The headline screamed across the paper when it happened, even though the letters weren’t any bigger than the ones the Daily Prophet would ordinarily use to announce something like this. But for Harry, sensitive as he was to the slightest mention of the Malfoy name anywhere near him, the scream was almost audible.
He reached out and laid his fingers across the words ASTORIA MALFOY DEAD IN TRAGIC BROOM ACCIDENT. Then he swallowed and looked at the photograph.
The Prophet would have got pictures, of course. Of course they would have. But to Harry’s intense relief, a relief that passed through him and left him shaken and panting, the photo showed only Draco’s broad back, bent over his wife as he cradled her in his arms. Even when he moved, twisting to glare at the reporters over his shoulder, nothing revealed the broken neck that the article said had killed Astoria.
Harry shut his eyes and shook his head. Better for the people reading the paper, but not better at all for Draco.
Harry shut the paper and rose to his feet. He’d come to the office early for a quiet cup of tea, as much as to escape the reporters who still haunted him, but he knew he could move around freely right now. They would all be elsewhere for the moment.
He stepped out into the corridor and met Ron coming along. Ron waved his own copy of the paper, and then saw Harry’s face and stopped.
“Oh,” he said. “So you already know, then.”
Harry nodded and started walking. He didn’t know yet what would happen when his brain settled; for the moment, it was clicking and fizzing and whirling like some of the odder instruments Dumbledore had kept around. Ron hurried beside him.
“I don’t know if he’d want to see us right now,” he ventured, after a moment’s silence. “I mean, it just happened, and it’s—we’re okay with him now, but not exactly friends…”
Harry nodded in silence. He knew all that. Several things had kept them from being close friends with Draco, even though he worked with the Unspeakables as an “outside attaché” between the Department of Mysteries and other Departments in the Ministry and therefore needed his charm to conduct his job. Part of that was the old Weasley-Malfoy feud. Part of it was that, while Harry and Draco had exchanged apologies and handshakes, it was difficult to pretend that the intense experiences they’d shared were ever really bygones.
Part of it was that Harry had looked at Draco’s face in passing, perhaps a year after his slow, gentle divorce from Ginny, and felt something stir to life inside him, a gravitational pull that he didn’t intend to let make him orbit Draco. Draco had a wife, lovely and loving and beloved.
More important, Draco, as someone with Veela heritage—regularly explained to those in the Department who might have tried to flirt with him or Astoria—had a mate. And he’d found her two years after the Battle of Hogwarts, in a love story that the Prophet had covered in awed, envious tones. A fairy tale ending, half the reporters said. That he didn’t deserve, Rita Skeeter added.
Harry had learned well enough over the years how horrible he was at resisting temptation. Better to place temptation out of the way entirely by never going beyond nods and smiles with Malfoy, and courteous conducting of the business that brought them together for public interviews and departmental disputes.
Now, he had to do something.
And because he had no idea what it was yet, Harry let his steps lead him, until he ended up in the dust-quiet library that formed the heart of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The Ministry preferred that its Aurors and Hit Wizards not have to go elsewhere to do research on the properties of dangerous Dark artifacts, or anything else that might tell the criminals they pursued too much about their cases.
Harry walked straight to the section on magical creatures, used more by the Department in charging of regulating them than by Aurors, and ran his fingers along the edge of the shelf. Yes. There was the large tome, bound in white leather, on Veela that he had examined soon after he learned Draco was one. Not because he wanted to break the mating bond, but because he wanted to understand everything he could about Draco. It was one way of being there, being close, without doing something harmful.
Harry had barely settled himself with Veela and Their Bonding when Ron tapped him on the shoulder and peered worriedly into his face.
“What’s the matter, mate? You look like you’ve caught some kind of book fever from Hermione.”
Harry smiled at Ron, and said, “I’m going to do something about the broken mate bond. You know Draco will die without it.”
Ron’s face gained color again, and he sighed, a great whooshing noise that ruffled Harry’s hair. “Oh, so it’s your saving-people thing again. You had me worried there.”
Harry squeezed his friend’s hand and turned to open the book, and Ron, with a nod and a gentle press on his shoulder, left him there.
Harry stared up and down the rows of plants clustering around him and muttered into his hands. He looked down at the book in front of him, then up again at the plants. Daffodils and roses and some giant blue flowers that he didn’t recognize—
And none of them would help him a bit.
