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Hopelessly, I'll Love You Endlessly

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**

It’s harder finding a mate than Draco expected and infinitely more frustrating.

Thankfully – and it is perhaps the only upside to this whole Veela nonsense – Draco does not have a single, predestined mate chosen for him by fate, but instead, he will be able to pick from among multiple potential mates based on magical compatibility. Truly, Draco is grateful for that, but surely Draco could have had a more appropriate group of potential mates to choose from.

Draco blows out an exasperated breath, absently stirring his tea as he stares out at Diagon Alley, unseeing of all the people walking past. It’s probably gone cold, but Draco has more on his mind than his tea, despite it being his favorite flavor. Such as what he is going to do if he does not find a suitable mate in just a little more than two months.

While Veela are not rare, they are not common either, and study of their physiology, habits, and customs has been limited. Many times, young Veela are educated about their natures from other Veela in his or her family. The Black and Malfoy lines both contained Veela blood – there is a rich heritage of it on his father’s side in fact – and as a result, his mother and father were invaluable in teaching Draco of his origins and new nature.

He wasn’t ignorant of his heritage growing up. From the time he could understand the basic concept of it, Draco knew his parents were both Veela and each other’s freely chosen mate. His parents were also one of the very few double-Veela pairs. Draco himself wouldn’t know if he inherited active Veela genes until his seventeenth birthday.

His parents were attentive when Draco was young, but Draco was always lonely for companionship with other children. Even at Hogwarts, his true friends were few and far between, and he looked forward to his seventeenth birthday with increasing impatience. In the dark, confusing, terrifying time that was his adolescence, it was the thought of a mate that kept Draco going when he thought he could take no more. Someone who would love him unconditionally - it was the light at the end of the shadowy, perilous tunnel.

Draco wanted it. Badly. He still does.

He likes the idea of a person perfectly suited to him in every way, Draco equally suited to them. He likes the idea of someone who will chase the loneliness that Draco will never admit to feeling away and give him the happiness he wants. He wants to share the absolute love and devotion his parents have with his own mate.

So no, it is not having a mate that bothers Draco. It is this insufferable deadline!

Though all Veela want to bond emotionally, physically, and magically with a chosen mate, it is not actually necessary for survival. A Veela could live without a mate, but from what Draco understands, such a life will not be a happy one. A mate helps ground a Veela’s more wild magic and keep it under control. Following inheritance, a Veela’s magic will grow stronger and more erratic until bonding with a mate. Because of this, there is only a three-year period from the time of inheritance before the magic will grow strong enough that a Veela will start to be affected. The longer a Veela is without a mate, the more sullen and angry and simply unhappy and discontent the Veela will become.

Draco, of course, would like to avoid this fate if at all possible. But yet here he is, a mere two months away from his twentieth birthday, from that insufferable deadline, still mateless.

But it’s not his fault! It’s his magic’s for being compatible with undesirable potential mates. At times, despite the ever-approaching deadline, he will idly wonder just how it’s possible that every one of the potential mates he’s found so far are completely unacceptable. In actuality, it seems a completely mismatched, haphazard group that defies any logic. Draco would never willingly choose any of them, and they couldn’t be more different from each other.

“Draco, darling, you’re supposed to drink your tea, not scowl at it like it personally offended you.”

Draco jerks his head up and sees Pansy standing in front of him. She’s dressed impeccably as usual, her hair and make-up perfect and dress tailored and fitted in all the right places. Her lips are blood red and Draco’s eyes are drawn to them, and he imagines they are exceptionally soft, and then he can’t help but look down at her chest, eyes taking in the swell and shape of her cleavage.

“Draco,” Pansy purrs, “you’re staring at my breasts. Do you want a closer look?”

Pansy’s words break through Draco’s dazed mind and he jumps back, his eyes wide and horrified. Even more embarrassingly, he feels heat rush to his face, and he knows he’s blushing spectacularly.

“Dammit,” he mutters, forcing his eyes to stay on her face. “Sorry, Pansy. I didn’t mean it.”

“You’re no fun.” Pansy pouts affectedly for a moment, but then her expression softens and she pulls out a chair, gracefully sitting down. “It’s fine,” she says, shaking out a napkin and laying it over her lap. “I know you can’t help it. Though,” she muses, glancing down at her cleavage, “my breasts are extraordinary. It makes sense you’d want to look at them, even though you’re gay.”

Draco rolls his eyes heavenward. This right here is a perfect example of why life is cruel and capricious and out to make Draco suffer. Why else would Pansy be a potential mate when Draco isn’t even attracted to women? It’s preposterous!

It can be annoying and embarrassing at times, but it’s how Draco recognizes mates. To help him identify people with compatible magic, his own magic will draw him to potentials and he will generally notice their smile or eyes, but in some cases, like in Pansy's with Draco noticing her breasts, it will be more sexual for no reason that Draco can work out - it seems random. In either case, it doesn’t create real attraction; it’s just a way to direct Draco’s attention to compatible people.

But it’s still irritating.

Draco sighs despondently thinking of it and his time limit. It’s not as if he will go mad and die in two months, but Draco’s not looking forward to losing control of his magic or becoming depressed.

Pansy pets his hand. “There, there, Draco,” she says, just a tad patronizingly for Draco’s current frame of mind. “It’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

Draco’s not so sure about that, but he keeps his silence.

A waiter comes by, and after Pansy’s ordered some tea and a pastry, she says, “Well, have you found any new potential mates?”

It’s Monday, and she spent the long weekend in Italy visiting with family.

“No,” Draco answers shortly, looking away.

The more time that passes, the more Draco’s sure there aren’t any more. He’s been looking for two years now (the first year of course being spent in terror trying to stay live with the Dark Lord occupying the Manor), and he’s made sure to mingle in as many Wizarding spots in London as possible. If there are more mates, they aren’t in London or the immediate area.

At the rate he’s going he’s going to be forced to lower himself to begging the only single gay male mate he’s found that doesn’t make him nauseous, Neville Longbottom of all people, into bonding with him to save his sanity. The thought of being subjected to the whims of his emotions and magic is abhorrent, and Draco knows he won’t be able to stand feeling that way for long.

Draco winces at the thought of it, but Neville is the best choice out of a list of bad choices.

It’s not that Neville is physically unattractive or that Draco dislikes him. He’s actually much more intelligent than Draco gave him credit for in school, and he’s taught Draco how to properly care for the Manor’s extensive gardens, an activity Draco found relaxing and fulfilling after the war. However, despite them being friends now and having a cup of coffee a few times a month, the past thankfully buried, Draco isn’t interested in him romantically. Sexual attraction is simply absent; he can’t imagine actually having sex with Neville.

However, Draco may have no choice. The other potentials are even less suitable. Draco thought that no potential mate could be worse than his supervisor – who is nearly fifty years older than him and married with children and not particularly tolerant from what Draco can tell – but that was before Draco found himself daydreaming about Ron Weasley and thinking that his eyes were as blue and beautiful as the sky on a cloudless summer day and wanting to grope his arse.

Draco was horrified and almost retched the first time it happened. Not only is Ron essentially married to Hermione, but he’s Weasley. Yes, surprise of surprises, they are, god forbid, friends now, but Draco would rather go mad than bond with him. Ron’s tolerable and Draco hasn’t called him ‘Weasel’ in years, but true love’s not hiding behind their good-natured insults. Even if Ron were attracted to men, they’d kill each other in a week, bonded mates or no.

Initially, Draco was so distraught at this that he begged Pansy to bond with him just so he would never, ever have to think of Ron’s hands or body in an even vaguely sexual way again. Pansy merely laughed in his face and patted Draco’s head, and then of course blabbed to Hermione about it. It took weeks before Hermione could look at him without stifling laughter, and eventually Ron found out about it, though he surprisingly took it in stride.

Draco was expecting Ron to explode with anger, but instead, he cocked his head to the side, looked Draco up and down, pretended to consider it, and then said, “Sorry, Malfoy. You’re pretty, but you’re no Hermione.” Hermione’s face lit up hearing this, and Draco was certain she dragged Ron to their bedroom the first chance she got.

After, it took considerable effort to lock those thoughts away in a dark, desolate corner of his mind and move past them, but Draco did it.

“Well,” Pansy says at length, and Draco focuses his attention back on her, “perhaps you’re just far too picky, Draco.”

Draco levels a glare at her. “You know what I’m dealing with,” he says. “I’m hardly being picky. At this point, I’d just like a mate who is not fifty years my senior, a woman, unavailable, or I am not attracted to. Surely that’s not too much to ask.”

Pansy sips her tea. “You’d think,” is all she says, and Draco sighs again and steals half of Pansy’s pastry. The fact that she doesn’t comment on it tells Draco that he must be especially pathetic today. He can’t even find the energy to be irritated.

What is he going to do?

**

A week later, Draco is still not any closer to solving his mate problem. He’s not ready to admit it, but he’s becoming quite anxious. He’s down to a mere eight weeks, the ticking time always in the back of his mind, and he’s even having trouble sleeping. His childhood dream is fast fading, but Draco doesn’t want to give it up. There has to be a man out there that will be the mate Draco wants. There has to be.

“Harry’s coming home, you know,” Hermione says, and next to her, Draco shakes his head to clear it. He’s so distracted that he can’t even enjoy an afternoon at Flourish and Blotts with Hermione.

“What?” he says, putting the book he’s been holding for the past five minutes back on the shelf. He’s not even sure what the book is about; he thinks it may have something do with werewolves.

Hermione sighs, tucking a huge book under her arm. “Harry’s coming home,” she says again. “Just thought you might want to know.”

Draco doesn’t know what to say to this. Potter’s been in the States for over two years. After the War, he stayed just long enough to attend all the Death Eater trials and tie up all the loose ends, and then up and took off with Ginerva Weasley for the States with barely a good-bye.

He and Potter didn’t interact enough after the War to really become friendly, though it was Potter that kept Draco and his mother out of Azkaban, and the original petty feud that escalated because of circumstance they had at school didn’t seem to matter anymore to Draco; he was just happy to come out on the other side relatively unscathed and wanted the past to remain in the past. Thankfully, Potter seemed to want to bury the hatchet as well; at least, he didn’t seem to pay Draco any more attention than he needed to, leaving him and his mother alone after he testified for them.

The last time Draco saw him was three days before he left. He came over to the Manor to thank Draco’s mother for lying to Voldemort for him, and to also return Draco’s wand and thank him as well – for not exposing him to Bellatrix at the Manor, he said, though Draco’s not sure he was enough to warrant a thank you; Draco was so dumbfounded by the apology, he’s embarrassed to remember that he couldn’t even say anything in response before Potter took his leave, just gaped at him.

And then Potter was gone, and his abrupt departure caused a commotion that took months to die down, but finally life went on. Draco re-met Hermione when they both took positions in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry. Draco didn’t want to befriend Hermione, but neither did he want to work in a tension-filled office, so he resolved to be distant, but polite.

That didn’t work out too well.

It didn’t take long for Draco to realize how intelligent and bloody likeable Hermione was, and shockingly, Draco found himself seeking her company. It was a nod to Hermione’s character that she was open to Draco’s quest for friendship and didn’t use his past behavior to give him a taste of his own medicine, so to speak. Draco apologized, and Hermione simply forgave him, something Draco’s still not sure he deserved, but he’s grateful nonetheless.

As unlikely as becoming friends with Hermione may have seemed, striking up a friendship with a Weasley was even more improbable. Draco doesn’t even really remember how it happened. He just knows that Hermione sat him and Ron down and told them flat-out that she wasn’t going to put up with her boyfriend and her friend glaring at each other every time they were together and they were going to shake hands and make up.

Draco does remember sitting on one end of their couch, Ron on the other, both of them with their arms crossed over their chests and matching scowls. Of course, those disappeared and were replaced with shocked blanches when Hermione said if they didn’t shake hands and introduce themselves within five seconds, she would make them kiss and make up. Neither of them were willing to risk that, so barely two seconds later, he and Ron were shaking each other’s hand enthusiastically and telling one another it was so nice to have (re)met.

The rest is history. Draco found better friends than he ever thought he would have simply because he opened himself up to the possibility and didn’t let his past prejudice and his pride stand in the way. He tried that route before and it almost killed him. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

After he became friends with Hermione and Ron, it felt awkward to talk about Potter, especially since he wasn’t in London. He didn’t mention Potter and they didn’t mention Potter to him. Though it was clear that Hermione and Ron missed Potter, they never seemed to resent him leaving.

