened his grip on Harry’s hand a fraction when they’d first entered the room, was now clutching his hand in something more akin to a death grip. Harry took from this that Malfoy was having even less fun right now than he was.

Robards seemed to come back to himself with a start. He looked around, to see everyone staring at them. “Back to work!” he roared, and then grinned sheepishly at Harry. “Sleep all right?” he asked, with sympathy, and then a dull red spread across his cheeks, and he shot a sharp, albeit horrified glance at Malfoy again.

“Er, yes, fine,” Harry said quickly, before Robards started in on the glaring again, or – worse – expressed what he was thinking out loud. He wanted to sink through the floor with embarrassment. What had Robards told the team, exactly, about what had happened? He shuddered to think.

Robards didn’t exactly help the matter. He clapped a friendly hand on Harry’s shoulder and said, meaningfully, “I’m glad to see you two lovebirds –” he choked a bit on the word, but carried on manfully, “getting along. Let’s repair to my office, shall we, and have a chat in private?”

Harry nodded – he didn’t really have much choice, what with everyone looking and the fact that Robards’ friendly hand on his shoulder had turned into more of a painful grip.

Robards let go and led the way through the cluttered, open-plan space, and Harry followed, Malfoy half a step behind him, their hands still linked. Where was Robards taking them, though, Harry wondered. The Auror Headquarters was basically one large room, divided into cubicles. Each Auror had their own – tiny – space, with a desk, a chair and minimum three enormous piles of paperwork, which threatened to collapse every time anyone went near. Last time Hermione had visited him at his desk, she’d said, her tone thick with judgement, that he had so much paperwork that there wasn’t space to do any of it, and was it her imagination, or did he and the others do that on purpose or something? He supposed she had a point. Still – Robards had his own, equally tiny, space/desk/paperwork tower set-up in the main office, so where was he taking them now?

Robards shoved through the double doors at the end of the office, and Harry followed him out into the shabby corridor beyond it. They were in the bowels of the department now, and the wallpaper was ancient and peeling. At the end of the corridor, on the right, lay the miniscule office housing the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office. Harry hoped, very much, that Arthur Weasley was at home in bed today, rather than lying in wait in his old office to pop out and catch him holding hands with Malfoy. Or was Robards taking him to see Dave Bryson, Arthur’s replacement, Harry wondered with some confusion. The only other room off this corridor was the cupboard where they stored their regulation brooms. Most of them brought their personal brooms in, to prop up next to their desks, given the state of the Ministry-supplied equipment – if a broom had four twigs left on it, then that was at least three more than expected.

Robards led the way to the cupboard and ushered them in, lighting the single candle on the wall with a quick swish of his wand and closing the door behind them. Malfoy didn’t say anything, but the way he didn’t say anything was very loud.

“Yes, all right,” Robards said tetchily, and cast a Muffliato, a spell which so far Harry thought was his main – and only – contribution to reforming the department to be a fairer and more efficient place. “We can go back to the office and let the world and his wife hear your business if you’d prefer, Malfoy?” Robards continued.

“I didn’t say a word,” Malfoy said politely, and looked around, sharp eyes taking in the shabby brooms that threatened to fall and bury them alive at any moment, and the way the paint flaked off the walls and onto the suspiciously stained dark-green carpet that had clearly been chosen, a long time ago, to hide any stains.

Robards folded his arms, narrowly missing causing a domino effect with the nearest stack of half-dead brooms. “I thought it best to brief the team with minimal details for now,” he said heavily, “given what a leaky sieve this place can be. The fewer people who know the truth, the better.”

Harry could see the wisdom of this; it didn’t mean he had to like it though. “They don’t really believe I woke Malfoy up with true love’s kiss though, do they?” he asked dubiously. “I mean, everyone here knows that’s not what the potion really was, despite what the Prophet said.”

Robards shrugged. “I told ’em there was more to it than we suspected, and then you walked in here holding hands with this long streak of— With Malfoy here,” he amended, wrinkling his nose. “I thought I’d leave it up to you, Harry, whether you want to tell them the whole story, once I’ve finished with Malfoy and we know with more certainty whether or not you’re at risk of any further attack from his original assailant.”

Once he’d ‘finished with Malfoy’? Harry wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that much, and from the way Malfoy froze into watchful stillness beside him, he didn’t think Malfoy was exactly filled with joy at the prospect either. “What do you mean?” Harry asked carefully.

Robards narrowed his eyes as he looked at Malfoy. “I’m presuming this tosser’s no more willing today to tell us who cursed him than he was yesterday, and I wouldn’t trust him even if he did,” he said, confirming Harry’s worst suspicions. “So I thought a quick Legilimency session would sort him out, and we can crack on with fixing the bonding nonsense and getting you back to work. At least,” he amended as Harry wondered what exactly he should do to stop this runaway Knight Bus before it killed them all, “the morons in the Department of Mysteries will crack on with fixing it, but I’ll be encouraging them along the way, so to speak. So, I suggest you stop holding hands with your ball and chain for a moment, Harry, just in case I hit you with the spell too.” He raised his wand in a moderately threatening manner.

“Like fuck am I giving you permission to start rooting around in my head,” Malfoy burst out, squeezing Harry’s hand so tight he could feel his bones start to creak.

“I don’t need your permission, sunshine,” Robards said calmly, lowering his wand a fraction to point it directly at Malfoy’s chest.

“Aren’t there rules about this kind of Auror abuse?” Malfoy snapped.

“Yeah. Something about how I can do whatever I want in the face of a suspect withholding evidence,” Robards said.

Harry knew there was a rulebook – a great big thick one, covered in dust, which clearly no one had picked up in the last hundred years except him. Once an Auror had passed their practical training, they learned the rules of behaviour on the job, from their senior officer. It was one of the things that made him uncomfortable about the way the department worked. Harry was trying to work his way through the bloody book, page by page, when he had a spare moment, because he felt that someone had to. It was the only time, really, that he’d felt annoyed that Hermione had joined the Magical Creatures Department. She would have enjoyed the interminable book much more than him. So far he’d barely made it through the first chapter. If there was a section on treatment of suspects – did Malfoy even count as a suspect? – he was nowhere near it yet.

Still – whether Robards was acting by the book or not, Harry had promised, sort of, to make sure the whole Pansy business was dealt with as quietly as possible. He didn’t think that letting Robards use Legilimency on Malfoy – who shaking with rage – was quite in the spirit of things. “Er, Malfoy told me who cursed him,” Harry said, before Malfoy could pick up a broom and start beating Robards around the head with it. “I’ll make a formal report about it, but there’s nothing to worry about.”

Robards gave him an unimpressed look. “And you believed him? Just like that?” he asked.

“Uh,” Harry said, and then, realising this wasn’t exactly a rousing display of faith in Malfoy, added, “yes?” It still sounded unconvincing, even to his ears.

Robards snorted. “I see. Well, if he’s willing to share, then a quick rummage about in his head – just to confirm he’s telling the truth – won’t be an issue, now, will it?”

“You are not—” Malfoy started, rising hysteria in his voice.

“I’ll do it,” Harry interrupted, and Malfoy stopped dead.

No,” Malfoy said, his voice low and horrified, and he dropped Harry’s hand, taking a hasty step away from him, as if Harry was going to whip out his wand immediately and start in on the interrogation.

Robards raised his eyebrows. “I hate to agree with Malfoy, but what a stupid fucking idea, Harry. What if your current magical link means he could read your mind right back? I don’t spend all my time lecturing you lot about keeping secrets, only to let Death Eaters waltz in and pick through all the juiciest ones just like that.”

Well, Harry thought crossly, so much for that. He had half a mind to let Robards do his worst to Malfoy, except . . . Except he didn’t want him to. Malfoy wasn’t that bad, he thought limply. “I could interrogate him using Veritaserum, then, sir,” he suggested, having a sudden brainwave, and glared at Malfoy, who glared back – but, to Harry’s relief, didn’t otherwise object.

Robards seemed to consider this, and then nodded. “Good idea, Harry. Accio,” he said, swishing his wand decisively, and opened the door a fraction, just in time to let two vials of the liquid speed through the air.

“Now? Here?” Malfoy protested when Robards handed over one of the vials and watched him with narrowed eyes.

“Yep,” Robards said. “Drink up.”

“I can handle this, sir,” Harry said awkwardly, in the face of this unpleasantness.

“Yep,” Robards repeated. “I’ll leave you to it, once I’ve seen him drink it. In my experience, Malfoys are slippery creatures. Best not to give them an inch, or they’ll use it to Apparate to Timbuctoo.” He passed the second vial over to Harry. “A second dose, in case he fights it,” Robards said airily, and Harry shoved it in his pocket. It was probably the antidote, Harry thought, reminded of how much he usually liked Robards.

Harry was almost impressed when Malfoy, after a pause of only a fraction of a second, chose to unstopper the vial and knock the Veritaserum back, rather than leap up and pull off Robards’ head. Robards’ head was pretty well stuck on, Harry thought; it wouldn’t have done much good. Malfoy pulled a face and passed the empty vial back without comment, folding his arms tight across his chest.

“I’ll just be outside,” Robards said cheerfully. “Don’t ask anything I wouldn’t!” He slid through the door, banging it shut behind him. The draught made the candlelight flicker madly, casting strange shadows across Malfoy’s face.

Malfoy didn’t say anything. Which, Harry thought, was only reasonable, given the circumstances. “Why didn’t you want anyone to use Legilimency on you?” Harry asked, the question occurring to him and slipping out before he realised it wasn’t entirely fair.

Malfoy answered immediately, his expression sour. “The last person to use it on me was the Dark Lord. I didn’t enjoy it much.”

“Sorry,” Harry said, not sure if he was sorrier for asking the question or for the answer.

Malfoy glared at him, lips pressed tightly together.

“Right, right,” Harry said, remembering what he was meant to be doing – confirming Malfoy’s unlikely story about Pansy. He felt like a dick to be doing this to him, but at the same time he was glad of the chance to find out if Malfoy was actually trustworthy. He hoped to fuck that he was.

As carefully as he could, Harry formulated a series of questions to test Malfoy’s story about Pansy. To his surprise – although he didn’t want to be surprised, and was a bit disgusted with himself to find that he was – Malfoy answered all of them the same way he had the night before. Bar interrogating Pansy herself, it seemed that Malfoy had been telling the truth: Pansy had given him the potion.

Harry couldn’t think of anything else to ask Malfoy. About Pansy, that was. There was plenty he wanted to ask – things he thought he deserved to know the answer to – but Malfoy had a look of resigned dread in his eye, like he knew it was coming, and that fucked Harry off enough to not want to meet Malfoy’s expectations. Besides, he wasn’t that sort of person – to interrogate someone under Veritaserum, just because he could. Still, just when he was reaching into the pocket of his robes to pull out the antidote and hand it over, he found himself asking, “Do you hate me?”

“No,” Malfoy snapped back, even faster than he’d answered any of the other questions, and then glared at Harry, as if he wished him dead.

Harry winced, thinking it probably deserved the look, and fished out the vial, unstoppering it and giving it a sniff. Yep, it was antidote. He passed it over, saying so, and Malfoy swallowed it down, before pressing his lips tightly back together again.

“You all right now?” Harry asked carefully, to check if the antidote had taken effect. Malfoy didn’t reply, and after a tense few seconds seemed to realise that he hadn’t replied. His shoulders dropped several inches, and his hands relaxed from their tight fists.

Really?” Malfoy said, giving him an unreadable look. “You could have asked me anything, and you asked . . . that?”

Harry felt embarrassment swell within him. He shrugged, wondering why he had. “It – it seemed relevant!” he said, which was true. “I can find out anything else I want to know in my own time, without the help of Veritaserum, if I know that,” he said, realising the truth even as he said it. It was still pretty embarrassing though.

Malfoy seemed to consider this. Then he laughed – almost genuinely. “There are lots of ways to work around Veritaserum, though,” he said. “You only have to answer the exact question directed at you. You didn’t ask if I loathed you, for example. Or found you repellent. Or—”

Harry thought this was bullshit. “Do you?”

Malfoy gave him a careful look, and then shrugged, turning his head away. “You missed your chance.” He glanced back at Harry very quickly, and focused his attention on a spot somewhere over Harry’s shoulder. “Do you hate me?” he asked, as if he already knew the answer.

Harry wondered, though, what Malfoy thought the answer was. It wasn’t clear to him. Nothing about Malfoy was clear to him. “Do you think I do?”

Malfoy sighed, and seemed to sink into himself. “I’d rather be hated than treated with indifference,” he said, which both did and didn’t answer the question. He laughed again – but it was a bitter laugh. “If I thought there were any rules about this kind of thing, I’d complain to your superior about inappropriate questions under Veritaserum.”

“There are rules about that kind of thing,” Harry protested, and when Malfoy let out a snort, added, “well, if there aren’t, there should be. If I was Head Auror, I’d make sure that all officers who were required to carry out an interrogation had to turn in their memories afterwards, for inspection and storage. That should cut down on abuse, all right.”

“So heroic,” Malfoy murmured, from which Harry presumed he was feeling a bit better.

“You do know I didn’t want to do that, don’t you?” he asked, feeling a bit wretched about the whole business. It wasn’t that he wanted Malfoy’s good opinion, particularly, but . . .

“Next time you interrogate me in an insanitary broom cupboard, I’d like a cup of tea first,” Malfoy said firmly. “Tea, not coffee. I take three sugars and lots of milk. And—” He hesitated. “I was telling the truth,” he said, a note of challenge in his voice. “I just want to point that out, in case you didn’t notice, amid all the excitement of you getting to . . .” He waved a vague hand. “Auror at me. Good job, Auror Potter,” he added quickly – and facetiously. “I was adequately cowed by your manly authority, I’m sure.”

Harry had the strangest feeling that Malfoy had only added the shitty bit to take attention from the other bit – the bit he’d actually meant. He’d told the truth about Pansy, and presumably he was feeling a bit hacked off that Harry hadn’t believed him. “I . . .” Harry couldn’t say he had believed Malfoy all along, though. It wouldn’t be the truth. “I wanted to believe you,” he said earnestly, not sure how that would go down.

Malfoy seemed equally unsure how to take it. “Well, all right,” he said, and pulled a face. “I’d quite like to leave this broom cupboard now, but . . .”

Harry knew what he meant. On the other side there was Robards. And after Robards, Harry had a horrible feeling it would be Zabini. He hadn’t even had breakfast yet. “I’m hungry,” he said, deciding that he was master of his own destiny, even if that meant he had to temporarily be master of Malfoy’s destiny too. Malfoy would probably be OK with it, if it meant bacon sandwiches, Harry hoped. “And I’m fed up of you squinting at me, so I want to see an – what did you call it? Muggles call them opticians.”

“Oculist,” Malfoy said, sounding suspicious.

“Right,” Harry said, ignoring this base ingratitude and opening the door. “Well, come on, then.”

Chapter Text

Half an hour later, back in Kingsley’s office, Harry had eaten three bacon sandwiches, drunk another two cups of coffee and watched in amused horror as an Unspeakable with a special interest in visual magic tried to force a reluctant Malfoy to try on a pair of glasses – and lost. He was less amused when Malfoy tried to reject what Harry thought was an ingenious solution – Muggle-style contact lenses, which, the Unspeakable explained with uncomfortable enthusiasm for his specialist subject, could be worn 24/7 without discomfort and could be spelled to adapt to Malfoy’s differing prescription: transparent when his eyesight was perfect, and refractive when it wasn’t.

Harry wasn’t sure if Malfoy’s objection was that the lenses were Muggle in origin, or if he was just a massive ingrate who wanted to be difficult, so he asked. Out loud.

Malfoy glared at him. Blurrily. “Fuck off,” he said, which didn’t enlighten Harry either way.

“Oh, let’s leave it then,” Harry said, irritated. “I mean, someone’s bound to notice sooner or later that you can’t see properly any more, but it won’t look at all suspicious that you suddenly need glasses, I agree. We can just tell them it’s the blinding power of love, right?”

Malfoy turned to the Unspeakable and accepted the contact lenses without another word. Harry tried not to feel smug, and hoped this easy victory wouldn’t come back to bite him later.

Harry soon discovered, though, that there was a downside to getting things done quickly. As soon as Malfoy had managed to get the contact lenses on his eyeballs without poking his eyes out, although he’d pulled faces while he did it that suggested he was being tortured, he blinked away the tears in his eyes and said, with what Harry felt was an unhealthy level of Schadenfreude, “Shall we go and see Blaise now, then?”

“Yes, fine,” Harry said, trying to sound as if he was happy to.

Malfoy almost smiled, which Harry thought was unkind, but, given Malfoy’s slightly red eyes, possibly deserved.

“I hope Zabini doesn’t think I’ve been making you cry,” Harry said, to get his own back.

Malfoy gave him an odd look, and Harry remembered the last time he’d seen Malfoy cry. Malfoy had tried to Crucio him, and he’d nearly cut him in half in response. Had he ever said sorry, properly, for that? He didn’t think so. But then Malfoy hadn’t apologised for the almost-Crucio either, he thought with some heat, so maybe they were even.

“Whatever you’re thinking about, stop it,” Malfoy said, and Harry gaped at him. Malfoy gaped back, in an unkind imitation, and then shrugged. “You’re really easy to read, scarhead. You’re pulling a face, so I can tell you’re brooding about something stupid. So – stop it.”

Harry considered this, and thought it fair enough, so he closed his mouth on the shirty response he nevertheless felt compelled to make. The silence continued as they made their way down to Level 9 and the Department of Mysteries, and to their – well, to Harry’s – Zabini-shaped doom. Harry didn’t reach for Malfoy’s hand, and Malfoy didn’t reach for his either, but their elbows kept bumping. It was a companionable silence rather than a shitty one, Harry thought. It was just a shame that it was only them that was silent, really. First the corridors, and then the lift, were packed, and although no one spoke directly to Harry, he could hear them muttering excitedly about him – about them – as soon as he’d passed. He wondered if he should send out an interdepartmental memo at some point, reminding people that if they were going to talk about someone behind their back, they should wait until the owner of the back couldn’t bloody well hear them.

In some senses it was a relief to finally make it to the Department of Mysteries and be ushered through the carefully-guarded jet black door, because at least it cut down on the number of gawpers. Besides, the department attracted, in general, a certain . . . type of witch and wizard. Intellectual, curious, imaginative and – well – slightly odd, if Harry was being honest. They were the sort of people who didn’t mind that they couldn’t tell their friends what they did all day, because not only did they not have many friends outside of work, but they also didn’t tend to leave the office very often either. Obsessive was the word. Harry liked almost all of them. What they’d done, as a group, to deserve having to put up with Zabini all day, he thought as Zabini turned a smooth, smug cheerful expression on him and actually waved, the fucker, he had no idea.

“Draco!” Zabini said. “Would you like a cup of tea? Three sugars, right?”

Malfoy shot Harry a sidelong look, as if to point out that while Robards had turned his wand on him, Zabini had offered him a perfectly tailored hot drink. Harry bit his tongue, hard, against the urge to point out that Pansy had offered him a hot drink too, and look where that had got them.

“Tea? Will I have to drink it in a broom closet?” Malfoy asked, like a dick.

Zabini blinked. “No?” he said, clearly thrown. “My office is just along here. Come through.” He led the way to a small but neat room packed with pot plants. There was a desk, comfy green-leather armchairs, and a small window, framed by chintz curtains, with a cheerful view of the sky. Which sky, Harry wasn’t sure, given that they were nine levels underground. He wondered who’d approved the budget for the redecoration of Zabini’s office. The décor in the Department of Mysteries tended towards dark and mysterious, rather than Slytherin common room crossed with an old-lady’s front room. “Sit where you like,” he said warmly to Malfoy, ignoring Harry, who sat down anyway.

When Zabini had pointedly repeated his offer of tea again to Malfoy only, and been turned down, he gave Malfoy a slightly patronising smile. “So, how can I help you?” he said, which made Harry sad that Malfoy had turned down the tea. He’d have liked to throw it at Zabini’s head.

Malfoy took this arsiness pretty well, Harry thought, grudgingly impressed. He didn’t flinch. Instead, he relaxed back into his chair and laughed. “Very funny,” he said lightly.

Zabini grinned. “Sorry, Draco, couldn’t resist. Who’d have thought we’d end up like this, eh? You, in your situation, and me – here.”

“Who indeed,” Malfoy said, his voice a little bit tight. He forced a smile. “I presume this is just a formality, Blaise?”

“What do you mean?” Zabini asked, clearly enjoying this.

Zabini really was a tosser, Harry thought. He’d spent some time after the war was over battling with himself over his instinctive dislike of Slytherins. They hadn’t all been on Voldemort’s side, despite what some people had said. There had been calls for Slytherin House to be abolished, when Hogwarts reopened after it had been rebuilt. After careful consideration, though, Harry had decided this was stupid. Being a Slytherin didn’t mean you were evil, or that you wanted to take over the world. All it meant, he thought, was that you were a dick in some way. Snape, Slughorn, Zabini, Malfoy – they might not have turned out to be evil, in the end. But they were all, undeniably, dicks. It wasn’t a hanging offense to be a dick, though. Ergo – there was no need to abolish Slytherin House. It was a useful method of telling who the dicks of the future would be, Harry thought, glad to have got it straight in his own head.

“I’m in charge of a small team here who specialise in investigating the magic of the heart,” Zabini explained, as if he wasn’t a dick after all. “We look into unusual spells, where the Aurors and the Healers can’t help – they’re more used to regular magic, you see,” he said, insulting swathes of people in one breath. “I’ll continue to be in charge of you, Draco.” He smiled widely.

“Don’t we get a Healer?” Malfoy asked, clearly irked by this patronising tone. “Surely you’re far too busy and important to be wasting your time with our little problem.”

“Nonsense,” Zabini said, matching sarcasm for sarcasm. “It’ll be my pleasure.”

The two smiled at each other in a way that suggested they were about to tear each other’s noses off. Harry felt confused; he’d presumed the pair of them were friends. They’d always seemed friendly at school. Well, as friendly as Slytherins ever got, he supposed. They’d sat next to each other occasionally, and supported each other in ganging up on other people.

“Really, I’m sure a Healer would be fine,” Malfoy said, through gritted teeth.

“But you’re not sick,” Zabini insisted sweetly. “And there’s an easy way to sort out your problem, you know.”

More smile/glares. Harry was already bored of this passive-aggressive nonsense. He thought that on the whole he preferred Robards’ honest, albeit aggressive, approach. At least you knew where you were with that kind of thing. “I am not shagging Malfoy!” he said, trying it out for size.

Zabini and Malfoy turned matching horrified expressions on him, and he stared back, trying not to blush. “Well, I’m not,” he said, finding it impossible not to squirm. Robards had cultivated a hide like an Erumpent over the years; clearly, Harry’s hide was still only at kitten-level.

Zabini recovered first, breaking out into a genuine grin that Harry liked even less than his fake one. “Why not?” he asked.

“I—”

Don’t answer that,” Malfoy interrupted, sounding incredulous. “Merlin’s sake, Harry!”

Zabini laughed. “Harry, eh?”

“Well, we are married,” Malfoy said, rolling his eyes.

“And I wish the two of you much joy,” Zabini said, still grinning. “Right, I suppose we’d better start off with a few basics – I’ll get my assistant to take the usual samples – hair, blood, magic, you know. I don’t suppose either of you would like to wank into a cup right now, or shall we save that for next time?”

Harry nearly fell out of his seat.

“Next time it is, then,” Zabini said, excessively cheerful. “We’ll have to investigate the sexual side of the spell, you know. I mean, I highly doubt anything but full intercourse would work to trigger it, but you never know for certain until you try.”

Harry found he’d lost the power of speech. “What— I—”

Malfoy gave him a particularly scathing look. Harry almost wished Malfoy couldn’t see properly again. “Potter the Prude would prefer it if we left that part of the investigation for later, I think,” he said. “What shall we do to try to reverse the fucking thing?”

“Language,” Zabini admonished, still Cheshire Cat-ing at them both. “I suggest you both . . . leave it alone and see if anything happens,” he said.

Malfoy turned his scathing look on Zabini instead. Harry thought he was far more deserving of it. “That’s your wise advice?” Malfoy said, his voice thick with incredulity. “‘Leave it alone?’ Come on.”

Zabini shrugged. “You already know how to solve the problem. That would be my professional advice, if you want it.”

No,” Harry said, out of his chair and already halfway towards the door. “I’ll speak to Robards again, Malfoy. We’re wasting our time here.”

“Sit down,” Malfoy snapped.

Harry sat.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Blaise,” Malfoy said coldly. “As if a Malfoy would accept a Weasley’s leftovers.”

Harry half-rose again to leave, but Malfoy leaned over to yank at his arm and pull him down again.

“Fair point,” Zabini said, and the fucker winked. “I was only joking, Potter. Keep your hair on. We’ll try our best, of course. I already have a few ideas about how we can temporarily bridge the magic gap between the two of you, so at least you won’t have to spend eternity holding hands. In the meantime, you might want to work on smiling at each other, if you’re planning on pretending you’re actually in love for the time being. People who fancy each other tend to do that, if you hadn’t noticed.”

^^^^^^

Seeing Zabini hadn’t been as bad as he’d expected, Harry thought as he and Malfoy left the Department of Mysteries together, an hour or so later. It had been worse. “I thought Zabini was your friend!” he said heatedly when they were out of earshot of the department. “You seemed friendly enough at St Mungo’s.”

Malfoy glared at him, then forced his expression into a smile and took Harry’s hand. “Shh,” he said, through his smile. Harry took the hint and cast a Muffliato. “I have a flexible definition of friendship,” Malfoy said. “It starts with someone offering me a seat, rather than a Legilimens.”

“I’m being serious!” Harry protested.

“So am I,” Malfoy said, dropping the smile in favour of rolling his eyes. “Look – I know where I am with Blaise. That counts for a lot.”

I don’t know where I am with him,” Harry complained. “Half the time I think he’s trying to make things worse, rather than help. More than half the time!”

Malfoy didn’t look very sympathetic at that. “He probably is, then.”

“What’s the point of him working at the Ministry, if that’s true?” Harry asked, voicing a question he’d often wondered – basically every time he saw Zabini. “He’s not even in one of the political departments!”

Malfoy wrinkled his nose. “Not everyone burns to save the world, you know.” Then he sighed. “Look – I’m sure you’ve heard the gossip about his mother.”

Harry frowned. “Well, yes. Don’t they say that she knocked off seven husbands in a row? I try not to believe the papers, though.”

Malfoy snorted. “Such a good boy you are. You might not believe the rumours, but I expect everybody else does. To be honest, I’m not even sure whether Blaise himself believes them or not. If you were him, wouldn’t you wonder?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Harry said, but even as he said it, he wasn’t sure that was true.

“Of course, maybe they killed the old men together,” Malfoy said unsympathetically. “Either way, Blaise is so rich he doesn’t need to work a day in his life, yet he decided to slum it with the weirdos investigating love. Love’s not always a very nice emotion, you know. I doubt he chose that speciality because of his warm and tender heart.” He shot Harry a spiteful look. “Of course, maybe he just joined the Ministry to be close to you. It’s the most plausible explanation for why anyone ever does anything, really.”

“Don’t forget to smile at me, then,” Harry said sarcastically, and Malfoy bared his teeth at Harry in a sharp grin, before – apparently to his own surprise, as well as Harry’s – his smile slipped into something almost genuine.

“So, what horrors await us now?” Malfoy said as they got into the lift and Harry mashed buttons with enthusiasm, hoping no one else would get in before the doors shut. The ever-present crowd were following him, but they were hanging back shyly; Harry knew from long experience, though, that it would only take one brave person to break the deadlock before they were all on him in a flash.

“Back to Kingsley’s office, isn’t it?” Harry said as, to his relief, the lift door shut in the face of his fan-club. “I think there’s probably some more press conference stuff to do. If we’re lucky, they’ll feed us,” he said glumly.

“If we’re really lucky, my father will have forced his way in by now,” Malfoy said brightly. “Still, I presume Mother will have got an elf to pack me a bag, so maybe I’ll actually be able to sleep tonight.”

Harry frowned at that. He’d thought Malfoy looked particularly grey and unrested, but what he’d just said didn’t quite make sense. “Why, can’t you sleep without your teddy bear, or something?”

Malfoy looked annoyed with himself, as if he’d admitted to something he hadn’t intended. He forced his expression into something lighter. “I’m actually a vampire. I can’t sleep unless I’ve bathed in the blood of innocents first, and unfortunately you only have a shower.”

There was definitely something weird going on here, Harry thought, but decided he wouldn’t press it. Whatever foul problem there was, it would no doubt unveil itself in all its hideous glory later. “So, poor Dwaco can’t sleep without his teddy-weddy, then?” he said.

Malfoy snorted. “Yes. I just can’t nod off without Sir Thuban Etamin Malfoy by my side,” he said as the lift dinged and announced they were now at Level 1. “You understand me better than I understand myself. It’s a miracle, really, that I managed to sleep for six whole weeks without him,” he added with heavy emphasis.

Harry took the point, even though it had been so subtly made, and dropped the subject as they left the lift, even though it took everything he had in him not to take the piss out of the name of Malfoy’s bear. That, at least, had tripped off Malfoy’s tongue so easily that it had to be true, even if the rest of the story was an obvious crock of shit.

They’d reached the door to Kingsley’s office again. Harry was already sick of the sight of it, and now he had to worry whether more Malfoys lurked within it? It didn’t seem reasonable to him. Malfoy, by his side, seemed struck by a similar – albeit different – concern. “Ugh, I feel a mess,” he said, wrinkling his nose as he pushed his fingers through his hair and tried to neaten it up. “My hair looks worse than yours, and that’s saying something. I hope there’s time for my hairdresser to visit before the press shindig this afternoon.” He paused, frowning at something in Harry’s expression. “What?” he said, fingers stilling in his hair.

Harry realised, to his extreme horror, that he didn’t want Malfoy to cut his hair. He liked it the way it was. The length, the way it swept across Malfoy’s face, the untidiness . . . He liked it. It turned Malfoy, who was always neat, and put together, and slicked back to an almost insufferable degree, into something – someone – else. It was just hair. But . . .

“You . . .?” Malfoy started, and then stopped, removing his hands from his hair and chewing his lip. He looked supremely awkward.

Harry told himself firmly there was no possible way Malfoy could know what he was thinking, even as Malfoy’s expression shifted from awkward to knowing, and something in his sharp gaze told Harry he was going to take the piss out of him for this for the rest of his life.

Malfoy shook his head, hair falling in soft strands across his face. “Well, shall we?” he said, and Harry nodded eagerly, feeling like he’d rather face Malfoy’s horrible parents right now than spend another second in the hallway, liking Malfoy’s hair and having Malfoy smirk at him in a knowingly suspicious manner.

To Harry’s mixed relief, although a Malfoy lurked within, it was Narcissa, who Harry thought was the least terrible of the two. He could cope with Malfoy’s mother, if he had to. And he did have to, it seemed – all through an awkward lunch, where he tried to eat, and through a further meeting attended by Kingsley and Robards, to discuss the upcoming press conference in more detail. It was going to be a trial and a torment, Harry thought gloomily. He was so distracted by the dread of it, he barely flinched at all when Narcissa asked Malfoy if he’d like her to trim his hair for him, given there wasn’t time for a visit to their usual salon, and Malfoy, instead of nodding, just smirked and said that no, he was absolutely fine.

^^^^^^

Mrs Weasley came to see him right before the conference. Mostly, it seemed, to give him a hug, and sniffle at him, while giving Malfoy the coldest of cold shoulders. Luckily, by this point, Malfoy’s mother had gone home again, so Harry felt reasonably sure there wouldn’t be an international incident, although Mrs Weasley did give Malfoy a fairly poisonous glare when she thought he wasn’t looking. Mrs Weasley was followed, in short order, by Ron and Hermione, who had also brought hugs, although Ron’s came with more manly back slapping, and he glared openly at Malfoy, rather than attempting to hide it.

During this trial, Malfoy said nothing, which impressed Harry, despite himself; he just sat back and watched all this hugging go on with a faintly bored expression. After, though, when it was just the two of them again, and Harry collapsed in relief, he snorted and said, “A better use of your time would have been practising what you’re going to say when the world’s media ask you how much you love me, but each to their own.”

Harry blanched at this, which Malfoy didn’t seem to find amusing. “If you pull that face, they’ll suspect I’ve drugged you into it, by the way. This isn’t a game.”

“Yes, I know,” Harry said, trying not to sound tetchy in the face of Malfoy being right. He supposed it’d had to happen at some point: the moon turning blue, hell freezing over, Malfoy being right. All perfectly possible scenarios, albeit unlikely.

At this point, Kingsley re-entered the room after a perfunctory knock. “They’re all waiting for you in the Atrium. There wasn’t another informal space big enough to fit them all,” he added apologetically. “Ready?”

Harry would never, ever be ready. “Yes,” he said, and beside him, Malfoy let out a long, steadying breath and nodded. It was time.

^^^^^^

Harry had sometimes wondered how Lucius Malfoy had risen to the top, while patently being such a despicable, horrible person. Of course, once he’d been linked to Voldemort, he had the whole evil power thing on his side, but Harry knew, objectively, that there had to be more than that. Something he hadn’t been able to see.

Looking at Lucius Malfoy’s son, now, Harry thought he understood it a bit better, in a way that simultaneously impressed and appalled him. Because Malfoy was, no two ways about it, talking complete bullshit. But he was talking complete bullshit in such an emotional and entirely plausible manner that if Harry hadn’t known the truth of it himself, he would have fallen for it too. Well, possibly, he thought, trying to smile at the assembled press; he’d never smiled at them before and was finding it hard to summon up the willpower to do it now.

When had Malfoy learned to talk so smoothly, Harry wondered. Had he spent the past two years secretly taking debating lessons? Harry realised, uncomfortably, that he had no real idea what Malfoy had been doing. There’d been his trial, of course, which had taken up some of the time, but after that . . . he’d been holed up in Malfoy Manor, as far as Harry knew. It wasn’t that’d he’d had to stay there, exactly, Harry thought. It was just . . . the press had hounded him a lot. So he’d probably found it more comfortable to stay inside, doing whatever it was he did, than to go outside and be harassed.

Lucius Malfoy had pretty much stayed inside for the past two years as well, it dawned on Harry. Maybe he’d simply spent the time wisely, teaching his son and heir everything he knew. For some reason, this idea gave Harry the chills. Not as much as when he tried to pay attention to whatever Malfoy was saying, though, and found he was shyly – shyly! – announcing a party in a few days’ time to celebrate their marriage (“the ceremony has already taken place in private, you see,” Malfoy said coyly. “My new husband and I just couldn’t wait”), followed by a week-long intimate honeymoon (“though of course I can’t say where, or it would ruin the surprise!”).

All this made Harry’s head spin away somewhere mad and terrible, and by the time he could focus again, it was to find that a young female reporter, who seemed to consist mostly of eyes and hair, telling Malfoy how delicious his new chin-length hairstyle was, simply delicious, and Malfoy smiling sweetly and, after a sidelong glance at Harry, telling her that it was a little long for his tastes, but his husband liked it that way.

Harry found himself blushing, and once he’d started, he couldn’t stop. On the plus side, his sudden obvious embarrassment made it seem more plausible that he could barely get a word out when a few reporters plucked up the courage to aim their questions directly at him, rather than at Malfoy. But on the negative side, he was blushing because it was true, he did like Malfoy’s hair that way, and clearly Malfoy was never, ever going to allow him to forget it.

The conference must only have lasted for half an hour or so, but it felt like years and years to Harry. After he’d posed for a few awkward photos with Malfoy, trying to smile and look like he wanted to be there, he half-dragged Malfoy out of the Atrium, into the lift and back up to Kingsley’s office, fixed smile still on his face in case they were followed. Once the door was safely closed behind them, he collapsed into a chair and groaned, long and loud.

“I don’t know what you’re grumbling about,” Malfoy said, sinking down into a chair next to him and scrubbing a hand over his face. He looked awful all of a sudden, Harry thought: tired, and drawn, and worse than before, as if he’d used up what little energy he had left to perform for the press. “You were of less help out there than . . . than . . .”

“Sir Elphrigus Something Stupidus Malfoy?” Harry said, trying to remember the name of Malfoy’s alleged bear.

Malfoy laughed, without much energy. “Sir Thuban Etamin Malfoy, I think you mean.”

“Yes, him.”

“Well, to be fair,” Malfoy said, tipping his head back and closing his eyes, “I think the press would be writing a rather different story right now if I’d gone out there claiming to have married my teddy bear, rather than famous Harry Potter.”

“It’s famous Draco Malfoy now too,” Harry said, stung, “but . . . yeah.” He found he had more to add, though. “Don’t you think you overdid it, though? All that stuff about parties, and honeymoons, and . . .”

Malfoy cracked open one eye. “Hair?” he suggested wryly.

“Yes!” Harry said stubbornly, even though he could feel himself starting to go red again.

Malfoy opened his other eye too, just so he could roll them. “What, you thought the press wouldn’t be more than mildly interested in the Saviour of the World getting married to his sleeping beauty? We’re lucky we got off so lightly. Did you want to say your vows to me in public instead, hmm, and have the world breathlessly anticipating our wedding night?”

Harry had reached peak tomato face by now, and decided it would be best not to say anything to this, in case steam started leaking out of his ears.

Malfoy closed his eyes again, and reached out for Harry’s hand, as if it was entirely natural. The feeling of relief that coursed through Harry’s body at this simple touch was overwhelming. “Exactly,” Malfoy said, as if he hadn’t moved a muscle. “Now, all we need to do is make an appearance at a boring party and then hide somewhere for a bit. Hopefully after that Blaise will have sorted something out for us.”

Would Zabini have sorted something out for them? Harry didn’t have much faith that he’d do anything other than mock them, but before he could dwell on this too much, Kingsley returned to the room and squeezed him on the shoulder.

“Well done, both of you,” Kingsley said, sympathy thick in his voice. “That can’t have been easy, but it should hold them off for a while. We’ll hold the party here, of course. Just a small one, with a few specially invited members of the press. It doesn’t need to be elaborate to be convincing. Leave the details to me. Now, why don’t the pair of you go back to Harry’s and have a rest? Robards tells me he’s got Nicolas and Derek on rota for the foreseeable outside your house, Harry – our two Hit Wizards, Draco, if they haven’t introduced themselves to you yet – so don’t worry on that score. I’ll be in contact when we have the details for the next week or so pinned down.” He squeezed Harry’s shoulder again. “You can use my Floo.”

“Back to the land of no taps,” Malfoy murmured, eyes still closed, when Kingsley had pointed out his private store of Floo powder and left them to it, locking the door behind them.

“I have taps!” Harry protested. “Loads of them!”

Malfoy laughed, but a bit unwillingly, as if it was against his religion to laugh at a joke Harry had made. He opened his eyes and stretched, standing up before reaching over to the small bag sitting by Kingsley’s desk that his mother had left for him and picking it up. Harry had expected Malfoy to claim he couldn’t survive more than five minutes without the contents of his entire house, so the size of the bag seemed suspicious to him, but perhaps all Malfoy needed to be truly happy was a couple of vials of poison to drip in Harry’s eye when he least expected it, and those wouldn’t take up much space.

“What?” Malfoy asked, a challenge in his voice.

Harry decided that he wouldn’t put voice to his thoughts. It would make most sense, he thought, to focus on the most imminent dangers, rather than the ones to come. He eyed the Floo suspiciously. He’d never once managed a journey without knocking his elbow painfully on something. “Are we both going to fit?” he asked.

Malfoy stepped into the grate, tucking the bag close to his body and holding out a hand, as if Harry was an idiot for asking.

Harry wasn’t an idiot for asking. They had to squish together so tight that Harry could practically count Malfoy’s ribs, and it occurred to him that Malfoy wasn’t wearing any underwear. At least he wouldn’t need to count that if he came across it, he thought with some hysteria. There’d only be one, unless Malfoy was some kind of freak of nature.

Malfoy wrapped his arms even more tightly around Harry and rested his cheek against Harry’s. It was beyond intimate. It was beyond ridiculous. Harry wasn’t going to knock his elbow this time; he was going to knock his whole Harry. Still, the longer he dithered, the longer he had to stand in a tight embrace with Malfoy, feeling his whole body tremble with . . . something.

Harry dropped the pinch of Floo powder between his fingers into the air, hoping it went where it was supposed to, and shouted his home address as clearly as he could. To his absolute amazement, although he felt an uncomfortable scrape of brick wall against his clothes more than once as they bounced along the network, clutching their bodies together, Malfoy’s bag banging into Harry’s stomach and nearly winding him, after less than a minute they tumbled out into the fireplace in Harry’s living room, in one piece.

Well, in two pieces, Harry thought, feeling dizzy, but given how tightly he’d been clutching Malfoy, and Malfoy had been clutching back, perhaps one piece was more accurate, after all. It had only taken a minute to get home, maybe, but it took Harry much longer for his heart rate to calm down to something approaching normal, and whenever he looked at Malfoy, all he could think about was the feel of his body, pressed against his own, and his heart sped up again to an uncomfortable pace, entirely without his permission.

Chapter Text

To their mutual agreement, they didn’t bother with dinner; Harry had never felt less hungry. And after they’d sat there awkwardly for a while in Harry’s smallest living room, in silence, even though it was barely even nine o’clock, Malfoy stood up, to Harry’s relief, picked up his bag and said, “Well, good night then.”

Ah, the bag. Harry wondered, again, whether it contained three vials of poison – or four. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to Sir Thuban Whatchamacallit?” Harry asked, just to watch Malfoy twitch.

“Sir Thuban Etamin,” Malfoy said calmly, after he had, yes, twitched. “And no, you don’t deserve it. See you tomorrow.”

“Enjoy the taps!” Harry said to Malfoy’s retreating back; Malfoy’s retreating back rolled its eyes, and then vanished up the stairs.

Harry sat on the sofa for a while longer, staring at nothing and trying not to think about anything, in case he cracked and started – what? Crying? Screaming? He didn’t think he would, particularly. Mostly he was just conscious of a very strong sensation that it wasn’t fair. He’d sacrificed his childhood, and mostly he was fine with that, given everything that had happened, but was this really what he deserved? To be stuck in this limbo – not quite married, but not exactly not married either – and to someone who didn’t much like him, and who wouldn’t have chosen him as a potential partner if they were the last two people left on earth. Harry didn’t often feel sorry for himself – he didn’t see the point – but right now he couldn’t help it. It . . . it sucked, it really did.

Well, Harry decided, sick of himself, sitting here sulking wasn’t making him feel any better, and he doubted it would any time soon. So, even though it was early, he forced himself to stand up and go to bed. Hopefully, he thought, things would feel brighter in the morning.

^^^^^^

The wall clock didn’t bong midnight, but that was only because it was Harry’s clock and it had learned that if it wanted to remain a clock, rather than become shattered fragments of an ex-clock, it needed to remain silent as much as possible. Harry squinted over at it. The room was dark but not pitch black, the curtains wide and letting in shimmers of moonlight. “Time?” he said, through a yawn.

“Well past bedtime!” the clock replied in a whisper. “Shhhh.”

Harry considered throwing a shoe at it, but then remembered it was a present from Arthur Weasley and decided to let it go. Why was it, he thought with irritation, sitting up in bed and scrubbing at his eyes, that people kept giving him timepieces as presents? OK, so this particular clock was one Mr Weasley had come across in official work hours, terrifying a Muggle family who hadn’t expected their clock to start telling them off for eating chocolate too late at night, and he’d passed to Harry because it made him laugh, but even so! He was rarely ever late for anything. He was either on time, or . . . or he missed the meet-up entirely, he thought uncomfortably, because he’d been called away to work, or had remembered something work-related he really had to do, this minute, can’t go out for that drink after all, so sorry. He supposed that had been happening more and more, recently, particularly now he didn’t have Ginny to chivvy him along to all the awkward social events he didn’t want to go to.

Harry lay back down in bed again and stared at the ceiling. It wasn’t a very interesting ceiling, and the darkness in the room didn’t make it more so. Maybe, he thought vaguely, he should get a man in to spell something on it. Some stars might be nice. Except . . . without his glasses, he wouldn’t be able to see them properly. And then there was the fact that when he was in bed, he was usually asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. His job was tiring, and while he never really left his work behind, mentally speaking, it didn’t keep him up at night worrying, either. This was the first time he could remember that he’d lain down in bed, closed his eyes and . . . not slept a wink.

Harry sat back up again, irritated with himself. He’d never had a problem sleeping before, even when he’d had a slice of Voldemort in his head, and he didn’t see why he had to start now. Maybe a mug of hot . . . something would help him sleep, he thought blearily, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and shoving his feet into his slippers. Not coffee, for obvious reasons, and probably not tea either. Milk? No – there wasn’t any. A nice mug of hot . . . water, he concluded, rolling his eyes at himself as he padded down the stairs as quietly as he could, hoping he wouldn’t wake up his house guest. He really did need to get some food in, he thought. He was a grown man, with a job and a house of his own. It wasn’t beyond him to be domestic, even if most of the time he couldn’t be bothered. It was just him; what had been the point?

Downstairs was in darkness, and it was only when he got there that Harry realised he was buggered when it came to a hot mug of anything. Hot would require the kettle – and turning on the kettle would require . . .

Malfoy!” Harry said, nearly falling over his own feet when he stomped back up a flight of stairs – quietly – and into the living room, to throw himself in frustration on the sofa, and nearly sat down on top of the idiot. It wasn’t his fault, though! Malfoy was a dark lump in a dark room, and he shouldn’t have even been there in the first place, Harry thought with some heat. He should be in Harry’s spare room, tucked up in bed with his vials of poison, or his teddy bear, or whatever embarrassing thing his bag had contained.

In steadying himself, Harry came across warm skin, and he leaped away, uncertain what part of Malfoy he’d actually touched, but, given the way his day had been going, knowing it was bound to be an embarrassing bit. As he did so, the lights in the room flickered on, revealing . . . Malfoy in his pyjamas. They were different pyjamas, Harry realised, looking Malfoy up and down before he could stop himself. The hospital ones had been crisp, white cotton with a faint stripe, as if they’d been mass-bought from the Muggle 1940s. These were . . .

Malfoy almost looked normal, Harry thought, swallowing hard. He was in a short-sleeved dark-green T-shirt, loose and soft, with matching loose bottoms. He had his arms wrapped around his knees, feet bare and tucked up beneath him.

“Bit of an early start, even for you, isn’t it?” Malfoy asked. He sounded lifeless. He looked lifeless.

“I thought you were asleep,” Harry said redundantly.

Malfoy said nothing, obviously thinking this was too stupid a statement to be acknowledged.

“You look like shit,” Harry said.

“Thanks,” Malfoy said flatly.

Harry folded his arms, wondering what he was meant to do. It occurred to him that maybe Malfoy didn’t fancy falling asleep, given the whole ‘asleep for six weeks’ business, and he felt like an idiot for not realising it before. He considered, for half a second, whether he should tell Malfoy that, on the off-chance he didn’t wake up by himself, he, Harry, would heroically kiss him again to help out, but decided against it. If Malfoy thought the only way he’d wake up again was to get a snog from Harry, Harry thought gloomily, he’d never be able to fall asleep again. Still, he couldn’t just leave Malfoy to sit awake by himself, getting greyer and greyer, until he fell into a coma, could he? “Why can’t you sleep?” he asked, aware he sounded shirty, but not sure how else to approach this. Was he meant to offer to sing Malfoy a lullaby, or something?

Malfoy shot him a look of unvarnished dislike.

“I can’t sleep either!” Harry protested, and went to sit next to Malfoy on the sofa.

For a moment, Malfoy seemed reluctant to budge up, and Harry was about to give him a helpful shove – it was his sofa, and it was big enough for two, it wasn’t like he wanted to snuggle or anything – when he swung his legs down off the sofa, and shifted over to give Harry some space, resting his hands on his lap.

Harry didn’t sit down. He stared, for a moment feeling so sick that he could almost taste it at the back of his throat.

Malfoy saw where he was looking – of course he saw – and for a moment he, too, looked like he might be sick. But . . . he just sat there, silent and still, not making even the smallest attempt to conceal the faded, dirty stain of the Dark Mark on his bare left arm.

Harry had known that Malfoy had the Mark, of course he had. He’d even seen it, at a distance, during Malfoy’s trial. But . . . it came as a shock, regardless, to see the death’s head symbol here, in his own home. A place that was meant to be safe. He was safe, he told himself fiercely, glad he’d left his wand on the bedside table upstairs so he couldn’t humiliate himself now by trying to use it against Malfoy, the only person who could make his magic actually work. He didn’t want to use it against Malfoy, anyway. Malfoy, who, Harry suspected, had wanted the Mark more than anything, until he’d actually got it and realised the price Voldemort wanted him to pay for it.

The silence grew into something thick and textured, and Harry shook himself, trying to feel less like he’d been slapped in the face. It – it wasn’t as if Malfoy had expected Harry to come down right now, he reasoned. And if – if – if Malfoy wanted to sit about at night, displaying his Dark Mark to the dust mites and the empty darkness, then that was his business. Harry sat down next to Malfoy, deciding he’d ignore the whole issue entirely, unless Malfoy brought it up first. He really, really hoped Malfoy wouldn’t bring it up first.

“Teddy bear not do the trick?” Harry asked, not able to bring himself to look at Malfoy, but still trying to sound cheerful and unaffected.

Malfoy was breathing hard. He swallowed heavily. “No,” he said faintly, and then added, his voice uncertain, “thank you.”

What was Malfoy thanking him for, Harry thought, feeling slightly hysterical. No, best not inquire. It would only enrage him, no doubt. “Did you even try to sleep?” he asked, collapsing back into the squishy sofa and feeling a bit of a hypocrite.

“No,” Malfoy said, as if it was a really stupid question. Harry turned, at that, and Malfoy pulled a face at him and looked as if he wanted to say something, but . . . didn’t.

“Can I help?” Harry asked eventually, uncomfortably. “Is there . . . something you need?”

Malfoy continued to look at him, as if he was building up to something. Harry felt himself swallow hard, and Malfoy’s eyes dropped, quickly, to watch his Adam’s apple bob, before sliding away again.

“What was in the bag?” Harry asked, partly to break the tension, and partly because Malfoy’s continuing reticence was making him feel really peculiar.

Malfoy blinked at this, his eyebrows drawing together. “Clean underwear?” he offered. “Clothes? A hairbrush? Which I’d offer to you,” he added, “but I suspect it would do you no good. What did you think was in my bag?”

Harry squirmed. “Nothing, I just—”

“I’ll tell you what wasn’t in my bag,” Malfoy said, taking a deep, steadying breath. “Inexplicably, my mother failed to pack my personal store of Dreamless Sleep. I haven’t slept without it for months. Clearly, she thought your presence would prove so soporific that it would . . .” He trailed off, clearly running out of fake indignation, and winced. Then he raised his chin. “Never mind!” he said, with painful brightness. “I’ve caught up on my sleep in recent weeks. I’ll be fine.”

Harry frowned at him. “Do you really think it’s a good idea to take a potion to make you go to sleep?” he asked. “Haven’t you had enough of that recently?” he continued, in case Malfoy had missed his subtle point.

Thanks,” Malfoy said with hearty sarcasm. “I’d never have considered that side of things without your help. What would I do without you?”

“You look knackered,” Harry said, helpfully.

“I feel appalling,” Malfoy snapped, “but frankly I’d rather feel this way than—” He broke off, breathing heavily.

“Than what?” Harry asked gently.

Malfoy had closed his eyes, and his fists were clenched. Harry tried not to look at the Dark Mark. “I have these dreams,” Malfoy hissed, and shook his head impatiently, opening his eyes to glare at Harry.

“Oh,” Harry said. He knew what it was to have nightmares.

“I’m not . . . And certainly not here,” Malfoy said firmly. “Not in front of you.” His mouth screwed up, as if he hadn’t meant to be quite so honest. As if the lateness, and the tiredness, and the situation, had all combined to undo him. To push him into unwanted honesty.

“We aren’t sleeping in the same room though,” Harry pointed out reasonably, trying to inject a level of normality into the conversation. Malfoy really did look wretched, and Harry wasn’t enjoying it much.

“I scream a lot,” Malfoy said flatly, looking at Harry’s face but at the same time not really looking.

“Oh,” Harry said again.

“Harry,” Malfoy said, again flatly. “Do you have some Dreamless Sleep I can take.”

Harry did have a dose of it tucked in his sock drawer, for emergencies. “Yes, but . . .”

“Oh, never mind,” Malfoy said, and his voice sounded grey, completely drained. “I shouldn’t have asked.”

It would . . . probably be OK if Malfoy took it, wouldn’t it? Harry dithered, torn between sympathy and anxiety. It did seem a really fucking bad idea to give someone recently recovered from a sleeping curse a sleeping potion. But on the other hand, Malfoy had clearly already been awake for, what, thirty-six hours straight, and he looked like he was ready to die. It would . . . be all right, if Harry watched to make sure there weren’t any side effects, wouldn’t it? If Malfoy started . . . frothing at the mouth, or anything, then Harry could just pick him up and Apparate him to St Mungo’s.

“I’ll give it to you, if you sleep in my bed,” Harry said, before he changed his mind, and so – of course – it all came out wrong.

“Oh really,” Malfoy said, in a tone that made Harry want to wither away and die. “In your bed, you say?”

“Only so I can check the bloody stuff isn’t killing you!” Harry protested.

Malfoy’s upper lip curled, but it was evidently a token gesture, because he stood up – the movement almost looked painful – and said, “Yes, all right. Under protest,” although he didn’t seem to be protesting very much, if at all.

It was supremely awkward walking back up the stairs together, and it was even more awkward when they reached the doorway to Harry’s bedroom, and Malfoy hesitated, just for a moment, before straightening his shoulders and walking through, back very stiff. It wasn’t that much of a trial, Harry thought with some heat. At least – not for Malfoy. He would be asleep, wouldn’t he? While Harry, on the other hand, would be in bed with someone who might start foaming at the mouth and need instant hospitalisation at any moment.

Bolstered by this irritating thought, Harry gave Malfoy a little shove as he passed by him to walk to his chest of drawers, which seemed to put some heart into Malfoy too. “Please don’t turn on the lights,” Malfoy said piteously as he climbed into Harry’s bed and slipped his legs under the covers. “I don’t want to see your Gryffindor-themed bedsheets in all their foul glory.”

Harry felt cross for a moment, and then realised that Malfoy knew what his bedsheets looked like. He’d been in the room only the day before. They were navy blue, and boring. “I have my Cannons sheets on today,” he said, yanking the drawer open and rooting through the contents until his fingers hit the small vial at the back of it. “Go, go, Cannons!” he said, shoving the drawer shut. “I like the orange colour. It’s very stylish, don’t you think? Let’s wear matching Cannons T-shirts next time we leave the house. We’ll look great on the front cover of the Prophet.”

He got into bed beside Malfoy, trying not to think too hard about the fact he was getting into bed beside Malfoy, and gave him another shove. “That’s my side,” he said. “Move over.”

Malfoy moved.

Harry felt strangely reluctant to pass over the vial, but he did so anyway, and then Malfoy seemed strangely reluctant to take it, holding it in his hand and peering at it in the gloom for a long moment. But just when Harry wondered if he was going to give it back, Malfoy thumbed off the stopper and tipped the vial to his mouth, draining it down.

“Thanks,” Malfoy mumbled, already sounding half-asleep, and Harry had to grab the vial out of his hand before it slipped from his fingers.

Malfoy fell back against Harry’s pillows as if someone had knocked all the wind out of him, and for a moment his face – barely visible in the gloom – creased into anxiety, even as his eyelids started to flutter shut. “Dream about the Cannons’ mighty victory,” Harry said, partly because he didn’t want Malfoy in his bed, looking like that, and partly to be annoying. Would dreaming about the Cannons’ mighty victory count as a nightmare to Malfoy? It would be better than . . . well, whatever it was that Malfoy usually dreamed about, at any rate.

“A dream about the impossible, then,” Malfoy murmured, his face relaxing into good-humoured spite, and his eyelids drifted shut.

“You know, I don’t even support the Cannons,” Harry said to Malfoy, who didn’t answer because he was asleep. “Ron does, so I thought I’d go along with him. Then I supported the Harpies, because that’s Ginny’s team, but who am I supposed to cheer for now? I mean, maybe she doesn’t want me to support her team any more,” he said gloomily. “Maybe it’s weird if I do. But it seems a bit stupid to not cheer for her now, just because she’s not my girlfriend any more.” Again, Malfoy didn’t reply, because he was asleep.

“Maybe I don’t want to support any Quidditch team if I’m not playing for it myself,” Harry continued, feeling the gloom spread a bit more deeply inside him. “And you know . . .” Harry stared at Malfoy, and then reached over to poke him in the cheek. “You are asleep, aren’t you?” he asked, overcome by paranoia. Malfoy didn’t even twitch, though. The drugged sleep was kind of creepy. “I don’t think I would have been half so obsessed with winning the Quidditch Cup at school, if you hadn’t been the Slytherin seeker,” Harry found himself saying. “We didn’t exactly bring out the best in each other, did we?”

Harry wondered what he was doing, telling Malfoy things like that. It wasn’t even as if Malfoy could hear him. Or could he? Harry gave Malfoy’s cheek another quick poke, but again, he didn’t move a muscle. He just lay there, still as stone, barely even breathing. Harry wondered why it bothered him so much. It wasn’t as if he wanted Malfoy tossing and turning beside him – it was weird and awkward enough, Malfoy being in his bed, as it was. At least this way there was no risk of any inadvertent touching.

Harry lay down carefully, as far away from Malfoy as he could get without falling off the bed. It wasn’t nearly far enough, in his opinion. One roll and he’d be snuggled up to him. He had, it seemed, sacrificed his own comfort and peace of mind to give Malfoy a good night’s sleep. And he hadn’t even had his mug of hot . . . his mug of hot! Harry briefly considered reaching over and touching Malfoy’s arm, so he could Accio a nice hot mug of . . . something from the kitchen at a distance – he could probably manage it without burning the house down – but concluded he’d feel like a creep, using Malfoy like that while he was sleeping. It dawned on Harry that Malfoy had put rather a large amount of trust in him. Once you’d taken Dreamless, even a dragon gate-crashing your bedroom and suggesting you might like to run for your life was unlikely to wake you up.

Harry stared at the ceiling morosely and considered the fact that Malfoy had appeared to automatically trust him, with barely a second thought. Good old dependable Harry Potter, he told the ceiling silently. You can rely on him to do the right thing, regardless of his personal feelings on the matter. It was a good thing to be like that, though, wasn’t it? To put everyone else first, even at your own expense? As he stared blankly at the ceiling, though, for some reason he couldn’t quite decide.

One thing was for sure though, he decided after a completely sleepless night turned into a blinding and revolting morning, and he heaved himself out of bed and went to wash his face: he wasn’t ever doing that again. When he returned to the bedroom, Malfoy had finished dragging himself out of the Dreamless depths – Harry hadn’t used the potion much, but waking up from it was always a drawn-out and odd process, as if you’d accidentally fallen into a tangle of sheets and didn’t know which way was up. He blinked at Harry, an odd, unnerved expression on his face for a moment, before he sat up and stretched widely. His T-shirt was sliding off his shoulder, and his hair was a glorious tousled mess.

Harry wished, for an aching, awful moment, that he couldn’t see Malfoy’s Dark Mark, and then felt wrong and weird, because why would it matter to him whether Malfoy was Marked or not?

“We’re not doing that again,” Harry said, a bit too loudly.

Malfoy stilled, and gave Harry a strange look, his skin flushing pink.

Harry rushed to clear up any potential misunderstanding here. He didn’t want Malfoy thinking he was bothered by sharing a bed with him – he was, a bit, but that wasn’t the sodding point. “It was like sleeping next to a corpse,” he said, crossing his arms to help conceal his embarrassment.

For some reason, this seemed to relax Malfoy. “Poor you,” he said without sympathy. “How you must have suffered.”

Harry felt like he had suffered, and really quite a lot, what with the worry over corpse-Malfoy, and the not sleeping, and, well, everything fucking else, so he didn’t appreciate this very much. “I mean it!” he said severely. “No more Dreamless Sleep.”

Malfoy tilted his head and gave him a look that indicated that he thought Harry was an easily manipulated pushover and he looked forward to pretending to be a corpse in his bed in about twelve hours’ time. “Mmm,” he said, as if to punctuate this infuriating impression with a full stop, “any chance of a glass of water?”

“No,” Harry said crossly, because who was he, Malfoy’s slave? “I don’t have any taps.”

He turned away, to go downstairs and get Malfoy a glass of water, because apparently he hated himself, but before he did so he caught a glimpse of Malfoy’s face creasing into a genuine smile as he reached up to push a hand through his veil of hair. Harry’s mouth went dry, and even though he told himself it was just because it was morning, and he was thirsty, he didn’t find himself convincing. The thought of the night ahead – of Malfoy, possibly in his bed, but definitely without any Dreamless Sleep – unnerved him more than anything he could remember.

Chapter Text

The day passed surprisingly quickly. Almost, Harry thought gloomily, as if it knew he didn’t want it to.

It wasn’t as if the day had been a good one, in – well, in any way at all, really, Harry thought as he hid in the bathroom that evening, sitting on top of the closed loo seat and wishing he was dead. They’d been at the Ministry again. Harry spent practically every day at the Ministry as a matter of course, given that he worked there, but now the building – and Kingsley’s office, in particular – had taken on a new dread. It was now a place where, at any moment, Narcissa Malfoy might pop up and glare at him, or one of his colleagues might seek him out to be incredibly sympathetic at him in a way that made him almost want to cry, or – like today – a tailor might come and try to make small-talk at him about his recent wedding (his wedding!) while he measured his inside leg.

Harry now had an urgent order in for a set of white silk, highly embroidered dress robes, which the tailor had guaranteed would match his husband’s precisely. He hoped they’d be long enough to conceal his steel-toe-capped boots, which he would need to kick his husband with, whenever he got the chance. He’d need to kick Ron, too, when Ron saw him in matching white silk, highly embroidered dress robes, or there was a good chance his best mate would never be able to stop laughing.

The party in celebration of their alleged wedding would be on Friday, Harry had learned. Today was Wednesday. Harry felt a bit like he was riding a dragon – all he could do was cling on desperately and hope he didn’t fall off to pierce himself on the rocks below, because he was buggered if he could steer the bloody thing. Earlier that day, Robards had popped in – some time between the inside-leg measuring and some interminable, pointless discussion about floral arrangements – to tell Harry, his tone about as cheerful as if he’d been a Healer telling him he had an hour to live – that he’d already called in Pansy Parkinson, to interrogate her, but she hadn’t needed much interrogation. She’d burst into tears, confirmed everything Malfoy had said, and given up the name of the Knockturn Alley dealer who’d supplied the potion to her. Robards had visited the dealer, he’d added with even deeper gloom, as if he was now downgrading the minutes till death to five rather than a full sixty, and discovered that the patented ‘Sleeping Beauty’ potion was exactly they’d thought it be – a sleeping draught with a complicated antidote, mixed (mixed!) with the potion used in pure-blood wedding ceremonies. All Pansy’d had to do was drop in one of Harry’s hairs – Merlin knew how she’d got hold of one, but it wasn’t like he kept the hairbrush on his desk at work under lock and key – and the potion was primed and ready to go. Had it worked? the dealer had inquired with a cackle, Robards reported, rubbing salt into the death wound.

He’d Obliviated the scumbag, Robards had gone on to say, which wouldn’t help much with his conviction – it would be hard for the Wizengamot to pronounce much of a sentence on a man who couldn’t even remember what crime he’d committed. As for Pansy, Robards had added, he was keeping her on ice for now. The threat of public trial and embarrassment should be enough to keep her mouth shut about Harry and Malfoy’s real relationship for the foreseeable.

Harry wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved that, at least, there were no nasty surprises lurking within the spell, or even more hacked off with life, that he’d got caught up in such a pedestrian, annoying revenge plot. It was so bad a plot, he thought tetchily, it was almost worthy of Malfoy himself. He hadn’t said that to Malfoy, of course. But he had expressed the view that maybe, instead of preparing for a party, they could be reading up on the bonding spell, to see what exactly it was they were dealing with? Malfoy had laughed at that – although it was a sneering sort of laugh. “We could just ask my parents,” he’d said, as if that was in any way reasonable! “They were traditionally bonded, of course, when they were married. Shall I call Father in to talk to you, man to man?”

Harry had declined this kind offer. Still, if he’d been pressed, he wouldn’t have said that that was the worst part of the day – though it had been one of the highlights. No, the worst part had been near the start, when the door to Kingsley’s office had crashed open, and a very petite and pretty witch in a flowing robe embroidered with flowers and unicorns, all blonde curls and with enormous blue eyes, had run over to Malfoy and thrown her arms around him.

To Harry’s discomfort, Malfoy had not only allowed this, but had hugged her back, tucking his head into her shoulder – although he’d had to lean down quite considerably to manage it – and patting her soothingly on the head. And then, just when Harry was trying to smile, because this was clearly a friend of Malfoy’s and he should probably be polite, Malfoy had, instead of introducing Harry to the living doll, turned his back on Harry and said, “Come on, let’s go and have a chat somewhere a bit more private,” and left the room with her, despite the fact that it was fucking stupid to leave Harry’s side when they were out and about, given their situation.

Narcissa Malfoy had entered the room shortly after, while Harry was still gaping at the door, and said – so coldly that Harry was surprised he hadn’t frozen solid, like a half-blood ice lolly – “Astoria Greengrass is such a nice girl, don’t you think.”

Harry thought that if she was Narcissa Malfoy’s choice top pick for Malfoy’s wife, it wasn’t a great recommendation for her sparkling personality, in his book. But he was horribly aware that Astoria could have been the nicest girl in the entire universe, and he would have hated her anyway at that moment, struck, as he was, by a sensation of jealousy so sharp, and so unwelcome, that he felt physically sick with it.

Now, cowering in his bathroom, Harry still didn’t feel much better about the whole business. It . . . it was good that Malfoy wanted to marry this Astoria woman, he told the tiled floor. It was cold; the underfloor heating was, of course, run on magic. If he wanted to marry her, then he’d be more invested in reversing the bonding spell, and as soon as possible. OK, so Pansy had seen to it that she’d been gently humiliated in the press, but he had no doubt Malfoy could smooth-talk his way into convincing the press that his relationship with Harry had all been a charade to protect a beautiful lady’s reputation, and wedding bells would soon chime out for the two of them. It wasn’t like Harry didn’t want Malfoy to be happy, he told the floor sternly. Malfoy could go off and be happy, and Harry could go off and be Head Auror, and . . . and . . . and that would make him happy, he thought, trying to convince himself. A life lived in the service of others. What else would make his parents more proud of him?

Harry rubbed his face with determinedly-not-trembling hands. He didn’t know what would make his parents proud of him, because they were dead, and gone, and Harry had had a long time to get over it.

When Harry finally managed to pluck up the courage to leave his own bathroom – it was ridiculous, but there you go – it was to find Malfoy downstairs in the kitchen, surrounded by wicker baskets overflowing with food. He was pulling things out of them methodically and seemed to be shoving them in whatever spaces he could find. The fridge door was wide open, as were all the cupboard doors.

“I don’t know where you put things,” Malfoy said without turning round, “but I’m presuming that you don’t know where you put things either, so I’m sure you can cope.”

“Um,” Harry said.

Malfoy ignored this pearl of wisdom. “Mother sent this all over. No need to thank her. I think she worried I’d starve to death. Don’t worry,” he interrupted, although Harry hadn’t said anything, just thought it, “I didn’t tell her your address. She sent it to your office, one of the brawny idiots who lurk outside your house tells me, and they got it owled over here in batches. He watched,” Malfoy continued, sounding discontent, “as I heaved every last basket inside myself. I expect he was too busy guarding me from absolutely nothing to lift a finger himself.”

Malfoy talked a lot sometimes, Harry was starting to notice. It was as if sometimes he felt he needed to fill the silence, and would say anything to carry out that aim. He wondered if Malfoy had had as bad a day as he had. He supposed . . . if Malfoy wanted to marry Astoria, then he had it worse than Harry himself, who had no one he wanted to marry at all. This unhelpful thought made him feel even worse than he had to start with.

“I could have organised some food myself,” Harry said, when there was a short gap and he could get a word in. “You didn’t have to complain to your mother about me.”

Malfoy slammed the fridge door shut, as if he’d been insulted. “The correct phrase is thank you,” he said, back to Harry, and then walked over to the cupboard where Harry kept his glasses, pulling out two and holding them up to the light, as if he expected them to be grimy.

“They’re clean,” Harry snapped.

“Do you want some Firewhisky or not,” Malfoy snapped back.

Harry thought it would be a really, really bad idea for him to drink right now, given he was so tired he was almost hallucinating, he hadn’t had any dinner, and he felt jealous over Malfoy, which meant he’d clearly suffered some sort of brain injury. “Yes, please,” he said.

Malfoy reached into another cupboard – one that sometimes Harry kept a loaf of bread in, when he remembered to buy one, and which was now clearly a well-stocked liquor cabinet – and pulled out a large bottle of Firewhisky. It was a brand Harry never bought, because he was on an Auror’s pay scale, which was surprisingly meagre, and just because you owned a bank vault full of gold, it didn’t mean you could spend any of it without feeling guilty.

Malfoy poured out two extremely large measures of Firewhisky, diluting them with precisely nothing, and passed one over to Harry without meeting his eye. “Chin chin,” Malfoy said, like an idiot, and drank the whole glass in almost one go, although this demonstration of smooth metropolitanism lost its panache a bit when he choked on the last mouthful and nearly spat it out again down his chin.