The book was insistent. He could potentially save Draco’s life, but he had to make sure that the new bond he would establish that way was the opposite of the old Veela bond in at least three important ways, because three was magically significant and nothing could replace a Veela bond, so it had to be based on contrarian magic. Harry knew two of those three ways, because the book had detailed them, and he met the conditions. He would choose Draco, instead of Draco choosing him, and it would happen because of his magic, not Veela magic.
For the third way, he had thought he would embody the magic in an object, both so it would be the opposite of the original bond being located in a person and so that Draco wouldn’t have to actually deal with Harry if he didn’t want to. Keep the object around, and he should remain healthy. The book suggested this, and recommended a plant. It would reproduce itself, the magic could be passed on to any seedlings it had, and, oh yes, it had to be symbolic in some important way.
Harry had thought he’d choose a flower. A delicate, graceful thing that Draco could accept into his life once Harry included the note that explained what it was and where it had come from.
But no, the book said—and Harry looked down one more time to check on it—it had to be symbolic of the new bond and the person establishing that new bond. And a graceful flower was the last thing that Harry had ever felt like.
Plus, he thought of the bond as a kind of rebirth. He wanted a plant that was a symbol of that. And flowers were anything but, with the brief way they bloomed and then faded.
“Harry! Can I help you?”
Harry turned around with a smile that he didn’t bother to hide. Neville was bustling up behind him, wiping dirt off his hands. He looked so much more comfortable and at home than Harry had ever seen him that Harry couldn’t resist teasing him a little. “Well, I was planning to steal all your valuable plants and sell them for profit, but then I remembered. You probably have a specially trained attack plant that eats anyone who’d think to try that.”
Neville grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “You ought to see what some of the mandrakes could do.” He cocked his head at the book in Harry’s hands. “Is that a book on Veela?”
Harry nodded. “And fuck if I know what to do next,” he said. “I’m trying to do this ritual that will save someone’s life. But I need a plant that’s symbolic of rebirth, and symbolic of me. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Neville gave him a long stare that seemed to see into the back of his skull. Harry shifted. If not for his obsession with plants, he would have suggested that Neville become a Healer, because he had the trick they did since the war: he looked at you and just knew everything important. Or at least most things important.
“Someone,” Neville said. “That someone wouldn’t be Draco Malfoy, would it?”
Harry waved a hand. “You could say he goes by that name.”
Neville blinked, and then his face returned to looking solemn. “Harry. Ritual magic involving plants can be powerful and dangerous. And to do it for someone you don’t really know…”
“I promise,” Harry said firmly. “I know enough of the risks that I can do it. The ritual itself is fairly simple to perform, and it won’t even involve me introducing myself to Draco. It’ll just give him something to keep with him that’ll act like a substitute mate and keep him from dying. But I need the something, and I don’t know what it can be.”
Neville stepped back, and for a moment Harry was afraid he would tell him to fuck off. Or worse, raise more concerns about Draco, the way Hermione would be if she knew what Harry was really doing.
Then Neville shook his head, said, “I might have just the thing for you,” and walked off towards the back of the greenhouse.
Harry sighed and looked up at the nodding white rose right above him. It was a slender, strong flower on a stem that bent like Draco’s arms when he was sitting in a chair and thinking deeply, and it had a faint yellow tint along the petals that might have come into his hair.
“Why can’t I have something like you?” he whispered, and swallowed around the lump in his throat. “Sometimes I wish I was more like him.”
He turned around as Neville bustled up again, holding out a shallow dish filled with sand and glowing heat. Harry knew without asking that it was probably a perfect replica of whatever environment the plant inside it grew in.
He took a look at the plant—
And blinked. It was a tiny, shaggy, brown thing, mostly twisted in on itself, although its outer limbs sprawled along the sand in Neville’s dish in ragged curls. Harry couldn’t imagine anything less like the white rose standing above him.
“Well,” he said, before Neville could speak, “I see it’s symbolic of my hair, at least.”
Neville rolled his eyes and murmured a spell that Harry recognized as one that could encourage plants to grow faster. Then he whispered, “Aguamenti,” and splashed the water over the World’s Ugliest Plant.
And it grew.
It sprawled, it twisted, it reached. The brown curls unfurled from the center, and ones under them unfolded, and ones under them, striving greedily towards the water. Harry actually took a step backwards. It still wasn’t pretty, but damn if it wasn’t alive.