And now with Potter’s return imminent, Hermione isn’t even trying to hide her happiness at the prospect. Actually, Draco has to smile at the thought of Potter coming home and finding Draco sitting in Hermione and Ron’s kitchen eating dinner. The shock and confusion that Draco can imagine will be on Potter’s face is almost enough for Draco to clap his hands together in glee. Of course, that would be unbecoming and undignified, so Draco will refrain, but the thought is delightful.

Hermione flashes him a smile. “Happy doesn’t even begin to describe how I’m feeling,” she says. “I’ve been waiting for Harry to come home since he left. It’s not the same without him. But I know he couldn’t have stayed here; he needed to leave for a while. It was for the best.”

Draco nods his understanding, but he can’t help but tease her some more; she sounds about ready to squeal. “Uh-oh,” he says. “Better not let Ron hear you talking like that. He might get the wrong idea.”

“Stop that, you git,” she says, gently bumping shoulder with his. “I’m just happy my best friend is finally coming home. Ron is too.”

A thought occurs to Draco. “Is Ginny coming home too?” He wonders if she and Potter are married by now. If they are, it’ll cause an even bigger uproar than just Potter returning. There goes Draco’s relatively peaceful life.

“No,” Hermione says, giving the book she’s carrying to Draco and pulling another one off the shelf. “She’s enrolled in a Muggle university there. She’s staying.”

Interesting. “And Potter is okay with that?” Draco asks. “I assume you’ve talked with him.”

Hermione opens the book and skims the contents as she answers. “Why wouldn’t he be?” she asks, and while Draco thinks that’s a bit odd, it’s not really his place to ask her to clarify.

“When’s he returning?” he asks instead.

“In a week.” She snaps the book closed with a satisfied smile. “Perfect. Shall we go?”

“I thought you needed another book. About ancient runes, yes?”

“Oh, I did,” Hermione says, “but Luna owns a copy. She lent it to me.”

“I see.” Luna’s an odd sort still, but Draco likes her; she’s another one of the few who didn’t hold a grudge against him after the War.

While they’re waiting in the queue to pay, Hermione says, “I’m meeting Ron in a bit for ice cream. Join us?”

“Sure,” Draco says. It’s not like he has anything better to do. Maybe it’ll keep his mind off his problem for a little bit.

Once Hermione buys her books, they head out to Diagon Alley, merging into the crowd. It’s a bright breezy day and a lot of people are taking advantage of the nice weather to shop and mingle.

Draco finds himself thinking more about Potter as they walk. His return is going to cause a stir, that’s for sure. He wonders how he’s changed in the two years he’s been in the States. A lot has changed here.

“Hermione,” Draco says suddenly. “Does Potter know about me? That we’re friends?”

If he doesn’t, that is definitely going to cause trouble that Draco simply doesn’t have the time or energy to deal with.

“Yes,” Hermione says, and she manages to sound both fond and exasperated in that one word.

They arrive at Herrell’s, a new ice cream shop that opened after the War and quickly became Draco’s favorite, and Draco holds the door open for her. There’s a line, but it moves quickly.

“I told him a while ago, but he doesn’t believe it,” Hermione clarifies, rolling her eyes while they’re waiting. “He didn’t even believe Ron when Ron told him. He thinks we’re having him on, though I’ve no idea why he would think that.”

Somehow, that doesn’t surprise Draco.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Hermione goes on after they get their ice cream and sit down at an empty table. “Why would he think we were making it up? I’ve tried to convince him multiple times, but he’s so stubborn.”

“He’s Potter,” Draco deadpans, keeping his amusement carefully hidden. “He thinks the world is having him on. It’s the glasses; they affect his brain.”

Hermione immediately covers her mouth with her hand, but she can’t quite stifle her laughter. “Draco, you’re terrible,” she admonishes.

Draco just leans back in his chair and serenely takes a rather large bite of his ice cream. “I only tell the truth, Hermione,” he says. “Do you not know this yet? How long have you had the privilege of being my friend now? Going on two years? Tut, tut.”

“Terrible,” she repeats. “Incorrigible. Arrogant. Haughty.”

It’s hard to take her words seriously when she can’t help but smile.

“My, you’re awfully flirty today,” Draco comments. “I hardly know what to do with myself.”

“Who’s flirty?”

Both Draco and Hermione look up and see Ron standing next to their table, dressed casually and smiling big. Hermione’s face lights up at seeing him, and Draco’s not prepared for the brief, wistful pang he feels deep in his chest at the sight. He tries to keep it from showing on his face.

Ron sits down and drapes an arm lazily over the back of Hermione’s chair.

“Your girlfriend, Weasley,” Draco drawls. “Really, any moment I was expecting her to throw herself at me and declare her undying love.”

Ron snorts, bending down to take a bite of the ice cream cone Hermione offers him. “Somehow I doubt that, Malfoy,” he says. “She has better taste than that.”

Draco merely raises his eyebrows at Ron’s smirk. “Precedent would indicate that she does not, unfortunately. I’ve been trying to educate her, but she just won’t listen.”

Ron shakes his head, chuckling. “You’re so full of it.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“It wasn’t one,” Ron says, “but sure, go ahead.”

Draco just smiles sweetly at him and takes another bite of his ice cream. “Delicious,” he says, grinning.

Ron rolls his eyes and eats some more of Hermione’s ice cream.

The conversation goes on from there and Draco does his best to enjoy the time with Ron and Hermione and not think of finding mate, but it doesn’t work very well.

**

Draco is summoned to his mother’s chateau in France the day Potter is supposed to return. He has an early Portkey, and he’s not upset by it - he’s hoping he’ll be able to avoid most if not all the commotion and chaos that Potter will undoubtedly cause with his arrival.

It only takes him half-hour or so to pack, and when he’s done, he takes one last glance around his flat to make sure he has everything. Satisfied that he does, he checks his watch, and he’s pleased to see that he has an hour before his departure. Just enough time to pop over to Ron and Hermione’s to give her the paperwork he’s completed for their latest case. They’ve pretty much wrapped everything up and it’s just a matter of a review of their report and getting the final signatures on it and then submitting it. Hermione can handle it easily, and she owes him for handling the wrap-up of their previous case when Ron surprised her with a long weekend in Scotland.

Hermione knows he’s stopping by and she said she’d open the floo for him, so Draco goes on over unannounced once he gathers all the paperwork. He steps out of Ron and Hermione’s fireplace gracefully (something he’s perfected) into their living room, and when Draco looks up, he’s taken aback by seeing Harry Potter standing in front of him in the process of putting on a shirt. Why he’s half-naked in Ron and Hermione’s house, Draco has no idea.

Draco’s first (annoying) thought upon seeing Potter in the flesh for the first time in two years is that pictures really don’t do him justice. In spite of himself, Draco can’t help but take a quick moment to look at Potter’s amazingly defined chest. Good lord, Draco certainly does not remember Potter being so muscled and fit before he left.

Potter finally gets his shirt on, and Draco looks him up and down, taking it all in, from the top of his messy, tousled hair to his (just a tad too tight in Draco’s opinion) shirt and from his equally sinfully tight denims all the way down to his bright red trainers.

Embarrassingly and irritatingly, Draco just stares, unable to formulate a response.

Draco’s never seen him so put together. Draco’s something of an expert on clothing, and it’s clear that Potter’s clothes while casual are expensive and fitted perfectly. He’s much tanner than Draco remembers, and Draco briefly wonders if Potter spent a great deal of time outdoors to acquire it. That would certainly be one explanation of the muscles that Draco’s trying to not stare at. He and Potter are roughly the same height, Draco perhaps a bit taller, but Potter is much broader, his arms thick and defined, than Draco’s slimmer build.

Draco sighs. It would work out that Potter became sinfully gorgeous. Life is never fair like that.

Once he gets shirt on, Potter straightens his glasses and that’s when he finally notices Draco.

“Malfoy?” he asks, sounding confused, and Draco barely refrains from rolling his eyes at the inane question.

Typical Potter.

“No, Potter,” Draco replies. “It’s Neville. I decided to go blond after you left. Do you like my new look?” He can’t help but snark. There’s just something about Potter that pushes all Draco’s buttons; he can’t not engage.

Draco’s expecting Potter to glare and comeback with a snappish retort, but Potter floors him by laughing.

“You know,” Potter says once he’s calmed himself, “you’re kind of funny. When you’re not being a git, that is.”

Cocking his head to the side, he looks at Draco with a seemingly considering expression that makes Draco slightly anxious. “Still prickly, though,” he says after a brief pause, “but you must be at least tolerable if Ron’s singing your praises, which is very strange, by the way. He and Hermione talk about you all the time – I feel like you know them better than me by now. I guess that’s what I get for leaving.”

Potter pauses again, and when he continues, he’s much more serious. “Do you think you can share?” Potter looks stupidly earnest. “I can be friendly if you will be,” he finishes.

Draco’s stunned into silence by Potter’s rambling. Even after the War when Potter helped him and his mother, Draco doesn’t think Potter’s ever said so much to him without yelling at or hexing him. He certainly didn’t expect this kind of welcome from Potter, either. He was expecting anger and distrust and passive-aggressiveness. But this Potter is seemingly mature and laid-back.

And now Potter’s staring at him all expectant and solemn with big, sincere eyes, and it’s so very wrong that Draco feels his mouth dry at the sight and his eyes keep straying to Potter’s lips.

Damn Potter! This is intolerable. Potter’s not supposed to get one up on him or get him flustered like this or become ridiculously attractive! “I-,”

Draco doesn’t get any further (not that he had any idea of what to say, anyway) because Hermione comes into the living room, already looking stressed at eight in the morning. “Draco! I didn’t know that you were here already. Do you have the papers? Johnson’s going to have a fit if we don’t have everything perfect.”

Draco shakes his head, forcing himself out of his Potter-induced haze. “Yes,” he says. Ignoring Potter and his question, Draco walks over to Hermione and follows her down the hall. He also ignores the weight of Potter’s eyes watching him go, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up.

“Here,” he says once they’re in her study, handing the stack of papers to her, and she quickly looks it over. “It’s finished. Just put it with yours and get Johnson to sign them. Then they’ll be ready to submit.”

Hermione nods, leafing through the papers before putting them carefully in her briefcase. “Thank you, Draco,” she says gratefully. “I’ll be so glad when this case is finally officially over.”

Draco can understand that. This case been a nightmare, logistically and legally, but they’re finally finished after three months of extensive work. “Yes. I think we both deserve a vacation after this.”

Hermione grins at him. “We might be able to swing it,” she says conspiratorially. “You know we’re the best, and Johnson bends over backwards to keep us happy.”

Draco laughs. That’s very true. “See what you can do,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about going to Greece. Those nude beaches are intriguing.”

Hermione rolls her eyes, but she laughs. “Well, in that case, I’ll try even harder. Tell me more about these nude beaches. You want some company?”

“If it’s you, of course,” Draco teases, winking. “Ron can stay here and keep Potter entertained and we’ll sneak off.”

Hermione laughs again. “You know, if you weren’t hopelessly gay and I wasn’t hopelessly in love with Ron, I think I’d snatch you up.”

Draco sighs dramatically, putting a hand over his heart. “If only.”

“Such is life,” Hermione responds, matching Draco’s affected regretful tone.

“Hermione?”

Both he and Hermione turn to the doorway at the sound of Ron’s voice.

Standing in the doorway, he says, “Love, Johnson just floo called. He wanted to know when you’re coming in. He seemed stressed.”

“Shite!” Hermione curses, and Draco can’t help but chuckle. Hermione’s developed quite the potty-mouth, especially when she’s stressed. It amuses Draco to no end, and Ron too, mostly because Hermione gets so embarrassed when she realizes she’s been cussing, even if it’s just once.

Grabbing her briefcase and giving Draco a quick hug, she kisses him on the cheek. “Well, I have to go take care of business since you’re running off on me. Have fun in France, but don’t stay away too long!”

Then she gives Ron a hurried kiss (this one on the lips) and murmurs “Love you,” before she disappears down the hall. Draco hears her call a good-bye to Harry and then the front door opens and closes.

“You know, mate,” Ron says, dropping an arm around Draco’s shoulder when Draco goes to leave the room, “I don’t know how you two put up with Johnson. He runs you both ragged. You’ll get grey hairs.”

