It wasn’t what Margaret had to say that was problematic, nor was it her way of speaking. The woman was polite, certainly, and she always knocked.
It was just her method that infuriated Draco.
“Harry? Harry, dear, I’ve made you an omelet, your favourite, and one for your Mr Malfoy! I’ve put the kettle on!”
Draco didn’t particularly enjoy being called anyone’s Mr Malfoy anyway, as if he were fifty-two and about to buy property in the Apennines. He definitely did not enjoy being called anyone’s Mr Malfoy while he had Harry pressed up against the creamy white wall of his bedroom, knocking the hanging pictures into swaying with their desperate thrusts, Harry’s feet lifted off the ground, hands clenched into Draco’s arms, his face a sheen of sweat and his mouth open in that perfect breathy ‘o’ that Draco had waited all morning for— and now Margaret, with her omelets.
Harry jerked and let out a startled cry, and Draco lost his already precarious balance. And they both fell. Margaret’s voice simpered, oddly loud, as Draco and Harry tumbled down in a tangle. “Your Mr Malfoy certainly does like his Darjeeling, doesn’t he now?”
Damn the woman.
The next sound Draco heard wiped everything else from his thoughts.
Draco hit the floor with a hard thump, falling backward even though he flailed behind to catch himself. The hardwood was cold on his bare skin. His legs had tangled with one of Harry’s, but he couldn’t let go of Harry just to save himself— “Harry?”
Harry was rolling, one leg tucked up against his naked chest, the other floundering on the ground in a horrid little shimmying dance. His hand had wrapped around his ankle, and before Draco could respond, Harry let out another cry and let go.
Draco scrambled up and crawled to Harry’s side, trying to touch his arm, his back, anything, except Harry wouldn’t stop moving, the bloody git, he just kept rolling and rolling…
“Dra… Draco…” Harry wheezed. “My leg, oh Merlin—”
The knocking on the door grew louder. “Harry, what are you up to in there? Moving furniture?”
Draco finally succeeded in stilling Harry. His lover’s head knocked back hard against the floor, tears squeezing from his tightly shut eyes, and that was about the time Draco knew things were serious.
“What’s happened? Harry.”
“Hit— my leg—” Harry gasped and then howled again. Draco stared down at a bruised ankle, already swelling. He jumped to his feet and nearly fell again.
“Flooing the Healer, Harry,” he managed, and shot toward the bedside table where their wands lay. He heard Harry groan miserably behind him. The sound turned his stomach. He whirled, unable to decide what to do first, get Harry to the bed, mediocre healing spells, Margaret, he should have Margaret make the call— and there was Harry, with an ankle now the size of a small cantaloupe.
“Oh gods, Harry—”
“Healer,” Harry whimpered.
“Yes.” Draco raced for the door, his own wand Summoned into his hand, only to hear Harry hiss.
“Draco.” Harry gestured frantically, and Draco recalled quite abruptly that they were both as naked as shorn sheep.
“Harry? Harry, are you all right? What’s happened?” Margaret had moved on, quite predictably, to jiggling the knob. She was no Lord of Darkness, but she would do well enough getting that door open in three seconds.
Draco dashed for Harry, trying to recall spells to clothe oneself… to clothe another? How did it go? “Shit, shit, bollocks—”
Harry cried out again and Draco gave up, wrenched the duvet from the bed and tossed it into the air. Levitation spells he could do, at least. Harry winced as the duvet touched down, and Draco had barely enough time to yank a discarded shirt over his head and a pair of someone’s trousers up to his hips before Margaret came barreling into the room, wand flailing.
“Bloody dark fiends, I’ll have them— oh! Oh, Harry, what are you doing on the floor?”
There was absolute silence while Draco’s mind very helpfully went blank. Harry stared up from the hardwood, eyes wide in a pale face, his leg momentarily not the issue— but it became the issue again and he slumped back to the floor, grimacing in agony.
Draco shot back to his side. “We’ve got to get the Healer, Margaret, he’s done something to his ankle.”
“Oh! Oh, yes, the Healer, right away.” Margaret rushed to the hearth, shoving aside a chair that wobbled dangerously before crashing down on its back and sending the picture frames on the small desktop rattling. She’d upended a decorative footstool and nearly knocked over Harry’s floor lamp before she reached her target. Draco cringed and turned back to Harry, blocking out her frenzied scrambling.
“Are you all right? What in Salazar’s name—”
“Hit my ankle—” through gritted teeth “—on the stool— your bloody idea— told you it would never work—”
Draco frowned. “You agreed to it! Or did you expect me to shag myself, Potter?”
Harry moaned and clutched his ankle, and Draco winced, bending over him to try and tend what hurts he could.
“All right, it’s all right, here’s my hand, the Healer’s coming. Breathe…”
Harry breathed. Draco breathed. Margaret, on the other hand, did not breathe, on account of the fact that she was talking faster than any human being should be able to.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, Margaret was still yapping, Harry was safely dressed in boxers and a t-shirt in bed, and the Healer was much younger than Draco’d expected.
“Such a nice young man, Harry, he’ll have you all to rights in a tick!” Margaret went on and on; it was amazing anyone had managed to get in a word about what the hell they were all doing there. “I’ve always liked the look of him, Harry, always thought he was such a wonderful gentleman…”
The Healer— name of ‘Pogue, call me Richard’— turned from his post at Harry’s side and smiled, a bright, toothy grin that slid across his entire, shapely face. “Thank you so much, Ms Cunningham. You’ve always been so lovely, every time I’ve visited.”
Draco perched on the lower dresser, once again dressed in a thick black jumper and jeans, arms snugged fitfully around his torso. He cleared his throat very slightly. “You’ve been here before then?”
The Healer turned that smile his way for a flash of a second and Draco tried not to glare. “Oh, yes. Harry’s got a knack for tumbling down grassy knolls with an armful of pregnant ewe. I’ve told him again and again, the dears can bloody well walk themselves down the knoll, but Harry here—” Pogue-call-me-Richard trailed off and shook his head, only to place his hand on Harry’s knee and pat it. And then leave it there.
Draco cleared his throat more forcefully. “So. What’s to be done about his ankle?”
“Rest, and managing your affairs without the use of walking. I can heal most of the break, but it’s especially intricate work, the ankle, and the potions will take time.” He was still speaking as if Harry were the only one listening. Still smiling at him adoringly. “You know, I still can’t figure out what you did to cause this sort of break. What did you say you were up to again?”
Draco saw Harry swallow. His ears went a touch pink. “We were. Moving the furniture. My dresser is… too close to the window. Was too close.”
“Oh, I thought that was what you were up to,” Margaret chimed in. “Never happy with the layout of his room, Harry is. Always trying to fix things up.” She had never looked cheerier in her life. Granted, Draco had been in Cumbria for very little of her life, but he was less than able to focus on fairness at the moment. And not exactly willing, either.
“He tripped,” Draco interrupted shortly. He nodded toward the overturned chair on the other side of the room. “Hit his ankle there.”
The Healer studied the chair, then did the same to Harry’s purpling ankle where it stuck out from under the duvet. “Yes, quite bad, this break… Still, it’s an odd one to get from just stumbling over a chair. Almost as if he felt from a height.”
“I tripped,” Harry said, at the exact moment Draco interceded with “He tripped.”
“Yes,” Pogue-call-me-Richard said after an awkward glance between them. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled again, this time as he snapped his bag shut. Right there on Harry’s bed. Where his hand bumped Harry’s good leg with the click of each clasp. “All right, then, here’s my prescription: you’ll be on this pain relief potion twice a day—” he tapped his palm with his wand and magicked a tiny bottle out of thin air, “—along with this muscle relaxant once in the evening before bed—” another bottle in his palm, “—and last but not least, you’ll not be walking for three weeks, do you understand me, Harry? Not at all.”
Harry, whose mouth was just opening to protest, got a wide-eyed and slumped back against the head of the bed. Which was just fine with Draco, seeing as Doctor Call Me Tosser was leaning in rather close to Harry’s face. He stepped forward to pull the good doctor back.
And got his toe crunched by Margaret stepping forward instead.
“Yes, well, thank you, Healer Pogue,” Margaret said in a rush. Draco was surprised to find her lips tight and her eyes glaring. She snagged the Healer’s hand as it tried to alight on Harry’s knee again and spun him bodily with it, snatching his bag up from the bed with her other hand. “Yes, thank you, delighted, I’ll, that is, we’ll keep him off his feet, thank you very much. Good night and toodle-oo.”