“It’s called a Jericho rose,” Neville said softly, eyes on Harry. “Among a lot of other things. It can survive the driest weather for years and years, until water falls on it, and then it wakes up.” He paused, then added, “It’s a resurrection plant.”
“It’s perfect,” Harry said, when he could speak.
Neville’s eyes flickered up to his scar for a moment, and he returned Harry a private look, the one that spoke about the bond that they shared—the two possible Boys-Who-Lived—before he nodded. “Yes, it is. For you and the ritual.” He smiled. “Should I wrap it up for you?”
Harry laid the book down in front of him and then looked at the Jericho rose, sitting on the table in its dish. “Right,” he said, licking his lips and looking back at the book. “Right.”
He would have liked another day, more time to memorize the words of the ritual, to calm himself down. The book said it was very important to have a calm and ordered pattern of thought, to have things arranged just so, like furniture, in your head. But he had seen an article that morning about how Draco’s condition had worsened overnight. Now he was molting narrow strips of skin that left thinner skin behind. It wouldn’t be long, the Healers had warned, before the molting skin would expose bone, and they could do nothing for a part-Veela like that, one who knew his mate was gone at the level of his flesh.
So Harry had to go ahead and do the ritual. At least he knew that if he got it wrong, the backlash would recoil on him and not Draco.
He touched the book one more time, and then forced himself to step back from it and circle the table. On the table, besides the Jericho rose in its bright dish taken from Neville’s shop, were a number of other things: a strand of Harry’s hair resting on top of a photograph of Draco, happy and smiling; a photograph of his parents; a Veela wing feather Harry had purchased hurriedly at the only apothecary he could find who kept such things on hand; and a thin circle of oil surrounding the whole.
There was no reason to delay any longer. Harry knew the words as well as he would ever know them; the ritual wouldn’t take long. He had to use powerful magic, but it was all his own.
He raised his wand, waited for his hand to stop shaking, and spoke the first incantation.
The Veela feather trembled and rose into the air, floating so that its stem pointed down at the Jericho rose. Harry let out a trembling breath. So far, it had gone well, but he knew this was only the first step, and the simplest.
He gestured with his wand, sweeping it slowly back and forth across the whole circle, so that it touched everything with its shadow, and spoke the second incantation.
This time, the strand of his hair rose, with the picture of Draco right behind it, and they did a complicated little dance of their own, orbiting the plant until they came to rest beside the feather in the air. Harry moved a step to the side, and released yet another breath. Yes, this step had worked as it should, too. There was no trace of the hair left, but a thin shadow shone in the photograph, behind Draco, a shadow that had green eyes and a lightning bolt scar if you looked hard enough.
I swore I would protect Draco. That’s what I’m doing.
Harry walked the circle around the table one more time. What he had to do next was the hardest bit, not in terms of the magic it pulled from him but just because of the decision he had to make. Well, he had promised.
If he could see his mum and dad again, he thought they would understand.
He snapped his wand out straight in front of him and said strongly, “Posthac adlego!”
The photograph of his parents rose, tottering in the air. Harry grimaced and forced more will to flow down his wand. He had to be sure about this, or the ritual wouldn’t work.
He thought of Draco, and the way he would be lying in his bed right now, his eyes shut, the murmur of Healers around him. To have to deal with his illness so soon after the death of his wife, his mate, whom Harry knew he had loved…
That was a lot harder than Harry had ever done.
The photograph of his madly waving parents snapped up and into place, forming the tip of a triangle with the feather and the altered picture of Draco. Harry nodded and turned to the circle of oil on the table. He had chosen this method of destruction because it would mean something to both him and Draco, and whether Draco was ever aware of the ritual or not, it was still important to include something like this. Symbolism was very important, or Harry could have used that slender white rose from Neville’s shop and been done with it.
“Ignem adlego!” He meant to shout, but it came out more like a hoarse whisper, probably because magic was suddenly flowing from him as if he had pierced a vein. He staggered, but caught himself on one of the chairs pushed in under the table and watched, despite himself, with eager, staring eyes.
The oil roared to life, the fire leaping around the floating tools and the Jericho rose. Harry smiled as he watched it. Of course, as a small, tame blaze, it wouldn’t show the monsters and demons of Fiendfyre, but it still meant something, on a small scale, to them both. Harry had saved Draco’s life there. He wanted to do the same thing again.