Draco turns a carefully constructed outraged face on Ron as they walk down the hall. “How dare you say such a thing! I will never have grey hairs. I am a Malfoy; we’re blond until we die.”

Ron just laughs, and when they get back to the living room, Potter looks over at them them from where he’s in the corner studying the titles on the bookcase (of course, it’s completely filled). His eyes widen when he sees them, and then he shakes his head, whistling.

“It’s going to take a while to get used to that,” he says. “You gotta admit, Ron, it’s weird.”

Ron glances over at Draco and winks at him before addressing Harry. “Yeah, he is. But somehow we put up with him. Maybe because he’s so pretty.”

It takes every ounce of Draco’s considerable self-control not to splutter in indignation when Ron dares to ruffle his hair. Such injustice!

Still, he must give something away in his expression because Potter bursts into laughter. “Your face, Malfoy,” he says. “Priceless.”

This time, Draco scowls, and he shoots a glare at Ron when he ruffles his hair again, but Ron just grins as he removes his arm from Draco’s shoulders. “It’s true.”

Draco raises his eyebrows and carefully fixes his hair. He’s not even going to dignify that with answer. For one, he doesn’t have time, and two, he wants to get away from Potter. Potter’s staring at him, his gaze intent and measured, and it’s making Draco anxious. Plus, it’s taking a lot of effort to not stare back at Potter. It’s like Draco’s eyes are drawn to him, which is just completely unacceptable.

“Well,” he says haughtily, “if you’re quite finished poking fun at me, I do have a Portkey to catch. My mother will not appreciate tardiness.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ron says, waving a hand. “Go on. Have a good time relaxing at your posh French manor.”

“It’s a chateau, and I will,” Draco says, deliberately ignoring Ron’s sarcasm. “Thank you.”

“God, you’re such a git,” Ron says.

“And you love me,” Draco says, walking past Ron and blowing him a kiss once he’s in front of the fireplace.

Potter’s just staring at them incredulously, like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. Draco supposes that’s a natural reaction, but Potter will just have to learn to tolerate him. He’s been gone; things have changed. While Draco’s not trying to take Potter’s place in Ron and Hermione’s lives, he’s certainly not leaving just because Potter’s back.

“I’ll never admit it!” Ron declares. “And you can’t make me.” He crosses his arms over his chest and nods.

Draco just smiles charmingly as he steps in front of the fireplace and blows Ron another kiss, Ron laughing. “Potter, it was nice to see you,” Draco says, his ingrained proper manners flaring. “Perhaps we can have dinner when I return?”

It’s going to be a trial, but Draco’s resigned himself to the fact that one way or another, he’ll eventually be friends with Potter. Hermione hasn’t said anything yet, but Draco’s sure that when he returns, Hermione will corner him and demand that he make nice with Potter. Draco’s going to save himself and Hermione the trouble and just accept the inevitable.

Potter’s eyes widen when Draco speaks to him. “Um, sure, Malfoy,” he says slowly. “Dinner. Yeah.”

Potter’s confusion is highly amusing, but Draco schools his expression into one of neutrality, perhaps mild interest. “Wonderful.” He turns to Ron as he steps into the fireplace. “Ron,” he says, pausing dramatically and with feeling, “I won’t miss you.”

As Draco steps into the flames and Ron and Potter disappear, Draco would swear that he hears Potter say, “Damn. Hermione wasn’t kidding. Did you see him?”

When Draco steps out of his fireplace into his flat, he can’t help but wonder what the hell that meant as Potter’s parting words echo through his mind.

**

He was in France over a week before he was able to return to London. Potter’s face is plastered over the front of every major British newspaper and every minor one under the sun just as Draco predicted. That likely won’t decrease for weeks, maybe months, and Draco’s already preparing for the end of his quiet, peaceful life.

Sighing, Draco puts the newspaper down and picks up his tea, sipping it as he stares outside watching the sun slowly rise. He’s glad to be back in his flat. Draco wishes he could say that his visit with his mother was a nice one, but that would be a lie. The entire week, Draco was pestered about his progress in choosing a mate, his mother becoming increasingly worried as the week wore on. It’s understandable, and Draco doesn’t want to hurt her, but he can’t just pick a mate just to pick one. As much as Draco doesn’t want to experience the loneliness of a mateless life, he doesn’t want to be bonded with someone he can’t love.

Intellectually, his mother knows that – after all, she had his father – but she is a mother, too. She loves him. Which is the only reason he didn’t leave on the spot when he arrived to a surprise dinner party with twenty eligible young French wizards, the youngest Draco’s age and the oldest thirty. While all of them were wealthy and attractive (not that Draco would expect any less from his mother), not a single one could capture Draco’s attention for more than a few minutes because irritatingly and alarmingly, Draco could hardly think of anything but Potter while he was away.

He was distracted the entire week, his thoughts drifting constantly. Draco couldn’t put the image of Potter shirtless out of his mind. Or inventing meaning after meaning to Potter’s last words to Ron. Draco examined them over in his mind, wondering what Potter could have possibly meant by those few words. Draco stopped counting how many times he caught himself daydreaming about Potter’s smile and eyes after the fifth time. Keeping count would have only served to send Draco into a depression.

He managed to stay in denial until his last day in France. Waking up with a gasp that day, Draco laid in bed for a full twenty minutes, wide eyed and mind numb as he tried to comprehend dreaming about a snog fest with Potter. It was frightening how easy it was to imagine kissing Potter while awake.

Finally, after Draco dragged himself out of bed, he worked up the courage to admit to himself that he was thinking of Potter like he thought of his potential mates. Which meant that Potter was a potential mate.

As much as Draco wished it weren’t true, there was no question. His sudden visceral reaction and subsequent fixation on him couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. Of course, it was much harder to admit what the strength and swiftness of his attraction meant. The greater the magical compatibility, the stronger the pull to a mate was. Before Potter, the strongest pull Draco felt was toward Neville, and Draco never thought that was particularly strong itself.

Forcing the memories away, Draco sighs again and tries not to scowl. He supposes that in some twisted, depraved sense, it makes sense that Potter would be a potential mate. God knows Draco spent several years of his life attempting to gain Potter’s attention by any means necessary, always craving it, and they’ve always reacted to each other, in one way or another. But it doesn’t mean Draco has to like the fact that Harry Potter, his teenage nemesis, is a mate.

It’s like Draco can’t catch a break – he’s the butt of the universe’s joke. Potter, Ron, Neville, Pansy, his boss, three random married men, even one of the female clerks in his department… how many completely unacceptable mates will Draco be given? Surely he deserves happiness, a mate he can love?

Right?

Why must his life be so complicated?

Before Draco can fall much further into a poor mood, an owl flies up to his balcony window, impatiently tapping on the glass. It’s not an owl he recognizes, but Draco gets up anyway and opens the door to allow the owl to fly inside. He drops a letter on Draco’s table, hooting once, then again before he flies out as quickly as he came in. Unusual. Draco would have given him a treat, but ah well.

Intrigued, Draco picks up the envelope, his name written on it in heavy, choppy lettering. Draco’s annoyed to feel his heart beat faster; Draco has an idea of who the letter is from, or at least a hope, and he can’t bring himself to care too much at his physical reaction.

Draco has to bite his lip as he reads the letter. It is from Potter. It’s short and to the point, not filled with flowery language or rambling. It simply says:

Malfoy.

I’ve heard you’re back in London.

Draco rolls his eyes. Potter heard that from Hermione, Draco’s sure. In fact, she probably hovered over him while he wrote this letter, and might have even dictated it. This has her signature all over it.

I’ve been thinking about what you said about sharing dinner. Is that offer still on the table? Something casual. Are you available Sunday evening? Dinner at my flat may be best, unless you’d prefer to be hounded by reporters while you’re trying to eat.

I promise I will feed you something edible.

H. P.

Yes, this is definitely Hermione’s handiwork. Draco wants to be annoyed by her meddling, but it’s impossible to be mad at Hermione, and Draco can’t help but want to spend time with Potter. His Veela instincts can be quite bothersome at times.

Accepting the invitation will only lead to heartache, Draco already knows. Spending time with Potter when the pull is so strong… bad idea all around. Firstly, Potter is straight and still dating Ginny for all Draco knows. And secondly, Draco doesn’t even like Potter. He doesn’t want his Veela-responsible attraction make him do something embarrassing.

Still, Draco finds himself gathering a blank piece of parchment and a quill, penning an affirmative reply before he even really thinks about it. He gives it to his owl and sends her off before he can think better of it. He’ll just have to find some way to control himself, that’s all. He can do that.

As Draco cleans up his mess from breakfast, he finds himself thinking of Potter again. This time, he’s wondering what he did in the States and why he chose now to return and without Ginny. If Draco’s honest with himself, he wants to know what happened to Potter to make him so… carefree.

When Draco saw him at Ron and Hermione’s flat, he seemed relaxed and he smiled easily and often. Draco spent too much time at Hogwarts watching him to not notice that the invisible weight Potter carried around was gone. Draco’s not so selfish and cruel that he’s not glad for it, considering what Potter did for all the Wizarding World and particularly Draco and his mother. And if Draco also thinks about how he’d like to feel Potter’s arms around him and his lips on his own… well, that’s no one’s business but Draco’s.

**

Draco pretends he doesn’t eagerly anticipate his Sunday dinner with Potter. They’ll be alone. In Potter’s flat. Sharing food that he made and conversation. It’s almost too surreal for Draco to think about. But then again, he may have said the same thing about becoming friends with Ron and Hermione, and look how that turned out.

But his friendship with Ron and Hermione (and Neville, for that matter) wasn’t potentially dangerous to Draco’s stability. Thanks to Draco’s Veela heritage, Draco’s near giddy at the prospect of spending uninterrupted alone time with Potter, and he doesn’t quite know how to handle this strong of a pull. Somehow he has to because nothing can come from it.

It’s difficult to acknowledge, but Draco is scared. With Neville and all his other potential mates, the pull was weak enough that Draco wasn’t worried the desire to mate would override his common sense, and then he’d be stuck with a mate he didn’t actually want. With Potter, it’s much too easy to imagine throwing himself at Potter and begging Potter to bond with him. Not only would that be mortifying, but the notion of losing control of himself in that way is repellant.

It won’t happen.

If Draco tells himself that enough, maybe it’ll be true.

Looking in his bedroom mirror, Draco studies his reflection critically. His hair is flawless, no strand out of place, his shirt, a dark grey button-up, fits him perfectly, and his jeans… they’re just on the right side of tight and make his arse look fantastic, if Draco does say so himself. Turning around in front of the mirror, Draco’s satisfied with what he sees. He conveniently ignores the fact that he’s taking such care with his appearance to hopefully impress Potter.

At seven on the dot, he knocks on Potter’s door, and it swings open quickly, revealing a grinning Potter. He’s dressed casually too, just a jumper and jeans, and of course his hair is a mess as it always has been, but to Draco, he’s gorgeous.

With some effort, he forces himself to smile back at Potter. “Evening,” he says.

Potter chuckles and steps out of the way so Draco can enter. “Always so formal, aren’t you?”

Potter sounds too teasing for Draco to take offense.

“Well, come on,” Potter says, ushering Draco inside. “Dinner’s just about ready.”

Draco has to admit that he’s impressed with Potter’s flat. It’s open and spacious and tastefully decorated. All the colors are cool and soothing, and there’s just enough furniture and decoration to make the flat feel cozy but not cluttered. “Did you decorate yourself?” he asks, looking around. “It’s very nice.”

“Actually, I did,” Potter says, and he laughs at the startled look Draco can’t hide quickly enough. “You didn’t think I had a stylish bone in my body, did you?”

A minute and Draco’s already offended Potter. Great. “I’m sorry-,”

Potter waves him off. “It’s fine,” he says. “I admit I wasn’t the most put together boy in Hogwarts, but well, I did have other things on my mind. And it’s nothing special – I just wanted a place that was my own and somewhere I could relax.” He spreads his arms. “And this is the result. Now,” he says, “if you’re ready, sit down at the table and I’ll bring in the food.”

Draco follows Potter into the kitchen-cum-dining area. The table’s set with nice cutlery, but the lack of flowers or candles reminds Draco that this isn’t anything other than two acquaintances sharing a meal.

“What did you make?” Draco asks as he sits down and watches Potter busy around in the kitchen.