Harry took a large mouthful of his own drink, the liquid burning down his throat in a way that was more pleasant than not, and instantly felt light-headed. He didn’t have much of a head for alcohol, mostly because he never really drank. He occasionally had a pint down the pub with Ron and the others, but mostly he didn’t. It wasn’t that he didn’t like a drink. It was more that if he got drunk, he couldn’t be called into work in an emergency. It was safest all round if he just acted like he was constantly on call, because – in a sense – he always was.

“Do you drink often?” Harry asked. It was something to say.

Malfoy poured himself out another large measure and picked up both the bottle and the glass, as if he was only just getting started. “No,” he said, still without meeting Harry’s eye, and took himself and the booze out of the kitchen and, Harry presumed, off into the living room. Unless he was taking it to bed with him, Harry thought, and then wished he hadn’t. Who knew where Malfoy was planning on sleeping tonight, if he was planning on sleeping at all.

To Harry’s relief, when he peered into the living room some time later – he’d paused to finish packing away what seemed to be enough food for a household of fifteen for a year – it was to find Malfoy on the sofa, the bottle on the floor by his feet and the glass – nearly empty again – in his hand. Malfoy drained the dregs, then stood up again to shuck his formal robes off, revealing neat formal trousers and a thin white T-shirt, before toeing off first his shoes and then his socks. Malfoy eyed the pile of discarded clothes with annoyance. “This is the point where I really miss having a house-elf,” he said, and pushed the pile away with a foot, before reaching back down to the bottle.

“Want a glass of water?” Harry asked. Malfoy appeared to have already downed over a quarter of the bottle in less than fifteen minutes, and Harry felt a premonition of oncoming unpleasantness.

Malfoy didn’t take this well. In reply, he poured himself another large measure and took several large gulps. “You’re not much fun,” he said, and raised an eyebrow at Harry’s almost-untouched glass.

Harry didn’t think this was a very good insult, but he felt insulted anyway. “Whatever you say, Malfoy.”

Malfoy’s eyes flashed, and he almost looked . . . hurt? “Whatever you say, Malfoy,” he mimicked, in a voice that sounded nothing like Harry’s. “Merlin, you’re so . . . Do you dislike me that much that you can’t call me by my actual name?” he said, the words coming out in a rush. He flushed heavily, and took another gulp of his drink.

“We’re – we’re not exactly friends,” Harry said.

“No,” Malfoy agreed readily. “You’ve always made that entirely clear.”

Malfoy was drunk, Harry thought. There was no way he would have said that if he wasn’t drunk.

Malfoy drained his glass and stood up. He was swaying a bit. “I suppose I’ll go and have an inadequate wash and go to bed,” he said, as if he hated everything and everyone. “If you’re feeling kind and noble, you’ll let me have another dose of your Dreamless.”

“I – don’t have any left,” Harry said, feeling his stomach drop. He’d known this was coming, that Malfoy hadn’t believed him about the Dreamless Sleep, but even so, it still wasn’t great to have to confront it.

Malfoy’s expression was suffused with panic for a brief, horrible moment, before he pulled himself together. “Of course you don’t,” he said, bitterness seeping through every word. “Stupid me.” And he left the room, also leaving, Harry noted, his pile of clothes, and the scattered whisky glass and bottle.

Harry tidied the glasses away, for want of any better ideas. He wondered, opening one of the bulging cupboards again and staring inside it, whose idea the food delivery had been – Narcissa, as Malfoy had claimed, or Malfoy himself. It seemed a bit of a stretch that cold, unpleasant Narcissa would have chosen to provide quite so many different types of alcohol for Harry’s consumption without at least having her arm twisted.

When he’d shut the cupboard door again, Harry leaned against the nearest work surface and wondered what the fuck was wrong with him, followed by what the fuck was wrong with Malfoy. Malfoy seemed to be having a nervous breakdown about the fact that Harry wouldn’t call him Draco, and Harry didn’t have a fucking clue how to deal with that – or how it made him feel. He . . . Merlin. Harry decided he’d stress about that later. He had plenty of other things to stress about right now, after all – like . . . like the fact that Malfoy was too scared to go to sleep.

It was the first time Harry had thought about it that way, and he wished he hadn’t. He didn’t want to feel sorry for Malfoy. Malfoy didn’t feel sorry for him, did he? Harry had just as much right to be scared of going to sleep as Malfoy did, and anyway, it was stupid to be afraid of your dreams. They were only dreams, after all. It was life itself that was something to be afraid of.

Harry stomped up the stairs and went into the guest bedroom, ready to tell Malfoy this. Malfoy, however, wasn’t there. Harry felt his heart sink. Malfoy wasn’t in the bathroom either, so Harry used it briefly, enjoying the taps, because they worked fine, and giving his teeth a thorough brush. He reached into the cupboard next to the shower and fetched a fresh T-shirt and pair of joggers to sleep in, pulling them on and shoving his discarded uniform in the laundry basket. When he’d finished, he couldn’t think of a reason to put off going to his bedroom any longer, so he took a very deep breath and went in, pushing the door shut behind him on the rest of the house. All the lights were still on, which was annoying, but unless he went and touched Malfoy he couldn’t do anything about it.

Right now, Harry really, really didn’t want to touch Malfoy.

Malfoy was lying down in Harry’s bed, his hair fanned out across the pillow, and he was looking at Harry. It was a very meaningful look. It was just a shame that Harry didn’t have a fucking clue what meaning it was intended to convey.

“What?” Harry asked self-consciously, when he’d had enough of being looked at like a creature in a zoo.

“Nothing,” Malfoy said sweetly. “Why don’t you come to bed, husband,” he continued, to Harry’s mounting horror, and patted the pillow beside him.

Harry drew the curtains, as a stalling tactic, but as the room was the only one in the house that was currently unlit, he found that this had the unhelpful side effect of suddenly blinding him, and when he walked in what he thought was the vague direction of the bed, he almost fell over it.

“Ow!” he said, reaching down to rub at his injured leg.

Malfoy laughed. It was the first time he’d heard Malfoy laugh that day, Harry thought. It was a shame it was at his pain.

“Thanks for the sympathy,” Harry grumbled, and sat on the edge of the bed, still rubbing at his leg. He’d have a whopper of a bruise, he reckoned.

“You’re welcome,” Malfoy said sweetly. “Thanks for the Dreamless Sleep.”

Harry stopped rubbing. “That’s not fair!” he protested. “You know I would, if I could.”

“Would you?” Malfoy asked, as if it was a question of no importance.

Harry considered this. “No, I wouldn’t,” he said, and ignored Malfoy’s hiss of triumph. It was annoying. “For your own good though,” he added, and regretted it. He sounded like a smug wanker.

“For my own—” Malfoy repeated, his tone incredulous. And then: “You absolute arsehole. Have you any idea what it’s like to spend hours wishing you could get to sleep, and then, when you finally do get to sleep, to spend what feels like years dreaming about V-V-Voldemort, and waking yourself up again with a sore throat from yelling?”

Malfoy clearly hadn’t finished, but Harry interrupted anyway. “Oh no, not me,” he said fiercely. “I mean, it’s not like I spent years with a piece of Voldemort’s soul in my head now, was it, giving me visions of the people he murdered, or anything.”

Malfoy lunged at him in the darkness, and for a moment Harry had the urge to strangle him. What was Malfoy doing? Oh. He seemed to be putting a hand over Harry’s mouth, to shut him up. Harry considered biting him, but after a brief moment Malfoy seemed to think better of the whole business and pulled away again.

“Truce?” Malfoy said faintly.

Harry climbed into bed beside Malfoy and pulled his glasses off, placing them carefully on the bedside table. He wondered where his wand was. Had he left it in the bathroom? He reached over carefully to where Malfoy was, a dark lump beside him, and carefully slid his hand along Malfoy’s arm until he found skin rather than fabric. “Accio wand,” he said, holding out his other hand and catching it when the wood butted up against him. He moved away from Malfoy, leaning over to bung the wand on the table next to his glasses.

“Truce,” Harry said, lying back down again and feeling so tired he wanted to sleep forever. Except, he wasn’t sure he could sleep right now. Not now he had thoughts of Voldemort roiling around in his mind, on top of Malfoy lying in bed beside him. What was he going to do about Malfoy? Just go to sleep, when he could manage it, and leave him to lie there? That didn’t seem right, somehow. But what else could he do?

“Have you tried counting sheep?” Harry mumbled, turning on his side towards the dark lump that was Malfoy next to him.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Don’t wizards count sheep?” Harry asked, stifling a yawn. “It’s a classic way of getting to sleep, for Muggles. You imagine sheep, and you count them.”

“I . . . see,” Malfoy said, sounding like he didn’t see at all. “And has that ever worked?”

Harry had tried it once, and if anything it had kept him awake longer, stressing out that he kept losing count. “Possibly?” he said, unable to keep the note of doubt out of his voice.

“I’ll bear it in mind,” Malfoy said, as if Harry was an idiot.

“I dunno, I’m only trying to help. There’s always, um . . .” Harry wracked his brains and could only think of terrible tips he’d read in Aunt Petunia’s dreadful weekly women’s magazines. “Putting lavender on your pillow. Drinking hot milk. Listening to, uh, whale music. What’s worked in the past?” Harry said, a little less soothingly than before, hoping he wasn’t interrogated about the whale music. Was it music made by whales, or for whales? He couldn’t remember.

“Imagining smiting my enemies,” Malfoy said snidely. “Thinking about beating you at Quidditch. Having a long, leisurely wank.”

Harry felt the tips of his ears suddenly catch on fire. “Um, what,” he said.

“While thinking about you, of course,” Malfoy continued, reaching peak snide.

“You’re drunk,” Harry said, feeling uncomfortable, and tired, and annoyed, and unable to think properly over the pounding of his heart in his ears. “You mean Astoria.”

Malfoy was silent for a moment. “Astoria?” he repeated, a little oddly.

“Yes!” Harry said hotly. “The woman you want to marry, remember?”

“The woman I want to marry,” Malfoy repeated slowly, and then he laughed, very softly. He laughed. He sounded extremely amused, all of a sudden, and it did Harry’s insides no good.

“What a wonderful idea, Potter,” Malfoy said, making Harry wince. “I’ll have a wank, thinking about Astoria, and that will send me right off to sleep.”

“Um,” Harry said, hoping to Merlin that Malfoy was taking the piss right now. He was taking the piss, wasn’t he?

“It was your idea,” Malfoy said. Silence hung between them for a moment, so thick and meaningful it was suffocating. “But if you don’t want me to, then I won’t,” Malfoy said. There was a challenge in his voice.

Harry had never been able to say no to a challenge from Draco Malfoy, and he wasn’t going to start now.

He should fucking start now, he thought, even as he opened his mouth and the words, “Go ahead, Malfoy. I should have known you were the sort to enjoy an audience,” came out.

“Can you not speak, then, please,” Malfoy snapped back. “Only, it’s going to be hard for me to pretend you’re the woman I want to marry if you keep sounding like Harry bloody Potter.”

“Got stage fright?” Harry said unsympathetically, not sure whether he was goading Malfoy into it or out of it any more, but unwilling to stop, in case he had to think about anything. His whole face – his head – was so hot that was worried he might actually set his pillowcase on fire.

No,” Malfoy said. “Don’t be stupid.”

“Well, go on then,” Harry taunted.

“Fine!” Malfoy said, his voice ringing with . . . something. Malfoy moved a bit, the bed creaking, and the sheets rustled. He – he wasn’t actually going to do it, was he? Harry thought, a loud ringing in his ears.

The bed started to shake, very gently, and Harry could hear . . .

Harry tried not to hear.

Harry couldn’t help but hear. The bedclothes, or maybe it was Malfoy’s pyjamas, were rustling as Malfoy did . . . something. He might not be actually wanking, Harry thought, holding his breath and swallowing hard as saliva suddenly pooled in his mouth. He might just be pretending. Harry was hardly going to throw back the covers, grab Malfoy to turn on the lights and check, was he?

But – Harry swallowed again – Malfoy was doing something, all right. He was moving in a rhythmic manner, the bed shaking with every . . . stroke. Harry closed his eyes so as not to be able to see Malfoy at all, and found to his dismay that he could see him all the better in his imagination, Malfoy’s wrist jerking under his green pyjama bottoms, pale eyes taunting as he stared at Harry.

Harry screwed his eyes even tighter shut, as if that would help, unable to move a muscle and finding it very hard to breathe as a result. If he pretended to have fallen asleep, maybe that would help. He could pretend to be asleep, and Malfoy would leave off pretending he was wanking in Harry’s bed, and . . .

Malfoy audibly swallowed, and let out a ragged puff of air, before falling silent again, although it was a strained silence, as if he was trying to hold his breath. And the quieter it was, the more Harry’s ears strained to pick up on the tell-tale sounds of what Malfoy was doing: the creak of the bedsprings, the rustle of fabric. Malfoy was definitely trying to hold his breath, and it wasn’t working. Every time he absolutely had to give in and inhale, he made a shaky gasp that was playing havoc with Harry’s imagination.

Harry lay there, listening to the sounds of Malfoy wanking, and felt a bit like he was going to die. Or explode. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He couldn’t move, didn’t want to move, and at the same time . . . His blood was pounding, his body aching, as heat and pressure built in his groin. Every beat of his heart sent a pulse throbbing through his own hardening cock. He shifted minutely, he couldn’t help it, his eyes snapping open, and his cockhead dragged against the rough fabric of his joggers, sending shivers through him.

He didn’t know what he wanted to do, his brain burning: escape to the bathroom, grind against the mattress, take himself in hand, or reach out to Malfoy and . . .

Malfoy made a jerky movement and let out a low, sobbing breath, the shaking of the bed increasing in speed. If he was acting, he deserved an award.

“Um,” Harry heard himself saying, to his own horror.

“W-w-what,” Malfoy managed, both breathless and truculent.

Harry’s eyes had, alas, adjusted to the dark, and he found he could see Malfoy’s face more clearly now. He was lying on his back, his eyes fluttering open and closed, staring up at the ceiling as he . . .

Harry swallowed hard, the noise far too audible in the quiet of the room, and Malfoy’s mouth fell open, before he pressed his lips tight together.

Was Malfoy thinking about Astoria right now? Harry felt an annoying stab in his gut as his erection throbbed and throbbed. If Malfoy was thinking about Astoria, what would wind him up most right now, Harry wondered. He also wondered if he was quite in his right mind. He – he couldn’t help it though! “Draco,” he started, meaning to be a bit of a dick, “I hope you’re—”

Malfoy made a noise that seemed to stick in Harry’s own throat, and he broke off, completely forgetting what it was he was going to say. “Y-yes?” Malfoy managed, and he – he – he turned his head in Harry’s direction. Harry hadn’t quite realised that, by staring at Malfoy so openly, he ran the risk of Malfoy knowing he’d been staring.

Malfoy’s eyes were very wide, almost desperate. His mouth fell open, and the bed shook even more, bouncing in time to the quick, firm movements of his wrist. “Ungggggh,” Malfoy said, eyes still locked on Harry’s face, on his mouth, and then stilled, spasmed, and stilled again, the movements of his wrist slowing and finally stopping. Even when he’d stopped, though, his body kept jerking for a while after, his breathing harsh and heavy.

Harry wasn’t sure what the correct protocol was for situations like this: hard and aching, pinned in place by Malfoy’s pale, unembarrassed stare. He wet his lips nervously, and Malfoy seemed to come back to himself a fraction, lowering his eyelids and then turning his whole head to stare at the ceiling.

After about ten heavy seconds – Harry was counting them, under his breath, trying not to twitch – Malfoy let out a faint snort. “God – ugh – it’s like being underage all over again,” he said cryptically, his voice Firewhisky-slurred, and then sat up, shoving the covers aside and wobbling away in the direction of the bathroom, making his remark rather less cryptic. Harry considered this new and unexpected insight into Malfoy’s post-wank clean-up routine, and sat up in bed like a shot, making sure his lap was fully covered by the duvet. As soon as Malfoy returned, the light from the hall bleeding into the room, he waited until Malfoy was nearly back in bed before he leapt up and made a run for it, carefully angling his crotch away from Malfoy so it wasn’t obvious what he was going off to do.

It was completely obvious what he was going off to do.

Still, Harry was so hard, and so turned on, he barely fucking cared. He banged the bathroom door shut, gripped the edge of the sink with his left hand and tugged his joggers down with the other, his cock springing free. He wrapped his hand tightly round his cock, his knees buckling, and began to pump, each pass spreading a slick of pre-come over his shaft and making a loud, wet sound. Harry’s left hand tightened on the edge of the sink, knuckles whitening, and he caught sight of himself in the mirror as his mouth fell open, head tipping back. He looked a wreck – eyes wide, skin red, cock even redder as he wanked, turned on by . . .

Harry moved his right wrist faster, and his vision blurred as he came, fast and hard, white ropes shooting out to spatter the mirror.

He wet his lips as his heart rate slowed, cock still twitching, still half hard despite coming. He looked himself in the eye as he acknowledged it: he’d just wanked, and come faster and harder than he could remember for months, turned on by Draco Malfoy.

Draco Malfoy, who had a blonde, adorable almost-fiancée. Draco Malfoy, who was straight, and who was . . . Draco Malfoy. He was Draco Malfoy. The rest paled into insignificance, somehow.

Harry had to clean up before he slunk back to bed, which didn’t help him feel any braver as he stepped through the doorway, closing the door behind him and pausing so his eyes adjusted to the dark. He didn’t want to end up getting in bed on top of Malfoy, or anything; he was embarrassed enough as it was.

To his great relief – and disbelief, if he was honest – Malfoy didn’t say anything scathing as he carefully approached the bed. Maybe Malfoy was as embarrassed as he was, Harry thought as he slipped under the covers. He had started it. Malfoy had his back to Harry, and he didn’t move, his breathing deep and even. Harry tried to relax, closing his eyes, though he remained on edge, waiting for a sarcastic remark to slide out of the darkness and stab him in a vulnerable spot.

Nothing happened, though. Malfoy just lay there, still but not rigid, breathing deeply but slowly. Almost as if he were asleep. Harry considered this, his own body relaxing a fraction. Was Malfoy really asleep, or just pretending? Harry yawned and found he didn’t really care. A sense of fuzzy relief overwhelmed him, that he didn’t have to have any kind of argument or horrible discussion that he wasn’t ready for right now, and he closed his eyes. He hadn’t slept the night before, his body reminded him, and he’d eased the urgent need of his hormones. He really was tired.

Harry relaxed a fraction more and slipped easily into sleep.

^^^^^^

Harry woke up with his heart in his mouth, aware that something was wrong but unable to pin down exactly what. He blinked into the dark, completely still, poised and assessing.

Malfoy made a low, quiet noise of such terror that it made all the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Godric, he was having one of his nightmares. Harry wanted to relax at the realisation that it was only Malfoy dreaming, that they weren’t under attack, but Malfoy made the noise again and fucking hell, Harry didn’t know what to do. What were you meant to do with people who were dreaming? He was sure he’d heard, somewhere, that you shouldn’t wake someone up from a nightmare. Or was that sleepwalkers?

Malfoy whimpered, and coiled into a tight ball. The bed was shaking. He was shaking. Harry dithered, caught in indecision, and then Malfoy started screaming. The sound was so raw, and awful, that it nearly made Harry’s heart leap out of his chest. Acting on instinct, he half sat-up, reached over, and placed an arm on Malfoy’s shoulder.

Malfoy reacted like he’d been hexed and was fighting for his life, spinning round and pushing Harry flat on his back, his grip on Harry’s upper arms sharp and painful. Harry fought back, not sure if Malfoy was still asleep or not but hot with anxiety, and managed to reverse their positions, pressing Malfoy down on the bed, hard. “Malfoy – Draco – it’s me,” he said as Malfoy opened his eyes but didn’t see him, his breath a ragged tortured thing of horror.

“Get off me,” Malfoy shrieked, his voice the voice of a wild animal in a trap rather than a human, and he struggled against Harry’s grip. “Get off, get off, GET OFF.”

Harry sat back on his heels, letting go immediately, but Malfoy rose up to follow, hitting at him, and Harry had to catch his arms, grip him tight, to stop himself from being punched in the face. “It’s Harry!” Harry said quickly as Malfoy struggled. “It’s OK, Draco, it’s OK, I swear.”

Malfoy surged at him again and, taken by surprise, Harry had to grasp Malfoy by the shoulders to stop himself from falling over backwards. “It’s – it’s not OK,” Malfoy said, clearly awake now. He sounded like his throat hurt, ugly breaths wrenching themselves out of him. “I told you this is why I didn’t want to – I didn’t want – I didn’t—” His voice was shaking out of raw anger and into something more horrible. Malfoy was feebly thumping at him again, and Harry tugged him closer, trapping Malfoy’s hands between their chests, Malfoy’s head falling heavily against the side of his own.

They sat there like that for a while, Harry feeling Malfoy’s rabbit-heart patter against his skin, a wetness against his neck. “He – he killed Father,” Malfoy said after a heavy while, his voice calmer now but still pretty awful.

Harry didn’t have to ask who ‘he’ was. “He didn’t really, though,” he said, when Malfoy’s quick breath had slowed a bit more, and gave his back a tentative stroke. “Your dad’s OK. You’re OK.”

“Will I ever be OK?” Malfoy said, so low that Harry thought he hadn’t meant to say it out loud. “Merlin. This is pathetic,” he added, his voice a fraction more normal.

Harry disagreed. He didn’t think Malfoy would believe him if he said so, though. Instead, he cleared his throat, still awkwardly stroking Malfoy’s back in the hope it was more comforting than annoying. “Want me to fetch you a cold flannel to wipe your face? Might help you feel better.”

Malfoy stiffened at this, and took it as a cue to carefully pull away from Harry and lie back down, turning his back to Harry. “No,” he said, voice flat. But then he sighed. “No thank you,” he amended.

Harry lay down too, wrangling the twisted duvet back into place and tugging it over them both. He felt his face split with a yawn. “Will you be all right?” he asked, through it.

Malfoy took several careful breaths. “It usually only happens once in a night,” he said levelly. And then, to Harry’s disbelief, added, awkwardly, “Sorry.”

“Don’t be fucking stupid,” Harry said, and then yawned again, as Malfoy snorted out an unwilling laugh. “G’night, then,” Harry said, his eyelids already fluttering shut; he felt more exhausted, drained by emotion, than when he’d fallen asleep the first time. He barely heard Malfoy respond as his brain drifted away in the welcoming darkness once again.

Chapter Text

Harry woke on Thursday morning to an empty bed and a feeling of disorientation. The events of the previous night seemed blurred, somehow, and unreal, as if he’d dreamed them. It had been a bloody odd dream. He forced himself out of bed and had a quick and unsatisfactory strip-wash in the bathroom, before shoving on a fresh set of Auror robes and taking the stairs down to the kitchen, where he suspected Malfoy was sulking, at a leaden pace.

Malfoy wasn’t in the kitchen. He was, however, in the dining room, sitting listlessly at the over-large table, resting his chin on his hand, until Harry entered and he jumped half a foot in the air, face turning a violent purple. He gave Harry a firm look that said ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ and then said, “I don’t want to talk about it!” as if he didn’t trust Harry not to be a dick.

Harry was a dick, at least when it came to Malfoy, but he wasn’t in the mood today. Besides . . . “What’s this?” he asked, waving his hand vaguely to encompass both the table and the floor.

Malfoy looked first at the floor by the table. Yesterday, it had been covered by an enormous faded Persian rug in geometric swirls of blue and orange. Today it was covered in paper. Malfoy had, Harry realised, swept all of his unopened mail off the table and on to the floor. It had looked like a lot of post, piled on the table. Now, it looked like a forest had died – and died in vain. Malfoy shrugged, as if to say it was perfectly obvious what ‘this’ was: the natural result of Harry’s lazy incompetence.

“No, I meant – this,” Harry said, more explicitly, indicating just the table. It was dotted with plates and dishes, each with a small selection of cold foods – cheeses, sliced meats, pastries thick with sugar. In the centre of the table, a fruit bowl offered up bananas and pears, next to jugs of juice – pumpkin, apple, orange.

Malfoy gave Harry a look as if he were mad. “Breakfast?” he said, and then added, sarcastically, “You should eat it before it gets cold.”

Harry sat. “Um, thanks?” he said, oddly confused by this domestic scene, but Malfoy just snorted and served himself a small plate of food, frowning at it in a way that reminded Harry just how much Malfoy had drunk the night before. Maybe he was feeling a bit on the delicate side.

Harry picked at a pastry for a while, not feeling very hungry. Then Malfoy stopped forcing down his own food to give a judgemental sniff – not at Harry, necessarily, but just in general – and remarked that there were starving wizards in other parts of the world who’d be grateful for such lovely cold food. Harry took from this that Malfoy preferred a cooked breakfast and was feeling hacked off at the fact he hadn’t been able to use the oven without Harry being there. He immediately forced down some more of his pastry out of contrariness, making an over-enthusiastic mmm noise as he did so. He didn’t often have time for breakfast, but he supposed it wasn’t so bad to take the time to sit and eat like this, even if he did have to raise his feet several inches off the ground to rest them on the lurking mail.

Too soon, it was time for them to go to the Ministry. Again. Harry couldn’t remember what scintillating appointments awaited them, and he feared they might be footwear-, or perhaps canape-, related. He was tempted to just stay at home, sulking, but then he’d have to stay at home, sulking, with Malfoy, and right now he felt like he needed to not be alone with Malfoy for a while. Last night kept replaying in his mind, even though he was trying very hard to stop it. The way Malfoy had looked at him, eyes fierce and hot through the darkness, as he’d come in his pyjama bottoms. And then Harry had . . . The mirror in the bathroom had still been a bit smeary this morning, where he’d tried to clean it with water and tissue rather than magic. All this embarrassment kept jumbling up in his mind, mixing with flashbacks of the way Astoria had hugged Malfoy so tightly, as he’d patted her hair, and the sound of him breathing as he came down from his nightmare, held tight in Harry’s arms.

“Right!” Harry said, shooting to his feet and giving his empty plate a look of dislike. “We should go now.”

Malfoy jolted at this sudden movement and shrugged, holding out a hand. Harry stared at it for a moment, and Malfoy made an impatient movement, so he stepped a bit closer and took it. Malfoy pulled his wand out of an inside pocket of his robes and swished it at the plates, which emptied themselves immediately. Another swish had them sparkling clean, and a further had them bobbing off to the kitchen by themselves, the jugs of juice gently sloshing along behind them. Harry could hear fridge and cupboard doors opening and closing, and the clink of crockery as it stacked itself neatly away. Harry considered asking when Malfoy had learned to do anything for himself, and stacked this, too, neatly away, inside his brain where it belonged. Malfoy had made him breakfast for no good reason. The least he could do was not be rude about it.

Malfoy swished his wand once more, murmuring the familiar words of a personal hygiene spell, and Harry’s mouth flooded with minty freshness. “Thanks,” he said hesitantly, and Malfoy shrugged again.

“You’re welcome.”

Harry dropped Malfoy’s hand, which made Malfoy frown. “I thought we’d walk today,” Harry explained, thinking it was stupid to continue trying to hide how close they were to the Ministry. Malfoy narrowed his eyes at this, clearly suspicious, but just nodded.

As soon as they shut Harry’s front door behind them, and walked out past the twin iron railings that stopped his guests from falling into the window wells, the house gave a sort of shiver, folding itself in between the two front doors on either side like a concertina and vanishing from sight. Malfoy looked from one front door to the other, and then around at the street they were on, taking in the guardhouses at both ends and the tall, black-iron gates. “What did you say the address of this place was, again?” Malfoy asked, his tone conveying his total lack of interest in the topic.

“Uh – ten and a half, Downing Street,” Harry said.

“Ten and a half?” Malfoy repeated.

Harry shrugged uncomfortably. “Ten and eleven were already taken. This is the only wizarding residence on the street. It seemed convenient when the Estate Witch suggested it, so . . .”

Malfoy appeared to take in the fact that Harry had bought a house that was not only flanked by the Muggle Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, but was also under a minute’s walk from the Ministry of Magic. “It’s a nice house,” he said non-committally. “Even though I haven’t seen most of it, I presume,” he added, his tone shading into arsiness as he continued to look at the houses around him. “Aren’t you bothered by the Muggles?”

“I am never bothered by Muggles,” Harry said, both firmly and untruthfully, and started to walk towards one of the guardhouses. He did get frequent stares, but he presumed most people thought him some kind of eccentric foreign dignitary. As they passed through the guardhouse, the man inside it winked at Harry, and then gave Malfoy something that was sort of a grin, but with an edge to it.

“Mornin’, Hazza,” the man said. “Mornin’, little lord Malfoy.”

Malfoy bristled. “Thank you for assisting with the grocery delivery yesterday,” he said with an icy coldness almost worthy of his mother.

“Ah, I see you’ve already met Derek,” Harry said, trying not to wince. “Derek, Malfoy. Malfoy, this is Derek, one of our Hit Wizards.”

“I’m undercover as a Muggle right now,” Derek said, both cheerfully and needlessly. “But I know twenty-seven different ways to remove your kidneys in under three seconds, if need be. I find this knowledge means I never feel obliged to help carry a lazy tosser’s spuds into his kitchen.” He grinned again. Three of his front teeth were missing. Harry knew he’d lost them in a drunken accident, the details of which were best skated over, but he didn’t think it would be fair to tell Malfoy that. At least, not in front of Derek, who probably did know two or three ways to remove your kidneys, if not a full twenty-seven.

“I didn’t order any potatoes,” Malfoy said, clearly unmoved. “Excess carbohydrates inhibit peak magical performance,” he added, nose in the air. “I consume a high-protein diet.”

“Er, we’re off to the Ministry,” Harry, who’d seen Malfoy fill his face with a pain au chocolate only half an hour ago, said, thinking he’d better move this along before it descended into either farce or a fist-fight. “See you later, Derek.”

“Sure thing, Hazza!” Derek said brightly, and then proceeded to follow them, a few steps behind, all the way down the road and on to Whitehall, giving a little wave when Harry turned for a moment before they descended the steps into the public loos that were the main employee entrance to the Ministry.

Hazza?” Malfoy asked, his voice thick with laughter as they descended the staircase marked GENTLEMEN.

Harry decided silence was the best policy here. He hadn’t asked to be called ‘Hazza’ by anyone, after all. He handed Malfoy a golden entrance token, and slotted his own into the nearest toilet stall door.

From the other side of the thin wall, Malfoy started laughing, almost helplessly. “I rather like the idea that you begin each happy day as an Auror by plunging into a toilet,” he said. “So very dignified. So strangely you.”

Harry should have taken Malfoy to the visitor’s entrance again. “Yes, all right, Malfoy, laugh it up,” he said gloomily, and he climbed into the toilet bowl and flushed the chain. He could hear Malfoy’s delighted laughter – the strangest of sounds – ringing in his ears, even as he gurgled down the pipes and out into the Atrium.

^^^^^^

The day dragged, while simultaneously it didn’t. Harry began to feel a bit like he had his leg stuck in the jaws of a steel trap, and tomorrow the hunter would come to check what he’d caught. Tomorrow. How was it already Thursday? It was on Friday he’d have to stand in front of the wizarding world – well, a selection of them – in a stupid outfit, while he pretended he’d got married, on purpose, to Draco Malfoy. Friday had sounded a long way away, back on Monday, when he’d had hopes they’d be able to fix the bonding spell right away and go back to pretending it had never, ever happened.

Friday didn’t sound far away now.

Harry was especially looking forward to the looks of sympathetic pity from the Weasleys, who’d no doubt all attend to show their support. They’d get along so well with Lucius and Narcissa, he thought, and all their friends. If they had any left, that was. It was looking like the guests would be his family, so to speak; his Auror colleagues; Malfoy’s horrible parents; a boring number of British and foreign dignitaries; and a selection of the dregs of humanity, aka reporters. What a jolly celebratory party it would be, and exactly what he would have chosen to celebrate his marriage to the love of his life. Would Pansy be there, in her role as Witch Weekly columnist, he wondered wryly. Probably not. There was a good chance Malfoy wouldn’t be able to hold back and would part her head from her body using only his teeth.

Before the party, he had to get through today first, though. He’d already suffered a second fitting of his new, unflattering dress robes and pointed, patent – pointed! patent! – shoes, and been coached for what felt like several hours on which particular dignitaries might come, what they did, and what would be politic for him to say to them. Kingsley had attempted to coach Malfoy too, but to Harry’s discomfort it turned out he didn’t need coaching; he already knew exactly who everyone was, right down to all the highly confidential information and scurrilous, accurate gossip that even Harry wasn’t meant to know. To everyone’s mutual agreement, they’d decided not to ask Malfoy how he knew. It wouldn’t go down well to have to arrest Harry’s ‘husband’ – or, perhaps more accurately, Harry’s ‘father-in-law’ – the day before a party celebrating their beautiful love, Harry thought, trying not to squirm.

Zabini had stopped by for a whole ten minutes, too, to first smile and make polite small talk with Malfoy, and then smile even harder at Harry as he gave him a progress report that reported zero progress. Zabini really was a grade-A wanker, Harry thought as he tried to smile back politely rather than give Zabini the satisfaction, whatever Malfoy might say.

Throughout the day, Harry had also suffered the increasing strain of not touching Malfoy. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed by the thought of touching Malfoy in front of other people, particularly people who knew exactly why he’d be touching him. It was just . . . Malfoy wasn’t touching him. Or showing that he wanted to touch him, either. Malfoy clearly wasn’t suffering from . . . from . . . like he was, Harry thought, trying to surreptitiously sit on his hands. Malfoy didn’t seem to care, all that much, how much distance there was between them. At some points in the day, he barely looked at Harry at all.

Malfoy didn’t even seem to notice when Hermione dropped by in the afternoon and took Harry to one side of Kingsley’s large, grandiose office, casting a Muffliato so no one else could hear what she was saying. “I can’t stay long,” she said, giving his arm a squeeze. “I have a house-elf-rights case to attend in court in fifteen minutes. I just wanted to ask – have you sorted out a ring for Malfoy, or do you want me to do it?”

Harry gaped at her, and Hermione’s brow puckered into a frown. “People will think it’s odd if neither of you wear a wedding ring,” she said primly.

Would they? Harry had never paid attention to people’s rings. “Um,” he said doubtfully. “Do you really think it’s necessary?”

Hermione nodded. “Malfoy’s a pure-blood,” she said, her voice reluctant. “It’s a traditional thing. It – it’s only pretend!” she said. “And it’s only a suggestion,” she amended, clearly sensing this wasn’t going down very well.

Harry eyed Hermione, a living wizarding etiquette book, and gave in. “Yes, all right, if you think I should. Would you mind? Just get him something standard. Ring-shaped, you know.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Gold or platinum?”

“Yes?” Harry tried. “One of those.”

“And – do you want an engraving?” Hermione asked, standing up and checking her wrist-watch anxiously.

“What, like, ‘Rest In Peace’?” Harry asked obnoxiously.

Hermione frowned at this.

“OK, OK, it was only a joke,” Harry muttered. “Keep your hair on.”

This didn’t make Hermione frown any less, but she clearly decided to let it go. “I don’t suppose you know his ring size?”

Harry considered all the possible answers he could give to this and went for, “No.”

“I’ll pop into Diagon Alley after work and owl it over tomorrow morning,” Hermione said. She leaned over and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “Love you,” she said, and then hurried off, already looking distracted by her upcoming house-elf legal thing.

Bloody hell, Harry thought, rather dazed at the idea of giving Malfoy a wedding ring, even if it was pretend. He looked over at Malfoy, after Hermione had gone.

Malfoy still wasn’t looking back.

^^^^^^

It was gone nine by the time Kingsley was finally happy to let them – well, Harry – go, convinced they were ready for the event tomorrow. Well, as ready as they’d ever be, Harry thought was more the point, but he was happy enough to be freed. He was getting increasingly tetchy. What he needed was – to not spend an awkward evening, and even more awkward night, with Malfoy. Harry sighed, and prepared to spend an awkward evening, and even more awkward night, with Malfoy. Though, he thought as he turned to ask Malfoy if he was ready to go, maybe it wouldn’t be an awkward night, for once. Presumably, Malfoy would choose the guest room tonight, rather than Harry’s bed? Harry wasn’t sure if he was happy about that or not.

Malfoy gave him an odd look, and Harry felt himself flush, before feeling tetchy all over again. He’d been going to suggest Apparating, but he was damned if he was going to be the one to crack first and show he wanted to hold Malfoy’s hand, so he said, “Let’s walk home,” and tried not to feel even tetchier when Malfoy shrugged and said OK. As they walked back down Downing Street, past the guard – it was Antony now, and he nodded pleasantly to them both – Harry realised that there was one small flaw in his plan: he couldn’t actually get inside his house without using magic.

Once they were outside where his house, in principle, was, though, Malfoy simply reached over and curled his fingers into Harry’s, letting out a sigh of such exquisite relief that Harry felt moved to strangle him. If he’d been suffering, like Harry, why had he been acting like such a distant, cold shithead all day? He didn’t express this, though, just walked forward as his house unfurled between number 10 and 11, and slotted his key in the keyhole, walking into the entrance hall still hand in hand with Malfoy.

Harry opened his mouth to say something cutting, but Malfoy got in there first. “Well, then,” he said quickly. “Give me the full tour, please.”

Harry moistened his lips, thrown by this. “What?”

“The full tour. Of your house. I’d like to see it,” Malfoy said with patience.

Harry considered this, and decided it beat having an argument, so he did as requested. He took Malfoy through room after room – the grand dining room that could seat fifty; the three interlinking drawing rooms, coloured white, pale green and navy, each larger than the other; the great kitchen with the twenty-foot work table and enormous range, where a wizard could, technically, roast an Erumpent, if he was so inclined; the vaulted ballroom with its balcony and hidden orchestra pit; the dozen bedrooms and matching dozen bathrooms, with plunge pools and rock pools and fake lakes, for the discerning wizard who wanted a really weird wash; and, down in the lower basement, the swimming pool and half-sized Quidditch pitch.

Now he came to think of it, his house was a bit big for the entire population of London, let alone for just one man.

Harry led a – rather quiet – Malfoy out through the orangery at the back of the house, past the waving fronds of the pot plants, and into the garden beyond it. It was dark now, though only just, and hundreds of thousands of fireflies twinkled into life as they sensed the presence of magic, giving Harry the feeling that the heavens had descended into his garden.

“Um. So,” Harry said vaguely. “That’s it. End of tour.” Though . . . he thought there were a few rooms they hadn’t been in, maybe. Some of the doors were a bit shy, and he suspected others were just plain offended by his lack of interest in their interiors and were off sulking somewhere.

Malfoy gazed into the depths of the garden, fireflies hovering around him, several landing in his hair and giving him, once more, an air of unreality. Was Harry really here, he wondered. In this place, this time, with Malfoy, stars twinkling in his hair. Harry’s heart gave a strange, unwelcome throb.

“I wish I could say I was surprised,” Malfoy said eventually, “that you live in a house larger than Malfoy Manor, while only taking up the same amount of space as a Muggle in a hovel.”

Well, that took the shine off things a bit. “There’s nothing wrong with living like a Muggle,” he said evenly.

“No,” Malfoy said into the darkness. He looked lovely, Harry thought, so very lovely. His heart gave a horrible squeeze again. “Which is why you chose such a modest house, not at all run by magic, I suppose. Loyalty to your Muggle heritage.”

Harry didn’t know how to reply to this snide remark. It was true that he’d chosen a ridiculous house, though to be fair it was more accurate to say he’d asked an Estate Witch if she’d sell him a house near work, and she had been very happy to oblige. But what he’d said was true, too. There was nothing wrong with living like a Muggle. Or with being a Muggle either. Harry considered saying this, and having the resulting awful conversation where Malfoy proved himself to still be Malfoy, and took the coward’s way out. “Shall we go inside and have a cup of tea?” he asked.

“You don’t like tea, though, do you?” Malfoy said.

“Um,” Harry said. “You do, though?”

Malfoy seemed thrown by this. “Yes, all right, then,” he said eventually, and allowed Harry to lead him inside and back to the kitchen – the small kitchen, which Harry used, because he didn’t need a twenty-foot table or a fireplace large enough to roast an Erumpent. He needed a fridge, and a work surface, and a cupboard with teabags and sugar, which he only had because Malfoy had put them there.

Harry made the tea, Malfoy following him around quietly, his hand a barely-there pressure in Harry’s own, and then levitated the mugs on to a tray, with chocolate biscuits, and sent it bobbing ahead of them to the living room. The small one, where Harry didn’t feel so lonely at the sight of the half-dozen unoccupied sofas that he thought he’d go mad. He let go of Malfoy’s hand and sat down on the sofa, then passed him a mug of tea. Malfoy took it. “Biscuit?” Harry offered. Malfoy took one.

Well, this was a flowing conversation, Harry thought, taking a sip of his own tea – yep, he thought, he didn’t really like tea very much – and following it up with a biscuit he didn’t much fancy either.

“Harry, are you all right?” Malfoy said suddenly, putting the mug down on the coffee table with slightly too much force; a small tide of tea sloshed over the side of it, staining the wood.

Harry didn’t know where to look, or where to put himself, at this unexpected kindness from Malfoy. “Yes,” he forced out. It wasn’t true, but what else was he supposed to say?

^^^^^^

The next couple of hours passed oddly, in uncompanionable but not entirely unpleasant silence. Harry pretended to read the Quidditch News – he subscribed, but hadn’t opened an issue for months – and Malfoy flicked through a book that didn’t have a title on its spine, with every impression of concentration.

As midnight approached, though, Malfoy began to look grey round the edges. Not from tiredness, Harry thought, trying to watch him without Malfoy noticing, but more from stress about the night ahead. Harry didn’t know what he could do to help, though. There wasn’t much he could do, really, other than nip outside and ask Antony if he’d fetch him some emergency Dreamless, and . . . he wasn’t going to do that. If Malfoy wanted to drug himself up every night, that was up to him; Harry was going to play no part in it.

This righteous attitude, though, didn’t help with Harry’s own increasing sense of unease as the minutes ticked by. He was tired, he realised. He wanted to go to sleep, so he’d be able to face the following day as best he could. After he’d procrastinated for a while, though, putting it off until his jaw ached from suppressing yawn after yawn, he finally had enough. “I’m going to – it’s bedtime,” he said, his words coming out jumbled and only just coherent.

Malfoy went greyer, if anything. “Yes, all right,” he said, with all the enthusiasm Harry had felt at the end of a Hogwarts school year, knowing he had to go back to the Dursleys for the summer. Malfoy stood up, folding back the corner of the page he was currently reading and dropping the book carelessly on the floor. “I’ll go and use the bathroom first,” he said, and didn’t point out that there were dozens of other bathrooms in the house which he could use. Harry, equally, didn’t point out that although there were dozens of other bathrooms, yes, the majority of those definitely didn’t have taps.

“OK,” Harry said, and Malfoy slouched off up the stairs.

Once Malfoy had gone, Harry felt a deep and dreadful urge to see what he’d been reading, but managed to stop himself. He’d only get cross if it was something appalling, about Muggle-management, or a history of the top ten amazing Malfoys, or a treatise on the best way of grinding the faces of the poor in the dirt. Instead, he forced himself to look at the Quidditch magazine – the Harpies had won again; good for them – until he heard the bathroom door open and shut again, and the creak of the ancient oak floorboards as Malfoy crossed the hall and went into . . . Harry’s bedroom, by the sound of it.

Harry did some deep breathing exercises, and then forced himself up the stairs. He gave his teeth a very long, very thorough brushing, because he cared very much about his dental hygiene, it wasn’t at all that he was putting off leaving the bathroom. Then he washed his face carefully, and then a second time, because it had been a very grimy day. Once he was so clean his skin squeaked, he got himself into his pyjamas, brushed his hair and, taking a further set of deep breaths, left the bathroom and crossed the hall for his bedroom.

It was dark in the bedroom, although not pitch black; moonlight streamed in through the open curtains, and Malfoy had clearly opened the window, because a soft breeze blew in too, ruffling Harry’s hair as he crossed the room and slid into bed, taking off his glasses and fumbling for the bedside table. He’d left his wand in the bathroom again, he realised, but he couldn’t be bothered to fetch it, and he couldn’t bring himself to disturb Malfoy either by leaning over and grabbing his arm. Malfoy had his back to him, and Harry wasn’t sure if he was asleep or not. He thought that, to be honest, it was unlikely Malfoy was, but saying, Psst, are you asleep? was only going to be a sure-fire way to wake him up, so Harry decided he’d give Malfoy the benefit of the doubt. He shut his eyes, tried not to think too hard about anything, and hoped he’d drift off soon.

When he woke up again, it was still dark, still obviously night-time, and for a moment Harry wasn’t sure he’d even been asleep. He squinted at the clock on the wall, and couldn’t see it. Beside him, Malfoy lay quiet and still, so Harry thought he’d risk it. “Time?” he murmured, and the clock replied, also in a murmur:

“One thirty-seven and three seconds. Four. Five. Six. Seven—”

“Yes, thank you,” Harry hissed, and the clock subsided into hurt silence. Barely half past one! It wasn’t what Harry had wanted to hear. He thrashed about a bit, trying to get comfortable without disturbing Malfoy, and not finding any position restful.

“Do you have to squirm about like that?” Malfoy asked, not turning towards him. He sounded tired but wide awake.

Harry considered this. “Yes,” he said, then added, “you know what you can do if you don’t like it.”

Malfoy seemed, in turn, to consider this, and then sat up, as if he’d taken Harry’s snide remark seriously and was going to lie grimly awake elsewhere.

Harry winced and, after a brief internal struggle, half sat up himself, to grab at Malfoy’s arm and tug him back down. Malfoy allowed himself to be tugged, falling inelegantly backwards and ending up flat on his back, much closer to Harry than when he’d started. He didn’t move away though, and neither did Harry. Harry was on his side facing Malfoy, almost – but not quite – spooned up against him. If he moved even an inch closer, they’d be touching. Malfoy’s hair was close enough to tickle his nose.

“Can’t you sleep?” Harry asked through a yawn. “I think I did for a bit.”

“If you weren’t asleep, you were making a remarkably convincing snoring noise,” Malfoy said, half-turning his head towards Harry, his eyes glittering in the dark.

“Yeah, yeah, blame me,” Harry muttered, trying not to be disconcerted by Malfoy’s extreme nearness. He didn’t think he snored. How would a person know for sure, though? Ginny hadn’t complained, and she loved her sleep almost more than she loved life. He felt sure she’d have thrown things at him in the night if he’d snored and kept her awake.

“Thanks, I will,” Malfoy said sweetly, and Harry replayed their conversation in his head, feeling like he’d lost the thread of it somewhere. He grasped it triumphantly:

“It’s not my fault you can’t sleep!” he rallied.

Malfoy sighed, turning his head back to stare up at the ceiling. “Yes, I know.

“I made plenty of good suggestions last night,” Harry protested. As he spoke, he was thinking about numbered sheep, whale music and warm milk, and not – alas – about wanking until it was too late to unsay it, leaving Obliviation the only option.

He’d left his wand in the bathroom. Maybe Malfoy would be happy to wait until he’d fetched it?

Malfoy snorted, but didn’t say anything. Maybe he didn’t remember what had happened, Harry thought, clutching at straws. He had drunk quite a lot of Firewhisky, and then there’d been the nightmare. Maybe the emotional stress of the night had acted as its own self-Obliviation. Maybe Malfoy thought it had all been a dream.

Malfoy didn’t think it had been a dream, did he? “Yes, it was counting Crups that got me drifting off, as I recall,” he said, his tone suddenly more mocking, as if he’d caught Harry out in some way.

“Sheep,” Harry amended, because if Malfoy was going to take the piss, he might as well do it accurately.

“Indeed,” Malfoy said drily. “So – what do you suggest I do tonight, then, scarhead? I mean, I’m very happy to lie here listening to you make a noise like a rusty chainsaw, but maybe you have some more wise advice to share. What was it you said before? Squid songs . . .?”

“Whale music,” Harry said gloomily.

“What noise does a whale make?” Malfoy asked, as if this was a reasonable question at quarter to two in the morning.

“Sort of an ooooh-waaaaaaaaaaaaah,” Harry said, giving it a good try, because why not.

“I . . . see,” Malfoy said politely, and then started laughing. “I don’t see how that’s helping me get to sleep,” he said softly, his voice warm, after he’d caught his breath, “but thank you for the entertainment. I shall put it in my Pensieve and treasure it forever. Or sell it to the papers,” he amended, and sniggered. “I’ll make my fortune.”

“Yeah, laugh it up,” Harry said. “What will help you fall asleep then? I’m not having you lying there awake all night, taking mental notes to sell to the highest bidder.”

“What will help me fall asleep . . .” Malfoy said. His voice was low and relaxed, but there was a mocking undercurrent there that made the roof of Harry’s mouth go dry. “Hmm, I wonder.”

“You could . . .” Harry started, wondering if he was going to end with ‘drink warm milk’ and not ending with anything at all. They both knew what Malfoy could do to fall asleep; he’d done it successfully last night. Harry could already feel his cheeks starting to warm up and his toes curling in on themselves in embarrassed anticipation.

“Oh?” Malfoy said, an undertone of challenge in his voice. “I could . . . what?”

The tension in the room ratcheted up about eight notches at once. Harry could almost feel it as a physical presence, a giant, dark hand pressing down on his lungs and making it hard to breathe. “You know,” Harry managed to choke out. “I don’t . . . mind.”

Harry could hear Malfoy breathing, could almost hear him thinking. He didn’t know what he was doing, encouraging this madness. This was Malfoy in his bed. Malfoy. But – he felt alive, right now, in a way he hadn’t for a long time, his blood fizzing as his heart ran a marathon while he lay still. Malfoy had always brought this out of him, he realised: that urge to run to the edge and fling himself over; to win, no matter the cost.

And – and he was young, and single, and it was his house, and his bed, and why the fuck shouldn’t he?

“I – suppose I do have six weeks of abstinence to make up for,” Malfoy said. There was a roughness to his voice that made Harry shiver. “That’s your fault too,” he added, as if he was trying to make Harry mad on purpose.

“It’s not,” Harry said, rising to the bait.

“Well then, say something hot, to get me in the mood,” Malfoy said snidely, and he shifted on the bed, spreading himself out in an obvious attempt to piss Harry off. One of Malfoy’s legs bumped up against Harry’s knees, his shoulder knocking into Harry’s arm.

“Fire. Volcanoes. Dragons’ breath,” Harry said facetiously, his heart pounding in his throat. He shoved back at Malfoy a bit, but it didn’t help; the fucker didn’t move.

“Oh baby,” Malfoy said, equally facetiously, and wriggled a bit more on the bed, the rustling noises and the movement of his shoulder and upper arm suggesting to Harry’s fevered imagination that he was shoving his hand down his pyjama pants. “Oh,” Malfoy said again, but it was more of a breath than a joke this time, and the sound sent shivers through Harry’s body. Malfoy cleared his throat. “Don’t stop, scarhead,” he said, his voice only shaky round the edges. “You were doing so well.”

“Oh, er,” Harry said, panicking. “Curry?”

“Mmm, yeah,” Malfoy said, very drawn-out and sarcastic, although there was something hotter, deeper underneath it.

“Uh – the sun,” Harry continued, struggling to think of anything at all right now other than how very embarrassed, and very turned on he was. Malfoy was obviously touching himself right now; Harry could feel his arm moving with each slow, deliberate stroke, his leg a firm press against Harry’s own. What was he meant to be saying right now? Hot things. What was hot? Malfoy. Here, in his bed, doing that. “Saunas,” he managed. “An . . . incendio. My – uh – face right now.”

Malfoy’s breath caught in his throat at that. Harry wasn’t sure why he’d said it, except it was true. “Yes, well,” Malfoy managed. “You only have yourself to blame.” He was twitching a bit now, his leg against Harry’s shaking very gently.

“Oh yeah?” Harry said. It wasn’t just his face on fire; all his skin seemed to be on fire too, tingling and throbbing as he lay there.

“Mm,” Malfoy said, his voice thick. He was quiet for a while, apart from the noises of the sheets, the clothes; the sound of his breath; the creak of the bed as he gently squirmed. “It’s – weird without magic,” he said eventually, his tone fierce. Needy.

Harry wasn’t sure he was a person any more; he was an instinct, a pounding heart, a coiled spring. He swallowed hard, and again, his mouth flooding with saliva. “Oh?”

Yes,” Malfoy said. “It’s – that’s – your fault too,” he said.

Harry reached out blindly, only to encounter fabric. Malfoy lurched, as if he’d been scalded, and for a horrible moment Harry thought he’d misread the situation, but Malfoy was just pushing himself up on the bed, scrabbling to pull his T-shirt up and over his head, kicking at the constricting covers, before sinking back down and shoving his hand back down his pants with a low, heartfelt groan.

Malfoy groaned again, the sound seeming to vibrate through Harry’s crotch, when Harry reached out again and slid a tentative hand against his side. His skin was very hot, and soft, and Harry held his hand there for a while, heart pounding, before stroking gently along the curve of a rib and back. Malfoy’s arm was moving quickly, his elbow jamming into Harry, and it was awkward, and tight, and uncomfortable, and so fucking hot that Harry had to clench the muscles in his stomach, his thighs, to stop himself from pressing up against Malfoy’s body and rubbing himself off.

Malfoy let out a frustrated hiss, and twisted on the bed, turning his back on Harry, the side of his head hitting the pillow with a thump. Harry froze, wondering if something was wrong, if he was being rejected, but Malfoy gave Harry a sharp kick and said, voice thick, “Have you fallen asleep?” and Harry took this to mean he should reach out and touch Malfoy again.

Malfoy groaned, breathily, as Harry ran his fingers along the curve of his back. “That feels . . .” Malfoy said, and choked off whatever he was going to say. Harry stroked his way up and down Malfoy’s side, enjoying the way Malfoy’s breath stuttered, his body trembled. Malfoy was moving his arm more slowly now, but his breath was coming faster.

Malfoy wriggled again, and there was a rustle of fabric. “I . . .” he said, although it was more of a groan. He was moving even more slowly now, his breaths almost sobs in the back of his throat. Harry spread out his fingers and slid them gently, slowly, down Malfoy’s side. Malfoy’s skin was hot, and damp with sweat, and Harry was able to slip his hand down much lower than he’d expected. He felt the bony lump of Malfoy’s hip, and then yet more skin, before he nudged up against Malfoy’s waistband.

Malfoy’s waistband was much, much lower than his waist.

Malfoy seemed to be trying to hold his breath, but not managing it very well. He was also, Harry realised, trying not to knock into Harry’s hand as he wanked. So . . . he was happy for Harry’s hand to be there, Harry thought, and moved his fingers up, to settle in the crease of Malfoy’s hip. Malfoy let out a shuddering breath, and pushed his uppermost leg back a fraction, jutting into Harry’s, and simultaneously angling his body a fraction more away from the bed. Away from the bed, and towards Harry.

He wasn’t seriously suggesting that Harry reach round and . . . was he?

Malfoy was moving his hand faster now, louder groans ripping from his throat and ringing out in the quiet room. Harry moved his fingers experimentally, stroking against Malfoy’s hip, easing his way very, very slightly in towards Malfoy’s front. Malfoy’s groans got louder. He was properly panting now, and—

“OK?” Harry asked, pushing his hand a bit further in and hitting the edge of a tangle of coarse, curly hair.

Fuck,” Malfoy said, and then he said it again, and a third time, choking it out as if he could barely breathe.

Harry took this to mean that yes, it was OK, but since Malfoy was now moving his hand frantically, he didn’t make a move towards further intimacies – this was pretty fucking intimate, to be fair – and left his hand where it was, moving his fingers against Malfoy’s slick, hot skin and tugging very gently at his pubes.

Malfoy’s body started to shake like mad, his thigh jerking uncontrollably. “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck,” he said, and then groaned, loud and long, hand moving in spasms as he came.

Malfoy lay there for a moment, panting heavily, and Harry wasn’t sure what to do next. Should he . . . move his hand away? “Salazar’s balls,” Malfoy said, still breathless. “That was—” He took in a few more rapid, gasping breaths. “Accio wand,” he said, and cast a cleaning spell that Harry felt tingle over him, too. “God.”

Harry still wasn’t sure what to do next. His body knew what it wanted, all right. But he felt unable to move a muscle, his hand against Malfoy’s bare skin as if were stuck there. The knowledge that Malfoy was lying there, almost naked, and so close, was paralysing. And it was possible, too, that if he moved, the feeling of fabric dragging across his cock might make him come on the spot.

Malfoy half pulled away, and Harry snatched back his hand as if he’d been burned. He heard the clatter of Malfoy’s wand, as Malfoy tossed it in the direction of the bedside table and missed. Malfoy then bounced about a bit, tugging his pyjama bottoms back up, and then flopped down on his back beside Harry. They were close, but not touching. Malfoy was still breathing too fast to be normal.

Then, to Harry’s horror, Malfoy twisted, turning to face him, and lightly placed a hand on his arm. “Lights – low,” he murmured, and a handful of candles dotted about the room twinkled on, casting a warm, flickering glow across the room. “I just wanted to see how embarrassed you look right now,” Malfoy said, and his eyes glinted.

“Well?” Harry asked, after Malfoy had stared into his face for a long moment. “Have you finished yet?”

“Mm, almost,” Malfoy said, and his gaze dropped down – not for long, but for long enough – to Harry’s crotch, before he looked back up. “All right, finished,” he said, his voice sweet, and lay back down, moving his hand from Harry’s arm and resting it on his own bare chest instead. His chest was still rising and falling rapidly. And he hadn’t turned the bloody lights off.

“So, you didn’t fancy enjoying our wedding bliss yourself?” Malfoy said to the ceiling, making Harry choke on his own saliva.

“We’re not wedded,” Harry protested.

Malfoy snorted. “No,” he agreed, “and it’s going to be a very long unhappily ever after for you, if you’re too prudish to knock one out in front of me,” he said, and half-turned his head back towards Harry to raise his eyebrows at him. There was an implication, a challenge, there. Harry swallowed heavily, wishing Malfoy couldn’t see his face. He didn’t know how he had enough blood to heat up his face like that, given that all of it seemed to be pumping into his cock, but his body seemed to be easily managing both at once.

“Well?” Malfoy said. “Though if you’re going to think about the female Weasley while you do it, you can fuck right off to the bathroom again, if you please,” he added, his tone suddenly fierce.

Was Malfoy jealous of Ginny, Harry wondered. No. That would be weird. But then he remembered how odd he’d felt over Astoria, how odd he still felt over Astoria. “Um,” he said, and tried not to hyperventilate. This whole thing was weird. It wasn’t the first time he’d been awake while a straight bloke had wanked nearby – he’d been at boarding school, for fuck’s sake. It wouldn’t even be the first time he’d wanked in company, if he let himself do what his body burned to do. The Gryffindor lads had indulged a few times in sixth year, and found they couldn’t look each other in the eye for a long time after, and so had put an end to that particular phase pretty sharpish. Sometimes he still felt a bit shivery when he caught sight of Ron eating a sausage, and not in a good way.

But . . . this was different. This was Malfoy. And . . . Harry didn’t know he was straight, exactly, did he? He hadn’t seemed very straight five minutes ago.

Malfoy raised himself up on one elbow. “Scared, Potter?” he said.

The words – so familiar, so out of place – made his blood burn, and his cock twitched, jerking angrily in his joggers, desperate to be touched. “No,” he said, heart thrumming a thousand beats a minute.

Malfoy raised his eyebrows again. “Go on then,” he suggested.

Harry couldn’t move, he couldn’t.

Malfoy reached over and, very quickly, gave Harry a small shove that had him overbalancing and ending up flat on his back. His erection, when he looked down, nearly took his eye out.

Malfoy made a humming noise of approval. He was still raised up on one elbow, his head higher than Harry’s, giving him a bird’s eye view of . . . everything. Harry swallowed hard, feeling – and seeing – his erection jump again, straining against the fabric.

“Hm,” Malfoy said, and to Harry’s relief sank back down on the bed and tucked one hand under his pillow, though his head, his whole upper body, were still uncomfortably close. The relief faded a bit more when Malfoy casually swung his leg over Harry’s calf, the weight of the movement pulling Harry’s legs wider apart and straining the fabric across his crotch even tighter. “Looks uncomfortable,” Malfoy said thoughtfully.

It fucking was uncomfortable.

“I . . . are you really going to stare at me like that?” Harry asked, trying for indignation.

“Yes,” Malfoy said.

“Do you want to put me off?” Harry asked, finding indignation now came without trying.

“Yes,” Malfoy said again, his voice a laugh. He sounded so relaxed he was boneless, floating away on a sea of . . . on a sea of tormenting Harry. “I’m just trying to decide whether it would be funnier if you came in under a minute, or if it took you half an hour.”

“I’m not going to come at all at this rate!” Harry said.

“Oh, I am sorry,” Malfoy said, dripping sarcasm. “Maybe you need a hand to get started?” He was rising up on his elbow again before Harry could fully process what he’d said. He loomed over Harry, reaching over and grabbing his right wrist, and pulling it down towards Harry’s own crotch. Harry let him. He flattened out his hand, his palm landing firmly on his hard-on through the fabric, fingers grazing his balls, and tried not to shudder.

Malfoy released Harry’s wrist and slid his fingers down the back of Harry’s hand and then up again, the pressure light but firm, grinding Harry’s palm against his cock. Harry let out a sharp breath and tried not to surge up against the feeling, to keep his hips on the bed, and didn’t entirely manage it.

“That’s it,” Malfoy murmured, like a massive tosser, and released Harry’s hand. Harry couldn’t stop his hand moving now, palming his hard-on through the annoying, ridiculously thick fabric, no longer sure if he was trying to stop himself from coming right away or just trying to come.

Malfoy had removed his hand from Harry’s, but . . . oh my fucking God, Harry thought, what was he doing . . .? He ran a finger lightly down Harry’s side, then seemed to be playing with the waistband of Harry’s joggers, trailing his fingers along the skin there and making teasing, sly movements. Harry felt his whole stomach clench, and the tips of Malfoy’s fingers slipped under his waistband, but no further.

Then Malfoy . . . twisted his hand, grabbing a firm hold of the waistband, and . . . pulling it an inch or two clean away from Harry’s stomach. “After you,” he said politely, and Harry choked, but took the hint, shoving his hand into the gap and closing his fist around his cock with a shudder and a gasp. Malfoy let go, the elastic biting into Harry’s forearm, and lay back down again beside him.

Harry could feel Malfoy watching him. Everything about it was uncomfortable: Malfoy’s intent gaze; the flickering candles, bright enough to illuminate the growing wet patch at the front of Harry’s joggers; the awkward angle the tight joggers forced his hand into. And . . . yes, he realised, it was weird jerking off without magic. It was as if someone had muffled one his senses, while leaving everything else sharper, somehow. “It’s . . . weird,” he managed, his voice sounding unnaturally loud in the quiet room.

Malfoy, by some miracle, seemed to understand what he meant. “Mm,” he murmured. “Sex, magic, life force. It’s all the same, in some way, I suppose. All interconnected, one flowing seamlessly into another.”

Harry felt a stab of anxiety. He clenched his toes tightly and managed to slow down the movement of his hand. “This isn’t going to . . . you know . . . is it?”

Malfoy snorted, sounding unsympathetic. “Marry us properly? Unless this escalates considerably, no. You can’t conclude a sacred bonding ritual with a quick wank, you moron.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, feeling slightly less in the mood.

“Aww, did I put you off?” Malfoy murmured, still sounding unsympathetic. But he reached over and stroked a hand gently through Harry’s hair, the movement sending tingles through his head and down his spine. “I’ll shut my eyes, if you want to be more comfortable,” he suggested, and when Harry half-turned his head, Malfoy’s eyelids were shut, his face relaxed.

Fuck it. Harry dragged his joggers halfway down his thighs, trying not to groan as his cock sprang free. This was so much better, he thought, gripping himself firmly and starting to stroke. Malfoy’s hand was still moving in his hair, fingers working in a gentle exploratory motion. Every time he brushed against Harry’s scalp, each fleeting touch sent tiny, bright sparks of . . . something, soaring through Harry’s body. Was it his magic? Harry wasn’t sure. He only knew that he liked it.

His cock was leaking heavily now, a string of transparent pre-cum dripping from the head and forming a pool on his belly, where his T-shirt had ridden up. He tried to spread his legs a bit wider, surreptitiously, to give space to his aching, swelling balls, reaching down to give his ball sack a soft squeeze that had his breath catching in his throat and his hips trying to rise off the bed. Malfoy still had one of his legs on top of Harry’s though, a firm pressure, and he pushed back. Harry realised Malfoy had his eyes open, was staring, transfixed, at his cock. “I-I . . .” he stammered, taking himself back in hand and stroking gently, smearing his shaft with slippery wonderfulness that had his eyes rolling back in his head.

“I only said I’d shut my eyes,” Malfoy murmured. “I never said anything about keeping them closed.”

Harry moaned, flushing with embarrassment, but also feeling as if every sensation, every throb of his body, was amplified a dozenfold by knowing that Malfoy was looking at his cock. He could feel his orgasm building, his back arching and his hips trying, again, to rise up into his fist, faster, stronger, more, more.

“Oh,” Malfoy said, “looks like you’re nearly there. I thought you’d last a bit longer, Saviour.”

Harry managed, although it nearly killed him, to slow his wrist down, his whole body shaking with arousal, the feelings dulling a tiny bit, but not enough. He clenched his stomach, his thighs, and that only made it worse, made the feelings stronger, the slow pace more maddening.

“Let me help,” Malfoy said, and Harry let out a shuddering breath, not knowing what he meant, and not saying no.

Malfoy moved, and suddenly he was looming over Harry. He had one knee between Harry’s legs, on top of the lowered crotch of his joggers, the tight waistband pressing into Harry’s thighs and trapping his legs in place. Malfoy leaned forward, grabbing Harry’s left wrist and raising it up by his head, then reaching down to pull his right hand off his cock. He then leaned forward deliberately, hands either side of Harry’s head, pressing down on both his wrists, their faces near but not touching. Harry felt pinned in place – legs pushed down, hands held up. And Malfoy’s gaze was pinning him to the bed, too – hot, and heavy, and . . .

Harry was panting, harsh and loud, and Malfoy’s eyes dropped to his mouth, then up again, to look at him. To look at him and . . . not do anything fucking else! Harry could feel his cock twitching, each pulse making his hips jerk. He tried to grind his hips, but there was nothing to grind his cock on, Malfoy’s body a fraction too far away. “I . . .” he said, desperate, aching.

“Yes?” Malfoy murmured.

Harry swallowed hard, feeling frenzied, light-headed. If someone didn’t touch his cock right now he might explode. If someone did touch his cock right now he might explode. His heartbeat pounded in his groin, and his cock jerked again, without being touched.

“Do you think you could . . .?” Malfoy asked. He sounded dazed.

Harry couldn’t stop breathing too fast, his chest rising and falling. His mouth fell open, and he closed it again with difficulty. “I need . . . Fuck.”

Malfoy moistened his lips, and then pushed himself upright, sitting back on his heels. Harry’s legs were still trapped, but his arms were freed. Still, for a moment, he just looked at Malfoy, as his cock ached and ached and ached, on display between them. Then he cracked. So what if Malfoy was right there between his legs, staring at him? “Lights – a little brighter,” Malfoy said calmly. So what if Malfoy was a gigantic, fucking wanker, who wanted to humiliate Harry by . . . what, exactly? By seeing him toss off in greater detail?

Harry wound the fingers of his left hand tightly into the sheets, and reached down to jerk off frantically. He squeezed his eyes shut at first, the feeling was so overwhelming, and then opened his eyes to stare at Malfoy and try to freak him out. Malfoy didn’t look freaked out though. He looked . . . mesmerised.

Harry felt his stomach tighten, his thighs shake. He sped up his hand, mouth falling wide open and a groan falling out. Still, he stared at Malfoy, until he felt himself start to come, and his head fell back as he spasmed, pumping through his orgasm until it almost started to hurt, it felt so sensitive.

He barely registered Malfoy slide off him until he felt a light touch on his arm and the tingling of a cleaning spell, followed by the lights switching off. He lay there for a moment, unable to move a muscle he was so relaxed, before reaching down with a sigh to drag his joggers back up his thighs, tucking himself away. He wondered, sleepily, if he was meant to feel embarrassed right now, but all he could manage was a faint unease. That had been . . . surprisingly hot. And . . . and they hadn’t triggered the bond, or anything, and they were both adults, and adults did this sort of thing, didn’t they? The faint unease started to grown into a full-blown unease, the more he thought about it.

“We were just fooling around,” Malfoy said sleepily, muffled by his pillow. “We might as well get something entertaining out of this fucking mess. Don’t overthink it.”

Right. Right. Just fooling around. Don’t overthink it. “You – weren’t thinking about Astoria, were you?” Harry said, and then prayed for the ground to open and swallow him up. Or it could swallow Malfoy up. That would be a fine alternative.

“I – Astoria?” Malfoy said, sounding shocked into wakefulness.

“Well?” Harry prompted, when Malfoy didn’t reply, because he’d asked the question now, there was no taking it back, so he wanted a fucking answer. Even though, he thought, feeling flames of embarrassment rise to try to burn him to death, the answer was pretty obvious, now he came to think of it. It was . . . a bit unlikely Malfoy had been thinking of Astoria as he watched Harry toss off, wasn’t it?

Malfoy sounded like he was grinding his teeth. “Harry, if you think I was thinking about Astoria just then, I really don’t know what to tell you.”

“Er, OK,” Harry said. “Well, good night then.”

Malfoy didn’t say goodnight; he just snorted.