The Healer was already out of sight down the hallway by the time Margaret’s final dismissal reached Draco’s ears.
* * *
The rain fell in sheets, rapping at the window pane in heavy, wet plops. Harry hadn’t said a word since Margaret had whirlwinded through the room again with tea and more blankets, all the while muttering under her breath viciously. Draco heard several choice words when she whipped close enough to understand, and hadn’t been able to come up with anything to say either.
But now Harry was just quiet, visibly thinking, and Draco’s stomach had begun to churn.
Merlin, if he hadn’t just dropped Harry onto the floor like a sack of rocks! He was lucky it was just Harry’s ankle and not his whole leg, or his head. How could he have been so careless? A tiny self-righteous side of his brain piped up that he couldn’t possibly have supported Harry’s weight when they were both all startled and off-balance like that, but the guilty side drowned it out without effort. If he hadn’t made the damn suggestion in the first place…
Obviously Harry wasn’t feeling the joy of keeping their sex life properly spiced, not now. And Draco couldn’t blame him. He’d been sure Harry would have jumped into it full throttle as he did everything else. How incorrect he’d been. Perhaps— Draco’s heart shifted a little in his chest—
Perhaps he didn’t know Harry as well as he thought he did.
Harry was looking at his heavily wrapped ankle forlornly. “Can’t walk,” he muttered.
“Are you… talking to your ankle?” Draco asked, a little jokingly, a little pensively. Because he just wasn’t sure.
Harry looked up. “Draco, I can’t walk.”
Draco smiled, coming closer to the bed. “I know, Harry. I heard the diagnosis.”
“No, Draco.” Harry’s eyes had become a bit desperate. His jaw looked much tighter, like he was trapping words behind his teeth. “I can’t walk.”
Draco stared at Harry and Harry stared right back meaningfully. One of Harry’s hands travelled across the blankets to rest on the brightly coloured caftan that Margaret had gifted them months ago. He plucked at the soft weave with pointed fingers. Draco frowned at the motion, the kneading of the airy wool.
“All right, but I don’t see—”
Harry’s fingers plucked once more, a forceful grab and clench, and suddenly Draco remembered just where that wool had originated from.
“Oh— no,” Draco forced out. “Harry, no.”
Green eyes were pleading so very deeply. Draco turned to the rain-filled window and the open pastures beyond, filled with walking, off-white balls of fluff.
“Ohhhhhh, no.” He sank down onto Harry’s bed with his head in his hands.
* * *
Something slapped Draco on his side. The room was very dark.
“Up,” came a muddled, sleep-ridden voice.
Draco growled and hunched down under the duvet, searching for that encompassing warmth. Burying his face in the pillow. So soft. He was so comfortable. Harry shifted next to him and the flailing came again, smacking against his ribs as if Harry were simply reaching to gather him closer.
Instead Harry hissed, and for a minute, Draco couldn’t remember why. “Get up,” Harry groaned.
Draco cracked an eye open, turned over to gather Harry to him instead, and remembered Harry’s ankle all at the same time. His breath rushed out of his lungs and he flopped back on the bed, suddenly far too awake.
“M’up,” he managed. There was no answer from Harry’s side of the bed, and Draco felt a flash of relief: Harry needed to sleep, and if he’d drifted off again, that could only be good for him. Draco rubbed his eyes, blinked, and shut them, just for a second—
He jolted up in bed. “Wha?”
Around the edge of the curtain, the sky was a tiny bit lighter. Draco moaned and pulled himself free of the bedclothes. He honestly had not meant to drift off again. He forced himself upright, and regretted it as soon as his feet touched down on the cold flooring. Draco hissed and rubbed his face. He could practically feel the chill from outside; some instinctual shift under his skin told him it was brutally cold, that even the best trousers and warmest coat he had wouldn’t fend it off.
A hand closed loosely around his wrist, and Harry murmured, sounding half-asleep. “Use a warming spell. Sheep…” He broke off with a yawn. “Sheep won’t mind.”
Draco huffed. As if he cared whether the sheep minded. But he knew what Harry was really saying, that it was safe to use around them. Some magic, he’d discovered during his stay, was not.
He made himself stand, and then it was an ungainly rush toward the wardrobe so he could shimmy into pants, trousers, and a shirt. Draco hunted through the shoes he’d brought with him, finally settling on boots lined with down. He yanked one of Harry’s wool coats over his shoulders, shivering the whole time.
Harry was out again by the time Draco crept out of the room, closing the door behind him. The inn was quiet, the hallways dark save for the soft night lamps at the top and bottom of the stairwell. Draco tiptoed down to the kitchen, grabbed gloves and a hat from behind the front desk, for once not caring how well they matched, and let himself out into the bitter morning before he could convince himself otherwise.
He’d done this enough times with Harry to know the drill, but it was something different, tripping over furrows and loose stones on the ground as he made his way to the paddock. The damp, musty smell of the sheep reached him about ten yards out. Draco grimaced and hurried over to the gate, unlatching it and swinging it open. The sheep peered at him placidly from the shadows.
“Thank Merlin there are only fifteen of you,” Draco muttered. How Harry did this without dogs was a mystery. Then again, there were the spells.
It was similar to a Muggle repelling charm, but less potent, and Draco cast it safely away from the sheep, aiming for the grass just beyond the lean-to. The sheep got to their feet, looking around blearily, and then waddled almost clumsily toward the open gate. The ewes were absolutely burgeoning; Harry could not have picked a worse time to break his ankle.
Time to sort that right out.
“Let’s go, sheep,” he said as he ushered them toward the gateway to the field. They bobbed along, watching him out of the corners of their eyes, but they were moving. Draco let them all through and swung the gate shut. On the other side, the ewes just sort of stopped, gazing blankly at the dusky darkness as if they weren’t quite sure what they were meant to do out here. Draco clapped his hands, trying to get their attention.
“All right. Change of plans, ladies.”
They blinked at him silently.
Draco shrugged. “We’ve had a bit of a foul up. Harry’s taken a fall, and I’m afraid you will all just have to have longer gestation periods this year, that’s all, because I’m not dealing with the birthing process. You’ll have to wait for Harry.”
No answer. But they did seem to be listening. Draco nodded, shooed them away violently with his hands, and hurried back toward the house.
When he got to the inn, the sky was a pearly grey-blue and a lark was chirping in full swing. He let himself in quietly, but when he turned around after locking the door, he came face to face with a sleepily smiling Margaret. She patted his cheek before he could duck, and shuffled toward the cooker to start breakfast for the inn’s early risers.
Which were not about to include him. Draco left the kitchen and went straight upstairs to Harry’s room, avoiding the creakier floorboards. Once he was inside, he kicked off his boots and hopped toward the wardrobe again, pulling off his socks and Harry’s coat. He draped the coat over the top of the wardrobe, then shimmied back out of his trousers and shirt, and crept toward the bed.
He pulled back the duvet, already too cold, and realised Harry’s eyes were open, albeit not very much.
“Get the ewes out to pasture?” Harry’s voice was hoarse.
Draco smiled reassuringly. “Yes. I’ve laid out the situation and I think we understand each other.”
Harry’s brow furrowed and he opened his mouth, but a yawn interceded.
“Like you in my coat,” Harry mumbled, one hand reaching. Draco slipped into Harry’s embrace with a grateful sigh, tugged the duvet up to his ears, and drifted in the shared body heat.
* * *
Draco was sitting in the anteroom just off the kitchen, helping himself to some of Margaret’s best sugar biscuits when Margaret herself bustled into the room, back from her rounds of delivering tea to the inn’s guests.
Call it his good mood or the fair weather or whatever, but Draco lifted his cup of tea and smiled. “Hello, Margaret.”
“Oh, hello, dear,” she answered absently, and stuck the empty tea tray into the oven.
Draco raised an eyebrow. “Everything all right?”
She huffed. “Of course everything’s all right! Why wouldn’t it be?”
Draco stopped chewing, and Margaret sagged.
“I’m sorry, dear, I don’t mean to snap at you. It’s just, that Healer’s here again and I’ve got so much to do already without bothering with all his whims.”
As much as Draco wanted to agree with her, the Healer’s current ‘whims’ involved helping Harry to get well and back on his feet again. “Whims?”
“Yes, whims! One would think he’d be able to redress a wound and get himself clear of a patient in time to let the man get some rest! But no, just one more look-see at that leg, Harry, one more lovely anecdote to pass the time with, Harry.” Margaret came to the table, leaned close, and tapped the side of her nose. “That man never would take no for an answer, if you know what I mean.”