“Nothing fancy,” Potter says. “Some salad, pasta and pesto, garlic bread. What are you drinking? Water, beer, wine?”

“Wine, please. And that’s more than I could make,” Draco says. “Don’t tell anyone, but I’m not talented in the kitchen.”

Potter’s smiling when he sets the wine and salad on the table. “Your secret’s safe with me.”

Their conversation stays light and superficial while they eat the salad, and Draco’s not surprised (but he is a tad irritated) to find that Potter is just as likeable as Ron and Hermione. It makes him wonder how his life might have been different if he hadn’t been such a spoiled brat when he was young and had been friends with Potter instead, but there’s no point in thinking about that, so Draco forces himself to concentrate on the present. It hasn’t been too terrible so far; he has a job, friends, freedom, his own flat, so thinking ‘what if?’ is useless.

Potter brings the pasta out when they finish with the salad, and it’s delicious of course. So Potter’s gorgeous, powerful, compassionate, friendly, and he can cook. Really, in another life where Potter wasn’t Potter (and he was gay) and Draco wasn’t Draco, he thinks they maybe could have been something more. Draco would have at least tried for something more. As it stands, Draco will have to settle for friendship and hoping he won’t embarrass himself because of being a Veela.

After they’ve been eating in comfortable silence for a few minutes, Draco decides to dig deeper; he’s very curious about Potter. “So, Potter,” he says. “You’ve been gone a while. What did you do in America?”

Potter raises an eyebrow. “Mannered and nosy,” he says and then grins. “I like it.”

Draco opens his mouth and says, “You would; you’ve always been odd,” before he even thinks about it. God, is he bantering with Potter? It’s unthinkable that this would be happening just a couple weeks ago.

He coughs, hoping to hide his embarrassment. “Besides,” he says, “aren’t we having this dinner in order to get to know one another? I daresay if we don’t get along, Hermione won’t be so kind when she’s dictating your next letter to me.”

“Figured that out, huh?” Potter says. He sounds more fondly amused than anything. “Hermione sat me down and ordered me to invite you to dinner. She wouldn’t believe me when I said I was going to do it myself, so I just shut up and did as she commanded.”

“Hermione is a force of nature, that’s for sure.”

“She is. Always has been; saved Ron and mine’s arse many times. Who know what would have happened if we didn’t have her? Anyway,” Potter says. “Would you have believed someone if they told you five years ago that someday we’d be civil and having dinner alone at my flat?”

“No,” Draco says immediately. “I probably would have hexed them.”

“Hmmm,” Potter muses. “Probably. You were a right git back then.”

Instead of being affronted and getting angry with that, Draco just wants to snark back at Potter. “Oh, and you were so friendly and accepting, were you?”

Potter’s smile is mischievous. “Yes, I was,” he says, and Draco rolls his eyes. “But you’re not like that anymore.”

“Oh?” Draco asks. “You’re already sure of that?”

“Yes,” Potter says immediately. “If you were, you wouldn’t be friends with Ron and Hermione, and I wouldn’t have been hearing about how wonderful and amazing and intelligent and-,”

“I think I get it,” Draco interrupts, holding back a laugh at the underlying mirth. “You can stop now; I don’t want you to hurt yourself saying all those – absolutely true, by the way – things about me.”

“Egotistical,” Potter adds, just to poke fun, Draco’s sure. “I know what Ron and Hermione told me, but I’m interested in getting to know you myself. If that’s okay?”

The words are a tad hesitant, and suddenly, Draco finds it hard to breathe. It could be because Harry’s eyes are serious and focused on him and that attention makes Draco’s heart pound, or because Draco’s realizing that it’s been a long, long time since Draco’s enjoyed an evening so much. For a moment, he just stares silently at Potter, unable to speak. Right now, he can feel the magical pull between him and Potter, strong and powerful and demanding to be acknowledged. Is it possible that Potter can’t feel something so strong? Potter’s always seemed more magically sensitive than other people.

“Malfoy? Are you okay?”

Trying not to groan with the effort of not doing something he won’t be able to take back, Draco focuses back on their conversation. “I’m fine,” he says. “Really,” he adds at Potter’s dubious look.

“If you’re sure,” he says slowly. He looks at Draco a moment more and then says, “Well to actually answer your question, this and that. Ginny and I travelled for a long time, visiting a lot of the biggest cities, sight-seeing. We pretty much were on holiday for a year or so.”

Potter shrugs carelessly. “Then Ginny decided she wanted to go back to school. It wasn’t too hard to get used to how things work in America, and when she picked a college, we settled down. We found a small community of wizards and witches there who also went to the college, and they helped us. I stayed for a while, taking a class or two, and working odd jobs the rest of the time, but it really wasn’t for me. After Ginny’s first year, I decided to come back to England. It’s my home, and I was ready to come back.”

Draco listens raptly to Potter’s story. He wasn’t expecting Potter to be so open with him. Even if they parted two years ago on relatively friendly terms, it seems unbelievable that Potter would be so friendly with him so quickly. It must be because of Ron and Hermione. Draco having both of their approvals probably went a long way in Potter accepting him this easily. He’s never been to the States actually; Potter seemed to enjoy his time there, so maybe Draco will have to take a trip sometime.

“And of course I missed Ron and Hermione,” Potter goes on. “I didn’t want to stay so long that I’d miss their wedding.”

“Yes, that can’t be too far off,” Draco agrees. “They’re practically married already.”

“Very true. Are you finished?” Potter gestures at Draco’s empty plate.

Draco nods and hands it to Potter, standing up when Potter does. “Can I help?” he asks.

Potter smiles again, and Draco realizes that if he’s going to be friends with Potter, he’s going to have to get used to seeing that instead of a sneer or glare. Draco doesn’t think it’ll be hard; he already wants to see more smiles.

“Draco Malfoy offering to do sully his hands with menial work? I am shocked.” Potter’s friendly tone takes the sting out of his words. “I can handle it,” he says. He refills Draco’s wine glass. “I’ll put these away and we can have a drink in the living room?”

“Yes. I’d like that.” It’s really an understatement. He doesn’t want this night to end quite yet.

Draco settles on Potter’s comfortable couch, sipping his wine while he waits. A couple minutes later, Potter joins him, his own glass of wine filled. Potter sits down near him, but not too close, and settles back into the couch. Once there, their conversation picks up again, Potter telling amusing stories from his time in America, Draco listening interestedly and laughing or interjecting a comment here and there.

Before he realizes it, it’s midnight and he’s yawning and saying good-bye to Potter. How five hours passed unnoticed, Draco has no idea. All he knows is the conversation was natural and flowed seamlessly from one topic to another, Potter engaging, funny, and nice. His voice, smooth and deeper than Draco remembers, makes it easy to listen to Potter’s tales.

When he’s at home and in bed, Potter’s smiling face still vivid in his mind, Draco knows that trying to be friends with Potter is going to be dangerous. If the magical pull was the only thing Draco had to worry about, he might be able to handle it. But if he learned one thing from his dinner with Potter, it’s that it would be incredibly easy for Draco to lose his heart to Potter. Not only is Potter just Draco’s physical type, but he’s intelligent, comfortable to be around, and his sense of humor compliments Draco’s.

Draco’s been searching for love for years, and if only things were different, if only things were less complicated, if only life were kinder, Potter may have been all Draco ever wanted.

If only.

**

A few quiet days later Draco decides that he’s not going to wait anymore. He’s waited too long as it is, and today, a beautiful, sunny Saturday, he’s going to buy a pet and that’s that.

Well, he will if he manages to walk into the Magical Menagerie. Even outside, Draco can hear hissing and screeching and screaming children. He’s been thinking about getting a pet for a while, but he hasn’t been able to actually buy one yet. Now’s perhaps not the best time, but, though he won’t admit it aloud, he’s lonely for companionship. He has his friends, but a pet would make his flat much less empty, especially considering his hope for bonding happily is decreasing day by day and his budding friendship with Potter is throwing him off balance.

Besides, he’s always wanted a pet.

“Well, are you going to go in or not?”

Draco jumps at the sudden voice and whips around to see Potter standing next to him smiling.

“Potter,” he says. “Do you enjoy sneaking up on unsuspecting people?”

“No.” Potter’s smile gets bigger, a little mischievous. “Just you.”

“You’re hilarious,” Draco deadpans. “But for your information, yes, I am going to go in.”

“Well then, what are you waiting for? I’ve been gone, but even I know this place is always loud and always busy. Just gear up and go in.”

Draco takes a deep breath. He can do this. He wants a pet. He can put up with unruly children for an hour or so. “You’re right.”

“Can I join you?” Potter suddenly asks. “I just came from lunch with George Weasley and I have some free time.”

Draco’s slightly taken aback by the question. Since their (good in Draco’s opinion) dinner last week, they haven’t seen each other. Potter did send him a message via owl the next day, and they’ve been conversing through daily letters since then, talking mostly about common things like what book they’re currently reading and all the places they want to visit, but they’ve been getting a little deeper, a little more personal.

Draco would be surprised that Potter is as eloquent and intelligent as he is, but he’s realizing that there’s a lot more to Potter than he knew when they were young. The intimate feel to the letters both do wonderful and terrible things to Draco’s emotions.

Draco doesn’t quite understand what’s going on between them, but it’s not stopping him from returning Potter’s letters. If Draco didn’t know better, he would say Potter’s trying to flirt with him from the teasing and complimentary content of his letters, but that can’t be right. Draco, for his part, looks forward to each letter with increasing anticipation, and he knows he’s getting in too deep, but he can’t stop. The pull toward Potter is too strong, and Draco doesn’t even want to resist. How can he when everything Draco learns about Potter makes Draco want him more?

“I… wouldn’t mind the company,” Draco says after a few moments hesitation.

He ignores the warmth that spreads through him at Potter’s eager smile.

“Do you already have a pet and just buying supplies?” he asks, following Draco inside. “Or are you buying one?”

“I’m buying one.”

Draco stops right inside the door, staring with wide eyes at the numerous animals and people stuffed in the small building.

Potter stands next to him, close. “Don’t worry,” he says. “I won’t let you get lost. What kind of animal do you want?”

“A cat,” Draco answers promptly. That’s basically the only thing he’s decided on.

“Yeah, I can see that,” Potter says. “They’re haughty, arrogant, and elegant. You’ll get along fine.”

And this is the kind of thing that confuses Draco in Potter’s letters. He’ll say something that should be insulting, but he’ll say it in such a way that Draco can’t take it any other way except fond, affectionate teasing, which doesn’t make sense given they’re barely friends. Draco must be reading more into Potter’s words than what is there because he’s a potential mate. There’s no other explanation.

He must be silent too long because Potter nudges his arm. “That was a joke, you know,” Potter says. “You were supposed to laugh, or say something snarky.”

“Sorry. It’s a little overwhelming in here.”

Potter nods. “Yeah. Hey, look,” he says, gesturing to the right. “It looks like cats and kneazles are over this way.”

Weaving their way through the crowd, Draco and Potter manage to get to the cat and kneazle area without incident. Once there, however, Draco’s still overwhelmed. There are many cats of every color imaginable, a good number of them meowing or purring or hissing. Draco doesn’t even know where to start. How is he supposed to find the perfect companion in this chaos?

When he turns to tell Potter as much, he’s disappeared. “Potter?”

“Over here!”

Draco searches for the source of the sound, and then he spots Potter not too far away from him in front of a cage, reaching in and petting an animal. With careful maneuvering, Draco makes his way over to Potter. Looking into the cage, he sees a large cat with luminous green eyes staring at him. Potter is rubbing the cat’s ears, the cat purring loudly. He’s very furry, a mixture of snow white and dark grey hair, and eating up Potter’s attention.

It’s not right that Draco’s jealous of the animal for getting Potter’s touch. Draco’s never tried, but he might be able to purr too, if that’s what Potter likes. Anything to get Potter to rub his head and play with his hair.

And when Draco realizes what he just thought, he wants to smack himself.

“Look,” Potter says, excited. “I made a friend. Isn’t he sweet?”

“Yes, Potter. Very sweet,” Draco says.

His sarcasm is lost on Potter, who is now rubbing the cat’s stomach, and he’s so concentrated on what he’s doing that he doesn’t realize that the cat’s not paying attention to him, but staring at Draco.

Draco wants to take a step back. The cat’s staring directly at him, intense and unblinking, and it’s almost as if the cat’s looking through Draco, at his soul. There’s intelligence in the cat’s eyes, Draco’s sure, and Draco would say the cat is taunting him.