^^^^^^

When Malfoy woke Harry up a few hours later, caught in the grip of another screaming nightmare, it was worse than the first time. One of Malfoy’s flailing fists caught Harry right on the cheekbone, making Harry gloomily suspect that he’d end up with a whopper of a black eye the next day. Then Malfoy started full-on crying, which only made his temper worse when he woke up enough to realise who he was crying in front of.

Harry clung on to Malfoy grimly as Malfoy made ugly, snorting sobs against him, sounding like he wanted to die. It made it worse, somehow, that Malfoy was still bare-chested, Harry encountering acres of skin, wherever he moved, and not finding it in the least bit appealing. Malfoy felt cold, and bony, and when he stopped crying hard enough to speak, he said, “I really hate you, Harry,” as if he meant it.

“Yes, I know,” Harry said wearily, rubbing Malfoy’s back and not letting go, which only seemed to make Malfoy’s tears worse. They must have sat like that for half an hour, dawn filtering in through the room, before Malfoy calmed down enough to get up, saying he was going to wash his face. Harry sat up for a bit, waiting for him, but when Malfoy didn’t return he laid his head back down again on his pillow, staring in frustration at the ceiling, until at some point he must have been tired enough to switch off, because he fell into a deep and uneasy sleep.

Chapter Text

“Are we talking about it?” Harry asked awkwardly when he went downstairs to find Malfoy the next morning. He’d woken to an empty bed and a matching odd, empty feeling inside, as if something was missing.

Malfoy scowled at him. “About how terrible your hair looks this morning?” he said, by which Harry presumed he meant No, and then all but stamped over to him. “You’ve got a black eye,” he said, scowling all the harder. “Hold still. I’m not great at healing magic, but people will think I hit you.”

You did hit me, Harry didn’t say. Instead, he held still, while Malfoy grabbed his chin with one hand and cast a clumsy healing spell with the other. It didn’t feel much better, the flesh beneath his skin aching. “Did it work?”

Malfoy let go of him, and shrugged, his face pinched. “The bruise has gone,” he said, and then turned away.

The bruise might have gone, but the pain still remained. And it was Friday, Harry realised. The day they would celebrate their wedding, before going off on honeymoon. It wasn’t exactly what he’d dreamed of, as a child. But then he’d never really dreamed of anything much as a child, other than a blinding green light. It probably hadn’t helped that he’d slept in a cupboard, he thought grimly.

Fuck Malfoy, Harry thought, feeling himself get a headache. If he wanted to be like this, then that was up to him. It wasn’t like Harry was marrying him for real.

^^^^^^

They decided to get ready for the party in the Ministry, rather than back at Harry’s, as had been the original plan. Kingsley had offered them a suite of meeting rooms he used for important guests, and Harry had agreed without asking Malfoy, thinking that Malfoy could do whatever the fuck he liked, as far as Harry was concerned.

It had been an arse of a day so far. Malfoy had been monosyllabic, and what monosyllables he’d come out with had been rude. Every time he said anything, anyway, all Harry could hear was him saying I really hate you, Harry, and how he’d obviously meant it. Well, I hate you too, Harry thought firmly, trying to remember how hating Malfoy had felt, and only managing to feel like complete shit instead. Disliking Malfoy was easy, but hate slipped away, every time he reached for it. Besides – he didn’t want to hate Malfoy any more.

Harry had demanded to see Zabini again, to get some evidence that the arse-face had actually been doing some work on the bonding potion, and that had only made him feel worse. Zabini had been almost polite, clearly unnerved by Harry’s genuine anger, and had assured him that they were working on a solution and could almost guarantee that in a week or so they’d be able to make a temporary magic bridge between him and Malfoy. Could almost. Temporary. It wasn’t what Harry had wanted to hear. He wanted to be shot of Malfoy, not to be gearing up to smile at him in public. He’d had enough of Malfoy’s unpredictability, his pointy face, his hair, his fucking Dark Mark, and the way he looked at Harry in the dark, and turned him on, and then punched him in the face and told him how much he hated him.

“I was only trying to help!” he burst out at Malfoy, in a temper, in front of a clearly bewildered and suspicious Robards, who was drilling them on possible escape routes from the Ministry if they found themselves under attack.

“Shut the fuck up,” Malfoy said, and turned his back on Harry, which really helped him cheer up and feel a lot more enthusiastic about the evening ahead.

Harry and Malfoy dressed, by unspoken agreement, in separate rooms in Kingsley’s guest suite. Harry took the main, over-furnished reception room and Malfoy the boardroom leading off it, with a large, central table and too many gold ornaments. He’d only managed to pull on his horrible robes, and was just sitting staring in sadness and disbelief at his horrible shoes, when Malfoy entered his room without knocking. Malfoy was already in his own horrible robe and shoes, and he didn’t look horrible at all: he looked elegant, and put together, and Harry remembered how to hate him, for just a fraction of a second, before the moment passed.

“Here,” Malfoy said, and he chucked something over at Harry, as if it was nothing.

Harry caught it automatically. It was a ring. “Oh,” he said, remembering, and fumbled in his bag for the ring Hermione had owled over first thing that morning. He tossed the box over to Malfoy, who opened it with a frown and held the ring inside it up to the light. It was silver coloured, so Harry supposed Hermione had gone for the platinum option after all, and ring-shaped, and Harry didn’t know what else to say about it.

“Looks new,” Malfoy said, clearly unimpressed, and walked over to Harry, briefly touching Harry’s hand as he slid the ring on. It shimmered, oddly as he did so, shrinking down to fit his finger perfectly.

Was it an issue that the ring was new? Harry felt even more hacked off than he had before. Malfoy knew about his parents. “The only thing I have from Mum and Dad is the blanket I was wrapped in when Voldemort killed them,” he said coldly. “Sorry I can’t pass over any heirloom jewellery. I’ll be sure to bear it mind, next time my parents are murdered.”

Malfoy flinched, his face going tight. “Yes, all right. The ring’s . . . fine,” he said, which wasn’t an apology, but he looked more hacked off with himself than Harry, and he gave another long, odd look at his finger. “Well, go on then,” he said, waving his hand at Harry impatiently.

Harry looked down at the ring Malfoy had chucked at him. It felt solid and warm, and oddly heavy, even though it was just a slim band of metal. When Harry looked closer, it wasn’t a solid piece: it was twist upon twist of intricate metalwork, like vines coiling around a central hollow. It seemed to shimmer as he looked closer, odd lights glinting as he rotated it between his fingers.

“Don’t lose it,” Malfoy said, a strange awkwardness to his fucked-off tone. “It’s probably worth more than your entire bank vault.” He folded his arms, clearly waiting for something.

Harry sighed, and forced himself to his feet to copy Malfoy’s earlier movement. This ring was too tight, though, rather than too large, and it stretched out as he pushed it down his finger.

Malfoy gave a heavy sigh. “You’re still too fucking trusting for your own good,” he said disagreeably, staring at Harry’s finger. “What’s wrong with you?”

“It’s just a ring,” Harry said, not sure what else to say. He did trust Malfoy, even though right now he itched to push him over in a muddy field and stamp on him.

“Yes, and no one ever cursed a ring before,” Malfoy said with heavy sarcasm. “What a novel and completely unheard-of idea.”

Is it cursed?” Harry asked, sitting back down on the nearest chair and giving his horrible shoes another glare, before pushing his feet into them. They looked even worse on his feet than off them, in his opinion.

“Well, there’s always the possibility it’ll suck out one of my organs to give to you, if you need it,” Malfoy said, and when Harry looked up at him in surprise, Malfoy was smiling nastily. “The Malfoy family has always been very overprotective of its women.”

“Um, what?” Harry said.

“It’s probably best not to think too hard about who wore it last,” Malfoy said, turning his face away to give the wall a death stare. “Father certainly didn’t intend me to give it to you, either way.”

“I didn’t ask you to give it to me!” Harry snapped, goaded by this show of bad faith. “You can have it back when this is over.”

Malfoy’s face closed down at that, into a cold mask. “Right,” he said, his mouth very set. “Right, I’ll leave you to finish getting ready.” He shot Harry a mean look. “Remember to brush your hair, please. It’s not just you you’ll be letting down tonight.” And on that unpleasant note, he stalked out of the room and all but slammed the door behind him.

Harry felt a bit like something significant had just taken place, but he was buggered if he knew what it was. All he knew for sure was that he felt upset by it, and so angry he was trembling, and in less than half an hour he had to appear at a party where he had to pretend he was madly in love with Malfoy, rather than just plain mad.

^^^^^^

The party was too bright, and too loud, and altogether too jolly for Harry, who felt like stabbing someone in the eye. Himself, for preference, so he wouldn’t have to ever see the press photos of the ‘happy’ event.

Malfoy soon left him to it, striding off with a determined smile to work the room with practised skill. Where had he practised it, and who with? Not for the first time, Harry felt an odd disconnect between the Malfoy he thought he knew, all bad grace and boasts, and this new Malfoy, who could charm a room of strangers despite apparently being in an even worse mood than Harry. It was stupid of Malfoy to have left him, Harry thought, and entirely what Robards had told him not to do. Remain within touching distance at ALL TIMES! he’d said, with heavy emphasis. Everything Malfoy did was stupid. Well, Harry wasn’t going to go chasing off after him, like a neglected puppy. If Malfoy wanted to make himself vulnerable to attack, then that was his lookout. Harry felt entirely capable of looking out for himself, magic or no magic.

What should he do, though? Harry wondered. He didn’t want to mingle, and he definitely didn’t want to talk to the elderly witch who was drawing near him, a glint in her eye and the feathers in her enormous hat quivering with excitement. So he dodged, making a beeline for the buffet. If he stuffed his face with sandwiches, then at least he wouldn’t have to make small talk for a while.

It was a good choice. Ron was lurking by the buffet, though he nearly choked on his egg mayo sarnie when he caught sight of Harry in all his glory.

Harry drew back his robe to display his shiny, pointy shoes, and that nearly finished Ron off.

“Mate,” Ron said, when he’d drawn back from the brink. “Mate.”

Harry grinned, for what felt like the first time in months. “Been here long?”

“Ages,” Ron said.

“At least ten minutes,” Hermione said, creeping up behind Ron, who nearly lurched face first into a silver tray of poached salmon. “Why aren’t you smiling, Harry?” she asked, giving him a very severe look and folding her arms, before clearly thinking better of it.

“You’re not smiling either!” Harry protested, shuffling his feet to hide his horrible shoes.

I’m not the one who’s just got married,” Hermione said. Harry had only managed to pick up a plate so far, but Hermione reached over to take it off him. Harry tugged back for a moment, but then considered that the press were out in force, and it might look a bit undignified if he had a public fight with one of his best friends over some crockery. “Harry,” Hermione said, when she’d managed to snatch it away, “go and be nice to Malfoy.”

Ron shuddered, and stuffed another sandwich in his gob. “I don’t want to be nice to Malfoy,” Harry said, standing his ground. “I don’t like him very much right now!”

“Do you ever like him?” Hermione asked, sounding at the end of her patience. “Go! Shoo!”

Harry gave in. As he turned and walked away from his friends, though, he heard Ron say, “Shouldn’t we have warned him Ginny’s here?” and Hermione make a frantic shushing noise.

Ginny was here? Great, Harry thought. That was all he needed. He really did need to talk to Malfoy now, to warn him. Malfoy had always disliked her, and he’d shown a strange, almost jealous aversion to her in recent days. If he was suddenly confronted with her without warning, who knew how he’d react? Harry straightened his back, raised his chin, and strode out towards where Malfoy stood, surrounded by reporters, his mother by his side. His mother. Ugh. Harry forced his features into a relaxed smile and hoped he didn’t look like he wanted to be sick.

Malfoy half-turned at Harry’s approach, and for a split second his features registered something bleak and suspicious, before reverting back to smoothness. “Er, hello,” Harry said, and then, thinking this lacked enthusiasm, took another step closer to Malfoy and tucked his arm into Malfoy’s, tilting his head an irritating fraction upwards to give him a swift kiss on the cheek. It was the faintest of movements, and his lips barely brushed Malfoy’s skin, but Malfoy went instantly red. Someone was taking a photo; more than one someone. Harry remembered that this was the whole point of this event, to show their love in public so everyone would fuck off and leave them alone while they got themselves sorted, so he made another attempt at a smile. Malfoy’s obvious embarrassment made it easier to achieve, this time.

Narcissa’s face was a cool, blank mask. “Hello, Harry,” she said. “We were just talking about how unexpected it was that you turned out to be my son’s love match.”

It was Harry’s turn to go red now; he could feel his cheeks explode with heat. “Um, yes, I suppose it was,” he said. Several of the guests had their notebooks out, and QuickQuills hovered above his head, controlled by distant wands. “Still,” he said resolutely, “we’re very happy.”

Someone went awwwww, and there were sounds of laughter at that – warm, and friendly, rather than mocking. It seemed that people were happy for him, Harry realised. It made him feel uncomfortable. He’d grown so used to thinking of the press as a force for evil, he’d forgotten they were made up of real wizards and witches too.

“Harry, it’s well known that you recently came out as bisexual,” a very thin reporter wearing bright-red robes with bright-yellow shoes said solemnly. “What my readers want to know is – how about you, Draco? Have you always known you liked men, or is this a recent development?”

Harry could feel, rather than see, Malfoy’s sudden panic at this personal question. And Harry was a decent human being, who didn’t want to get in the way of Malfoy’s future, heterosexual happiness, so he gave Malfoy’s arm a faint squeeze and said firmly, even though the question hadn’t been aimed at him, “That’s not really relevant, is it? All that matters is the present. Mal— Draco’s married to me now.”

Malfoy gave him a look of limpid relief, and then smiled. “All I need is Harry,” he said, his voice clear and sincere. Harry didn’t know how he managed it. He wasn’t sure he could lie so convincingly.

They stayed in their group for a few minutes longer, before Narcissa laughed a tinkly, frozen laugh and said, “Let’s not monopolise the happy couple,” and Malfoy smiled a chilly smile back at her and nodded.

As Malfoy guided them across the floor and over to another over-excited knot of reporters, Harry whispered, “Ginny’s here,” in his ear.

“So?” Malfoy said, but he didn’t sound very pleased, and in their next set of informal interviews he was mushily romantic about Harry in a way that felt almost like punishment. It wasn’t his fault his ex was here, Harry thought, and felt even more annoyed about the whole business.

The Atrium of the Ministry was overfull, an hour in to the party. Harry and Malfoy could barely squeeze through the crowds. In a sense, this was good, because by mutual unspoken agreement they’d been able to avoid bumping into both Malfoy’s father and Mrs Weasley so far, but bad, too, because once they did bump into someone they didn’t want to see, they couldn’t escape.

“Hello, Harry,” Ginny said, giving him a sympathetic smile and completely ignoring Malfoy. “How are you bearing up?”

Harry presumed Ron had told her the real state of affairs. She’d have taken him aside immediately to check him for hexes, otherwise. “Um, fine,” he said, while Malfoy bristled by his side. “Very happy, as you can see.”

Ginny laughed. “Oh, Harry,” she said, and reached over to squeeze his arm; Malfoy watched her, as if he hated her. “I am sorry.” And then she lowered her voice so that she was barely audible, and hissed at Malfoy, “Pull yourself together, dickhead. Or do you want a photo of you scowling at me to be front-page news?”

Malfoy immediately forced his features into a very, very wide smile. “And how are you?” he asked, forcing the words out round the smile. It didn’t look very natural.

“I’m fine,” Ginny said. “Thank you.”

It wasn’t at all awkward. And it definitely wasn’t awkward, either, when someone powered through the crowd towards them. Someone who was short, and blonde, and astonishingly beautiful, really, even Harry could see it. “Draco,” Astoria said, and shot a look of unvarnished dislike at Harry, “I’ve been trying to get through to you for ages. How—” She broke off, her eyes widening, when she caught sight of Ginny, and she put a hand in front of her mouth. “Oh!” she said, and then went bright red. “I-I-I-I am such a fan!” She started frantically patting down her robe – this one was embroidered with tiny fairies and even tinier flowers – and made a tiny noise of despair. “I didn’t bring a quill! How can I get your autograph now?”

Malfoy cleared his throat, and Astoria shot him an impish look. “You have a quill I can borrow, don’t you, Draco, dear heart?” And then, when Malfoy just rolled his eyes, she turned on Harry instead. “Hello,” she said, the dislike still bleeding through. “Do you . . .?”

Harry hoicked up his robes – he was wearing his Auror uniform trousers underneath, with their capacious pockets – and pulled out a self-inking quill. Beside him, Malfoy let out a snort that was suspiciously close to a laugh.

“So dignified,” Malfoy murmured, and Harry elbowed him in the side, making him snort again. It was definitely a laugh this time, though.

“That time when you and Valmai pulled off that amazing reverse Porskoff Ploy, and then launched immediately into a full Hawkshead Attack Formation, destroying the Harriers!” Astoria gabbled, snatching the quill from Harry without looking at him and offering it to Ginny. “Oh my goodness! You are my favourite player. I am so honoured to meet you!”

Ginny had gone a bit red, and she was smiling in a way that Harry knew meant she was really pleased but trying not to show it. “Thanks,” she said, “but do you have any paper?”

Astoria waved this question away as if it were a stupid one. “I hope you don’t mind signing me,” she said, undoing the fastenings at the top of her robe and pulling it down to expose rather a lot of cleavage. “Just here,” she said, pointing to the swell of one of her breasts, and looked up at Ginny from under her eyelashes.

Ginny went even redder, but signed her name with a flourish, and handed the quill back to Harry without looking at him.

“I’m Astoria,” Astoria said, toying with the open neck of her robe. “Astoria Greengrass.”

“Yes, I think I read something really unfair about you in the papers recently,” Ginny said, her tone warm. “Don’t you think the press should be better regulated? The lies they tell!”

Astoria and Ginny both glanced back at Harry and Malfoy, and then at each other, sharing a look that clearly indicated they’d both suffered by being linked to famous – infamous – men, and they were really quite hacked off by it. “Can I get you a drink?” Astoria asked Ginny coyly, eyes shining as she reached down and did her robe back up.

Ginny caught a strand of her hair and twiddled with it. “Yes, all right,” she said, and smiled, following Astoria as she weaved deftly through the crowd.

Harry stared at their retreating backs. Had Astoria just . . . come on to Ginny? He knew he could be a bit dim when it came to romance, sometimes, but that had seemed pretty blatant to him. He turned to say something to Malfoy, and got stuck at the look on Malfoy’s face. Malfoy hadn’t been staring at Astoria and Ginny’s retreated backs; he’d been staring at Harry, his expression odd and strangely possessive.

Malfoy blinked, clearly startled to have been caught looking, and he wrinkled his nose, cheeks flushing a soft pink. He started to say something, and then faltered, gaze sliding away from Harry’s face and back again. He firmed his mouth. “Thinking about Astoria, indeed,” he said, and rolled his eyes. “Come on, husband, let’s do what we’re here to do,” he continued, and pulled Harry off to a fresh knot of people before Harry could properly react.

Thinking about Astoria . . .? Malfoy had not just referred to their previous private and hugely embarrassing conversation out loud, had he? And all right, Astoria had shown more interest in Ginny than Malfoy, to be fair, but that didn’t mean much, Harry thought gloomily. She was gorgeous, and pure-blood, and Malfoy had planned to marry her. He couldn’t stop the doubts from lingering, even as he told himself that it was nothing to do with him whether Malfoy married Astoria, once he’d got himself free of Harry, or not. Clearly, pure-bloods married for more complicated reasons than simple affection, and Harry wanted nothing to do with this twisted way of looking at life.

The rest of the party went relatively smoothly, apart from a sticky moment when Robards, who was there more to patrol the room than be a guest, spotted the ring on Harry’s finger. Harry managed to extract him from the party before he started shouting, Malfoy following close behind them and making unhelpful snide remarks as they walked. Robards insisted on conducting immediate magical scans of the ring, and the conclusion he drew – that the ring was so thick with magical protection spells that it was almost more spell than ring – only served to embarrass them all.

Some of the spells were new.

Harry tried not to think about that too much, feeling prickles of jealousy at the idea of Malfoy proposing to Astoria. Did he want to protect her that much . . .? But it was nothing to do with him, he reminded himself fiercely as Malfoy scowled first at Robards, and then at the floor, and finally at nothing at all.

It was just before midnight when Kingsley made a short, formal speech about how happy they all were for Harry, and for Malfoy, and he wished them bon voyage as they set off on a new, exciting journey. Everyone cheered, and threw enchanted confetti, which followed behind them in a cloud as they left the Atrium and escaped back into the lift, back up to Kingsley’s office. It was going to be a new, exciting journey all right, Harry thought with deep sarcasm – all the way back to Harry’s house, where they would have to hide for while, ‘on honeymoon’, until Robards and Kingsley deemed it safe enough for them to return to public life. It wasn’t that he’d wanted a holiday, really. He knew he’d be harassed in the wizarding world, wherever he went. And while a Muggle break appealed, Robards had vetoed it immediately, on grounds of safety – he couldn’t spare a bodyguard to send with them, he’d said, reminding Harry that his absence had left their tiny Auror department one man down, and making him feel shit and guilty all over again.

Kingsley arrived in the office barely a minute later, and he handed them a large, shiny silver key. “Portkey,” he said briefly. “Set for midnight. Safest way to get home right now. We don’t want anyone checking the Ministry Floo logs and finding out you just went back to Downing Street. All you need to do is lie low for a week. Try not to worry, Harry,” he added, and gave him a kind look. “You did a good job tonight. We’ll expect you back here bright and early next Saturday. Blaise’ll pull through, and we’ll find out a way to get you both sorted and back to normal, I promise.”

Back to normal. Could Harry ever be back to normal, after being almost bonded to Malfoy? He didn’t think it would be helpful to say this, though, so he just nodded, took a firm grip of the key with one hand, and Malfoy with the other, and waited for the Portkey to activate.

^^^^^^

“Well, this is going to be fun,” Harry said, meaning the opposite, when they were safely back at his. It was a big house, but he didn’t relish the idea of being stuck there for days with only Malfoy’s company. He trusted Malfoy, but . . . he wasn’t sure he trusted himself when he was around Malfoy.

Malfoy hadn’t said anything yet.

“This one’s on you,” Harry said as he collapsed on to the sofa, thinking he’d better get it in there early. “It was your bright idea to tell the press we were going on honeymoon.”

Malfoy shot him a look of dislike and sat down beside him, but as far away as he could get without actually sitting on the arm of the sofa. “Are you trying to make me the bad guy here?”

“You are the bad guy,” Harry said, and then winced as Malfoy’s face turned sour. “Oh come on, you know I didn’t mean it like that. Although –” he couldn’t seem to stop himself – “you weren’t exactly the good guy during the war, were you?”

“Thank you for pointing that out,” Malfoy said, utilising his best Narcissa ice-cube voice. “I would never have realised it without you.” His lips had gone very pinched. “You do know that I’m trying, don’t you?”

The words Yes, you’re very trying, were on the tip of Harry’s tongue, and he swallowed them back with difficulty. He supposed Malfoy was trying. A bit.

“We’re only going through with this ridiculous fake happy-ever-after crap for the press to keep you safe. Don’t think I’m stupid enough not to have noticed,” Malfoy said into the tense silence. He was staring at his hands. “See how I’m going along with it and not complaining?” Malfoy frowned a bit, and then turned to Harry and rolled his eyes. “Apart from now, of course,” he added, and gave a bittersweet half-smile.

“No, you have loads of enemies,” Harry pointed out, to be helpful and reassuring. “I’m sure nearly all of them would enjoy this opportunity to catch and torture you. So let’s not play Safety Top Trumps, shall we?”

“What’s that?” Malfoy asked, his brow wrinkling.

“A Muggle game,” Harry said, and then launched into a long-winded explanation that had Malfoy’s face glazing over with boredom.

“Fascinating,” Malfoy said when Harry ground to a halt. He couldn’t remember ever actually playing the game, now he came to think of it. He’d watched it played plenty of times though, in the school playground when he was a child, and wished he had some friends who’d play it with him. A group had let him join in, once, but after only thirty seconds Dudley’s friends had noticed, and had stomped in and stolen all their cards. They’d never asked Harry to play with them again. “What I meant to ask, though, is . . .” Malfoy hesitated. “How’s your face?”

“Dazzlingly attractive,” Harry answered. And then, when Malfoy didn’t laugh: “Um, it hurts a bit still, but it’s not too bad.”

Malfoy pressed his lips together into a thin line. “All right, I’ll have another go. Hold still,” he said, and shuffled a bit closer to Harry on the sofa, leaning forward and gently touching Harry’s uninjured cheek with one hand, while swishing his wand with the other. A soft magic gently kissed Harry’s sore cheekbone, and he almost instantly felt better.

“Thanks,” Harry said awkwardly, and Malfoy removed his hand from Harry’s cheek and sat back.

“So, the party could have gone worse,” Malfoy said after a beat.

Harry nodded. It was true enough.

Malfoy seemed to be working himself up to say something. His fingers were fidgeting in his lap, and he kept half-screwing-up his face.

“What is it?” Harry asked when he’d had enough of the tension in the room.

Malfoy jumped, and then seemed to deflate, his shoulders curving inwards. He rummaged in the pocket of his robe and drew out a small velvet bag. “Mother gave me this. Said she’d had second thoughts. I think . . . you should look after it.”

Harry took the proffered bag between finger and thumb and, fearing the worst, opened the drawstring at the neck of the bag, peering in. He could only see darkness. He didn’t much like the idea of sticking his hand in, but Malfoy was giving him an odd, impatient look, so he hoped very much that Narcissa wouldn’t actively try to curse him and shoved his hand in. As he’d suspected, the inside of the bag was much larger than the outside, and his questing fingers touched the tops of a long row of vials.

Oh.

Malfoy had, by the looks of it, been given a large stock of Dreamless Sleep. Which he had, in turn, handed over to Harry to look after. “So, are you trying to make me the bad guy here?” Harry asked, trying to work it out in his mind. Did Malfoy want Harry to give him the Dreamless Sleep, meaning that Harry couldn’t then complain about it? Or did he not want Harry to give him the Dreamless, meaning that any nightmares would be Harry’s fault?

“Might be a nice change of pace,” Malfoy said sweetly. “See the world from a different perspective, that sort of thing.”

And . . . if Harry gave Malfoy the Dreamless, then he would also be making sure that Malfoy didn’t need any more ‘interesting’ ways of going to sleep. Like . . . warm milk, for example. Or counting sheep. Which meant, in a way, that if he and Malfoy did any more fooling around, as Malfoy had crudely labelled it the night before, that, too, would be Harry’s decision.

Malfoy caught Harry’s eye and raised his eyebrows. “Well?” he said. “It’s bedtime, scarhead. What’s it to be?”

“I . . . think I’m going to go and brush my teeth,” Harry said, shoving the bag in his pocket as he got to his feet. He felt his face overheat as he did so, and so he didn’t turn back, just headed straight for the stairs and for cold water. Lots of cold water.

Once he’d reached the bathroom, he pulled the bag out of his pocket again. Did he need to hide it somewhere? No, he thought. If Malfoy wanted to take the fucking stuff, then he should be allowed to take it. So, instead, he placed the bag in the cupboard, next to the toothpaste, where Malfoy could find and ignore it if he so chose.

Harry gave himself a quick wash at the sink, trying not to think about anything much. Malfoy was a tosser, and just because he’d healed Harry’s cheek, it didn’t mean anything. He’d probably just healed it so he could ‘accidentally’ punch it again.

The punch had definitely been an accident, though. The look on Malfoy’s face, when he realised that he’d done it, had been too horrified to be fake.

Harry was so busy thinking about not thinking about anything that he’d left the bathroom and walked over to the bedroom before he realised he hadn’t changed into his pyjamas. Malfoy was already inside, and Harry blinked at him, something inside doing a funny twist at the sight of him sitting calmly on the edge of the bed. The bedroom was, as usual, in darkness, but the hall lights cast a soft, warm glow that poured in through the open door.

“Well, come in, then,” Malfoy said.

Harry did, leaving the door wide open behind him, because Malfoy was going to go straight to the bathroom now, right? He was going to go straight to the bathroom, and put on his unnervingly normal pyjamas, as if he was a normal human being, and take a vial of Dreamless, and . . .

Malfoy stood up, walked towards Harry and – didn’t walk past him. Instead, he caught hold of Harry’s wrist and cast a gentle cleaning spell, lights glimmering on low as he did so. He let go immediately, and took a step back, before half-turning and starting to take his clothes off.

Harry blinked, mouth going dry as Malfoy kicked off his shoes, toed off his socks and then tugged his robe over his head and off. He turned to Harry, a glint in his eye, his hair a ruffled mess. All he was wearing under his robes was a pair of boxer shorts – white, and very tight. There was a distinct bulge at the front of them, and Harry couldn’t stop himself from staring.

“Going to sleep in your clothes, or something?” Malfoy said, very casual, and lay down on the bed on top of the covers, propping himself up on his elbows to look at Harry. The Dark Mark was there, an obvious, horrible stain, but Harry decided that tonight he wouldn’t let it bother him. Fuck it.

Harry swallowed hard and managed to regain enough hand/eye coordination to take his shoes and socks off, although the robe presented more of a challenge, and he nearly managed to pull his head and glasses off as he hoiked it over his head. Malfoy sniggered, and Harry decided that it would be best not to look at him. It took him longer than it should, too, to unbutton his shirt and pull it off, his belt produced unforeseen difficulties, and his trousers conspired to get stuck and try to trip him over. In the end, he triumphed, though, and stood up, flushed and embarrassed, wearing only his black boxers. They hadn’t seemed that tight when he’d put them on that morning; now they felt obscene.

Malfoy stared at him, and then, when he didn’t move, made an impatient gesture. “Come on, then. Don’t keep your husband waiting on his wedding night,” he said, and grinned a sharp, feral grin, which didn’t encourage Harry at all.

Harry made it over and up on to the bed without stumbling. Malfoy reached over and plucked off his glasses. “I’ve always wanted to know what it’s like to have the advantage on you,” he said airily. “How blind are you?”

Harry shrugged. The world was only faintly out of focus. He’d never thought his eyesight was that bad, really. “Very,” he said, and reached out to jab Malfoy in the cheek. “Whoops,” he said. “Didn’t see you there.”

“Very funny,” Malfoy said, and then reached out and, very casually, placed a hand on Harry’s thigh. “Let’s make this clear,” he said, and slid his hand a bit further up Harry’s leg as he spoke, until the edge of a finger was almost, almost, nudging up against Harry’s balls.

Harry held his breath.

“You’re convinced that we can get out of this bond, yes?” Malfoy asked, his voice low and hypnotic, not moving his hand.

Harry nodded sharply.

“Well. Then, the future is all mapped out for me, as far as I can see,” Malfoy continued, his tone rawer. “I’ll get to marry the lovely Astoria, and you’ll get to marry your job, and we can all live happily ever after. Until then, though . . .” He made a humming noise and slid his hand a fraction further up towards Harry’s crotch, his finger a barely there pressure against the fabric stretched across Harry’s balls. “Never let it be said that a Malfoy shied away from new experiences.” He shot a tight look at Harry. “Well?”

The lovely Astoria. Jealousy prickled at him again, even as he acknowledged it was completely fucking stupid to feel that way. Especially right now, given the circumstances. Harry would have been angry, too, at the suggestion he was such a loser that only his job would marry him, if it weren’t for how turned on he was feeling right now. “I don’t want to complete the bond,” he said, to make it clear.

Malfoy froze. “Yes, I got that,” he snapped.

“But, all right,” Harry managed to get out, his face overheating again. It seemed to do that a lot these days, now he had Malfoy in his life.

“All right?” Malfoy repeated carefully, as if he hadn’t quite understood.

Harry nodded, and his eyes dropped to his crotch, and to Malfoy’s hand, so tantalisingly close.

Malfoy moved his hand up tentatively, knuckles grazing Harry’s balls, and then palmed Harry’s hard-on through the thin fabric. Harry swallowed hard, feeling all the blood in his body drop to his crotch. His cock was swelling even harder as Malfoy gently rubbed it through the fabric, and he could feel himself starting to sweat. The cotton was a rough graze against his sensitive skin, and he could feel the heat of Malfoy’s fingers, the scratch of his nails as Malfoy dragged them along his shaft.

Malfoy didn’t seem to be quite sure of himself, his movements tentative, but then Harry wasn’t quite sure of himself either. Was he really lying there, letting Draco Malfoy rub his cock through his boxers? Wanting Malfoy to? Because, oh God, he was really, really into this. It was as if all the anxiety of the past few days had wound themselves up into a vibrating knot inside him, and each movement of Draco’s fingers was plucking at this knot, setting his nerves on fire. He was burning with it: the need to let his body take over, let his whirring brain finally rest. And it . . . didn’t mean anything, did it? Malfoy had said as much. So he could just lie back. Enjoy it. God. Malfoy’s fingers were still moving, rubbing in circles against the fabric covering the head of Harry's cock, setting his skin on fire.

Harry tried to think through the burning of his brain. He should be touching Malfoy too, right? Only, he couldn’t seem to make his hand move, could only lie there panting as he sort of hoped Malfoy would pull down his boxers and actually wank him off and sort of dreaded it all at once. There seemed to be a big difference between this clothed touching and actual skin on skin. But . . . if he didn’t have more than this, Malfoy’s awkward, teasing fingers, Harry thought he was going to actually die of frustration. He needed more. He wanted more.

Harry tugged Malfoy towards him, which made Malfoy grunt, and their hips collided. Malfoy let out a hiss, tugging his hand from out between their crotches to grab hold of Harry’s arse and pull their groins together.

Oh. Now that was more like it, Harry thought as he ground himself against Malfoy’s hard-on, Malfoy grinding himself against Harry right back. It was a bit awkward, to slot themselves together without banging their heads together, and hard to get the rhythm right. But there was something raw, primal about rubbing himself against Malfoy like that, feeling Malfoy groan against his neck as their cocks knocked together through the thin fabric. Harry could feel his boxers getting wet with pre-come, wasn’t sure if it was his own or Malfoy’s. He tried not to think too hard, but his brain wouldn’t switch off. Kept reminding him it was Malfoy trembling against him. Malfoy’s hard cock he was grinding against. It was blisteringly awkward, and somehow that almost made it hotter. Being able to see Malfoy as they bucked together; the silence in the room apart from their gasps; the way Malfoy’s fingers were digging hard into Harry’s skin. Harry burned to reach down between them and drag off Malfoy’s boxers and then his own, but didn’t dare. So he just kept on jerking his hips, breathing hard against Malfoy’s neck. Grinding, and grinding. Feeling the sensations build and squirm inside him until he was close – so fucking close – but still not there.

Malfoy was gripping Harry’s arse with all his strength, shoving their dicks together, but the angle wasn’t perfect. It was difficult to get the right amount of pressure, wrapped awkwardly together on their sides. Harry was almost there, almost, but – God. He shoved at Malfoy, rolling him on to his back and pressing him down into the bed. It felt amazing, Malfoy’s cock a hard, swollen bar beneath him, and Harry rocked his hips hard against it, and again, Malfoy’s head falling back and his mouth simultaneously falling open.

Harry shifted, trying to get the angle just right, perfect, there, there, and Malfoy groaned, hips bucking up as Harry ground down. “Yes,” Malfoy hissed. “Like that,” and Harry kept going, working his hips hard, slow, starting to feel his balls throb, his cock throb. Everything seemed to throb in time with the movement of his hips, his heart pounding, and finally he was coming. He kept thrusting through it, his boxers growing wet with come.

He started to slow, his orgasm fading, and Malfoy reared up to switch positions, pressing him hard down into the bed, making Harry choke as he was overstimulated. It was all too hot, too much. Malfoy was inexorable, a hard press against him for a handful of aching, delicious seconds, and then Malfoy shuddered, and Harry felt his crotch grow even wetter. That was Malfoy’s come soaking through his boxers he realised, and his heart pounded with the knowledge of it.

He felt loose, relaxed, despite the pounding of his heart. It was strangely pleasant to lie there like that, bodies tucked together, despite their sweaty skin, the wetness between them. He felt something inside him unwind, just a fraction, and he could breathe more easily, despite Malfoy’s weight against him. It was odd, and disconcerting, but Harry felt warm and sleepy, and he didn’t want to think about it too deeply right now. He could always stress out tomorrow, when he was more awake.

Malfoy rolled off after a moment, pushing himself upright and swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. He reached for first his wand,and then Harry, to cast a quick cleaning spell over them both and turn off the lights. But then, to Harry’s annoyance, instead of then lying down and turning his back on him, ready to go to sleep, he carried on sitting there. Was he planning on sitting up all night, or something, like a twat? Harry felt all of the warm, relaxed hormonal bliss sod off again, leaving only worry. It was an irritated worry, though. “What’s wrong?” he asked, trying not to sound annoyed. He knew what was wrong. Malfoy knew that he knew what was wrong. But they were still going to have to have the sodding conversation, weren’t they?

Malfoy didn’t say anything, his back a curve of disdain in the darkness.

“I know you don’t want another nightmare!” Harry said, trying to be sympathetic but not managing it. “But I don’t know what you expect me do about it.” He winced. He did know what Malfoy expected him to do about it, didn’t he? Now they’d had their fun, Malfoy was probably hoping that, sleepy and sated, Harry would be fine about drugging him up. Wouldn’t mind sleeping next to a living corpse for a bit. Was . . . that the plan all along? Harry thought, suddenly feeling manipulated and dirty. To use Harry’s baser instincts against him like that? Although – Malfoy had seemed to enjoy it too, so it couldn’t have been that bad. This thought failed to make him feel any less angry.

“No,” Malfoy said, his voice a quiet, chill drop down Harry’s spine. “I suppose not.” Silence hung.

“You know,” Harry said, overcome by tiredness and unpleasantness, “I think it’s much more cowardly to rely on a potion than to be afraid of your own dreams.”

This went down about as well as expected, the silence poisonous and ringing.

“It’s not the nightmares I mind,” Malfoy said bitterly, suddenly fierce, “it’s the waking up.”

Harry considered this admission that Malfoy preferred to dream of Voldemort killing his parents than have Harry be a decent human being and try to comfort him, and found it left him winded. “Fine. Go and take your fucking potion, then,” he said. “See if I care.”

Malfoy shot up and off the bed like a rocket, slamming out of the room and across the hall, returning shortly after with a vial in his hand. He got back into bed, ripping the bung out of the vial and throwing it on the floor, before knocking back the potion and throwing the glass vial away from him. Hard. It hit the wall with a smash as Malfoy slumped on to the bed, back towards Harry, already falling asleep. During all this, he hadn’t looked at Harry once.

Harry lay there, the light from the hallway still bleeding into the room, and felt very flat and tired. His anger had melted away into something worse, a gnawing sensation in his chest that seemed to tangle up his throat and threaten to choke him. All of a sudden, he couldn’t stand to be in the room any more. Not there, next to Malfoy, who was dead to the world, and who didn’t care.

He pushed himself out of bed and grabbed his glasses, shoving them on his nose, and made his way to the bathroom, where he pulled on his pyjamas. Then he headed back out to the hallway and, without thinking about it, down to the living room. There was the guest room he’d offered Malfoy, and a dozen or so other bedrooms he could sleep in, but he didn’t want to sleep in those. He wanted to sleep in his own bed, damn it, and if he couldn’t sleep there, then . . .

Aware that he was being ridiculous, Harry stamped into the living room and threw himself on to the sofa. It was too short, and the light was still on, and he couldn’t turn it off without Malfoy. But he shut his eyes, turned his face towards the back of the sofa, and tried very hard to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Harry woke, blearily, to a faint touch on his wrist, but he didn’t move and the pressure vanished so quickly that he wasn’t sure if he’d imagined it. He didn’t want to move, wasn’t sure he could move. His back ached, his neck ached, his whole him ached. The sofa, he decided, was not a comfortable place to sleep. After a minute or so, though, the discomfort of his cramped position forced him up, and he stretched, wincing, and surveyed the empty room. He thought he could hear far-off clattering, but he ignored it, feeling discomfort twist in his stomach. He wasn’t looking forward to seeing Malfoy again. Maybe, if he was lucky, he could avoid it for a very long time.

The very long time lasted a further four minutes, give or take. Malfoy slouched into the room, shoving the door open with his backside, his hands occupied by two mugs. “Here,” he said, and unceremoniously shoved one at Harry, nearly spilling it into his lap.

Harry took it, and Malfoy set his own mug down on the coffee table, reaching out again to briefly touch Harry’s hand and wave his wand in the direction of the kitchen. “If you smell fire, you’ll know I didn’t manage to turn the hob off again,” he said, and then picked up his mug again and blew across its steaming surface. He still hadn’t looked Harry in the eye.

Harry took a ginger sip of his drink. It was coffee, so strong it made him sigh with pleasure. “Thank you,” he said, and meant it.

Malfoy shrugged, still not looking at Harry, and took a sip of his own drink.

“We should talk about it,” Harry suggested, because even though he didn’t want to – there was nothing he wanted to do less – he’d learned it was usually better to get things over with than let them fester.

“No,” Malfoy said. He didn’t say it in a horrible way, but it was very firm. “Not now,” he added, more awkward, and Harry decided to let it go.

They drank their drinks in silence, and then Harry stood up, stretching. “I’m going to go and have a wash,” he said, and Malfoy nodded, staring into his empty mug. Malfoy was already neatly dressed, his hair well-brushed and bullied behind his ears. Harry didn’t wait for a response, because that would be stupid, so he went straight to the bathroom, and once inside, the door shut, he halted, surprised by what he could see.

There, on the surface next to the sink, where Harry kept his toothbrush, was a black velvet bag, flat and empty. Next to it was a silver stand of vials. They, too, were empty, their tops removed and strewn carelessly across the surface. Malfoy had, Harry realised, poured all of the Dreamless Sleep away.

Harry wasn’t sure what to make of this, exactly, while he brushed his teeth, and he still wasn’t sure what to make of it while he padded back to his bedroom and quickly got dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, pulling on a hoodie and shoving his feet into a pair of battered trainers. He wasn’t sure if he should say something when he got back downstairs – something like why did you do that? would be a good start – but Malfoy clearly expected this revolutionary and insightful question, because he said, very quickly: “So, I thought today we could clean your disgrace of a house.”

Of all the things that Harry had expected to come out of Malfoy’s mouth, cleaning his house wasn’t on the list. “It’s not that dirty!” he objected. “It’s only a bit of dust.”

Malfoy gave him a level look. “It’s so dusty, scarhead, that I’m surprised the dust hasn’t evolved into a new and terrifying lifeform. Well, shall we?” He tugged off his outer-robe and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. “Or are you too high and mighty, famous Harry Potter, to do a bit of household magic with me?” He wrinkled his nose as he looked Harry up and down. “You’re already dressed for cleaning, I see.”

Well, Harry wasn’t having that. He couldn’t roll up his sleeves, because he was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt, but he straightened up and tried to look determined. “Yes, fine,” he said, and tried to prepare himself for another long, hard day of not killing Malfoy.

^^^^^^

It turned out it wasn’t just dust they had to deal with, after all. The attics, once they’d managed to find them, were infested by Bundimun – small green creatures which looked like tiny patches of grass until they were disturbed, when they sprouted eyes and spat out horrible-smelling liquid. And while Harry hadn’t been looking, his half-sized basement Quidditch pitch had become the happy home of thousands of Chizpurfles – tiny fanged crabs, which didn’t look too dangerous until Harry waded out into the over-long grass and they remembered they were hungry.

The less said about what been lurking at the bottom of his swimming pool the better, Harry thought, trying not to shudder. It had been a good job he hadn’t fancied a midnight swim at any point in the last forever.

All in all, it was a longer day than Harry had expected. More tiring, and yet more satisfying, in a strange way. The hard, physical work made things less awkward between him and Malfoy, although admittedly they were still pretty fucking awkward. Harry was almost glad that when it got dark, and they finally admitted defeat, there was still a lot of work to do. It would give them something to distract themselves with tomorrow as well, he reasoned. Even so. There was still tonight to get through. The night ahead loomed at him, with depressing inevitability.

After some food, however, Malfoy rose from his chair and went to walk out of the room. Harry presumed he was just going to the loo, or something, but when he got to the door he turned and said, very firmly, and equally firmly not looking at Harry’s face, “I’ll take the guest room tonight. Don’t come in.”

“Oh,” Harry said.

Promise,” Malfoy insisted, and he finally turned his face to look at Harry, his eyes steely.

Harry promised. And then regretted it, with everything he had, when he woke later that night to the house ringing with screams. He leapt out of bed like a shot, dashed into the hallway, his heart jumping out of his chest, and then . . . stopped. He’d promised, hadn’t he? Malfoy didn’t want him there, he told himself firmly. Malfoy thought his presence, after a nightmare, was worse than the nightmare itself.

Still, Harry’s whole body burned with the urge to just storm into Malfoy’s room anyway, sod whatever he’d said, and help him. Except . . . was that a selfish urge, he wondered, dithering in the hallway as Malfoy’s yells subsided into nothing. Putting his urge to help above Malfoy’s feelings about being helped. And . . . how would Harry be able to help, anyway? He was just presuming that his presence would be comforting, in some way, and that was patently not the case. How big-headed was he? Harry felt, for the first time in his life, as if he’d bought into his own fame, that ‘Harry Potter’ could just swoop into any situation and save the day.

Harry could hear Malfoy crying.

He turned on his heel, walked away from the sound and went back to bed.

^^^^^^

The next morning, Harry felt like he’d wrestled a Hungarian Horntail in the night and come out the loser. He hadn’t slept very well, and he’d had dreams he couldn’t remember, which had left him feeling disturbed and anxious, as if there was something ominous looming over him he couldn’t see, and therefore couldn’t fight.

Malfoy didn’t look great either, Harry thought as he handed him a glass of juice, even though he was as neatly dressed as ever. There were dark rings under his eyes, and his face was drawn.

“You look worse than I do,” Malfoy said, voice flat and unamused as he accepted the juice and sat down, giving a glare at the pile of post still swamping the ground. It had only grown larger in recent days, as mail had poured through the Floo. Congratulatory notes on his marriage, Harry presumed. It made him all the more determined to never, ever open them and take a look.

“I . . . we need to sort this,” Harry said to his own juice, realising that it was selfish, his burning need to help someone who didn’t want to be helped, but unable to stop himself. He just couldn’t cope with listening to Malfoy suffer, night after night. If that was a personal failing, sod it, he thought crossly. He wanted to have it as a personal failing. It seemed pretty reasonable to him.

We need to sort this?” Malfoy repeated. “It’s my problem, not yours.” He didn’t sound as tetchy as he sometimes did, though; he just sounded tired.

“I . . . I really want to help though,” Harry said in a rush. “I know you don’t want my help! And I don’t know how I can help, anyway, but . . . I just want to help,” he finished, trailing off miserably, feeling like he was making an idiot of himself. He was nothing to Malfoy, and Malfoy was nothing to him. This whole situation was just a temporary thing, a blip, an illusion of closeness, and he shouldn’t let himself forget it. They were going to get out of this bond soon enough, and go back to being – not exactly strangers, exactly, but distant acquaintances, who’d never liked each other very much and never would.

Malfoy was staring into his glass of juice as intently as if he was scrying with tealeaves. He was probably seeing a Grim, Harry thought gloomily. “I don’t know how you could help,” Malfoy said to his juice, and shot Harry a sidelong glance, before the juice regained his full attention. “Stop the nightmares, I mean,” Malfoy clarified to the juice, which wasn’t really a clarification at all. Did . . . he mean that he did find Harry’s presence a comfort, after all? It certainly hadn’t seemed that way.

Harry wondered, as he looked at Malfoy, if Malfoy’d ever actually talked to anyone – properly, out loud – about the war and the part he’d played in it. The terror, the guilt, the stress of it all . . . even Harry could see it was festering in him, bursting out whenever he closed his eyes at night. He’d talked about the war until he was bloody sick of it, even though he wasn’t always entirely convinced it helped. But then he’d had Ron and Hermione, and Ginny, and Luna, and Neville, and Kingsley, and what now seemed like too many other friends to name who’d been beside him, supporting him as he tried, in turn, to support them back.

Maybe Malfoy deserved a bit of festering guilt, Harry thought uncomfortably. But screaming nightmares, two years on, seemed to be taking things a step too far.

“Have you talked about it to anyone?” Harry asked bluntly. “The whole Death Eater business, I mean. What you did during the war.”

Malfoy’s hand jerked, and he knocked over his juice. The liquid spread across the table, and they both watched it as it dripped on the floor. “Yes, I have lots of jolly chats about it all the time,” Malfoy said unpleasantly. “Like now, for example! I can see we’re gearing up to a lovely one. Do we really have to?”

Harry folded his arms. He wasn’t really surprised by what Malfoy had said. Who would he have talked to who could have made him feel better? His father? Pansy? Blaise arsing Zabini? “Well, no, we don’t have to talk about it. But . . . bottling it up’s been working so well for you, I see.”

Malfoy’s mouth was a straight, set line, his whole face tense. “You’re the last person I’d want to talk to about this stuff, Potter,” he forced out.

Potter. He’d called him Potter again. It felt like a slap in the face. “Yes, I know I’m last the person you’d want to talk to,” Harry said, and reached out to briefly touch Malfoy’s hand, Vanishing the spilt juice. He shrugged. “So maybe that’s a good enough reason for me to be the first.”

Malfoy was staring at the table, where the liquid had been, and a muscle in his cheek jumped. Then he seemed to pull himself together, turning a determinedly bright smile on Harry. “Well then, ready for more cleaning?”

What a mature reaction, Harry thought, trying not to clench his jaw. He was trying really, really hard here! Did Malfoy think he wanted to talk about the war with him? Harry thought he’d rather pull out his own teeth, or – or – or regrow all his bones with Skele-Gro. It would be decidedly more comfortable, and his teeth and bones wouldn’t argue back while he did it. But since this was Malfoy, and he couldn’t force him to be a grown-up, and why did he fucking care anyway, he just nodded. “Fine!” he said, and tried not to notice how Malfoy didn’t look bright any more, just worn out.

^^^^^^

Harry wasn’t sure what to expect when bedtime came round, as it always did, at the end of the day. It was the second day of their ‘honeymoon’, he thought, and tried not to feel hideously depressed about the whole business. Would Malfoy want to sleep in the guest room again? Probably. They’d had another tiring day of cleaning, combined with not talking about anything other than cleaning, and Harry’s whole house now shone. He thought he could sleep for a week, he was so worn out. So he tried not to stress out and just went upstairs to clean his teeth as usual, shoving on his pyjamas and getting into bed. Malfoy wasn’t there, so he was either in the guest room or back where Harry had left him, sitting on the sofa and staring at nothing.

Harry heard the creak of the stairs, and then the bathroom door, and he buried himself deep in the covers and tried not to care.

The door to his room opened, light creaking in, and then closed, plunging the room back into darkness. Harry felt the mattress shift as Malfoy got in beside him.

“I thought we could suffer together, tonight!” Malfoy said cheerily, from close by Harry’s head. “Maybe if you’re lucky, I’ll punch you again. It’ll be something for us both to look forward to.”

Harry snorted, finding this old, arsey Malfoy strangely reassuring, and had an idea. Before he could lose his nerve, he carried it out: he stretched his arm out, under the covers, throwing it over Malfoy. Malfoy was on his back, Harry found, and wearing something thin and soft. Probably another T-shirt, he thought sleepily, glad that Malfoy hadn’t risen up to punch him yet.

“What are you doing?” Malfoy asked, a note of caution in his voice. He hadn’t moved.

“Stretching out,” Harry said. “It is my bed. Suck it up, Draco.” He’d nearly called him Malfoy, but swerved it at the last minute, remembering how Malfoy calling him ‘Potter’ earlier had made him feel. He supposed he should make an effort to call him Draco, he thought muzzily, even though it felt weird and wrong. Draco, Draco, Draco he repeated in his head, trying to make it sink in.

Malfoy – Draco – let out a breath that could have been a laugh, or could have been relief, and wiggled a bit to get comfortable, reaching up to wrap one hand around Harry’s arm. The magical link between them was warm and comforting, somehow, and it made the half-hug feel almost natural.

“Can I ask you something?” Malfoy asked, his voice half-serious and half-teasing.

Harry braced himself for something terrible. “Yes?”

“What would you do with me if you arrested me?”

Harry let the question hang for a moment, struck dumb. “Um, what? Why?”

Malfoy snorted out a laugh. “Humour me.”

Harry tried to reason through this. “What am I arresting you for?”

Harry felt Malfoy shrug. “I don’t know. Crimes against wizard-kind. Crimes against laundry. I’m sure you can think of something appropriate.”

Harry felt like Malfoy – no, Draco, it was Draco – was saying one thing and meaning something entirely different. “I . . . don’t know where you’re going with this,” he said honestly, not wanting to step on a landmine.

Malfoy laughed derisively – he would always be Malfoy when he made a noise like that, Harry thought – and said, “Fine. Don’t play along. God, you’re so tedious, sometimes. Didn’t you ever want to arrest me? Make sure I suffered, properly, for my crimes?” His voice had gone odd, flat.

Harry felt deeply uncomfortable. “I spoke up for you at your trial,” he reminded Draco.

Draco sighed. “Yes, I know. You’re so heroic, you deserve a medal. Did they give you one?”

Harry couldn’t remember. He’d had awards, and engraved cups, and he’d tried to say no, but really, it would have been rude to reject people’s kindnesses. Had he had a medal, though? He bloody well hoped not. “Um, no?” he tried, hoping Draco wasn’t going to prove him wrong.

“Goodness, what an oversight,” Draco – Malfoy – no, Draco sneered. “Next you’ll be telling me there’s not a statue planned.”

There’d been a statue planned. A massive one, to put in the Atrium of the Ministry. Harry had said he’d resign if they went through with it, and so they’d shelved the plans. For now. “No,” he said firmly. “Don’t be a dick, Draco.”

Draco was quiet for a bit, his chest rising and falling beneath Harry’s arm. “You’re calling me Draco,” he said, voice also quiet. “I . . .” He didn’t continue his sentence.

“Well, it is your name,” Harry offered, with a strange sense of déjà vu.

“Yes,” Draco said, and then didn’t say anything else for such a long time that Harry wondered if he’d actually fallen asleep. “Well, goodnight then, Harry,” he murmured, into the darkness. “I look forward to punching you in the face later.”

Harry yawned and snuggled in a bit closer to Draco. “G’night,” he said, and quickly fell asleep.

The nightmare, when it came, was just as bad as ever. Draco screaming, flailing, and Harry trying very hard not to get hit as he tried to calm him down. Except . . . this time, Draco’s yells subsided more quickly into choking sobs, and those in turn mellowed out to ragged, unhappy breaths. It might have been Harry’s wishful thinking, but Draco didn’t seem so inconsolable with rage this time. He just seemed flat, and unhappy, and Harry felt like shit that this was an improvement.

Harry still had to hold on to Draco for a good while before he calmed down enough to go back to sleep. But this time, rather than telling Harry he hated him, he just didn’t say anything at all.

^^^^^^

The next few days passed uneasily, Draco very obviously trying not to hate Harry for seeing him at his weakest, and Harry trying very hard not to mind.

Harry was almost at the stage where he could reliably think of Malfoy as ‘Draco’, although it still felt unnatural and overfriendly. Was Draco his friend? Harry wasn’t sure what he’d define him as, precisely. No existing term seemed to fit. He supposed it didn’t really matter, though. When they returned from this, their odd fake ‘honeymoon’, Zabini would have sorted out that temporary magical link he’d spoken of. And then, he thought, trying to be bright and optimistic, they could return to something more like normal. Before long, anyway, the Unspeakables would have found a way to reverse the incomplete bond, and then it really would be over. Harry found that idea made him feel complicated, and he tried not to dwell on it. He had quite enough to dwell on as it was.

The house was clean now, so that didn’t provide any further useful distractions. Draco seemed spikily amused that Harry had no idea how to entertain himself without a clear structure to his day. He seemed to be content to sit around and read, and even though he sneered at Harry’s collection of books, he’d pulled out quite a stack to work his way through. He still spent significant time flicking through the book with no title on the spine, going back and re-reading sections with concentration, occasionally pausing to scribble something in the margins with a quill. Harry still wondered what it was that absorbed him so much, and was too scared to ask in case he didn’t like the answer.

Harry began to wonder, too, if there was something wrong with him. He itched to go back to work, and he wasn’t even sure why. Life had felt flat for months, now he came to think of it. It baffled him that, now the dark shadow Voldemort had cast over his life was gone, he felt, if anything, less happy than before.

And if the days were uncomfortable, with Draco absorbed in his reading, and Harry trying not to brood, the nights had quickly become an unnerving routine: Harry cuddling up to Draco in the darkness as they both tried to fall asleep, knowing that a tiring emotional scene would later follow. Cuddling, though. Harry had never, ever thought he’d cuddle Draco Malfoy, even if it was in a vague, ineffective attempt to calm him down enough to get him to fall asleep and dream of nothing.

They still hadn’t talked much about the war. Not since Draco’s odd question about what Harry would do if he arrested him. Did . . . Draco want to be arrested? The question lingered in Harry’s mind, going round and round in circles, particularly in the dark when he had his arm around Draco, a warm, solid lump beside him. Maybe Draco wanted to be punished for what he’d done, couldn’t forgive himself if he hadn’t suffered for his crimes. Harry could feel sympathy for that – it had niggled at him that Draco had walked away from his trial without a backward glance, even though he’d spoken in his defence – but now he thought Draco’s own mind was casting up quite enough unpleasantness to punish himself with. Any more would be overkill.

By Friday evening, Harry was sick to death of his house, sick to death of Draco, and sick to death of himself. Draco, who’d been reading another book again since dinner, a couple of hours ago now, shut the book with a thud and gave Harry an unamused glare. “All right, Harry, for Merlin’s sake,” he said, standing up. “Come on.”

“Where?” Harry said listlessly, but he got up anyway. Anything was better than sitting on his arse for another minute, brooding about nothing. He was driving himself mad.

“You’ve got a sodding Quidditch pitch in your basement. Let’s go and use it.”

A spark of interest flared in Harry’s chest. Was it a good idea, though, to play against Draco, he wondered uneasily. There were times when they’d been on the Quidditch pitch together at Hogwarts that he could have happily killed him.

Draco snorted. “Chicken?” he suggested.

“No!” Harry snapped, and then subsided when he saw Draco roll his eyes. He’d been trying to wind him up, and he’d succeeded. “How are we going to actually fly though?” he asked as they walked down towards the pitch, realising it was going to be bloody difficult without consistent access to their magic.

Draco’s eyes shone with challenge. “I have no idea!” he said airily, and strode off so quickly that Harry almost had to run to keep up.

It was bloody difficult. At first, they tried to fly holding hands, which required so much concentration and skill that it made all of Harry’s muscles shake. Harry wasn’t entirely certain what would happen if they let go. The brooms were magical objects, after all, so, cheeringly, there was always the possibility that they wouldn’t plummet straight to the ground. Instead, they might continue on for a bit and smash into the wall, before then plummeting into the ground. Who knew?

Draco took them higher and higher, until Harry’s heart was pounding with it – the danger, the intensity, the sheer difficulty. For a heart-lurching moment they almost lost their grip, near the ceiling, and by unspoken mutual agreement they zoomed back to the ground, grinning and breathing heavily. After that, they tried riding one broom together. The broom wasn’t happy, trying to buck them off, but they clung on to it, and each other, and managed a few lurching, ridiculous circles around the pitch, before they had to give up, they were laughing too much.

It was just what Harry hadn’t needed. He hadn’t expected he’d ever have such fun with Draco, but there it was: fun. With Draco.

They lay on the grass for a while, until Draco sat up and made a hearty ‘ugh’ sound. “I need a drink and a shower,” he said.

Harry was too lazy to move more than an arm. He reached out to Draco and Accioed a bottle of Firewhisky. In hindsight, he was lucky it didn’t smash on the way, but it zipped into the room at top speed, nearly braining Harry as it zoomed at his head.

Draco reached out and snatched it, unscrewing the top and taking a long swallow. “I meant water,” he said, and took another glug, making a sound of satisfaction and passing it over to Harry.

Harry had meant water too. Possibly. He half sat up and took a swig himself, the alcohol burning down his throat in a very satisfactory way. They passed the bottle back and forth for a while in companionable silence as they got their breath back.

“Thanks,” Harry said eventually, and took another swallow. He felt warm and relaxed, and sore, and like he could lie there, in that exact same spot, forever.

Draco shot him an amused look. “You’re welcome,” he said, and waved his hand impatiently. “Don’t hog the booze,” he said, and grinned when Harry passed it over, tipping it to his mouth. A drop of liquid hung on his lip when he pulled the bottle away, and he wiped it off with the back of his hand. “What?” he asked, not seeming at all self-conscious, when he caught Harry staring at him.

“Nothing,” Harry said immediately, and looked away.

“Mm,” Draco said, and took another drink, frowning into the middle distance. He seemed to be mulling something over. Harry wasn’t sure if that was a good development. “Right,” he said, “hold tight,” and there was an unpleasant squeeze as Draco Side-Alonged him somewhere.

It probably wasn’t a good idea to Apparate while drinking, Harry wanted to say, except he found he couldn’t say anything. They were still in the house, so at least Draco hadn’t gone mad, but they were in the bathroom, so maybe he’d gone a bit mad. Draco was still holding the Firewhisky, and he took another thoughtful swig, before passing it over to Harry.

“I was tired,” Draco said smugly, “and I didn’t want to use my legs.”

“Right,” Harry said, thinking that that didn’t explain why they were in the bathroom rather than, say, the hallway.

“I want a shower,” Draco said.

“It doesn’t work without magic,” Harry said stupidly, and then realised why he was in the bathroom with Draco.

Draco wrinkled his nose at Harry and said, tone thoughtful, “You need one too, Harry. You stink.”

“Thanks!” Harry said, needled.

Draco rolled his eyes and then started to unbutton his shirt. Harry took another hasty drink, because . . . was Draco really going to take his clothes off in front of him?

“Are you planning on showering in your clothes?” Draco said, slipping his shirt off his shoulders and reaching for his belt.

Harry gaped at him.

“The magic won’t work without you,” Draco said levelly, eyes locked on Harry’s as he undid his top trouser button and unzipped his fly, shoving his trousers down his legs and stepping out of them.

Harry wondered if he should point out that they’d only need to touch to turn the shower on and off. All right, the temperature and flow wouldn’t adjust automatically if they showered solo, but it would still be hot running water. But . . . “All right,” he said, because it wouldn’t be a very nice shower if it was simply hot running water, would it? Really, he was . . . helping Draco out here. It was an act of charity.

Harry tugged off his clothes before he could lose his nerve, pausing with his thumbs hooked in the waistband of his boxers. It seemed pretty embarrassing to just pull them off and be naked, even though Draco had already seen what he’d got. He hadn’t seen what Draco’d got, he remembered, and glanced over at Draco in embarrassed anticipation.

Draco had already stripped off and was stepping into the large shower compartment. Harry watched his bottom helplessly as he walked, only looking away when Draco glanced over his shoulder with a smirk. “Come on, then,” he said.

Harry, burning under Draco’s amused stare, tugged first his boxers off and then his glasses, and walked over and into the shower, sliding the door shut behind him. The large shower seemed pretty small with two of them in there.

“Don’t blush, Harry, we’re just showering,” Draco said sweetly, and reached behind him to pinch Harry’s cheek. As he did so, the water turned on, a gentle mist of warm water that flowed over and around them, making Harry’s aching muscles relax with a glorious ahhhh of bliss.

“Mmm,” Draco said happily, raising his head to the ceiling and closing his eyes. The water poured from the whole surface, raining down in waves, and Harry copied his movement.

When Harry opened his eyes again, wiping the water off his face, Draco was reaching for the shampoo. He lathered up his hair and passed the bottle over. Harry gave his hair a leisurely scrub and let the water wash the soap out. When he turned towards Draco again, Draco had his back to him still and was rubbing at an arm with one of Harry’s self-soaping washcloths.

Draco seemed to be able to feel Harry’s stare. “Will you do my back?” he asked, and offered up the washcloth over his shoulder, turning his face to give Harry a mischievous look through the steam.

Harry couldn’t trust himself to speak, but he took the cloth and rubbed it over Draco’s shoulders in circles, moving down slowly. The water was falling softly now, sending soap flowing in rivulets down Draco’s back. Harry watched it stream down his spine, and along the curve of his backside, and had to take a half-step away to make sure he didn’t nudge Draco with his erection.

Harry wasn’t sure what to do when he reached Draco’s lower back. Should he go . . . lower? Draco, seeming to sense his hesitation, leaned forward a fraction, bracing his hands on the wall, and shifted on the spot, as if he was getting comfortable. If Harry looked down lower – which he did, he was only human – he could see the swell of Draco’s testicles hanging between his legs.

Harry moved the washcloth in small, gentle circles at the base of Draco’s spine, then, gaining courage, slid it lightly over the crack of Draco’s arse, pushing it down towards his swollen balls and then sliding it back.

Draco shuddered as Harry moved the cloth, and spread his legs wider, arching his back. Harry sucked on his bottom lip and did it again, wrapping his left hand round Draco’s left hip to stabilise him as Draco pushed his arse against Harry’s hand and almost slipped on the wet, soapy floor.

When Harry looked down, Draco’s arse was slick with foam, and when he slid the cloth again, guiding it with a finger, it slipped further in between Draco’s cheeks, and Draco let out a groan that was audible above the gushing of the shower. When Harry slid the cloth up again, pressing more firmly, his finger hit skin, beneath the cloth, and Draco moaned, softly, when Harry’s cloth-covered finger slipped over the dimple of his twitching arsehole.

Harry, feeling very, very hot, wanted to make sure that that particular part of Draco was properly washed. He left his finger there, rubbing the pucker through the soapy cloth, enjoying the way it twitched and flexed under his ministrations, and enjoying even more the way Draco pushed his hips back towards Harry, hands braced hard against the wall, as if he couldn’t stop himself. As if he wanted Harry to push further in.

Draco reached round blindly, grabbing Harry’s wrist, and for a moment Harry went hot with anxiety – was it too much? But Draco was pulling Harry’s hand, with the cloth, round to his right hip. He let go and braced himself against the wall again, the back of his neck very red.

Harry let go, briefly, to let the falling water run over the cloth and lather it up some more, before reaching back to rub a soapy circle on Draco’s hip, and then pushing his hand round blindly to soap up his lower stomach. His own hard-on was an aching, dripping mess, but he tried to ignore it, to focus on Draco, who was trembling in front of him.

The urgency of his own need made the need to touch Draco all the more intense, though. Gripping more tightly on to Draco’s left hip, he slid the washcloth in his right hand down even lower, slicking up pubes and knocking his knuckles against Draco’s bobbing erection. Draco swore, and threw his head back as Harry dragged the cloth round the base of his cock and, making a fist, drew the soapy cloth up the shaft, swirling it round the head and then dragging it down again.

“Fuck, fuck,” Draco said as Harry repeated the movement, “fucking God.”

Harry carried on stroking, sliding the washcloth up and down Draco’s increasingly slippery cock. Draco shuddered and twitched as Harry worked his cock, making noises that made Harry’s mouth go dry. And suddenly, Harry really, really wanted to see his face, even through the water and the steam. Wanted to finally get a good look at the cock he had his hand on. Wanted . . . he just wanted.

Harry removed his hand from Draco’s cock and gently tugged at his shoulder. Draco turned without protest, leaning back against the shower wall and panting heavily. His mouth was slack, and his gaze, even though Harry could only see him as a blur, was burning hot.

Harry’s eyes dropped down, to take in Draco’s penis. The water was already washing away its covering of foam. It was red, and hard, and thick, jutting up very stiffly from a tangle of blond curls.

Harry reached forward with the washcloth, and Draco pressed his lips together, swallowing hard, and reached out, tugging gently at the cloth. Harry took the hint, nearly coming on the spot, and let the cloth fall to the shower floor. He reached out again and took Draco’s cock in his hand. It felt different, without the barrier between them – he could almost feel Draco’s thrumming pulse beneath the hot, soft skin.

“Can I?” Draco asked, and then groaned as Harry slid his hand up and down. “Merlin,” he said, and reached out to take Harry’s own cock in hand.

Harry felt all the blood in his body drop to his cock. The feel of Draco’s hand, the knowledge that it was Draco, the way Draco was moaning as Harry jerked his cock. It all threatened to have him coming in under a minute. Harry could feel the sensations start to build as Draco stroked, and he jerked the cock in his own hand more firmly, speeding up.

Draco’s hand on Harry’s cock slackened, his movements becoming more irregular. He was breathing hard, and making such noises. The water was a barely-there mist now, barely washing off their sweat, and Harry leaned forward and fastened his mouth on Draco’s throat, sucking and licking a line up his neck as his hand worked.

Draco groaned, and bucked hard into Harry’s hand, and then again. Harry felt his hand grow wetter, and slicker, and he slowed down his movements, pulling shudders and jerks out of Draco as his cock grew too sensitive, drawing out every last drop of his orgasm.

Draco took in a great, shuddering breath and then resumed his firm grip on Harry’s own cock, starting to stroke again. Harry felt his balls tighten, his cock throb, and he pushed against Draco’s hand, urging him to go faster, faster, he was going to come, he was close, he was—

Harry came hard and fast, with Draco watching him intently. Draco didn’t slow his hand, his pace, until Harry was swearing and shivering beneath him. Finally, he let him go, and patted him on the cheek, eyes bright and filled with fire. “You’re such a good boy,” Draco said approvingly. “Good job, Saviour.”

“Fuck off,” Harry said, but he felt warm and content, and Draco laughed and turned his face towards the water, which was now flowing in torrents, washing away the evidence of what they’d done.