“What?” Draco dropped his tea cup and shot up from his chair.
Margaret snatched a towel and leaped forward, wiping hastily at Draco’s chest where the tea had splashed. “No, no, that’s not what I mean! Oh dear, have you burnt yourself? Come over here, I’ll run the tap—”
“No, I— only lukewarm anyway.” Draco pushed fruitlessly at the towel as it continued to molest his middle. “What did you mean, then? Is he—”
“I know his type. He’s been around here, you see. Before you came and made Harry so happy.” She wiped and fussed, and Draco couldn’t find the wherewithal to stop her anymore. “They were good friends for a little while there, but now, well, that’s changed, hasn’t it? But, no sense of boundaries, that one, no respect for what’s proper, oh no, just has to niggle and push and nudge and make a nuisance of himself. I know that type. I’ve seen it before. Harry did always have a way of being accommodating and so very nice, you know, but try getting them to get the picture now, yes? Oh, take it off, I’ll wash it right up.”
Draco was only half responsible for shrugging his shirt off. It was a pretty good analogy for the sense of control he felt over the rest of his life at the moment.
* * *
“Hi, are you— Harry?”
The bedside lamp was lit, but Harry’s book lay open across his chest, the pages bent. One hand was flung out to the side, the other holding his place quite by accident. Draco cursed himself silently and tiptoed into the room, easing the door shut behind him. Waking Harry up after the night he’d had would not be anything close to kind. Draco had barely slept himself with Harry’s tossing and turning, his frequent hisses as his leg was jostled.
There were new guests to play host to downstairs and Draco needed a fresh shirt. Third one today, what with the tea mishap and then the clingy bits of feed that seemed to burrow into all shapes and sizes of fabric. Bloody sheep. He crept to the wardrobe and rummaged around for a shirt, accidentally knocking an entire pile of rolled socks onto the floor. “Bollocks.”
“You can say that again.”
Draco spun around and found Harry watching him from the bed, one arm now thrown half over his face. “I’m so sorry. Here, I’ll— Do you want the light off? Or something to eat?”
Harry shook his head. “No. The potions make my stomach queasy, it seems. I’ll wait until dinner.”
Draco pulled the new shirt over his shoulders and buttoned it up with a wave of his wand. Harry’s brows came together a little and Draco cursed inwardly again, recalling that the magic-free week was approaching and they’d agreed not to… Well, it was too late this time. Draco pointedly set his wand down on the bureau. He came over to the bed and sat down on the edge, well away from Harry’s bad leg. “Are you feeling any better otherwise?”
Harry’s face cleared somewhat. “Yeah, a little. Leg doesn’t hurt at the moment, so that’s… It’s a godsend, is what it is.”
Draco brushed Harry’s fringe off of his forehead. “I’m sorry I interrupted your rest.”
Harry smiled at him and drew his hand down into his own. “Sort of been thinking about that, actually.”
“You’re not the only one who’s been keeping someone from sleep lately.”
Draco scoffed at Harry’s sudden grimace. “Don’t even, Harry. It’s not a problem.”
Harry sighed. “It is, though. I know better than most how much rest you need, especially during this time.”
The ewes. Draco frowned. “It’s fine, Harry. Really.” Even though he was tired as hell, barely able to stomach the thought of acting perky for their newest arrivals. If only Margaret hadn’t had to go into town— but then Draco would be cooking instead, doing the shopping rather than the general running of the inn, and there was really no difference in how much effort went into each.
Harry cleared his throat and glanced around the room. “I’ve been thinking, maybe we should sleep in different beds. Just till I’m back in the land of the living again.”
Draco just barely kept the shiver from skating down to his fingers where Harry would feel it. “I… Well—”
He couldn’t finish a damn sentence, and Harry was staring at him without respite, all wide, apologetic eyes. Draco looked over at his spot on the bed, already mostly taken up by Harry’s current sprawl. He swallowed. “All right. I mean, are you sure?”
Harry squeezed his fingers. “You look as exhausted as I feel. I don’t want to keep you awake at night, Draco. And I know I will.”
He wanted to deny it, to shout Harry down and take back his rightful place in Harry’s… in their bed. But Harry was right. Harry was making sense. Draco nodded, nodded again, and patted Harry’s hand.
It still felt like a terrible, unsettling dismissal.
* * *
Something was holding the gate shut. Draco squinted, trying to keep his eyes open, and pushed at the gate. It inched a bit, then banged back into place. He peered at the latch. It was light enough to see the shapes of the hills beyond, but the lower pasture was still shrouded by deep shadow and he could barely make out the latching mechanism.
“Bloody hell,” Draco snapped and shoved at the gate again. The latch was definitely open. It was as if the bottom of the gate were stuck into the ground, furrowed in mud or wedged on a rock. Something. Draco threw himself into it, forcing the gate with his entire body, boots slipping as he pushed, but the damn thing just wouldn’t budge.
By all the Founders. How in the world was this fair? The need to be useful flooded over him and Draco felt something lodge in his throat. If he went back, the sheep wouldn’t be put out to pasture and Harry would look at him like… well, like he’d failed at something easy, which was the bloody truth! Draco was willing to bet that Doctor Prick could let some bloody sheep into a bloody field with one hand tied behind his bloody back, but Draco couldn’t even get past the stupid gate—
Draco jumped back, nearly falling into the mud. The bleat was much, much closer than expected. He frowned over the fence. It was light enough to see clearly that there were no indistinct white blobs wandering around the paddock. A horrible thought occurred to him and he whirled around, but there were no sheep behind him either, or anywhere between him and the inn. Thank Merlin for that; Draco didn’t think Harry would be pleased to learn his sheep had somehow escaped.
He needed to get in there and count them, make sure they really hadn’t gotten out. Draco shoved the gate again and leaped away at the loud “MAAAAAAAA” that erupted right in front of him.
Draco inched back to the fence and peeked over, screwing up his eyes. It was a bloody invisible sheep, that’s what it was, because there was absolutely nothing on the other side of the—
Two eyes peered up at him from a well of darkness.
It was damned lucky Draco didn’t frighten easily. If his hands hurt a little from how tightly he was gripping the fence plank, well. No one else had to know.
“Maaaaa,” his invisible counterpart advised. Draco stepped closer.
There was a bloody black sheep leaning up against the inside of the gate.
Harry… didn’t own any black sheep. Draco glared down at it. “You. Go on, get out of it.”
If sheep could raise their eyebrows, this one did. It chewed the grass in its mouth steadily and gazed straight back at Draco.
“How the hell did you get in there anyway?” Draco slapped the gate and the black sheep leaned all the more heavily against it.
“Move, you insufferable—”
* * *
Whichever potions Harry was on, they put him out for the entire afternoon. Either that or the pain was still keeping him awake at night. Draco would have liked to find out, but waking Harry up specifically to ask him if he’d been getting any sleep felt particularly cruel.
The inn was quiet: everyone seemed to be out and about enjoying the countryside. Draco had heard talk of paddock tours around the inn’s breakfast table, and he’d barely been able to make it out of the dining room without laughing in their guests’ faces. Now, he took advantage of the privacy (and the fact that all the current guests were part of the Wizarding community) to take a much needed visit to London.
He tossed the powder into the sitting room fireplace and stepped in. “Ministry of Magic.”
Thanks to it being a mid-afternoon on a Wednesday, the trip was effortless, if a little stomach-turning. The steady murmur of voices and the flutter of memos aloft threw him off kilter. It had been a while since he’d heard those sounds, two weeks at least. Draco dusted his robes off and went straight for the lifts, nodding curt hellos to people who addressed him.
His office was dark and the air inside felt stale. Draco checked his Inbox and spent the next ten minutes answering some memos and redirecting others. He had just finished when Orla Quirke, resident of the next office over, walked by and halted, staring at him in surprise.
“Draco Malfoy? Haven’t seen you here in a while.”
“Everything all right?”
“Yes, everything’s fine. Do you know, is this all of my post? Box seems a little empty.”
Orla nodded. “I hope you don’t mind, I had some of your post redirected to my office. Or Hermione Granger did, actually. Someone from the head office was up here being a nit the other day, consolidating and such.”
“No, that’s fine. Thank you. Is Hermione here today?”
Orla laughed. “She’s here every day. Sometimes I wonder if she actually goes home. I’ve got to dash, I’ve a department liaison meeting that needs an intensive intervention. Ta!”