And as Harry had the thought, he saw the heart of the fire flare dazzling sunset-red, as was supposed to happen. The flames bent inwards and curled around the photos and the feather, tendrils of heat touching them as though to taste. Then the photographs began to curl and blacken, even the one of his parents.
Harry felt the pang of loss travel through him, and wondered for a moment what Hagrid would say if he could see this.
Then he shrugged. He thought Hagrid would understand, just like his mum and dad would. His dad had died fighting for him; his mum had sacrificed her life so Harry could live, and saved the world; Hagrid had carried Harry’s body back to the school when he thought he was dead. They would know why this was important.
The flame closed in, nearer and nearer. Harry counted under his breath, and cast the fifth and final incantation the moment he saw the red begin to change to gold, as described in the book. “Rosam adlego!”
The fire seemed to blow up in silence, a great pillar of yellow flame rising for the ceiling. Harry clung to his wand as it vibrated in his hand. It felt like it might pull his fingers off, but he didn’t care. This was what the ritual in the book had said to do. This was what would save Draco’s life.
Faster and faster the pillar of flame spun, and then it turned and slammed towards Harry. The root of the pillar was in the dish that held the Jericho rose. Harry swallowed, but remained still as the flame touched his heart.
He did scream as it burned the skin there away. He had to. The pain was bright, and sudden, and gave him no choice. For a moment, he wondered if the flames would actually surround and burn his heart. It felt as if they might.
Then the flames were there, and he could feel them burning his heart, and he could see them crisping the strands of the Jericho rose, and he felt—
Nothing but cradling warmth.
The gold flames turned red as he watched them, and then scarlet, and then orange, and then blue. The colors of a phoenix, the colors the book had told him the flames ought to turn if this was working.
The colors of rebirth.
When the flame vanished and Harry sagged to his knees, a moment before he gave in to the blackness pressing against the corners of his vision, he saw the Jericho rose glowing with the subtle colors of a reflected sunset, and knew it had worked.
Draco would live.
He spiraled down into blackness, happy enough to give him a new set of flames in his chest, of a different kind.
Harry sighed as he settled the dish with the Jericho rose on the table next to Draco’s bed. St. Mungo’s had tightened security precautions since the war, when some people had sneaked in objects that poisoned those with important information to one side or the other, and he could no longer send the plant to Draco as a gift and hope he would receive it. He knew that the mild sleeping charms he’d cast on the Healers near the door would wear off gently enough to make them feel that they had fallen asleep naturally.
Draco, being under a heavy Dreamless Sleep potion, wouldn’t wake. Harry hesitated, and then turned to face the bed, which he had avoided looking at since he entered.
Draco looked far worse than the—probably arranged—photo from that morning had made him seem. The skin had begun to peel off his face, and one could see glimpses of bone and teeth here and there, through the holes. His hair looked like straw in both color and consistency, and Harry saw the lines of pain that ran through his skin like the cracks. His hands, folded on top of the blanket, were already molting muscle as well as skin.
Harry licked his lips and raised his wand. He knew it would work, because the ritual had gone perfectly, but his voice still cracked as he whispered, “This is the gift that I make to you. Choosing where you had chosen, free-willed where you had followed the bond, in an object where yours was in a person. This is the free gift.”
He brought his wand down.
The Jericho rose’s subdued colors flared to life, and the warmer shades of the rainbow leaped across the space between it and Draco. Draco caught his breath as the fire played around his heart for a moment, and then moved up to his hair. Harry watched with his mouth going dry. Surely there had never been anything more beautiful.
A slight, strange sound, like someone dragging sheets off a bed, came to Harry’s ears, and he looked down at Draco’s hands, where it came from. Skin was growing across the gaping holes where it had dropped away.
When he looked up again, he could no longer see any of Draco’s teeth, and his hair already looked softer and finer.
Harry closed his eyes and sagged against the wall for a moment. All right. All right. It was working.
He reached into his pocket for the letter he had written—explaining that the plant was keeping Draco alive and would as long as he kept it with him—and dropped it gently next to the plant’s dish. Then he cast a charm that would keep anyone except Draco from touching or harming the Jericho rose. Although the Healers should realize the letter was telling the truth, since nothing they did could cure a broken Veela bond, Harry didn’t want to take the chance of some well-meaning protector throwing the plant out before it had had the chance to heal Draco completely.