Chapter Text

When Harry woke up, he was a bit puzzled to find he appeared to be lying mostly naked on some grass. He was wearing his glasses and his bathrobe, which was only loosely fastened at the waist. He did a quick exploratory grope for his wand, but couldn’t feel it beside him. Where was he? He was on his Quidditch pitch, he quickly realised, recognising the distant, ornately-painted ceiling of famous Quidditch victories from years past. There was a heavy, warm weight curled up against him, and Harry decided not to move another muscle, because clearly something embarrassing lay in store for him. His head hurt, and his mouth felt dry and furry. Despite the headache, though, Harry felt surprisingly well rested. Like he’d slept better than he had in weeks.

He had slept better than he had in weeks.

“Draco, wake up!” Harry said in excitement, and gave Draco’s shoulder a shake. “You didn’t have a nightmare!”

Draco snorted and didn’t move. “I did have a nightmare,” he said, into Harry’s shoulder. “I had a nightmare that I woke up half-naked in a field, next to Harry Potter. I’m hoping that if I lie still, it will soon be over.”

Draco was half-naked, too. Harry glanced over at him, to see that Draco was only wearing a pair of jogging bottoms. Harry’s jogging bottoms.

“Why are we here, anyway?” Harry asked the ceiling, trying not to blush. He could remember the flying. He could remember the drinking. He could remember – God, he could remember – the showering. But he couldn’t remember much else after.

Harry was suddenly gripped by a nameless dread, which he found that he could, very quickly, name. They’d . . . together. In the shower. They hadn’t accidentally completed the bond, had they? He felt light-headed and slightly sick. It hadn’t even occurred to him at the time. He’d been too caught up in the moment, caught up in the demands of his cock, caught up in Draco.

“I can’t remember exactly,” Draco mumbled against him. “I’m sure it was your bright idea though. I expect we came back here after showering for a bit of nude Quidditch. It seems the sort of lewd thing we could expect from a man with hundreds of erotic conquests.” Draco rolled away from him and sat up, blinking hard and scrubbing his hands through his bird’s nest hair. He looked dishevelled, and soft, and . . . thank fuck, Harry thought, reaching for his magic and finding he couldn’t do anything, they hadn’t completed the bond, after all.

“What?” Draco asked, suspicious. “You look like you just lost a sickle and found a galleon.”

Harry reran what Draco had said in his head. “I don’t have hundreds of erotic conquests!” he protested.

Draco’s lips quirked. “It was you who boasted of all your experience, if you’ll recall.” He looked down at himself and shuddered. “Why am I wearing your hideous Muggle trousers,” he said piteously. “Why.”

“I didn’t boast!” Harry protested, feeling a vague, embarrassing memory resurface. “I just – I wanted to make it clear I’m not some blushing virgin!”

Draco’s face did something complicated. “Heaven forbid the great Harry Potter would be a virgin,” he said politely.

“Well, I’m not,” Harry said. “I’ve slept with . . .” He hesitated, wondering why he was sharing this information with Draco. Wondering why he wanted to share this information with Draco. “I dunno – five people?” he said.

“You ‘dunno’?” Draco raised an eyebrow.

Harry didn’t know how an eyebrow could look scathing, but it did. He could feel himself flush. “I had a few one-night stands,” he said. “You know how it is.”

“Indeed,” Draco said sarcastically, and looked away.

Harry wished he hadn’t said anything. The thing with sharing confidences was that it only counted as sharing confidences if more than one person was talking. Otherwise, it was just an embarrassing confession. “Well, shall we, er, go and get ready?” he asked, moving to wrap his robe more securely around him.

Draco seemed oddly hacked off at him, his whole back a sarcastic, stiff line. Harry wasn’t sure what he’d done wrong. OK, so it wasn’t exactly dignified to wake up in a hungover sprawl on the Quidditch pitch, but it wasn’t the end of the world, was it? And Draco hadn’t had a nightmare, either, Harry remembered, and wondered why that was. Did alcohol act in the same way as Dreamless? Or had the physical exertion, on top of a tiring week, just exhausted him so much that his body had given in and let him rest for once?

“Yes, all right,” Draco said, his voice hard. “It’s back to the Ministry today, if you’d forgotten.”

Harry . . . had forgotten. Was it really Saturday already? Had he really been stuck in his house with Malfoy – with Draco – for a whole week and survived the experience? “Thank fuck,” he said, feeling a rush of relief at the fact they could now return triumphantly from ‘honeymoon’, meaning they could stop skulking in the house like lunatics. They needed some more food, besides. And more Firewhisky, Harry thought, catching sight of the mostly empty bottle lying at a distance. If anything was to blame for them sleeping on a Quidditch pitch, Harry thought with a grin, it was the Firewhisky.

“Yes,” Draco said, very cold. “As you say – thank fuck.” And he got up and started to walk away, without looking back.

Harry blinked at his retreating back. He would never understand Draco, not if he lived a million years. Presumably Draco was equally pleased about the idea of freedom? He shook his head, which was a mistake as the world spun for a moment, and then rose to his feet and shot after Draco. “Oi, don’t be like that,” he said, catching up with him and nudging him with his shoulder.

“Like what?” Draco snapped.

“Like – like a Crup pissed in your morning cereal,” Harry said cheerfully, and nudged him again.

Draco nudged back, clearly enraged, which had been Harry’s plan. By the time they reached the kitchen, still pushing and squabbling, Draco’s face had relaxed, and they were able to eat their breakfast together in an uneasy peace.

^^^^^^

As soon as they arrived at the Ministry, Kingsley clapped them both on the shoulder with enthusiasm. “Blaise tells me he’s got a solution for you!” he said, also with enthusiasm. “Oh, good to see you both,” he added, taking a step back and looking them over. “I’ll admit I was worried we might have to break into your house, Harry, to retrieve your mangled corpses, after a week without distractions.”

For some reason, a vision of Draco in the shower, hands braced against the wall as Harry slowly rubbed a washcloth over his twitching arsehole, flashed into Harry’s mind, and he blushed.

Draco gave Harry a hard, unamused stare. “We managed to restrain ourselves from murder,” he said, and turned back to Kingsley. “What’s this about a solution?”

“It’s just the temporary one he spoke of before,” Kingsley said apologetically, which made Harry’s stomach drop in disappointment, “but he thinks we can link the two of you, so you don’t need to keep in constant contact to use your magic. I’ll leave him to explain.”

The solution, when it was explained to them in Zabini’s ridiculous chintzy floral office, seemed a logical one to Harry. To his pleasure, Zabini didn’t do them the courtesy of showing up himself: he sent in one of his minions, a pleasant but nervous Unspeakable called Kevin, who stuttered and fiddled with his tie while he spoke. The tie had Kneazles on it, and they jumped and groomed themselves as he talked, in a distracting manner.

“So, you can magically link a wizard to an object,” Harry said, trying to make sure he had it right in his mind. “Meaning all we then need to do is switch objects with each other?”

Kevin nodded fervently. “Y-y-yes!” he said, tie flapping and Kneazles gambolling. “If you keep the object touching your skin, it will be like you’re touching each other.”

“And what if someone, say, crushed the object?” Draco suddenly interjected, mouth sour. “Would the link rebound, crushing the wizard in turn?”

“N-n-n-no, of c-c-course not!” Kevin said, and folded his arms. “It would just b-b-break the link for you b-b-both. No one would be in d-d-d-danger like that.”

No, there would be no danger, Harry thought. Except the danger of the link suddenly failing in the middle of one of them Apparating, for example. Or flying on a broom. Or casting a shield spell. And the link wouldn’t need to fail, would it? All Draco would need to do to screw Harry over – or vice versa, he supposed – was take his hand off the object at a crucial moment.

As far as temporary solutions went, it was far from perfect. But . . . it was better than nothing, Harry thought, trying not to feel ungrateful. It would, at least, allow him to go back to work, even if Robards made him stay in the office and do paperwork.

“All right,” Harry said. “It sounds OK to me. Draco?”

Draco shrugged. “I suppose so.”

Kevin sagged in relief. “O-O-OK, I need two objects, then,” he said. “P-p-preferably ones you’ve h-h-had a while and which are a-a-already s-sympathetic to your m-magic.”

“The ring Potter’s wearing will work for me,” Draco said, sounding irritated. “It’s an ancient family heirloom.”

‘Potter’? What had he done wrong now, Harry thought, now also irritated. Were they back to Harry’s lack of family jewels? “I can always dig my parents up, see if their skeletons are wearing wedding rings.”

There was a horrified silence.

“Too much?” Harry asked, folding his arms. “You did ask for that, Malfoy.”

“I-I-I don’t think we need to go that far!” Kevin stammered.

“Sorry,” Draco said, sounding sulky. “I . . . Never mind.”

Harry racked his brains. What did he have that might do for his object? He had a brainwave and rummaged in the pocket of his outer-robes, withdrawing his watch with a flourish. “Will this do?”

Draco peered at it. “What is it?” he murmured.

“It’s a watch!” Harry said, back to irritated. “It was a coming of age present, so I’ve had it a few years now. It’s gold and it’s old,” he said to Draco, “so stop complaining.”

Who gave it to you?” Draco asked, as if he was prodding at a bruise – he knew it would hurt, but he wanted to do it anyway, just to check.

“Mrs Weasley,” Harry said calmly.

Draco choked, and then stilled. “It’s got a dent in the back,” he commented, as if he was talking about the weather.

Harry nodded. “Yes, it has.”

There was a grim and deathly pause.

“T-those s-should be f-fine!” Kevin squeaked, when the tension got too much for him and his Kneazles: some were covering their eyes with their paws. He held out his hand to Harry. Harry handed the watch over, then pulled the ring off his finger and handed that over too. The ring didn’t seem to want to come off, and his finger felt cold and naked without it, but he tried not to notice.

“L-let’s go to my lab,” Kevin said firmly, and so they went.

Several hours later, and it was finished. They had their magic back. Well, sort of, Harry thought, trying not to shudder. Kevin and several other Unspeakables, who had the air of mushrooms who’d grown up in the dark and had never seen the outside, had cast dozens of spells over both them and the objects. Spells which had felt creepy and invasive, sending tentacles probing through Harry’s body, burrowing inside his organs and wriggling inside his head. It felt like dark magic. He hoped he wasn’t making a terrible mistake. Draco, by his side, had seemed similarly disconcerted, which had been the only reassuring thing about the whole horrible business.

When it was done, though, Harry had passed the watch over to Draco, and Draco had given the ring back to him, and . . . the feeling, as Harry had slid the ring back on his finger while Draco simultaneously strapped on the watch, was indescribable. It was like the ring was where it belonged: soft, and warm, and home. He tried to pull himself together. It wasn’t the ring, it was his magic. He could feel it now, a peaceful, thrumming undercurrent, albeit faintly muffled. When he got his wand out and cast a spell, it worked, but it, too, felt faint and underpowered. He had his magic back. But only just.

Draco, by his side, was scowling sourly at the watch. He glanced over at Harry, then used his own wand, before stowing it back in his sleeve, and turned, briefly, to take the lenses out of his eyes. Harry had all but forgotten he was wearing them in the first place. “Yes, seems adequate,” he said, blinking hard as he looked around.

Kevin and his mushroom-staff seemed a little underwhelmed by this show of gratitude. “It’s great!” Harry said, trying to sound enthusiastic. “Thank you! Er, but have you made any progress on reversing the bond itself?”

From the panicked look on Kevin’s face, Harry deduced that no, they had not. He supposed they’d been busy with this temporary solution. And that had only taken a week, really, he told himself, trying to cheer up. Maybe they’d only take a week to fix the spell too. He could last another week like this, hanging out in his house with Draco and . . . hanging out in his house with Draco. Was Draco even going to stay in his house, though, he wondered uncomfortably. He supposed that now he had access to his magic, he could go home. Back to Malfoy Manor. The idea was unnerving and unwelcome.

“You’re going to carry on living with me, aren’t you, for a while,” he told Draco, and tried not to sound nervous.

“Well, duh. We’re hardly fixed just because now we can turn the lights on and off all by ourselves,” Draco said snidely, to Harry’s great relief, even as Kevin rushed to say:

“O-oh yes! Y-you must! T-this is a r-risky s-solution. M-M-Mr Potter, you must s-stay n-near Mr Malfoy in case o-of disaster.”

“Call me Harry, please,” Harry said automatically, and reached out to whack at Draco as the git mouthed the same words, even as he said them. He didn’t mind being predictable when it came to things like that! He wanted people to call him by his first name!

But as Harry enjoyed the odd relief he felt at the idea that Draco was going to carry on living with him, he simultaneously realised a chilling fact: Draco was going to carry on living with him. Harry knew he couldn’t last another week just hanging out in his house with Draco, even with their new amazing light-switch powers. The last week had already been confusing, and trying, enough. Another would be too much for him entirely.

There was only one thing for it, Harry decided: he was definitely going to have to persuade Robards to let him go back to work.

^^^^^^

Robards was very happy to let Harry go back to work. Ron was deliriously happy to see Harry back at work, weeping on his shoulder in joy and Levitating a huge pile of paperwork surreptitiously over his shoulder and on to Harry’s desk as he did so. “We nearly died without you, Harry,” Ron said as he mock sobbed, waving his hand to indicate that Williamson, Proudfoot and Savage, who were lurking nearby to also welcome Harry back, should do the same. “We had so much work.”

“Congratulations on your marriage,” Perpetua Proudfoot said solemnly, when Ron had released Harry and Harry had Levitated the pile right back.

“Er, thanks,” Harry said, not sure whether she was taking the piss or not. It was always difficult to tell with Perpetua. Beside her, Chad Williamson and Rowena Savage exchanged bemused glances. “Let’s get back to work though, shall we, rather than chat?”

Chad and Rowena took the hint, although Ron had another go at the Levitating when he thought Harry wasn’t looking. There really was a shitload of work, Harry thought, and felt guilty all over again for dropping his colleagues in it, even though it hadn’t exactly been his fault. He’d left the office with too much to do, and he returned with an impossibility of a workload.

Harry thought he was happy about that. It was a distraction, he supposed, from the bond thing. From Draco, waiting for him at home. Draco, who seemed to be the only one who wasn’t happy about Harry going back to work. He’d been silent with disbelief on the Saturday, when Harry had suggested it, and then red and angry in his silence on Sunday. They’d slept in the same bed, as usual, but it had been awkward, and Draco’s nightmares had returned, leaving them both overwrought and overtired. This morning, when he’d left for work for real, Draco had barely spoken to him. He definitely hadn’t said goodbye.

Not that Harry cared, he told himself firmly. It was just – oh, all right, he admitted miserably, in the privacy of his own head, he did care. A lot. It was horrible living with someone who was mad at you, and when it came to Draco he barely knew which way was up. He’d got used to having him around, barely, but nothing about him was comfortable, or easy to understand. And when Harry tried to examine his own feelings about Draco, they didn’t make any sense either. He disliked him, and yet he didn’t. God – he really, really didn’t. Sometimes, he even thought he . . .

No, Harry told himself. No. Even if he did have feelings for Draco, it would be deeply unhelpful to let himself act on them, other than in a basic, biological sense. Draco was unpredictable, and moody, and brave when it didn’t matter, and spineless when it did. He wasn’t someone Harry could ever rely on. And – even if that was a bit unfair, Draco was a Malfoy, and he cared about that stupid bloodline shit. If Harry allowed himself to imagine a future with Draco, it was a bit like standing on the railway tracks at the mouth of a tunnel, seeing sunshine at one end but hearing the shrill whistle of an oncoming train.

It was hard to remember any of this, though, when he returned home from work – late – that evening, and as soon as he got through the door, Draco, his face set and pale, rushed at him. Harry thought he was going to hit him, but instead it was a hug that just felt like a punch: hard, and tight, Draco tucking his face into the side of Harry’s neck and clinging on. “You’re late,” he said disagreeably, after a while, but he didn’t pull away. “I made dinner, but it burnt.”

“You could have eaten without me,” Harry pointed out, just to be an arse. Draco seemed wound so tight he might snap, and Harry thought a bit of bickering might be just the ticket. “There’s no need to be an idiot about it.”

“Oh, I saved you some, don’t worry,” Draco said, pulling away, and he led Harry to the dining room, where a pile of blackened something sat neatly on a china plate, knife and fork either side of it.

Harry started laughing, and after a while Draco reluctantly joined in.

They ordered a takeaway delivery through the Floo, and sat down in the living room to eat it, balancing boxes and utensils dangerously on their laps.

“I’m not working in the field,” Harry said through a mouthful of noodles.

“I know,” Draco said faintly, and fiddled with his chopsticks.

“You don’t need to worry about me,” Harry continued stoically, munching away.

“I wasn’t,” Draco snapped.

As both of them knew Draco was lying, Harry didn’t feel the need to reply. But he felt guilty, all the same. “I’ll try to be home on time tomorrow,” he said, emphasising the ‘try’.

“You won’t be,” Draco predicted, and wrinkled his nose. “But shut up about it and eat your food.”

Harry shut up about it and ate his food. After dinner, they hung out awkwardly together in the living room, as usual. But, not as usual, rather than sitting at opposite ends of the sofa and attempting to ignore each other as they tried to read, Draco twisted at his end. He leaned back against the sofa’s arm and put his bare feet in Harry’s lap, before Summoning his book. It was the book without a title on the spine.

Harry looked at Draco’s feet in his lap, and then he looked at the book. “What are you reading?” he suddenly found himself asking.

Draco looked over the book and examined Harry’s face for a moment, his expression conflicted. Then he passed the book over.

Harry took it. It wasn’t a book, after all, he found. It was a journal of some sorts, and he wondered if it was all right to actually read any of it. But Draco was watching him now, quietly, and so Harry thought he might as well. He skimmed a few pages, flicking through and skimming more. It seemed to be list upon list of notes. Wizarding etiquette notes. Bullet points of Muggle customs and traditions. Potted biographies of senior ministry employees, and foreign dignitaries, along with scurrilous gossip, some of which had emphatic ticks by it and some of which had been firmly crossed out. There were odd, unnerving columns, too, of pros and cons: Are wizards superior to Muggles? read one heading, followed by House-elves: For and Against and Pure-bloods vs —. The word there was scribbled out, and above it was written, in a tiny, cramped hand, Wizards Born With Muggle Parentage. It was as if Draco had been painstakingly trying to work through his prejudices.

There were, Harry noticed, still a good number of things in both columns, for all these issues. He decided not to read them in detail, for the good of his blood pressure. When he got to a section that seemed to be at least a dozen pages, headed with ‘Harry Potter’, he handed the book back with a shudder. There was no way he wanted to read whatever that said.

“I – didn’t mean to pry,” Harry said, as Draco continued to look at him, not embarrassed, but not entirely comfortably either.

“You always were a nosy fucker, weren’t you, though?” Draco finally said, and turned his face back to his book, although the line of his shoulders had dropped. He clearly felt as if he’d faced some sort of hurdle, and had cleared it without injury.

Harry supposed it was a bit weird to write down that sort of stuff, and then to re-read it, as if you were revising for an exam, or a debate or something, but it wasn’t that weird.

“What are you reading?” Draco asked, looking up from the book again. “Some of your mail, I hope? Soon the dining room will be more mail than room.”

“I look forward to it,” Harry said, who wasn’t reading anything, but certainly wasn’t planning on tackling his mail. All those letters from Pansy lurked in there, along with scrolls from Draco’s own parents. There was a new thing to dread too, now, as well: the copies of the Prophet that kept piling up relentlessly, and which no doubt featured long, embarrassing and factually inaccurate stories about his and Draco’s happy ever after. He’d cancelled his subscription, yes, but it seemed that nothing short of closing down the newspaper itself would stop the thing from arriving. He wasn’t going near his post until he had to. “I’m reading . . .” What was he reading? “The Auror rules handbook,” he said, having a sudden brainwave and Summoning it. Harry only remembered, as the book shot in the room and nearly brained him, that Draco had been angry with him about work, so maybe bringing it up again wasn’t the smoothest of moves.

Draco’s face was alight with laughter though when Harry looked over. “You really are a wanker, aren’t you?” he said peaceably, and turned back to his book, trying to suppress his smile.

Harry rested the book in his lap, on top of Draco’s feet, in response. Draco snorted, but didn’t move his legs, and as Harry started reading, he found himself flicking the pages with one hand, while his other hand rested lightly on one of Draco’s ankles. Draco’s skin was warm and soft beneath his fingers, and Harry found it even harder to concentrate on the boring book than usual. They didn’t need to be touching each other now, for Harry to able to feel the thrum of magic beneath his skin. But Harry found he still wanted to touch Draco, all the same.

^^^^^^

As Draco had predicted, Harry was late home every night that week. He mostly left for work early too, to Draco’s disgust, although he made a token attempt to conceal it. Harry didn’t mean to do it, not really, it was just that there was so much to do. Once he was in the office, he couldn’t move for paper. And besides, if he stepped away from his desk, even for a moment, people were waiting to leap out at him and grill him about his wedding, about his husband, asking intimate questions he had no idea how to answer. He found himself making up ever-more elaborate lies, which Draco then repeated back to him the next day, obviously trying not laugh, when they inevitably made their way into the paper. Draco was reading the Prophet, it seemed. He had to, he said drily when Harry asked him about it; how else would he find out that he and Harry were planning on taking a summer holiday to Maui this year, to fulfil Harry’s long-held wish of wearing a grass skirt, and then adopting six puppies, to live in their new puppy room?

Besides, while he was at work, slaving away, Draco got to laze around Harry’s house all day, sunning himself in the garden, or eating bonbons in one of the enormous drawing rooms, or listening to the wireless, or whatever gentlemen of leisure did to occupy themselves. If he was bored, that was his own business, wasn’t it? It wasn’t up to Harry to entertain him. Harry remembered one of the sections of Draco’s journal that he’d skimmed past – something about getting a job at the Ministry – and wondered whether that was something he actively wanted to do, or whether it was just that that was what his father had done. He could see Draco fitting in very nicely with one of the snootier departments, who seemed very hung up on keeping wizarding culture and tradition exactly as it had been five hundred years ago.

Not that Draco was lazing around all day. Harry didn’t know what he was doing, exactly, but the house was certainly a lot more . . . domestic than it had been. Although, was that really the word? Maybe ‘lived in’ was more apt. The cupboards were always full of food when he got home, and Tupperware boxes full of cake sprang up in unexpected places. Harry hadn’t expected to discover that Draco was someone who liked to bake, but given that his mother had always sent him enormous boxes of sweets when he’d been at school, which he’d opened boastfully in the Great Hall, it didn’t seem a massive surprise when he actually thought about it.

Harry, who was more than happy to eat cake at any time of the day or night, started to think that if he had to live with Draco for longer than a few weeks, he’d end up the size of a house.

Draco seemed to receive a lot more mail too, which he read in front of Harry in the evenings without saying who it was from, and Harry had stressed out about that for a fraction of a second, before deciding he’d just ask him about it outright.

“Nosy-parker strikes again,” Draco said, unimpressed. “What’s it to you who sends me post?”

Which, Harry thought, was fair enough.

“It’s owl-mail so it’s not as if they need to know my current address, if that’s what you’re worried about. I know you’re an ignoramus sometimes, but even you must know that. Maybe I should start owling you when you’re at work,” Draco continued sweetly, “to ask you what time you’ll be home. What time do you call this, exactly?”

Harry picked up Draco’s wrist and looked at the watch on it. “Half-past nine-ish,” he said. “Can’t you tell the time?”

Draco laughed, and then pulled his expression back into sweet snideness. “You don’t have a post owl I can use, though, do you?”

Harry felt a bit like Draco had punched him. It must have shown in his face, because Draco’s brows drew together and he suddenly looked awkward.

“Hedwig died,” Harry said, and it came out flat and awful. He supposed it was stupid to still be so cut up about his owl. She’d only been an owl. But . . . No, he thought fiercely. She hadn’t only been an owl. She’d been clever, and loyal, and she’d been his friend and companion through some of the darkest of days. There was a reason why he hadn’t replaced her; she couldn’t be replaced.

Draco’s frown deepened, and Harry looked away. He didn’t want to talk about it.

“I never really fancied having a pet, myself,” Draco said airily. “I mean, I had an owl at school, but it was more of a working relationship. All I ever wanted when I was a child was a dragon. Not so much to ask, was it?” he continued, getting into his stride. “I mean, it was only a tiny bit illegal. I would have been perfectly happy with a small one. But Father wouldn’t let me, can you believe it? Apparently, it could have burnt the house down. I think that was the only time he ever said no to me, now I come to think of it,” Draco added, and seemed to shake himself out of the memory.

“Draco with a draco,” Harry murmured, grateful for the distraction. “Even as a child, you always were an enormous twat, I see.”

Draco made an outraged splutter, and the conversation moved on. But later that night, as they sat awake after another of Draco’s interminable bad dreams, Harry remembered it. And felt peculiar that, presented with such a prime opportunity for mockery, Draco had chosen to be sympathetic instead.

Although, now Harry came to think of it, he still hadn’t told Harry who he’d been getting all that mail from either, had he?

Chapter Text

Robards made Harry take a day off after he’d only been back for five days. Harry had objected – he was used to working ten or sometimes even twelve days straight – but Robards had glared at him and muttered something Harry couldn’t quite hear, about interfering fake husbands and want to strangle him with my bare hands, and he thought it best not to inquire any further. It was true that he did feel tired. He’d worked very long days, mostly staring at paperwork for hours on end, although he’d been sent out a couple of times on minor cases when they’d been too short-staffed to cope. And he still wasn’t sleeping very well, either, of course. He mostly managed to get to sleep OK, curled up to Draco and drifting off almost as soon as his head hit the pillow, but he was up for at least an hour every night after one of Draco’s dreams, and it always took him much longer to fall back to sleep after that.

When he woke up on Saturday, then, given Robards’ mutterings, he wasn’t entirely surprised that Draco was already up and dressed, sitting on the end of the bed and staring at him. “Chop chop,” Draco said, in the most irritating manner known to man. “We haven’t got all day. I want to go out.”

Harry wondered if he should ask where to, but he decided it would be better off as a terrible surprise, so he just nodded, yawning, and rolled out of bed and into the bathroom to shower and get ready.

They ended up in the West End. In Muggle London. In a bookshop. Harry was simultaneously the most, and least, surprised he’d ever been. “You should have been a Ravenclaw,” he said as Draco walked a bit closer to him, clearly nervous, when they opened the shop’s main door and went in.

“Wash your mouth out with soap,” Draco objected, looking round, interest and anxiety mixed in his expression. It seemed fairly standard to Harry, who’d spent some time in bookshops hiding from the Dursleys over the years: rows of book-stacked shelves, tables stacked with books, and lots and lots of people, some milling around aimlessly, and some powering through the crowds with determination in their eyes. “It’s busy,” Draco said, stating the obvious.

“It’s a Saturday,” Harry said, and shrugged. What else had Draco expected? Even Diagon Alley was more crowded on a Saturday, although the shops were smaller and more eccentric. “Do you want to browse, or is there something specific you were after?”

Draco pulled a scroll out of the pocket of his trousers. “I feel naked without a robe,” he said as he did so, and wrinkled his nose.

He didn’t look naked, but Harry immediately pictured him as such, and blushed. They hadn’t been intimate since Harry had been back at work, and even though Harry knew it was stupid, and he’d only end up getting bruised by his desires, he really fucking wanted to.

Draco shot him a delighted look, appearing to see right through him, and then turned back to the scroll. “Let’s see . . .” he said, and then shoved the scroll at Harry. “You’re the Muggle expert,” he said, nose in the air. “You find them.”

Harry looked at the scroll. It was . . . Hermione’s handwriting. “You . . . you’ve been corresponding with Hermione?” he asked.

“No, I stole her reading list when she was asleep and vulnerable,” Draco said sweetly. “It was the perfect revenge for her kissing me when I was asleep.” He gave a deep shudder. “I may never be clean again,” he said. And then, when Harry narrowed his eyes at that, added: “For fuck’s sake! Because it’s Granger. Not because she’s . . . you know.” He took a deep breath. “A witch of Muggle heritage,” he said pompously, and then shot an anxious look at Harry, as if to point out that, see, he wasn’t a racist shit all the time now. Just on special occasions.

All this talk of kissing was making Harry feel uncomfortable. He . . . wanted to kiss Draco. A bit. And he didn’t like, very much, that anyone else had kissed him, especially while he was asleep. It was weird, and wrong, to think about anyone kissing Draco while he was asleep, even Harry himself. The whole situation was weird and wrong, to be fair, but it struck Harry that Draco had had a pretty raw deal there.

“I – I’m sorry,” Harry said, and Draco shot him a strange look.

“What for?” he asked suspiciously.

“For, you know,” Harry said, feeling a bit of a fool. “Kissing you, without your permission. I only did it to wake you up!” he protested as Draco raised his eyebrows sky high. “I won’t do it again!” he added, meaning without your permission, because for fuck’s sake, who would do that sort of thing?

“I should think not,” Draco said freezingly. “You’re hardly my boyfriend, are you, Potter?”

Potter again. Harry wished he’d never brought the sodding kissing thing up in the first place. “Yes, sorry,” he said apologetically, not sure what he was apologising for but doing it anyway. “Really!” he said, when this failed to melt Draco’s ice. “Draco, don’t be like that.”

Draco pulled a face, and clearly decided that since he already knew Harry was an idiot, he’d let this fresh idiocy go. “Right, books,” he said, and Harry turned his attention back to the list. The list that Hermione had sent Draco.

“I asked her to recommend some,” Draco said, out of nowhere, as they searched for the poetry section. “I wanted to . . .” He shrugged. “Learn more, I suppose. I haven’t the faintest idea about some aspects of Muggle culture.”

“It’s not that different from wizarding culture, really,” Harry said, thinking he’d get a lesson in.

Draco took it gracefully. “You know, I did some reading up on Malfoy history over the last couple of years, and in the past we used to be quite integrated with Muggle high society. Royalty, and suchlike. This is before the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, you know. Apparently, my ancestors were very opposed to the bill, because they had to give up their connections.” He appeared to vanish into his thoughts for a moment as they reached the correct floor. “I . . . That’s quite different from what I was taught, as a child. Some of the Muggle royal bloodlines are very ancient and respected, you know.”

“Yes,” Harry said diplomatically, because everything else he could think of to say would be decidedly rude. Inbred was a word that sprang to mind. Even when it came to Muggles, he thought, the Malfoy family had been blood purists. It wasn’t exactly a surprise.

“Hermione was going to tell you about our correspondence, you know,” Draco said as they began to search the stacks for the books on the list. “She said she’d do it the next time you stopped by her office to say hello.”

Harry winced. He’d meant to stop by Hermione’s office and say hello, he really had. He just . . . hadn’t.

Draco dropped the subject, to Harry’s relief. They picked up several poetry books – anthologies, by the look of it – and moved on to the next section, and then the next, tossing books on history, politics and culture into the basket Harry picked up from a pile by a staircase, remembering just in time that it probably wasn’t a good idea to levitate the books to follow behind them. There were some novels on the list too. One of them looked decidedly romantic, with a smiling couple clutching at each other, and Draco wrinkled his nose at it before tossing it in the basket. “There’s no accounting for taste,” he said.

Finally, they had everything on the list – which was a miracle, as far as Harry was concerned. It was a big shop, but then it was also a long list. Draco forced Harry to walk around a bit more, browsing through the sections with interest, until he finally ended up in front of a section on health. Harry wondered, for a moment, if he was looking up cures for nightmares, before he saw that Draco was smirking, his eyes widening as he picked up a thick book with bright pink writing on the cover reading Gay Sex: A Manual. “I see Muggles treat the sacred rites of the bedroom as a step-by-step exercise,” Draco said lightly, and then, rather than putting the book back on the shelf where it belonged, he slung it into the basket with the others.

“What?” Draco said, when Harry stared at him, trying very hard to think of unarousing things before he got a hard-on in a bookshop. Maybe he should have been sorted Ravenclaw, after all, if this was the effect books had on him. “I’m researching Muggles. Are you trying to hold me back?”

Harry absolutely wasn’t trying to hold him back. Right now, he was trying to hold himself back. Happily, Draco made him pay for all the books, and the embarrassment of the middle-aged woman at the checkout scanning the sex guide, giving the cover a good read as she did so, was enough to kill his incipient boner stone dead.

^^^^^^

After they’d returned home and had lunch, Draco spent what felt to Harry like the whole of the afternoon following him around the house, reading poetry at him. By the time Draco had got through nearly half of a whole anthology, Harry was actively trying to hide from him, and they spent the next hour or so laughing, as Harry hid behind things and Draco sprang out at him, declaiming with an arm flung out.

“I wouldn’t say I liked any of this,” Draco said cheerfully when they’d finally called a truce and sat down to an early dinner. “But it’s no worse than the old wizard stuff my mother used to make me learn by heart when I was a child, so I suppose that counts for something.”

“Why did your mother make you learn poetry by heart?” Harry asked, and shoved a potato in his mouth.

“Your table manners are a scandal and a disgrace,” Draco said as he watched, fascinated.

“So are yours,” Harry said indignantly, after he’d swallowed his mouthful.

“True, but I mangle my food with style,” Draco demurred, wiping gravy off his chin. He took another mouthful and then swallowed. “I performed poetry for my father’s important guests,” he said, and stuck his nose in the air. “In formal robes. When I was five.” His lips twitched. “I am informed it was a sight to behold.”

“I’ll bet it was,” Harry said, trying not to laugh.

“Did your Muggle family not embarrass you in similar ways?” Draco asked, spearing a potato and pausing with it close to his mouth. “Or were the rumours about them being, well, Muggles, true?” He shrugged, and put the food-loaded fork in his mouth.

“Muggle isn’t a shorthand for horrible,” Harry said, trying not to feel weary. “But, er, yes, they were pretty horrible.”

Draco shot him a look, and then glanced away immediately. “Sorry,” he mumbled through his mouthful of food.

“I slept in a cupboard when I was a kid,” Harry said slowly, and then didn’t like the way Draco’s eyes widened in horror. “And they beat me with bananas, and only fed me spiders, and made me wash in ketchup,” he amended.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Poor you. My heart bleeds.”

“I really did sleep in a cupboard though,” Harry said apologetically, changing his mind again about telling Draco the truth. “I mean, they weren’t monsters, but they didn’t love me very much. I think they were scared of me, mostly.” He shrugged.

“Did – did I tell you how my father wouldn’t let me have a dragon?” Draco said slowly. “You think you had it bad!” He shook his head. “Honestly, Harry. Think of other people’s problems before you try to boast about your own.”

Harry grinned. “You better’ve baked a bloody good cake before I woke up today, shithead,” he said.

Draco grinned back, but there was something warm and sympathetic in his smile. “You should be so lucky, Potter,” he said, but he said it so nicely, it made Harry feel all tingly and odd inside.

^^^^^^

After dinner, they sat in the living room for a while, in what had become their evening routine: Harry at one end of the sofa, and Draco stretched out along it, his feet in Harry’s lap. When it was only ten or so though, Draco stretched widely and got to his feet. “Just going to take a shower. Won’t be long.”

“Sure,” Harry said, wondering why Draco was getting ready for bed so early, and feeling something hot coil inside him.

Draco returned barely ten minutes later, his hair damp, wearing fresh, loose pyjamas, his feet bare. He was holding a book in his hand, and he looked up at Harry from under his eyelashes as he sat back down on the sofa, prodding Harry with a toe. “You should take a shower too, before your fetid air puts me off my reading,” he said snootily, and opened the book at the beginning, snapping the spine back.

He was, of course, reading Gay Sex: A Manual.

Harry shot up to the bathroom, showered in record time, scrubbed his teeth, and then shot back down again, taking the last two steps slowly, so he didn’t give the erroneous impression he was keen, or anything.

Draco, eyes fixed on the book, sniggered.

Harry sat down, and Draco slid his feet on to Harry’s lap again, exploring with his toes. “Getting started without me, I see,” he said, like a wanker, as he pushed his foot over Harry’s semi. “Pick a number,” he said, before Harry could complain at this unfair treatment. And then, when Harry tried to think of anything other than Draco’s foot, pressing against his cock, added: “Think of it like divination or something. I predict the future, and the ending is happy.” He sniggered. “Number, Harry!” he said, removing his feet and tucking them up towards him.

“Oh, er, one hundred and twenty-two,” Harry said, and then considered that he should maybe have just said ‘one’. It was a thick book. He hoped it had a long introduction and lots of pictures. He was going to have picked something embarrassing and kinky, he thought gloomily as Draco flicked through, pursing his lips.

Draco seemed to expect this too, by the look of mild panic on his face, but it cleared when he reached the page. “That’ll do,” he said, and passed the book over, raising one eyebrow. “Do you want to do it, or shall I?”

Harry looked down at the page. Sensual massage. Well, that didn’t sound that bad, he thought, and then considered whether or not he wanted to be naked while Draco rubbed oil on him and laughed. “I’ll do it,” he said firmly. “This is your Muggle fantasy, remember.”

Draco smirked at this, but he went pink round the edges. “All right then,” he said with a shrug. “I suppose I can put up with lying still while you do all the work. Go on then, scarhead, lead the way. Where do you want me?”

“Shhh, I’m reading,” Harry said severely, thinking if he was going to do this, he might as well actually do it.

“I knew you could do it!” Draco said and clapped his hands. “Seven—” He faltered. “Six years of schooling didn’t go to waste!” he continued brightly.

“Don’t rub it in that I’m a drop-out,” Harry said, not looking up. “I don’t recall you getting any NEWTs either.”

“Oh, I, er, sat them privately later,” Draco said, and now he sounded genuinely embarrassed. “Father got me a private tutor.”

“How did you do?” Harry asked, looking up at that.

“Five Os and, er, one A,” Draco said.

“What was the A in?” Harry asked, because Draco was clearly irritated at this dreadful ‘Acceptable’ passing grade.

“Muggle Studies,” Draco mumbled. “I found it hard to do the fieldwork, OK! I would have done better, otherwise!” he protested.

Harry found himself rendered speechless by this unexpected revelation.

“This is not a very sexy conversation,” Draco complained, folding his arms.

Harry took the hint and looked back at the book. “Right,” he said. “I need to do some unsexy spells first.”

Muggle, Harry, think Muggle.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “All right, all right, keep your hair on.”

“I will,” Draco said smugly, and tossed his head a bit so his hair fell in front of his face, sweeping across his forehead in soft strands. “You like it this way.”

Harry blushed and hot-footed it out of the room before Draco could tease him any more. He looked at the book. Right, he needed a warm room with enough floor space, and a duvet and pillow for Draco to lie on, and some massage oil. The white drawing room would do, he thought, and gathered what he needed, spelling the fire on low when he got in there and spreading out the duvet on the ornate rug in the centre of the room. It was late spring and the days were warming up, but the nights had a chill to them still, so he thought the fire would help. Besides, if Draco was too much of a dick, Harry could threaten to roast him over it, he thought. Harry opened up the massage oil and gave it a quick sniff, before closing it again. It smelled warm and woody. It had been a present from someone who didn’t know him very well, he thought vaguely, along with some other Quidditch-related health stuff – a muscle-relaxer of some kind, and some warm, post-match socks.

“I’m in the white room,” he yelled down the stairs, and soon Draco came up the stairs, already complaining as he entered the room.

“What an attractive way to summon someone,” he said, folding his arms across his chest. “Are all Muggles so suave?”

Harry took from this that Draco was nervous. “I don’t know,” he said. “Is anyone as suave as me?” And as Draco spluttered, he added: “Go on then, get your kit off.”

Draco went an appealing red, but did as asked, shucking off his top without finesse, and yanking down his loose pyjama bottoms to reveal he was already hard, his cock springing to attention.

“All right, lie down, then,” Harry said, trying to distract himself with the instructions. “On the duvet, face down.”

Draco did so, stretching out with a sigh, before folding his elbows and resting the side of his head on his hands. Harry took a moment to enjoy the sight of Draco stretched out, completely naked apart from the gold watch, before looking back at the book. He swallowed hard. Right. Oil first. Harry picked up the oil and the book, and went to kneel beside Draco. He undid the lid of the bottle and poured some into his palm, rubbing it between his palms to warm it up, then went back to check the book, feeling oddly nervous.

“I hope you’re not getting greasy fingerprints on my book,” Draco said, craning his neck to watch him.

“Watch it you, or I’ll put my greasy fingers round your neck,” Harry muttered, trying to remember the steps to the massage so he didn’t have to keep checking back once he’d got going.

“Kinky,” Draco said, his voice warm. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”

Harry snorted, and shuffled down to Draco’s feet, taking the bottle with him. He started stroking his fingers over first Draco’s left foot, and then his calf, spreading the oil over his skin before applying more pressure, pushing harder with the balls of his hands. He worked his way further up Draco’s leg, as Draco breathed slow and soft, applying oil liberally. Draco held his breath as Harry worked his way up to the top of his thigh, kneading harder, and let it out with a whoosh when Harry shuffled back to his feet to start again, this time with his right leg.

By the time Harry reached Draco’s upper thigh again, Draco was breathing hard and fast, and Harry could feel his own cock twitch, trapped uncomfortably in his trousers. He took a quick look at the book again, and tipped the bottle into his hand again, slicking up his hands before placing one on each of Draco’s thighs and sliding them up his arse, kneading his cheeks in firm circles. Everything was so slick, and warm – the room, Draco’s skin – and the smell of the oil mixed with that of Draco’s sweat cut with an undertone of his arousal. Harry was feeling hot and almost shivery with the anticipation of what he was about to do to Draco. Draco shifted restlessly on the duvet, and as Harry slid his hands firmly back down his arse, thumbs pressing into his inner thighs, he let his legs slide apart, revealing the swell of his balls.

Harry pressed his lips together hard at the sight, his heart pounding like a drum. He poured more oil on his hands, paying slow, firm attention to Draco’s inner thighs as Draco started to gasp beneath him. The book suggested parting your partner’s arse cheeks, and drizzling oil between them, and who was Harry to ignore the instructions of a book? So he parted with one hand, and drizzled with the other. The oil ran down Draco’s arse, dripping over his balls, and Harry followed it with his fingers, running them down Draco’s crack with smooth strokes, and then gently rolling Draco’s balls between his oily palms.

Draco was making amazing noises now, grunts and groans, and little ohs that zinged straight through to Harry’s cock. Harry drizzled more oil, his head feeling light and almost dizzy with arousal, and circled Draco’s arsehole with his index finger, not pushing in but letting the tip dip into the hollow each time Draco’s muscles relaxed. Harry found the sight of it – Draco spread out beneath him – almost mesmerising. It was hot like burning.

Draco let out a noise of displeasure when Harry removed his finger, pouring more oil on Draco’s lower back and continuing upwards with the massage, but his breaths were still fast and deep as Harry massaged his back, pushing up and into his shoulders, digging away at the knots of tension in his neck until he was soft, and relaxed, and moaning with every stroke of Harry’s hands.

Harry looked at the book again, pushing his glasses up his nose with a greasy thumb, and tugged on Draco’s shoulder to get him to roll over. Draco did so, his chest rising and falling rapidly, his cock standing up rigid and so swollen it almost looked painful. Harry licked his lips, mouth dry, unable to stop staring, until Draco made a noise of protest and Harry tried to pull himself together. What was he meant to be doing? Right. Hands first. Harry paid some attention to Draco’s left hand for a while, as Draco groaned, his eyes tight shut, and then, trying not to wince, slid his hand up to massage Draco’s inner arm, where the Dark Mark sat.

As soon as Harry touched it, however, Draco’s eyes snapped open, and there was a look of terror in his face that Harry couldn’t remember ever having seen before outside of one of his nightmares. It was like Harry had stabbed him, and Harry froze, unsure what he’d done wrong. This seemed an extreme reaction. For a moment Draco was frozen, too, and then he jumped to his feet, pulling away from Harry as if he was scared of him, his erection wilting. “I— I’m sorry,” he stammered, and then bolted from the room, as if a Dementor of Azkaban was after him.

Harry sat there for a moment in complete shock. He’d clearly done something terrible to Draco, but he had no real idea what. He’d . . . touched Draco’s Dark Mark. Was that really such a disgusting thing to Draco, that it had killed the mood stone dead like that? But it hadn’t just killed the mood. It had looked like it had nearly killed Draco.

Harry cleaned up first the room and then himself, before nervously going in search of Draco. He suspected he was in for another conversation where he asked what was wrong, and Draco refused to talk to him, and he wasn’t looking forward to it very much. Still, it had to be done.

He found Draco in their bedroom – his bedroom he amended, shocked by his own brain. He was wearing Harry’s bathrobe, curled up on the bed. “I . . .” Draco started, and Harry braced himself for I don’t want to talk about it, even as he sat on the edge of bed, close to Draco but not in his space. Draco sighed. “I didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to do that,” he said bitterly.

Harry didn’t think it was his fault, really. He also didn’t think Draco thought it was his fault, either, and so he didn’t speak. Just left a gap, in the hopes that Draco might feel able to fill it.

“I know it doesn’t work any more,” Draco said, his voice still suffused with acid. “But it feels like it might still work. When he was alive, if you wanted to call him to you, all you had to do was press on the Mark. I . . .” He took a deep, jagged breath. “I was always terrified I might press it accidentally. Call him to me, and that he’d punish my parents for my mistake. Or punish me,” he mumbled. “I suppose I never was that brave.”

Harry felt terrible. A small, awful part of him wanted to point out that Draco had chosen to take the Mark, so he deserved what he’d got, but . . . he still felt terrible.

“I didn’t think,” Harry said, feeling unable to say he was sorry because he wouldn’t entirely mean it, and feeling like a complete shit about that too.

“No,” Draco said, as if he loathed himself. He uncurled slightly and flung his left arm out in front of him, glaring at it. “Potter, a monster is still a monster, even if you’re fool enough to invite it into your home.” He snorted, even as Harry processed this self-pitying nonsense. “I’ve never been as sexy as I am right now, eh?”

“Draco . . .” Harry said, not sure what to say, and then suddenly he did know what to say. It was something he could say with complete honesty. “I fancy the pants off you, you know that.”

Draco blinked at that, looking everywhere but Harry, before turning a pale, intense stare at him, finally meeting his eyes. “Oh?” he said, and made an unsuccessful attempt at a smile. “I’m not wearing any pants right now.”

Harry tried to smile back.

Draco wet his lips and shut his eyes tight for a moment, before opening them again, his gaze more composed. “You are though,” he said thoughtfully. “Where’s my greasy book?”

Harry frowned at that, but Draco just rolled his eyes and Accioed the sex guide, letting it fall open at a fresh page. It was close to the start of the book, and Draco frowned down at the page, before sitting back up with a determined expression. “All right, take your repellent Muggle trousers off and lie down,” he said.

Harry wasn’t sure about that. “Um, are you sure?” he asked gingerly, not really feeling in the mood, even though his cock did a little throb that suggested it could be in the mood, if given some encouragement. “Don’t you think it would be better to—”

Draco shot him a sidelong look. “You don’t want me to suck your cock?”

Fucking God.

“Well, then,” Draco said, sounding smug. “Lie down, and let me learn how to do it the Muggle way.”

Harry still wasn’t sure, though. He dithered, and—

“Harry, I want to,” Draco said. “Please let me.”

Harry felt the roar of his blood in his ears. He ripped his T-shirt over his head, then dragged his joggers off, before getting on the bed and lying back, head on the pillow.

Malfoy shuffled to sit between Harry’s legs, nudging them wide. The sight of him there, sitting between his thighs, made Harry instantly harder with anticipation of what was to come. Draco read a section of text, his lips moving, and then he bent his head down, flattening his tongue and licking Harry from the bottom of his balls, all the way up to the head of his cock. Harry tried not to moan at the feeling: Draco’s tongue was wet, and hot, and wonderful. Draco leaned back in and pressed a wet, hot kiss to the inside of Harry’s thigh, and then another, before switching sides. His face brushed Harry’s cock as he did so, and Harry moaned, trying not to buck against the feather-light sensation.

Draco then dipped his head lower, opening his mouth wide and taking one of Harry’s balls into his mouth. It was exquisitely sensitive, and Harry felt vulnerable and amazing. He couldn’t stop gasping as Draco curved his tongue around his ball, and sucked very gently, before letting it slide out of his mouth and doing the same to his other ball.

“Good?” Draco mumbled, wiping his chin.

“Y-y-yes,” Harry said, heart pounding. He still felt vaguely like they shouldn’t be doing this, should instead be talking about Draco’s freak-out, but it was hard to think of anything else when Draco was looking at him like that.

Draco was smiling properly now, but it was a smug smile. He spat into his palm, and then ducked his head back down to take a ball into his mouth again. As he curled his tongue around it, though, making Harry shiver with pleasure, he reached up with his wet palm and gently rubbed the head of Harry’s cock, slicking it up so his palm slid easily against it.

Harry nearly bucked off the bed it felt so good, and Draco carried on, switching between his balls, his hand slipping around the head of Harry’s cock in a way that was sensitive, and hugely arousing, and yet not nearly enough pressure to be satisfying.

Harry tried to buck into Draco’s hand, and Draco pulled away, breathing heavily, to read the book again, the absolute fucker. He spat, once more, into his hand, and fastened it around the base of Harry’s cock, giving it a long, slow pump that slicked his whole shaft up. Then he bent his head down and, eyes locked on Harry’s, reached out with his tongue to lick his cock all over. The sight, the feeling . . . it was all amazing. Harry felt like nothing in this world existed except his cock, aching and hard, and Draco – his mouth, his face, his hot, wet hand.

Draco, eyes still locked on Harry’s, opened his mouth wider and slid Harry’s cock into his mouth, then sucked. Harry groaned, and then again, his moans coming faster as Draco began to bob his head up and down, sucking hard. His mouth was wet, his hand on Harry’s shaft was wet, and Harry couldn’t tell where his mouth ended and where his hand began. It was all one long, hot, intimate slide. The heat. The wet pressure. He could feel his orgasm coil in his stomach, his thighs trembling.

Harry could hear himself swearing, and he couldn’t stop looking – at Draco, chin wet, Harry’s cock in his mouth. He seemed so into it that it made it all the more intense.

Draco kept up his slow, steady pace, and Harry had to clench all his muscles to stop himself from pounding up into his willing mouth. “I – I – I’m close,” he managed, in case Draco wanted to stop and finish him off with his hand, but he didn’t. He just carried on, same steady pace, and Harry found he was close for a while longer, his world fading into nothing but tight, prickling coils of pleasure.

Harry came hard, right in Draco’s mouth, and Draco swallowed it down, continuing to suck gently until Harry pushed at him gently, too sensitive to bear it any more. Draco sat up, Harry’s cock sliding out of his mouth, and swallowed again, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and looking smug. “I’ll admit that maybe the Muggles have some good things to offer us,” Draco said as Harry tried to catch his breath.

“That was . . .” Harry managed, dazed. He was so turned on, still, despite his orgasm, he almost thought he could come again. He didn’t think he could move though, he was so blissed out.

Draco’s smile widened, and he pushed the book off the bed, moving to curl up next to Harry. “Yes?” he prompted.

“Amazing,” Harry said, through gasps. His heart was still pounding a mile a minute. “You’re amazing.”

Draco made a pleased noise and curled in even closer.

They lay there like that for a while, until Harry’s breathing had stabilised. He was close to falling asleep, he thought, reaching over to stroke a hand through Draco’s hair.

“Oh,” Draco said softly, “oh,” as if this was something he’d never considered Harry might do, and now Harry had started he hoped it might never stop.

Harry felt very warm inside, and tender. “You all right?” he said through a yawn.

“My jaw aches a bit, but I think I’ll survive,” Draco murmured, only a hint of sarcasm in his voice. He stretched his head towards Harry, and Harry reached out to stroke down the side of his neck, before reaching back up to his hair.

“No, I meant—” Harry started.

“I know,” Draco interrupted. “And . . . yes. I feel a bit stupid,” he said quietly, “but I’ll get over it. It’s the strangest thing,” he said, sounding pretty strange himself.

“What is?” Harry asked, when Draco didn’t continue.

“Oh,” Draco said, now just sounding embarrassed. “It’s just – I never expected I’d talk to anyone about this kind of stuff. Not even my mother. And here I am, talking to you. Harry bloody Potter.”

Draco’s hair was so soft beneath Harry’s fingers. “I’m not ‘Harry bloody Potter’,” he objected. “I’m just Harry.”

“And I’m just Draco,” Draco said softly, and let out an embarrassed laugh. “Pleased to meet you,” he said, and he reached out a hand towards Harry.

Harry took it, and squeezed it. Draco’s skin was soft, too, and warm. And Harry felt, again, that odd disconnect, between the Draco he thought he knew, and the one who was in the room with him right now. The old Draco – Malfoy – was nothing to him. Was a distant acquaintance, who could safely be pitied for his suffering. This Draco, on the other hand. Harry didn’t want to pity him. His heart turned over in his chest.

This Draco wasn’t someone to be pitied. He was someone to be loved. And Harry thought he was already halfway there.

Chapter Text

The next morning, as soon as Harry woke up from a deep, delicious sleep to the horrible sound of his alarm clock, Draco said, “We didn’t complete the bond, by the way. Just in case you were wondering. I took off the watch for a moment, just to check.”

Harry jumped out of bed and attempted to stab his alarm clock. “You what?” he said as the thing deflected his attempts to kill it. He almost gave up and just tossed it out of the window, when it seemed to sense this imminent destruction and gave in. The silence it left was ringing, too, though. “You said the only thing that would complete the bond was . . .” He faltered, because it was an embarrassing thing to shout, but powered ahead. “Full-on shagging!”

Draco yawned and stretched. He was still wearing Harry’s bathrobe, Harry noticed, and it had fallen open to reveal all he’d got. “I know I’m a wonderful sight,” Draco said, avoiding the question, “but only rude people stare.”

Harry stared at his face instead. It was a pissed-off stare.

“I was almost certain we wouldn’t complete the bond,” Draco said, failing to wilt under it. “Bonding spells being so obsessed with the creation of an heir. I mean,” he continued thoughtfully, and shrugged, “I’m not even certain that if we fucked, the bond would stick. It probably would, given that I’m pure-blood, but it’s not like I’ve grown a womb while we weren’t looking.”

This wasn’t a good way to start a workday, Harry thought, especially after such a great night’s sleep. He was pleased that Draco had been spared a nightmare, but did he have to raise things like this now, when Harry had to go to work? “All right, sunshine, get dressed, we’re going to see Zabini before I start work,” he said grimly, and was deaf to all protests. It was about time Zabini gave them an update, at any rate, he thought. It had been a week, and he and his team must have some news, even if it was just a list of things they’d tried that hadn’t worked.

When they got to the Ministry, though, Zabini wasn’t there. Kevin saw them instead, and seemed flustered that they’d hoped to see the Slytherin gitface. “H-he never works on Sundays,” Kevin said apologetically. “O-or Saturdays either. S-sometimes he doesn’t work on W-Wednesdays either, and T-Th—”

All right, all right, Harry got the idea. Zabini was, as he’d always suspected, a useless layabout who—

“I’m glad to hear that someone has some self-control over their working hours and takes proper, regular breaks,” Draco said poisonously beside him. “A weekend is a weekend. One Saturday off a month is just self-flagellation.”

Harry took from this that Draco was mad that he was back to work on a Sunday. “I work shifts!” he protested.

“Yes, always on and never off,” Draco said. “But you were saying, Kevin,” he said politely, turning back to the trembling Unspeakable.

Kevin explained that they’d tried loads of things, and done loads of research, but so far they’d found nothing useful. Apparently, no one in the history of wizard-kind had ever stopped a bonding ritual at this particular point. He gave some alarming examples of delayed rituals, which had Harry pressing his thighs together – but modern healing being what it was, Kevin said, they’d all ended happily. One old man had become overexcited by his beautiful new bride and had died, Kevin mused, but the death had released his wife from the spell, returning her magic instantly.

“H-have you considered c-c-c-c-comple-e-e—”

No,” Harry interrupted, putting Kevin out of his misery. “We haven’t.”

Draco sniffed, suddenly stiff and sarcastic. “Would it even work?”

Kevin frowned at this. “I-I expect so,” he said. “It would have failed in the f-first place, if it wasn’t going to w-work,” he reasoned. “And there’s always Polyjuice,” he added brightly, “i-if heirs are required. I’ve often w-wondered if that could work for c-couples like yourselves.”

“Will you be Astoria, Harry, or shall I be Ginny, I wonder,” Draco said sarcastically under his breath, and Harry ignored him with a will. It was either that or throttle him.

^^^^^^

“Are you going to be late home again?” Draco asked on Monday morning. Harry had been late home the previous evening, and he’d tried to sneak out of bed without Draco noticing that morning. He was due in at work at ten, but he’d thought he’d try to get in for eight to deal with some extra stuff.

“I don’t plan to,” Harry said, turning back to where Draco lay in bed, obviously cross.

“That means yes,” Draco said, and Harry couldn’t deny it. “Would you mind if I invited some people over this evening, then? You can join us if you’re home on time. And if you’re not, I won’t be bored to death.”

“Who?” Harry asked.

Draco’s eyes flashed with annoyance. “Does it matter, if you won’t be there?”

Harry supposed it didn’t. “All right,” he said, “I trust you.” He hadn’t meant it to sound so patronising, but it did. As he left the room, he heard the whistle of something flying through the air, and he dodged. Draco had thrown a slipper at him. Harry left for work feeling guilty and uncomfortable, and promising himself he’d try very hard to get home on time that night.

He was late home. Of course he was. There’d been too much to do, and then there’d been an incident in a town that didn’t have its own Floo. They’d had to Apparate there in steps, Harry feeling faintly nauseous as he did so, because he wasn’t really supposed to be leaving the office, let alone doing risky magic like this. They’d sorted the problem, but in the end Harry didn’t get home till midnight.

Draco had already gone to bed, and his back was turned on Harry when Harry slipped in beside him, trying not to wake him up, even though he was pretty sure Draco wasn’t asleep. Draco’s nightmare that night was the worst it had been in ages, and Harry tried not to feel like he was to blame.

The next few days passed in a similar manner, with Draco barely talking to Harry, except to tell him, nose in the air, that he’d have guests round, and Harry was welcome to come. Welcome to come! It was his own bloody house! But Harry had the strangest feeling that Draco was trying to tempt him to come home on time, and that made him feel even worse. He didn’t know what was wrong with him. It was like he was trying to ruin things on purpose, and he couldn’t even tell why, let alone stop himself.

Harry would almost have suspected Draco of making up his guests – who was he inviting round, anyway? – except there was evidence of them, wherever he looked. Stacks of plates left lying round, and glasses smeared with lipstick, and empty bottles of alcohol. They weren’t there for long, exactly – they were there for just long enough for Harry to notice them, before Draco Vanished them when Harry’s back was turned.

Things kept appearing in the house, too: vases filled with flowers; stacks of new books, some wizarding, some Muggle; and boxes of chocolates, which Draco would eat in front of Harry, feet still in Harry’s lap, if Harry ever came home early enough to sit there with him. There were samples, too, from Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, although Draco didn’t seem to do anything with those except glare at them out of the corner of his eye, as if he expected them to suddenly jump up and explode.

“You’re allowed to go out and see your friends, you know, if you don’t want me to be around when you see them,” Draco said angrily one morning as Harry was about to leave for work. Harry blinked at him, and this seemed to make Draco even angrier. “Ron and Hermione!” he said. “I mean – Weasley and Hermione. Granger.”

Ron mostly left work on time, Harry realised, now he came to think of it. And he’d been asking Harry to leave work on time as well, pretty much every day. Had his friends all been hanging out with Draco, while he’d been sending himself blind over paperwork in the office? “I—” he said, and stopped, confused and upset, and not sure what to do about it.

“I’ve had Ron and Hermione over,” Draco said angrily, “and Longbottom, and I even put up with Luna, although thinking about what I did to her during the war makes me feel sick, and Ginny and Astoria popped in, and some of the Harpies came with them once, and they were all extremely polite to me and it was awful, and I really wish I hadn’t bothered, because you didn’t make an effort to come home on time once!”

Harry briefly considered the idea of calling in sick. He felt sick enough. But he found he was a coward, after all. “I have to go to work,” he said, and fled, before the sight of Draco’s burning, disappointed eyes could make him change his mind and do something stupid – though what that would be, he didn’t even know.

As soon as he got to work though, he felt like an utter shit. So, instead of going straight to his office, he headed over to Hermione’s. It was a Friday, so she’d probably be in at nine, he thought. He checked the clock when he got there: it was barely gone eight. But he thought if he went to the Auror office he’d just lose his nerve, so he sat in the tiny reception area outside Hermione’s room, which gradually filled up with house-elves as he waited, until Hermione arrived.

She looked startled to see him, and then worried, taking him by the elbow and ushering him inside, before making him a cup of tea with her tiny office kettle. “You’ve been avoiding us,” she said as she busied herself with the mugs. “Are you all right?”

Was Harry all right? “No,” he said, and then, to his horror, he found himself saying, “I think I’m falling in love with Draco, and I’m fucking it all up.”

Hermione didn’t, as he’d half-expected, drop a mug, or even look surprised. “Well, I suppose that’s good,” she said, and then waved her hand at Harry’s horrified expression. “The love thing, silly, not the fucking it up bit.”

“Why would you say that?” Harry protested, and then took the tea she offered. It was too hot, and he didn’t like tea.

“Oh, nothing,” Hermione said vaguely. “It wouldn’t be right to share a confidence like that.” She took a sip of her own tea. “So, tell me about it,” she suggested.

Harry found he didn’t really want to tell her about it, and faltered.

“Tell me how I can help you un-fuck it up, then,” she said. “Can I?”

“I – would you and Ron like to come round to dinner? With me and Draco,” he said, in case that wasn’t clear.

“Ah,” Hermione said, as if everything had become clear. “I think maybe some time out of your house will do you both good. I’ll expect you both tonight at seven, shall I?”

Tonight? Harry was due off work at half six. That wouldn’t . . . leave much time to change. Hermione was looking at him, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking. “You can come straight over after work with Ron. I’ll go to yours and fetch Draco.” She took another sip of her tea and cleared her throat. “I wouldn’t stand him up again this time, Harry,” she said, a warning note in her voice, and Harry flushed miserably.

Had Draco and Hermione really made friends while he wasn’t looking? How was that even possible, though, Harry thought. Draco had called her a Mudblood and wished her dead! It wasn’t exactly a good basis for a friendship. Except . . . Draco had tried to Crucio Harry, and Harry had used a spell ‘for enemies’ on him in response. That wasn’t exactly a good basis for a relationship, either, he supposed.

“What did you think of Astoria?” he found himself asking, which was possibly the last question he’d wanted to ask of someone like Hermione, who could always see right through him.

“I think she’s lovely,” Hermione said, drinking some tea. “Ginny thinks she’s lovely too,” she continued with pointed emphasis. “Do you mind?”

Did he mind? That Astoria and Ginny . . .? He felt wobbly with relief, at the stupid, ridiculous, useless confirmation that Astoria liked Ginny and therefore wouldn’t try to steal Draco.

She didn’t need to try to steal Draco; even if she didn’t want him, as soon as Draco was released from the bond, the Greengrass and Malfoy parents were likely to make them marry anyway. He supposed the love thing wasn’t important, if you were a pure-blood. It was all about creating an heir. He swallowed hard and tried not to feel bitter. It wasn’t as if Draco would want to marry him anyway, even if he’d had the choice.

“All right,” Harry said, trying to sound firm but only managing wobbly. Even if he was falling apart, he still wanted to make up with Draco, and this was the only way he could think of right now. “I’ll see you at six thirty-ish, then.” He stood up, abandoning his tea and trying to avoid Hermione’s sympathetic frown, and went straight to his office.

Ron already there, and he was giving him a funny look. “You’re five minutes late today,” Ron said. “Late! Not early! You all right?”

“I’m – we’re – Draco and I are coming round to yours for dinner tonight. After work,” Harry said.

Ron considered this in silence. “He’s not going to get drunk and start yelling again, is he?” he asked piteously. “Last time he cried snot all down my shoulder.”

“No, he didn’t,” Harry said evenly, and sat down at his desk, eyeing his paperwork with dislike.

“No, he didn’t,” Ron agreed. Harry could feel him grinning, even behind his back. “Mostly, he complained about you and all your terrible habits. And, as someone who shared a room with you for many painful years, I couldn’t help but agree.”

Harry snorted. “Is this loyalty?”

“Yes,” Ron said. “I’m putting up with Draco Malfoy. That’s definitely loyalty. You remember what he said about Hermione? My – my fiancée?”

Harry turned, feeling his eyes widen. “Since when?” he demanded. Then: “Er, congratulations, I mean! I thought you’d never grow a pair of big enough balls to ask her.”

“Since last week,” Ron said awkwardly. “I tried to tell you, but you weren’t really in the mood. She’s wearing a ring!”

Harry hadn’t noticed. “I haven’t been a very good friend recently,” he said, feeling that this was an understatement.

Ron pulled a face. He’d gone a bit pale, his freckles standing out on his skin like tiny beacons. “Yeah, but it’s understandable, mate. Don’t worry about it. I – I haven’t always been the best friend to you either,” he said, uncomfortable.

They shared an awkward look, and then Harry found himself grinning at Ron’s awkwardness, even as Ron himself started to grin at his.

“Can I feed Malfoy – I mean Draco – some poison tonight?” Ron offered. “I’ll make it good poison. Only the best for our purest of pure-bloods.”

“No!” Harry said. “I mean, only a little.”

Ron grinned happily, and then turned back to his desk.

“Congratulations again,” Harry said to his back, suddenly feeling very, very happy, even if he was a little bit jealous all at the same time. “I really mean it.”

“Yeah,” Ron said, his whole voice a smile. “Thanks, mate. You’ll be my best man, right?”

“Yeah,” Harry echoed. “Of course.” He turned back to his work, to his piles of paper, to his duty and . . . he wanted to do it, of course. But before he did that. “I’m just going to pop to the post room to owl Draco about tonight, all right? I’ll be back soon,” he said to the room, and tried not to hear Ron’s snort of knowing laughter and the other Aurors cooing sarcastically as he went.

^^^^^^

By the time half six approached, Harry was starting to feel slightly less bad about how he’d treated Draco, while simultaneously moving slightly more towards the view that Draco was a passive aggressive wanker. All of his friends had seemed to develop a passive aggressive streak in recent weeks, as far as he could see, working himself up into a bit of a lather. Hermione, who hadn’t told him about her new correspondence, new friendship, with Draco, just because he hadn’t made the time to go and see her. Ron, who’d apparently been going to Harry’s own home every night of the last week, but hadn’t told him because ‘mate, if you ever went home on time, like I kept asking, you would have found out for yourself’. And King of Passive Aggression himself, Draco Malfoy, who’d invited a whole load of Harry’s friends to his house without telling him properly, and then had got upset and offended that Harry hadn’t known. He couldn’t know if no one ever sodding told him anything!

Almost as if Ron knew what he was thinking, though, as soon as the clock bonged the half hour, Ron turned towards him and said, without heat, “You’re coming, right? Don’t be a dickhead.”

Harry wasn’t a dickhead! At least, he didn’t want to be one. He supposed, gloomily, that he would be one if he didn’t go out for dinner, not least because he’d promised Hermione. “You should have told me what Draco was doing,” he said.

Ron went red and stood up, stretching widely and Accioing his overcoat in one fluid move. “Yeah, maybe,” he agreed. “But Hermione said not to.”

“Do you always do what Hermione says?” Harry needled, standing up too and shoving his chair under his desk. “Are you not master of your own house?”

Ron grinned. “Have you met Hermione?”

Harry grinned back, and they headed together to the exit Floos. They arrived at Ron and Hermione’s house before Hermione did, and Ron led Harry straight to the kitchen. “I know you haven’t been much of a drinker recently,” Ron said, shooting a sidelong glance at Harry as if to imply that he thought his friend had gone round the twist, “but I reckon a quick gallon or two of this wine my mum sent over would be a good idea before Hermione and the ferret get here.”

Harry snorted and tried not to remember, right in front of Ron, that he’d drunk a fair amount of Firewhisky in recent weeks, and it had always seemed to end in some kind of Draco-related wanking. He could feel himself going red.

“Here,” Ron said, passing over a large glass. “Cheers!” They clinked glasses, and Ron let out a hearty sigh after he’d drained a third of his own glass down in one. “That’s better,” he said, and took another swallow. “Now I feel ready to face my doom. Are you ready to face yours?” he asked, and grinned at Harry.

Was Harry ready to face his doom – er, his Draco? No, he thought, panicking. It was too late, though, because he could already hear the whoosh of the Floo, and then again, as Hermione and Draco arrived.

Ron and Hermione had a lovely home, Harry thought about an hour later. And Hermione was a lovely cook – no, a lovely selector of takeaway food. But this probably couldn’t be described as a lovely evening, despite everyone’s best efforts. Draco was trying so hard to be polite that it looked like it hurt. It did hurt Harry, a bit, that Draco was trying just as hard to be polite to him too – formal, and well-mannered, in a way that Harry thought he’d never been before. He was used to Draco treating him like he was no one special. He liked Draco treating him like he was no one special. Right now, Draco was as formal, well-mannered and distant as if he was talking to – well, to famous Harry Potter, rather than Harry. Famous, amazing Harry, who’d saved the world and therefore could no longer be treated as a normal human being. Harry didn’t like it one bit.

It got a bit better after another hour, although by ‘better’ Harry really meant ‘drunker’. They’d all loosened up a bit, and unfortunately this seemed to mean that they felt freer to tell each other what was on their minds. What was on Ron’s mind was work: how annoying he found it, how much there was to do, how he felt he wasn’t really helping, how boring the paperwork was. Harry joined in a bit, whenever Ron took a breath, because he agreed in some ways: the systems in place in the department were shit, and they were understaffed, and the rules weren’t followed because no one knew what they were, and—

“Wow, this is boring,” Draco interrupted, and Hermione let out a snigger, raising her glass at Draco in a silent toast.