“Come here,” Potter says. “Pet him. If you don’t take him home, I might just have to.”

Draco can’t resist Potter’s request. Slowly, he steps closer to Potter, peering into the cage. The cat’s still staring at him. Draco doesn’t think he looks very friendly. “Potter… I’m not sure. I don’t want to be attacked.”

“He’s not going to scratch you,” Potter says confidently. “Here.” He takes Draco’s hand in his own and Draco freezes momentarily; this is the first time they’ve touched bare skin to bare skin, and Draco’s unprepared for the jolt that runs through his body at the contact. Immediately, a Veela legend his mother told him years ago pops in his head, and Draco knows what that reaction means and it’s not good for him, but he doesn’t have time to think about it because Potter laces their fingers together.

Potter moves their joined hands into the cage, toward the cat. The cat starts purring again before they touch him, and Draco bites his lip, heart pounding. His skin is prickling where it’s touching Potter’s.

“See?” Potter says quietly, almost whispering it into Draco’s ear. “He’s sweet. And he likes you too.”

Draco wonders how he’s supposed to concentrate on the cat or even what Potter’s saying when Draco’s world narrows down to the feeling of his fingers tangled with Potter’s. “I guess so,” Draco says haltingly.

“I think you should get him,” Potter says, still quiet. “And let me come over and visit.”

A voice suddenly interrupts them before Draco can think of a response to that. “Gentleman. I see you’ve made friends with Laertes. Do you have any questions? I’m Maggie.”

Draco glances to the side and sees a middle-aged woman standing next to them, smiling.

Abruptly, Potter takes his hand from Draco’s, and the loss of warmth is immediate and sharp.

Potter addresses Maggie. “Yes. We couldn’t resist him.”

“Well, I am surprised he let you pet him,” Maggie says. “We’ve had Laertes for a while. He’s half kneazle, and he doesn’t like many people. They can sense deceitful people, you know.”

“I do,” Potter says. “My friend used to have a cat that was part kneazle, and he had that ability, too.”

“Do you think you’d like to take him home? I’m fond of Laertes myself, and I’d like to see him adopted into a good home.”

Potter turns to him. “Well? What do you think? Are you going to adopt him?”

Draco blinks a few times. “Don’t you want to?” he asks slowly. “I can look for another pet. He seems fondest of you.”

Potter glances back at Laertes, and Draco can clearly see Potter’s want. “Well…”

“Potter,” Draco says a tad impatiently. “If you want him, take him.”

“Are you both looking to adopt?” Maggie interjects. “Laertes has a sister. Ophelia, in the next cage.”

Draco chuckles before he can hold it back. After the War and at the urging from Hermione, Draco discovered Muggle literature, and he was instantly hooked on the so-called classics, reading everything he could. He already has quite the collection in his library.

Maggie just smiles at him. “Yes. Most our of animals aren’t named, but these two were given to us when their owner suddenly died by his family. That was a couple years ago, and since then, they haven’t been open to being adopted by another person. Occasionally, someone will be allowed to pet one or the other, but nothing more than that. Maybe they were waiting for you.”

She gestures to the cage to the right of Laertes. In it, there’s a slightly smaller cat, this one just as furry as Laertes but completely white, curled up in the corner, sleeping. As if sensing Draco’s eyes on her, she yawns and cracks one bright blue eye at Draco. She stares at him a moment, assessing, and then she meows loudly once and closes her eye, going back to sleep.

“Well!” Maggie says cheerfully. “That seems like that’s settled! I’ve never seen them act like this. I’ll just go get the paperwork so you can take your friends home.”

Maggie disappears into the crowd before Draco can say anything. He sighs and walks over to Ophelia’s cage. She is beautiful. “Well, I suppose you’re coming home with me.”

She doesn’t open her eyes, but she does meow again, and Draco finds himself smiling. Potter’s in front of Laertes’ cage and petting him again. Draco can’t remember ever seeing Potter so happy before, and Draco wants him to always look like that. Draco’d prefer to be the one making him so happy, but Draco’s learned the hard way that he can’t always have what he wants.

Maggie quickly returns, and just an hour later, Draco’s at home with Ophelia and several bags of accessories, including a bed, food, toys, and litter. Once Draco has everything set up, he slumps down on the couch, unable to stop thinking about Potter. After Ophelia’s finished inspecting her new home, she jumps up on Draco’s lap and curls up, going right to sleep. Draco absently pets her, his thoughts whirling.

Draco’s not prone to cursing, but in this case, all he can think is fuck because if he thought he was in trouble before with the quickly approaching deadline, it’s no comparison to the trouble he’s in now.

Again, he thinks of the stories his mother used to tell him before bed about a specific kind of Veela bond. It’s spontaneous and rare and treasured when they did happen, his mother told him. When he was a little older, his mother warned him that the stories weren’t just stories and it could happen to him, but young Draco never thought it would.

But his physical reaction to Potter when they touched earlier can only mean one thing: sometime between re-meeting Potter two weeks ago, their dinner last week, and today, Draco unconsciously chose Potter as his mate. Unconscious choosing can only happen when a Veela and a mate’s magic are highly compatible and the Veela has strong feelings for the mate. The pull is strong between them, Draco knew that before today, but he hadn’t realized that he had developed the requisite strong feelings for Potter so quickly as well.

And now there’s no help for him, no use in denial, not with that reaction and not with Draco being unable to stop thinking about Potter and about how it felt to touch him.

Draco buries his head in his hands. Could things get any worse? He’s really in a tough spot now, because choosing Potter unconsciously means that even if he wanted to and Neville agreed, Draco couldn’t bond with him because he’s already chosen Potter. His inner Veela instincts picked Potter and decided he was best and no other will do. It’s Potter, or nothing. And from what Draco can surmise, that’s not likely to happen.

**

After Draco realizes how hopeless his situation is becoming, he withdraws; Ophelia, who Draco fell in love with after a day, keeps him company. He makes his excuses for his bi-weekly dinner with Ron and Hermione, makes sure he’s never alone with Hermione at work (which takes considerable effort), brushes off Pansy’s invitations to shop, and while he can’t force himself to completely ignore Potter, he does take longer to answer Potter’s letters and when he does, he keeps his replies short and to the point. No more extensive sharing.

Draco knows that he won’t be able to keep up his self-imposed isolation for long. Potter may not pester him, but Hermione and Pansy definitely will. Which is why he has to do all he can to brace himself for their interrogation and try to wall off his heart. Potter is straight and unavailable. Certainly there is not point in Draco admitting to him that he is a Veela and that he’d like Potter as a mate. Draco will simply have to learn how to deal.

Astonishingly, it’s almost a week before the expected and dreaded pounding on his door comes. The noise wakes up Ophelia, who glares at Draco and struts away in a huff, and Draco sighs. When he opens the door, it’s even worse than he expected: Hermione and Pansy are on his doorstep, united with their arms linked and matching stony expressions.

Well, damn. Draco’s no match for one of them, let alone both at the same time. Sometimes, he really regrets forcing Hermione and Pansy to make nice with one another after he became friends with Hermione. How was Draco to know that after a few weeks of them being stubborn, they’d end up getting pissed together and then wake up the next morning the best of friends? Draco’s not quite sure what happened when they were drunk, but they’re friends now and that’s all Draco needs to know.

“Draco,” Pansy says sweetly, too sweetly. She smiles and Draco wants to shiver. “Are you going to invite us in and offer us refreshments?”

“Of course, Pansy,” he says. “Please come in, both of you. Would you like some tea?”

“Thank you, Draco,” Pansy says. “I would love some tea. Hermione?”

“None for me thank you.”

Pansy and Hermione sit down on the couch, and Draco retreats to the kitchen and busies himself in there for as long as he can, until Pansy’s impatient call of his name.

“Here you are, Pansy,” he says as he gives Pansy her tea, and he sits down on the chair across from the couch, trying not to fidget like a schoolboy who talked back to his teacher.

Pansy sips her tea slowly, and Hermione’s just smiling and looking completely relaxed while Draco’s about to break out into a sweat. Pansy is sadistic; she loves to make him squirm.

Three minutes pass; Draco counts the seconds in his head.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Draco,” Pansy finally says exasperatedly. “We’re not here to torture you.”

Draco raises an eyebrow. “Oh, no? Could have fooled me.”

Pansy rolls her eyes, but Hermione says, “No. We’re worried.”

“I’m fine.” The lie comes out easily. And really, what other answer is there? He’s not fine, but there’s no way to make him fine, so what’s the point of admitting to it?

“You’re not fine,” Pansy says flatly. “I’ve asked you to go out with me three times this week, and you’ve declined every time. That’s not like you.”

“And you missed dinner with Ron and I this week, and at work, you don’t speak to me more than you have to,” Hermione adds. “And you’ve even been snubbing Harry.”

“I have not been snubbing Potter,” Draco insists, deliberately ignoring the other accusations. “I’ve responded to every one of his infernal letters.”

“Yes, with terse, brief replies!” Hermione snaps, and Draco’s taken aback by it. “I’ve seen the letters, Draco,” she continues more calmly. “And Harry asked me what he could have done to make you so cold when just last week everything was fine.”

“You’re not fooling anyone,” Pansy says casually. “Potter told Hermione, and Hermione told me: you two have been writing letters back and forth for over two weeks, and from the way Potter goes on – and I’ve seen him myself – they’re definitely not letters friends would write. So just save us and yourself the energy of pretending you are not hung up on Potter.”

Draco blanches; he can’t help it. “I-,” He doesn’t know what to say. Does Potter know that Draco’s attracted to him? If he does, why hasn’t he said anything, told Draco to back off? And why keep sending the letters? Is he trying to hurt Draco by feeding into Draco’s attraction with attention? This is a nightmare.

“Draco,” Hermione says. Her gentle tone both pisses Draco off and calms him. “Is Harry a mate? Do you-,”

“Potter is not a mate.” This lie comes out even easier than the other one. He doesn’t want to hear Hermione’s useless placating and vain hope, and he doesn’t want either of their pity. “I like him, I admit, but we’re just friends. He’s not a mate. So it’s pointless to discuss this.”

Pansy and Hermione exchange glances, and irritatingly, they seem to have some silent communication that Draco is not privy to. Neither of them probably believes his hasty denial, but he’s determined to stay strong. He can pull this off, and then neither of them will have to worry or meddle in something that they can’t change.

“He’s not a mate,” Pansy repeats back. “You’re sure?”

Draco squares his shoulders. “Yes, I’m sure. He’s not.”

They exchange another glance. “Then why-,” Hermione says for both of them.

“Have I been ‘hiding,’ as you two seem to think?” Draco finishes. “It’s already the middle of May. I don’t have a lot of time left, and I don’t have very good prospects. How do you think I’m feeling? I wanted some time to myself. Can’t you understand that?”

Hermione looks slightly abashed at Draco’s words, but Pansy seems unaffected, not that Draco thought that she would be. It’s not that Draco wants to make Hermione feel bad, but having her pity would be worse. Draco has to deal with his unfortunate and unrequited feelings for Potter the best way for himself. And right now, that’s trying to distance himself from Potter and prepare for being a mateless Veela.

“Have you not found another potential mate?” Hermione asks. To Draco, she sounds almost desperate. “Draco, I don’t want you to be alone.”

Draco scoffs. “Because I want to be alone?”

Draco instantly regrets snapping at Hermione, but it’s not like he hasn’t tried to find a mate before the debacle with Potter, or that he doesn’t know he’s basically fucked. He doesn’t need Hermione and Pansy coming to his home and lecturing him, however well intentioned. He knows.

He sighs, suddenly weary of this conversation and his life. “Look. I’ve done all I can, okay?” He just wants them to understand and back off. He looks away. “I just wasn’t meant to have a mate, and I just have to deal with that.”

“Draco, no!” Hermione bursts out. “You can’t just give up!”

Draco forces himself to respond levelly. “I haven’t given up. I just know when to surrender. There’s no point in denying the inevitable.”

Hermione looks close to tears now, but Pansy’s still as stoical as ever.

“What about me?” Pansy quietly asks after a tense silence.

Draco and Hermione’s eyes both snap to her.

“What?” Draco says.

“What about me?” she repeats. “I’m a mate. Why can’t you bond with me?”