He could do this, couldn’t he? Just once? He would never ask for anything after this. He had chosen to embody the magic in an object in the first place so that Draco wouldn’t have to interact with him if he didn’t want to.
He bent down and brushed his lips across Draco’s mouth. His lips parted under Harry’s as he gasped. Harry drew back quickly, before their tongues could touch. Draco was probably dreaming of Astoria, and Harry didn’t want to take any more.
He looked one more time at Draco, and then he slipped out into the corridor and walked, muffled, away from there.
He could feel the burning current in his chest, as though someone had fed him a potion that filled him with fire, and turned his head. It had been a dream, then, that Astoria was dead. Nothing else could have made him feel this way but her presence at his side.
There was a woman in the chair at his bedside, but it was his mother, who closed her eyes once when she saw him looking back at her. Then she reached out and took his hand in hers. “How are you feeling?” she asked quietly.
Draco sat there for a moment, blinking, feeling the warmth of the pillows against his back and the cool touch of Narcissa’s hand on his in contrast. He shuddered as the memory of Astoria’s death returned, and his mother must have guessed what he was thinking about, because she leaned forwards quickly and laid her lips against his forehead.
“None of that, please,” she murmured, voice gentle but iron-like as she smoothed back the hair from Draco’s forehead. “Do not give me any reason to regret that you woke. You are alive, Draco, and everything else must continue on from there.”
“Why am I alive?” Draco grimaced when he heard how pathetic his voice sounded, and Narcissa smiled at once and lifted a cup of water from the bedside table. Draco reached out to take it, pleased that his hand was steady.
“The Healers know it has something to do with the plant, although they don’t understand the ritual or spell that was used to make it work,” Narcissa said, and nodded at the plant on his table.
Draco turned his head. For some reason, he had expected to see a flower, or a rosebush, or a young tree—something strong and slender and full of life, the way he felt. Astoria was not with him, no, and she never would be again, but the grief was something he could feel now, instead of simply lie under.
There was no slender plant there. There was no plant there at all, at least to Draco’s eyes, until he readjusted his expectations and saw the shallow glass dish of glowing sand with what looked like dry weed scattered on it.
“I don’t understand,” he said at last, although he could feel the warmth rising from the dish, echoed in his chest. “What about that could bring me out of the coma?”
His mother reached down with her free hand—she had never let go of him with the other—and picked up a letter. Draco flipped it over, wondering as he did who it could possibly be from. None of the Greengrass family, coolly friendly though they were to him, would have done such a thing; none of his Hogwarts friends would have risked doing magic that might take their lives; another Veela could not have achieved it, as one Veela could not become the mate of another. And Scorpius, his son, his daring, darling son, might have wanted to attempt it, but Draco thought it was beyond an eleven-year-old.
And that was what this was—a modified mating bond. Draco knew it, could taste it in the way his tongue moved freely in his mouth and his tears were dry.
Dear Draco and the Healers of St. Mungo’s,
I hope you don’t find this presumptuous, but I’ve used a modification of the Tellus Ritual to save Mr. Malfoy’s life. It required choosing the bond, and making the decision of my own free will, and investing my own life in the plant. It’s called a Jericho rose, and it can live a long time with a little water. Mr. Malfoy should keep it near him, and take care of it. As long as it stays there, he’ll be able to live.
Draco, I’m sorry. I know I’m not Astoria, and that you probably didn’t want another mate. But this way, you at least get to attend her funeral. I promise I won’t ever impose on you.
Draco stared and stared at the writing, but no matter how long he looked, it refused to blur into a familiar hand. He began to wonder if he was wrong, if one of his friends or one of the Greengrasses would have taken the risk after all. It was true that the Tellus Ritual was one of the more common pieces of Veela magic, available in most good books on them.
He looked up. His mother reached over to take the piece of parchment from his hand, her gaze deep and calm.
“Does it matter who did it?” she asked. “For now, you are safe, and should be as long as you tend this plant. And now you can mourn for Astoria.”
Draco swallowed. “Yes,” he whispered, and closed his eyes so that he could see his wife’s mangled body. Because he would have to see it, until he stopped seeing it. He would have to look at it, until he could get past it.