“My work is boring?” Harry said slowly, feeling cross and sore, and not really knowing why.

Hurt flashed in Draco’s eyes. “I know you don’t find it boring. You certainly value it above everything fucking else.”

“Shall we talk about something else?” Hermione said firmly. “Ron, will you make some tea – I think we’ve had enough of the wine.”

“I don’t like tea!” Harry snapped, and then subsided. “Sorry,” he said to Hermione, who just frowned at him.

“Do you want my advice?” Draco said, leaning back in his chair and pushing his plate away. He’d barely touched his food.

Harry didn’t want his advice.

“Here’s my advice,” Draco continued. “Harry, you should be Head Auror, and I can’t see why you’re not angling for the job. It’s ridiculous. All you do is moan about how things aren’t done right, and yet you won’t put yourself out there and actually change things!”

“We already have a Head Auror,” Harry snapped back.

“Yes, and he could be promoted to Head of Magical Law Enforcement!” Draco said, raising his eyes to the heavens, as if this was obvious.

It . . . sort of was obvious. The position was vacant, had been vacant since the war, and was possibly one of the reasons why the whole department seemed to be imploding.

“I know how Ministry politics works. How you could get yourself the job. And I also know you’re going to say you don’t deserve it, because you’re stupid enough to think that you don’t. Who else would be better at it than you, though? And if you dare say that you haven’t proven yourself, that it’s not fair if you don’t get the job by hard work, then I might just have to hex your ears off. Do you not think you’ve worked hard enough already? Harry, if you want the job: all you need to do is ask.” He left a pause and raised his eyes to stare at Harry, a clear challenge.

Harry wanted to meet this challenge, but he wasn’t sure how. He supposed Draco was right, blast it. He tried to smile, apologetically, at Draco, but Draco remained unmoved. “And as for you, Ronald Weasley,” Draco said, rounding on Ron.

“Me?” Ron squeaked. “Leave me out of it, Malfoy!”

Hermione raised her eyebrows, seeming unimpressed. “No, go on, Draco,” she said, and Ron gaped at this rank disloyalty.

Draco had lost a bit of his head of steam, but he shrugged. “I just – if you don’t like your job, you could quit. Try something else.”

Ron sat up very straight. Steam didn’t quite come out of his ears, but it did so metaphorically. “Easy for you to say!” he said angrily. “You don’t have to work to feed your family!”

Hermione let out an irritated breath. “Excuse me? You work to feed me? Don’t I have a job of my own?”

“Ah! Oh! Of course you do!” Ron stammered, backpedalling frantically. “I only meant—!”

Harry began to feel like even though he’d arranged this evening to make things better between himself and Draco, all he’d managed to do was spread his own unhappiness to Ron and Hermione as well. They were engaged to be married! They shouldn’t be sniping at each other like that! If you were in love, it should be all . . . well, hearts and roses, and Madam Puddifoot’s, and gentle calmness, shouldn’t it?

Harry considered what he’d had with Ginny. That had been hearts and roses, and gentle calmness, and in the end the lack of fire had been the very thing that killed it.

“I’ve been telling you for months that if you wanted to quit your job and go in with George at the shop, you should do it,” Hermione said, frustration leaking out of every pore. “You’d probably end up earning more!”

“It’s not as easy as that!” Ron protested, and shot a look at Harry, before looking back at the table.

“Love, I hope you’re not telling me that the only reason you’re still an Auror is because Harry is,” Hermione said, suddenly gentle.

“No-o,” Ron said unconvincingly. “But if I left right now, I’d be leaving him in the shit! There’s already too much work, and he’s not at full – ah – strength right now. It wouldn’t be fair. And,” he said, before Harry could respond to this depressing revelation, “I know you have your own job, Hermione. I only meant that I – I saw how my own mum and dad struggled, and I don’t ever want you to feel like you have to go without.” He went red, but he didn’t look embarrassed, Harry thought, trying not to cringe at witnessing this private moment. He just looked sincere.

“You really are my favourite male chauvinist,” Hermione said lightly, and grinned, but the look in her eye was very warm and kind. Ron grinned back, ducking his head after a moment. Now he was embarrassed, Harry realised, but by Hermione’s warm smile, rather than the mushy words he’d just spoken.

“Well, shall we have some coffee?” Hermione said, and rolled her eyes at Harry when he looked at her and mouthed sorry. There was a brief pause, then Hermione said, “Well, go on then, Ron. I cooked.”

Draco sniggered.

“You didn’t!” Ron protested. “You popped an order in the Floo!”

“Who wrote the order though?” Hermione asked, the light of battle in her eyes. “Hmm?”

“All right, all right, I’m going!” Ron said, and vanished into the kitchen to slam some mugs about, returning a few minutes later, his face a bit sheepish, with a large pot of coffee, a teapot, and a selection of odd shaped mugs all bobbing all behind him.

“You didn’t think to get out the best china?” Hermione asked.

Ron sniffed at this, waving the miscellaneous cups down on to the table. “It’s only Harry,” he said, and passed Harry the largest mug, which coincidentally had the largest chip in it.

Harry took a sip of coffee when the pot had tipped over his mug, feeling surprisingly content. And to his surprise, everyone else seemed surprisingly content too. There was some happy slurping for a while, as they all drank the too-hot liquid, and then they moved into the living room, to squash on seats already taken up by stacks of books, and piles of samples from Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, and stray woolly jumpers, and the wrappers from chocolate frogs. And they sat there and talked, for at least an hour, until it all got slightly awkward again, and Harry decided he’d better put Ron out of his misery and take Draco away again.

“Well, this was fun,” Draco said with determination as they said their awkward goodnights. “Let’s make it a regular thing.”

“Oh Merlin,” Ron said on a groan. “I mean, yes, let’s!” he amended quickly as Hermione gave him an obvious elbow in the side.

“Yes, we look forward to it. Don’t we, Ron?” Hermione said brightly.

“Hah!” Ron said, and then turned to grin at first Harry, and then Draco, as if to say what is she like?

She was lovely, Harry thought. Annoying, yes, but really, really lovely. It had been an odd and uncomfortable evening, he thought as he slipped his hand into Draco’s, to Side-Along him home. Odd and uncomfortable – but somehow enjoyable, after all.

^^^^^^

Harry and Draco didn’t talk when they got back home. In fairness, Harry thought, trying not to fall over, they didn’t have time to. As soon as they landed in the entrance hall, and he had barely caught his breath, Draco was on him: pushing him up against the wall and reaching for his belt.

Harry didn’t object; he was too busy fumbling at Draco’s own trousers, cursing himself as his fingers wouldn’t work properly. His trousers and boxers were already halfway down his thighs, Draco’s hand hot and tight around his dick, when he managed to undo Draco’s belt. Soon, though, he triumphed over Draco’s trousers, and Draco hissed against his neck, breath hot, as Harry took his cock in hand.

They didn’t move somewhere more comfortable, didn’t talk. Just stood there, bodies tucked together, wanking each other off with urgency. The wall was hard behind Harry, the picture rail digging into his back. Draco’s left hand was a painful grip on his shoulder. But the discomfort seemed to make it hotter. Draco really wanted this, he thought, eyes glazing over as Draco’s hand worked on him. The thought of it. The feel of Draco’s cock in his hand, getting fatter with every slide. The grunts Draco was making. Draco’s own arousal was almost hotter than his hand on Harry’s own cock.

Almost hotter? It was hotter. Draco started to squirm against him, hips jerking. He was obviously close. The thought of this was too much for Harry. He couldn’t hold back. He came with a grunt into Draco’s hand, his own grip on Draco’s cock slackening.

Draco made a sort of sob, and barely before Harry had finished coming, he was pulling his hand off Harry’s cock. Draco wrapped it around Harry’s hand instead, encouraging Harry to pump his cock faster, tighter. Their hands slid together, working Draco’s cock together.

Draco came after only half a dozen or so strokes, tightening his hand around Harry’s, and then relaxing, his whole body flopping against Harry’s, who struggled to keep them both standing upright.

They stood there for a moment, both panting, Draco’s hand still wrapped lightly around Harry’s, keeping it in place. Draco was still hard, Harry realised, even though he’d come. He’d definitely come; Harry’s hand was slippery with it.

Draco released Harry’s hand with a relaxed sigh, but Harry didn’t move his own hand for a while. Instead, when Draco’s breathing had slowed a fraction, he took a slow, experimental stroke of Draco’s penis. Draco shuddered, breathing quickening again, so Harry did it again. Still slow. Still soft. Up. Down. Using Draco’s own come as lube.

“Merlin,” Draco mumbled against Harry’s neck. He was clinging on to Harry now, a heavy weight against him. All his strength seemed to have left his body.

Harry kept up the slow, soft stroking. Draco was fully hard again now, and each stroke seemed to almost be a mini orgasm, from the way he was jerking. His cock was leaking copiously too, a dribble of pre-come pulsing out as Harry worked his fist.

The seconds and minutes stretched out as Draco twitched and moaned against him. Harry could feel his blood sing. This was amazing. He was . . . he was happy, right now. It was an odd revelation to have in his hallway, his trousers round his ankles, Draco Malfoy’s cock in his hand. But . . . he was happy.

“Feel good?” he mumbled at Draco.

Draco’s breath was coming so hard he could barely speak. “No. Terrible,” he managed. “Be. Better.”

Harry slowed his hand down. Draco’s hips moved helplessly, trying to pump into his fist. That was . . . hot. He slowed down a bit more.

Faster,” Draco hissed. “Fucking tease.”

And . . . that was hot, too. Draco talking. He sped up his hand, but only a tiny bit.

“Faster. H-h-harder,” Draco managed. His grip on Harry’s shoulders, his neck, had tightened. Like he could barely stand up.

Harry relented, his heart pounding. Faster, harder it was, then. All right. He could do that. He moved his hand faster, harder. Draco’s breath sped up. And then he was shaking. His whole body was trembling. Harry had to clutch at him to keep him upright. Draco teetered on the brink of orgasm for what felt to Harry like several minutes. He was swearing continuously now, his hips jerking like crazy as Harry pumped his cock. Legs dithering. And then he came, his whole body freezing, then jerking, then freezing again as his orgasm crashed over him in waves.

“T-that was hot,” Harry managed from his place on the floor. They’d both collapsed there together, sliding down the wall, legs unable to keep them up any further.

Draco turned his face towards him. His hair was damp with sweat, his forehead beaded with it. “Yeah?” he asked, chest heaving. He looked puzzled now, as if he couldn’t quite believe what Harry had just said.

There was no denying it, though. It had been hot like burning. “Yeah,” Harry said, and Draco looked away, still gasping for breath.

The atmosphere was strangely awkward as they got ready for bed together, putting on their pyjamas side by side in the bedroom, not really looking at each other. When they got into bed, Draco didn’t lie down. He just sat up by the headboard, and looked down at the duvet. Harry, pulling himself back up to sit by him, gave him a shove with his elbow. “What?”

Draco didn’t look up. “Quiet,” he said, a bit snappily. “I’m working up to saying something horrible.”

Great, Harry thought, fucking great. And then, because he was Harry and he didn’t know what was good for him, he said this out loud: “Great! I love a bit of something horrible.”

Draco snorted. He had his arms stretched out in front of him, and Harry had a bad feeling about what this ‘something horrible’ would be.

He was right, of course. Of course! He was always right, Harry thought gloomily, when it came to horrible things. It was his special talent.

“I just wanted to say,” Draco said, staring at his left arm, “that you can’t possibly find my Dark Mark more disgusting than I do.”

Harry thought he probably could, to be fair, but kept quiet with difficulty.

“I don’t even know why I wanted to say that,” Draco said, his tone disagreeable. “I . . .” He pulled a revolted face at his arm. “Sometimes I want to cut my own arm off,” he added, tone more light now, which made it all the worse. “I covered it up all the time at first,” he added, still talking to his arm, not Harry. “Even when I was in the shower. But that felt worse – knowing it was there. That I wasn’t facing what I was. I suppose this is my punishment,” he said blankly. “I know you think I got away with it, not going to Azkaban, but . . . I don’t always feel like I got away with it. Not entirely. If that helps.”

Harry took a very deep breath, to try to stop all the words that were trying to boil out of him. Instead, he gave Draco a nudge. “You done?”

“Am I . . . done?” Draco repeated, and turned to actually look at Harry, his eyes wide, mouth tense.

Harry shrugged. There were so many things he wanted to say. About what a shit Draco had been. A really awful, unforgiveable shit. OK, so it was hard to rebel against what your family had made you, but it wasn’t that hard. Sirius had managed it. And Regulus. And Snape, in a different kind of way. Draco wasn’t a special case, with a special excuse. He was just a weak-willed spoiled child, who’d grown up without ever considering what growing up actually meant. Cutting the apron strings. Being your own person. Having some goddamn fucking morals.

But . . . Harry shrugged again. “You did what you did. Stop wallowing in it, Draco. You can’t use it as an excuse to be unhappy forever.”

Draco flinched, as if Harry had hit him.

Harry looked away and said carefully, trying to find the right words. “I don’t know. I can’t forgive some of the stuff you did. That would make it sound like you had a good enough excuse for doing it. I dunno.” He felt his words tangle up, and tried again. “But I can forgive the you that’s here, in this room, with me now. But only if you’re trying to move on, be different. I think you are.” Many things flashed through Harry’s mind: Draco’s lists of pros and cons in his journal. His confession that he’d taken Muggle Studies. His reading list of Muggle books. “You are, aren’t you?”

“I tell you I want to cut off my own arm, and you give me a lecture,” Draco said in a hoarse, unhappy whisper.

“You CHOSE to take the Dark Mark!” Harry snapped, goaded by this self-pity. Had Draco even been listening? This was met by silence, and when he looked over at Draco, he’d coiled a hand into the duvet and was trying to strangle it.

“Yes,” Draco said, very tight and very controlled. “I did. I didn’t have a choice—” He broke off. “No,” he said, more quietly. “I did have a choice. I could have run away and left Father to the Dark Lord’s mercies. But I didn’t.” He let out a laugh that wasn’t a laugh at all. “I did say I was working up to say something horrible, didn’t I? I knew your suggestion that I talk to you about the war was a terrible idea.”

Harry tried to pull himself together. “I’ve got scars I don’t like too,” he offered.

“Yes, noble, heroic, self-sacrificing scars, I’m sure.”

“Draco . . .”

Draco finally turned to look at him. He didn’t seem well, his eyes dark hollows in his face. “What,” he said, very flat.

“Thank you for talking to me,” Harry said, unsure what else he could say. He appreciated it, even as he wished he’d never made the sodding suggestion. They could hardly not talk about for the rest of their lives, could they?

He supposed they could, if they reversed the bond and never saw each other again, other than as distant acquaintances, he thought. A chill came over him.

“And I’m sorry I haven’t been very nice, the last couple of weeks,” Harry said, thinking that there was blame on both sides, but still. He’d been a bit of a git.

“Mm,” Draco said, still stiff and flat, and then he gave an equally flat sigh. “Go on then, show me your noble, heroic scars. You’ve seen mine, it’s only fair.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Well, first I have this small and not at all obvious lightning bolt on my forehead,” he said, helpfully pushing his hair aside in case Draco couldn’t see it. “No one has ever noticed it before, so feel lucky.”

“Fascinating,” Draco said politely, eyes flickering up the scar and then away again. “Is that it?”

“No!” Harry protested. “Heroic, remember!” He pointed out a faint one on his forearm. “This is where a ginormous snake bit me. And—” What else? He’d been really fucking heroic, so there must be more evidence, surely. “Oh!” he said, and clenched his right hand into a fist, really hard. The scar that Umbridge had left there was very faint now, but if he squinted the words were just about legible. “Look,” he said, shoving his hand at Draco. “From Umbridge.”

I must not tell lies,” Draco said, peering at it. His forehead puckered into a frown, and he reached out to run a finger lightly over the white lines. Then he withdrew his finger. “That it?” he said. “You annoyed a snake and learned a valuable lesson about telling the truth?”

“Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!” Harry protested, gesticulating at his forehead, forcing a grin from Draco.

“Yes, all right,” Draco said, and shifted on the bed, lying down. “Lights,” he said, leaving Harry sitting up in the dark.

“Wanker,” he said, also lying down, which made Draco laugh out loud.

“Didn’t it scar?” Harry asked after he’d stared into the darkness, the wardrobe he knew was at the end of the room resolving itself into a dark lump. “The curse I used on you, I mean. In the bathroom at school.”

“Oh, that,” Draco said, sounding fairly normal for a conversation about a spell that had left him bleeding to death on a wet floor. “No, it didn’t. I mean, it scarred on the inside,” he added facetiously. “Basically, every evil thing I did after that was your fault. Just so you know.”

It wasn’t very funny, but Harry found himself laughing anyway. “Evil? I don’t think you ever achieved full evil.”

“I did!” Draco protested. “Proper full-on evil. I won’t have you besmirching my good – I mean evil – name.”

Had Draco truly been evil? Harry didn’t think so. He’d been evil in the gaps, maybe. The things he hadn’t done: not standing up for what was right. Not standing up to his parents. Not protesting when good people were tortured in front of him. Not standing up to Voldemort. But then his bravery had been in the gaps, too: he hadn’t killed Dumbledore. He hadn’t identified Harry to Bellatrix. Draco appeared in Harry’s mind as a pale, inactive figure, unable to tear himself away from his upbringing enough to be a good person, but equally unable to be properly bad. Not deep down inside, where it counted.

Was it all an excuse? Was Harry making things up, to try to reason away why he could want someone like Draco so badly? Because he did want him, he realised. He wanted him desperately, despite everything.

“What would your evil name be?” Harry asked, trying not to think about it all too hard. It was giving him a headache. “I mean, Voldemort had the whole anagram thing going on.”

Draco made a considering noise, and there was a rustle as he reached for his wand. The letters of his name twinkled into the darkness, curling around the tip of his wand. Draco Lucius Malfoy. He gave his wand a twist, and the letters coiled into . . .

Harry sniggered. “I am Lord Foul Yuccas,” he said. “Very evil.”

“I’m sure it took the Dark Lord a few goes to get something good,” Draco said snootily. “You can’t get everything right first try.”

Harry supposed not. “Well, on that happy note,” he said as he felt himself start to yawn. “Goodnight, Draco.”

Draco curled in towards him, and Harry curled right back. They lay there together in silence for a while, and just as Harry was starting to drift off, he felt Draco touch the back of his hand, where the white lines of I must not tell lies lurked, beneath his skin.

“Do you still not want to complete the bond?” Draco asked, his voice very low.

It wasn’t a fair question, Harry thought, battling against sleep. A thousand million things flooded his mind, reasons why they shouldn’t. Draco’s Dark Mark. Draco’s need to produce an heir. Draco’s horrible family. And he thought of all the reasons they should, which was a much shorter list, and basically boiled down to the fact that Harry was falling – had fallen – in love with him, and he wanted to, desperately, with all his heart and soul.

Merlin. The realisation floored him.

“Harry? Are you awake?” Draco asked, but Harry heard the doubt in his voice. Draco knew he was awake. He was just giving him an out.

Harry thought about it some more, a chasm of uncertainty opening up beneath his feet. Love wasn’t a good enough reason, was it? It – it was for him, but it didn’t seem like it would be for Draco. And . . . he wanted to choose his partner, and be chosen. He’d spent his life living a destiny, following a path laid out for him by someone else to its inevitable conclusion. He’d spent his childhood bound to Voldemort, Harry thought uncomfortably. Did he really want to spend the rest of his life bound to someone else he hadn’t chosen?

“Goodnight then, Harry,” Draco said, very low, and rolled over, turning his back on Harry. They were still tangled together, bodies close, but Harry could feel the distance stretch between them like a chasm.

Chapter Text

The next week passed quickly, quietly, as May slid into June. Draco and Harry were very careful around each other. Mostly, Harry didn’t know what to say to him, and it seemed like Draco felt much the same. At least, Draco kept starting sentences and then not ending them, and Harry wasn’t sure if he was frustrated by this or relieved. Who knew what Draco might say, after all?

Harry went to work, and he tried much harder to only work his scheduled hours. He didn’t always manage it, and he didn’t always manage to stay at his desk when he was at work either. But he tried to owl Draco when he knew he’d be late. He didn’t owl Draco to let him know when he was out in the field, though. Every time he did it, he felt guilty, but he couldn’t help it! Ron hadn’t handed his notice in yet, but he was starting to get twitchy every time Robards entered the room, hand creeping towards his pocket, and Harry suspected he was working up to it. It would be any time now, so they needed to clear as much work as possible, in preparation for that dread day.

Harry still wasn’t entirely sure what Draco did all day, though when he asked him, Draco seemed willing enough to share. “Read,” he said, waving his hand at the pile of Muggle books he’d bought. “Have people over. Astoria, for example,” he said, a glint in his eye, his voice hardening. “Sulk,” he added thoughtfully. “Prepare elaborate traps for you, just in case.” OK, so maybe he wasn’t that willing to share, Harry thought, dropping the subject. Astoria? He really wanted to be over the feeling that spiked at him whenever he heard her name, and found he really wasn’t.

Most nights now, in bed in the dark, they brought each other off with their hands, their movements hurried. It was always fast, explosive. As if they didn't have any choice in the matter, their bodies leading the way. Harry ached for more, even as he ached for . . . well, less. He wanted to peel Draco’s clothes off slowly, kissing every part of him. Kissing him. And being kissed back. He didn’t want to just be a hand in the dark. Did Draco feel the same way? Harry wasn’t sure, didn’t dare ask in case he found out he did. Or he didn’t. Both were terrifying.

Do you still not want to complete the bond? Draco asked in his mind, every time he closed his eyes. Even if was just for a moment.

Harry visited the Unspeakable department almost daily now, just for a few minutes, to glower at Kevin, and at Zabini when he could find him. There was still no progress. There was never any progress. Would there ever be any progress? Kingsley seemed to be avoiding Harry, whenever Harry came across him in the hallway, as if he knew he couldn’t keep his promise about fixing the bond and so couldn’t look Harry in the eye. Harry could feel his future looming at him, uncertain and awful, with choices to be made that weren’t choices at all.

At the end of the week, just before Harry was about to step out of the front door and go to work, Draco stopped him, handing over a large Tupperware box with a scowl. “Cookies,” he said, which was both an explanation and no explanation at all. And then: “It’s my birthday tomorrow.”

“Oh,” Harry said, feeling a sudden terror about what he was meant to get Draco for a gift. He didn’t have any bloody time to go shopping! Why had Draco left it so late to tell him?

Draco rolled his eyes, taking a step back. “If you panic-buy me a present I’ll hex you,” he said. “I didn’t tell you because I want something.” Then he hesitated. “Well, actually, I do want something,” he said, and stared at the floor, and then the wall.

Harry wanted to be nice, in the face of this hesitation, but he didn’t get it, and he was going to be late for work. He tucked the box of cookies under his arm and said, “Well? Spit it out. I’m sure I can do it, whatever it is that has your knickers in a twist.”

Draco scowled at him. “I’m not wearing any knickers.” And then raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure you don’t want to be late for work?”

Harry tried to remain calm, in the face of Draco Malfoy trying to distract him with his penis. His bare, uncovered penis, hanging beneath his robes. Allegedly. “Stop avoiding the subject,” he said. “What did you want to say about your birthday?”

Draco folded his arms. “Mother and Father have asked me to go for lunch.”

“All right,” Harry said slowly, still not seeing the issue. So they weren’t technically meant to spend time that far apart, but presumably Draco’s parents could slum it in a London restaurant or something, rather than their stately pile in Wiltshire, couldn’t they?

Draco seemed to be waiting for something, and as he waited, a terrible suspicion dawned on Harry. Draco . . . didn’t want him to go with him, did he? Bloody hell. There was no way he’d want Harry to go with him. Harry hated Lucius, could barely tolerate Narcissa, and the reverse was equally true. It would be the worst lunch in the history of forever.

Still. “Do you want me to go with you?” Harry asked, because he was a glutton for punishment, obviously.

Draco raised his head; he’d been staring at the chequerboard floor, as if there was a secret message written on the black and white tiles. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, please.”

Oh, bloody hell, Harry thought again. And then remembered he was going to be late. “See you later, then,” he said, and before he thought about it too hard, he leaned forward and brushed a very light kiss on Draco’s cheek.

Draco’s hand snapped up to touch his cheek as soon as Harry had moved away, as if he couldn’t quite believe what had happened. Harry wasn’t quite sure he could believe what had happened. Had he caught some sort of affectionate, mushy plague, or something? “Ah, sorry!” he said quickly, half-regretting making his feelings so plain, and then turned to leave before he could make things worse.

The sight, however, stayed with him all day: the look in Draco’s eyes as he’d held his hand to his cheek, after Harry had kissed him. It had been almost one of fear.

^^^^^^

The only positive thing about Draco’s birthday lunch with his horrible parents, Harry reflected afterwards, was that it hadn’t taken place in Malfoy Manor. Instead, they’d hosted it in one of the swankiest, most stuck-up wizarding fine dining restaurants in Muggle London. Except, they hadn’t hosted it, had they? Harry wasn’t sure the name of ‘Malfoy’ would get a reservation at all these days, unless the one that preceded it was ‘Draco’. Lucius had booked the table at the last minute in Harry’s name. Harry never, ever capitalised on his name to get small, pathetic concessions like this. But now, because of Lucius Malfoy, it seemed he did.

Because his name was on the booking, it appeared to have been public knowledge that he’d be there, and at what time. As soon as he and Draco had arrived at the restaurant, the press were popping up to take their photos, and once inside and seated at a table near the window, plenty of flashbulbs had gone off too. Harry wished he’d worn a slightly grubbier robe, rather than the smart one Draco had lain out for him that morning. If he had to appear in photos with Lucius Malfoy – and it appeared that he did – Harry wanted to look as rough as possible, he thought.

To add insult to injury, the menu had all been in French. Harry didn’t speak French. He’d ended up with plates of unidentifiable things he didn’t fancy, which looked animal in origin but not ones he recognised. Happily, though, this ruse had backfired on Lucius, because Draco had simply shared his own food with Harry, pushing his plate towards him without a word.

Not that Harry had felt very hungry. Lucius had held forth for a while on two fascinating topics: on the incompetence of the Auror department in general, and on the incompetence of the Aurors in particular. They couldn’t catch Draco’s poisoner, Lucius pointed out. And then he also helpfully pointed out that Harry was an Auror. Narcissa joined in occasionally, to add that it wasn’t Harry’s fault he was an idiot, although she said it in a charming, polite tone that almost hid the fact she was insulting him.

Harry, who presumed by this that Pansy hadn’t confessed her part in things to Draco’s parents, held his tongue, and Draco squeezed his knee under the table. It wasn’t adequate recompense. Particularly when Narcissa said that perhaps Lucius had made himself clear, and then she moved the subject on to the Greengrasses, and how Astoria was such a lovely girl, and did Draco know she’d got seven Os in her recent NEWTS?

“She’ll make a fantastic Auror. I can’t wait to train her up,” Harry had said, just to piss Narcissa off, and Draco had choked back a laugh. It made him feel better, but only just.

At the end of the meal, Narcissa had given Draco an enormous heap of presents, which she produced from out of nowhere, and then asked Harry, voice sweet and cool, what he’d given Draco. Harry wanted to say that he’d given up all his dignity, by attending this meal, but he just shrugged and said, “Nothing,” and then had to suffer Narcissa’s pale disapproval for the next half hour as Draco opened box after box of expensive fripperies.

Then, just when he’d thought the whole thing was over, and he could go back home and kick the wall, Lucius announced that tomorrow Draco and Harry would be giving an interview to the Prophet. And as Harry started to splutter – no, he bloody wasn’t – Draco just kicked him, under the table, and said, “Yes, Father,” as if Harry didn’t have a say in it at all.

The press outside the restaurant had grown in numbers as they left through the front door, and they snapped away happily at the unlikely group of them: Harry, arms stacked high with the presents Draco had impolitely shoved at him to carry, surrounded by Malfoys.

All in all, by the time they got back home it was mid-afternoon and Harry was steaming with suppressed rage. After dropping the presents in a heap, he kicked first the door, and then the wall, and then he had to take his boot off and massage his toe for a while because it hurt, blast it.

Should I have got you a present?” Harry asked Draco, after he’d tracked him down to the living room. Draco was in his usual spot on the sofa, and the sight of him filled Harry with a warm, content feeling. Well, underneath the rage.

Draco turned his head. “I am your husband,” he said without interest, then rolled his eyes. “No. I told you not to.” He seemed twitchy, shifting restlessly on the seat, as if he was expecting an argument.

Harry sat down heavily, and then tugged at Draco’s legs, heaving his feet into his lap. Draco allowed himself to be shifted like this, although he narrowed his eyes. “I don’t see why you wanted me to come to that lunch,” Harry complained, leaning his head back on the sofa and closing his eyes.

“Don’t you?” Draco asked, as if Harry was stupid.

Harry didn’t open his eyes. Maybe he was stupid, after all. “I really don’t like your parents. And they really don’t like me. What was that nonsense about an interview? I presume we’re not going to do it.”

There was a short silence. Harry could hear the ticking of the hall clock, from far away. “Of course we are,” Draco said.

“Why?”

“To please my parents,” Draco said – in Harry’s opinion, spinelessly.

“All they want is for you to boost their miserable reputations!” he protested, opening his eyes again to glare at Draco.

Draco glared back. “Which I am happy to do,” he said. “They’re my parents. I love them. I’m sick to death of everyone disrespecting my father. If I can do anything to help him get his reputation back, I’ll do it.”

Harry started to carefully push Draco’s feet off his lap, but Draco snatched his feet away as if Harry had given them a violent shove.

“Your parents still seem to think you’re straight, and that you’re going to marry Astoria when the bond is ended,” Harry said loudly.

Draco’s mouth went very pinched. “I beg your pardon? What business of that is yours?”

“I just wonder why you’re so spineless that you can’t tell your parents you don’t want to marry her!” Harry shouted.

Draco’s eyes went wide with shock, and then his face closed down. “But who would marry me instead?” he said sarcastically. “You won’t.”

Harry couldn’t say anything. He couldn’t move, couldn’t think. Did . . . Did Draco want to marry him, then? For real? Harry knew he wasn’t always quick on the uptake, but he didn’t know why Draco would sound so bitter, so hurt, if he didn’t feel at least a small amount of genuine affection for Harry too.

“So, until we get out of this mess, and I get to marry Astoria, I’ll do everything I can to help my father. All right?” Draco said firmly. His eyes were hard, but his chin was quivering.

Harry hated him when he was like this. He made Harry feel so mixed up, so conflicted, he didn’t know what to do with himself. And even as bile rose up in his throat, a sudden horrible thought occurred to him. I’ll do everything I can to help my father, Draco had said. It would help Lucius Malfoy very much if he was photographed in public with the Boy Who Lived. Enjoying a meal together. Leaving the restaurant together. Part of the family.

He’d – he’d eaten off Draco’s plate. It occurred to him with growing intensity that he’d been used. And he’d been so caught up in Draco, he hadn’t even noticed.

“Draco,” Harry said very slowly, because he had to be sure. “Did you know all those photographers would be at the restaurant today?”

“Yes, of course,” Draco said, and he raised his chin very high. “Father – we invited them. What would have been the point of the lunch, otherwise?”

What would have been the point? Celebrating Draco’s birthday, maybe. Harry’d thought that that was the point. He was so naïve. “Merlin,” Harry said, and heard his voice come out raw, filled with disgust. “Now you’re not just on your way to looking like your revolting father, with your hair like that, but you sound like him too.”

Draco looked at him for a moment, his stare completely blank, and then he heaved himself off the sofa and slammed out of the room, leaving Harry sitting on the sofa alone.

It was Draco’s twentieth birthday today, Harry thought, feeling dazed. He couldn’t even remember if he’d wished him a happy one.

^^^^^^

An hour later, Harry felt like he’d calmed down enough to go and find Draco. He didn’t want to apologise. He didn’t think he had anything to apologise for. All he’d said, really, was that Draco was like his father. OK, so he hadn’t meant it as a compliment, but he was still surprised by how wounded Draco had looked by it. Didn’t Draco still worship his father, despite his inherent foulness? It was one of things about Draco that tied Harry up in knots: his love and obedience to someone who was just wrong, on so many levels.

But at the same time, Harry thought uncomfortably, he didn’t want the fight to stretch out any longer. He found himself trying to explain his anger away, even as he looked for Draco. He wasn’t in any of the usual spots. Harry supposed . . . even if Lucius hadn’t tipped off the press about their lunch appointment, they would have found out anyway. And if they’d lunched somewhere more private, someone would have undoubtedly taken grainy snaps of him and Draco arriving, even if they hadn’t managed high-quality ones of Harry moodily pushing food around his plate. The end result would have been the same, he told himself firmly. It didn’t feel the same though. And the words of their argument ran round and round in his head, infuriating him all over again.

He fucking wasn’t doing a cosy interview with the Prophet, to talk about how amazing Lucius Malfoy was. How Draco had ever imagined he’d agree to that, he had no idea.

He finally found Draco in the largest of the formal drawing rooms. For a moment, though, he thought he was being burgled, because he didn’t recognise him. Draco was sitting on one of a pair of navy-blue chaise longues in the far corner of the room, his back to Harry. And he’d . . .

Harry gaped. He appeared to have shaved all his hair off.

Draco, head oddly smooth and alien, turned towards Harry and said, his voice a sneer, “Different enough from my father now for you to associate yourself with me, am I?”

It took everything Harry had in him to suppress the laugh that threatened to bubble out. It wasn’t a laughing matter. Draco had been so angry at what Harry had said, so enraged about Harry comparing him with his father that he’d – shaved all his hair off? It was the most amazing tantrum Harry had ever seen.

Or was this an attempt at apologising . . .? Was Draco planning on attending the Prophet interview like this, to fuck off his father?

Harry pressed his lips very firmly together, feeling his nostrils flare. Draco really did look peculiar. It wasn’t that he felt less angry, exactly, but somehow Draco’s act of ridiculousness had taken away some of the hot tension, like a balloon with a sudden slow puncture.

They stared at each other for a while: Draco bald, indignant, haughty; Harry . . . Harry was just trying not to wet himself, even as he scrabbled for his anger. A snort of laughter escaped his lips.

“Go on, laugh it up,” Draco said disagreeably.

Harry sniggered, coming to sit on the other of the two chaise longues. “Thanks, I will. I deserve a laugh after that jolly lunch.”

“Yes, well, sorry about that,” Draco said, in the arsey, sarcastic voice of someone who wasn’t sorry at all. He was staring at his hands though.

Harry suppressed another snigger at the sight of his head. He wondered why he’d never shaved Draco’s hair off at school. They might actually have ended up friends, if he’d done that; he couldn’t take any of the horrible things Draco said seriously, when he looked like that. “I didn’t mind the horrible lunch,” he said. “Come on, I expected it to be horrible. It could have been a lot worse, in all honesty. I just . . .” He sighed, and found he could feel angry, even with the hair thing; it was a disappointed, flat anger though, that sat heavily in his stomach and was worse than simple rage. “You set me up,” he said. “I thought we were friends, and you set me up.”

“Friends.” Draco seemed to try out the word and not like it.

“I . . . more than friends, maybe,” Harry said, chest feeling very tight. He was staring at his hands now. He didn’t want to look at Draco. “You should have told me that you just wanted the photo op.”

“You wouldn’t have agreed,” Draco said. His voice sounded odd.

Harry didn’t say anything.

“I’m sorry, all right?” Draco said, sitting upright with a snap. He still sounded arsey, sarcastic. “I’m . . . sorry.”

Was that a genuine apology? Harry looked over at him. Draco’s mouth twisted wryly, and he shrugged a shoulder, as if to say, What? “That’s the least convincing apology I’ve ever heard,” he said sternly.

Draco raised his chin and looked down his nose at Harry. “I’m not in the habit of saying sorry.”

Harry snorted, but felt a tension in his shoulders relax, his neck unclenching. Draco hadn’t said he wouldn’t do it again, a warning voice said inside his head, but he didn’t want to push it right now. It was earth-shattering enough to hear a basic apology from the wanker.

“I don’t look like my father,” Draco suddenly said, and he reached up with a hand and ran it over his head tentatively. He seemed half-surprised to find he didn’t have any hair.

“No,” Harry agreed. “I only said that because I was mad at you. You look more like your mother, out of the two. I . . . I liked your hair.”

Draco was still running a hand over his head, a distant look in his eye. “Yes,” he said, his voice now suffused with embarrassment. “I know.”

A strange understanding dawned on Harry. Draco hadn’t shaved off all his hair because he didn’t want to look like his father, or because he wanted to annoy his father either. OK, maybe there was some of that in there, but in essence: Draco had shaved his hair off because Harry had liked it. And Harry had upset him, so he wanted to upset him right back.

That couldn’t be it, though, could it? That would be really, really stupid.

“I really liked your hair,” Harry said, to make Draco feel worse. Draco was a sod and he deserved it.

Draco’s face went red even as Harry watched, colour boiling to his cheeks, his neck. And . . . to his head. He made an attempt at looking relaxed, unmoved. “Honestly, are you broken in the head?” he said, and turned a smile of pity on Harry that was almost convincing, but not quite. “Have you forgotten we’re wizards? I can just grow it back.”

“You’d grow it back, just because I like it?” Harry asked bluntly. Just to make it clear at the outset. He might like Draco’s hair a bit longer, fuck it, but it was Draco who was the one who was to be embarrassed by this, not him.

This seemed to take the wind out of Draco’s smug sails for a moment, but he finally just rolled his eyes, as if Harry’s question was beneath his dignity to answer. He pointed his wand at his head and muttered a spell, swishing his wand as he did so. He knew the spell already. He’d looked it up in advance. God, Harry thought, he was such a tosser.

It was creepy to watch at first as tiny hairs sprouted out of Draco’s head, as if he was growing some kind of fungus. It grew quite slowly at first, his whole head filling out, and then faster, springing up into the air and then collapsing in on the weight of itself, flowing first past his ears, his cheekbones, his chin.

“Enough?” Draco asked with a smirk, and Harry shrugged, unwilling to give him the satisfaction. So Draco kept the spell in place as the hair fell down, down, hitting his shoulders and spilling down his back, then continuing on, to pool around his backside on the chaise longue. Draco snorted as it covered his left hand, resting on the surface of the seat, and swished his wand to stop the growth. “I’m a fairy princess now,” he said sardonically. “Do you like me?”

Harry started laughing, and once he’d started he found he couldn’t stop. Draco joined in reluctantly, soon falling into genuine giggles.

“Would your father be more hacked off if you turned up at the Prophet interview thing like this, or with no hair at all?” Harry asked, when he’d calmed down.

Draco shrugged, but he was still smiling. “I make all my hairstyle decisions for you, darling, not my parents,” he said, his smile turning into a smirk.

Harry couldn’t resist. He got up from his seat, took the couple of paces necessary to reach where Draco was sitting, and then sat down next to him. On his hair.

Draco jumped, and then said, “Ow!” and the look of pure outrage he turned on Harry had him cracking up again, with Draco close behind him. Draco, still laughing, shoved him off his hair, and bundled it up, sticking the pile in his lap and smiling down at it. “I suppose I look ridiculous,” he said, and sounded like he didn’t mind.

He did look ridiculous. And yet Harry preferred him like this, smiling and relaxed, and faintly apologetic through the spikiness, than he had earlier at lunch. Then, he’d been in his formal robes, with his formal manners, and though he’d looked handsome, it had been somehow cold and horrible. Harry supposed that Draco had been feeling guilty, back then. “You look like a really ugly princess,” Harry said, and Draco snorted in amused outrage.

Harry reached out and ran a hand through Draco’s hair. It was smooth, and soft, and thick. And then he gave a strand of it a sharp tug, because it was Draco, and he deserved it.

“Owwww!” Draco said, and whacked him.

“Sorry,” Harry said untruthfully. “Are you going to cut it off now, or shall I plait it? I could use it to lead you round the house,” he said, hundreds of ways he could use this to torment Draco with springing into his mind, “or I could tie you to the furniture, or—”

“You can tie me to the furniture later,” Draco said peacefully. “We have dinner arrangements with Ron and Hermione tonight, unless you’d forgotten?”

Harry had forgotten. Right now, he might have forgotten his own name. He didn’t want to tie Draco up to anything, he told himself firmly. His cock half-rose in his trousers, agreeing that this was a very heroic decision.

Draco’s eyes glittered. “Hmm, I don’t know how I’m going to cut this bloody stuff off though,” he said, returning the subject to his ridiculous hair. “Do you happen to be a talented hairdresser, to add to all your many other accomplishments, scarhead?”

“No,” Harry said facetiously. “But I’m happy to have a go.”

Draco’s lips quirked. “All right,” he said.

All right? All right? Bloody hell.

^^^^^^

When Harry and Draco arrived at Ron and Hermione’s for dinner, Ron started laughing. And he was still laughing half an hour later, when Draco excused himself to the bathroom for a moment.

It was pretty funny, Harry thought, impressed that Draco was now willing to be the butt of a joke. Harry had proved a really terrible hairdresser, just as he’d suspected he would. Draco’s hair was now back at sort-of chin length, but hugely uneven. One side was longer than the other, and although he’d tried hard to use his wand to refine his initial hacks into something level, as Draco walked away Harry could see yet more long strands he’d missed.

Hermione, who’d been trying to restrain Ron from asking the obvious question and had only managed it because he couldn’t stop laughing, turned to Harry and raised her eyebrows.

“Oh, I, er,” Harry said, unable to think how to explain it without making either himself or Draco look like a pair of ten year olds.

“Don’t,” Ron gurgled, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes and grinning broadly. “Finding out the truth will only spoil it. He looks so—” He started laughing again. “So stupid.” He slapped his thigh hard, choking. “And it’s his birthday too! It only makes it better.”

Harry suddenly felt a bit less amused, and a bit more cross. Yes, Draco did look stupid, but he also knew he looked stupid, and yet he’d gone out in public like that. The only reason he’d have done that was to amuse Harry. “It’s not that bad,” he said, and shifted on his chair uncomfortably.

“Ah, no, I suppose not. He’s the same ugly tosser as ever,” Ron said, still grinning.

Ugly? Harry hadn’t thought of Draco as ugly for a long time, if ever. Since he’d woken him up from his enchanted sleep, he’d thought of him as – well, extremely attractive, if he was honest. He’d expected the feeling to wear off, the enchanted glow to disperse, but it was still there, even now with the awful hair. He was just . . .

“Don’t you think Malfoy looks a bit different these days, though?” Harry said, trying not to sound embarrassed.

Ron’s eyes widened, but it was Hermione who answered. “No, not really,” she said, her eyebrows drawing together as if she was giving this proper consideration. “I mean, I did think he was a bit . . . prettier when I first saw him asleep, but in hindsight I think it was just how unexpectedly vulnerable he looked. It shocked me.”

“Oh,” Harry said, and then unwisely continued. “So you don’t think he still looks a bit, well . . .”

“What?” Hermione prompted, while by her side Ron’s mouth hung open in good, honest horror.

“I dunno,” Harry said, wondering how he could put the odd, ethereal sensation he sometimes felt when he looked at Draco into words. “Elfin?”

Ron started to laugh. “Like a house-elf, you mean? Big ears and a pointy nose. I can see the similarities.”

“No, don’t be a tosser,” Harry said. “I mean, like the fairy.”

Ron laughed all the harder. “Maybe a garden gnome? A face like an arse, and a mouth like a potty.”

Even Hermione was smiling now, though she was trying not to. “He still looks pretty much like the Draco we went to school with, Harry,” she said apologetically.

It was a bad moment for Draco to return from the toilet. He frowned, suspicious, as he entered the room to Ron’s laughter. “What did I miss?”

“Harry was just telling us how you’re just like an elfin fairy lord,” Ron said with great hilarity as Hermione frantically tried to smother him.

Draco tripped over something that wasn’t there and nearly fell on his face, only managing to remain upright with a heroic effort. This made Ron laugh all the harder.

“I didn’t say ‘lord’!” Harry protested as Draco sat back down, very stiff. His upright dignity contrasted with his terrible hair. “And I only meant . . .!” What had he meant? Sort of what he’d said, really.

“What? What did you mean?” Ron teased relentlessly, and then held up his hands in surrender as Hermione waved her wand threateningly at him. “Yes, all right, I’m sorry,” he said unconvincingly. “Don’t worry, Malfoy, I still think you’re an ugly tosser.”

“Thank you,” Draco said politely, and didn’t look at Harry.

“You’re welcome,” Ron said, with an enormous shit-eating grin, and then tilted his nose in the air. “Now, shall we repair to the drawing room to partake of a light repast?”

Hermione snorted. “A light repast? We’re having roast lamb and potatoes. I’ll serve you a small portion, shall I?”

“Nooo!” Ron said, and dropped to the floor, catching her by the calves and hugging her legs. “Forgive me, my lady.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and kicked him.

Draco still wasn’t looking at Harry. Not in a pissed-off sort of way, Harry thought, sneaking a glance at the side of his head. But in a fidgety, embarrassed way, as if he’d overhead something he shouldn’t and didn’t know what to do with his hands, or where to put his face.

^^^^^^

When they got back home it was late, and Harry found he was exhausted after his long day. Despite the relaxed dinner, he was still a bit wound up about the lunch, and being back at home made the feelings rise again. He was just about to suggest they turn in for the night, because he had an early shift the next day – something that was true, and not just a convenient excuse – when Draco gave him a level, almost nervous look and asked if Harry wanted to have a nightcap in the living room.

Harry could feel the butterfly wings of an awkward conversation flapping in the air, but he wasn’t a coward, so he nodded, and then made sure Draco poured him a large one, because he wasn’t that brave.

They sat next to each other on the sofa, Draco’s thigh a long warm press against his own, and Draco cleared his throat. “I did mean it before, you know,” he said, his voice tinged with something disagreeable. He always sounded like that when he was nervous, Harry realised. How had he got to know Draco well enough to know that? “About being sorry,” Draco clarified.

“Yes,” Harry said, and took a small sip of his drink. It was a spiced spirit he didn’t recognise, and it slid down, sweet and smooth and delicious, before punching him in the throat with an alcoholic burn.

Draco shot a sidelong glance at him. “I love my father very much,” he said, tone firming up.

“Yes,” Harry said, the alcohol tasting sourer.

“But . . .” Draco said, trailing off. He took a sip of his own drink. “Sometimes I feel ashamed of him,” he continued, very quiet. He sighed, a small gust of air. “I don’t expect you to understand, exactly. I don’t want to feel that way about my own father. I try to fight it, when maybe I shouldn’t. Like . . .”

“Like today?” Harry suggested, leaning back against the back of the sofa and taking another sip of his drink to dilute the awkwardness.

Draco shrugged. “Yes, I suppose,” he said. “Not about the press thing,” he said more firmly. “I want him to be happy, and he can only be happy if people respect him again.” And just as Harry was about to splutter something angry, he added: “I meant about what he said during lunch. He was very rude to you. And I let him be.”

“Your mother was too,” Harry pointed out crossly.

“Yes,” Draco said, voice small. “I . . .”

“Look,” Harry interrupted, “I know you love them. I don’t. I am never, ever going to get on with either of them. But I’m not asking you to not love them. It would just be nice if you didn’t nod along, blindly, when they ask you to manipulate me into something for their benefit. All right?” The words flowed out of him in a rush, and he followed them up with a rush of liquid. It tasted delicious, and although the words had come out bluntly, he thought they pretty much summed up how he felt, so he didn’t want to take them back. The Malfoys were terrible people. But they loved Draco. And Draco loved them. That was all there was to it.

Strangely, his words seemed to make Draco relax. “Yes, all right,” he said comfortably, and leaned back against the sofa too, head half-falling on Harry’s shoulder.

“I didn’t wish you a happy birthday,” Harry remembered. “Er, happy birthday.”

Draco snorted out a laugh. “Thanks. Where’s my present, arsehole?”

“Hey!” Harry objected. “You said you didn’t want one!”

“I never say what I mean,” Draco said, and stuck a bony finger into Harry’s side, making him yelp. “I . . .” Draco continued after a while, settling back against Harry’s side. “I bore myself sometimes, going round in circles about what I did, what I didn’t do, during . . . you know.”

The war, Harry supplied silently. They’d been on different sides, even when in the final months – maybe longer – Draco’s heart had switched teams. His fucking body hadn’t, though. It was still so hard to forgive. “Yeah?”

Draco nodded against him. “I wonder if it ever gets easier. To forgive yourself, you know,” he mumbled. “Or I suppose you don’t,” he added sardonically. “Perfect Potter never does anything he needs to be forgiven for.”

Harry clenched his jaw and let this go.

“I want to blame my parents,” Draco burst out. “It was their fault I turned out this way. But . . .” He sighed, disgust at himself bleeding through every word. “I could have chosen differently, I suppose. Done things differently.”

Again, Harry had that odd mental image of Draco, the man whose courage only showed itself in the gaps. Unwilling to embrace the darkness, but too scared to reject it.

“Yes,” Harry said simply, because simple cowardice was no excuse. Draco should have been better. He ached for him to be better. “You could.”

“Helpful,” Draco said, tetchy, but he didn’t move away.

“Mm,” Harry said, and shifted, to put his arm around Draco’s shoulder. Draco settled easily back against him, as if they were just two people who liked each other, cuddling on a sofa. Would it ever be that simple, Harry wondered.

“I suppose that’s why I still feel like I need to be punished,” Draco said, the words coming out hesitant, and grim. “Wow, I really said that out loud,” he added. “Ugh.”

Harry reached up and stroked a hand through Draco’s butchered hair.

“Sometimes,” Draco said, very low and soft, the words sounding dragged out of some huge depth. “Sometimes I dream of surrendering. But no one ever asks me to. Do you know how tiring that is?”

Draco’s hair was very soft against Harry’s hand, his whole body a warmth against him. “Don’t be daft,” Harry said awkwardly, not sure how to respond to this. It didn’t sound like something that should ever have been said out loud. He hoped Draco wouldn’t remember it, the next day, and regret it. “Who would you surrender to, anyway?” he said lightly.

Draco didn’t say anything, and Harry could have kicked himself. But – no way. He didn’t want anything like that from Draco. Ever. He wanted . . . he wanted to respect Draco. And be able to respect him right back. To be equals, standing together, side by side, facing the world. And OK, maybe he wanted to change Draco a little more, to scrub out the prejudices he still held, but he only wanted Draco to bend, not to break.

Harry wrapped a strand of Draco’s hair around his finger, and then he tugged it. Hard.

“Ow!” Draco said, shooting up and glaring daggers at him. The odd mood broke instantly, to Harry’s deep, fervent relief. “What was that for, you arsehole?”

“Punishment,” Harry said. “You said you wanted it. Want me to do it again?”

“No!” Draco said, and reached over to tug at Harry’s hair too.

They fought, briefly, and Draco got in a few hard, stinging yanks, but Draco had clearly been lazy and indolent over the last couple of years, while Harry had been doing regular Auror training and building up his playground-tussle muscles. Harry managed to roll him on his back, on the sofa, pinning him down, and taking another tug of his hair.

“Owwww!” Draco yelled, struggling.

Harry didn’t let up. “Surrender?” he taunted.

“Never!” Draco yelled, even more loudly. “As if!”

Harry let go, panting, feeling a flood of relief at his childish victory. “Good,” he said, with satisfaction.

Draco’s face did something complicated, but Harry decided to ignore that. Surrender, indeed. As if he’d ever want that. “You still deserve a smacking though,” he said.

Draco raised his eyebrows. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“I would,” Harry protested, because that was what he did. He spoke without thinking, like an idiot.

“You’re crushing me to death,” Draco said sweetly, as Harry realised he was half a conversation away from something he wasn’t sure was arousing or off-putting. “You’ve been eating too much cake.”

Harry rolled off, letting Draco sit up. “You baked it.”

“Don’t blame me for your gluttony,” Draco said cheerfully, and then raised an eyebrow. “I seem to remain unsmacked. What a shame. I felt sure you’d want to fling me over your knee immediately.”

Harry snorted, even as he felt himself go red. “You’d like that, would you?”

“Of course not,” Draco said, just as cheerfully. “It’s a punishment, isn’t it? And on my birthday too! After you didn’t even buy me a present. How heartless you are.”

Harry blinked at this, trying not to squirm. “Draco . . .” he warned. “Are you trying to wind me up?”

Draco grinned, his eyes sparkling. “Well, maybe a little. You’re so easy to annoy. You can’t blame me.”

“It would serve you right if I did give you a spanking,” Harry said evenly, and the smile slid off Draco’s face, to be replaced by something more . . . tense. Expectant.

“Oh?” Draco said, and tilted his head slightly, a sheet of unevenly cut hair swinging to one side of his face. “Would it?”

Harry felt his blood rush to his head. “Yes.”

“If you were doing this properly, you’d put on your Auror uniform,” Draco said, his tone teasing and yet somehow also thoughtful.

Harry snorted. “That would be weird.”

“Yes,” Draco said. And then: “Spoilsport.”

Harry was no longer entirely sure if they were joking. He patted his lap and raised his eyebrows. “Go on then. Assume the position,” he said, half-expecting Draco to throw something at him.

Draco gave him a tense stare, and then stood up, shucking off his outer robe. “Well budge up a bit then,” he said grouchily, “or I won’t fit.”

Harry’s heart did a kind of flollop in his chest. Did Draco actually mean it? Surely not. He shoved down the sofa a bit, anyway, just in case, watching in half-terrified expectation as Draco kicked off his shoes and then his long-line formal under-robe. He was only wearing boxers, and he was already a bit hard.

Draco snorted and shot him a half-amused look. “You look like it’s you who’s being punished, scarhead,” he said as he approached the sofa again. “I’m hardly quivering in my boots.”

Harry moistened his dry lips. “You’re not wearing any boots.”

Draco rolled his eyes, kneeling on the sofa cushion next to Harry, then leaning forward to lie face down. The sofa was a bit too short, so he ended up supporting his face on his folded arms, his calves raised up on the sofa’s arm. His arse, however, was perfectly positioned for Harry’s right hand, his cock a hard press against Harry’s thighs.

“Well?” Draco said, a bit muffled by his arms.

How the fuck did he get himself into situations like this, Harry wondered, panicking a bit. He slid a hand gently over the curve of Draco’s arse, clad in soft cotton, and Draco let out a soft sigh. Draco really did have a nice arse, Harry thought, trailing his fingers over it and down the backs of his thighs. Firm and neat and lightly muscled, the skin, when he pushed his fingers under the line of Draco’s underwear, warm and smooth. His upper thighs, too, were smooth, with only a smattering of fine, almost invisible hair.

“Mmm, I feel so punished,” Draco said, a warm gust of sarcasm.

“Yes, all right,” Harry said. “Impatient, aren’t you?” He reached over to tug at the waistband of Draco’s boxers, and after a small hesitation, Draco raised his hips obligingly, so Harry could tug them off.

Draco settled back carefully into Harry’s lap, his cock trapped between his belly and Harry’s legs. He wiggled a bit and let out a small, unwilling groan.

Harry felt very hot, with Draco there, spread out in front of him, hard and in his lap. He resumed stroking the skin of Draco’s backside, his upper thighs, trailing his fingers over and following with the flat of his hand. Draco made a relaxed sigh, and then let out a surprised grunt when Harry gave his arse a light, experimental swat. He didn’t say anything though, so Harry did it again, caressing the skin, before repeating the action.

“Oh . . .” Draco gasped, sounding so embarrassed he wanted to die.

Draco was relaxing into him, his legs parting helplessly, although he tensed a little with every light smack. Harry paused to run his hands over Draco’s soft, pink skin, sliding his fingers up the insides of Draco’s thighs and over the warm bulge of his balls, before skimming a gentle touch up the line of Draco’s crack with his left hand.

Draco made a low noise when Harry touched his arsehole, so Harry left his finger there, a gentle pressure moving in small circles, as he resumed lightly smacking Draco’s arse cheeks. His skin was starting to redden very slightly, and he whined, under his breath, when Harry gently stroked where he’d hit.

Harry cleared his throat, and then cleared it again. “Do you feel properly punished yet?” he said, trying to sound firm. He could feel Draco’s arsehole relaxing and clenching under his finger as he moved it gently, could feel Draco’s hard cock digging hard into his leg. Draco was pressing his groin into Harry as if it was that or die.

“No,” Draco said, his voice like gravel. “That all you’ve got?”

Harry, goaded, gave the flesh of Draco’s arse a smack with a bit more force to it, and Draco yelped.

“Sorry!” Harry said, immediately stopping and pulling his hands away.

Draco snorted, “Ow!” he said, and started to laugh, which wasn’t very sexy, Harry thought, grinning down at his naked back, but made him feel a bit better about this bloody weird situation. “I forgot to mention,” Draco said through his laughter, sounding a bit more normal now, but his voice still rough, “I’m not actually a massive fan of pain.”

Harry found he was laughing too. “Isn’t that the point of a punishment?”

“Mmm,” Draco said, relaxing back down. “It is my birthday though.”

Harry rolled his eyes, even though Draco couldn’t see him, and gingerly reached back down to carefully stroke Draco’s pink backside.

“What – what you were doing before,” Draco mumbled. “That felt good.”

“All right,” Harry said. Time seemed to slide out into infinity as he played with Draco’s backside, his cock a tight, painful throb that he tried to ignore. Draco seemed to like having his arsehole teased much more than he liked to be hit, however lightly, so soon Harry left off with the punishment. He thought though, one hand between Draco’s parted thighs, gently stroking his balls, and the other between Draco’s cheeks, gently stroking his arsehole, that this was punishment enough. Draco was clearly going mad with the effort of not grinding himself against Harry’s thighs, every breath a frustrated sob. When Harry looked back at Draco’s raised feet, his toes were clenched.

Harry, who was going pretty mad himself at the sight, at the sounds, thought it served him right. He’d asked for it, after all. And – if he wanted to get off, he could, couldn’t he? He could just . . . grind himself against Harry. While Harry sat there, fully clothed, his finger teasing Draco’s arsehole. It wasn’t so embarrassing, was it?

Harry waited for Draco to first work this out, and then to lose his inhibitions enough to actually do it. It didn’t take that long. With a grunt, he raised himself half to his elbows and ground his hips, very slowly, against Harry’s thighs, shifting to get the angle right. The back of his neck was very red.

Harry removed his hands from Draco’s skin, then reached out with just his right hand to cup the bottom of Draco’s bum as he started to rock, making very small movements. Draco looked obscene. Delicious. Stupid, yes, with his badly-shorn hair, but it didn’t matter. He was so sexy Harry was going to die. “Harry,” Draco choked, sounding annoyed.

“What?”

Draco spread his legs a bit wider, shoving his arse up into Harry’s hand for a moment. He didn’t say anything though, just went back to his rocking motion as he sank back into Harry’s lap, tiny noises falling out of his mouth.

Harry took the hint, heart pounding. He gently pressed Draco’s arse cheeks apart with one hand, running the tip of a finger over the trembling pucker of his hole, then back, until all of Draco was trembling under him. He carried on stroking, round the edges of the circle of muscle and over them. Draco sighed and gasped as Harry’s finger worked, his hips jerking as he rubbed himself against Harry’s leg.

Draco started to make noises that suggested he was close. His whole body was jerking more frantically now, and Harry replaced his finger with his thumb, not moving it now, the pad a firm pressure against Draco’s arsehole as he rocked against Harry.

Draco came with a loud grunt, his come smearing Harry’s trousers and shooting out on to the sofa. He collapsed again into Harry’s lap, breathing heavily. “Bloody hell,” he mumbled, into his arms, and then heaved himself up, a naked, sweaty mess. “Right,” he said, twisting in Harry’s lap until he was straddling him, then undoing his trousers and reaching for his cock.

Harry came in under two minutes. Frankly, as he panted against Draco’s chest, after, he was surprised it hadn’t been quicker. He reached up and yanked on Draco’s hair again.

“Ow! What was that for, you fucker?” Draco said, sounding so relaxed he was nearly asleep.

“Are you feeling punished now, hmm?” Harry asked.

Draco let out a snort. “Barely,” he said, a smile in his voice. “Inadequately.”

“Oh no,” Harry said, letting the sarcasm flow. “I do apologise.”

“No need,” Draco said with great dignity. “You’ll just have to try again.”

Harry tugged at Draco’s terrible hair again, making Draco splutter, and decided that he would heroically bear his role as punisher without complaint.

Chapter Text

Harry was late for his interview with the Prophet. He hadn’t meant to be, but only because he didn’t want to keep Draco waiting. He sent Draco a hasty owl five minutes before he was due to leave work saying he’d have to meet him there, and set off forty minutes later than he should have, still in his uniform.

When he arrived at the Prophet’s office, which was crowded in an irritating way that suggested the whole staff, and all their friends, were loitering there to catch a glimpse of him, Draco pushed through the crowd with a bright, “Darling!” and gave him a lingering hug. This hug also gave Draco the opportunity to hiss, “Wanker,” in his ear and pinch him in the side, which Harry thought was bloody unfair. It was very, very kind of him to be in the Prophet’s office in the first place, he thought, reaching for anger. He couldn’t find it, though; he was too busy trying not to laugh.

He’d expected Draco to be wearing his best robes, with his hair back to normal. It was evening now, so he’d had the time to get his hair cut properly. But, instead, Draco was wearing his best robes, topped with his uneven, hilariously dreadful hair. And he was clearly trying to pretend that he looked his absolute finest.

Harry grinned at him. “I have never seen you looking so lovely,” he said solemnly – and loudly.

Draco smirked at him. “Thank you, darling,” he said as the Prophet’s editor-in-chief came out of her office to lead them through.

The interview was shorter than Harry expected, Draco monosyllabic when he was asked about his family, but so gushingly sweet when asked about Harry that Harry almost began to feel uncomfortable. He responded in kind, when questioned by the editor, unable to find a single positive word to say about Lucius and Narcissa, but finding it easy to say embarrassingly nice things about Draco. How he made the house cheerful and bright, how he baked, and read, and—

“You’re making me sound like the perfect pure-blood housewife,” Draco hissed when the editor left the room for a moment, part way through the interview. “Did I tell you recently how much I hate you?”

Harry sniggered, and laid it on even thicker when the editor returned, making Draco go red and embarrassed beside him.

“Your hair,” the editor said thoughtfully to Draco when she’d put away her quill. “I think we might pay it a teensy bit of attention before the photos.”

“Oh?” Draco said, eyes widening in mock-innocence. “Why?”

“Just so you’re looking your best,” the editor said firmly. “You don’t want to show up your lovely husband in the photos, do you?”

“Oh! Of course not,” Draco said lightly, and elbowed his lovely husband in the side as his lovely husband found it very hard not to start laughing. “What a spoilsport that woman is,” he whispered to Harry as they walked out of the office a few minutes later, towards haircuts and photographs, and Harry couldn’t help but agree.

A couple of hours later, Harry and Draco had been photographed cuddling, and pouring each other tea, and sitting with a small, random fluffy dog. It was all terrible, and dreadful, Harry thought. But Draco – who’d told the editor that he thought Harry was dedicated to his job and a loyal and wonderful friend and a generous and thoughtful man, and who’d turned up to the interview with his hair looking like shit, to spite his father and make Harry laugh – turned to him, when it was all over. And smiled. And suddenly, to Harry’s dismay, the whole fucking thing had seemed worth it, after all.

^^^^^^

The next day, Harry joined Hermione for lunch in her small office at the Ministry. It was cramped with papers, and she had to move a pile of scrolls from the chair in front of her desk so he could sit down. “Sorry,” she said, scrubbing her hands through her long curly hair as if she wanted to pull it out. “I’m nearly at the point when I can release my new white paper on house-elf rights, and it’s requiring quite a lot of internal negotiation.”

Harry could well understand that. The Ministry as a whole, even under Kingsley’s leadership, was a slow-moving and old-fashioned beast, still caught up in old pure-blood ideologies and old ways of working. He thought that a lot of the employees would have been very happy if they were able to pick the whole building up and transport it back several hundred years, when ‘things were better’ and ‘children respected their parents’ and ‘magic was done properly’. It drove him mad that things were so slow to change. He said some of this out loud as he unpacked the food he’d brought with him from the staff canteen, and when he looked up, Hermione was raising her eyebrows at him.

“What Draco said a few weeks back was true, you know,” she said. “Oh! Watch that book!” she complained as Harry set a box on a very dusty tome on her desk, for lack of space.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked, handing Hermione a plate and then dishing out the food.

“About you being Head Auror,” Hermione said, and shoved a forkful into her mouth. “Sorry,” she said through the stir-fry, putting her hand in front of her mouth. “I can’t have a long lunch today.” She swallowed. “You should be. I don’t know why you don’t talk to Kingsley. Get something in place for when your current . . . situation is over. And if Ron doesn’t resign soon, I’m going to resign for him,” she said, stabbing her fork into a piece of prawn that didn’t deserve such unkind treatment.

Harry shifted uncomfortably on his chair and took a mouthful of food. “Hmm,” he said non-committally. Would his current ‘situation’ ever be over? He was growing ever more pessimistic.

“I don’t want to argue,” Hermione said, and grinned at him. “Did you see the pictures of your lunch with Draco and his awful parents in the papers?”

Harry hadn’t. He’d had to dodge a lot of people, waving newspapers at him, to ensure this. He prepared to dodge now. “No!” he said, and then pleaded: “Don’t make me.”

Hermione laughed, taking a drink of juice. “But they’re so lovely,” she said. “I like the one of Narcissa scowling at you most, as Draco opens up a really horrible gold necklace and tries to look thankful.” She took another mouthful of food. “Or maybe the one where Lucius is glowering at you like he wants to kill you as you steal food off Draco’s plate.” She grinned. “I’m not sure they quite showed the happy family at rest that Lucius intended. I presume it was his idea?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.

Harry wrinkled his nose. “Yes, but Draco agreed with it. Without telling me. And then he agreed, too, to us doing an interview with the Prophet.” He took a mouthful of food. It was stodge, but tasty enough. “The pics should be in the weekend edition, I think. Look forward to it.”

Hermione smiled at him in sympathy. “I will. Shall I ask why a terrible lunch led to Draco’s hair looking like . . . that?” she asked delicately. Harry’s mouthful of food went the wrong way, and Hermione leaned over her desk to reach round and bang him on the back. “I’ll take that as a no,” she said drily. “Please promise to never, ever tell me.”

When Harry had finished choking, Hermione said, raising another forkful to her mouth, “So, are you and Draco actually going out, now?”

Harry dropped his forkful of food, halfway to his mouth, into his lap. “Um, no,” he said, because he didn’t think they were. Well. Maybe they were. He didn’t fucking know!

Hermione shot him an unamused look as he brushed stir-fry off his lap. “Thanks,” she said. “I love having food all over the floor.”

Harry rolled his eyes and Vanished it instead.

“Do you like Draco?” Hermione, who was unstoppable, asked.

It seemed pointless to lie. “Yes,” Harry said.

“And does he like you?”

Harry didn’t know. Except . . . he did know, didn’t he? Draco definitely liked him. Harry just didn’t know if Draco loved him. “Er, yes. I think so,” Harry said uncomfortably. And then: “You’re his friend too! Ask him yourself!”

Hermione raised her eyebrows. “I have.”

This time, Harry nearly knocked his plate off the table altogether. “Um,” he said, wanting to shout AND WHAT DID HE SAY but simultaneously feeling too stupid to.

“If you’re not sure how he feels,” Hermione said, shoving in another mouthful; she’d nearly cleared her plate, “why don’t you just ask him?” She swallowed hard, and then Vanished her plate. “Yum,” she said. “Now, sorry to have to kick you out,” she said, Harry finding himself already rising from his chair at her firm tone, “but I have too much to do.” She leaned over her desk and gave him a swift hug. “It’ll be all right,” she said, giving his shoulder a squeeze. “Just ask him. What’s the worst that could happen?”

^^^^^^

The worst that could happen, Harry thought as Draco’s face slid into complete incredulity as he stood in front of him, was that he was forced to Avada himself out of sheer embarrassment.

“I’m sorry,” Draco said carefully. They were standing in the entrance hall of Harry’s house, and Harry had barely got through the door and said hello before he’d launched straight in. “Did you just ask me if I fancied you?”

“Um, yes?” Harry said, but only because he had, and so he couldn’t deny it.

“Like a thirteen year old girl?”

“Hey!” Harry said. “A thirteen year old boy is just as likely to ask that question too!”

Draco didn’t look amused. “Maybe you should have got Hermione to send me a note. My friend fancies you,” he said, putting on a shrill voice. “Tick ‘yes’ if you want to go with him, tick ‘no’ if you’d rather sit at home and pretend to read about Quidditch for yet another bloody evening because you’re too embarrassed to be seen in public with him.”

“I’m not too embarrassed to be seen in public with you!” Harry protested. “And you didn’t answer the question!”

“Harry,” Draco said, as if he couldn’t believe he was saying it, “yesterday I let you touch my— While I—” he said incoherently. He’d gone red. “Of course I fancy you, you complete imbecile. Although I fancy you rather less right now!”

“Oh!” Harry said, and found he was grinning.

“Well?” Draco demanded, as if he was waiting for something else.

Harry felt himself heat up. “You know I fancy you too,” he said, looking away. “You – you really turn me on.” When he gathered the courage to look at Draco, Draco’s face was twisted in something that wasn’t entirely pleasant.

“Thanks,” he said stiffly. “I see.”

What the hell was wrong with him, Harry wondered. Couldn’t he take a compliment? Surely Draco wasn’t offended by the idea that Harry found him – well – sexy?

Draco seemed to sag in on himself for a moment, and then straightened up, plastering a smile on his face that was closer to a sneer than happiness. “Put on your glad rags, then, husband. We’re going out tonight.”