Draco gapes at her. “Pansy…”

“I’m serious,” she snaps. “I’m not about to let you sacrifice yourself so you can be all noble and selfless, so just shut up and bond with me.”

Draco feels tears prick his eyes. He gets up and sits down between Pansy and Hermione, putting an arm around Pansy’s shoulders. She won’t look at him. “Pansy, you know I love you, and that’d you offer to bond with me… you don’t know what that means to me. But it’s not that easy.”

“Why not?”

Draco manages a small smile at her terse tone. “Because.”

She crosses her arms over her chest. “That’s not an answer.”

“I’m gay, Pansy.”

“Really? No! I had no idea!” she says sarcastically.

“Which means,” Draco says, ignoring her outburst, “that you won’t be happy with me, and I won’t be happy, either. Even if we had sex and bonded, it won’t miraculously fix things. All it’ll do is ruin our friendship.”

“But Draco-,”

“No.” He grabs Hermione’s hand and squeezes. “There’s nothing we can do. My new motto is que sera, sera.”

“God, Draco,” Pansy drawls. “When did you get so philosophical and self-sacrificing?”

Draco takes the comment for what it is: something to try to lighten the tension, and even though he feels like he’s slowly suffocating, he tries to sound light-hearted when he replies, “Fuck if I know.”

After that, they change the subject to something more mundane, Draco relieved that they’re giving him space, and they manage to get Draco agree to have tea together this weekend, just the three of them. Maybe by then, Draco will have been able bury his longing for Potter. Probably not, though.

**

It takes another couple days, but Draco finally manages to bring himself out of his stupor. Contrary to what his past actions may have indicated, Draco isn’t one to wallow in self-pity. The only thing Draco can do is deal with whatever happens to the best of his ability. Doing anything else would be useless. Sometimes, it can be really annoying to be so mature, but War and fear for your life will do that to a person.

He doesn’t stop thinking about Potter. If anything, he thinks about Potter more, his thoughts and dreams becoming more physical, though still nowhere near sexual. Mostly, they consist of happy, romantic fantasies of he and Potter kissing or cuddling or out on dates. If Draco weren’t half in love with Potter already, he’d probably find them too sweet for his taste.

He tries to ignore his longings and think of other things, spend time with Ophelia, but Potter’s never far from his mind. No matter how many times he tells himself that it’s useless to want because he’ll never be able to bond with Potter, the illogical hope never disappears.

Sometimes when he’s particularly wistful, he thinks about throwing caution to the wind and telling Potter he’s a Veela and actually asking Potter to bond with him. He’s still not sure if Potter’s attracted to men, but Potter does seem to flirt with him quite a bit. But then, Draco worries that he’s projecting and reading into things that aren’t there. Potter could say yes, but it’s more likely that he’ll say no. Draco can’t take that risk. Not now at least, and so he pushes the idea away. But as more time passes, the more Draco falls for him, the more tempting the idea is.

And when Potter sends him another letter inviting him to a Muggle performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet the coming weekend in the West End of Muggle London, Draco doesn’t stop smiling the rest of the day, seemingly walking on air just from the prospect of spending more time with his chosen mate.

Once again, Draco knows accepting the invitation will only lead to more heartache, but he can’t say no, and so on Saturday night, Draco’s dressed to the nines and pacing in his living room waiting for Potter to arrive, Ophelia perched on the back of the couch, her blue eyes trained on him.

“I’m hopeless, Ophelia,” Draco laments. “Hopeless.”

Draco’s not expecting sympathy and he doesn’t get any: she meows, but it sounds more like agreement than anything else. He’d like to blame everything on being a Veela, all his unrequited feelings and angst, but Draco stopped believing that after his third dinner with Potter. Even if Draco were a normal wizard, he’d still be hopelessly in love with Potter and essentially still in the same situation. Potter’s good and kind and compassionate and sweet and gorgeous…

Draco shakes his head. No. He can’t think about that. He has to find some way to be Potter’s friend without going mad with longing.

He goes back to his pacing, checking the clock every few minutes. Finally at six-eighteen, someone knocks on the door. Taking a deep breath, Draco tries to calm himself as much as possible before he opens the door. When he does, his heart jumps in his throat. Potter is standing there looking more gorgeous than Draco’s ever seen him. His suit looks tailored, his hair is messy like usual, but it looks styled-messy, and his glasses are classic and flattering for his face, but his smile. That’s what makes it hard for Draco to breathe. It’s big and open and genuine, making creases appear at the corner of his eyes. He looks happy.

“Hi, Draco,” Potter says, and Draco’s heart beats faster. In one of his letters, Potter asked if he could call Draco by his first name. Draco of course said yes and Draco reciprocates verbally, but in Draco’s mind, he still uses ‘Potter.’ It’s his last defense.

“Harry,” he greets. “You’re looking especially put together tonight.”

Draco teases Ron like this often, and with Potter, it’s a safe way to express his feelings.

“Yeah?” Potter asks, pleased, looking down at himself. “Thanks. You do too. But then, you always have.”

Potter giving him innocent compliments like that is dangerous for Draco’s health. “Thank you,” he manages to say without throwing himself at Potter. “Shall we go?”

“Yes.”

Though Draco lost his prejudice of Muggles and appreciates certain aspects of Muggle culture, he doesn’t venture out into Muggle London, and he has no idea where he and Potter are headed. They first apparate to Diagon Alley, and then exit the Leaky Cauldron into Muggle London. Potter directs them to something called the Underground, and that trip is an experience unto itself. Draco catches Potter smiling at him from time to time and trying not to laugh, and Draco sneers at him, which of course does make Potter laugh. “You’ll be fine,” is all Potter says, but he does move closer to Draco.

After a much too long and too jerky and too full ride, they finally get back on land, and Draco glares at Potter when he laughs at Draco’s apparent relief at being off that contraption.

“It’s not funny,” Draco says, huffing. He checks his clothing for winkles or stains, appeased when he seems to be no worse for the wear.

“But it is,” Potter says, grinning. “You’re funny. Don’t you think it’s good to broaden your horizons?”

“I think they’re quite broad enough, thank you,” Draco says briskly. He looks around. “Now, where are we seeing the play?”

Potter gestures to the right. “Over there,” he says. Checking his watch, he says, “We have half an hour before the performance begins. Let’s go.”

They’re quiet as they walk the short distance from the Underground stop to the playhouse, Draco taking in the sights and the people. The playhouse itself is grand and large, the entire neighborhood exuding wealth and elegance.

Twice as they’re walking, Potter’s hands brush his own, each brief contact sending a tingle up Draco’s arm. It feels like a date. It feels like Potter’s trying to impress him and romance him, and it’s making Draco jittery. Draco has to keep his mind on reality – they’re friends taking in a show. That’s all.

“Where are our seats?” he asks Potter, having to speak up because of all the people around them talking. It seems like there’ll be a full house tonight.

“Worried you’ll be in up in the back?” Potter says. “Well, you’ll be happy to know that I sprung for expensive seats, near the front in the center. I know your tastes.”

“I wasn’t worried; it wouldn’t have mattered where we sat,” Draco says, slightly hurt. He knows that Potter was just teasing, but Draco hopes that he knows that Draco isn’t the spoiled prat he used to be. Just being here with Potter is enough for Draco; anything else is a boon.

Potter’s expression goes almost tender, Draco would say. “I know that, Draco.” He stares at Draco for a moment, and Draco tries not to fidget under the intense look. When Potter finally breaks eye contact, Draco sighs quietly.

“C’mon,” Potter says, and putting his hand lightly on Draco’s back, he leads them from the lobby to the actual theatre. It’s slow going down to their seats, many people in front of them also searching for their seats.

In the end, they’re settled comfortably in their seats just minutes before the performance begins. Draco’s read all of Shakespeare’s plays, and though he couldn’t possibly choose a single favorite, Hamlet has to be one of his favorites; he’s read it multiple times.

For the first time since Potter re-entered his life, Potter’s not the center of his thoughts. In fact, he nearly forgets he’s next to him, so caught up in the play, the emotion and passion of the actors captivating. For as much as Draco loves Shakespeare, actually attending performances of his plays never entered Draco’s mind. Absently, as Draco’s riveted on the stage, Hamlet just having killed Polonius and now confronting his mother, he decides to go see more of Shakespeare’s plays when the opportunity presents itself.

It goes by too fast. The end of Act III signals an intermission.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” Potter leans over and asks him.

“Yes. Very much.” It’s an understatement.

Potter smiles at him, and again, Draco struck with the feeling that this is a date. Potter’s looking at him too intensely, too fixated. Draco feels as if he’s burning from it. “I’m glad.” He hesitates, briefly glancing away before making eye contact again and saying, “I wasn’t sure if you would accept my invitation. You seemed distant suddenly, and I didn’t know what I did, if I said something wrong…”

“No, Harry,” Draco immediately says. “It wasn’t you.” He can’t stand Potter thinking that he did something wrong. “I’m sorry,” he says, and he has to chuckle at Potter’s surprised expression. Draco thinks it’s faked, but he likes when Potter teases him. “Yes, I do know how to apologize; it’s not so shocking.”

They grin at each other for a moment, and then Draco sobers. “Last week wasn’t a good one. I needed some time alone. But it was nothing about you.”

It’s not entirely true, but in essence it is. Potter can’t help that Draco’s gone and fallen in love with him and wants him for a mate. And it was nothing that Potter actually did – it was all Draco.

Potter leans closer. “I don’t know what was going on with you, Draco, but I’d like to help, if I can. We’re- friends, aren’t we?” he says, Draco noticing a brief pause before the word ‘friends’ that confuses him.

Draco furrows his brow. “Of course,” he says. “But don’t worry, Harry. I’m better now.”

Now that’s a lie that tastes bitter in Draco’s mouth, but what else is he supposed to do?

Potter opens his mouth, looking as if he wants to say something, but then he must think better of it, his mouth closing. Right after, the lights in the theatre flicker, and people start to reclaim their seats for the end of the play.

This time, it’s harder for Draco to concentrate on the play. It’s as good as it was before, but just five minutes in, Potter’s hand unexpectedly covers Draco’s own where it’s resting on his thigh. Draco’s eyes widen and snap down to his lap. He tenses; he can’t help it. And when Potter starts lightly caressing his knuckles, Draco bites his lip to stop from whimpering. It’s so tender and gentle, and sends tremors shooting up Draco’s arm. Just from the minor contact, Draco’s body is hyper aware of Potter.

When he makes himself look at Potter, he’s staring straight ahead, watching the play, seemingly unconcerned about what he’s doing, unconcerned that Draco’s about two minutes away from hyperventilating.

And Potter takes it even further by grasping Draco’s hand, turning it over on his thigh, and pressing his hand against Draco’s. Draco’s frozen, holding his breath, waiting for Potter’s next move. A moment later, Potter tries to lace his fingers with Draco’s. Heart pounding, Draco curls his fingers around Harry’s, releasing his breath. Potter squeezes his hand when Draco does, and Draco’s whole world narrows down to his hand in Potter’s.

His mind’s whirling. What is going on? Why is Potter holding his hand? It makes no sense. That’s not something most people do with their friends. But Potter’s not even gay! Is he? To be fair, Potter’s never said. Yes, he dated two girls in Hogwarts, but that’s hardly indicative of a single preference. Potter could be gay, or bisexual. Could it be true?

Draco’s heart beats so fast that he’s worried Potter can hear it. He doesn’t want to hope, it’s too much – what it he’s wrong? – but it’s so hard not to. How could he not when there’s a slight chance that Potter could and does return Draco’s feelings and that Draco would be able to bond?

He spends the next hour in an anxious, jittery mess, not even focusing on the end of the play. Potter doesn’t move his hand, or even look at Draco again, and Draco takes the opportunity to memorize the feel of Potter’s hand in his own, just in case this is a misunderstanding and Potter’s just trying to comfort Draco after their brief conversation during intermission.

Draco’s startled by the end of the play, and when Potter stands up to clap along with everyone else in the theatre, Draco wants to cry out at the loss of touch. Somehow, he manages to focus on what’s actually happening.

As they’re leaving the playhouse and heading back to that blasted Underground or whatever it’s called, Draco’s hopes vanish. Potter doesn’t take his hand again, and he doesn’t even mention what he did in the theatre, instead asking Draco about the play.