She was gone, and nothing could change that, no matter the new warmth thrumming in his chest.
The mystery of the plant and his strange savior could wait a while.
Harry reached up and touched his chest, then shook his head with a smile. No, he really didn’t think there was a strange touch of warmth there, at least no more than usual. After all, he had constructed the bond with the plant to put it at a distance from him on purpose. It was bound to him, but not that way, not that close.
The warmth came from seeing the picture in the paper, Draco standing at his wife’s funeral, his face calm and reserved. He turned to say something to his mother and son, and then directed a glare at the camera; the reporter had probably chosen that moment to step forwards.
Harry lingered over that glare, at least in the moment he could before the picture looped back and began to show the moving images over again. It was the way he had seen Draco look several times over the last several years: asking with delicate outrage what someone was doing by infringing on his privacy. He didn’t ever have to ask. He could intimidate with a glance.
Not what Harry had ever thought someone he was attracted to would be capable of doing. But, well, things had changed a lot since school. And someone who didn’t seek attention out would have a lot of attraction to Harry, for a variety of reasons.
“Mate, what did you do?”
Harry looked up curiously, and then put down the paper. Ron loomed in front of him, his head bowed as he stared at Harry. Harry started to stand. Ron usually only looked like this when something had happened with one of their cases, or Harry had forgotten to turn a report in. Harry glanced at his desk, wondering, but no, it was bare of reports and their dreaded lists of numbers—times, expenses, property damage.
“Not that,” Ron said, and the queer tone in his voice made Harry turn back to him. “With Malfoy. I know you said you were going to help him, but I didn’t think you’d actually manage.”
Harry snorted and sat down again. “What did you expect, Ron? For me to give up and let him die?”
“No, no, of course not.” Ron sat down on the edge of his desk, but in a position that left one leg free to swing. “Not—I knew that you wouldn’t do that. But it really is weird, given that I know the only thing that can save a dying Veela is a new mate, and you’re not his mate. He couldn’t have got out of that coma and come seeking you even if you were.”
Harry gave him a faint smile and shrugged. “There was a ritual that meant I could use an object as a placeholder for a mate instead. I did that, and left a letter explaining that he would be fine as long as he kept the object close to him. I reckon he must have, or otherwise he couldn’t look like that.” He nodded at the photograph on the front page of the Prophet again, and looked away before he could be caught too much by the sight of Draco’s strength.
“That’s insane,” Ron said at last, when Harry had been looking expectantly at him for a while and the clock had chimed the new hour. “I know you’re a hero, but that’s a little extreme even for you.”
Harry sighed and picked up his robe from where he’d hung it on the back of the chair. “I don’t see why. I found something that worked, and did it. It doesn’t compel him to be with me. It doesn’t take the place of his mate. I know no one can do that.” He heard the wistful tone in his voice, and grimaced, checking on Ron from the corner of his eye. Luckily, Ron didn’t seem to know what the tone meant, from the way he carried on staring. “It worked.”
“You took a huge risk,” Ron whispered. “There could still have been backlash.”
“I know,” Harry said, a little irritated. “But it was my risk to take. You know that.”
“I think you should consider us a little more,” Ron said. “Me and Hermione. Mate, we—” He shut his eyes and shook his head. “We’ve already nearly lost you so many times in the past,” he whispered. “Don’t do more things like that without at least warning us, okay?”
Harry wanted to smile and couldn’t; wanted to cry, and couldn’t. Of course it would be something like that. Ron and Harry didn’t talk about their friendship all the time, but it was always there. Harry stepped closer to Ron and gave him a tap on the back with a closed fist, somewhere between a pound and a pat.
“Come on,” Harry said. “I think we have a witness to look after on the Duggart case, don’t we?”
Ron stared some more at him, and then beamed and bounced back to his feet, nodding so hard that it looked like his head was bouncing too. “You’re right,” he said. “Of course you’re right. And he might get nervous and leave if he’s kept waiting much longer. That’s the reason I came in here in the first place.”
Harry grinned, and followed him. It was all right again, and now Harry understood that Ron had just been worried about him, and Ron might understand how strongly Harry felt about Draco. Good things had happened all around.
Harry did think that he caught a trailing glimpse of a grey dress robe vanishing around a corner, but he put it out of his head. Draco probably hadn’t returned to work yet, which meant that stray person couldn’t be him.