Draco waved, already focused on the last of his memos. A few seconds later, a knock sounded on his door and he looked up, expecting Orla again and finding Hermione instead.
“Oh, good, you’re here.”
Draco stopped. “What have you got, an alarm telling you if I’ve sat in my office chair?”
Hermione looked thoughtful. “Could do that, I suppose. But no, Orla told me on her way by my office. How are you?”
Her smile was warm and he couldn’t help returning it. “Very well, and you?”
“Busy. The new account’s going through with the speed of a nauseated snail, and of course Financing’s not communicating with Billing, so there’s a deficit that we have to make up before our clients get wind of the fact that their accounts have all been overcharged. But naturally, Johansson at HR has taken this opportunity to go on that vacation to Bermuda he’s always been nattering on about and no one can get hold of him. It’s all rubbish and completely unnecessary. I’m glad to hear you’re managing somewhat better than I am.”
Draco sighed, feeling bad for his half-assed lie when she’d told the truth. “Actually, I’m… not as well as all that.” He motioned her in, then spelled the door shut. “Harry’s had a bit of an accident.”
Hermione blanched. “Oh my god, is he all right?”
Draco waved a hand. “No, no, it’s not serious like that. Just broken his ankle. But he’s laid up in bed and things are— I’m afraid I didn’t really understand how much he does around the inn until now when he’s not doing it, you know?”
“Oh, yes, I see now.” Hermione nodded and sat down across from him. “How are you holding up then?”
“Dealing with sheep is bloody difficult!” Draco burst out and she laughed.
“I’ll bet he appreciates it, though.”
“Makes me appreciate him more,” Draco muttered, then blushed when Hermione wiggled her brows. “Look, I’m fine. Really. I just wanted to Floo in, get some of this rubbish off my desk and let Maxwell know I’m going to need another week’s leave at least. I know I haven’t been in, but—”
“Yes, about that…” Hermione edged in, glancing to the side. “I don’t know if that’s such a great idea.”
Draco sat up straighter. “Did Maxwell say something?”
“It’s not so much that he said anything. I’ve been hearing murmurs.”
Draco could feel a headache beginning in his temples. “What sort of murmurs?”
She sighed, then reached across the desk and took his hand. “You know they love you, right?”
“You know what I mean,” she countered. “You do good work and they know it. But they’d like you to be in the office more often, I think, especially now that the Carmichael contract has gone through and we’ve all been so overloaded with assignments.”
Draco glared at the door to his office. “They’re the ones who offered to let me commute from Cumbria in the first place!”
“Yes, to keep hold of you. You’re awfully good at what you do, Draco. Don’t think they don’t know it. Just… they’re going to ask you to make a decision one way or another, I’m pretty sure. Soon.”
Draco sighed and slid down until his head rested on his desk. His body was so exhausted, he felt like he could probably pass out and sleep right there for the next day and a half.
“Okay, what else?” Hermione asked. “What is it? Have you given thought to what we talked about?”
He had given it thought. Right up until Harry wiped out on the floor. “I’ve thought about it,” he mumbled to his desk. “I’ve even been in to the offices in Newcastle to find out if they’re looking for transfers.”
“And I’m considering my options!”
Hermione let out an exasperated sigh. “I thought you’d moved past considering. Don’t you want to move up to Cumbria permanently?”
Perhaps it was the way she said it, or maybe just the word itself. Draco’s stomach formed a hard, tight knot. “‘Permanently’ is such a big word.”
Hermione lost all of her remaining joviality. “Draco, did something happen?”
He almost opened his mouth and said something different. “No, I’m just… just stressed. And tired. And worried about Harry.”
“Is the break bad, then?”
“Bad enough. I’m sure he’d love some company that isn’t me.” He caught her staring at him and hastily amended, “Or Margaret.”
After a fleeting hesitation, she nodded. “I’ll try to come visit at the end of the week. Goodness knows they have to let me go home sometime.”
The joke fell a little too flat.
* * *
The next morning was a disaster. In some ways, literally. It started when the sunlight woke Draco up by being too bright.
Draco shot out of bed— a somewhat lumpy mattress in a cramped room that was only used when the inn had too many guests— with a gasp and couldn’t get his footing in time to save his knees from a good skinning on the floor. He rushed through a healing spell and into the nearest clothing at hand, and barely made it into the kitchen without slipping on one of the hallway rugs. Thankfully, no one else was there; Draco could just picture the look on Harry’s face when he discovered his babies had been without proper care for the entire morning.
But Harry apparently knew, as evidenced by the shining stag that galloped into the kitchen and startled Draco into spilling the glass of orange juice he was hastily gulping down.
“Draco, it’s late!” came Harry’s irritated voice. “The sheep should have been out to pasture hours ago!” And that wasn’t all, but the rest was only worse so Draco repressed it.
Margaret had left scrambled eggs warming on the hearth, but both food and hearth had long since gone cold and Draco had to suffer through soggy toast and stale scones without butter before dashing out to the paddock.
The sky had looked bright and warm from inside, but outside was a different matter: the wind blustered fiercely and held a chill reminiscent of the winter they’d just done away with. It must have rained during the night because the grass was muddy and Draco nearly slipped several times in his ill-chosen shoes. He’d run out before properly locating a jacket and the boots Harry used to tromp around in the pastures, and he regretted it with every step.
His way through the gate was clear this time, and the day was looking up. Draco couldn’t see the interloping black sheep anywhere. He heaved a sigh of relief and gathered up the ewes, who were all baaaaing hungrily and eyeing him as if they were considering going omnivorous for the day.
Several of them were very, very pregnant.
But nobody gave birth right there in the mud, so Draco moved them on to the pasture gate and let them through. They went docilely enough except for the largest, who planted her feet and stood there chewing at him halfway through the gate.
Draco got behind and nudged her gingerly with his knees. He regretted it instantly when he saw the stains on his trousers. “Oh, Salazar, please move. Just get in there, your almost-lamb needs you to eat your body weight in grass right this second.”
She ambled forward a couple steps and stopped again, looking back over her shoulder. “Maa.”
“Not if I kill you first.” Draco gave up all pretense and bent at the waist, bracing himself against her rump and shoving with all his might. She toddled forward and stopped just inside the gate. Draco stood up, hands on his hips and glad of a job well done, stepped back to grab the gate— and fell right over the black sheep into the slop.
“You— You—” He couldn’t even speak he was so mad.
The black sheep was as large as the pregnant ewes and covered in dried mud. He strolled past Draco into the pasture, kicking up clods with his hooves and smelling like he’d been dunked in a bucket of mold. “Maaaaaaaaa.”
Draco pulled himself out of the slop and looked down at his clothes. The front of him, aside from a few speckles, looked clean, but Draco knew better: when he peered over his shoulder, he nearly fainted with disgust. There wasn’t a centimeter of clean cloth to be seen. He shifted to look over his other shoulder and felt the squish of the mud inside his shoes. “Oh, bloody hell.”
“You.” Draco pointed a shaking finger at the dark-wooled culprit. “This is your doing. You bloody, bloody sheep!”
“Don’t you make that noise at me, you bastard.”
“Bastard’s not good enough for you. You really are the black sheep of the family! What the hell is your name anyway? B.S. for Black Sheep? How about Bull Shit? Or Baaaaaaaastard!” Draco shouted, flinging a handful of mud at the sheep.
Who patiently sidestepped and ambled away.
* * *
“Pass the marmalade, would you?” Draco held out his hand for the jar, and when Harry gave it to him, he began to spread it on his toast. “Cheers.”
“How are the ewes looking?”
“Pregnant,” Draco snorted. “Not to worry. I’ve told them they’ll just have to hold it in; I’m not delivering.”
Harry was quiet for a moment. “You might have to, Draco,” he finally said in a rather flat voice. Draco put down his knife.
“Joking. Don’t worry about it.” He took a sip of his tea instead. “Your new sheep is a real demon.”
Harry chewed, a thoughtful frown on his face. “Which one is that?”
“The black one.”
When Harry didn’t respond, Draco looked up and found Harry staring at him.
“I don’t have a black sheep.”
Harry nodded. “Really.”
Draco set his toast down, not so hungry anymore. “Brilliant. You do now.”
Harry cocked his head to one side. “Wonder where he came from. I can’t say I know of anyone who raises black sheep round here.”
Draco couldn’t find it in himself to care; his back was still smarting from the most recent adventure. “Well, he’d better bugger off back to where he came from. Has it in for me, that one.”