Draco’s never been the type to give up on something, but this isn’t a case of Draco wanting something trivial or unimportant in the long run – this is his life, his heart at stake. There’s too much potential for Draco to be really hurt by rash action. He wants Potter too much, and the risk is too high. It makes him unable to do anything, that fear that he’s wrong, that Potter doesn’t actually want him despite the signals Draco thinks he’s seeing. Yes, he’d get everything he wants if Potter does want him, but if Draco takes the risk and Potter doesn’t want him, where does that leave Draco?

He masks his supreme disappointment with difficulty. It’s stupid how much hope Potter simply holding his hand gave them, and now that it seems like it was a fluke, just an expression of friendship, Draco’s heart feels as if it’s been ripped in two.

Forcing a smile and blinking back tears, Draco answers Potter’s questions and tries to engage in discussion. Potter has unexpectedly become quite knowledgeable in many subjects, theatre and literature just a couple of them.

It seems to take a lifetime, but they finally get back to Draco’s flat. Draco doesn’t even remember what he said to Potter on the way back, too focused on not breaking down. He just wants to retreat in there and lick his wounds. At least he didn’t do anything too embarrassing, or anything that would irreparably damage his friendship with Potter.

“I had a nice time tonight, Harry,” he says with some difficultly. He forces another smile. “Thank you for taking me.”

Potter gives him a smile in return. “You’re welcome. Draco, I was wondering-,”

“Harry, it’s late,” he interrupts. He can’t stand much more. “We’ll talk later, yes? Maybe we can get dinner sometime next weekend. Good-night.”

He goes to turn around, but Potter grabs his hand, and Draco stiffens. He half turns his head. “What?”

“Draco.”

Potter sounds hurt and Draco feels it keenly.

“Wait, please.”

“What?” Draco says again. “I’m tired.”

“Will you look at me?” Potter asks softly, and Draco knows it’s a bad idea, but he can’t deny Potter’s request. He probably couldn’t deny Potter anything he asked. He turns around, but won’t raise his head and meet Potter’s eyes.

Potter’s quiet. He steps closer, almost touching Draco, and Draco aches to touch him. He sees Potter raising his hands, but Draco still jerks when Potter – Harry, Draco finally lets himself think - gently touches his face.

“Look at me. Please,” Harry urges.

Trembling, Draco slowly tilts his head up. The way Harry’s looking at him, like Draco’s all he wants, nearly sends Draco to his knees.

“Draco…”

Harry’s voice is a caress, and unconsciously, Draco leans closer to him. As if in slow motion, the distance between them closes until it’s gone and their mouths lightly touch and they’re kissing. It’s tender and chaste, no tongue, but it’s still the best kiss of Draco’s life. Harry’s lips are full and soft, but it wouldn’t matter if they were chapped and thin – it’s the best because it’s Harry, his mate.

“Draco,” Harry says again, and this time it’s pleading.

Unable to resist, Draco surges forward, deepening the contact. Harry’s lips immediately open at Draco’s insistence, and the kiss turns wet and eager in a second. Harry’s arms go around him, and Draco lets Harry pull him close, Draco reveling in the greater contact. Harry’s hands roam over his body, seemingly everywhere at once, and Draco can’t stop from moaning into Harry’s mouth.

It’s so easy to lose himself in the kiss, in the taste and feel of Harry. He never wants it to stop. He wants Harry forever. Draco clutches at Harry’s shoulders, wanting more. One kiss turns into another and another, and for all Draco knows, a minute or an hour could have passed, but finally, their mouths part.

Draco doesn’t want it to end. He stays close, their lips still brushing, and closes his eyes, breathing deeply. How is this happening?

“Draco. Draco,” Harry says desperately, and then he’s taking Draco’s lips in another fervent, passionate kiss. “You’re so…”

Draco kisses him again. He doesn’t want to talk. He loses all sense of time or of the real world, only aware of Harry. But as suddenly as the kiss turned heated, Draco’s suddenly aware that he’s snogging the life out of Potter, who’s his mate and apparently not as straight as Draco thought, outside his flat where any other tenants could walk by and see them, and rational thought comes rushing back, leaving Draco cold. Frantic, he pushes Harry away from him and backs up into the door of his flat. He’s panting, heart racing and there’s an ache in his groin.

Fuck.

He stares at Harry incredulously. Harry looks confused and hurt, and he reaches out a hand, but Draco flinches. Harry recoils, taking a step back. “Draco?” he asks, and he sounds so desolate and hurt that Draco just wants to throw himself in Harry’s arms and kiss him again and never let him go.

But it’s too much, too much. Draco doesn’t even know how to begin to process this. He needs to get away. He needs to get away now. It’s wrong. Harry’s not his, Harry doesn’t know. Everything’s wrong and it’s not supposed to be like this. He doesn’t even know what this is – is it serious, was it a fluke? Draco doesn’t know. Harry drags his emotions up and down and has Draco so turned around, his emotions on a roller coaster, until Draco doesn’t even know which way is up anymore. Potter flirts, and then backs off, and is never direct about what he feels and what he wants.

“I… you… no,” is all he manages to say.

He scrambles for the doorknob, getting the door open after a couple tries. He stumbles inside, slamming the door closed, Harry’s distressed face seared into his memory.

**

For three days, Draco holes up in his flat, not answering his mail, not even going to work. He has plenty of vacation and sick time stocked, and if he can’t take some time off for this, what can he take it for? All he does is take turns lying in bed and lying on the couch, thinking and thinking and thinking, stroking Ophelia as long as she lets him.

He goes over and over it in his head. From their first re-meeting, to their dinner, to adopting Laertes and Ophelia, to their letters, and finally to their disastrous evening at the theatre, all of it. Draco is no less confused now than he was three days ago. He’s more confused.

It doesn’t make sense. If Harry’s gay (and from those kisses, Draco is inclined to believe that he’s at least bisexual), where does that leave Draco? Apart from holding his hand at the play (and then turning his world on its head by kissing him), Harry really hasn’t done anything up to then to show that he’s interested. And if he is interested, again, where does that leave Draco? Harry doesn’t even know that he’s a Veela! Harry likes him, that much is clear, and apparently Harry’s physically attracted to him, but that does not mean that Harry would be accepting of a permanent, lifetime bond with a Veela.

It might not even be serious for Harry. That thought – that Harry’s just looking for a causal relationship – is unbearable. But Draco can’t do casual; he can’t. If Harry’s not prepared to offer him forever, then it’s not going to work; in this case, Draco can’t settle. And truthfully, Draco doesn’t have much hope. They’ve just become friends. Being a Veela means that Draco can’t lie to himself, can’t hide behind self-denial. Harry’s the mate he wants and he’s in love.

As much as Draco loved actually spending time with Harry, it was Harry’s letters that made Draco fall in love. They were personal and emotional and private, and Draco felt privileged that Harry trusted him so much to be open with him about his childhood with his horrible guardians, the angst and discontent with his disillusionment during the war and his subsequent disillusionment with the world after that lead to him going to the United States. And in the face of such honesty, Draco found himself opening up about his childhood and adolescence, telling Harry things that he never told anyone before, things that not even Pansy knows, about his hopes and fears and insecurities. It was easy to confide in Harry.

But Harry… how could Harry possibly have any strong feelings for him after just over a month? At least he wouldn’t have feelings strong enough that would ensure that Harry wouldn’t balk at Draco’s confession. He can’t. It’s too soon. It’s improbable. Draco can’t be that lucky. From searching for love for so long and resigning himself to a life without a mate, unexpectedly finding the love he wants in Harry Potter of all people and having his feelings returned… it’s too much too hope for. He can’t hope, not yet.

He’s going to have to talk to Harry. There’s no way around it. Draco can’t avoid him indefinitely, and while Draco hasn’t looked at any of his mail, he’s sure he has at least a few angry messages from Hermione and Pansy. He’s actually surprised neither of them have shown up yet and demanded that Draco let them in. He supposes it’s only a matter of time. Harry’s going to demand an explanation, but Draco doesn’t really have one for him – his strong reaction after the kiss surprised Draco himself. He was just overwhelmed and lashed out.

He lies on the couch until after noon trying to decide what he’s going to say to Harry, how he’s going to deal with this and then he showers and dresses and it makes him feel a little bit more like himself. It’s after that, when he’s in the kitchen searching for something to eat, when someone pounds on the door.

Shit. Draco would bet money it’s either Pansy or Hermione, or both of them like it was before. And even though he’d like another day or five to prepare, they won’t go away. Before he can talk himself out of it and pretend that he’s not home, he braces himself and pulls the door open.

Draco’s speechless, and he almost slams the door shut just as quickly as he opened it because it’s not Pansy or Hermione in front of him, but Harry, who’s scowling and absurdly holding an equally scowling Laertes.

Silence reigns. Harry was the last person that Draco expected to show up at his door after the way they left things. Then again, Harry’s always been impulsive and headstrong. Now that Draco thinks about it, it makes perfect sense that Harry would show up. He’d rather confront Draco head on than wait for Draco to come to him.

Laertes must get fed up with them just staring at each other because he wiggles out of Harry’s arms with an angry meow and trots over to where Ophelia’s curled up on one of Draco’s living room chairs, one eye cracked open. He jumps up behind her and promptly lies down, his head next to Ophelia’s. Within seconds, both of them close their eyes and they’re purring.

“He’s been angry the past few days. I figured he wanted to see Ophelia,” Harry says by way of explanation. “And now that that’s taken care of, we need to talk. Now.”

Draco hesitates for only a second. Then he steps aside and gestures for Harry to come in, and wanting all the reprieve he can get, closes the door slowly and puts his back to Harry.

Harry isn’t deterred. “Why did you push me away?” he demands. “You kissed me back, I know you did, so why?”

It takes all of Draco’s courage to face Harry. He’s angry, it’s clear, but also sounds unbelievably hurt. “It’s… complicated.”

It’s woefully inadequate, but it’s all Draco can come up with without confessing everything.

Complicated?” Harry repeats. He scoffs. “Complicated? That’s the best you can come up with?”

Draco feels his own temper flaring at Harry’s condescending tone. “Yes! It’s complicated!”

“What does that even mean?” Harry asks, throwing his arms up. “It seems pretty simple to me! I like you and I think you like me too. Why can’t we date? I thought we kind of already were.”

“You don’t understand, Harry,” Draco says, anger dying away as swiftly as it came. “It’s really not that simple. I wish it was, believe me, but it’s not.”

Harry’s anger also seems to disappear and he looks much more vulnerable and unsure, something Draco hasn’t seen in all the time they’ve spent together the past month and a half. He walks closer to Draco, biting his lip. He raises his arms as if he wants to touch Draco, but then he must think better of it because he drops them down to his sides.

“You’re right. I don’t understand, Draco,” he says plaintively. “Did I do something? I thought we were getting along so well, getting closer, and then we held hands at the play, and you didn’t pull away. And then here, I finally kissed you, and it was perfect, and I never wanted to stop, but you pushed me away…”

The self-doubt that Draco can hear in Harry’s voice is painful to hear because Draco knows it is all his fault. That was never his intention; he never wanted to hurt Harry. How did things go so wrong? Without thinking about it, he reaches out for Harry, and Harry meets him halfway, and they’re in each other’s arms, clinging to one another.

Harry’s arms rub up and down his back. “Draco, please. Tell me what’s going on. I can help.”

God, Harry’s so good, so sweet, so perfect. Draco doesn’t deserve him, but he wants him, needs him, loves him. “Harry.”

“No, don’t push me away, not again,” Harry pleads. “I’m- I’m falling in love with you, Draco. Let me in, please,” he admits in a whisper, and Draco feels the world fall from beneath his feet.

He sags against Harry and if not for Harry holding him up, he would fall to the floor. He has to blink back tears. There was nothing that Draco wanted to hear from Harry more that those words, but they were also something he never thought he would. Harry’s his mate and Harry wants him, is falling in love with him. It’s too… He’s overcome. “Harry, I…”

“Whatever it is, you can tell me,” Harry promises, pulling back so he can look at Draco’s face. He smiles so tenderly that Draco’s heart turns over in his chest.

Draco wants to believe that, he does, but there’s still the secret of him being a Veela. Until that’s out in the open and there really are no more secrets or lies of omission between them, there’s can’t be anything between them.

Half of him doesn’t want to admit it and would rather just hold onto the here and now, but that’s not practical. He has to be completely honest with Harry; it’s only fair and right, and even if he wanted to hide it, he couldn’t. And starting a new relationship built on lies and secrets wouldn’t last. Without trust, there’s nothing.