They were? Harry reran their conversation in his head, cringing a bit, and then said: “Oh, OK. Great. Nowhere too crowded, though, if we can.”

Harry thought, after, that maybe he should just have been more explicit – that he really, really liked Draco and wanted to take him on a date where people didn’t constantly stare at them, so he could really enjoy staring at Draco instead. But it didn’t feel very smooth to just be that honest, and Draco had already laughed at him quite enough for one day.

When Harry followed Draco up the stairs, he was already riffling through his wardrobe, pulling out things and then tossing them aside, frowning. The amount of clothes he had at Harry’s was now almost greater than Harry’s own stuff. “Not sure . . .” Draco muttered to himself as he yanked at the hangers. “What will make me look sexiest?”

Harry began to get the impression that Draco was hacked off at him. Again. “Draco,” he said. “I don’t mind what you wear.”

“I do though,” Draco said, and then turned to Harry’s wardrobe, riffling through that instead.

“Um,” Harry said as Draco pulled out a pair of his black jeans and a white T-shirt, then began to disrobe.

“What,” Draco said, robe over his head, back to Harry. “Don’t you think it’s hot if I wear your clothes?”

Harry found he did think it was hot when Draco wore his clothes. The in-between bit, when Draco took his robe off and was naked underneath it, was pretty fucking hot too. However, the part where Draco was quietly angry at him was not so amazing.

“Get dressed, let’s go!” Draco said brightly though, as Harry sat there wondering what he’d done and what he could say to make it better. Harry thought it would only make things worse if he said no, so he quickly shoved on a pair of black trousers and a dark-green T-shirt, trying not to watch as Draco held a wand to the clothes he was wearing and shrinking them until they were skin tight.

Harry didn’t know where they were even when they got there. It hadn’t taken long to Apparate, so it was possibly still London or somewhere close. It was wizarding, but nothing like he’d seen before. Diagon Alley was quaint, and old-fashioned, but this was modern and loud: a large underground cavern, all shiny surfaces that reflected the candles that floated up near the ceiling, with a band of Veelas on a stage wailing an unpleasant song that sent odd sensations coiling through Harry’s nerves.

Draco shot him an unreadable look. “Want a drink?” he asked. Harry could barely hear him over the music, the noise of the crowd. It was an enormous crowd, but although people were looking at him and Draco, it was with a kind of dazed disinterest – as if they saw, but didn’t see, trapped in the undulations of the dancers on stage, their hypnotic song.

“Yes,” Harry said loudly, and Draco took his hand, dragging him through the crowd towards a bar staffed by sharp-eyed goblins.

“Blaise recommended this place to me. They don’t allow photographers down here if you pay them enough,” Draco said as he handed Harry a drink. It was bright blue, and steaming. “Or if you want photographers, that’ll cost you too,” he added, and he dropped a small red pill in first Harry’s drink and then his own.

“What is it?” Harry asked, as the drink foamed up, overflowing on to his shoes.

Draco shrugged. “Originally, it was a mushroom, I think,” he said. “Try it and see. Unless you’d prefer a glass of water?” he asked, his whole expression a sneer.

Harry nearly asked if it was illegal, and then decided he preferred not to know. He was already somewhere Blaise Zabini had recommended, it seemed, and that was enough to be getting on with. The whole place seemed to wear the law lightly, and many of the dancing clients were already completely out of it, though whether they were high on drink, or pills, or just on the heady Veela song that was a constant stimulant, an itch at the base of his spine, he didn’t know.

Harry knocked back the drink, and Draco watched him, before doing the same to his own. An odd, sickly warmth spread through his insides, starting from his throat and seeming to drop and fan out through his limbs, filling his body with heat. The room was definitely too hot, and it was crinkling round the edges, the colours, the lights, blurring into each other.

Harry staggered, slightly, coming up hard against Draco, who clutched him right back. “Wow,” Harry said, because he felt . . . he didn’t know what he felt. Hot, and horny, and he wanted to dance. “Let’s dance!” he said, and Draco, a warm blur, grinned at him, and they rushed on to the dancefloor, swaying and grinding against each other as they rocked to the music.

It felt like Harry had been dancing for hours when the effect of the drug started to subside, and he found himself hot, and thirsty, and sticky. He pulled Draco to the bar, and they downed a row of shots, which made the world sharper, but also more unstable. The floor shifted beneath him, and he reached for the only person in the world that could make it stop. “I – I really like you,” he said, and smiled at Draco, who looked away and ordered another round of drinks.

“You’re drunk,” Draco said easily, passing a drink over. “You don’t mean it.”

Harry did mean it, he did, but it seemed more important right now to down his drink and pull Draco towards him, nuzzling his neck. Draco didn’t seem to mind, tilting his head to allow Harry better access, and tugging Harry closer to him, to grind their hips together.

They ended up in the bathroom, slamming into one of the stalls, jamming the door shut with the weight of their bodies pressed against it. Harry barely noticed where they were, and Draco seemed out of it too as Harry yanked at first his trousers and then Draco’s, pulling out their cocks. Draco was breathing heavily, and he flung his head back, banging it on the toilet door, as Harry spat copiously into his hand and reached down, taking both of their cocks in his hand and rubbing them together.

Harry could hear other customers going in and out of the bathroom. Could hear the noise of the club outside, the strange coils of music still twisting through his body. Draco was making noises now, and Harry reached up to press a hand against his mouth to shut him up. Draco’s eyes were wide, and hot, as he stared at Harry. His breath was burning against Harry’s palm. In the quiet of the cubicle, the sound of Harry’s hand working their cocks, slick with spit, now seemed very loud. Harry stopped, to spit into his hand again, and then reached down. The noise was obvious. Obscene. And Draco was moaning again, loud enough to be heard despite the gag.

Harry worked his hand faster, feeling his orgasm build and build. Then Draco reached down too, knocking Harry’s hand away, and taking over. The feel of him, gripping their cocks together. The slick slide. Harry hissed, feeling himself build to the point of no return. “I’m close,” he managed. “God.”

Draco’s hand sped up, and then Draco himself came with a shudder, losing his rhythm but still pumping their cocks desperately. Harry then came too. At the feel of Draco’s hand, his come slicking up their dicks as he pumped. But mostly tipped over the edge by the look of desperation on Draco’s face.

After he’d come, and his breathing had stabilised, Harry found himself suddenly more sober than he wanted to be. He was standing in a bathroom cubicle – a clean one, at least, but even so – and he was sweaty, and covered in come. Draco was tucking himself back into his trousers without looking Harry in the eye.

This was . . . This was . . .

OK, sure, it had been hot. But then Harry had had one-night stands before that had also been hot. This . . . This had felt a bit too much like one of those. The alcohol. The drug. The hypnotic music. It had all combined to make the evening blurred, impersonal. As if he’d gone on a date with a penis, rather than a person.

Draco had a very nice penis, but Harry didn’t especially want to take it on a date. He’d much rather date Draco.

“You look like you’re thinking something very profound,” Draco said quietly, nastily, and Harry snapped to, realising he’d been having a moment at an inconvenient time. “Is it about the meaning of life?”

“Was this meant to be a date?” Harry asked, still feeling drunk, but the alcohol also adding to his bravery. He was realising, too, that when it came to Draco, he didn’t always have a very large store.

“I don’t know,” Draco said. “Was it?” He bit his lip, and then very obviously forced himself to relax, shoulders dropping, as if he didn’t care.

“I – I really, really like you,” Harry said. “This was fun, but it was a pretty shit date. I want to talk to you. You know. About stuff. Can we try again?”

“I don’t know,” Draco said again. “Can we? Ask me again tomorrow, when I might believe you mean it.”

“I mean it now!” Harry protested.

Draco shot him an old-fashioned look. “It’s hard to believe the words of a man who hasn’t the common sense to put his cock away when he’s out in public.”

Harry felt himself flush and reached down to do his trousers up properly. When he’d finished fumbling with the button though, and he looked up, Draco’s face was the most relaxed he’d seen it all evening so far. “Let’s go home,” Draco said, and held out a hand to Side him Along.

Home. It was a good sound. “Yes, please,” Harry said, and took Draco’s hand tight in his.

^^^^^^

When Harry woke up the next morning, to the blare of his evil alarm clock, his head absolutely killed. He’d only had a couple of hours of sleep, what with the awkward sexy clubbing and the usual nightmare routine, made worse by alcohol and, he expected, too much emotion. After he’d managed to turn off his clock, though, he sank back down in bed and cuddled up to Draco’s back.

“Fuck off, Harry,” Draco said unsympathetically. “Or you’ll be late.”

Harry yawned at his back.

“You stink,” Draco said, obviously trying not to laugh. “Fuck off! Fuck off!”

“In a minute,” Harry said, cuddling in closer. “It’s a good reek. Manly.”

“Urgh!” Draco said, struggling, but he sank back after only a token protest. After a couple of minutes though, he reached back to poke at Harry. “Work! Now!”

“I’m going, I’m going,” Harry said, and sat straight up, reaching for his glasses and his wand. “Are you going to get up and see me off?”

“Am I fuck,” Draco said into the pillow.

“All right,” Harry said. “I’ll say this now then: Draco ferret-face Malfoy, I really like you. Will you go on a date with me? Please? I’m not that keen, so tonight would be fine.”

Draco rolled over and stared at him. His hair was a mess, and there were dark circles under his eyes. It would be a lie to say he’d never looked more attractive. He looked like shit. But it was lovely, all the same. Harry felt his heart do a sort of clench. “Yes, all right,” Draco said, not sounding very enthusiastic about it. “If you promise to have a wash.”

Harry picked up the pillow from his side of the bed and threw it at Draco. Draco started laughing, and Harry could still hear him laughing even as he shut the door of the bathroom behind him.

^^^^^^

Harry was not only late for work that day, but he could barely concentrate when he got there. He even missed Ron finally plucking up the nerve to hand in his notice, only pulling himself out of his daydream when Ron gave him a shove and glared at him. “Oi!” Ron said. “Where’s all the weeping and wailing I deserve?”

Harry immediately felt guilty about this lack of due care and attention, and he gave a secret sign to Perpetua, Chad and Rowena. On cue, they all swallowed the highly tested and reliable sample products George had owled Harry for the occasion. Harry tasted the worst taste he’d ever had the displeasure to taste, and then he was crying uncontrollably, floods of tears gushing from his eyes, while around him the others were similarly afflicted. “Don’t leave us!” Harry wailed, dropping to the floor and grabbing the hem of Ron’s robe. “Have mercy!”

Ron surveyed the scene – all his colleagues covered in snot, all wailing – and then started laughing, so hard Harry for a moment thought he was going to be sick. It was worth the fact that the Crying Capsules™ lasted for a full fifteen minutes, rather than the five George had promised, and by the time it was over Harry feared he might have lost all of his bodyweight through his eyes and nose.

Harry kept popping up to the post room to send short, pointless owls to Draco, and to check if Draco had sent a reply. He only got one: a one-liner that read Be home by seven. Don’t be late, tosser – Draco. It made him smile more than seemed reasonable.

He couldn’t seem to sit still, to settle. All he could think about was Draco, to the point that his colleagues started throwing things at his head because his fidgeting was annoying them so much. He couldn’t help it, though. He was going on a date. A date. He knew Draco now, after six or so weeks of living in each other’s pockets, better than he’d ever expected. Better than he ever thought possible. But at the same time, he felt like he’d barely scratched the surface.

A date . . . With anyone else, it would have just been a simple thing. Nerve-provoking, maybe, but still just a simple thing. But this was different. The bond still loomed over everything he and Draco did together, always there in the background, waiting. And sometimes, the question Draco had asked him, as he’d been falling asleep, still went round and round in his mind: Do you still not want to complete the bond?

Did Harry still not want to complete the bond? If the Unspeakables gave him a potion that would unwind the spell, setting him and Draco free, what would he want to do then? He couldn’t seem to decide, his mind spinning in endless circles. If he had a choice, would he still want to bond with Draco?

And . . . would Draco ever freely choose to bond with him?

A proper date. It seemed a ginger first step away from ‘no’ and towards the possibility of ‘yes’.

It was with irritation, then, that at just gone four, Robards stormed into the office and dragged Perpetua, Chad and Ron out to deal with developing crisis on the other side of the country. Harry hadn’t really been listening. Something to do with a werewolf, he thought. He wished he’d listened, though, when the alarm went off a few minutes later for another emergency, and only him and Rowena were left.

Rowena looked at him and hesitated. “I’ll be fine by myself!” she said, but the wand in her hand dithered. Protocol dictated no Auror went to investigate an emergency alarm by themselves. One to front the investigation; one to be a step behind, to fetch help if needed. Those were the rules.

Harry thought about Draco, and for a moment he dithered, caught between duty and desire. Then he firmed his back. He was due home by seven. It was only gone four now. And all right, he wasn’t meant to leave the office to go out in the field with his magic the way it was, but he’d broken that rule dozens of times over the last weeks, and he could hardly leave Rowena to risk herself alone, could he? “I’m coming with you,” he said, getting to his feet and readying his wand.

“You sure?” Rowena said, but her voice was thick with relief.

Harry wasn’t sure. But what else could he do? “Let’s go,” he said, and they ran to the Atrium, to Apparate directly to where they were needed.

Chapter Text

Harry woke up in stages. The first thing he was aware of was the smell: clean and soapy, it was unfamiliar and yet familiar at the same time. Then feelings came back to him. Crisp, fresh linen, and crisp, fresh cotton against his skin. A hand in his. Now that was more familiar, but yet out of context. Had he ever woken up with Draco holding his hand before? He opened his eyes, and then wished he hadn’t. He was lying in a bed in St Mungo’s, although he didn’t recognise the ward. Shit, he thought. Shit.

“Hello,” Draco said, and he sounded like he’d been shouting. “You fucking scumbag,” he added. “How’s your head?”

It hurt. When Harry blinked, the world sort of squeezed, and then contracted, as if he’d been hit on the head with something very heavy.

Oh. He had been hit on the head with something heavy. He couldn’t remember what though. Was it a car? Or had it been something else? He’d certainly dodged a car, thrown by an enraged wizard who, it seemed, had caught his Muggle girlfriend cheating on him. The wizard hadn’t reacted well. Rowena had yelled at him to Disapparate and call in the Obliviators quick – and lots of them – so he’d turned, and . . . dodged a car. Or, hadn’t dodged a car. Who knew. Certainly not Harry. He had a hole in his memory through which he could only see sky.

“How’s your head?” Draco repeated.

“It hurts,” Harry said. The light was very bright, and he closed his eyes again, squeezing Draco’s hand.

Draco squeezed back. “Good.”

Good? That wasn’t the response he’d been expecting. “I’m sorry I was late back?” he tried, and then opened his eyes to see Draco glowering at him, as hard as if he’d stamped on a kitten.

“You’re sorry you were late?” Draco said. “You’re sorry you were late? I couldn’t give a flying fuck that you were late! Mostly, I’m concerned about the fact you left your fucking office, despite everything we were told, to go out in the fucking field!”

“Oh,” Harry said, wincing, more at the pain in Draco’s face than at the pain in his head. “I’m all right though, aren’t I?” Draco was very dressed up, Harry realised. As if he’d been about to go on a date. “What time is it?”

Draco’s mouth went sour. “About ten o’clock.”

“That’s . . . not too bad,” Harry said, even as he realised it was daylight filtering in through the window.

“In the morning!” Draco said. “I thought you were going to die!” He was holding on to Harry’s hand now so tightly it hurt. “And – and you stood me up,” he added, trying to smile, as if he was regretting what he’d just admitted.

“Bit of an extreme way to try to stand someone up, though,” Harry said. “I don’t recommend it.” He tried to smile. “Besides, look on the bright side,” he said, still feeling woozy and unfocused. Something flippant, horrible, that he didn’t even know he’d been thinking, rose out of him. “If I died, at least you’d finally be out of the bond and you could marry Astoria, eh?”

The silence that followed was worse than when Draco, his face draining of colour, said, “You little shit. How dare you say something like that to me.” But only just.

Draco hadn’t gone white, Harry thought fuzzily. He’d gone grey, as if something vital was leaching out of him. “I – didn’t think you thought so badly of me,” Draco finally said, after another horrible silence. “I – thought that you might actually . . . How stupid am I?” He stood up as if all the fight had gone out of him, dropping Harry’s hand and turning to leave the room.

Harry was panicking now, but on the inside, where Draco couldn’t see it. OK, he’d said a stupid thing, but he hadn’t meant it like that! It had been a joke! His head hurt. He tried to get up and wondered if he was going to be sick, but Draco was leaving and somehow this seemed like one of those important, defining moments in life. That if he let Draco walk out now, nothing would ever be right again, no matter how hard he tried to fix it.

So Harry lurched out of bed, ignoring the way his head banged at him, swallowing his nausea down, and grabbed at Draco, even though Draco had cleverly split himself into three different versions of himself now, all the better to avoid him.

“Shit! Some help in here, please!” one of the Dracos shouted as Harry started to fall over. The Draco he’d tried to grab was insubstantial, a ghost. But another one leapt at him, keeping him on his feet with difficulty, before manhandling him back to bed. He was joined by faces Harry didn’t recognise, clad in the lime-green of St Mungo’s Healers. Was it one person, or ten? Harry had no idea.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” Harry mumbled, feeling very peculiar, and then he said it again a few more times for good measure.

“Yes, all right, Harry, I know,” Draco finally said, interrupting his flow of apologies.

Harry reached out, because Draco wasn’t holding his hand, and this struck him as horrible. He couldn’t find him for a moment, and then there he was. His fingers wrapped around Harry’s hand, squeezing so hard it was painful. But it was a good kind of pain.

Harry shut his eyes and his head throbbed. “Ow,” he said, and he heard Draco laugh, which he thought was unkind, even though as he drifted off to sleep he wasn’t sure if it really had been a laugh at all.

^^^^^^

“Ow,” Harry said when he opened his eyes again. He was still in St Mungo’s, although it was dark outside the window now, the curtains not quite drawn. Draco, on a low chair beside him, was still holding his hand.

“Yes,” Draco said without much sympathy. “Ow.”

Harry closed his eyes again. “Sorry,” he said, already feeling himself fall back to sleep. “Sorry.”

“Yes,” Draco said. And then added ominously, the words nevertheless making Harry feel strangely reassured: “You’d better bloody well be.”

^^^^^^

They didn’t let Harry go home until the next day, and even then they were reluctant. But Harry could see that Draco was about to start hallucinating from tiredness. He wouldn’t allow himself to fall asleep in the hospital, and he wouldn’t be persuaded away from Harry’s bedside for more than a couple of minutes at a time. Not by Robards, who came to shout at Harry for being such an idiot, and was shouted right out of the room by Draco himself, incandescent with fury. Not by Madam Iatric, who called him dear, and patted him on the hand even though they’d made such a commotion over in Spleen. Not even by Hermione, who came by to have a go at first Harry for being a stupid idiot and nearly getting himself killed, and then at Draco when she saw how much he was neglecting his health.

Lucius and Narcissa had also come by, Harry heard a Healer saying, with an enormous bunch of flowers and their own pet photographer, but Draco had yelled at them until they went away. It had caused quite a scene, the Healer had whispered, enjoying herself until she noticed Harry could hear and had vanished with an embarrassed squeak.

As soon as they got home, Draco helped Harry to bed, and Harry dragged Draco down beside him – the fucker was still trying to resist sleeping. “I’ll disturb you!” Draco protested, mouth a frown.

“No, you won’t,” Harry said, and Draco allowed himself to be pulled into a hug. He fell asleep almost immediately, with Harry not far behind him.

When they woke again, Harry had no idea what time or day it was. All he knew was that his head had stopped hurting, thank God, and Draco was still asleep beside him. He tried to get up without waking him, to go and take a piss, but Draco made an unhappy noise in his sleep and snuggled in closer, so Harry held it in. He was an Auror. He could cope with a bit of bladder-related suffering. If he got really desperate, he mused, he could always Vanish it, the old-fashioned way. He’d tried it once or twice, but he’d always been a bit anxious he’d end up Vanishing his actual bladder, or miss and Vanish his knob, instead, so mostly he’d stuck to toilets.

The moment Draco woke up, Harry shot up and dashed to the bathroom, realising as he did so that his head really didn’t hurt, and feeling all the more cheerful for it. When he went back to the bedroom, Draco was staring at him as if he was considering sending him back to St Mungo’s and committing him to the Janus Thickey Ward. “What?” he said self-consciously and lay back down, pulling Draco towards him.

“Nothing,” Draco said, and yawned so widely that Harry could have seen his tonsils if he’d been the kind of weirdo who wanted to look.

“Go back to sleep,” Harry said.

“But . . .” Draco protested feebly.

“Go back to sleep,” Harry insisted, and Draco didn’t object, just tucked himself back up to Harry again, head on Harry’s chest, and almost immediately drifted off. Harry didn’t fall asleep again himself. Instead, he just lay there, enjoying the feeling of Draco in his arms, and feeling such an intense sensation of guilt he could almost taste it, sour under his tongue. He shifted restlessly, and Draco murmured something indistinct and snuggled in even closer, his hair tickling Harry’s nose, his arm curling possessively around Harry’s own.

Harry felt a strange, warm, and yet somehow suffocating sensation fill his chest, as if someone was inflating a helium balloon inside him and he was simultaneously floating and choking.

^^^^^^

Harry stayed at home for a couple of days to recuperate, even though he didn’t feel like he needed it. Draco thought he needed it, though, and dealing with Draco was a bit like walking on eggshells at the moment.

Draco hadn’t woken up in the grip of a nightmare since they’d got back from St Mungo’s, and when Harry had raised it, thinking this was a good thing, surely, Draco had burst out, “Yes, I don’t need to dream about the people I care for dying any more, when they’re so keen to get themselves killed in real life, it seems,” and then had shut his mouth tight and sulked for the rest of the day.

It was like now Harry was safe again, and well, and not making really stupid inappropriate jokes about dying, Draco had felt able to let his natural arseholeishness rise free. He’d been suppressing it for a while, so there was a lot of it to rise.

Harry didn’t know what to do about this. It seemed fucking unfair that just when it seemed like things had been going well – they’d been about to go on a date, for pity’s sake – he’d managed to screw it all up, just by doing his job. He expressed this to Hermione, when she came round to visit bearing an enormous box of grapes, and she gave him a lecture that lasted at least half an hour. It was wide ranging, but covered, among many topics, how stupid he’d been to go out in the field like that; how much his stupidity had made Draco worry, had made them all worry; and how selfish he’d been lately, thinking only of himself, and his problems, and not taking time to notice that maybe other people had problems too.

At this last point, Harry had waited until Hermione ran out of steam, and then asked if she was OK. “I’m fine!” she snapped. “But I’ve had Ginny round crying because – oh, never mind,” she said, clamming up. “She talked to me in confidence.”

Ginny? Crying? Harry might not be in love with her any more, but he found this idea upsetting, nonetheless. “What’s wrong? Should I talk to her?”

Hermione frowned, and then sighed at her hands. “No, I don’t think that would help. Maybe if Draco talked to her, then that might reassure her, but—” She broke off. “Bother,” she said. “I didn’t mean to say that.”

“You want me to ask Draco to talk to Ginny about Astoria?” Harry asked, feeling his brain start to ache again.

Hermione gave him a sharp look. “She’s a lovely girl, Harry,” she said. “Very loyal. She and Ginny will make a lovely couple, when Astoria feels free to move on.”

“Yes,” Harry said, thinking he would never understand women. Not in a hundred, thousand years. “I’m sure you’re right.” But none of this was helping him with his Draco problem.

“Why don’t you just try being patient, and talking to him, and being nice?” Hermione asked, sounding a bit annoyed as she got up to put her coat on and head back to work. “You know, like a normal person would.”

Patient. Talking. Nice. Harry had said good morning to Draco when he’d woken up, and Draco had thrown a dirty sock in his direction and then skulked off somewhere to sulk. But, no. He could do it. Patient. Talking. Nice.

^^^^^^

The last day before he was due to go back to work, on very reduced hours – apparently on Healer’s orders although Harry had his suspicions – Harry practiced being patient. Talking. Being nice. He made Draco breakfast in bed, except by the time he got back to bed, Draco had gone somewhere else, and by the time he tracked him down the food was cold.

He tidied up a bit, because the place was a mess, and apparently upset Draco’s careful filing system – who knew the floor counted as a filing space? Harry expressed this out loud, which fulfilled the ‘talking’ aspect of his day, and Draco flung a book at his head, and then went green when he remembered Harry had been suffering from a head injury. “I’m fine!” Harry protested. “I’m fine!” But this little reminder of that fact that Harry had battled Voldemort and come out the other side, only to be brained by a car, didn’t help spread any joy about the place.

Harry then thought he’d give patience a go, so he waited for Draco to come to him.

He didn’t.

Sod it, Harry thought. This wasn’t doing much good. So much for Hermione’s great advice. So he sent Ron a quick message, and Ron sent back a note with a carefully drawn picture of himself – Harry could tell by the red hair and freckles – being violently sick, but included the box of Wizarding Wheezes products Harry had asked for.

Once night fell, Harry went out into the garden and started to set up. Then he went back inside the house, and dragged Draco outside. Draco was still suffering from Arseholeitis, and complained all the way, but Harry pushed him down on to a cast-iron bench, sat beside him, and then waved his wand to set the first firework alight with a small Incendio.

The fireworks exploded into the sky in a hundred, thousand, million lights. They painted the sky in a multitude of colours, some of which Harry thought the Weasleys had invented specially. Harry watched, mesmerised by the beauty of it, and by his side, Draco watched too. As the stars exploded, Harry felt an arm slip into the crook of his, and he smiled, but didn’t turn.

The fireworks reached their crescendo, and Harry mentally crossed his fingers that Ron hadn’t buggered this bit up. First, there was a pause, the dark sky filling with a brownish smoke as the previous fireworks fell, dying, across the horizon. And then a rocket dashed up into the heavens, to write, in golden stars:

I, HARRY JAMES POTTER, AM OFFICIALLY A WANKER.

Draco snorted. “What the fuck?” he said, turning his face to Harry to raise his eyebrows practically up to his hairline.

“Wait! Wait! It’s not done yet,” Harry chided, and Draco turned his head obediently back to the sky.

DRACO IS THE BEST said a sprinkle of silver stars, and a line of green fizzed out to underline the word ‘best’, before the final rocket exploded, to fill the whole sky with an absolutely enormous dragon. The dragon opened its mouth to roar, and then the sky cleared, smoke fading away to nothing.

“You . . . gave me a dragon,” Draco said, still staring up at the sky.

“Yep,” Harry said.

“And called yourself a wanker?” Draco said, now sounding amused.

“Yep. Don’t forget the bit where I told the whole world I think you’re the best,” Harry said, nudging him in the side. “I had to bribe Ron with the promise I’d treat him to lunch every week for the rest of the year, to get him to sort that one out for me. You don’t know how much he can eat! I hope you’re fine with going out with a bankrupt.”

“Going out with?” Draco repeated, uncertain.

“Um, yes. Even though so far it’s basically been ‘staying in with’. I thought we could give it a go. You know,” Harry said, it coming out as a mumble, “I dunno what this means for the bond and stuff. But we could just take it one day at a time?”

Draco turned to Harry, and his expression was so warm and soft that Harry felt his heart turn over in his chest. He wet his lips, and Draco’s gaze dropped down to his mouth. For a heart-stopping moment, Harry thought that Draco would finally – finally – kiss him, because really, they were doing everything in the wrong order: bonding, then wanking, then abortive dates, all before they’d even kissed?

But then another rocket exploded up into the sky, making them both jump apart with shock. As Harry watched, an enormous, glittering sandwich filled the sky, depicted in hundreds of tiny brown, green and red explosions, and the words TOMORROW. 1.30PM. BRING AN APPETITE. AND YOUR WALLET popped into existence, before fading away again.

It was the first time Harry had been cockblocked by a sandwich made of fireworks, and he fervently hoped it would be the last.

“We should go in,” Draco said, shivering a bit in the chill of the late night air and standing up. “You’ve got work tomorrow.” The Arseholeitis was back, Harry thought gloomily, but not with quite as much force. Draco slipped his arm back into the crook of Harry’s as they walked, and tipped his head briefly, to press the side of it against Harry’s.

^^^^^^

Draco hadn’t said he’d go out with Harry. But at the same time, he hadn’t said he wouldn’t. Harry was definitely going to ask him on a date, and he was fairly confident he’d say yes, despite the last disaster, but he didn’t want to ask him on a date until he’d decided where he should take him. It was only when he decided on a day – this Saturday – that he had a sinking feeling. He already had a date for that Saturday.

A date with Dudley Dursley.

After the war, Harry had dithered about getting in contact with the Dursleys again. They’d made it pretty clear they were pleased to be shot of him, but even so. They were his blood relatives. And while he didn’t set much stock by blood, they were the last real link he had to his mother. Besides, Dudley had basically been his brother, at least for a little while. All right, a really shit, terrible, horrible bully of a brother, but . . .

So, Harry had gingerly got in touch with Dudley and suggested they might meet up for a quick drink. They had. And now it had developed into a regular, uncomfortable bi-annual thing. They met up once around either Harry’s or Dudley’s birthday, and then another around Christmas. They’d arranged to go to a football match for Dudley's birthday this year, Harry vaguely remembered. At least, Dudley had mentioned some game with tickets that were impossible to get, and Harry had taken this as a hint and got them. He’d got three tickets. He always got three tickets, and always invited Mr Dursley, and always hoped he wouldn’t come. So far, he’d been relieved every time.

Should Harry invite Draco to go to a football match with his Muggle cousin as their first proper date? The idea was patently absurd. But he thought he should probably offer it up as an option, anyway. Maybe it would be fun, he thought, trying to convince himself.

Harry passed Draco a cup of tea and sat down at the dining room table with his own coffee, sliding the plate of pastries between them towards Draco. “So, er, I have this arrangement with Dudley this weekend, and I wondered . . . You don’t have to come.”

Draco gave him an unimpressed look as he blew on his tea. “Dudley? You mean that Muggle who made you sleep in a cupboard?”

“No, that’s Vernon,” Harry said. “Dudley’s his son. My cousin. We’re going to see some football. It’s a Muggle sport,” Harry added, not sure he was selling this very well. “As I said, you don’t have to come!”

“When you persuade me so eloquently, how can I resist?” Draco muttered. “Why don’t you want me to come and meet your horrible Muggle?”

“He’s not that horrible,” Harry protested. “OK, OK, so he’s a bully, and a piece of shit, but I don’t entirely blame him, given what his parents are like. I think he’s trying to be better. I suppose I want to give him a chance.”

Draco’s expression went blank. “How considerate you are,” he said, and then blew on his tea again, looking off into the distance, as if wondering whether to tell Harry to fuck off or not.

What?” Harry asked, nettled.

“I was just wondering if you’d introduce us that way,” Draco said, his face pinched. “Piece of shit who can’t be blamed for his opinions, meet piece of shit who can.”

Harry frowned. “I don’t . . .”

“I definitely sprang fully formed from the womb with all my delightful prejudices and little hatreds, you see,” Draco said, expanding bitterly on his theme. “That’s why I have to be held to a higher standard than that Muggle. It makes perfect sense. Or is it because he’s family? Can we cut him some slack because of blood?”

“He’s NOT family,” Harry protested, deeply annoyed that it was all going wrong again, and they were sliding off into another tedious argument. Would they ever get over their past? Could they ever? “Blood has nothing to do with whether someone’s family! You’re not my blood, are you?”

Draco seemed to freeze solid at that. “I’m not your family, though,” he said coldly. “Not really.”

“Of course you fucking are!” Harry said, unreasonably wounded by this.

“Well, only technically,” Draco tried, but not looking very happy about what he was saying. He’d kind of shrunk into himself, as if he didn’t like himself very much.

Draco,” Harry said, and slid a hand out across the table. “Not ‘only technically’. Come on.”

Draco looked at it for a moment as if it were a wild creature that might bite him, and then slid his hand out to meet it. The tips of their fingers touched, before Harry reached out and grabbed Draco’s hand properly.

“Right,” Draco said, a little shakily, as if he was never going to believe anything so stupid. “So, I’m coming to meet this piece of shit with you on Saturday, yes? I promise I won’t turn him into a frog, even if he’s more awful than I am.”

“Hagrid did give him a pig’s tail once,” Harry said gloomily, remembering that even if Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon hadn’t had much reason to be afraid of wizards, Dudley definitely did.

“Oh?”

“Don’t ask,” Harry said, and Draco just snorted.

^^^^^^

The football game turned out to be in Charleroi. Which was in Belgium, Draco facetiously explained to Harry, before asking why they had to go all the way to Belgium to watch Muggles kicking a ball about.

“It’s an England versus Germany game?” Harry tried. “Ancient rivals! A great struggle between nations! People will travel from far and wide! It’s just like Quidditch,” he trailed off, realising he wasn’t winning over his audience, “except played on the ground.”

“Just like Quidditch. Except without brooms?”

“Er, yep.”

“And the balls don’t fly?”

“Er, nope.”

“Fascinating,” Draco said.

Robards wasn’t best pleased by them going so far, but Draco raised his eyebrows at him and promised he’d make sure no one lobbed a car at Harry – “which is more than you did,” he added in a quiet and yet somehow carrying voice – and Robards agreed, after only a bit of shouting, to arrange a Portkey there and back again. Harry had found a Muggle telephone and called Dudley to offer him the same method of transport, but Dudley had been scathing. “I’ll take a PLANE,” he said, with heavy emphasis, “and meet you there.”

They’d arranged to meet Dudley in the lobby of his hotel, near the stadium, but when they got to the large, expensive-looking building Dudley was waiting on the street outside, tapping his foot nervously. He didn’t notice them at first, because he was plugged into a music player and punching away frantically at a Game Boy. Harry tried not to roll his eyes. Dudley always seemed to have the latest tech with him, when he came to meet Harry, as if he wanted to point out that he didn’t have magic, he had something better.

Dudley started so hard when he caught sight of Harry that he nearly jumped out of his skin, strangling himself on his headphones. He tugged the headphones off and fiddled with the player. “Discman,” he said casually. “Plays CDs. You remember what CDs are?” And then he held out his hand to Draco, sizing him up. “Dursley. Dudley Dursley,” he said, and shook Draco’s hand vigorously.

“Draco Malfoy,” Draco said.

Dudley twitched a bit at this, but held out his Discman to Draco. “You seen one of these before?” He opened up the compartment to show off the CD. “It’s music. You play this disc here.”

“Ah, like the wireless, except more limited,” Draco said politely.

“It’s got a radio too!” Dudley said, pointing at a dial. “Any station you want! Just like magic,” he added facetiously. “Hah! Just like magic!”

“Shall we get going?” Harry said, aware that Dudley and Draco seemed to be squaring up to each other as if they were about to start a fight.

“I reckon that anything your sort could do, us normal people could do too,” Dudley said as they started to walk. It was extremely crowded, the pavement jammed with fans in football shirts, many of them clutching open cans of beer.

Harry hastily shoved himself between Draco and Dudley, hoping he wouldn’t lose either of them, while a tiny part of him simultaneously hoped he would. “So, Dudley, why don’t you tell Draco about football,” he said loudly.

“You know,” Draco said, ignoring Harry. “If I wanted to kill you right now, Dursley, I know just the spell.”

Dudley laughed. “Hah! If I had a gun, I could do just the same.”

Draco frowned. “Gun?” he asked.

Dudley laughed again, although this time it was more of a snigger. “You know – it’s a magic stick I point at you and which kills you instantly.”

Draco seemed to consider this. “I could, of course, just torture you. I know lots of spells.”

“Yeah?” Dudley said, sounding as if he was having fun. “And I could tie you up and cut off your fingers with a little hacksaw or something. That’d hurt. What else you got?”

Harry wasn’t sure this conversation was entirely healthy, and he tried to steer it back to football, but no one was listening. Dudley and Draco had sped up a bit, to cut him out, and were now walking side by side. Harry kept nearly tripping up on crowds of fans, shoving and singing as they massed together. The stadium was in sight now, an enormous squat building packed between ugly tower blocks and office buildings. They certainly hadn’t chosen the location of the game for its good looks.

“It’s hard to compare our two worlds, really,” Draco said scathingly. “I’m certainly no expert on Muggle ‘culture’.” The derisive quote marks slotted in, clearly audible in his snotty, cultured voice.

“Apart from the O for Outstanding you scored in your Muggle Studies exam,” Harry said loudly from behind him, dodging a man who leaped out to wave a scarf and shout “En – ger – land!” at him for no apparent reason.

“But, for example, I’ve seen your photos. They’re so flat and odd. So boring. Our photos are moving,” Draco said, completely ignoring Harry.

“We have moving photos,” Dudley said, very patronising. “They’re called videos.” He said the word ‘video’ very long and drawn out, as if he were talking to someone who was deaf.

“We have portraits that are almost alive, so you can talk to your ancestors,” Draco said thoughtfully.

Dudley snorted. “So if you have a portrait in your room . . .”

“Yes?” Draco prompted.

“You get the pleasure of your great-aunt watching you have a crafty wank?” Dudley said with glee.

Harry laughed, and the back of Draco’s neck went red. The score was clearly one nil to Dudley so far. But Draco wasn’t beaten yet. “Well, if I had a broom with me, I could fly.”

“Yeah? If I had a plane, so I could I. And I could sit down in the warm while I did it, and be served champagne by an air hostess in a short skirt. Or an air steward, if that floats your boat,” Dudley said. “How’d you think I got here from England? Flapped my wings?”

Draco didn’t dispute that. He seemed to be thinking hard. Harry could see the gate approaching, and he dug in his jeans pocket for the tickets, hoping he hadn’t dropped them somewhere. “I can Apparate,” Draco said airily. “I can just think of a place to go and go there.”

“Ah, so being a wizard means you’re lazy and don’t want to walk anywhere?” Dudley said, equally airily. “I get it.”

“If I get sick, I can just take a potion,” Draco said, changing the line of attack. He’d possibly been inspired by the pile of fresh vomit in the gutter that they’d just passed. Harry supposed this was at least one area where magic clearly had the edge: at Quidditch games, if someone drank too much and chucked up their guts, the staff would just Vanish the mess right away.

“Potions?” Dudley countered. “We call that medicine. We have hospitals, and doctors too. Funded, I might say,” he added pompously, “by the hardworking tax-payer, who knows the value of a hard day’s work. That’s people like me.” He didn’t add that Draco, and all his sort, were tax-dodging layabouts and scroungers, but he didn’t need to; the implication was clear.

Harry couldn’t see Draco raise his eyebrow, he could just sense it. It was the sort of wanky thing he’d be doing right now. He was almost proud of him. “Do you have medicine that can heal a broken bone overnight?” Draco said pointedly.

“I’ve never been careless enough to break a bone. How much of an idiot do you need to be to do that?” Dudley said.

“I haven’t either!” Draco protested.

Dudley reached over to nudge Draco in the side, in a chummy and infuriating manner. “Ah, so not much need for your potion then, eh?”

Harry decided that he’d better prevent either of the two fuckers needing a hospital, or a Healer, because he could sense imminent bloodshed. He shoved his way between the pair of them again. “I could break BOTH your heads by slamming them together, if you like.”

To his horror, Dudley and Draco craned their necks around him to grin at each other. Perhaps, Harry thought, they’d realised that there was one thing they had in common. One thing that joined them, across the great divide of Muggle and magician: a love of annoying Harry Potter.

^^^^^^

Football was even more boring than Harry had remembered it to be, from his sneaks of it at Privet Drive. Uncle Vernon had occasionally had a friend over to watch it on their enormous colour TV, roaring at the screen and then roaring at Petunia to fetch them more drinks. Maybe the alcohol was the only way to make it entertaining, Harry thought as he watched the first half draw to its thrilling nil-nil conclusion.

“Are England the ones in red?” Draco said thoughtfully when the whistle blew, and Dudley gaped at him.

“Yes!”

“Thought so,” Draco said smugly. “The other ones are doing a bit better.”

The fans around them were getting restless, and Harry couldn’t tell whether it was because they’d overheard Draco and were considering punching him in the head, or just because the stress of the footballers not footing the ball very well was wearing on their alcohol-sodden nerves. “I’ll go and get us some snacks. Birthday treat,” Harry said, and then dashed off before either of them could follow. It would be a learning experience for them both to be alone together, he thought, trying not to grin.

When he returned, Draco was holding the Game Boy with a mystified expression, while Dudley was explaining what all the buttons did. “This one’s a Colour Game Boy,” Dudley boasted as the screen switched on. “Look! It’s the latest thing.”

As Harry struggled his way along the row of plastic seats, stepping over plastic glasses and abandoned scarves and trying not to stamp on feet or knock knees, he could see Draco stab a few buttons at random, eyebrows raised, before Dudley took the Game Boy off him to show him how a real man did it. “Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to beat my top score first time, ha ha,” Dudley said as the machine made tiny electronic beeps and pings. “It takes hours of dedication to get this good.”

Harry hastily shoved some sort of sausage in a bun thing at first Dudley and then Draco; Dudley nearly dropped the Game Boy in his haste to avoid getting grease on it, and ended up with grease all down his football shirt instead. “Not bad for foreign muck,” Dudley said, spraying crumbs as he spoke. Draco watched him with fascination, as if observing a creature in a zoo, his own food untouched.

Harry took a bite of his. It tasted like food: hot, and greasy, and completely edible.

“I see that you’re both wearing rings,” Dudley said through another mouthful. “You two poofters get married, then?” he said, taking a further bite. “I won’t tell Dad. He’ll like that even less than he likes you being able to do magic.” He swallowed hard and grinned. “Maybe I will tell him, though. Might help him warm to Elaine. That’s my girl. She might only work in the Balliol canteen – I’m up at Oxford, you know, Draco, before I take over my successful family business – but at least she’s not a bloke, eh?”

Draco was still watching Dudley with fascination, but it was now the fascination of a cat watching an injured bird, as if it was wondering how it could have more fun with its prey before it finally finished it off. “Er, yes, we did get married, I suppose, but—” Harry started, but then – thank Merlin – the crowd started to roar again, and Harry presumed the football was about to resume.

The second half was marginally more entertaining than the first, but only because one of the highly-paid ball kickers managed to actually aim accurately and get the ball where it was supposed to go. Dudley erupted into cheers and whoops, as did the crowd around them. Harry cheered too, because it was England and he lived in England, but he found it hard to get excited. Draco was right – football was just like Quidditch, if you stripped out all the fun.

He rather wished he hadn’t had that thought, though, when the match was over and it was time for them to say goodbye. Dudley had been worse than usual this time, Harry thought, and he was already looking forward to another six, happy Dursley-free months.

“Good meeting you, Draco,” Dudley said, sticking out his hand. “Hope you enjoyed the game.”

Draco took it. “It wasn’t a patch on Quidditch,” he said. “But I suppose you Muggles need to make your entertainment as best you can.”

For a deeply funny moment, the pair of them appeared to try to shake each other’s hand off. Then Dudley said, with hearty bluster, “Ha ha! Fannying about on broomsticks, wearing dresses? Sounds like a game for girls, if you ask me.”

Harry could see his doom approaching, with no way to prevent it. But he tried anyway: “Good to see you, Dudley,” he interjected, trying to grab Draco’s hand away and replace it with his own. “I’ll see you again around Christmas, yeah?”

Draco and Dudley both dodged him, still shaking, still grinning at each other in a feral kind of way. “Quidditch is a game of tactics and precision,” Draco said. “It requires stamina, and strength, and talent.”

“Yeah, right,” Dudley said. “I can imagine.”

“Harry and I are going to a game in a couple of weeks. You should come too,” Draco said, a clear challenge in his voice. Harry found it very hard not to say nooooooo out loud, and stamp his foot, because he didn’t want to, blast it. “There’ll be loads of witches and wizards, and loads of magic, and I can’t wait to hear all about how your Muggle stuff compares.”

Dudley looked a bit like he was going to wet himself in terror. “All right!” he squeaked, and then let go of Draco’s hand and legged it, shouting: “Text me the details,” over his shoulder as he ran.

Draco sniggered. “What a little turd your cousin is, Harry. How very surprising that he’s related to you,” he added.

“Oi!” Harry said, whacking him on the arm. And then added, as he fished in his pocket for the Portkey, checking he still had it safely, “You didn’t mean it about the Quidditch match, did you?”

Draco snorted. “Did I fuck.” A dreamy expression came over his face. “Still, it was fun to watch a lumbering oaf move with such speed, wasn’t it?”

It was. It really, really was. Something occurred to Harry, though. “This wasn’t the first time you’ve ever spoken properly to a Muggle before, was it?” he asked suspiciously.

“No-o,” Draco said unconvincingly. “Although, I must say, Harry, it was just like talking to a wizard, only a really ugly and stupid one.”

“Takes one to know one,” Harry found himself saying, and then dodged as Draco reached out to extract a terrible vengeance upon him and, instead, found himself in the warm, beery embrace of a very surprised overweight German tourist.

Harry couldn’t stop laughing, and he was still laughing when they got back to 10.5 Downing Street, the Portkey depositing them unceremoniously on the front door step.

“I hate you,” Draco said, wearing a very unbecoming scowl.

“Yes,” Harry agreed, grinning, and started laughing again at the look of extreme outrage that painted itself across Draco’s features at this uncaring reaction.

As far as Muggle dates with Dursleys went, he thought as he dashed inside the house, shutting an incandescent Draco on the other side, it could have gone worse. “I’m going to make you pay for this insult, Potter!” Draco boomed hollowly through the letterbox, reaching through with his wand to jab Harry in the arse. “A Malfoy never forgets!”

Harry fled for his life, only marginally slowed down by the fact he was currently using all his breath for laughing, which didn’t leave much for the running.

Chapter Text

Draco had met a Muggle and survived. He’d not only survived, but he’d not even hexed a part of that Muggle’s anatomy off, even though Harry sometimes thought Dudley richly deserved it for the way he’d bullied him as a child.

Draco was still Draco though. A man who’d been brought up by poisonous people, with poisonous views, and who often thought poisonous things himself, even though he was clearly trying not to be such a wanker these days.

Harry was surprised that he was surprised when Draco turned to him late that evening, after they’d spent some companionable time dissing Dudley, and dissing football, and not dissing Muggles in general at all, and said: “I still don’t get why we’re not better than Muggles, though.” He said it in a rush, as if he knew it was going to piss Harry off but he was bloody well going to say it anyway.

Harry didn’t say anything.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Draco complained, sitting up and giving him a shove. They were on the sofa together as usual, Draco’s feet in Harry’s lap. Harry was stroking one of Draco’s calves and, up until that point, had been feeling very content. “It’s not like I want to crush them with my iron fist or anything,” Draco continued, which didn’t make Harry feel a whole lot better. “I just don’t see why we spend our whole lives hiding from them. Don’t you think it’s kind of pathetic? I mean, I don’t particularly want to mingle with them, although I suppose I’m less anxious about the whole business than I was before I met your toad of a cousin. But . . .” He trailed off, giving Harry a look that made him feel uncomfortable.

“They’re – they’re people like us, though,” Harry said. “We just have magic.” If Harry felt anything at all for Muggles in general, rather than just, well, for specific people who just happened to be Muggle, it was sympathy. He felt sorry for them, that they would never see the wonderful things he’d seen. A dragon in flight. The ceiling of the Great Hall at Hogwarts, sparkling with stars. The world rushing past his face, dizzying, terrifying, on the back of a Hippogriff. His own Patronus, a stag just like that of the father he’d never known but always loved, speeding out of his wand to protect his world. It was worth it, he thought. Despite everything, it was worth it.

Draco raised his eyebrows. “Just?” he repeated. “We just have magic? If it’s such a small difference, why do we have to isolate ourselves? To . . . what? Protect ourselves from them? Why do we need protection from people who are just like us, except they can’t do magic?”

Harry wet his lips. “Um,” he said. Well, that wasn’t a very convincing argument, was it, he thought, wanting to bash his head against the coffee table. Draco had clearly been thinking about this too much, whereas Harry had barely ever thought about it at all. It was simple: Muggles were people. Wizards and witches were people. All people. All the same. Was that really such a hard concept to grasp?

“Isn’t the traditional argument that we’re isolating ourselves to protect them because we’re better than them?” Draco pressed. “Their tiny minds couldn’t cope with knowing magic exists, and they might destroy themselves in an attempt to destroy us.”

Was this how Dumbledore had felt about Grindelwald, Harry wondered uncomfortably as he looked at Draco, flashes of a conversation that had taken place a long time ago now coming into his mind. Grindelwald had, by all accounts, been lovely too, before he showed himself for what he truly was. And he’d been convincing, too, in his loveliness. Dumbledore had fallen for it, with barely a push.

There was something hideously compelling about Draco right now – the way he looked, flushed and soft in the fading light; his words, which seemed more reasonable than they should do, given what he was saying. Except – no. It was different, Harry decided, as Draco’s forehead creased into a small frown, presumably at Harry’s lack of response. Grindelwald had sought to persuade Dumbledore of the supremacy of wizards, had played on all of Dumbledore’s weaknesses. While Draco . . . Harry had the strangest feeling that Draco was waiting for Harry to persuade him, to give him a reason to change his views. Because – and Harry felt this on a deep, unpleasant level – however much Harry wanted Draco to be instantly changed into someone who thought the same way as he did, the world didn’t work like that. Was it enough that Draco was trying? Was attempting to see the world in a different way? Harry hoped so – Merlin, he wanted it to be enough, so hard it was making him feel ill with it.

“What do you mean by ‘better’ though?” Harry asked eventually, trying to make sense of his own thoughts.

Draco frowned harder. “I don’t – superior,” he said. “Stronger. I – just better!” He pulled his feet away from Harry, struggling to sit up, folding his legs and looking at Harry. It wasn’t a hard stare, or facetious, or anything like Harry might expect. He just looked frustrated, like he was trying to unpick a knot, and however hard he tugged on the string, it just got tighter. “Muggles are muggles. We’re more than that.”

“So, does – does having more power than someone else make you a better person?” Harry asked, his whirling thoughts landing on a way he thought he could explain it. He turned on the sofa to face Draco, tucking his legs under him.

“Well – no, I suppose not,” Draco said uncomfortably. “But—”

“Or, what about blood purity, then? You’re an expert in that. Does the fact you’re a pure-blood and I’m a half-blood make you better than me?” Harry asked.

Draco pressed his lip together so hard they went white.

“I know you think there’s a scale,” Harry said, trying not to sound as angry as he suddenly felt. “Muggles at the bottom, then Mudbloods, then me, then you, the glorious inbreds at the top of the pile.” He took a deep breath and tried to relax his face, thinking that, OK, maybe he wasn’t succeeding very well at the whole not sounding angry thing. He didn’t want a fight with Draco; he just wanted him to understand where Harry was coming from. Calling him an inbred, though, probably wasn’t the right way to achieve this goal.

Draco said nothing; it was clear to Harry, though, that the effort of saying nothing was nearly killing him. “No, sorry,” Harry said, in the face of this inhuman restraint. “That was rude.”

“I don’t want a lecture,” Draco said stiffly after a pause. “I want to understand. It’s – all mixed up in my head. I don’t get why I’m not better than a Muggle. Why I’m not – yes – why I’m not better than you. I know I’m not,” he said, his gaze sliding away from Harry’s. “You’re the fucking saviour of the universe. But . . .” He shrugged, his mouth miserable.

“You’ve just got so used to judging people by their power and status,” Harry said firmly, “that you’ve forgotten it matters more whether or not they’re a good person.”

Draco looked at him incredulously, and then his expression slipped from unhappiness into something more uncertain. “You really are a prig, Potter,” he said, the corner of his mouth crinkling into an almost-smile.

“I mean it, though,” Harry said seriously. “That’s why we’re not better than Muggles. It’s not brute force that counts – it’s your heart. And we all have one of those, regardless of magic, or of blood purity.” It felt uncomfortable to say these things, like he was acting out a scene in a play or something, but it was how he felt. And if he couldn’t tell Draco how he felt, when it really counted, then what was the point of anything at all?

“So sentimental,” Draco said, but he looked unsure of himself.

“Yes,” Harry said quietly. “It was my mother’s love that saved me from Voldemort the first time around, and my friends’ and family’s love that saved me the second time. Not power – love.”

Draco looked at him as if . . . as if he was a lunatic, Harry concluded. “And who will you save with the power of your love, eh, Harry?” Draco asked, the eye-roll clear in his voice. And then he snorted, adding quickly – in case Harry was idiot enough to try to reply to that – “I have seen the error of my ways, oh Chosen One. Clearly, you are better than me because the world fawns over you more.” He smiled lightly. “I’ll just have to try to be a better husband, and maybe I can bask a little more in your reflected glory.”

“There’s no need to mock me,” Harry said, a little stiffly, finding himself sitting a little stiffly too.

“Salazar’s balls, there is,” Draco said, and grinned at him, a quicksilver smile that nevertheless had something else behind it. Anxiety, Harry thought, mixed with something sadder. Whatever it was, though, it soon vanished, slipping away as Draco’s natural gittishness reasserted itself at lightning speed. It really was a talent, Harry thought.

“Your cousin’s still a dreadful tosser,” Draco said, leaning back against the sofa arm again and kicking at Harry until he turned and presented his lap again for Draco to grace with his feet.

It was true, so Harry didn’t feel he could deny it. Besides, Draco had started to rub Harry’s crotch thoughtfully with his toes, in a way that was rapidly becoming less of a tease and more of a torment as Harry’s body responded.

“If I suck you off, will you let me crush just one or two Muggles in my iron fist?” Draco asked after a few frustrating, delicious minutes of this. He was smirking, the sod.

“No!” Harry protested.

“Pretty please?”

“NO!”

Draco sniggered. “Pity,” he said, but he slid off the sofa and got down on his knees in front of Harry anyway.

^^^^^^

June shaded into July, and the next few weeks slid by in an odd haze of almost-happiness. To Harry’s relief, they seemed to have finished with the topic of Muggles and whether to crush them. For good, Harry hoped, also hoping that some of what he’d said had sunk in.

On the negative side, Draco now seemed to be avoiding the whole ‘going out’ issue, despite Harry’s best efforts. Whenever Harry awkwardly suggested going out for the evening, or even staying in for the evening, they went out – or stayed in. But they always seemed to be in company, somehow. Harry began to feel as if Ron and Hermione had actually moved in to his house at times, they were there so often. And it wasn’t just them: he worked fewer hours now, and whenever he came home, the house would often be packed with people. The Harpies seemed to have adopted Harry’s half-sized pitch as their favourite afterhours practice ground, and he often popped down there to find them yelling good-naturedly at each other as they revised their tactics. He got used to seeing Ginny regularly surprisingly quickly, and Draco barely looked sour when he saw her any more, just irritated, which Harry hoped was an improvement.

Besides, Astoria was there most of the time too, cheering Ginny on from the side-lines, and although Harry really tried to like her, he found he just couldn’t. Happily, the feeling still appeared to be mutual, so they dodged each other, and got along quite amicably in this manner.

Harry wasn’t entirely sure what Draco’s game was. Draco didn’t always seem to like the guests very much, even though it was usually him who’d invited them, and not all of them seemed to like him very much either. But Harry would admit that it was nice, in a way, to come home to a house full of people, and laughter. He’d got too used to being alone, he thought. It wasn’t good for him. It wasn’t good for anyone.

His work colleagues, too, had become friends, rather than fans, although he wasn’t entirely sure when that had happened. They’d stopped giving him awed looks when his back was turned and started pulling faces and sticking their tongues out instead. When he raised this with Hermione, she just rolled her eyes at him. “You always worked so hard and never socialised with anyone!” she said. “No wonder they didn’t get to know you properly. You wouldn’t let them.”

Was she right? Harry didn’t know. He wanted to work hard; still wanted to work hard. It was one of the most frustrating parts of the incomplete bond, as far as he was concerned: he couldn’t do the job he wanted to do. How could he reform the department, make positive changes, when he wasn’t Head Auror? And how could he ever be Head Auror, or even a proper Auror at all, if he couldn’t reliably access his magic? It tangled up in his head and complicated him. And the only person he wanted to talk to about it – about how frustrated it made him feel, and torn up, and anxious about the future, because what else was he good for, if he wasn’t an Auror? – was Draco. And how could he talk to Draco, of all people, about that?

Harry still visited the Unspeakables every time he went to work, to ask if they’d made some progress, any progress. Last time he’d gone in, Kevin had hidden under his desk and pretended he wasn’t there, even up to the point when Harry had said, “Kevin, I can see your foot.”

“N-no! You c-can’t!” Kevin had said, shuffling it out of sight, so his words had at least been accurate, if annoying.

Harry began to wonder if he’d feel better if the Unspeakables just admitted that they’d never be able to rewind the bond, so at least then he could face up to it. Stop living this half life, stuck between an impossibility and a heartache, and make a choice, even if it was one that was no choice at all. Life with Draco wouldn’t be so bad, would it? Draco seemed to like him enough for them to be at least content, didn’t he? In time, maybe, Draco would get over not having an heir, being the last of his line. And in time, maybe, Harry would get over not being chosen, not being the Chosen One this time around. Hah! It was so ironic it made him want to cry. Except he didn’t. Because he was happy. Almost. Wasn’t he?

Sometimes, Harry thought Draco caught glimpses of what Harry was feeling, even though he didn’t press. He didn’t ask about what Harry had learned from the Unspeakables any more, as if he knew there was no point. And although they still hadn’t kissed, which depressed Harry more than he could say, it wasn’t like Draco didn’t show him any affection at all. They still slept curled up in each other’s arms, and mostly Draco didn’t wake him up with nightmares these days, though Harry suspected Draco still mostly woke himself up, just silently, and was mostly able to get back to sleep again without waking Harry up at all.

Harry almost wished, at times, that Draco would wake him up. That Draco would need him again. But that was selfish, and stupid, and he tried to take that desire and shove it away in a very dark, far away place, where it belonged.

Draco certainly seemed to need him when they lay together in the dark, rutting against each other. Or when Harry, going crazy after a long day of missing him, had come home to find the house heaving with people. He’d simply yanked Draco into the nearest empty room, dropping to his knees and sucking him off, even as the house buzzed with the sound of talking. Draco, face trembling, had looked down at him as if Harry was all he’d ever wanted. Oh Merlin, how Harry wished that were true. It would make everything so much easier.

^^^^^^

As the last week of July ticked away, Harry began to feel a little weird about his approaching birthday. While he knew that, of course, every day that passed he got another day older, there seemed something strangely significant about the step from nineteen to twenty. One swing of the pendulum and he’d be a teenager, and the next he wouldn’t. Was he meant to be a grown-up then? In some ways he’d felt like a grown-up for almost all his life, ever since he was old enough to understand that he’d had parents one day, and the next he hadn’t. Every year, too, time ticked inexorably towards the time when he’d be older than his parents were when they died. Twenty-one. It was no age at all.

Harry didn’t raise his approaching birthday, and hoped no one would raise it with him. He wasn’t sure he was in the mood to celebrate, struck by melancholia. Twenty. By the time his mum and dad had been twenty, they’d already been married a couple of years. They’d already had him. They’d packed so much into their short lives. What had he done with his that compared? OK, so some people said he’d saved the world, but had he really? When it came down to it, hadn’t his mother done it for him?

By the time it was just couple of days before the thirty-first, Harry was starting to feel like he might get away with just ‘forgetting’ his birthday altogether. A tiny part of him was sad, but in the main he was relieved. Just a few days and then it would all be over, he thought. Just a few days. That evening, Hermione was over to present all her arguments about why house-elves deserved the same rights as wizards to Draco, ahead of an important Ministry event she was speaking at. Harry had offered to be her trial audience, but she’d declined, saying it would be too easy a job to convince him; she needed an opponent more steeped in traditional values. She said the word ‘traditional’ like it was an insult, but Draco had just rolled his eyes at this and said he would be glad to help.

When Hermione and Draco had been arguing viciously, but without apparent heat, for at least half an hour, Hermione paused proceedings so they could drink some tea. Over a steaming mug, she turned to Harry. “So, are you doing anything for your birthday?” she asked. “Because if not, I thought that we could—”

“No,” Draco interrupted firmly, and blew on his own steaming mug before taking a ginger sip. “Sorry, Hermione. He’s busy.”

Hermione blinked, looking a bit startled. Harry knew she how felt. He was busy? Was he? Doing what, exactly? He’d planned a bit of high-quality brooding, and had hoped to follow this by divesting himself of his clothes and hoping Draco could be tempted to do the same.

“What are we doing?” Harry asked, feeling a strange anxiety spike in his stomach.

Draco shot him an odd, sidelong look. “I’m taking you home.”

Home? Was . . . was this not home? No, Harry thought, suddenly feeling very tired. He supposed it wasn’t home for Draco. But – “You . . . want to take me to Malfoy Manor for my birthday?” he asked, trying not to sound as horrified as he felt.

“Don’t be stupid,” Draco said, and raised his nose in the air. “Now, Hermione, shall we get back to it? You were saying that house-elves should have the right to carry wands, but traditionally the counter argument to this is that—” He launched into a spirited and eyebrow-raisingly unpleasant line of attack that had Hermione spluttering with rage, and Harry couldn’t get a word in edgeways to ask the obvious question: if Harry’s house wasn’t home, and Malfoy Manor wasn’t home either . . . where the hell was it?

Draco wouldn’t be drawn on the subject when Harry asked later, and when he tried again the next morning, Draco just got irritated. “Don’t be boring, Harry,” he said, and gave him a shove to get him to leave the house. “And don’t forget to ask your boss to give you at least a week off.”

At least a week? At least a week? “What for, though?” Harry asked, turning and glaring at Draco.

“See you later, Harry. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” Draco said sweetly, and swished his wand. Harry had to leap for his life to prevent himself being whacked by the front door, which closed even as he sprang through it.

“You know I’ll find out what you’re planning!” Harry said ominously, the effect only slightly diluted by the fact he had to kneel down and say it through his own letterbox. He couldn’t hear Draco sniggering, but he could imagine it, and he found that that was just as bad.

It was only when he got to work that it occurred to him that, yes, of course he’d find out what Draco was planning. In a couple of days’ time, when it was his birthday. He rested his forehead on his desk – now he spent all his time in the office, he was marginally more on top of his endless paperwork, and there was a small space – and closed his eyes.

“WAKE UP, you layabout! You can sleep during your week off!” Robards boomed in his ear, making him leap at least three feet in the air.

“Week off?” Harry asked, trying to look nonchalant rather than alarmed that his boss seemed to have developed the powers of a seer.

“Hah!” Robards said, and opened his mouth as if to launch into a rant, but then snapped it shut again. “Hah!” he said, and stalked off, his cloak swishing out moodily behind him.

Perpetua sidled out from behind a coat stand where she’d clearly been hiding. “He gone?” she asked. “I asked him to sign off my expenses earlier, and it didn’t go so well,” she said, and winked at Harry. “I heard you’ve got some holiday coming up. Going somewhere nice, pet?”

Was he? Harry had absolutely no idea.

^^^^^^

Harry woke on the morning of the thirty-first to glorious sunshine streaming in through the windows and an equally glorious smell of hot coffee drifting up the stairs. He hadn’t slept well, stressing about what Draco was up to, even though he knew it was daft. He sat up and stretched widely, scrubbing his hands through his hair and reaching for his glasses, before heaving himself out of bed and padding downstairs.

“Morning,” Draco said, passing him a cup of coffee and wrinkling his nose at him. “What time do you call this?”

Harry didn’t know. “Forgotten how to tell the time, have you?” he asked, and grinned as Draco spluttered at him, before taking a burning, delicious sip of his coffee. Ahhh. That was better. He still didn’t feel adequately prepared to face whatever it was Draco was planning for the day, but at least he now felt almost awake. It was a start.

They bickered in their usual way as they had breakfast, and Harry tried not to mind that Draco hadn’t wished him a happy birthday yet. He’d wanted it to be ignored, anyway, hadn’t he? But after they’d eaten and cleared the things away, Draco prodded him with a finger and told him to get ready and pack. “Just a few clothes,” he said with a shrug.

“For going home,” Harry tried.

Draco’s poker face remained in place. “Yes,” he said. “Chop chop!”

Harry wanted to complain, he really did, but he thought the quickest way to find out what was going on was by going along with this irritating charade, so he went and got dressed before shoving a few things in a bag. When he got back downstairs, Draco had a heap of his own bags which he was transporting somewhere, one at a time. “Ready?” Draco said, and held out a hand.

Ready? Harry would never be ready. He reached out and took it.

When the world resolved itself again, they were standing halfway up a steep hill, grass and scrubland rushing down to meet the sea. It was gorgeous. The sun beat down on Harry’s face, warming him through, and the wind tousled his hair, whipping through the grass and creating white foam on the waves. The bags Draco had spelled ahead of them were nowhere to be seen, and there was no sign of life anywhere, other than birds wheeling in the sky. No buildings. No people. Nothing. The hill curved around tightly on all sides, creating a tiny cove. Harry took a deep breath in, and he could taste the salt in the air.

“Are we camping, or something?” Harry asked, turning to Draco. He couldn’t see why else Draco had brought him somewhere so beautiful but so remote. Maybe Draco had a tent in his pocket, and he would whip it out at any moment and say something facetious about carrying his home around with him in his pocket, or something.

For some reason, Draco looked nervous. His tongue shot out to moisten his lips, and he shifted from foot to foot, reaching up to try to tuck his hair behind his ears. The wind kept stealing it, though, whipping it out to fly in a cloud around his face. Then he took a very deep breath and said, clearly through the wind, “Harry James Potter. Welcome to Malfoy’s Cove. I share with you the secret of Malfoy’s Rest.”

All this sounded like complete bollocks to Harry, and he was about to ask Draco what he was on about when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. He turned, puzzled, only to see a house shimmer out of nowhere above him. It was large, and ancient, and seemed to almost grow out of the hillside itself, the stone bulging organically from the surrounding browns and greens. It was covered in ivy, and moss, except for the top floor, which was mostly glass – or possibly empty windows, Harry couldn’t tell. It was some sort of enormous balcony, he realised, squinting as the sun half-blinded him. Whatever lay behind it, he couldn’t see.

“Come on, then,” Draco said. He was already starting to walk up a stony path that had also resolved out of nothing, towards a distant bright-red front door. When Harry looked back down towards the sea, he could see the path swept that way too, leading down to a tiny beach covered in enormous black rocks. The sea was very green.

Draco didn’t take out a key when he got to the door, he just pushed it open, and when Harry reached it he couldn’t even see a keyhole. He followed Draco inside, still puzzled, and dumped his bag on the floor, next to a pile of bags he recognised from home. The front door led straight into a cosy stone-walled parlour, dotted with floral sofas, which in turn led on to an equally cosy kitchen, all cream-painted cabinets and blue and white crockery. The beamed ceiling was so low that it nearly skimmed their heads.

“Right, tour,” Draco said. He didn’t wait for Harry’s response, just led him through the house at breakneck speed. Harry got glimpses of rooms: a suntrap of a breakfast room packed with wicker furniture and ferns in pots; a gloomy, stone room that seemed mostly books; bedrooms; bathrooms; odd corridors that could have led anywhere or nowhere; and then the house’s crowning glory – an enormous sitting room at the top of the house which spanned its whole width, house bleeding out almost seamlessly into an equally enormous balcony. And beyond the balcony, the sea. The sky. It was glorious.

Draco finally came to a halt on the balcony, leaning against the railing, wind whipping through his hair. Harry went to lean next to him, closing his eyes for a moment and feeling the sun, warm and bright, leach through his eyelids. “So this is . . .” he said, and left a space for Draco to fill.

“My home,” Draco said. He sounded nervous.

Harry opened his eyes again to take in the view. It was wild, beautiful. “Where are we?”

“Cornwall,” Draco said. His arm was a warm press against Harry’s. “The Malfoy estate has land across most of England. Father gave me this particular piece for my nineteenth birthday. It’s only small, but it’s mine.” He sounded fierce. “Only Mother and Father know the location, and I made them swear they’d never drop by unannounced. I’m not connected to the Floo, anyway.” Draco took another audible deep breath. “Well, go on then, say something. I’m not sure why I feel so nervous bringing you here. It’s like—” He let out a self-deprecating snort. “Like I’m showing you my underwear drawer, or something.”

Harry felt very warm inside. It shouldn’t be a big deal, Draco taking him to this place, he thought. It was just a house, just part of the Malfoy’s estate. He should, if anything, be a little irritated that Draco hadn’t brought him here before. But – Draco appeared to have placed this house under the Fidelius charm. As if it was somewhere he desperately wanted to keep secret, to protect. And . . . outside of his tiny family circle, he had shared that secret with Harry, and Harry alone.

It appeared that, for Harry’s twentieth birthday, Draco had given him the key to his front door. Harry couldn’t think of a better present.

“Did you say this place was called . . . Malfoy’s . . .?”

“Malfoy’s Cove,” Draco said. “The house is Malfoy’s Rest.”

“And this is . . . Malfoy’s Balcony?” Harry tried. “Later, I may rest my bottom upon Malfoy’s Toilet Seat,” he added. “And utilise Malfoy’s Taps.”

Draco gave him an unimpressed frown. “At least I have taps.”

“So do I!” Harry protested. Then he nudged Draco, and leaned in against him for a long, warm moment. “I like it,” he said, feeling Draco relax against him. “Thank you for my birthday present.”

Draco laughed. “This isn’t your birthday present, idiot. I just told you my address. Don’t overthink it.” His cheeks went pink and he glanced sideways at Harry, gaze warm. “I’ll give you your present later.”

Harry felt himself go red in response. “You didn’t have to get me anything,” he protested automatically.

Draco rolled his eyes. “No. I didn’t,” he agreed. “Now, would you like to take a walk down to the beach?”