Harry sputtered around his tea. He set his mug down, grinning. “Oh, come on.”
“I’m telling you, he does.”
Harry shook his head. Draco bit the inside of his lip against the reply that wanted to come flying out. Call him prescient, but he had a feeling they’d both be much better off if he left the kitchen. Got outside and took away all temptation to speak.
And then Margaret stomped in with a dirty rug and told Harry that Healer Pogue was waiting in the lobby, and Draco didn’t want to be outside at all.
* * *
“You’re doing so well, Harry.”
“That’s good to hear. Think I might be up for some hobbling about?”
The Right Honourable Healer Pogue laughed. Out in the hallway, Draco clenched his teeth and gripped the broom he held tightly enough that his knuckles ached. He’d been sweeping the same dust pile around for the past ten minutes, but he’d be damned if he left the hallway. It was lucky Margaret hadn’t come by.
“Don’t know about that,” Pogue bantered. Draco had a bad taste in his mouth just listening to his voice. “If you like, I could come by more often, give you a little physical therapy.”
Harry answered before Draco could rush in. “No, I think I’ll be fine. Wouldn’t want to keep you from your other patients.”
“It wouldn’t be any trouble, Harry. You know it wouldn’t.”
There was a moment of silence, and then Harry’s voice again. Draco might have been mistaken, but he sounded a little strained.
“Richard, I do appreciate your efforts. You’ve been very attentive and I know I wouldn’t be healing so well if not for your help. That said, I think I’m getting on well enough to handle myself now. And I’ve loads of help here.”
Pogue cleared his throat. “I feel that a professional’s attention is appropriate in this circumstance, Harry.”
“And I’ll be most grateful if I’m able to Floo you, should things worsen.”
Draco stood very still, clutching his broom.
More throat clearing. “Of course, Harry,” Pogue said. His tone had gone dry. Formal. Draco heard the sound of snaps, the closing of the Healer’s tote. “You can always Floo my office, anytime.”
Draco stepped away from the door in a hurry and jogged silently down the hall. He set himself to sweeping again just in time: the door to Harry’s room opened and Pogue came out. He turned down the hall and paused as he caught sight of Draco.
Draco nodded to him in greeting, but Pogue’s expression was stiff as he brushed past.
* * *
“About time we had our home to ourselves,” Margaret huffed, and bustled about fanning the newly baked pie with her hot pads.
“Mmhm.” Draco gave himself another teaspoon of sugar. The sun was out, the air was… well, not frozen, and the smell of fresh cherry was wafting through the kitchen. No reason to be stingy.
“Just so much to do without the odd person running about under foot,” Margaret harrumphed.
“Perfectly capable of taking care of things around here, thank you very much.”
“You certainly are, Margaret.”
“And we certainly don’t need people thinking they’re entitled to— Harry!” Margaret slapped the serving platter down on the worktop so hard it nearly shattered, and rushed for the doorway. Draco turned mid-sip. Harry stood on the threshold, bent over awkwardly on a set of wooden crutches. His face was pale, his lower lip held between his teeth, but he managed what was trying very hard to be a nonchalant smile.
“Oh, sit down, sit down! Get off that leg, sit down, I’ll fix you a cuppa.” Margaret practically hauled Harry off his feet and over to the chair. Draco jumped up and came around the table to make sure she didn’t get so enthusiastic she dropped him. He pulled the chair out a little more and took Harry’s shoulders to steady him.
“I’m— Thank you.” Harry eased gingerly into the chair and set his crutches aside with a sigh. He shot a relieved but weary smile up at Draco. “Just thought I’d do a bit of walking. As it were.”
“How’s your ankle?” Draco pulled his own chair closer to Harry’s and sat down again. He reached out to take Harry’s hand, but at the last minute thought better of it and grabbed a biscuit instead.
Harry winced, clearly oblivious. “It’s… painful. But it’ll do.”
“It’ll do?” Margaret broke in. She set a teacup, another tin of biscuits, and a plate of sandwiches that Draco could have sworn had not existed two seconds ago in front of him. “You’ve got to rest, Harry! You’re in no state to be wandering around this inn, tripping down flights of stairs and falling over footstools and sheep and whatnot.”
“Oh, I…” Harry glanced at Draco. Draco felt his cheeks heat; he looked down and Harry went for his teacup. He took a quick sip and put the cup down again, eyes skirting away. “Just wanted to give my leg some exercise. Strengthen it up a bit on my own instead of monopolising all of Healer Pogue’s—”
“Oh, yes, a little exercise would do you good, I think,” Margaret interrupted.
Draco’s expression was having a hard time deciding whether it wanted to be discomfited or smug. From the frown on Harry’s face, however, Draco had a feeling it was the former.
* * *
Of course, their peace was short-lived.
* * *
Hermione came in a gale on Thursday, practically flattened by the rain and slogging past Draco where he was trying to right a sagging fence post. She tromped over in her wellies and stopped, tugging at the hood over the bush of her hair. “Draco, hi!”
“Hi.” Draco was about an inch from using the post to beat the rest of the fence into the mud. Who cared if the sheep got out and onto the road? No one could drive in this weather anyway. “Finally got in?”
She smiled and held up a small plum valise. “Work’s let up a tiny bit, so I grabbed what I could and ran. How’s Harry?”
“Inside. Dry. Unlike me.”
Hermione laughed, but stopped when Draco didn’t join her. She adjusted her hood again, squinting into the deluge. “Want to come in with me? Get some tea?”
“Can’t.” Draco knew he sounded short, but he was past caring. He gestured toward the soggy paddock and the lean-to just inside. Sixteen pairs of eyes stared out from under the overhang, eyes belonging to dry, comfortable sheep. “I need to finish this or they’ll grab what they can and run.”
Hermione reached out and gripped his arm for a second. “All right. Well… come in as soon as you’re done. You deserve a break.”
Trust Hermione Granger to actually make him feel a little bit better. Draco heard Hermione slog away through the mud. He hung onto his bad mood long enough to jam the post home and kick it upright— a few extra boots wouldn’t hurt anything. When he finished at last and straightened, his back let him know how abused it felt and he had to bend over again, hold his knees and breathe for a few seconds. “Bloody hell.” Rain water dripped into his eyes and mouth. He was certain he’d never been so wet in his life.
Sod the fence, he was going in. The roly-poly monsters would keep until he’d dried off a bit, had something hot to drink and furtively charmed himself to stay dry. Bollocks to the preparations for Muggle Week. He’d answer to Harry if it came to that, but right now, he couldn’t care less.
Bloody fool was laid up. Again. It didn’t help that Harry had managed to get down the stairs on his own yesterday, but he’d really done himself when he’d hobbled outside, headed for the paddock where the feed troughs had yet to be filled. Draco had been running late, that was all. It would have been done eventually. And those sheep were always melodramatic as Mandrakes with their caterwauling. As it was, Draco had barely made it out of the kitchen before Harry’s cry sounded: it was a wonder he’d not broken the bone again with the way he’d fallen, all splayed in the mud, but Harry’d at least remembered how to take care of himself in dire straits and twist so as not to land on sensitive areas. However, the upshot was that now, on top of a broken ankle, Harry had a strained knee to match.
Which meant more visits from the friendliest Healer in Cumbria.
That had been a spectacular row. Harry hadn’t even scolded Margaret for the Muffliato she’d surreptitiously cast over Harry’s bedroom. Not that Draco cared one way or the other: he’d been too busy berating Harry for bollocksing up his healing without actually coming out and saying why it pissed him off so damn much.
To be succinct, the highlights had included Draco accusing Harry of not trusting him, always trying to be a bloody hero, and Harry ordering Draco out of the room if he was out of helpful contributions.
They hadn’t exactly spoken in twelve hours.
Draco barely caught himself before slamming through the front door. He closed it as sedately as he could manage and kicked off his boots on the mat, cringing as mud spattered the baseboard. Margaret could always get to it, he supposed, but Draco had no business leaving more work for her, not when she was already pulling double duty to cover Harry’s invalid status and not complaining at all. Draco’d had to pry it out of her, the fact that she might be taking on more than her half of the extra tasks and getting to bed three hours later than her usual, a time when even Draco was snoring between the sheets.
Sometimes he felt so bloody useless in this house. He could barely deal with the sheep on his own, never mind cooking and cleaning and seeing to the guests’ needs. And Harry, of course. Gods, he should have at least been handling everything that Harry needed, but they couldn’t even manage civility toward each other these days, much less support and assistance.