It’s now or never. He needs some distance for this confession, and moving away from Harry and out of his arms is one of the hardest things Draco’s ever done. Harry doesn’t look happy that he’s not holding him anymore, but to his credit he doesn’t try to pull Draco back.

“Harry, I…” he starts, but he doesn’t know how to continue. Fuck, admitting this to Ron, Hermione, and Pansy was nowhere near as nerve wracking and frightening as the imminent prospect of telling Harry. But then again, their rejection would not have broken Draco’s heart. Harry’s different; his reaction is the only one that truly matters.

He decides the only way to proceed is to just get the truth out there and hope for the best. “I’m a Veela,” he blurts out, his heart beating faster and harder than Draco thinks it ever has. He wouldn’t be exaggerating if he said that Harry’s response would shape the course of the rest of his life, and as he watches Harry’s face, he thinks that he may have been expecting confusion or shock or (in Draco’s nightmares) disgust or a number of reactions, some good, most bad, but certainly not this blank complete non-reaction. “Harry?” he ventures after several long, agonizing silent seconds.

Harry blinks a couple times. “A Veela, huh?” he says.

He sounds a bit confused, but not really shocked or upset, and Draco’s gob smacked when Harry then grins and says, “Well, you’ve always been too pretty, even in school. It makes sense.”

Draco gapes because this is not how this is supposed to go. Harry sounds teasing, amused even. Draco must be hearing things. “What?” he says faintly.

“I met a Veela in the States,” Harry explains with a shrug. “And she, Ginny, and I became close. She was very open about it and told me a lot about Veela history when I was interested in learning more.”

Oh, god, this is too much for Draco to process. After all the worry and anxiety and hopelessness of thinking Harry could never reciprocate his feelings, was it all for naught? Because Harry’s here, standing in front of him, wanting him and taking Draco’s Veelaness in stride.

“Draco,” Harry says softly, approaching him. “I could be wrong, and tell me if I am way off base, even though I don’t think I am, but…” he takes a deep breath. “Am- am I one of your mates? Is that why you’ve been trying to distance yourself from me? Because you didn’t think I’d want you?”

Draco can’t look away from Harry’s intent face, can’t think coherently, can’t even speak. He just nods, wide eyed, and as if that was the signal Harry was waiting for, Harry breaks out into a beaming smile that transforms his entire face and he takes Draco back in his arms.

This time, Draco allows himself to fully enjoy it and practically melts into the embrace. It feels so good, so right to be close to Harry like this. There are still things that they need to talk about, but none of that matters right now. Harry’s here, Harry knows, and Harry wants him too.

“I’m not going anywhere, Draco,” Harry tells him quietly right before his mouth covers Draco’s.

Draco melts into the kiss, and they kiss for a while, Draco holding on to Harry tightly and his body a mass of sensation and feeling, and he never wants to stop.

But eventually Harry ends it, though must too soon for Draco’s satisfaction. Harry’s expression is achingly tender, and he gently brushes Draco’s hair away from his face.

Draco’s still pressed against him. He’s not going to let him go, not now that he has him.

“Draco,” Harry says. “You’re going to have to be patient with me. I do feel something for you, something strong, I didn’t lie, but I’m really on unknown ground here. As much as I want to promise you forever right now, I can’t. But I want to try, see where this goes. I’m not ready to give you up, not when I’m just getting addicted to you.”

Draco beams. He feels as if he could float away. All that matters right now is that Harry knows he’s a Veela and Harry wants to be with him. They can figure everything else out as they go. “That’s fine, Harry,” Draco tells him. “As long as you want to try.”

Harry smiles at him, and he leans closer, mouth hovering over Draco’s. “I do. I really do,” he murmurs. “Now I want to kiss you again.”

Draco has absolutely no problem with that. When Harry’s presses his lips against his again, Draco opens his mouth for Harry’s tongue with a little sigh, relishing in Harry’s kiss. Each kiss is better than the last. And as they stand there, holding one another and sharing sweet kiss after sweet kiss, for the first time since childhood, Draco lets himself truly hope that he might get his happy ending, and it’s wonderful. Harry’s wonderful and Draco thinks they’ll be wonderful together.

**

Later, after their emotions aren’t running quite so high and they manage to stop kissing (which was an effort on at least Draco’s part), they sit together on Draco’s couch, Harry immediately moving in close and putting his arms around Draco. Draco sighs and relaxes against Harry, putting his head on Harry’s shoulder. It’s been so long since Draco’s felt this peaceful and content, and all he’s doing is spending time with his mate. Harry’s playing with his hands, rubbing along his fingers and tickling his palm.

As much as Draco likes the silence and wants to just accept that Harry’s apparently fine with being Draco’s mate, he still has questions. “I thought you were straight,” he hears himself saying to break the silence. “For a long time. I didn’t want to let myself hope you weren’t.”

Harry’s fingers briefly pause in their stroking. “I’m not,” he says quietly. “In school, I thought I was, but you know what was going on then.”

Draco feels Harry shrug against him.

“Ginny and I were together when we went to the US, but it didn’t take long for us to realize it wasn’t working. And then when we went out to a club one night, a guy hit on me, and I didn’t dislike it. I liked it a lot, actually.” He shrugs again. “I tried to date, but it was hard with moving so much. And I was shy, if you can believe it. Flirting with strangers seemed awkward, and dancing with them, especially in clubs where dancing meant grinding and groping was uncomfortable. I just didn’t know how to go about it, so I kinda gave up after a while.

“But it was the best thing, I guess,” Harry goes on. “It was nice just to worry about myself and do what I wanted after the War. I was finally able to relax, didn’t have anyone demanding anything from me. When I decided to come back to London, I was determined to find a boyfriend when I did, though. But then,” he says dipping his head to lightly kiss Draco, “I saw you and knew that I wouldn’t want anyone else. I was doomed as soon as you opened your mouth and you weren’t a git anymore, but chummy with Ron and Hermione.”

Draco’s ego swells at hearing that Harry was taken with him from the beginning because Draco definitely felt attraction then too, but he can’t resist teasing, “I was a loveable git back then and you know it. Don’t lie to yourself.”

“In your dreams maybe, Malfoy,” Harry says, the sting of his words soothed by his fond tone. “But you made me nervous, you know,” he says more seriously.

Draco blinks at the shift in Harry’s demeanor and he sits up so he can fully look at Harry. “Why?”

“Why?” Harry repeats. “Are you joking? Draco, you’re gorgeous. And intelligent. And confident. And just everything I’m not. Of course you’re intimidating. I didn’t think there was any way that you’d waste time on shy, fumbling me who really doesn’t have any clue what he’s doing.”

Draco’s mouth opens, but nothing comes out. He was so caught up in his own issues and insecurities that he never really thought about if Harry felt the same things. To Draco, Harry is the gorgeous one, who is intelligent and powerful and confident and funny and everything Draco’s not. Harry’s the catch; Draco’s prepared to chase men off when he and Harry go out in public. How Harry doesn’t know that is beyond Draco, but then again, Harry never seemed to understand the attention he always got, that he just did what he had to and there was not use in looking at him like the ‘savior.’

“And it’s not like I have a lot of experience, with dating and… more,” Harry goes on. “But I want to be with you and make you happy. I was nervous, but I wanted to try, and thought I was doing things right because you seemed to be attracted to me, but then you’d back off and I’d be right back where I started. If it wasn’t for Ron and Hermione encouraging me to keep at it, I might have backed off because I was discouraged.”

Why is Draco not surprised that Ron and Hermione were meddling? If things hadn’t turned out so well, he would have had a long talk with both of them, but this time, Draco will give them a pass. “I am attracted to you, Harry,” Draco tells him. “You definitely don’t have to worry about that. And I don’t have a lot of experience either. We can learn together.”

Harry smiles at him and cups his face, and it’s one of the most beautiful things that Draco’s ever seen.

“You’re right,” Harry says, almost wonderingly, like everything’s finally falling into place. “Together. I like the sound of that.” He brushes a light kiss over Draco’s lips and Draco sighs, wanting more of Harry’s kiss and touch.

“And I want you to know that I don’t have a problem with you being a Veela, if you were worried about that,” Harry says. “And if later, you decide that you really do want me, I’m sure I’ll want to be your mate - I'm not very good at casual, if you haven’t guessed, which is one of the reasons it was hard to date when I was in the US. But let’s take it slow, get to know each other better. Is that okay? I really don’t want to mess this up.”

Draco would d agree to anything to get Harry to accept being his mate, but it is a good idea. Draco likes what they’ve been doing – dating, spending time together, sending letters, learning about each other, about who they each have grown to be since the War. He doesn’t want to complicate things with sex (though he’s sure that when he and Harry do have sex, it’ll be incredible and wonderful and amazing) and maybe mess everything up by rushing, either. It would be devastating, especially since Harry’s the only mate Draco could have, which Draco will tell him about in a few days. For now, he’s going to relax and let all the confusion and anxiety of the past month and a half go.

“It’s fine, Harry,” Draco says earnestly, leaning forward to kiss Harry again. The novelty of being allowed to do that hasn’t worn off and it probably won’t for a long time, if ever. “I’m not in a rush.”

That’s not a lie. His birthday is a week away, yes, but he doesn’t have to fully bond with Harry by then. Just having Harry accept being his mate and light physical contact will be enough to stabilize Draco’s magic and keep him from sinking into a depression until they have sex and consummate the bond.

Harry looks relieved. He’s such an intriguing mix of confidence and vulnerability. “And for the record,” Draco says, “you are wonderful at dating, and I know you will be at everything else.” He winks at Harry and Harry chuckles.

“If you say so.”

“I do,” Draco says. “And you’ll learn not to argue with me. I’m always right.”

“We’ll see about that,” Harry says, the unmistakable amusement on his facing negating any stern tone Harry may have been trying to adopt.

“We will. But Harry, you don’t have to worry,” Draco says earnestly. “Trust me. If you were any more perfect and sweet, you wouldn’t be real.”

“Yeah?” Harry’s smile is shy. “Hermione helped me a bit, gave me a few pointers on how to ‘woo’ you, her words. I just wanted to make you smile, Draco. I still do. You’re beautiful when you do.”

Draco’s breath catches. No one’s ever given him such sincere, honest compliments before, or looked at him like Harry does, intense yet tender, like Draco’s everything he wants. Draco could get used to that devoted, adoring attention very quickly.

Harry deserves a kiss for it, and Harry doesn’t seem to mind when Draco’s lips press against his again. In fact, Harry opens for it, making a pleased sound in the back of the throat, and his arms go fully around Draco. It’s a good thing he’s as eager as Draco because Draco is planning on kissing Harry for the rest of his life as much as he possibly can. He can already tell it’s going to be his new favorite pastime.

One kiss turns into two, and two turns into three, and Harry doesn’t seem inclined to let Draco go any time soon, not that Draco’s complaining. He moves as close as he can to Harry, just short of actually climbing into his lap, wanting to feel him. One of Harry’s hands stroke though his hair, the other one gently cupping his jaw as they kiss, and the affectionate gestures make Draco tremble and they go straight to his heart.

Maybe life isn’t as cruel as Draco thought. For a while, Draco almost despaired, thinking he’d be alone and unhappy the rest of life, but then Harry came back into his life and turned it around by just being the wonderful man he is, brightening it and giving Draco hope for a previously improbable happy future.

And as much as Draco’d love to stay here in his flat with Harry and their cats and not come out for a few weeks, it can’t happen. Tomorrow he has to go to work when he’d much rather stay in Harry’s arms, and then he and Harry are going to have to tell Ron, Hermione, and Pansy about their bonding, and deal with the real world that unfortunately exists outside their sanctuary here.

It’s going to get frantic once the papers (and his mother) get wind of this. He better enjoy the peace and quiet, and savor it because it won’t last. But he’ll worry about all of that later, when he’s not kissing Harry. Everything else can wait. He’s right where he needs to be right now.

“Draco…” Harry murmurs in between heart-stopping kisses, “I love kissing you. I can’t get enough.”

Draco has to moan at that, surging up against Harry. His ego is definitely going to like Harry’s tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve and say what he feels. “I can’t either, Harry,” Draco says. He’ll never get enough. He doesn’t think Harry will either – they match too well – and Draco smiles against Harry’s mouth. Everything’s perfect. How Draco got so lucky, he doesn’t know, but he’s going to enjoy it.

**
THE END
**