Harry looked down at the cove before him, at the sparkling green wave-tossed sea and the shining black rocks, and thought that there was little else he’d rather do right now.

They spent the day quietly, sunning themselves on the rocks and exploring Draco’s house properly. It wasn’t how Harry would have pictured Draco living. Malfoy Manor was cold and austere, with everything arranged for grandeur rather than comfort. This was almost the opposite, with ornaments crammed into every corner, and seats everywhere, as if the house didn’t want any guest to take more than a single step without being able to sink down again and rest their legs. Plants grew out of the walls, but as if they meant to, and the place smelled clean and fresh and cared for.

After dinner – Draco cooked, only using magic to light the stove and doing everything else by hand – Draco spread out piles of presents, which were, he said, from Harry’s friends. Bemused, Harry opened box after box, finding sweets, and clothing, and jokes, and trinkets from what seemed like everyone he’d ever met – all his work mates, the Harpies, his old school friends. He felt embarrassed to be so loved.

Draco ran him a bath, despite his protests, and handed him a glass of wine and left him to it. Harry sank into the hot water with a sigh of pleasure, and sipped his wine as he looked out of the enormous bathroom window, staring at the distant sea. He felt tension leaving his body that he hadn’t even realised was there as he soaked, feeling the minutes stretch out into hazy bliss.

When he finally managed to persuade himself to rise from the tub, the water starting to cool, the sun was starting to sink in the sky, orange splashes painting the horizon. He dried himself off and put on the knee-length towelling bathrobe Draco had left out for him, padding out barefoot to go and find Draco himself. Draco was at the top of the house, back on the balcony, and when he turned towards Harry he was beautifully framed by the setting sun.

“Present time,” Draco said, and smiled at Harry as he walked towards him, his lips quirking. “It’s a bit weird, but I think you’ll appreciate it.”

“A bit weird . . .?” Harry repeated as Draco went to sit down on a wide bench that faced the balcony, patting the space next to him.

“Mm,” Draco said, and turned to look at Harry expectantly. Harry sat down, wondering what on earth he was in for.

Draco Summoned a largish chest, which hit the ground with the thud. He tugged it towards him, then withdrew first a large, deep glass jar and then a bottle of evil-looking thick green liquid. “When I said a bit weird,” Draco said as he started to fill the glass jar with the liquid, “I may have understated it. But it’s safe, I promise.” He screwed the cap back on the bottle; the jar was now mostly full. “Right,” Draco said, passing the jar to Harry. “Get your cock out and stick it in.”

Harry nearly dropped the jar. “You what?” The liquid roiled, seeming almost alive.

“Go on,” Draco encouraged, grinning. “I won’t look, if you want to retain your dignity.” He shifted on the bench seat, half-turning his back. “You don’t need to leave it in there long. About ten seconds should do.”

This was hardly reassuring. “Draco . . .” Harry said, staring at the liquid in horror. “I’m not feeling very enthusiastic about this.”

“It’s not going to eat your knob,” Draco said unsympathetically. “Just shove it in. Or don’t you trust me?”

Harry did trust him. But there was trust, and then there was sticking your knob in a jar full of evil green goo. He wasn’t sure this was entirely fair. But Draco started to hum an irritating little tune under his breath that sounded suspiciously like ‘Why are we waiiiiting’, and so Harry, feeling extremely dubious about the whole business, undid the belt of his robe, gave another horrified look at the evil liquid and, wincing, lowered the jar to groin-level and slid his cock in. For a moment, it just felt cold, and slippery, and then it felt weird, as if the liquid was giving him a good old grope. It was squeezing him, slipping up and down. Harry started to wonder if Draco was off his rocker and had gifted him a creepy wank from a jar for his birthday. But no – soon the movement stilled, and then it just felt intense and somehow wrong, as if the liquid was inside him, and yet outside him, all at the same time. Had it been ten seconds? He grit his teeth and counted a few more, just in case, even as the feeling started to wear off, leaving just cold.

Harry withdrew carefully so as not to drip on the pale carpet, but the liquid seemed to stay completely in the jar. It was almost rubbery now, springing away. His cock had left an indentation, it seemed, and then the liquid imploded, sucking into itself, writhing and wriggling. It then stilled, growing out into a shape Harry recognised: it was an exact replica of, well, himself. Even as he watched, the green colour leached away, leaving something that wasn’t quite his own skin colour, but almost.

Harry set the jar down on the bench, tying his robe back up, and then turned to Draco. “Draco,” he said, very patiently, “why have you given me a cock in a jar?” Because he had. It was a cock. In a jar. “Not that I’m not grateful,” he added. “It’s just . . .”

Draco turned, and he was grinning. “You done? Oh!” he said, peering at the jar. “It worked.”

“It worked?”

“Yep,” Draco said breezily. “Now . . .” He swished his wand and muttered a spell that Harry hadn’t heard before. “Give it a poke,” he suggested. Harry stared at Draco, who just stared right back. “Go on!” he said.

Harry rolled his eyes and gave the side of the object – the shaft – a dubious prod. As soon as his finger connected, he felt a strange, corresponding pressure at the side of his own cock. “What the fuck!” he said, and pulled his finger away. As soon as he removed it, the sensation stopped.

Draco sniggered. “You can turn it off and on,” he said, “so to speak. You just need to touch your wand to it. I thought I’d better build that in, or it’s an accident waiting to happen.”

Harry surveyed the object. Then he surveyed Draco. “Draco,” he said, also very patiently, “what the fuck have you done.”

Draco sniggered again. “It’s a copy of your dick, stupid. Like a witch’s poppet, sort of thing. Only, dick shaped. And not for sticking pins in,” he added thoughtfully. “Unless you’re more of a masochist than I think you are.”

“I’m not!” Harry squeaked.

Draco reached out and, before Harry could think to stop him, carefully picked the fake cock up. It felt extremely peculiar. Harry could feel the warmth of Draco’s fingers, the gentle pressure against him, even though Draco wasn’t touching him. Draco stroked a finger along the length of the cock and Harry shivered, feeling it as intimately as if Draco had been touching his skin instead. Draco raised the fake cock to his mouth and gave the head a long, flat lick, and Harry nearly jolted off the bench. “Fucking hell!” Harry said.

Draco blew on the wet stripe, and Harry could feel it. He tugged open his robe and looked down at his cock, but nothing was touching it, of course. It was just his cock, although rather stiffer now, springing to attention even as he looked at it. Draco took another very wet lick – Harry could feel it, rather than see it. He half expected to see saliva suddenly appear on his cock, but nothing did. It really was just sensation, transferred from the magical object directly to his own genitals. It was . . . it was weird.

“Draco, I definitely think this counts as more than a ‘bit weird’,” Harry said, addressing his knob. And although it was more hot than weird, he couldn’t entirely see the point of it so far. All right, it was pretty fucking amazing when Draco licked the fake cock, but then it was pretty fucking amazing when he licked his real one too.

“Ah, but this isn’t your present,” Draco said, sounding smug. This smugness worried Harry, more than he could say.

Harry tore his gaze off his cock, to look at Draco. Draco tapped the fake cock against his lips thoughtfully, making Harry twitch. “It isn’t?” Harry managed.

“Well, sort of,” Draco said, still thoughtful. “I thought that for your twentieth birthday, I would give you a chance to do something all men have considered, many have tried, and few have succeeded at.” He smirked. “The chance to suck your own cock.”

“I . . . what?” Harry asked, not sure whether he was turned on or – no, dammit, he was definitely turned on. The way Draco had turned to look at him speculatively, eyes shining, was enough to make his stomach flip, let alone the idea of . . .

Harry had tried, of course he had, for about thirty seconds a good few years ago now. He’d quickly come to the conclusion that no man was meant to bend that way and had given it up as a bad job. The idea of actually being able to manage it, to fellate himself exactly the way he knew it would feel good, sucking and licking at exactly the speed, the pressure that he wanted . . .

“Yes?” Draco asked, the fake cock still against his lips, still a faint touch against Harry’s groin.

Yes,” Harry said. Fuck it, he thought, a bit vaguely. You only lived once. And it was his birthday.

“All right,” Draco said, face going red even as he shifted on the bench seat, to perch on the edge. “Lie down, then.”

Harry lay down, letting his robe fall open. The bench was almost too short for him, his heels and the top of his head hitting the edges, but he didn’t think he’d fall off, so he tried to relax, to not think too deeply about what he was about to do.

Draco’s hand was a tight, delicious grip around the end of the fake cock; Harry could feel the pressure at the base of his dick. Draco leaned forward, his face flaming, and lightly pressed the head of the fake cock to Harry’s mouth, rubbing it against Harry’s lips. Just the thought of it was incredible, electrifying, and the feel was almost as good. Harry could feel his own lips against the end of his cock, his own hot breath sending shivers of sensation through it.

Draco pressed the fake cock a little more firmly against Harry’s lips, and he parted them helplessly. The feeling as the cock slid in his mouth, reflected in his own dick, was incredible. His tongue shot out, to curl around the head in his mouth, and he could feel it on his own cock. He licked again, and gave a gentle, experimental suck that had his hips coming right off the bench, it felt so weird, so incredible.

Draco made a tight noise, and pulled the fake cock away a fraction, so Harry had to chase it with his tongue. He could barely reach it, covering it in wet flicks that had his cock jumping and twitching. Then Draco pushed it back in, and he nearly died at the feeling, covering his own dick in saliva, and heat, and sucking, sucking, a regular hot pressure that had his blood soaring.

Draco began to move the cock in and out, a rhythmic, delicious sensation that had Harry nearly sobbing with arousal. He lay back and let Draco control the pace, sucking and licking as the cock slid in and out of his mouth, soft and slow. He felt the arousal crash over him in waves, and his thighs were already starting to shake with the feeling. He knew exactly where to lick, how to let the cock graze against his teeth, to turn him on. The pressure. The heat. It was almost too good, too much.

Draco seemed to know how Harry was feeling, because he slid the cock all the way out, leaving Harry chasing it with his tongue again. It was heavenly. Frustrating. Horrendous. God. “Can—” Draco said, and cleared his throat. His voice was thick. “Can I go deeper?”

Harry didn’t know, had never tried. “I . . . don’t know,” he managed, all his brainpower stolen by his aching, untouched, and yet somehow almost overstimulated cock. “Sure. Anything.”

Draco let out a hiss of breath and pressed the fake cock gently back into Harry’s mouth, sliding it further in, and then out again. Harry tried to relax, to breathe shallowly. It was harder to breathe, and when the fake cock hit the back of his throat he almost choked, and Draco withdrew it, the urge to cough fading. Draco tried again, just a brief touch of the back of his throat before withdrawing, and then again. After a minute or so, Harry felt like his cock was going to explode, he was so ready to come. The regular slip-slide of the cock in his mouth, the heat, the pressure. And then Draco touched the back of his throat with the fake cock and didn’t stop. The cock slid down his throat an inch or two, not triggering his gag reflex. In, out, in, out, Draco slid it up and down. Harry couldn’t suck now, couldn’t move, his mouth full, his dick rock hard and his balls so tight and hot they hurt. He was going to die, he thought, his eyes rolling back in his head. He was going to die, he was so turned on. He could feel his mouth watering, saliva flowing, and the wetness only made it worse, made him more turned on.

Draco had his hand tight around the base of his cock, and it was holding his orgasm back, stopping his body from tipping over. But only just. The feeling built, and built, until Harry was nothing except a cock, and a full mouth, and the screaming need to come. He could no longer tell what was real and what wasn’t. Was Draco’s hand, an iron bar around the base of his shaft, on the fake cock? Or on the real one? It didn’t matter. Because it was all too much. He was going to come. He was going to come. He was—

Harry came with a silent cry, his mouth full, his throat full, and then he almost choked on it, except Draco slid the cock out of his throat and into just his mouth. Harry sucked hard, swallowing down saliva and feeling his come erupt from his cock in aching jets, his whole body shaking like a leaf.

Draco kept the fake cock there as Harry came down from his orgasm, shaking and shaking. He couldn’t stop swallowing around it, each swallow making him almost come again, dragging out more sensation. Was he still coming? He could feel liquid in his mouth, his own spit, feel his cock pulsing. Eventually, the feeling subsided enough for him to shove at Draco’s hand, and Draco pulled the cock away. When Harry blinked away the water in his eyes, and could see again, Draco’s face was almost scarlet, and his mouth was slack.

“Fuck,” Harry said, feeling completely unable to move. “Fucking hell.”

Draco laughed shakily. “Yeah.” He wet his lips. “Wand?”

Wand? Oh, right. Harry reached out vaguely, couldn’t find it, and Draco tossed it over, his hand tightening on the fake cock as he did so, making Harry groan. Draco offered the cock to him, and Harry tapped it lightly with his wand, hand so shaky he nearly missed. Immediately, the feeling of Draco’s hand on his dick vanished. It was a relief in some ways. Harry was so sensitive he almost felt raw with it, and his throat ached, his jaw throbbing.

Draco helped him to sit up, and Harry swallowed, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and then again. He felt heavy and relaxed, and almost like he could go to sleep. It was bliss. Slightly embarrassed bliss to be fair, but still bliss.

Draco sat there beside for a while, and then he said, voice shaky but nevertheless scathing, “I’ll just help myself out, shall I? If I don’t come soon I think my balls might explode.”

Oh. Oh. Harry was suddenly filled with the deep urge to make Draco suffer as long, and as deliciously, as he’d made Harry suffer. It was his birthday, after all. And didn’t Draco deserve it?

Harry caught Draco’s wrist, just as he was reaching for the fastenings of his trousers. “No,” he said.

“No?” Draco said, raising an eyebrow. “I beg your pardon?”

Harry held out his hand, palm flat. Draco stared at it. “Well, go on then,” Harry said, and gestured with his hand. “I know you have one too.”

Draco wet his lips as he stared at Harry’s palm. “What, a hand?” he prevaricated. “Yes, I have one of those. Two of them, in fact. All the better to wank with.”

“No,” Harry said patiently, hand still outstretched. “Go on.”

Draco seemed to debate something with himself, and then he turned back to the chest he’d got his foul apparatus out of earlier, withdrawing a long, slim black box and passing it over to Harry without a word. When Harry opened it, as expected, a long, slim facsimile of Draco’s penis lay inside it. He hadn’t expected the green velvet it was resting on, though. That made him snort.

“Don’t laugh at my genitals, Harry,” Draco said severely. “You’ll give me a complex.”

Harry grinned and offered the box to Draco. After a pause, Draco reached for his wand and gave the fake cock a light tap, before carelessly tossing the wand aside. “Well?” he said, when Harry just looked at the cock for a while, wondering what exactly would make Draco suffer the most. “Do you worst, scarhead,” Draco taunted.

“Got any lube?” Harry asked, trying to sound as if it wasn’t an awkward question. He was holding a cock in a box. He’d just sucked himself off. By this point nothing should be awkward, and yet.

Draco nodded, reaching into the chest and tossing over a tube. Harry caught it, and then stood up, taking lube and cock outside on to the balcony. The light had almost faded entirely now, but the night was clear, a gibbous moon casting a warm, soft light across the sea, the sky. It was still very warm, almost too warm.

“Well, come on then,” Harry called, and Draco followed him outside, raising his eyebrows at him and folding his arms. “Get your clothes off,” Harry added.

Draco’s eyebrows almost his hairline, but after a considering look at Harry, he began to do as asked. Soon he was completely naked, and trembling, but not from cold, Harry thought, starting to feel turned on all over again. From anticipation.

Harry took a couple of paces over to Draco and turned him, so he was facing the railing of the balcony, looking out to sea. Draco seemed to sag against it, resting his arms on the edge, and he looked over his shoulder to gaze at Harry with wide, lust-filled eyes.

Harry took the cap off the lube and squeezed some into his hand, slicking up his fingers. When he looked back up at Draco, Draco was watching him, eyes hazy, though he turned as Harry approached and arched his back in encouragement.

Harry had never fingered anyone on a balcony before, in the darkness, looking out to sea. By the sounds Draco made, this was a new one on him too. Harry took it very slow, slipping a finger round and round the pucker of Draco’s arsehole until he was pushing back against the digit, desperate for more pressure. Harry applied more lube, and Draco groaned, arsehole muscles relaxing and contracting against the gentle pressure. Harry pressed, gentle and light, and as Draco relaxed he pressed in a little harder, finger sliding in up to the knuckle.

Draco clenched down hard on his finger, and groaned again, and clenched. Harry slid his finger slowly in and out, slick and slow, and Draco continued to groan, each movement tearing a noise from his throat. Draco was so tight, so hot around Harry’s finger. Harry began to feel light-headed. He was sliding in almost all the way now, and he crooked his finger, feeling for the lump of nerves he knew would make Draco moan even harder. He knew he’d found it when Draco made an odd, intense noise and started panting hard.

Harry stroked that spot with gentle movements for a while, and Draco started to swear under his breath. His swearing got louder when Harry withdrew his finger for a moment to add more lube, then repeated the motion, but this time with two fingers. He was rocking himself almost helplessly on Harry’s fingers now, gripping the balcony hard. His cock must be throbbing, Harry thought, feeling his own cock come back to life at the thought of it.

Harry withdrew his fingers, and Draco swore at him this time, and turned his head to glare. Harry reached down and picked up the box containing Draco’s fake cock. “Well?” he asked, heart pounding. “Can I?”

Draco wet his lips and his eyes widened. “You’re not seriously going to . . .” he said, and his eyes flickered from the box to Harry’s face and back again.

“Only if you want me to,” Harry said, trying to just go a standard red, rather than traffic-light red. “I could just do . . . this, if you want,” he said, and he took the cock out of the box gently, dropping the box to his feet and squeezing a line of lube down the fake cock’s shaft. He slathered the cock up as Draco watched, almost helplessly, making tiny choked noises as Harry’s hand moved.

Harry slid his hand up and down the cock once, twice, and Draco took an enormous, ragged gasp, then turned his face away from Harry, arching his back and pushing his backside in Harry’s direction. “Go on, please, do it, do it,” Draco gabbled, sounding like he was going to set himself on fire with his own embarrassment.

Harry swallowed hard and squeezed more lube on to the head of the fake cock, Draco almost sobbing from arousal, and then pressed it gently against Draco’s arsehole. Draco tensed, and then tried to relax, but Harry didn’t push him. He just held the head there, a gentle pressure as Draco’s arsehole twitched, and when he felt a softening of the muscles he pressed a bit harder. Draco made a long, low groan as the head of the fake cock breached him, and Harry stilled as Draco got used to the sensation. How must it feel, Harry wondered, to be fucked by your own cock? To feel your cock bury itself deep inside a tight warmth, even as a hardness rubbed against your own insides.

Draco whimpered, trying to push back against the cock, so Harry slid it in further, and deeper, before pulling it just as slowly out. Draco was panting heavily now, tiny shallow breaths, and Harry kept the slow steady rhythm. In. Out. In. Out. It was mesmerising, watching the cock vanish inside Draco and then slip out again, to watch Draco’s muscles clenching and relaxing around it.

“Can you come from this?” Harry heard himself ask as Draco moaned and moaned.

“I-I-I don’t know,” Draco managed, “nggggg, mother of Merlin. Yes. Yes.”

Harry kept working, slow but firm. “What does it feel like?” he asked, his voice faint.

“I—” Draco panted. “Hot. Tight. God. Faster.”

Harry didn’t go faster. He felt a bit like he was roasting alive in his own skin. He wanted . . . He didn’t know what he wanted. Oh. He reached down for his wand, managing to grab it with the tips of his fingers, and then cast a very light vibrating charm on the fake cock.

“Oh my fucking God,” Draco gasped, shaking, his arse clenching and clenching around the cock.

Harry pushed the cock further in and held it there, gripping the base tight. Draco squirmed against him, trying to fuck himself further, harder, trying to get some friction against the cock. The sight of him like that, almost lost in his arousal, helplessly twitching, made Harry almost come untouched. He wanted to see Draco. He wanted to see him. Awkwardly, he pulled at Draco, and managing to turn him without losing his grip on the cock, switching from right hand to left hand as Draco twisted.

Draco leaned back against the balcony. His hair was wet with sweat, his body shaking. His cock was rock hard and jutting out, and it was moving, twitching as the vibrations buzzed gently against his prostate, as Draco’s own cock pulsed with vibrations. There was a strand of come dripping from it, and every time his cock twitched, Draco’s stomach clenching in concert, another pearl of come rose up and dripped down.

It was an awkward position to hold his wrist in, so Harry sank down to his knees, to keep the vibrating cock in place more easily. It was a nice view from his knees, too: him looking up, Draco looking down.

“Can you come from this?” Harry asked again, and Draco swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat.

“Fuck you,” Draco managed. “Oh – oh – oh.” He was obviously close, had been close for a long time. Harry could see him straining for his release, his stomach clenched completely solid now, his thighs trembling.

Harry began to fuck Draco very slowly with the cock once more. Slowly, oh so slowly. A long, tight slide in. A long, slick slide out. And then again, and again. Draco made a choked noise, like he couldn’t breathe, and his whole body seemed to stiffen, to clench down hard on the cock inside him. Harry stilled his hand and tilted the cock, to press more firmly on Draco’s prostate.

Draco shuddered and came all over himself, so hard that some of his come hit his chin, his cheek. It was like he couldn’t stop coming, even after his semen had finished coming out, jerking as he came again and again, but dry, this time.

He was still twitching as Harry ended the vibration charm with a soft word, sliding the cock out of him and placing the cock back in the box. He Summoned Draco’s wand, and Draco took it with a limp hand, to touch the cock, turning it from an instrument of sensitive torture to nothing more than an odd, flesh-like lump.

They stood there for a minute, panting, and then Draco tugged Harry towards him, tucking him into his arms. “God, you’re hard again already,” Draco complained softly into Harry’s ear. “I’m tired. I suppose it is your birthday though,” he said added, his hand already working between Harry’s legs.

After his incredible orgasm earlier, Harry hadn’t thought he’d be able to muster up the strength for another one for quite some time. Happily, however, he found he still had something left to give, and after only three or four minutes he was bucking and coming into Draco’s hand. “Happy birthday, scarhead,” Draco mumbled into his hair. “I think I need to go and lie down before I fall over.”

“That was . . .” Harry said, and couldn’t find the words.

“Yes,” Draco agreed. “Precisely.”

They staggered inside together, only pausing to clean up both the toys and themselves, before falling into Draco’s bedroom and tangling together in his large four-poster bed. Harry hadn’t been in a four-poster since school, and it was oddly satisfying to spell the curtains shut and light a Lumos to float above them, gently illuminating their tiny, four-walled world.

“So, I was wondering what you were doing for the last couple of years,” Harry said to the canopy of the bed. It was embroidered with constellations. Harry had a hilarious feeling they were ones that featured Draco’s own namesake star. “And now I’ve come to a conclusion.”

“Oh yes?” Draco asked, not sounding very interested, but tucking in even closer to Harry.

“You spent them sucking your own cock,” Harry said firmly.

Draco snorted. “You think? The whole two years?”

“Well, maybe not the whole two years,” Harry said thoughtfully. “You had to buy the cock thing first.”

“Buy it?” Draco said on a yawn. “I had to invent it.”

Harry found himself strangely impressed. “You did?”

Draco shrugged against him. “It’s an ancient spell, really, making copies of body parts. I just adapted it, to make it more pleasant.”

Harry’s brain had almost shut down by now. “You could make a fortune selling that,” that he mumbled.

“Draco Malfoy suggests you stick your cock in a vat of green goo,” Draco mumbled in reply, sounding just as tired. “I can see that going down so well. I suppose –” he laughed – “if we got you to front the advertising campaign, it might work. You could get people to stick their cocks anywhere.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, sensing an insult.

“I’ll suggest it to Ron, to suggest to George,” Draco continued, to Harry’s sleepy alarm. Ron would know instantly that the invention had been tried, and tested, by its inventor.

“Tell him while he’s eating his lunch,” Harry said, thinking he might as well get a laugh out of it. He still hadn’t forgiven Ron for the cockblocking firework sandwich.

“All right,” Draco said, and before Harry could tell him that he hadn’t meant it, not one bit, don’t you dare tell Ron about the cock thing, Draco had fallen asleep.

He’d missed the exact moment he’d turned from nineteen to twenty, Harry thought with a yawn as his own eyes started to drift shut. Would that have been at midnight, or on the anniversary of the time he was born? It no longer seemed very important. Harry sank into the darkness behind his eyelids, and found Draco was there, smiling at him. He fell asleep to the image, the sound of the sea whispering in his ears.

^^^^^^

The rest of the week passed in lazy, hazy bliss. The weather was balmy, and kind, and they spent time sunbathing naked on the beach, baking themselves brown, while Draco read books. Sometimes he read them to himself, sometimes out loud. Harry often found himself drifting off, catnapping at strange times, to the sound of Draco reciting poetry at him. He started to remember the shape of the words, but not the meaning, Draco returning to certain poems again and again, whispering them inaudibly. The sound seemed to wrap around him, coiling through his insides, a constant, delicious presence.

Harry had never thought he’d be able to just lie still and let himself be. But now he found himself able to just relax and enjoy himself, to drift away on a sea of almost-thoughts. Not worrying about the future, despite there being so much to worry about. There was something about the sound of the sea, the shapes of the clouds forming and reforming above his head, that was hypnotic, soothing. Malfoy’s Rest, that was the pretentious, stupid name of the house. But nevertheless, it was restful, in a way that Harry hadn’t even known he’d needed. He lay still and felt himself unwind, and unwind again, until he was so loose and relaxed he thought he might just slide away into eternity.

On the last night, just as Harry was starting to feel himself tighten up again at the thought of returning to reality, he heard Draco let out a small, odd breath, and he turned to him, to ask if he was all right. The words died on his lips when he saw how Draco was looking at him. “Don’t – don’t read too much into this,” Draco said haltingly. “I just – I—” And he leaned forward, towards Harry, and finally – finally! – kissed him. His lips were warm, and slightly chapped, and it was only a brush of lips, but to Harry it felt like the most moving, erotic thing they’d ever done together.

Draco pulled back, his cheeks colouring, and then he and Harry were both moving towards each other at the same time. Still gentle, soft. Brushing kiss after kiss on each other’s mouths. Each touch sent sparks through Harry, and he reached up to cup Draco’s face in his hands, to press kisses to the edge of his mouth, his cheeks. “Oh,” Draco said, “oh,” and he shut his eyes, leaning in to the touch as if he could never get enough of it.

Harry didn’t know if he was happy. Kissing Draco felt like being on the edge of a cliff, with a strong wind blowing, each gust pushing him ever closer to the edge.

It was impossible to turn back; too terrifying to jump. So Harry just stayed where he was, kissing Draco, the wind in his hair and hope, sharp and painful, wrapping round his heart and squeezing the breath out of him.

Chapter Text

It was odd being back home and back to work. Back to the normal routines, which Harry had, just a couple of months ago, never, ever thought would be normal. Waking up with Draco. Going to sleep with Draco. Going to work during the day and daydreaming about Draco. Kissing Draco. He was so absent-minded at work that Robards got genuinely irritated with him. Harry could tell this because his boss stopped shouting, in favour of muttering. “Do you want to pinch my job or not, Harry?” he snapped, beneath his breath. “Because I’m starting to think you’re going soft.”

Harry did want to pinch his job, and as soon as possible. He stomped out of the Auror office to go and tell this to Kingsley, and Kingsley gave him a very kind, very uncomfortable look, and pointed out that Harry could hardly be promoted to Head Auror while all it would take for a dark wizard to bring him down would be to chop off his ring finger.

Harry thought that it would be kinder of this imaginary criminal to just pull the ring off, rather than cut off the finger along with it, and said so, which prompted Kingsley to give him a lecture about taking responsibility for your actions, and making the best of a situation. This didn’t make Harry feel much better. Hadn’t Kingsley all but promised that he’d make sure the bond was fixed? What had happened to his former optimism? Harry thought, sourly, that if Kingsley was going to give up hope, he could at least have the courtesy to actually come out and say it, rather than making it sound as if it was Harry just being stubborn.

He ranted about the lecture at Draco when he got home for a while before he realised that Draco wasn’t an ideal sounding board for this. Draco had gone kind of pinched and sour, and Harry was just about to awkwardly apologise for raising the seemingly forbidden subject of the bond, and what the bloody hell they were going to do about it, when Ginny banged in through the Floo, followed by the whole Harpies team.

“You’re coming to my birthday party at the Burrow this weekend, Harry,” Ginny said in passing as the girls trooped down the stairs towards the pitch, chatting nineteen to the dozen.

“Am I?” Harry asked, feeling relatively sure this was the first time Ginny had mentioned it.

“Yes,” Ginny called as she vanished down the stairs. “Draco too.”

Happily, this new and unexpected terror – going to the Burrow, the heart of Weasley territory – seemed to completely throw Draco, distracting him from what they’d been talking about before. At least, Draco let the subject drop, and he didn’t raise it again, which was as good as forgotten, Harry hoped. He felt tied up in knots enough about the bond, and whether or not he and Draco should complete it, without Draco tying himself up in knots about it too.

By the morning of the party, Draco looked like he was going to be sick. Where he wasn’t green coloured, he was pure white, and he must have tried on at least four different outfits before Harry told him firmly that he should stop stressing, because Ron would definitely take the piss out of him, whatever he wore.

Draco seemed to see the wisdom in this and calmed down a fraction, but he was still pale and stressed all day. He was pale and stressed during the party too, sticking to Harry’s side like a grumpy shadow, and complaining when he thought no one else but Harry could hear that the house was too noisy and too full. Too full of Weasleys, Harry thought he meant, but didn’t say it. Draco was clearly trying so hard he was about to snap, a cloud of almost visible iciness surrounding him, until Ginny finally turned up – late to her own party – and gave him a swift and loving punch to the kidneys, before heading straight off to find Astoria in the crush. “This is my birthday party, ferret face, not a funeral,” she said bracingly. “Cheer up or I’ll body-bind you and prop you up by the buffet, so you’re forced to watch Ron eat.” She shuddered. “It’s like a feeding frenzy in a piranha tank,” she added thoughtfully. “I don’t know how he stays so thin.”

Harry didn’t either. Happily, this dire threat made Draco relax a fraction, but he was still tense and unhappy beneath it all. Harry only left his side for a few minutes, to use the loo, and when he came back Mrs Weasley had Draco cornered and was talking at him very hard. Ginny scooped up Harry’s arm as Harry went to go and rescue him, and as it was her birthday he could hardly shake her off. So he had to leave Draco to his doom. And it was doom, indeed; when Harry craned his neck to look over, about fifteen minutes later, Mrs Weasley was dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief and she leaned over to embrace Draco.

It took Draco a full fifteen minutes longer to extricate himself, and when he re-joined Harry he glared at him, accused him of cruelty and neglect, and then refused to tell him what Molly had said. He was more relaxed than he had been, though, and when Harry asked him if he was ready to go home, he gave an almost genuine smile and said he’d be fine to stay a bit longer if Harry wanted, really, he promised.

“I’m proud of you,” Harry said to Draco when they got home, although Harry thought he was prouder of the Weasleys, who he still counted as his family and hoped the reverse was also true, for being so welcoming to a Malfoy.

“Oh bleurgh, how revolting,” Draco said with gusto, but his face had almost completely relaxed by now, the stiffness in his neck and shoulders dropping away. And if Harry hadn’t suspected Mrs Weasley had forgiven Draco for the things he’d done in the past, he knew it a few days later when a parcel arrived for him in the post. It was squishy, and large, and Draco gave it a suspicious look as Harry tried not to laugh.

Draco opened the parcel and held up a maroon coloured knitted jumper with a large D on the front. “D is for ‘if you dare laugh at Draco you’re a dead man’,” Draco said sweetly, and stared at the jumper in abject horror.

“Molly must have knitted her fingers to the bone to turn it out so quickly,” Harry said, trying very, very hard not to laugh. “Aren’t you at least going to try it on?”

“Must I?” Draco asked plaintively, but he was already struggling into it.

Draco looked perfectly normal in it, Harry thought as he looked at him. A normal man in a normal jumper. But somehow the whole effect was just too hilarious to be borne. He started to laugh, and once he started he couldn’t stop. Draco tried to be annoyed, but Harry’s laughter appeared to be contagious, because soon he was smiling too, at first rustily, and then he was laughing as well. “Gah!” Draco said, rubbing at his neck. “It’s itchy.”

“But it’s so sexy,” Harry said through his laughs.

“Oh is it?” Draco asked, the light of battle in his eyes.

“No,” Harry said quickly. “Nothing could be less sexy! Nothing, I swear!” But it was too late. Draco was already reaching for Harry, to teach him the error of his ways. And some fifteen minutes later, Harry was coming all over the front of Draco’s Weasley-knitted jumper, as Draco explained in some detail just why wool was so erotic, particularly wool that had been worked on by Mrs Weasley as she sat in the Burrow surrounded by her family. Including Ron, Draco said mercilessly as Harry’s orgasm rocked his body. Ron liked to wear woolly jumpers too, he added. Probably while making sweet love to Hermione.

“Ewwwww!” Harry said after he’d finished, starting to laugh all over again.

“Where’s your respect?” Draco asked sternly, and made things worse by pulling the jumper off his head and trying to use it to wipe Harry’s cock clean. Harry, trying to flee but tripping over his own trousers, thought he’d never be able to look Mrs Weasley in the eye again, let alone Ron.

^^^^^^

The next day, down at Harry’s Quidditch pitch, surrounded by her Harpies teammates, Ginny proposed to Astoria.

Astoria said yes.

Ever since his birthday, and even from before that if he were really honest with himself, Harry had been building up to the conclusion that he wanted to complete the bond with Draco. In many ways, it made logical sense. It would fix their magic issues, for a start. They’d both have their magic restored, reliably. Harry could go for the Head Auror position he wanted; Draco could do whatever it was pure-blood layabouts wanted to do. And it was obvious to Harry that he and Draco were, against all odds and expectations, strangely compatible. He enjoyed living with Draco, enjoyed their spiky conversations, their irritated arguments, even appreciated their occasional raw, late-night honesty. And he really, really, really wanted to fuck Draco, and be fucked by him in turn. There was that too.

None of that seemed as important, though, as the fact that these few days, particularly after they’d been kissing, Harry found it was an enormous struggle not to tell Draco that he loved him. He loved him. So hard, so fierce, his whole body seemed to burn with it. With the effort of not confessing. Was love enough to build a life on, though, he wondered. How could he know for sure? But then, he thought, mind spinning in circles, how could anyone know for sure. Had his parents paused in indecision, looking out at an uncertain future before they made the choice to commit to each other? They weren’t there to ask. But strangely, this thought almost made him surer of himself. His parents had made their choice, had looked forward to a long and happy life together, and they’d been robbed of it. It was stupid, and self-destructive, to look happiness in the face and tell it to sod off, just in case it didn’t last forever.

The only thing holding Harry back – stopping him from telling Draco that he loved him, he loved him so fucking much that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with him – was Draco himself. Harry wasn’t an idiot. He knew that Draco cared for him, was attracted to him, might even love him too, at least a little. But where Harry could only see the doors opening to him by completing the bond – the Head Auror position, building a home with the man he loved, the happy future he hoped he deserved – he suspected Draco saw just as many doors slamming behind him. The impossibility of an heir. The end of the Malfoy line. The inevitable unhappiness of, and possible estrangement from, his parents. If Draco was given the choice, the real choice rather than the current trap, would he ever choose Harry, even if he did love him? Harry didn’t know. Wasn’t even sure if Draco himself would know.

There was a difference, though, between closing a door yourself, and one slamming shut in your face. Had Draco known that Ginny was going to propose to Astoria, Harry wondered. The pair of them had become almost friendly, and Harry often found them talking together, although he never interrupted. It would be too weird he thought; his old girlfriend and his new . . . his Draco. Harry no longer felt that deep stabbing jealousy when he thought about Astoria, but even so: Astoria had been Draco’s chance for renewed pure-blood respectability, for an heir to continue the Malfoy name. She was very blonde, he thought nastily now, wishing he was more grown-up; they would have had beautiful pasty children.

As the Harpies erupted into whoops, Astoria began to cry with sheer happiness, her perfect princess face becoming splotchy and red. She’d never looked more beautiful, Harry thought, and felt a deep unease growing in his gut at Draco’s silence. Draco was sitting next to him on the grass – they’d been watching the practice game together as it went on late into the evening – but he was so quiet that he might not have been there at all.

Harry forced himself to look over at Draco, suddenly terrified at what he might see reflected in his face. Draco was staring at Astoria as if he’d never seen her before, as if something had broken inside him that could never be fixed. There was a quiet, painful longing in his face, as if he saw what the two of them had and was almost poisoned by his own desire for it.

“Cheer up,” Harry said, feeling like he was going to be sick, wanting to hurt Draco as badly as he felt hurt himself. “She’s not the only pure-blood girl in the world. I’m sure after we’ve fixed the bond and it’s known you’re available again, they’ll be queueing right up.” He hated himself even as he said it, wanted to take it back, but at the same time he didn’t. He wanted Draco to shout at him, to tell him that he was stupid, and unkind, and hurtful, and how dare he talk about ‘fixing’ the bond, because what he wanted was to complete it with Harry, how could Harry not know?

Draco didn’t, though. Instead he just repeated, very quiet and odd, as if he no longer entirely understood English, “After we’ve fixed the bond . . . Yes . . . Right,” and then got up and walked over to the squealing group of women, without looking back. Harry watched, frozen, as Draco stiffly congratulated first Ginny and then Astoria, kissing them on the cheek in turn. He couldn’t hear what they were saying, but the women’s faces screwed up in obvious concern, before Draco made a breezy wave of his hand and headed towards the staircase and vanished out of sight.

Harry was struck by the horrible notion that while he’d been so busy tying himself up in knots over whether or not Draco would ever want to bond with him out of his own free will, he’d forgotten to consider that Draco might simultaneously have been tying himself up in knots over him. His head began to thump, pain banging behind his eyes. He . . . he wanted to marry Draco. Properly, and whole-heartedly, rather than this pale almost-bond that no one had ever meant to happen. Had he really, although accidentally, just indicated the complete fucking opposite to Draco?

He . . . he supposed it was perfectly possible for Draco to feel heartbroken to the point of despair over the symbolic crushing of his hopes of continuing his family name, whilst simultaneously being in love with Harry himself, wasn’t it? Harry shot to his feet and almost collided with Astoria, who had a look of grim determination on his face and had clearly come over to tell him off.

Harry really, really, didn’t want to be told off by Astoria, of all people. He tried to dodge her, but she dodged right back. “Daphne always said you were a bit of a weasel,” Astoria said, crossing her arms and glaring at him. “A rule-breaker who snuck around Hogwarts behind the teachers’ backs, acting like he knew what was best for everyone and looking down on anyone who wasn’t in Gryffindor or in his special little circle of intimates. She said you were always riding on Hermione’s coat tails too, copying her homework and cribbing from her in class. Just because you ‘saved the world’, it doesn’t mean you’re not also a jerk.”

Harry experienced a flash of rage so bright and white it nearly blinded him. “I don’t know what the hell that has to do with anything. I don’t have time for this! Fuck off and leave me alone.”

“Draco’s a lovely, well-mannered boy,” Astoria continued inexorably, not fucking off.

Harry felt goaded past the point of reasonableness. “Well, he wasn’t like that at school, that’s for sure,” he snapped.

“No? Then he grew up,” Astoria said, nose in the air. “Draco is a love, and a darling,” she added, her eyes hard. “He would have treated me beautifully if we’d married, even though he didn’t love me. He loves you. And you bloody well don’t deserve it!”

Deserve it? It had nothing to do with deserving, Harry thought, shutting his eyes in an attempt not to cry; he wasn’t sure if it was frustration or sadness, or a horrible combination of both. He just wanted it. He wanted something for himself, for once. A person he could keep, who’d be his. OK, so he’d defeated Voldemort, but what had that left him? Dead parents; a dead mentor, godfather; dead comrades in arms, friends . . . a dead owl, a dead house-elf. An empty home, Harry pushing his surviving friends away.

And . . . it wasn’t just anybody he wanted. It was Draco or nothing, Harry realised. For all the dozens, hundreds of reasons there were why it shouldn’t be Draco – his family, his prejudices, their complicated history, Draco’s fucking Dark Mark, there it was. It was Draco Harry wanted. Draco. Draco had shone an uncomfortable, intrusive light on Harry’s life and pointed out, without saying a word, that it was lacking. And then, equally silently, he’d set about filling it. With food, with people, with friendship. And most of all, with himself.

Draco was essential. Essential. And here Astoria was, glaring at him, getting in the way of Harry going after him, to fix the godawful cock-up he’d just made. Harry was just about to start yelling, feeling a flood of bitter angry words gush up inside him, when Ginny slipped up behind Astoria and took her by the arm. “Come on, dear one,” Ginny said gently to Astoria. “Let’s leave the two idiots to work it out for themselves, shall we?”

Harry wanted to snap at her, to tell her he wasn’t an idiot, but right now he felt like one. He probably looked like one too, he thought. Standing all red-faced and angry as the rest of the world celebrated. “Um, congratulations on your good news,” he said to Ginny, feeling anger leach away, to be replaced by something flatter.

“Go and tell Draco you love him, you crashing idiot,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes. “Now, come on sweetie, let’s go and celebrate how we’re not nearly as stupid as those two, shall we?”

Astoria seemed to consider this for a moment, still scowling blackly at Harry, and then her face cleared. “Well, I suppose if Harry loves him too . . .” she said to Ginny. “We can’t stop our friends from making poor life choices, can we?”

Harry had never been called a ‘poor life choice’ before, and by the look on Ginny’s face she was finding it strangely amusing. He supposed they’d been a poor life choice for each other, but he couldn’t regret his time with Ginny – they’d loved each other, and still did, in a way. It had all been part of the journey, the journey which had led inexorably to where he belonged: here, with Draco.

Go and tell Draco you love him, Ginny had said, though. Harry could do that. He could say words, out loud, and make things right. He was a grown man, an adult. He could do this. He could do this. He . . . could probably do this. Ginny gave him a helpful shove as he staggered past her, towards the staircase, and then suddenly he was running, as fast he could. He almost considered Apparating, even though that would only save a minute at most, but he was so wound-up he thought he might splinch himself.

Harry tore into the bedroom, panting, and as he’d suspected Draco was there, already in bed, back to him. “Draco . . .” he said, and then paused. Draco was very still, didn’t move. Was he asleep? Harry came to an abrupt halt, and then took a careful step towards the bed. “Draco?” he asked, to no response. Maybe Draco was just pretending to be asleep, Harry thought, out of annoyance at him, at what he’d said. Harry took another couple of steps forward, to shake Draco’s shoulder. He didn’t want to confess his feelings to Draco’s back as Draco sulked. He wanted to look him in the eye, so Draco could see his sincerity.

Even as he reached for Draco’s shoulder, though, Harry already knew what Draco had done. Draco’s arm was long, outstretched, fingers curving round the edge of the bed. And beneath them, on the floor, was an empty vial. Harry gave Draco’s shoulder a shake anyway, but it was completely pointless. He was fast asleep, sleeping the sleep of the drugged, and nothing Harry could say or do would wake him until morning.

^^^^^^

When Harry woke, after a really terrible night’s sleep, Draco wasn’t there. Draco wasn’t there. Harry sat up in a cold panic, and then realised something that sent him into a hot panic: if Draco wasn’t there, had already pulled himself out of his Dreamless stupor, then Harry was really fucking late for work. Had he accidentally managed to turn off his alarm clock on a more permanent basis the last time he’d flung the bloody thing across the room? It was a persistent machine, but he supposed it wasn’t actually invincible.

He leapt out of bed, casting spells so quickly that he managed to cast a cleaning charm on his uniform rather than himself and almost ended up with his trousers on his head. Draco wasn’t there, but Draco’s things were still there, Harry reasoned, so he hadn’t fucked off altogether. He was probably sulking somewhere, unaware that Harry was about to be really embarrassingly awkward and confess his feelings, to their inevitable mutual discomfort. He . . . couldn’t confess his feelings right now, late for work, when his hair was a mess and he’d forgotten to put his underpants on, could he?

Harry dashed down the stairs in a mad flap, the clock on the wall reading LATE!!! as he passed it by. He didn’t have time for breakfast; didn’t have time to breathe. He tore through the house, banging doors open, until he finally – thank Merlin – came across Draco in one of the drawing rooms, reclining on a sofa with his feet up. He had his back to Harry, and he didn’t turn, or say good morning, even though he had ears, Harry thought, and must be able to hear him panting in the doorway.

 

“I . . .” Harry said, panting. “I’m late for work,” he found himself saying, which wasn’t what he wanted to say at all. “Can we talk later?”

Draco didn’t turn. Instead, he raised his right arm and then, very carefully, raised his middle finger.

“Yes, all right, I love you too,” Harry said sarcastically, and then experienced an overwhelming urge to hit himself in the face. He really was an idiot, he thought, feeling himself flare up with embarrassment. Draco hadn’t turned around, but there was a quality to the line of his back that suggested he might turn, at any moment, and Harry did not want to see what kind of expression he was wearing. It would either be annoyed, or sardonic, or quite possibly both. “I’ll see you later!” he said instead, very quickly and brightly, and Apparated to work on the spot.

Once he was at work, though, he couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t settle. It occurred to him that normal people would skive off work at times like this. The thought that he could, maybe, call in sick hadn’t even crossed his mind.

“You suffering from the plague or something, Harry?” Perpetua asked, Levitating herself and her chair over to him to peer in his face. “You look really ropy.”

Great, Harry thought as he tried to look half-alive rather than half-dead. Now not only had he failed to take a fake sick day, Perpetual thought he was nobly struggling in to work to infect them all with some kind of contagion. “I’m fine!” he protested, and Perpetua floated herself back.

“You don’t look fine,” she said suspiciously. “But all right. If you say so.”

About half an hour later, though, Robards and Chad slammed into the office together, back from a job. Robards took one look at Harry and was already ushering him out of the door before Harry had opened his mouth to say, unconvincingly, “I’m fine, all right, I’M FINE!”

“No, you’re not,” Robards said. “Go home and lie down until you look less like you’re going to chuck up all over my nice clean floor.”

The floor of the office wasn’t nice, and it wasn’t even all that clean, but Harry took his point. He went back home again, although this time rather more slowly than he’d left it. Every step closer to his house meant a step closer to Draco – and to the confessional conversation Harry was almost dreading. What if he said he loved Draco, and Draco didn’t say it back? What if Draco said he loved him too but that it didn’t matter, he wasn’t up for bonding with him anyway?

Harry tried to pull himself together; he was being wet, and pathetic, he told himself, which didn’t help pep him up much. When he got back home, he shrugged off his outer layer and went to where he’d last seen Draco. Draco wasn’t there. Harry thought it might be quicker just to shout, so he did – and got no reply. It didn’t mean anything necessarily, he thought; Draco could just be ignoring him. It was the sort of thing that Draco did, because he was an irritating stuck-up wanker.

It took Harry several trips up and down the stairs, peering into rooms, to come to the obvious conclusion: Draco had gone out somewhere. Harry went back down to the kitchen, made himself a cup of coffee and took it to the dining room table, where he rested his feet on the now enormous pile of unread mail and drank his coffee, trying not to sulk. “You could have at least left a note,” he told the table, but the table didn’t respond.

Once Harry had finished his coffee, he wondered what he should do next. He briefly entertained the idea of going to look for Draco, but dismissed it almost immediately. Who the hell knew where he’d gone? He could be at any one of their friends’ houses. He could be at Malfoy Manor, or at Malfoy’s Rest, or at any one of the dozens of Malfoy estates. He could have just gone out for a walk, or for a fly, or to a bookshop – Muggle or otherwise. He could even, Harry realised, be sitting next to Harry right now, tucked under Harry’s invisibility cloak, flicking him the V sign.

No, there were too many options for it to be other than lunacy for Harry to go looking for him. But even so, Harry chafed to do it. He didn’t want to sit still, brooding; he wanted to get his feelings off his chest, where they sat, heavy and uncomfortable, making it hard for him to breathe, let alone concentrate. He got up and sloped down the stairs, thinking about going for a fly on the Quidditch pitch to burn off some of his anxious tension. He stopped before he entered the room, though. The pitch was too full of memories of other people’s happiness right now and would interfere with his own sulking. He turned instead to the swimming pool, and after a quick check for creatures, he shucked off his clothes and dived right in.

Harry swam laps for a long time, and practiced holding his breath, and then swam some more. When he got tired, he still didn’t feel ready to get out, though, so he swam to the side of the pool, grabbed his wand, and cast a pillow of air underneath him, so he could float comfortably, just above the water, and stare at the ceiling. It was too blurred to make out properly, but he knew it was covered in a mosaic of shells and pearls. It was strangely relaxing, and he almost smiled, at the idea that Draco might come home at any moment to catch him floating naked between sea and sky, so to speak.

He didn’t, though. All that happened was a while later – Harry too worn out to know exactly how long – the magic failed with a gentle pop, depositing Harry back into the water. For a moment, Harry was just puzzled, pushing his head back to the surface and spitting out water, rubbing it out of his eyes with wet fingers. And then he became aware of an underlying, quiet flatness. A lack of something indefinable. And he realised, with a rush of horror.

He could no longer feel his magic.

Harry grabbed for his left hand, could feel the ring still tight around his finger. He splashed for the side of the pool and grabbed his wand, careless of the water. His wand felt . . . comfortable in his hand, but somehow empty. He waved it and tried to Accio his clothes, but nothing happened. He tried again, panic increasing, with the same effect. Nothing.

Harry heaved himself out of the pool and shoved on his glasses, pulling on his clothes without drying himself; he hadn’t even brought a towel, he was so used to the ability to Summon things at will. He felt cold, and uncomfortable, and so frightened that he thought he might be going mad. Where the fuck was Draco? Had he just taken off his watch to mess with Harry? To teach him a lesson about what it would be like if Draco withdrew his cooperation, stopped being a friend? No, Harry decided. Draco wasn’t like that. He’d sneer, and sulk, and snipe, but he’d never just stab Harry in the back, put him in danger without at least warning him first.

This conclusion left Harry to draw an even worse one: if Draco hadn’t taken the watch off on purpose, then someone – or something – had taken it off for him. Draco was in danger. Harry was already running, shoving his useless wand in his pocket, not even bothering to put his shoes back on. He took off down the road, past the guardhouse and its guard, and down towards the Ministry. The Ministry he couldn’t get into without access to his magic, he realised with abject horror. He turned back – and remembered he wouldn’t be able to get back inside his own house with magic, either. But to his complete relief, he saw Derek, running from the guardhouse towards him, his eyes wide. “Harry, you all right, mate?” Derek asked as he approached. “Only, you forgot your shoes.”

“It’s Draco!” Harry managed, finding it hard to speak he was so overcome by fear. “He’s in trouble. I can’t—”

“He back at your house?” Derek asked, eyes flickering from Harry to his empty, wandless hand.

“No,” Harry managed. “I don’t know where he is!”

Derek, thank Merlin, didn’t ask any more questions. He just raised his wand and sounded an inaudible distress call. Soon Harry was inside the Ministry, sitting at Kingsley’s desk and trying not to shake. Where was Draco? Where was he? The only thing that Harry was clinging on to, as Kingsley got to him to list all the possible places Draco might have gone, was that he couldn’t be dead. If he was dead, Harry would have his magic back by now. Draco was alive. He was alive. And they would find him soon, and he would still be alive. And after Harry had shouted at him for at least three or four years, they could look forward to a very long and happy time of being alive together. Once Harry had Draco’s hand back in his, he decided, he would never, ever let him go. Even if this would, he thought with an inappropriate, hysterical laugh threatening to bubble out of him, make going to the bathroom a more difficult prospect.

The place was a hive of activity, Aurors, Hit Wizards and Unspeakables dashing in and out of the room. They were trying to track Draco’s magical signature, except right now he had no magical signature. They were trying to track his clothing, except they didn’t know what he was wearing, and Harry was no help: he’d barely noticed that morning, what with the looming confession and Draco’s middle finger and his panic over work. There was the watch, of course there was the watch, and Kevin was brought in to try to fine-tune the tracking, but it didn’t work. The trail just vanished, he said, frowning. As if its owner had taken it somewhere completely unplottable.

Somewhere completely unplottable. Harry knew exactly where Draco was, all right. He couldn’t think why he hadn’t mentioned it. Except, even the thought of Malfoy’s Cove, and the house hidden within it, seemed a slippery one to pin down, let alone say out loud. As if it was resisting him at every turn, asking him to forget, forget, forget. Harry couldn’t forget it, damn it; he needed to tell the others where Draco was right now. It suddenly seemed incredibly unlikely that Draco had been kidnapped or had the watch forcibly removed, after all. A tiny seed of doubt sprouted in his chest. Had Draco simply taken the watch off, to sit in his secret, unplottable house and know that Harry wouldn’t be able to access his magic, wouldn’t be able to go to find him? Would be useless without him?

Harry was useless without him. But not because he had no magic.

No, Harry thought, making a herculean effort to remember Malfoy’s Cove – the shape of it, the weight of the house, the nooks and crannies. How Draco had looked there. How they’d sunbathed, and laughed, and fed each other cake. How Draco had groaned, and trembled, as Harry had pressed the fake cock inside him. How Draco had kissed him, and said it didn’t mean anything, and Harry hadn’t believed him. “Draco has a place,” he managed to say out loud, picturing it all with all his might. “Under the Fidelius Charm.”

“You’re not a Secret Keeper?” Kingsley said, reaching immediately to the heart of the problem as Harry shook his head. He couldn’t tell anyone the location, could only Apparate there himself. But without his magic, he’d need to be Side-Alonged. How could anyone Side-Along him when they didn’t know where they were going? “Who else knows?” Kingsley pressed as Harry could feel the secret try to slip out of his mind, struggling away as it was looked at directly. “Harry, who else? Concentrate!”

“Parents,” Harry managed, and then sagged with the relief of it. Of course. Draco’s parents. They’d be able to go there. Could see if Draco needed help. And if he didn’t . . . Harry didn’t know what he’d do. But it would be all right. Because Draco would be OK. He could cope with anything if Draco was OK, even if it meant his own heart shattering into pieces.

In under fifteen minutes – long, awful minutes that felt like an eternity to Harry, who couldn’t stop shaking – Lucius and Narcissa stormed into Kingsley’s office, their expressions hard, cold . . . fearful. Harry had expected the sight of them would help him pull himself together, and found the opposite was true. “Potter,” Lucius said, the word a chip off an iceberg. “Where is my son?”

“Malfoy’s Rest.” Harry – thank God, thank God – found himself able to say it out loud as he looked at the face of another holder of Draco’s secret. The coldness on the surface of Lucius’ face was holding his gut-wrenching fear at bay, Harry thought. He could see it, suffusing Lucius’ entire being. “I’m pretty sure.”

Lucius nodded once, very sharp, and then he and his wife Disapparated with a crack, as if they’d never been there. Without Harry.

Harry felt dizzy and was glad he was sitting down. He hadn’t expected them to take him with them, of course he hadn’t, and it was probably a good thing. If they left him there, it would be a bloody long walk home. But every breath was a struggle, his brain buzzing with the fear of what might have happened to Draco. Maybe he’d simply . . . forgotten, Harry speculated wildly. Taken off the watch automatically and downed another vial of Dreamless before he realised what he’d done. It didn’t seem very likely, somehow.

Lucius Malfoy slammed back into the room barely minutes later, out of breath, his hair streaming around his face. Harry shot to his feet. He was back already? Without Draco? And . . . without Narcissa, too. “Potter – arm,” Lucius ordered. “Arm!” he yelled as he strode over to him. Harry held out his arm and Lucius grabbed him by the wrist, ripping him out of the room and into the blackness of Apparation without a second’s notice.

 

They were on the Cornish hillside again, the wind a slap in the face. Lucius dropped Harry’s arm like a stone and started to run towards a distant crouching figure on the shore. It was Narcissa, her pale blonde hair whipping up into a maelstrom around her head as she crouched. She was crouching over something, Harry realised, and he retched, bending over to bring up foul-tasting bile, before he started to run after Lucius. He was still barefoot, but he barely registered the pain of the uneven stones under his feet as he sprinted down the path and out on to the beach. To Narcissa, and the motionless lump she was bending over. The lump which, as he pelted closer, was – of course it was, his heart screamed with it – Draco’s body.

Harry knew Draco wasn’t dead. He knew it. But even so, he found himself muttering, “Don’t be dead, don’t be dead, don’t be dead,” over and over under his breath as he approached, and he couldn’t stop himself, even as he bent down over him, as Narcissa turned a pale, frozen face at him.

“Be quiet,” she hissed. Her eyes were enormous, as if she were an animal facing down a predator, frozen in fear.

Draco had his eyes open too, but he didn’t seem to be seeing anything. He was barely breathing. What the fuck had happened to him? Harry took in the way he was lying, the broom tangled in his feet, his bare wrists. “You absolute wanker,” Harry said, and dropped to his knees to take Draco’s hand carefully in his. It was cold, clammy. How badly had he hurt himself? How high had he been when the magic had failed?

Draco made a tiny, almost inaudible noise that could have been ow, and his lips moved a fraction of an inch as if he was trying to smile. “Stop that,” Harry said, even as Narcissa said: “Don’t move.”

Harry’s brain was running what felt like a mile a minute, turning options over in his head. He was an Auror, he was good in a crisis, he could do this. But – but – but. This was Draco. He couldn’t— He fucking could. He had his magic back, now he was touching Draco, didn’t he? He was casting spells even as he had the thought – a warming charm on Draco’s freezing hands, a gentle cushioning charm under his head.

“Take care of my wife, of my son,” Lucius said, as if it hurt him, and then he was off, Disapparating in a crack and then reappearing barely seconds later, an unnerved Healer dropping to her knees with the force of the landing before sprinting over to her patient. Lucius repeated the action, and then again, until Harry, Narcissa and Draco were surrounded by disorientated Healers. Harry felt a sharp relief, but it was only on the surface; below, his entire body seethed with boiling terror. OK, so there were Healers, but how were they going to get Draco back to St Mungo’s without hurting him any further?

They were going to put him in a deep sleep, Professor Flange said, gently but firmly. And then Body-Bind him, so he couldn’t move a muscle when a Healer Side-Alonged him to the hospital. Harry would have to let go of his hand for a moment. Could Harry please let go of his hand for a moment?

Harry couldn’t let go of his hand, not ever. But he had to, or else they’d have to stay there, trapped in this moment of horror on the beach, forever. He leaned close towards Draco’s ear. Draco had closed his eyes now, his hand a lifeless weight in Harry’s hand. “I love you, you complete arsehole,” he hissed in Draco’s ear. “Don’t you dare go and die on me.” And then he let go of Draco’s hand and pulled away, to give the Healers access.

He’d probably imagined the feather-light pressure on his hand, Draco squeezing his fingers as he said the words, Harry thought. His heart was pounding so hard it hurt, his headache thumping in concert with every pump of blood. He’d probably imagined it. But he wanted so hard for it to be true.

^^^^^^

It was only when all the Healers had gone, taking Draco with them, that Harry realised they’d left him alone with Lucius and Narcissa. They were clinging to each other, and Harry looked away uncomfortably. When he looked back, they’d parted, and Lucius was scanning the beach around him with a very dark scowl, before he Accioed a glittering gold object. It was the watch, Harry realised with a lurch. Lucius examined it for a moment, than chucked it over at Harry. “Trash,” he said, his lips curling into something feral. “As expected.”

The watch felt like a heavy weight in Harry’s hands. He looked down at numbly. The catch had broken. He felt like crying. That was all that had happened. No attack, no nothing. Draco had just gone for a fly, and the catch of the watch had given way. It was a simple, horrible explanation. And, just as simply, just as horribly, Draco’s magic had failed, and he’d dropped like a stone out of the sky.

Lucius gave Harry a dark look, like he was less than a slug, and then turned to his wife. “St Mungo’s?” he said, and she nodded, twisting on the spot. Her hair was the last thing to leave the beach, long and blonde and wild. For a moment, Lucius just stared at Harry, and Harry was certain Lucius was going to leave him behind. But he strode over and took Harry’s arm, his grip an iron band, and Side-Alonged him away.

^^^^^^

They took Draco out of the Body-Bind but left him in the coma. It wasn’t as bad as it sounded, Professor Flange explained gravely as Harry clutched Draco’s hand tight. Narcissa, on the other side of the bed, was holding Draco’s other hand, while Lucius paced the room. Draco had broken his back, his legs, his pelvis. He’d snapped several ribs. Punctured a lung. There was a gash on his leg, where he’d caught it on the sharp edge of a rock. He’d hit his head.

All these things added up, Flange said, to an excellent prospect of recovery. A course of Skele-Gro to fill in the new gaps between Draco’s bones, some minor wandwork with regards to stitching up internal injuries and a day or two in bed, and Draco would be fine to go home, albeit with a headache. But it would hurt a lot, Professor Flange added. Hence the coma. It was kinder, all round.

The whole scenario had a curious sense of familiarity to Harry, as if he’d come full circle. It didn’t help him feel better. Had Draco worried like this about him when he’d been in hospital, after his unfortunate car-meets-head accident? Surely not. Except . . . Draco had been by his bedside the whole time, no one could persuade him away. And he’d been so angry with Harry, afterwards, as if it had been himself who’d been injured, rather than Harry. Harry could understand that now. He felt like someone had ripped out his insides and stomped on them.

As Harry sat by Draco’s bedside for the next couple of days, rock-grazed feet clad in hospital-issue white fluffy slippers, he found he wanted to complain about a lot of things. About how much his back hurt, sitting there without moving. About how tired he was, unable to do more than nap for minutes at a time before lurching awake in a panic, in case he’d let go of Draco’s hand. About how horrible it was to sit there in the near-constant company of Lucius and Narcissa, who were quiet and judgemental and who clearly blamed him for Draco’s accident, even though they didn’t say a word to that effect.

Harry did blame himself, even though rationally he knew it hadn’t been his fault. He tried not to think about Draco lying on the beach by himself, in agony, wondering if anyone would ever find him. If he’d been there, if things had gone differently, Draco still might have gone flying. But then they might have gone flying together, would have plunged down to the beach together. It was an unnerving thought. Maybe neither of them had taken the instability of their magic as seriously as they should have.

Harry wanted to complain, too, when Astoria came to visit and burst into tears on Harry himself, crying all down his neck. She was the only other one of Draco’s friends allowed in. Close family and friends only, Lucius had snapped, and Harry had swallowed down his rising urge to ask Lucius if he knew Astoria was going to marry Ginny. He didn’t know if was still a secret between friends, or if Lucius just hated him and wanted to make him suffer whatever way he could.

Harry didn’t complain, though. He didn’t complain about anything. He just sat there quietly, and felt amazingly grateful that Draco was still alive. And amazingly bewildered, too, in a way. Barely three months ago, he’d sat next to a sleeping Draco too, and had very much hoped his kiss wouldn’t be the one to wake him up. It was like looking back at a different him, a different life.

He tried not to mind that it was completely obvious to everyone who saw him how infatuated he was with Draco, even those who knew about the truth of their situation. Hoped very much that Draco wouldn’t mind too, when he finally woke up. ‘Everyone’ included Draco’s parents, after all.

^^^^^^

When the Healers finally decided Draco was well enough to be fed the antidote to the sleeping potion, Harry found the stress of it, to his huge embarrassment, was all too much. He started to cry in a way he couldn’t remember ever crying before, without feeling like he had any choice in the matter. It definitely wasn’t pretty, and he didn’t want to cry, he simply couldn’t stop himself. The sobs just kept rising out of him, all liquid and snotty and vile. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Draco as he started to wake up, and tried very hard not to look at Narcissa either, or Lucius, although Narcissa passed him in a tissue. She held it using only the tips of her fingers, as if she, too, thought he was revolting. Harry felt revolting. And, equally, so nervous and on edge that he could barely sit still.

“Ugh,” Draco drawled, his voice faint and slightly creaky, as if he’d almost forgotten how to speak. “Are you going to stop leaking any time soon, or do I need to call for someone with a towel?”

Harry had never been so pleased to hear an insult in his life. He tried again to stop crying but he just couldn’t; he was too far gone. He couldn’t even bring himself to look up, to look Draco in the eye. Draco squeezed his hand, which only made it worse.

“Do you remember anything?” Harry managed, a bit mangled, through the snot, and then forced himself to look over at Draco.

Draco seemed to consider this, not looking at Harry either. He shuddered, as if he’d remembered something he really hadn’t wanted to. Then: “Yes,” he said firmly, and turned his face a fraction to give Harry an equally firm look. “You were a total wanker.”

When Harry had asked if he remembered anything, he’d meant the accident, not . . . not that. “Draco,” he hissed, his eyes flickering over to Narcissa, who was glaring at him as if she’d been almost certain it was all his fault and this was just confirmation of her darkest suspicions.

Draco caught his eye movement. “Don’t worry, Harry,” he said sweetly, although he still sounded tired and rusty. “Mother and Father already think you’re a wanker. Your reputation remains untarnished.”

“I – I’m really sorry!” Harry protested, feeling a lump in his throat threaten to undo him all over again. He was still crying, a bit, but he’d managed to suppress it enough to be able to breathe again. “I didn’t mean it to come out that way. I’m so sorry.”

Draco laughed, although breathily, as if it still hurt. Did it hurt? Harry wasn’t sure; Draco was still pretty well drugged up. “You’d better bloody well be sorry,” Draco said, and Harry was struck all again by a sense of familiarity. He’d been here before, done this before, except back then he’d been the one in the bed, the one hurt. Why was Draco getting to tell him off again?

Harry didn’t care though, he realised. Draco could tell him off as much as he liked, provided he was all right.

“Draco’s tired,” Narcissa said imperiously. “Why don’t you go and get some rest, Harry. We’ll look after him.”

Harry experienced a brief moment of doubt. Did Draco want him to go? He tightened his grip on Draco’s hand, and then thought that the best thing to do was ask him. So he did.

“Do you want to stay . . .?” Draco asked, as if it didn’t matter. He looked even more tired now, as if being awake for a few minutes had completely done him in.

Yes,” Harry said.

Draco half-smiled, his eyelids fluttering shut. “Good,” he said, “I want you to,”and then he appeared to fall straight back to sleep, the lines of pain in his facing smoothing out again.

To Harry’s relief, there was no more talk of him leaving after that.

^^^^^^

The next day, Professor Flange pronounced Draco well on the road to recovery. “If you feel up to it, my boy, you may go home tomorrow,” he said. As ever, his ubiquitous quill floated above him, taking frenzied purple notes.

“Home . . .” Draco murmured, still not sounding quite himself. He was sleeping almost all of the time, although he looked more alive now, Harry thought, and his face wasn’t quite so drawn.

“Malfoy Manor is the best place for him to fully recover,” Lucius said coldly – but at Harry, rather than Professor Flange, to Harry’s mixed surprise and alarm. Was Lucius Malfoy trying to convince him, or something?

“You may, of course, come too, Harry,” Narcissa said, in not exactly a warm voice – she would never sound warm – but not quite as freezing cold as normal.

Harry hadn’t exactly sworn to himself that he would never, ever again set foot in Malfoy Manor, but . . . He’d do it for Draco, he thought gloomily. If Draco wanted to. Although he couldn’t promise he wouldn’t complain about it, at great length, possibly for the rest of his life. “Do you want to go back to Malfoy Manor?” he asked Draco, trying not to sound dubious. “If – if you want to, we can.” They pretty much had to stick by each other’s sides if they wanted to use their magic, now that the watch was broken, he realised uncomfortably. Was that why Narcissa had asked him along?

Draco gave him a look that said he was a dozy idiot. Which was quite impressive, really, Harry thought, given that right now Draco was barely awake. “Thanks,” he said, the eye-roll implicit in his voice. “How thoughtful of you.”

Was it thoughtful? Harry didn’t feel especially thoughtful. And he didn’t think Draco felt especially keen about Malfoy Manor either, even though it was his parents’ home, where he’d grown up. It had been home to many other people too, though, Harry thought. Voldemort, for one. He didn’t think a place where Voldemort had lived, however briefly, could ever be described as a relaxing place to recover, let alone as home.

“Please may I take you home?” Harry asked, ignoring Narcissa, ignoring the Healers in the background, ignoring Lucius’ cold hiss of breath.

“Whose home?” Draco asked simply, turning to look Harry dead in the eye. He was awake, alert, even though his whole body was loose and floppy.

“Yours. Mine,” Harry said, just as simply. “Aren’t they the same thing?”

“Are they?” Draco asked, his voice now tight.

“I want them to be,” Harry said, feeling a lump in his throat. This definitely wasn’t how he’d envisaged this going. He’d wanted to be more eloquent. He’d definitely wanted to be more alone, rather than feeling Narcissa’s icy daggers stab into the side of his face, hearing Lucius’ angry breathing from close behind him. “Will – will you at least consider it?”

Draco didn’t smile, didn’t grimace, didn’t do anything. Just continued to look at Harry. Calm, quiet. As if this was a perfectly normal conversation they were having. As if Harry hadn’t just made himself vulnerable in front of two people he hated, in front of the person who mattered the most to him in the whole fucking world.

Harry waited, feeling the lump in his throat rise up and try to choke him.

“Yes,” Draco said eventually, still quiet, still calm. But intense, now, as if he knew what rested on his answer. As if he was answering a different, even more important question. “Yes.”

Chapter Text

The wizarding media had by now not only found out where Harry lived, they’d also set up camp on his doorstep. And not just his doorstep; some invaded his back garden, while others sent up spells to hover above his roof, in the hopes they might be able to spot something entertaining happening in an attic or something. Harry didn’t know. The level of activity around his home was so intense, the Muggle Prime Minister put in a formal complaint to the Minister of Magic, and Kingsley had to come round in his official capacity to try to get them to disperse.