Draco wasn’t sleeping all that well. He’d never thought he’d be one to get used to sharing a bed— he knew he tossed and turned on a regular basis, rolling over several times a night and generally taking up the entire space. Anything that had been left on his mattress besides the bedding and blankets— well, it never remained there. Always on the floor by morning.
But sleeping with Harry was different. He still wasn’t sure how, or why his body had suddenly seen fit to see reason.
And now he’d got bloody used to it, and he couldn’t get any rest. Just as well, seeing as he had to be up so damned early to deal with the sheep.
Bloody terror of a newcomer had knocked over the water trough the other day. Somehow. Draco’s name for him had evolved.
Royal Bugger. That’s your official spirit name, you damned arse.
The inn was quiet, and sounded empty. Draco was thankful. All he wanted was to make it into the kitchen and from there to his room without seeing anyone. Just wanted to drink a mug of tea in peace, conjure up some crisps without Harry giving him the evil eye for using his wand. It was his damn room, he could do what he liked in it. And if Harry had a problem with that, well, then he shouldn’t have kicked Draco out of his room, now should he have?
He went down the hallway past the communal sitting room, a cosy little place Harry had set aside for guests of the inn, and was nearly into the kitchen when he heard Hermione’s voice.
“Oh, come on, it can’t be as bad as all that.”
Draco paused and backtracked to the sitting room door. It was slightly open— sometimes the wind blew it in when they opened one of the outer doors, Draco hadn’t thought anything about it the first time he’d passed by— and he peered through. Hermione was on the visible couch, socked feet curled up beneath her. There was a fire crackling on the hearth.
Draco raised a hand to push the door open and join them, but when Harry answered, he pulled his hand back down.
“He doesn’t like it here, Hermione.” Harry let it out with a sigh. He wasn’t visible, on the cushier couch across the room. Draco stepped back from the doorway, but Hermione’s answer flowed out as clear as water.
“You can’t possibly believe that.”
“No, I can bloody well see it! I thought, given time, he’d maybe— but it doesn’t matter. It’s filthy work sometimes, and he’s the one who has to do it now. And he’s trying. Hermione, he doesn’t fit in here. It’s not his place and these aren’t his people. I’m not… his people.”
“Don’t say that, Harry,” Hermione said quickly. A line had etched itself between her brows. “I know for a fact that he, the way he feels about you—”
“You think I don’t know? Of course I know that he— Hermione, of course I know. It’s just… I don’t know if that’s enough.” Harry paused and the silence felt impossibly heavy. “It’s been a year, Hermione,” Harry muttered at last. “What exactly is there to say?”
Hermione didn’t answer, and eventually Draco took himself away, went down the hall and out into the rain again where the natural sound could soothe his nerves.
* * *
“What did he mean, do you think?”
Royal Bastard cocked his head to the side and chewed. Draco sniffed. He wiped his brow and made himself dig the shovel in again, hoist more of the muddy mess into the wheel barrow.
“Of course I fit in here! I’m here, aren’t I? Godric knows I wouldn’t stay if I didn’t want to be here.”
More glop. Draco reiterated to himself the fact that cleaning out the lean-to was his least favourite of sheep-related activities. Royal Bastard sidled over and leaned against the wheel barrow.
“Oh, no you don’t, get away from there!” Draco raised the shovel and the black sheep sidled away again. “I know your game. Knock it over, have some fun, then kick me into it. Or trip me. Or think at me and make me fall over. I’m onto you.”
The sheep just watched him through half-lidded eyes. If anything, Royal Bastard was getting fatter. “Probably stealing the ewes’ food, aren’t you? If any of those babies come out malnourished, I will shear you naked.”
It almost looked as if Royal Bastard raised an eyebrow. But that couldn’t be right. Draco shuddered at the thought of still being in charge of the sheep when shearing season came around.
“I’m not sure what he wants from me.” He was just speaking to fill the silence. It was oddly therapeutic. Draco couldn’t decide if he liked that or not. “No, I don’t exactly like all this sheep stuff. But I wouldn’t just leave. Is that what he means?”
It’d been a year. That’s what Harry had said. And Draco considered it to be, up until this point, the best year he’d had in, well, years. He didn’t relish the idea of it ending, of packing up and going back to London, but surely… Surely that was what would happen if he ever— if he and Harry—
“Don’t even want to think about it,” he growled. “Probably jinx it.”
He’d go back to his old job. There’d be no reason to inquire at Newcastle further. And he had a flat in London, that was no trouble, but it was a dull, empty place that barely had any of his stuff in it anymore. Most importantly, it didn’t have Harry and never would have Harry, what with this place existing. This was Harry’s home. Even if Draco did want to move back to London, he couldn’t possibly ask Harry to pick up everything, give up the inn and—
Draco nearly dropped the shovel. “Holy…”
It’s been a year, Hermione.
Draco leaned the shovel against the wall and sat down shakily on the wheel barrow’s handles. Royal Bastard edged closer and planted his weight on the barrow itself. And just leaned.
* * *
Could he just pick up and move out? Move everything here?
It kept him quiet over dinner, to the point where even Margaret stopped trying to engage him in conversation. Harry was taking tea in his bed, what with not being able to stand upright, and Draco had never been more grateful for the fact. He knew he stood no chance of carrying on a normal conversation with his lover tonight.
It had been a year. A little more than, almost, and Draco still had his flat in London. Still paid rent and still had his job with his office. Still went back weekly to make sure the entire department wasn’t imploding in his absence. For many intents and purposes, he still… lived in London.
Not here. Not with Harry.
It wasn’t about money. Draco had plenty of money, and would still, even if he didn’t have a job of his own. The perks of coming from a family richer than the Queen of England. It wouldn’t matter to his livelihood if he got rid of his flat. His job was less simplistic an issue, but he’d already been looking into relocating, he’d just… not…
Was that what Harry wanted? Just as importantly, was that what Draco wanted?
* * *
“You’d probably like me to stay just so you can trample me into the mud on a regular basis.”
“I’ll take that as a yes, and possibly a swear word.”
“Oh, get over, would you? I have to close the gate!”
* * *
Harry’s ankle improved, and Draco found that out through a series of the most stilted, lifeless conversations he’d had yet with his lover.
Lover. Laughable; they hadn’t had sex once since that fateful day, hadn’t even shared a bed at all since just after. Draco missed Harry so inherently that he found it hard to catch his breath sometimes. He missed Harry’s voice, the sound of Harry’s steady step in the hall, even his skin missed Harry’s touch. And he missed touching Harry, wanted to feel the silk of his hair sliding between his fingers and the soft rush of air over his mouth just before their lips met. Instead he was feeling the way splinters slid beneath his skin and mud built up in giant lumps in the treads of his boots.
The ewes continued to burgeon into four-legged, bleating clouds of wool. The ever-present black sheep continued to dog Draco into the mud once a day and the knobbly fences twice. Draco never managed to get back into London, even though it was constantly on his mind. In his thoughts, his little unused flat with all his belongings felt like it was physically drawing farther and farther away.
And he and Harry talked about nothing. The look in Harry’s eyes was dull in a way it hadn’t been since before Hermione’s visit, and though he went about what tasks he could manage, greeted guests and made ready for the influx of Muggles, he dragged listlessly, like an automaton. Draco doubted anyone else could see it for what it was, and it pulled at his own heart and lungs because he knew he was the cause.
Or his indecision was.
“Harry never said anything, though,” he mentioned to Royal Bastard a few days later as the sheep waddled along behind him, trying to step on his heels. “Never asked me to move in. And it’s his house. Inn, whatever.”
At the moment, their inn was filling up: Muggle cars had been pulling round all morning and into the afternoon. Draco was bloody glad to get out to the field for once, and happy to be out from under Margaret’s disapproving eye every time he and Harry passed each other in the kitchen and barely said a word.
“Leave off, you great lummox,” Draco hissed as Royal Bastard finally caught his right heel and pulled his boot partly off. He managed a few feet of distance between them and hunkered down, yanking the boot back on.
Royal Bastard breathed heavily at him. The big sheep shuffled sideways, throwing up its head. Draco eyed him warily.
“You’re skittish today, aren’t you? Don’t even think about coming over here and lumbering all over me.”
The sheep just snorted and grunted some more. Draco got up and made himself scarce over at the lean-to, filling the food troughs once more. Always filling them. Thankless business. “Just eat and eat and eat, that’s all you do,” he said as the ewes crowded around and began devouring once again. “Hey! A little bit of patience, please!”
He did a quick headcount and saw that he was six ewes short. “Odd,” he muttered, craning around to see where they’d got to.
Up on the hill, six lumps of greyish wool milled about, and one of black. Even from this distance, Draco could hear the ruckus they were making, maaaas and baaaaaas and other aggravating sounds. He snorted.
“Oh. Naturally. Bloody arse is co-opting them now.” He made his way out of the lean-to and back up the hill, panting by the time he reached the top. And there he stopped, staring.
Royal Bastard was on his side on the ground, and the six grey ewes had gathered round like he was some sort of sacrifice on an altar and they the guardians to the world of the dead. Draco bullied his way through them and their cacophonous bleating, wary of some sort of trick— wouldn’t put it past the bloody bastard— and finally got to Royal Bastard’s side.
“Here, what’s the matter with you? Stop harping!”
But immediately he could see the sheep’s foreleg, the odd angle of it. Royal Bastard had worked it into the ground somehow, a rabbit hole or something, and must have wrenched it good, judging by the bleating. Draco’s heart twinged; how long had he been like this? Come to think of it, the sound the other sheep were making wasn’t exactly new. Draco’d been aware of it for a few minutes now, but they were always making unseemly amounts of noise and he hadn’t—
“All right, just hold on a tick, why don’t you? I’ll—”
He touched the foreleg and Royal Bastard let out a bleat like nothing Draco had ever heard. He jerked his hand back and the black sheep kicked out, wedging its front hoof even deeper. The sheep’s eyes rolled white and then fixed on Draco. There was froth around his mouth.
“Hold on! Stop that, if you stay still—” He grabbed hold of the foreleg and worked it free quickly, let go, and waited for Royal Bastard to stand up. But the sheep didn’t move, just lay there on the ground bawling an ever rising crescendo, until Draco’s very blood was humming like wasps and juddering in his ears.
“Shh, shhh!” He tried to pet the sheep, touch its face, its head, anything he could get his hands on, really, but there was no consoling the animal. It strained against the ground, good foreleg churning at the dirt, and then its body gave a weird ripple and the tone of the bleating changed again, high-pitched and spastic.
It occurred to him all of a sudden and he gaped. “Oh, Salazar, really?”
Royal Bastard stared at him with such distress there should have been tears.
Draco lunged forward, hands catching on dark wool, checking legs, shoulders, neck. “Why didn’t you say something, you great— all right. It’ll be all right, just.”
Oddly, the sheep did seem to calm down. But it wasn’t to last; moments later, his— her stress was apparent, much more so than any of the ewes Draco had seen Harry assist during their lambings. He got her more comfortably on her side. Her flank rose fast and unsteady, and her eyes rolled over and over again. Draco summoned his wand and sent his Patronus snaking back toward the inn. Damn Muggle week— they’d Obliviate if they had to.
Moments later, Harry’s stag came galloping up the hillside. “Hold on, I’m coming.”
“No, bloody hell, you stay off your leg, you arse!” Draco shouted. The stag just disintegrated, so Draco Summoned his own ferret back, shouted the same thing at it instead, and sent it off.
Then he turned all his attention to his ewe.
She did not like what was happening to her: she kept kicking her legs, nearly hacking Draco in the knees. Draco steadied her with soft words and firm hands, and gradually it had an effect: Royal Bastard ceased bleating and started straining, and within ten minutes, Draco had a lapful of sticky lamb and the legs of a twin visible.
“Come on, lovely, there’s a girl. Got a beauty here. Just one more, one more.”
The black ewe strained again, bleating anxiously, but the second lamb did not budge. The first lamb flopped out of Draco’s lap and tried to stagger upright, bumping into its mother, which just overloaded her already fragile state. Royal Bastard began to kick, clipping Draco across the thigh.
“Ow!” He grabbed the offending leg and pushed it up against her belly, then reached down and back with his other hand and felt around, trying to work the lamb loose. It didn’t even occur to him what it was he was doing until he felt the little legs slip further, and then Royal Bastard gave a monstrous heave and the second lamb slid out onto the grass between Draco’s knees.
“Oh,” he breathed, exhausted, and let go of the ewe’s leg. “Good, there she is. He.”
For one terrifying second, the second lamb just lay there. Then it began to kick, pulling free of its cowl and pushing too-long legs beneath its tiny body. Both Draco and the black ewe gave a huge sigh.
He looked down the hill to see Harry clomping up from the inn, his gait ungainly from the crutches. Draco tried to get irritated, but he was too exhausted and relieved for that. The wind rushed past, chilling his skin, and Draco looked down. His forearms were covered in— He shuddered. It didn’t bear thinking about.
“Draco? Is she all right?”
He took stock. Royal Bastard still lay on the ground, but her head was cocked up and over, eyes on her two lambs, who were each managing at least three legs at once. The ewe tried to get up, but her injured leg protested and she let out another bleat. Draco used his body weight to force her back down, and one of the lambs wobbled backward out of his way, plonking down on its hind end with an awkward stumble.
“She’s, they’re fine,” he called, spitting out wool. “Her foreleg’s hurt, but… You should go back inside!”
It took Harry another two minutes to hobble to the top of the hill, but even Draco could see he was moving more easily, his bad leg holding more weight than it had in a month. Harry staggered down to the ground at Draco’s side, and Draco shot a hand out to hold him, ease the way. He drew back once Harry was settled, mindful at once of the disgusting state of his hands, but Harry was all smiles, a weather eye on the little lambs as they tumbled about.
“Twins? That’s fantastic!” He frowned at Royal Bastard. “But I don’t know you.”
The black ewe, of course, took to Harry right away, butting his hand with her head and chewing invisible cud. It was not adorable at all. Draco crossed his arms over his shirt, then cursed at the mess they left behind.
“So you’re the interloper,” Harry crooned, still talking to the new mother. He glanced at Draco. “I thought you said it was a male.”
“I thought it was a male,” Draco grumbled. “Until this very event.” He gestured at the twin lambs, and Harry grinned. He rubbed Draco’s arm, fingers lingering.
“You did really well,” he murmured, that private tone he only ever used for Draco.
Draco sniffed. “Did what I had to do.” Now that he had time to actually think, he realised he was scared. Or should have been. He’d really had no idea what he was doing, and yet he’d delivered two lambs to a ewe in dire straits. It all rushed on him at once, and Draco bent forward, bracing against his thighs.
Harry’s hand squeezed his shoulder. “Draco. Draco, are you all right?”
“Yes,” he wheezed. “Just peachy.” He groaned and rung a line of… something off his arm. “Ugh. I need a shower.”
Harry nodded. “Yes. Yeah. I’ve got this here if you want to— The shower in my room—” He fell silent, looking at Draco wordlessly, his mouth partly open.
“Thanks,” Draco said. He couldn’t face Harry’s stare any longer, those green, green eyes full of things he didn’t know how to name. He got to his feet, wobbling nearly as much as the lambs, and uselessly brushed at his trousers. “I’ll just.”
Harry nodded again, and Draco made his way slowly down the hill toward the inn.
* * *
The lambs were fully on their feet by the time dinner rolled around, and Harry had foregone the limitations of Muggle Week in order to heal the black sheep’s foreleg. When Draco emerged from the inn under the sunset, the ewe was holding court quite smugly, charming all the cooing and fawning Muggle guests with her new babies. Draco rolled his eyes and went back inside to help with dinner.
Harry came in eventually, pink-faced with the cold, eyes glowing. He rattled on to Margaret about the new additions to the flock, and Margaret said she’d start thinking up names just as soon as Harry ate “a proper amount of food for dinner, do you hear me, young man?”
Harry meekly did as he was told, but it didn’t quiet his delight for long. Draco sat across from him at the table and ate in silence, watching Harry as he laughed and shared tales of the lambs’ exploits with an equally shining Margaret.
He watched Harry, and he forced himself to think.
* * *
Draco turned and found Harry down the hall at the door to his room, leaning on his crutches. He’d been the one to see the sheep to bed while Draco gave the halls a needed sweeping. The inn was quiet, the clock coming up on eleven, and everyone was already in their rooms. Draco hadn’t felt so tired in ages; if he didn’t lie down soon, he’d fall asleep right there on his feet.
Harry looked at him, a cautious expression on his face. He looked expectant, like he was waiting for an answer to a question. But he hadn’t asked Draco anything. Draco waited, feeling a little hollowed out, and Harry’s throat worked. His mouth opened and shut again.