They wouldn’t. They knew there was a juicy story somewhere inside the house – something to do with Harry, and Draco, and magic, and accidents, and love, whether real or spelled. They weren’t leaving until they knew the truth.

Harry found that, for once, he didn’t particularly care what the press did, or said. He’d always found them intrusive and annoying, and tried his best to avoid them, but now they just didn’t matter. He had other things on his mind. Draco had installed himself in the largest drawing room, where he ruled the house with an iron fist from his seat on a navy chaise longue, propped up against what seemed like every cushion and pillow ever made. It wasn’t just Harry who had appeared to have become his personal house-elf though. Narcissa was there constantly, at Draco’s beck and call, and to make it worse, it had been Harry himself who’d invited her. He’d invited Lucius too, but had added, “Without a photographer, though, of course,” and this had offended Lucius enough that he only stopped by for a mere three or four hours a day, rather than Narcissa’s nine or ten.

And it wasn’t just Draco’s parents who were there. The house was constantly full, people cramming into the drawing room to sit about and chat, and to laugh at Harry when Draco ordered him around. Even Lucius’ scowling face didn’t seem to put any of Harry’s friends off. They were Draco’s friends too now, he realised. At some point down the line, they’d – not forgotten, exactly, who he’d used to be, but had decided to move on. To treat him as the man he was now, rather than dwell on the past. The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there, Draco had murmured when Harry had made an off-hand, uncomfortable remark about things being different to before, somehow. He’d spoiled it, a little, by adding, “Some Muggle crap I read,” but the quote resonated with Harry in a way he couldn’t entirely explain. Looking back, trying to remember how he’d felt about Draco when they’d been at school, how he’d felt even six months ago, was like watching two people talking in a language he recognised the shape of but didn’t fully understand.

Harry didn’t even consider that he hadn’t, technically, been given the time off work until Robards dropped in unexpectedly. “Uh, sorry, sir,” Harry said, and Robards just rolled his eyes and leaned in to whisper, in a carrying voice, “Is that Weasley cowering under the sofa over there?”

Harry looked. Yes, it was. Ron extracted himself with a cheery wave, his face colour-coordinating with his hair. “Just – uh – dropped something,” he lied inexpertly. “Good to see you, sir.”

Robards seemed to be enjoying himself. He folded his arms and let out a loud, “Hah! Sir, eh? You want to come back to work for me, do you?”

“Noooo,” Ron said, and then cleared his throat, sitting up and plucking fluff out of his hair with unshakable dignity. “I mean – no thank you, si— Robar— Er, Gawain.”

Robards grinned and then turned back to Harry. “No rush on coming back to work,” he said politely. “We’ll just carry on, Williamson, Proudfoot, Savage and myself, protecting the whole of England from Dark magic by ourselves until your Malfoy can bring himself to peel his own grapes. No worries.”

Harry thought Robards wasn’t being entirely sincere.

“Kind of you,” Draco said cheerfully from amongst his cushions, and gave Harry’s hand a squeeze. If a squeeze could be a snigger, that one was it.

“You’re very welcome,” Robards said with equal cheerfulness. Then his brows pulled together, and he leaned in closer. “You two coping all right? Given the, er, situation?” He looked around the room suspiciously; it was daytime, but the room was still full. Harry didn’t even know everyone there. Astoria appeared to have brought along a number of her old Slytherin classmates. Harry could tell they were Slytherins because of the way they weren’t staring at him in unabashed awe, the way most people did when they met him for the first time. That, and the fact she’d introduced them that way. She’d given him a hug, too; Harry was still trying to get over the shock.

“Yes, we’re doing fine,” Draco said with equanimity. “I’m quite enjoying having the Boy Who Lived constantly by my side. It’s a bit like having a pet dog.”

“Woof,” Harry said sarcastically, and Narcissa, also sitting close to Draco, let out a very un-Narcissa like snort. Harry nearly fell off his chair.

“Speaking as Draco’s mother, I can’t say I’m not concerned,” Narcissa said, her icy formality snapping back in place as she gave Robards a haughty stare. “The Ministry have bungled the protection of my son once. Now they seem unable to put any basic safety precautions in place at all, other than the dubious protection of a nineteen-year-old boy.”

“Hey!” Harry protested. “I’m twenty.”

Narcissa raised an eyebrow at him, and Harry winced.

“You should be ashamed,” Narcissa continued to Robards, wrinkling her nose as if she smelt something bad. “If you can’t even clear the doorstep of the scum that lie in wait for a glimpse of my injured child, you should be putting other arrangements in place for his protection.”

“If only there was somewhere I could recover in privacy, where no one could bother me,” Draco suddenly said, sardonic to the extreme. “I just can’t think of anywhere that fits the bill. Can you, Mother?”

“What a good idea, Draco,” Narcissa said, sounding like it was anything but. “I so enjoyed my last visit there.”

“Mother,” Draco said, a warning note in his voice. “It’s my life, not yours.”

Draco and Narcissa were practically glaring at each other now, and Harry exchanged an uncomfortable glance with Robards, who looked equally baffled by this private argument taking place in public. Was Draco talking about Malfoy’s Cove? The idea of going back there made Harry feel faintly queasy, but at the same time, he could see why it might be a good spot for Draco to regain his strength. They were back to square one, when it came to their magical connection: the moment Harry let go of Draco’s hand, the link would be lost again. They could go back to the Department of Mysteries and get Kevin to come back out from under his desk, where he was probably still cowering in fear of Harry’s questions, to spell two fresh objects to link them again, Harry supposed. But . . .

A warmth flooded Harry at the thought of a topic that so far had remained unraised between himself and Draco. In the day, Draco was surrounded by people. By his mother. And at night, he took Dreamless on Healer’s orders. He’d tried to refuse the dose, but Harry had insisted. He wanted Draco better. As fast as possible. Because he cared about him. Because the house wasn’t the same without Draco slouching around, book in hand, reciting crap poetry at Harry. Throwing things at the wall when he got angry. Moaning about taps. And he wanted him better, too, because when he was better they could . . . They could . . .

Draco gave him an ungentle nudge in the ribs. “Well?” he demanded.

Harry nearly jumped out his skin, realising he hadn’t been listening. “Well what?”

Draco gave him a look that could have flayed skin. “Shall we spend a few days at Malfoy’s Rest, for our own protection,” he said. “Of course, Mother has offered to go with us,” he added acidly. “She’s kind that way.”

“It’s a mother’s duty to her only son,” Narcissa said, equally acidly. “To ask him to think hard before making decisions he may later come to regret,” she added, and gave Draco a long, meaningful look.

“Because, of course, all the decisions you and Father made have been so good for me,” Draco said, suddenly sounding exhausted. “Can’t you let me make my own mistakes for once?”

Robards cleared his throat loudly, to Harry’s very great relief. The atmosphere was becoming sticky. “It might not be a bad idea if the two of you fucked off for a few days,” he said. “The Muggles who work round here – the Muggle government, if you remember – are growing restive at the number of strange people hanging about. There’s only so many times we can Obliviate them before memories start breaking through. If you’re not here, we can probably get the media to disperse, at least for now. And we could really use Derek and Antony back at work, rather than guarding your house. They can slum it as Aurors for a while, I’m sure.”

“Malfoy Manor would be the ideal—” Narcissa started.

“We can organise a couple of emergency Portkeys to get you pair of morons back from whatever foul Malfoy bolthole you go to, just in case your magic conks out on you again.”

“Conks out . . .?” Narcissa repeated scathingly, and was, again, ignored.

“I’m presuming you’ve learned your lesson?” Robards said sternly, glaring at first Harry and then Draco. “No flying, no Apparating, no nothing, until you’ve . . .” He pulled a face like he was going to be sick. “Kevin’ll try again to sort you out when you get back, I suppose, if need be.”

Well, this was fun and not at all awkward, Harry thought, feeling his features lock into a rictus of a grin. Had Robards just implied they were going to complete the bond, before he’d had a proper chance to talk to Draco about it? In front of Draco’s mother?

Narcissa gave Robards a very, very polite smile, and said, “May I have a moment of your time, Auror Robards?” and the sheer charismatic iciness of her politeness seemed to draw him across to the other side of the room like a magnet, even though his face reflected his extreme reluctance.

Draco shut his eyes. “Don’t talk to me. I’m asleep,” he said. And then added. “And not at all dying from embarrassment about having that conversation in front of my mother.”

To be fair, Harry was finding this conversation pretty excruciating himself. It was too public, even though Draco’s mother had taken herself over to the other side of the room. Where Lucius was too, he realised. Lucius seemed to be enjoying saying something acid and unpleasant to Robards, by the look of smug, unpleasant satisfaction on his face. “I am never going to like your father,” he found himself saying to Draco.

Draco snorted, opening his eyes but not sitting up. He still looked exhausted, and Harry wondered how much pain he was in – and how much he was trying to hide it. “No shit,” he said. “For fuck’s sake, Harry, I’m not asking you to. Well?” he demanded. “Malfoy’s Rest – yes or no?”

“Um, yes?” Harry said. “As long as your mum’s not there.”

Draco’s tense, irritated expression relaxed into humour, and he shut his eyes again. “I’ll leave it all to you, then,” he said, to Harry’s horror. Harry could already see, out of the corner of his eye, Lucius gearing to up to shout. He girded his loins and prepared to shout right back. Although quietly, so he didn’t wake Draco up, even though the fucker was undoubtedly just pretending to try to sleep.

^^^^^^

In the end, Harry hadn’t had to shout. Lucius had opened his mouth as if to say something unpleasant, and then Narcissa had said something in his ear. Lucius had just . . . deflated, as if someone had sucked all the air out of him. He’d turned to glare at Harry, but Harry felt relatively immune to glares from Lucius and his sort, so he just ignored it. It didn’t matter, anyway. All that mattered was Draco; and Draco was still pretending to be asleep.

They Apparated to Malfoy’s Rest a couple of hours later, after Kingsley had approved Robards’ plan. Was it Robards’ plan or Draco’s plan? Harry couldn’t tell, wasn’t sure he cared. He was just too nervous about the fact that he was going to be alone with Draco again. He was briefly nervous, too, about the fact that Narcissa had insisted on Side-Alonging Draco herself. While he could see the logic in this, given the circumstances, this left him to be Side-Alonged by Lucius. There was a nasty glint in Lucius’s eye as he approached Harry to take his arm, and Harry was genuinely surprised when he opened his eyes again after the journey and found himself on the Cornish hillside rather than, say, on top of an iceberg, with Lucius waving him a fond, final farewell as turned to Disapparate away.

It was a good couple of hours before Narcissa would even contemplate leaving again. Harry didn’t complain; he had Draco to do that for him. It was almost funny watching them bicker at each other, and at least he didn’t have to put up with Lucius glowering at him. Lucius hadn’t joined them in the house, like Narcissa. He’d simply said to Draco, “Don’t forget you’re a Malfoy,” and whipped away, his robe cracking in the wind as he’d Disapparated.

“How could I ever,” Draco had said to the empty spot. There was a bitterness to his tone Harry hadn’t liked. But even as he’d reached for Draco’s hand, Narcissa let out an irritated sigh.

“You’re a Black too, Draco,” she said. “Sometimes I think your father forgets that.”

“So much amnesia in your family,” Harry said to Draco, thinking the whole thing was ridiculous. Malfoy, Black, what did it matter, really? The pure-bloods were all so interlinked, they were practically one family anyway. “Your name is Draco, in case you need the reminder.”

Narcissa tutted, a more blood-curdling sound Harry had never heard, but Draco grinned, so it was worth it.

“I made my peace with the eventual extinction of the Black name when my cousin passed away,” Narcissa said coolly, ignoring Harry’s snide remark. “Lucius will just have to do the same.”

It was a breathtakingly insensitive thing to say, Harry thought, trying not to snap back that Sirius had been murdered, and by Narcissa’s own sister. But it was breathtakingly awkward too, that she was just presuming they were going to – to . . . and that she was supportive of this, in a strange, cold way. Harry managed, with an effort, to hold his tongue.

“Well, now we’re safely here, don’t let us keep you, Mother,” Draco said brightly, giving Harry’s hand a hard squeeze.

“Not until I’m sure all is in order, Draco,” Narcissa said, withdrawing her wand and turning to stride towards the house. “Not that I don’t trust your housekeeping, but since you refused to let any of the house-elves know the secret to the house . . .” she flung over her shoulder.

Draco groaned, tugging on Harry’s hand to indicate they should follow her. And once Narcissa had seen Draco installed on a sofa in the downstairs living room, she got to work in the kitchen, Apparating back and forth in a frenzy of activity to ensure the place was fully stocked with more food and medical potions than would be needed if Harry and Draco were planning on staying there for the next hundred years.

It was late afternoon by the time she finally – finally – left, pecking a kiss on Draco’s cheek and sweeping him into a hug. There was an awkward moment when she seemed to be deciding whether or not to kiss Harry too, but happily she decided against it and they shook hands in an awkward, chilly kind of way. “Take care of my child,” she said, and then Disapparated with a crack.

As soon as she’d gone, Draco shot up from the sofa as if he’d been pushed. “I am so fucking sick of sitting down,” he said, and then headed for the door. “Let’s go out for a walk.” He didn’t wait for Harry.

Harry dashed after him, feeling a bit worried. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine!” Draco snapped, and then seemed to relent. “I actually meant that,” he said, more conversational. “I’m still a little stiff, but nothing really hurts any more. It’s a bit horrible being here though,” he added, shuddering as he looked at the beach down below them. “I thought I should probably go straight down, take a look, get over it.”

Harry agreed. It was horrible – amazingly so. He felt queasy just looking at the sweep of stones, the quiet waves lapping the shore, even though it was still as beautiful as it had ever been. It wasn’t the beach’s fault Draco had had the accident, though. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, really. “I could arrest it, if you wanted,” he said, which seemed to startle Draco out of his thoughts. Probably a good thing; Draco was looking pale and grim.

“What, the beach?”

Harry nodded. “Yep.”

Draco gave a half-smile, turning towards Harry as they walked down the path. “What for?”

Harry smiled back. “I’m sure I could think of something.”

Draco seemed genuinely amused now, his eyes sparkling. “Bit hard to fling it in Azkaban, though.”

Harry considered this. “House arrest,” he said firmly, and Draco sniggered. They’d reached the beach now, and they picked over the stones in silence for a while. Draco seemed to be scanning the shoreline for something.

“Did you find my watch?” Draco asked eventually, jamming his hands in his pockets.

“Yes,” Harry said.

“Good,” Draco replied. “I want it back.”

Harry had no idea why. He’d shoved the thing in his bottom drawer in his bedroom, not sure what to do with it. It seemed tainted now; the present given to him with love and passed on to Draco without it. It felt almost like an omen; as if, at a fundamental level, the accident had been his fault.

“It wasn’t your fault, you know,” Draco said suddenly, and gave Harry a firm shoulder barge that knocked him right out of his brooding. “I mean, it wasn’t not your fault either,” Draco continued with a snort. “I wouldn’t have stormed off here to sulk alone if you hadn’t been so unbearable. But it wasn’t literally your fault.”

“I know it wasn’t,” Harry told his shoes. “It still feels a bit like it was.”

Draco gave him another, more gentle shoulder barge. “Good,” he said, sounding pleased by this development.

Harry looked up at him, feeling himself frown. “Good?”

Draco nodded, lips quirking. “I was feeling a bit like it was my fault. It’s not much fun being broken in half a dozen places and thinking it was all entirely avoidable. It’s much more comfortable to be able to blame you for it instead.”

“Wanker,” Harry said, but without heat.

“Yes, probably,” Draco said, also without heat, and turned to look up at the sky. It was another glorious day: hot and bright, with a scattering of fluffy white clouds scudding across the sky. “I heard what you said, you know,” he said, eyes tracking the movement of a V of birds. “When I was injured.”

Oh. “I’m glad you took my advice and didn’t die,” Harry said, feeling awkward. He’d told Draco he loved him; was he meant to say it again, right now? It seemed annoyingly difficult.

Draco snorted, still watching the clouds. “So, are we doing this, then?” he asked.

“Doing what?” Harry asked stupidly, and Draco turned his face, at that, to give him an exasperated, albeit embarrassed stare. His cheeks were pink, his hands still jammed in his pockets.

“Completing the bond,” Draco said, his voice unwavering. “I mean, everybody else seems to fucking already know we’re going to, from your boss to my own mother, but I thought I’d just double-check.”

“Oh,” Harry said, feeling his heart start to beat wildly. “I think – yes. I mean, yes, please.”

Draco snorted. “Well, at least you’re polite about it. Then . . . all right.”

“All right?” Harry repeated dumbly. It wasn’t as if he’d expected hearts and flowers when he and Draco had finally agreed to complete the bond, but he found he’d expected something more than a prosaic conversation that ended in Draco saying ‘all right’, as if he was agreeing to having breakfast, or going for a walk, or wearing blue robes to an event rather than green.

“Mm,” Draco said, turning to stare back at the sky. “Yes. I suppose it makes sense. So, why not.”

Why not indeed. It wasn’t like it was an enormous fucking decision, or anything, that would have an impact on the rest of their lives, was it?

“You’re overthinking it again,” Draco murmured from beside him. “You want to, don’t you?”

Oh God, Harry wanted to. “Of course I fucking do!”

Draco reached out and took Harry’s hand in his. “Come on. I’m bored of this beach,” he said, a little off-hand.

“You – you want to as well, don’t you?” Harry asked as they walked.

Draco didn’t say anything for a moment, then he gave Harry a swift glance, full of heat and fire. “Yes,” he said, and even though that shouldn’t have been enough, Harry found it somehow was.

Draco kicked off his shoes when they got back inside, toeing off his socks and shucking off his outer robe. He made a noise of pleasure and stretched widely. “Would you like to hear my embarrassing confession now or later?” he asked, back mostly to Harry. “I mean, I’d rather not tell you at all, but you seem the sort of annoying idiot who’d take offense if you found out later.”

There was never a good time for an embarrassing confession, so Harry thought he’d rather get it over with. “Now,” he said.

Draco turned back to Harry briefly, not looking at his face, to touch his arm and swish his wand to light the stove at the other end of the long, open-plan room. “Go on then, sit down,” Draco said, letting go and walking over to the sink to fill up the kettle. “Don’t stare at me so hard. It’s not that bad.”

Harry sat, tried not to stare. He could hear Draco making clattering noises as he got the mugs out.

“So,” Draco said, busy with the tea things, “I haven’t slept with anyone before.”

Harry hadn’t known what Draco was going to say, but he hadn’t expected that. Did Draco mean he’d never gone all the way with a bloke, rather than a girl? Or . . .? An odd suspicion started to form in his mind.

“I’m not sure whether to be flattered or insulted by your silence,” Draco said, now sounding tetchy. “You haven’t complained so far, so I’m presuming I’ve been at least competent.”

“You’ve . . . with no one at all?” Harry managed, feeling shocked by this. Draco always seemed so confident. As if he knew exactly what he was doing. And OK, he’d bought that Muggle sex guide, but that had just been a joke, hadn’t it?

The kettle boiled, and Draco poured water into a teapot. “I’m a pure-blood. We have high standards,” he said, and then finally turned to look at Harry. His cheeks were very red, but his expression was sardonic. “And if you remember, all the girls at school were too busy squealing and running after you to give the rest of us mere mortals the time of day. I used to get annoyed about that, too,” he said and leaned back against the countertop, his mouth twisting into something self-deprecating. “Not only were you the Boy Who Lived To Annoy, but you grew annoyingly handsome, while I . . .” He shrugged. “I was never going to win any awards for my good looks. And when I was done with school . . .” he added thoughtfully, looking at a point somewhere over Harry’s shoulder rather than at Harry himself. “Well. I was far too busy being a disgraced Death Eater to go out on dates.”

Draco turned and poured tea into two mugs. “I made you tea,” he said, passing a mug over to Harry, “even though I know you don’t like it. Think of it as punishment for forcing me into this conversation.”

“I didn’t force you!” Harry protested, and drank some tea so he had something to do with his mouth. It was all a bit too much to take in. And – had Draco just admitted to finding him attractive when they’d been at school? “But, um, while we’re having this conversation,” he said to his mug.

“Yes, do prolong it, please,” Draco said politely, coming to sit next to him.

“Are – are you gay, then?” Harry asked, and winced.

“Well, I could hardly be accused of being straight right now, could I,” Draco said, obviously trying to be patient, but letting a little of his true feelings – that Harry was a complete idiot – bleed through.

“No, I just meant . . .” Harry didn’t know what he meant, exactly. He was just aware of a tiny tight knot in his chest, that he hadn’t even known had been there, start to loosen.

“I never really fancied a girl,” Draco said, and took a sip of tea. “I can’t say I spent much time thinking about it, though. I was always going to marry one. Whether or not I would be attracted to her didn’t seem that important, really.”

That seemed horrendous to Harry. But – it didn’t matter now, did it? Because Draco wasn’t going to marry a girl after all. He was going to . . . to marry Harry. Harry began to feel very warm and happy, and incredibly nervous, all at once.

“You were meant to reply to my self-criticisms to say how deeply attractive you think I am, by the way,” Draco said, taking another drink of tea. “That’s how it’s meant to work.”

Harry felt himself go red. “You know I think you’re attractive!” he protested.

Draco laughed, sounding smug. “Yes, just like a fairy prince or something, wasn’t it?” he said. “You complete tosser.”

“Watch it you,” Harry complained, “or I might be forced to point out that you technically fucked yourself last time we were here, so I’m not sure you can say you’ve never slept with anyone before.”

Draco’s mouthful of tea went the wrong way, and his chokes started to turn into laughter. “Everything else afterwards will always be a disappointment, then, I expect,” he said, his whole voice a snigger.

“Hey!” Harry complained, and set his tea on the floor so as to be able to turn and glare at Draco better. When he did turn though, Draco was grinning at him, and Harry felt his annoyance at this teasing melt away.

“What?” Draco asked self-consciously, grin sliding off his face to be replaced by something more tentative.

Harry leaned over to kiss him. Draco tasted warm, of tea and sugar. He was so easy to love, Harry thought, losing himself in the moment. How had he ever thought otherwise?

Because he was still a jerk, that’s why. “You can make dinner. I’m too innocent and attractive to do it,” Draco said smugly. “And I’m glad we came to the conclusion, too, that my accident was all your fault. I’ll remind you of that often, I think.”

“I’ll make dinner because I’m feeling sorry for you,” Harry said, getting up and peering in the refrigerator to see what there was to choose from. “Mostly because of your terrible pointy face, but a little bit because of your poor deformed body.” Draco made an offended splutter. “How’s your poor deformed body feeling, by the way?” Harry asked, not sure if he cared that it was obvious why he was asking.

“Well enough to lie back, shut my eyes and think of England,” Draco said, and started laughing when Harry reached for the nearest projectile – a cherry tomato – and threw it at his head.

^^^^^^

After dinner, Harry ran Draco a bath, out of the vague feeling that this might be romantic. The day certainly hadn’t been very romantic so far, and Harry wasn’t sure how to make it feel more that way without making a complete idiot of himself. Possibly, Draco just didn’t like romance very much, Harry thought. It was probably a good thing, given how bad Harry appeared to be at it. “Are you trying to imply I stink?” Draco asked, eyeing it suspiciously.

Harry Potter, Lord of Romance, strikes again, Harry thought. Oh well. It wasn’t as if he didn’t enjoy their usual bickering, was it? “Yes,” he said, grinning. “That’s why I added bubble bath, as I can’t trust you to actually use soap.”

Draco snorted and started to undress. “Charming,” he said acidly. “Are you going to join me in it, to make sure I wash my pits?”

Harry thought he could be noble enough to undertake this terrible task, and nodded, starting to pull his own clothes off. It was good to have the distraction from Draco’s emerging nudity, besides. He both wanted, and didn’t want, to know if Draco had scarred from his recent accident. He looked anyway, and found Draco’s skin looked as smooth as ever.

“The sea is like love,” Draco murmured as he lowered himself into the bath. “You get in, not knowing whether you’ll ever come out.”

Harry wasn’t sure what to say to this. He got in the bath himself, feeling his muscles relax in the steaming hot water. “Er, I’m sorry, what?”

“It’s poetry,” Draco said, flicking bubbles in Harry’s face. “Muggle poetry. My favourite.”

Harry snorted, pulling his bubble-smeared glasses off and tossing them over the side. “I know. You’re not trying to be pretentious at all.”

“I never have to try to be pretentious,” Draco said smugly. “My overwhelming superiority just comes naturally, you see.”

Harry considered pushing his head under and drowning him, but knowing Draco, he’d just rise up again without a splutter, looking like a merman from legend, and say something facetious about the size of Harry’s penis, so he decided to let it go for the good of his health.

“You’re not going to get all mushy, are you?” Draco said, leaning back against his end of the bath and flicking more foam over at him. “May I remind you that sticking your cock up my bum is hardly the height of romance, even if it is my first time.”

Harry made an enthusiastic attempt to choke on his own tongue. “We – we could do it the other way round, if you want!” he said, hearing his own voice come out about ten octaves higher than usual.

“Hmm,” Draco said, and shifted in the bath, sloshing water on the floor. “No, that sounds too much like hard work.”

Harry tried not to laugh.

“I am fearfully injured, remember,” Draco said lazily. “It’s your duty to take care of me.”

Harry did laugh at that. “You were fearfully injured,” he pointed out. “Now you’re just a lazy tosser. Come here.”

“Such rudeness,” Draco said with soft satisfaction, rising up briefly on his knees to wade over to Harry, turning so he was lying back against him, hair in Harry’s face.

“Yes, shame on me,” Harry said drily, and reached round to take Draco’s cock in his hand. Draco was already hard, and he made a pleased noise as Harry worked his hand up and down, raising his hips out of the water. Everything was warm, and wet, and slick with foam. There wasn’t much space in the bath, and Draco was so close and delicious, writhing against Harry. Which was so fucking nice, but . . . Harry cleared his throat, slowing his hand and nuzzling against Draco’s neck, wondering how he could say stop grinding against me like that or I’m going to come without spontaneously combusting. At least he was in water, he thought muzzily, breathing hard as Draco worked his hips. Oh Merlin. “Stop that,” he said, and nipped at Draco’s earlobe.

“No?” Draco said breathily, hips still working. He craned his neck back for a kiss, sloshing more water everywhere.

Harry stilled his hand, and Draco smiled against his mouth, but obligingly relaxed back against Harry, his body weight now just a teasing pressure against Harry’s hard cock rather than a rubbing torment. Harry felt the press of Draco’s tongue against his lips and he opened up, their tongues sliding together as they kissed. He began to move his hand again, slow and slick, and Draco groaned into his mouth, deepening the kiss. Time seemed to slide out as they lay there together. The scent of bubbles, the warm wet beneath them. The feel of Draco’s hot swelling cock, heavy in his hand. The taste of him as their tongues stroked together, Draco moving with more desperation as his orgasm built.

Harry matched the pace of Draco’s tongue, speeding up his hand as Draco panted into his mouth. He felt like he was ready to burst, his heart pounding out of his chest. God, he loved Draco, he thought, a warmth that wasn’t anything to do with the gentle heat of the August day, the temperature of the bath, flooding through him. Draco came, still kissing Harry, his tongue stuttering against Harry’s own as the sensations overwhelmed him for a moment.

“Mmmm,” Draco said, pulling away for a moment. Then he laughed, the sound breathy, warm. “My neck fucking kills.”

“God, I love you,” Harry said, and wouldn’t have taken it back for anything.

Draco’s eyes were dark, unfathomable. “Oh?” he said, a tiny tremor in his voice.

Yes,” Harry said, because when it came down to it, what else could he say? He wished Draco would say it back, couldn’t tell what Draco was thinking right now, was almost on the verge of panicking again, when—

“Carry me to bed then, Saviour,” Draco said, lips quirking. “I’m not sure I can move,” he added thoughtfully, and indeed, he was a heavy, floppy weight against Harry’s body. Harry wasn’t sure if that was the effects of a long, tiring day on someone who’d only just recovered, really, from a pretty terrible accident, or just essential laziness.

“Yes, I can definitely manage that,” he said ironically, and attempted to get out of the bath whilst simultaneously heaving Draco up over his shoulder. Draco was slippery, and the bath was slippery, and Draco flailed at the sudden movement and they slid back down together in an attempt at mutual drowning.

“Oh my God, the bubble bath tastes revolting,” Draco spluttered, and then started to laugh, setting Harry off too.

“That’s probably just your come,” Harry added, which made Draco pull a face like he was going to die, he was laughing so hard.

“You know, on the rare occasion I pictured ever – you know,” Draco said, a little incoherently when he’d calmed down a bit. “I never pictured it being like this.”

“Hey! I planned that bit especially!” Harry said, scooping up a handful of bubbles and dumping it on Draco’s head.

“Which bit!” Draco spluttered, trying to get him back. “The dropping, or the special semen-flavoured water?”

Harry started laughing again. Draco looked so funny covered in bubbles, with such an expression of outrage. “Moaning Myrtle would feel right at home looking at you now.”

Draco frowned at him. “She always did tell me I should just cop on to myself and ask you out,” he said.

Harry gaped. “She did?”

Draco grinned, a quicksilver wicked smile. “Of course she fucking didn’t, you egomaniac. Now, are we going to stay in here until we grow gills?”

Harry dumped another palmful of bubbles on Draco’s head, and escaped from the bath while Draco was still trying to learn how to breathe soap. He reached for his wand and, after placing his hand on Draco’s wet shoulder, gave a quick swish that Vanished the water and the bubbles. A second flick summoned a warm wind that wrapped around them both, tousling their hair as it dried them in a matter of seconds.

When Harry turned to look at Draco, Draco was gazing at him with his head on one side, his eyes intense. “What?” Harry asked, a little unnerved by the sheer intensity of Draco’s stare.

“Nothing,” Draco said, but didn’t stop staring. “I just – nothing,” he said, and got to his feet, a dark colour staining his cheeks as he finally looked away and climbed out of the empty bath.

Sod it, Harry thought. If Draco was going to look at him like that. He stepped closer to Draco and slid an arm under his shoulders, then another under his arse and heaved. Draco let out a splutter, and Harry tried not to fall over. Draco was heavy. And he was laughing again, the tosser.

“If you’ve remembered that the groom is meant to carry his bride over the threshold of the house, you’re a bit late,” Draco said, still laughing.

“You want me to carry you outside like this?” Harry threatened. “Bride indeed. You weigh more than this house,” he added thoughtfully as he staggered across the room and wondered how he was going to open the bathroom door when he finally reached it.

Draco was laughing even harder now. “You absolute shit,” he said, but leaned over in Harry’s arms to reach for the doorknob when it was in clutching distance, so at least that was one issue out of the way.

“You want me to Levitate you instead?” Harry complained, staggering out of the bathroom and along the hallway. “That would be romantic.”

“Like this is!” Draco wheezed.

Harry decided to ignore this. It was unworthy of him. They finally made it to the bedroom, and Harry dropped Draco on the bed with an oof. Draco had stopped laughing now, but his face was still warm and open, and even as he looked at Harry his gaze took on that curious, unnerving intensity. As if he was trying to catalogue this moment in his memory, to imprint it there forever.

As Harry got on to the bed beside Draco, though, Draco tensed, an expression of apprehension sliding across his face, even though he tried to cover it up. And . . . and Harry didn’t have his glasses on, either, so the world was faintly blurred. “You all right?” Harry asked, trying to resist the urge to gnaw his lip.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Yes, of course,” he said, though there was a note of doubt in his voice.

It felt deeply inappropriate to think about it right this moment, but Harry had a flash of memory of how he’d felt before his first time. Excited, yes, and thrilled, and so alive and so nervous he’d wondered if he was actually going to be able to go through with it. He . . . he felt more nervous now, though, as he looked at Draco, and Draco looked right back. The power of what they were doing, the importance of it, rang through him, as if someone had banged a gong by his heart.

“Clearly, what we need in here is some romance,” Harry said firmly.

Draco’s eyebrows rose. “Yes?” His face relaxed. “Go on then,” he said, lips quirking.

Oh shit. Um. What was romantic? He’d done the highly romantic sperm-bath, and the delicate sack-of-potatoes carrying routine. What else? Harry felt his forehead screw up. Flower petals. Candles. Silk sheets.

“Well, I’m not going to change the sheets,” he said out loud, and Draco snorted out a laugh.

“They’re perfectly clean!” Draco protested.

Harry shot him a quelling look. “Just imagine they’re silk,” he said.

“What, slippery and cold against the skin?” Draco said, clearly starting to enjoy himself again. “All right. Lovely.”

Right. Candles. Harry romantically grabbed Draco’s wrist and Summoned his wand from the bathroom where he’d left it, lighting the dozens of tiny candles that were bobbing across the ceiling. The effect was . . .

It was . . .

“We might have to wait a few hours for the full romantic effect to kick in,” Harry said as he observed the candles, almost invisible against the daylight. It was August, so even though it was evening, it was still softly light outside.

Harry gave Draco a nudge in the side. “Stop laughing,” he said severely. “This is serious stuff.”

“Yes. Sorry,” Draco spluttered, and dug his face into Harry’s side, the bed shaking with mirth. “Who would have thought you were so useless,” Draco mumbled cheerfully against Harry’s skin.

“Well, you,” Harry felt moved to point out, mock-offended. “Now, shall I massacre a flower to chuck some petals in your eye, or would you prefer a blow-job?”

Draco stopped laughing. “But . . .” he said, and didn’t go on.

“You are older than me,” Harry said thoughtfully. “Maybe you don’t have enough stamina for another go just yet.”

Draco snorted. “Older? Screw you.”

Harry reached down casually between Draco’s legs. He was half-hard, and he let out a soft breath at the touch. “A good effort,” Harry said encouragingly. “With only a little room for improvement.”

Draco jabbed him with a finger, clearly beyond speech.

“And we don’t have to . . . you know,” Harry felt moved to point out. “Not tonight, if you don’t feel . . . you know. Ready.”

Draco let out an uneven breath. “What, when you’ve put so much work into the epic romance?” he said.

“No, I mean it, I—” Harry started, awkward, sincere.

“Yes, I know,” Draco interrupted. “I want to, OK? I just . . .”

Harry thought Draco meant it, that he wanted to. He just sounded nervous. Well, that made two of them. Harry was so nervous that he wanted to die. Although not really. If he died, he wouldn’t get to fuck Draco, and that would be a waste of a life. But before that, though, Draco needed to relax. And what better for relaxation than . . .

“Ohhhh,” Draco said as Harry slid down between his legs and slowly took his cock in his mouth, maintaining eye contact the whole way down.

Harry sucked firmly, bobbing his head up and down. Draco hardened quickly in his mouth, and Harry could taste his pre-come, the creamy sourness, on his tongue as he sucked. It gave him a rush of blood to his own aching cock, to know that Draco was turned on. Was hard for him. Because of him. Harry continued to suck firmly, up and down, bringing his hands into play. He let his spit run down, to coat everything: Draco’s engorged cock, Harry’s hands, his chin. It was all slick and wetness and heat. Though the heat was nothing compared to the heat of Draco’s stare, his mouth falling open as he watched Harry suck his cock.

Draco reached down, winding his finger in Harry’s hair and tugging, encouraging him to go faster, faster, faster. Harry felt his scalp sting, did as asked, mouth watering at the curse words that fell from Draco’s lips. It was as if he could no longer control what he was saying, could only lie there cursing as pleasure overwhelmed him.

Draco didn’t last long. He came with a deep groan, pulling Harry’s hair hard. Harry’s mouth flooded with come, and he swallowed it down as Draco’s grip on his hair loosened, his fingers stroking apologetically against Harry’s scalp as he calmed down. Finally, Draco gave Harry’s head a little push, and he let Draco’s cock slip out from between his lips, sitting up and wiping his chin with the back of his hand.

Draco flushed a bit, and then reached out to pull Harry towards him. They lay there kissing for a while, long, languid kisses that made Harry’s whole body tingle. Draco reached between his legs and gave Harry’s cock a stroke that made him shudder. He was already slick with pre-come, and the feeling was electrifying. Draco stroked him again, slow and gentle, as they kissed, and it was too much and not enough all at once.

“Um,” Draco said against Harry’s lips, and let go of his cock. Harry’s heart did a flip in his chest. Right. He could— They were going to— He tried to remember what he was doing, what he should do next, could barely remember his own name. Lube. That was what he needed. He half sat up and tried to lean over the edge of the bed to reach for it, nearly fell off. Draco grabbed for him. “Smooth,” Draco said unhelpfully, but at least it helped Harry’s brain work a bit more for a moment, and he grabbed his wand, thinking vague thoughts of lube, and romance, and should he do the rose petals after all, but what if he stabbed Draco in the cheek with a thorn, or something?

Harry realised Draco was looking at him, and it was a slightly irritated look, which wasn’t really the reaction he was going for here. Right! Lube! Romance! Harry Accioed the lube, and then swished his wand to shut the curtains around the four-poster. Leaving the candles outside, and plunging them into darkness.

“Nice to know you want to look me in the eye as we—” Draco started, tone a blend of amusement and fucked-off-ness.

“Yes, all right,” Harry said, frantically improvising. If he cast one large Lumos then he’d probably get accused of blinding Draco, so he grabbed for Draco and caught something – a foot, possibly. He waved his wand and cast a lighting spell he’d been working on for undercover missions in darkness. Tiny balls of light bubbled out from his wand, to hang above their heads, bumping up against the canopy of the bed. It was . . . actually quite pretty, Harry thought, smiling up at the lights, and then looking over at Draco.

Draco was lying back against the pillows, his face warm and expectant, and Harry felt nervous all over again because Draco was just so . . . so fucking important to him, it was killing him.

Harry gave Draco’s knee a tap. “Turn over,” he said, voice coming out hoarse.

Draco’s face flickered with uncertainty, but he did as asked, rising up on elbows and knees.

“Hey,” Harry said, and pressed a kiss to one of Draco’s arse cheeks, evincing a soft snort from Draco. “Romance,” Harry said firmly, kissing his other arse cheek too.

“Hmm,” Draco said, sounding unconvinced. “I’ve felt more dignified in my life,” he mumbled into his pillow.

“Shhh,” Harry said.

“Don’t you shhh me, you—” Draco protested, biting off his words as Harry lowered his head to gently nuzzle against one of Draco’s inner thighs, kissing his way up. He then did the same to the other thigh, before pressing a kiss to the strip of skin between Draco’s balls and arsehole. Draco’s breath hitched, so Harry did it again, before parting his lips to take a firm lick of the area.

Draco actually groaned at that. “Nice?” Harry asked.

“Uh, yes,” Draco said, voice rough.

Harry licked him again, getting a rhythm going, pressing firmly. Each swipe of his tongue drew out a groan from Draco that had his face, his ears overheating. He sat back slightly, before bring his face closer to Draco’s arsehole and running the tip of his tongue in a gentle circle around the very outside of the opening.

Shit,” Draco said. “You’re not actually going to . . .” he said, voice raw, amazed.

“Can I?” Harry asked.

Yes,” Draco choked out.

Harry wet his lips and, heart pounding, moved closer, to swirl his tongue around the opening of Draco’s arse. The ring of muscles tightened under his tongue as he licked, but Harry kept going, slow and soft. Harry’s heart was hammering now. Draco was making tiny noises that shot straight to his crotch, and as he swiped a long lick up and over the opening, and then back down, the muscles under his tongue relaxed and then tightened again.

Harry kept on licking, and Draco kept on moaning. He was relaxing more now, pushing his backside in the air whenever Harry removed his tongue for a second. “That feels – fucking God,” Draco said, sounding wrung out, and let out a noise that almost had Harry coming untouched when Harry firmed his tongue and pushed it inside, just a fraction. “I want – I want—”

Harry wasn’t sure he could last much longer if Draco kept on like that. He sat back, wiping his face, and reached blindly for the lube, squeezing some out on to his fingers and spreading it over Draco’s arsehole. Draco made a frustrated noise, pushing his backside against Harry’s fingers, and Harry gently pushed a finger inside him. It slid in without resistance, and Draco squeezed down on it as Harry fingered him, hissing slightly when Harry added a second but pushing against his hand as if it wasn’t enough.

Harry began to feel as if he was in the grip of some madness. He had to – he had to. He withdrew his fingers, reaching for the lube again with a shaking hand and slicking up his cock. He gave Draco’s hip a little shove, and Draco obligingly rolled over on to his back, legs falling apart. He looked wrecked, his hair a mess and his cheeks flushed, mouth swollen. “Harry,” Draco said, and Harry reached for him blindly, falling on top of him, Draco’s head rising up for a kiss.

It was like Harry had never done it before. He was shaking, could barely keep himself raised up enough to stop squashing Draco underneath him. It took several goes to line himself up and push in, and he felt like he wasn’t in control of himself. He tried to go slow, to let Draco control the pace, but Draco winced and then clung to Harry, legs wrapping around him, so Harry couldn’t stop even if he’d wanted to. Draco was tight around his cock, and so hot. He was inside Draco. He felt like he was going to start crying, except that would be ridiculous, so he held it back, just tucked his head against the side of Draco’s neck and tried not to come in under thirty seconds.

“You . . . OK,” Harry managed, feeling Draco’s muscles clench around him as his hips worked.

Yes,” Draco said against him, the sound a sob. “Oh God.”

Harry raised his face so he could kiss Draco, and it felt all the more intense. It was like nothing he’d ever experienced before, he was overwhelmed by it. It was just sex, and yet that word ‘just’ was an insult to how he felt right now. The closeness he felt to Draco – surrounded by him. His body heat. His scent, somehow fresh and green and bright. The way he tasted – warm, earthy, sweet – under Harry’s tongue as they kissed and kissed. Was it the bond? Their magic reconnecting? Harry didn’t think so. This didn’t feel magical. It just felt . . . normal. Wonderful. As if his whole life had been leading to this moment, when he learned exactly who it was he was meant to spend the rest of eternity with.

Was it romantic? It wasn’t not romantic. The lights twinkled above them, fake stars against a tapestry constellation. “Harder,” Draco said, into Harry’s mouth. “Merlin.”

“I’m – close,” Harry said, overwhelmed by an inappropriate urge to laugh at this puncturing of his romantic daydream.

“Yes,” Draco said, dropping his head back on to the pillow and reaching up to give Harry’s hair a hard tug. “Harder, you fucking bastard.” His eyes crinkled. Harry worked his hips harder, and the half-smile slid off Draco’s face, to be replaced by something fierce and dark. “Ohhhh.”

Draco’s face flushed hot, red and he reached down between their bodies to jerk his own cock. His knuckles were a hard graze against Harry’s stomach, their skin slick with sweat. Harry rose up on to his hands to give Draco space, his hips working frantically. He couldn’t stop himself slamming into Draco, but Draco was rearing up to meet each thrust, his muscles clenching down tight, so tight around Harry’s cock. Draco’s hand was working frantically, his thighs dithering.

Draco let out a long sighing breath and then his whole body clenched solid, his hips rising off the bed and he came. The sight of it, the feeling of tightness. The thought that Draco had come again. It was too much for Harry. He came so hard that it felt like all the breath left his body in one great whoosh. As he did so, the tiny twinkling lights above his head flared into bright balls and then exploded, showering them both in shimmering fairy dust for a glorious, perfect moment, before they were plunged into darkness.

Harry tried to gasp a breath, and then another, his whole body shaking.

“Show off,” Draco said from somewhere near the head of the bed. He sounded completely exhausted, and yet so bright and happy that it made Harry’s heart clench.

“Did it work?” Harry wondered out loud as he tried to remember how to breathe. He pulled out of Draco gently, and twisted on the bed, to lie on his side next to Draco, flinging his arm over him.

“Did it work?” Draco repeated, sounding odd. “Oh. I don’t know. Shove over a minute.”

Harry felt a twinge of uneasiness, but shoved. He supposed they couldn’t test the bond if they were cuddling up to each other, could they? He didn’t feel different, really. At least – that wasn’t true. He felt different, right down to his bones, but that was because he’d just committed himself to Draco, for the rest of their lives. No matter whether the bond worked or not, he’d committed.

Harry felt blinded by the sudden influx of light into the room as the curtains whipped apart. Draco had his wand in his hand and as he waved it, clothes billowed across the room to fold themselves neatly and stack up on the top of a chair. The window opened with a bang and a stream of sea air, fresh and salty, hit Harry’s nose.

Harry reached for his own wand and Accioed his glasses, then made a pair of shoes dance across the bedroom floor.

“It worked,” Draco said flatly, and then lay back as if all the wind had been knocked out of him.

“That’s – that’s a good thing, isn’t it?” Harry asked, lying back down and tugging Draco into his arms. Draco, thank fuck, allowed himself to be tugged. There was still something odd in his eyes though.

“Yes,” he said vaguely.

“Can I get you anything?” Harry asked. “A drink? A back rub? A . . . something?”

Draco smiled at that, his face relaxing. “A something, eh? Go on then.”

“Oh, er,” Harry said, and then gave Draco a poke in the ribs. “What!” he protested, when Draco found some energy from somewhere and attempted to take revenge. “That was definitely something.”

“Yes, you are definitely something, all right,” Draco said snidely, but it sounded like a compliment to Harry. “I . . . love you,” he mumbled, suddenly awkward.

“Oh,” Harry said. Thank God. Thank God. He folded Draco tightly in his arms and hoped he’d never, ever have to let him go.

Chapter Text

Harry woke to the sound of seagulls, shrieking as they wheeled outside the window, the smell of salt strong in his nostrils. He felt exhausted, completely wrung out, even though he’d slept like a log. What time was it anyway? He reached for Draco, and found he wasn’t there. Although Draco often wasn’t there when Harry woke these days, given how badly he still slept, a tendril of unease slipped in between Harry’s ribs and he sat up abruptly, reaching for his glasses. He’d never really pictured his first morning after bonding with someone, but if he ever had, he’d have pictured his loved one right there by his side.

Draco was a contrary wanker, though, Harry tried to think cheerfully, and got out of bed with a stretch, enjoying how free and easy his magic felt as he cast a quick hygiene spell over himself and Summoned some clean clothes. It was a glorious day, bright and warm, and Harry felt some of his tension dissipate as he left the bedroom and padded down the stairs to find Draco. He had his magic back, he had someone to love, he had Draco. He shouldn’t complain about a tiny thing like an empty bed when he had so much to be thankful for.

When he got downstairs, however, Draco wasn’t obvious. There was a pile of post on the kitchen countertop, some opened, so he’d been there, and some of his books were strewn on a coffee table by an empty teacup. Maybe he’d gone for a walk, Harry thought, frowning at this. For lack of anything else to do, other than rush out of the house and start yelling, which he knew would be ridiculous, he put the kettle on and made himself some coffee.

Some of the mail was for him, including a heavy scroll that bore the mark of Gringotts on its seal. Harry felt another coil of unease as he looked at it, and took a mouth-burning swig of coffee before he broke the seal. It was . . .

Harry dropped the scroll.

What the actual fuck? He began to feel like maybe there were some subtleties to this bonding thing that someone should have warned him about. He . . . should have read up on the ritual, he thought, a sudden headache clawing at his brow. Was he some sort of idiot, to just leave it to Draco to tell him what he needed to know? He’d need to know this, for fuck’s sake. Or . . . had Draco thought he’d known that this was what would happen? Draco, Harry thought with horror, probably presumed that, given Harry was over five, he could fucking read.

Harry picked the scroll back up again and read it more carefully. It was even worse the second time around. It was a long – extremely long – list of property. Vaults of money, jewels, heirlooms. Antiques. Rare magical items. Land. Malfoy’s fucking Reach. All . . . Harry’s. All transferred to him, on the ‘happy event of his marriage to Draco Lucius Potter (née Malfoy)’.

Draco Lucius Potter.

“Draco, what the actual fuck is this!” Harry said out loud, in the hope that this might summon forth Draco from some corner of the room, so he could shout at him properly. This was . . . He’d expected a husband, not a . . . well, a pure-blood wife. Traditional, subservient. A chattel, rather than an equal. He hadn’t, apparently, just ended the Malfoy line, he’d made Draco a Potter and pinched all his stuff too in one fell swoop. Why the hell hadn’t Draco told him that this was what would happen?

Because . . . Harry realised, his stomach dropping, if he’d known, he might have said no to completing the bond. And where was Draco right now? Everything started to tangle in front of Harry’s eyes – Draco’s amazingly bizarre self-sacrifice, their renewed magic, Draco’s current absence. He didn’t know what it meant, he only knew that he didn’t like it. He started to launch from the beginnings of panic into something more full blown.

Harry went back to the rest of the mail, to riffle through it, searching for clues. The open mail, addressed to Draco, was more of the same – formal notifications from various banks and property companies of the change of ownership, congratulations on his marriage. Magic was really fucking weird Harry thought heavily, his head hurting more at the idea that having a fuck – or, he realised, his forehead now a whole stab of pain, being fucked, he supposed – would trigger all these ancient magics to unleash and strip a pure-blood of everything he owned. Was Draco off sulking somewhere, mad at Harry? It wasn’t his bloody fault! And – and Draco, out of anyone, would have known that this was what would happen if they completed the bond. His own parents had gone through the ritual.

No wonder they hadn’t been keen on the bond, Harry realised numbly. It wasn’t just the heir thing, after all. He’d stolen their son and their son’s inheritance right along with him.

Harry dropped the mail in his hand and dashed through the house, calling for Draco and only hearing his own voice ringing back at him. He tore outside and down the path, but Draco wasn’t there either. He was completely alone in Malfoy’s Cove, he realised, looking up at the wheeling birds above his head. What the fuck was he going to do now?

Harry tried to breathe, to concentrate. He was an Auror, he’d taken – and passed – exams in Stealth, and Tracking, and Tackling the Scene of the Crime. He could calm down enough to find out what had happened to Draco, and then he would find him, and kill him. And after that – well. He thought he might have to cry down the front of his robes for a bit, before they worked out how they could reverse some of this ridiculousness. Couldn’t Harry just give the stuff back? And – and they could be Potter-Malfoy, couldn’t they, if Draco wanted? He began to feel hugely angry at Draco, at the idea that Draco would just run off like that, thinking that Harry actively wanted to . . . to own him, Harry thought, feeling a chill down his spine.

He shook himself and told himself firmly that he shouldn’t jump to any conclusions, other than the obvious: Draco was a massive jerk. But then he’d already known that, so it was hardly anything new. He entered the large open-plan parlour cum kitchen with fresh eyes, scanning the place for clues. And found something so obvious, he thought he was a complete idiot. There, placed carefully on top of one of Draco’s books, was a small envelope, and on it Harry could see his own name written in Draco’s careless, messy scrawl.

Harry picked it up with the tips of his finger, as gingerly as if it were a venomous snake, and sat down, slitting the sealed envelope open and pulling out the sheet of cream parchment inside it.

The sea is like love: You get in, not knowing whether you’ll ever come out,’ Harry read to his utter infuriation. Harry: Be Head Auror. Live your life. I won’t hold you back. – Draco

Of all the . . .

Harry didn’t know what to say, or how to feel, when confronted by this pretentious, self-sacrificing claptrap. Didn’t Draco know he loved him? That his life was fucking nothing without him in it? What was the point of anything at all without Draco? He was going to rip the poem out of the bloody book, track Draco down and . . . and . . . What was the stupid poem, anyway? Draco had quoted it at him before, Harry realised grimly, wondering if he should have paid more attention.

He flicked through the books on the table, coming across a well-thumbed volume of Muggle poetry, with the corners of pages bent back in several places. He found the poem without effort, and read it, trying not to frown.

The sea is like love
you get in, not knowing whether you’ll ever come out.
How many men wasted their youth—
fatal dives, lethal divings
cramps, wells, unseen rocks,
whirlpools, sharks, medusas.
Alas, how can we quit bathing
if just a few get drowned.
Alas, how can we betray the sea
cause it has ways to swallow us.
The sea is like love:
Thousands enjoy it – one has to pay.

It was beautiful, Harry thought, his head hurting. It was meaningful. And it was fucking ridiculous. He tried not to laugh, found he couldn’t stop shaking. One has to pay indeed. Was this really happening to him? Had Draco really become a sodding Potter, given Harry all his stuff, and then run away, all because he loved Harry? Harry was never, ever going to let Draco read a book again, let alone Muggle poetry. It clearly sent him deranged.

God. Harry felt like when all this was over, he was going to need to sleep for a week. Robards was going to kill him.

Harry felt himself breathing too fast, too shallow; he was going to keel over at this rate. He forced himself to breathe more deeply, counting his breaths, and felt a bit better after he’d hit thirty. He looked again at the books in front of him and spotted Draco’s journal. It had slipped down the side of one of the sofas, and he reached for it, flicking through the pages until he found the section about himself. He didn’t really want to read it, and yet he couldn’t stop himself from skimming through. It was pages and pages of arguments around the bond. List after list pointing out all the dozens of reasons why Draco shouldn’t complete it. It was kind of horrible to read – there, in black and white, all the ways Draco thought they were incompatible, how strongly he felt the pull of his family, his duty, his upbringing. All the reasons for – and there weren’t many – had been crossed through with thick, angry lines, and surrounded by counter arguments. Harry genuinely thought he was going to cry, could feel it hot and heavy prickling at his eyelids, until he got to the last page. And read: I love him. It was underlined so hard the quill had scratched through the page. Underlined – not crossed through.

Harry stood up slowly, feeling a bit like he’d aged a hundred years overnight, and prepared to Apparate to Draco. He didn’t need to be an Auror, really, to know where he was to be found.

^^^^^^^^^^^^

Harry had hoped to never have to go back to Malfoy Manor again, and now he was actually approaching it, he still felt that way. He raised his chin and tried not to remember too much. He reached the enormous wrought-iron gates in front of the house, and the iron contorted into a vicious, ugly face that demanded what he wanted.

“I want Draco,” Harry said flatly, and the face glared at him for a good few seconds before creaking back into iron bars. Harry took from this that he was allowed in, and he steeled himself before taking a step towards the gates, which melted like smoke, acrid on the back of his tongue, as he passed through them.

Narcissa herself met him on the front doorstep, the enormous studded wooden door open behind her. Harry could see the sumptuous hallway behind her, the thick carpet, the dark wallpaper, and he tried not to shudder. Narcissa looked at him as if she wished he were dead, but instead said, “Welcome, Harry. He’s in his room. Come through,” and turned to show Harry the way.

Harry walked behind her as they passed through a maze of hallways, angry eyes of long-dead Malfoys following his every step. They were angrily muttering, and for the sake of his blood pressure he was glad he couldn’t hear what it was they were saying.

“Here,” Narcissa said, stopping in front of a gold-handled door. She knocked, an imperious rap, and then glared at Harry again before stalking away.

What?” Draco said from inside the room. He sounded incandescent with rage. “Leave me alone, Mother.”

Harry felt ill. He took a deep breath, which didn’t help, and then twisted the door handle to enter. Draco was sitting on a pale-silk sofa under the window, on the other side of an enormous, richly-furnished room. He had his knees up to his chin, and he looked unwell, face pinched and sickly.

“What the fuck are you doing here,” Draco said, as if he hated Harry.

“I’ve come to take you home,” Harry snapped, striding across the room towards Draco.

“Are you ordering me?” Draco snapped back. “Is that the kind of man you really are?”

Harry dropped to his knees, feeling like his legs had been cut out from under him. “No, I’m begging,” he said, and Draco’s face went completely white. Harry reached for his anger, and found it had deserted him, leaving him unarmed. “I—” he managed, and reached for the note Draco had left him, which he’d crammed into a pocket. “What is this pretentious nonsense, you complete dickhead!” he accused, finding a little of his anger was still there, after all.

Draco spluttered, a hint of colour coming back to his cheeks. He still looked closer to undead than to a real live person though. “That’s me being . . . being heroic and self-sacrificing, you unspeakable turd!” he said. “You’re not the only one who can do it, you know!”

Harry considered this, wanting to stand up but finding himself completely unable to move. “What’s heroic?” he asked. “Running away?”

Draco laughed wildly. “Running away from my problems is what I do, haven’t you noticed?” he said bitterly. “I would appreciate you sparing me the horror of you looking me in the eye and telling me you’re disappointed in me. Do you have to be so fucking heroic, even in this? Can’t you just send me an owl telling me how awful I am instead?”

Harry’s head hurt, more than ever. “So I’m a problem,” he said stupidly. “Maybe – maybe I misunderstood this whole time. I – I thought you’d genuinely fallen in love with me, but I suppose my own feelings must have blinded me to the truth. You just wanted your magic back, right?” None of it made sense.

What?” Draco said wildly, a noise horribly like a sob escaping from him. “You’re misunderstanding me now, you arsehole. I just – I.” He took a deep, shuddering breath, and the colour in his face leeched out again, leaving him cold, dead. “I did it for you. I gave you your life back. You would never have chosen me if it wasn’t for the bond,” he spat out, as if it was poison slowly killing him.

“I would!” Harry protested, because it was true. “I do. I have.”

“How am I ever meant to believe that?” Draco – and there was no other word for it – howled.

“I don’t know,” Harry said honestly, in the face of so much despair. It felt like the most important conversation he’d ever have. He had to tell the truth, even if he had no truth to tell, no wisdom. He was just Harry – and sometimes he was a bit of an idiot, wasn’t he?

This seemed to snap Draco out of his hysteria, to a certain extent. Now he just looked grim – and blank.

Harry lurched to his feet and sunk down on the sofa next to Draco. “I don’t know,” he repeated – this time more firmly. “But – how does anyone ever know for sure when someone tells them that they love them? You’re just going to have to trust me on this one.” He felt himself choke on the lump in his throat. “Draco. Dear one. I love you. I choose you.” His voice broke, and he tried not to cringe at the words he’d just said. It was a bit much, really, to expect him to say things like that – and out loud too, in the daytime. This was real life, not a romance novel or one of Draco’s stupid pretentious poems. He was just Harry, a regular bloke, nothing special, despite all that happened. Sometimes he still felt like that small boy, living in a cupboard, picking spiders out of his hair.

“But – you could have had anyone,” Draco said hesitantly. He was staring at his hands, and he’d caught his bottom lip between his teeth and was gnawing at it.

Harry suppressed the ‘for fuck’s sake’ that threatened to rise up out of him for a moment, and then said it anyway, which made Draco’s cheeks go an angry red. “If you want to tie yourself up in knots about me being the saviour of the world, be my guest. But – I’m just me. I’m Harry. An ordinary idiot, in love with an even bigger idiot.” And he nudged Draco in the side, to take the sting out of it.

Draco snorted. “Bigger idiot?”

“Huge. Massive,” Harry said, leaning against Draco.

“I suppose it feels good to win against you at something for once,” Draco muttered.

“Don’t say that,” Harry said, feeling tired. “And just so we’re clear,” he added, because this was possibly the most awkward conversation he’d ever had, so nothing he could do or say now could make it worse, “I am quite pleased to have my magic back, and I’m looking forward to getting to be Head Auror, but I would never, ever have completed the bond with you if I wasn’t completely crazy about you. All right?”

“Yes,” Draco said shakily. “Do I need to point out that I gave up my own name to help you be Head Auror, and so on? Because of how much I love you?”

“About that—” Harry said.

“What?” Draco said, sounding so tired it was bone deep.

“You’re an idiot,” Harry said. “I can’t believe you did that, without telling me.”

“I knew you hadn’t done any basic reading on the bond,” Draco said beneath his breath. “I fucking knew it.”

“Yes, well,” Harry said uncomfortably, because he couldn’t deny it. “We could – er – be Potter-Malfoy? If you want?”

Draco snorted. “You already trying to get rid of me?”

“No!” Harry protested. “I just meant—!”

“Yes, I know,” Draco interrupted. “Sorry. I . . . I don’t mind being a Potter,” he said, voice weird. “It makes a change, I suppose.”

Harry cleared his throat. He . . . didn’t mind Draco having his name, he supposed. An odd warmth seemed to be trickling down his spine at the thought of it. “Can I take you home now, then, Draco Potter?” he asked, and took Draco’s hand in his own.

“Home . . .” Draco murmured. “Where is home?”

Harry felt a wave of ridiculous mushiness overwhelm him, and he twisted in his seat to wrap his arms around Draco. Draco, to his relief and happiness, clutched him back, so tight it was uncomfortable.

“Home? Home is wherever you are,” Harry mumbled into Draco’s hair.

“ . . . What a revoltingly cheesy thing to say,” Draco replied after a moment, his voice thick. But he didn’t disagree.

Harry just closed his eyes and breathed in. Draco’s hair smelled like the sea: salty and fresh and wild. His heart soared and wheeled, far above the shore.

Chapter Text

One month later

Draco didn’t seem to want to touch the watch at first, just stared at it when Harry awkwardly handed it over in its box. He still thought it was a weird present, even though it was something Draco had specifically asked for: the watch that had nearly been the death of him, catch fixed and smashed dial mended. The old dent, though, that had been there when Molly had given it to Harry for his seventeenth, was still there. Draco had insisted it wasn’t polished out.

Draco eventually took the watch out of the box and held it in his fingers, looking down at it. He ran his fingertips over it, over the dent. Then he smiled and put it back in the box. “Thank you,” he said, turning towards Harry.

“Er, you’re welcome?” Harry said. “You don’t want to wear it tonight?”

Draco snorted. “This piece of Weasley junk? No, thank you,” he said, and then his lips quirked. “I’m not nuts.” He got up and slid the box into the bottom drawer of his bedside table. “I don’t really want a constant reminder of how I broke myself in a million places. I just . . .” He looked a little awkward, fingers knotting into the edge of his short robe. “It was an important thing to you. And so it’s an important thing to me too, I suppose. You shouldn’t throw something meaningful away just because thinking about it makes you feel uncomfortable.”

This rang an odd chord in Harry. “I . . . meant to ask,” he said, fiddling with the ring on his finger. “The protection spells on this ring . . .”

“Were definitely, one hundred per cent all designed for Astoria,” Draco said gravely, and then yelped as Harry rose up to wreak a terrible, jealous revenge, pinning him to the bed. “May I distract you from your righteous anger with a shag?” Draco offered, lips quirking.

“We don’t have time, you git,” Harry said, rolling off him and simultaneously rolling his eyes.

“If we can’t be late for our own party, when can we be late?” Draco said, rolling with him and pinning him to the bed in turn. “Evanesco!” he said, and his and Harry’s clothes disappeared.

“You’ve been practising,” Harry said sternly. At least, as sternly as he could whilst naked under Draco, which wasn’t all that stern in the grand scheme of things. “And thanks for Vanishing my best robes. We’re definitely going to be late now.”

“Whoops,” Draco said, not sounding very sorry. Then: “Oh, hang on,” he said, and swished his wand, turning the white-furred teddy bear on the bedside table to face the wall. “I don’t think Sir Thuban Etamin needs to see this.”

Harry started laughing – Draco was such a weirdo – but the laugh broke off in his throat. Draco was already reaching for the lube and slicking up his fingers, before pressing one gently but insistently into Harry’s arse. They’d had sex several times that day so far, and Harry was still loose and relaxed from their last round.

“Your mother’ll be mad at you if you’re not there to welcome the guests,” Harry said, still trying for stern, despite Draco’s wicked fingers.

“If you can think about my mother right now, I’m clearly not trying hard enough,” Draco said, and withdrew his fingers. He tugged at Harry until Harry was on his hands and knees, and then slicked up his cock, sheathing himself in Harry with one long, firm press that had Harry groaning.

“And I was meant to—” Harry started. But what he was meant to do at the party no longer seemed important when Draco reached round to jerk him off, pounding into him simultaneously. Draco knew exactly how and where to rub him to get him off in an embarrassingly record speed, and now he was grinding against the sensitive nerves inside him too.

Harry came in just a few minutes, and Draco continued to fuck all the breath out of him, dropping his cock to grip so hard at his hips as he fucked that it stung. It was unbelievably hot. Draco didn’t last much longer, emptying himself into Harry and then collapsing on top of him, a delicious but heavy weight.

“You really need to eat fewer sweets,” Harry said from beneath him.

“Fuck you,” Draco said cheerfully, and dropped a kiss on Harry’s neck, before heaving himself off and reaching for his wand, to swish a quick cleaning charm over them both.

They tugged on their clothes, Harry reaching for jeans and a T-shirt rather than the formal robes he’d planned – and didn’t like – and then rushed downstairs. Harry thought that despite Draco’s big words, he was a bit nervous of his mother’s wrath, after all. As they passed the dining room, Draco paused and looked in. “Are you ever going to open any of that mail?” he asked. “I only want to be prepared for the point when we have to move house because we’ve lost the fight.”

Harry peered round Draco’s shoulder. He supposed it had got a bit out of hand. He reached for his wand, and Draco grabbed his wrist. “Don’t be an idiot,” he said. “There might be something important in there. Like . . .”

Harry shrugged. “Evanesco,” he said, and just like that, a couple of years’ worth of mail vanished, as if it had never existed, leaving only dust behind and a few alarmed spiders, which scuttled to the safety of the walls. “What?” he said, at Draco’s look of shock. “If anyone sent me something important, they can always send it again.”

“Didn’t you at least want to see what Pansy had written to you?” Draco asked awkwardly. “You know – back then. Before. She did get away with what she did.”

Harry considered this. “We should probably have invited her tonight,” he said, and Draco snorted.

“What? Pansy?”

Harry nudged him. “You think we would have ever got together without her?” The thought was strange, unpleasant. That he could have continued on with his life without Draco in it. That he and Draco could have bumped into each other on the street, possibly acknowledging each other with a chilly nod, and then just walked on by.

It was a different world, a different universe. A lesser one, Harry thought. Duller. Flatter.

Draco shuddered. “She’s still a massive bitch, but OK, I take your point,” he said. And turned to press Harry against the wall, kissing him over and over, as if he’d seen a picture of a future he couldn’t bear and Harry’s body against his own was the only way to scrub it away again.

^^^^^^

They were very, very late for the party, as expected. And, as expected, Draco’s mother was very, very cross. She took out her irritation on them both by hugging Harry for far too long and whispering pointed insults in his ear. He bore it like a man. After all, she’d taken the fact that Lucius wasn’t invited with surprising equanimity – as had Draco, to be fair.

“I don’t like your father,” Harry had said. “Sorry.”

Draco had shrugged. “It’s fair to say he doesn’t like you either.” And that had been that, pretty much. It wasn’t entirely comfortable, but it wasn’t entirely uncomfortable either. At least they knew where they stood, he and Lucius: as far apart as possible, while both loving Draco very much indeed.

They couldn’t have had the party in the Burrow if they’d wanted to invite Lucius, anyway, and Harry had wanted to have the party there. The real party, to celebrate his and Draco’s marriage, rather than the fake one at the Ministry that had been cold and awkward and horrible. Molly had offered, and Harry had turned to look at Draco, and Draco had rolled his eyes and agreed. The Weasleys weren’t Harry’s blood, but he loved them like family. They were family, he thought. Even though he hadn’t married Ginny, after all.

Harry looked around the room in pleasure, to see all the people he loved gathered together in one place. All mixing, all drinking, all talking. The music was too loud, and the room was too full, and he was almost too happy to bear it.

“Did I mention that if I find out you’re on call tonight, I’ll disembowel you?” Draco said lovingly in his ear, passing him a drink.

“I’m . . . sort of always on call now?” Harry said.

“Dis. Em. BOWEL,” Draco said.

“I’m not on call!” Harry said quickly, hoping very much that no one from the office would call on him. He’d only been back at work for five minutes when Kingsley had pulled him into his office and said that he was now Head Auror, like it or lump it, and if he wanted to lump it then he’d need to hand in his resignation personally to the new Head of Magical Law Enforcement, Robards, and Robards was not in a good mood today.

Harry had decided to like it, after all. Lumping it had hardly seemed worth the risk.

“Want to dance?” he said now to Draco, who looked at him as if he’d grown a second head.

“With you? Stamping on my feet like an enraged Hippogriff?”

“Hey! I might not stamp on your feet,” Harry said. “I might just stamp on one,” he amended, at Draco’s raised eyebrow, and gave him a winning smile.

“Oh God. Fine,” Draco said, but he didn’t seem too unhappy about the idea.

As soon as they took to the dancefloor, the music changed from something upbeat to something slow and romantic. “I’m going to kill Molly,” Draco said sweetly, but he tugged Harry in closer, their heads tucking neatly together.

They swayed together as the music swelled and soared. When Harry pulled back to look at Draco, he had a very thoughtful look in his eye. Harry asked, knowing it was stupid but doing it anyway, “What are you thinking about?”

Draco started. “Oh!” he said fondly, and then his lips quirked. “I was just thinking that if we used the magic cocks, technically I could fuck you, suck you and wank you off at the same.”

“Gryffindor’s balls,” Harry spluttered, trying to picture it and coming up short.

“Don’t worry, I’m not that selfless,” Draco murmured sweetly. “The beauty of this scenario is that you could suck me off at the same time too.”

“Draco!” Harry protested.

Draco shot him a look shining with innocence. “What?”

Harry tried again for stern. He seemed to have been trying and failing all day. “Stop it.”

“You don’t want to?” Draco asked, mock-hurt. “This is not the enthusiasm I expect from my beloved husband.” Love shone out of his annoying, ridiculous pointy face. God, Harry loved him, so so much.

“It’s more that I’d rather you didn’t give me a hard-on in front of all our friends, bane of my life,” Harry said.

Draco snickered. “Light of your life, Harry. Light. Don’t you ever forget it.”

Harry smiled at him, enjoying the way that Draco’s expression slipped into something warmer and somehow more vulnerable as he smiled back. “I promise I never will.”

Was it enough to build a life on, Harry wondered again. Love. Was it enough?

And concluded: yes.

Yes.

Yes.