“Good job today,” he said at last, and gave Draco a little smile. Draco smiled back, and after a second’s hesitation, Harry stepped into his room.
Draco went into his and shut the door, sat on the lonely little bed and recalled the twist of Harry’s lips. It wasn’t until that moment that the sadness of the smile flickered in, the rueful bend of Harry’s mouth. It yanked at something deep in Draco’s gut, but more painfully, in his heart. Harry looked so miserable, as if he were taking his fill of something he was gearing himself up to lose. Draco caught his breath.
He thought about throwing Floo into the fireplace, going back to London right that instant, and his whole body rebelled so soundly that Draco leaned down into the bed, pressing his face against cool sheets and filling his lungs with the scent of them. It was all him, none of it Harry’s, and everything felt wrong. Absent.
Gods, he couldn’t go back to London. He didn’t want to go back to London, to live there and trek back and forth to see Harry— if Harry would still have him after that— and work in a crummy, crowded office overflowing with bureaucracy. The thought of being without Harry, of slogging through the mess that waited for him and knowing that nothing awaited him the coming weekend, tore at his last defenses and crushed them into the ground.
Draco pushed himself up, Summoned a quill and parchment, and wrote out a letter in a single draft. His ears were humming by the time he finished, a queer sort of tonal ring, but when he signed his name to the bottom, the ringing faded clear away, leaving only the sleepy sounds of the creaking inn around him.
He took the parchment and left his room, walked two doors down, and knocked on Harry’s door.
The door sprang open so quickly Draco stepped back. Harry leaned on the jamb, and behind him, the hearth crackled with warm flames, shedding a golden orange over every surface.
“Draco?” Harry asked a little breathlessly.
“I…” He gestured at the room. “Can I…”
“Yeah.” Harry got out of the way with surprising speed for having a bum leg, and Draco went in after him, shutting the door behind. Harry made his way over to the bed and sat down on its edge, setting his crutches aside.
“How’s the leg?” Draco asked, lifting a hand and letting it drop.
“Aches a little. But it should be healed completely within a few days.” Harry’s eyes had fixed upon him, a raw flicker that Draco had not seen for several days. “What’s… What’s up?”
Draco sucked his lower lip between his teeth. He felt lightheaded, anxious beyond even the scare of the impromptu birth that afternoon. He lifted the parchment before he could rethink it and held it out between them.
“I wanted you to read this,” he said softly, “before I sent it.”
Harry took the parchment as if he were unwilling to. His eyes tracked Draco’s face until the absolute last minute, then he shook out the parchment and began to read.
It wasn’t that long; Draco knew Harry was finished long before he saw any reaction. The only sound was the crackle of the logs on the fire and the soft flutter of Harry’s swallow.
Harry looked up at last. “You’re transferring to Newcastle?”
Draco nodded, making himself hold Harry’s gaze; whatever ended up happening there, he wanted to see it immediately. “Yes. If that’s something you want.”
Harry was in his arms faster than Draco could think, launching himself off the bed and falling all out, no crutches to catch him. Draco caught him instead, wrapping Harry tight in both arms and holding on, breathless with the thought that he might have given up on this. Given this away.
“I do,” Harry mumbled against his neck. “I want— Yes.”
“It would be closer,” Draco said unnecessarily, needing to fill the space between their mingled breathing with sound. “I could… Flooing would be easier—”
Harry took his face in his hands and held him away, then kissed him on the mouth, a hard, sharp press of lips. He pulled back with an inhaled hiss. “So you’d live here? You’d— want to live here?”
“I’d… I’d like to. But it’s your home, I can’t just—”
“Yes, you can.” Harry clutched him close again. The shift of his weight threw Draco off balance and they swayed together in the middle of the room. “Oh, god, I was hoping you— wanted you to live here, I didn’t know if, but.”
It made such a weird sense that he could understand exactly what Harry meant despite the chopped sentences. He held Harry to him and buried his face in the heat of Harry’s throat where the collar of his t-shirt had pulled across his shoulder. “I’m in this for good, Harry,” he whispered, almost too low to hear it himself, but he knew by the tensing of Harry’s muscles that he’d understood. “Don’t want to be anywhere else.”
Nothing had ever felt more deeply truthful.
Harry gave a little spasmodic laugh. “Sheep and all?” Draco could hear the unease lingering underneath.
“Especially the sheep,” he said to Harry’s neck, pressing the words into a kiss.
Harry grappled at his shirt, manhandling him to some end Draco did not understand until Harry managed to get him back to the bed. He tipped them backwards, sprawling Draco across his body on the mattress, and interrupted all attempts at words or air with a thorough, desperate kiss full on his mouth. Harry lipped until Draco’s mouth opened and then plunged in as if the kiss itself tasted heavenly. Draco thought it would spiral, into heat and motion and pure want, but then he found the rhythm of the kiss and turned it out of Harry’s grip into his own. Kissed Harry solidly for so long he forgot to think about things like time.
Harry came away flushed, his body restless beneath Draco’s. Little pinpricks of sweat had broken out across his brow, and Draco kissed the salt away and lingered there above his nose, at the hollows of his temples. Harry made a small, insistent sound and arced his hips into Draco, just a little thrust, but it sent all Draco’s blood flooding downward, all his intentions into the deepest, most basic thrum. He grabbed Harry’s hip and pushed him flat, thrusting down into him until Harry let out a breath and a sound in a single, vital gasp. He tangled his fingers in Draco’s hair and dragged him up again to his mouth.
“Wait,” Draco breathed. “Your leg?”
“Is fine.” Harry lipped him again, nibbled. His hips began a dangerous cadence that was erasing Draco’s thoughts one by one. “I just want you.”
It was muted, a request. And Draco gave over, answered without words, countering Harry’s movement until Harry arched his head back, eyes glazed and fevered, and Draco forced himself off. Harry’s hands came after him, tugging at his shirt. Draco pulled the fabric free of Harry’s grip and over his head. Tossed it away.
Harry waited a single instant and then struggled out of his own shirt. He only made it most of the way before Draco caught him up again in a kiss, and the shirt remained twisted around one shoulder by its sleeve. Harry shuddered. His hands worked persistently at Draco’s belt, but kept pausing as if he’d forgotten what he was doing and only just managed to remind himself.
“Here, take it— off—”
Draco pushed Harry’s hands out of the way and unbuckled the belt himself, then managed his fly. Harry was the one to shove his trousers down over his hips, though, and Draco hitched him up on the bed after, listening to the in-out of his breathing and he pulled the pyjama pants down Harry’s legs and off. Harry’s knees opened and Draco dropped between them, pressing their bodies together with a mutual groan.
“God, missed you,” Harry said haltingly. “Hated waking up alone. Move back in, will you—”
Draco kissed him silent, nodding into it and getting his hand around the both of them so suddenly that Harry arched. His head dropped back and his mouth fell open, and he stared up at Draco like there was some sort of aura around him.
Then his arm came up and his elbow hooked around Draco’s nape. Harry brought their foreheads together. Nodded. “Yes. Go.”
It wasn’t prolonged. Draco couldn’t possibly, not after so long, not after what they’d just decided. Committed to. Gods, committed. The word tasted sweet on its way between his tongue and Harry’s, and then they couldn’t kiss anymore, couldn’t do more than rasp against each other’s lips and breathe each other’s air, and Draco fell first, crying out, pushing Harry down hard against the bed. Only just remembering afterward to keep moving, keep Harry’s muscles tighter than tight until Harry’s hips jagged unevenly against his and he thrust up and held it and collapsed back down with a shiver.
Draco didn’t think he could move. Didn’t think he wanted to either. Which seemed to be just fine with Harry: his hands travelled in gentle sweeps over Draco’s back, fingers tracing well-known paths that Draco had somehow managed to forget. Up into his hair; they lodged there, curling against his scalp. Draco summoned strength from somewhere and lifted his head until he found Harry’s mouth. He set to kissing him again.
“Think they heard that,” Harry murmured.
Draco thought about people in rooms above them, about thin walls and the ban on magical spells. “Think the sheep heard that.”
Harry snorfled into his chin, and then they were both laughing outright as the sound of an irate baaaaaaaaa filtered in from outside the window. Harry’s skin flushed red from his forehead down to his chest.
“Oh my god…” He covered his face with one hand. Draco kissed the back of it, then drew it away.
“S’all right. He… She owes me one.”
“Way I hear it, she owes you twenty,” Harry murmured against his lips, and Draco didn’t get into bed, or out of it, for the next four hours.