And from here on out, their lives would be the same, would proceed the same way they always had. Now that Harry had confirmation that the ritual had worked and Draco was going to live, he didn’t need anything else.
Draco sat back in his bed—large, like everything in the Manor, draped with the billowing white gauze curtains that Astoria had loved and ornamented with sky-blue pillows. Draco ran his hand down the silky material of the pillows and closed his eyes. The windows were open, a wind blew through the curtains and his hair, and he imagined he could hear her voice if he listened hard enough.
A moment later he had popped to his feet and was striding in great, neat movements that beat the pressure of his heels deep into the carpet.
There was no reason for it, when it had been almost a year since Astoria’s death and the plant still sat in its dish next to his bed, but he was feeling the craving, tugging pull in his chest and mouth that he had felt only once before. The urge to court, to seek a mate.
And if he did that, there could be only one candidate.
Draco turned again to the plant and reached out his hand. As had happened when he wanted to touch it before, a stir of warmth answered him. It could have been caused by the magical heat leaking from the plant, or the ritual that he sometimes thought he could still feel when he concentrated.
But he knew it was not. Whoever had done this had gone deeper than they intended. They had wanted to give Draco something to lean on, something he could live with, even though it would mean that he wasn’t living for it in the same way that he would for a mate.
But instead, they had created a second, true mating bond. All the oppositions mentioned in that note, including the fact that this bond was embodied in an object, meant nothing against the depth of feeling they had invested in their magic. Draco hadn’t loved Astoria at first, the Veela magic compelling him to seek her because of sheer need, but that intensity had been enough to pull them together, to hold them together, and to bring love along with fate not many months after their marriage.
This person’s intensity of feeling could do the same thing. Would do the same thing, if the magic Draco felt was any indication.
Draco had no idea who they were. He felt as though he should have. How could someone have conceived a passion for him that great and that lasting without him having the slightest idea of their identity?
And there was more. Lying awake in the nights over the past year, watching the plant, watching the way it unfolded when he sprinkled water on it, and feeling the warmth around his heart that supported him through the funeral and sleepwalking through the first days and getting out of bed on the mornings that followed that, he had come to understand that he wanted to meet this person, of his own free will and for his own free reasons. To say thank you, if nothing else.
Draco lifted his tongue and tapped it against his canine teeth. It was a myth that they grew sharper like a vampire’s when the mate came near, but when one was in the toils of an incomplete bond, they could feel sharper, and his did now.
It will be for something else than just to say thank you. I will make sure of that.
In the meantime, though, he had to make sure that he knew how to look for that person. And considering that the Jericho rose at his bedside probably hadn’t been bought at a Muggle shop, Draco thought he knew exactly where to start.
Longbottom was hovering near the ceiling on an enchanted bubble of bright air when Draco walked into his shop, using a pair of pruners on the long, thick vine of a shaggy green plant Draco didn’t recognize. It looked like it was about to eat its trellis. Draco stood quietly for the moment, looking around the shop. Here and there he could see shelves and walls and pots, but for the most part, it was like an incredibly organized jungle; the herbs and flowers and bushes flourished enough to hide their containers.
Longbottom turned around, blinked at Draco, and then nodded when he saw who it was. “Don’t mind me,” he said, flapping his hand at the plants around him. Draco wondered if he was aware that the tendrils reached for him and the leaves trembled in time with him, which was more than the breeze caused by his hand. “I get caught up in caring for them, and I lose track of where I am.”
“Of course, I absolutely understand,” Draco said. Longbottom stood taller now, his eyes as clear as ice, his pose conscious and not self-conscious. “I was hoping that you could help me. Someone gave me a plant as a gift—oh, a year ago. I was unsure how much magic it was infused with, and whether it would be all right to cast spells on it.”
“Of course,” Longbottom echoed back to him as he slid to the floor, not seeming aware of the echo, either. Draco didn’t mind; one side-effect of his Veela magic was that people often repeated his words or actions. “Do you have the plant with you?”
Draco felt his chest muscles contract, and had to wait a moment before he responded. “I don’t like carrying it about too often,” he said carefully. He had found that he could spend up to two days away from his rose before he began to tire and see skin flaking off on his hands again; he preferred a speedy return to bringing the plant out in the open around strangers. “But I can give you a precise image.”
He held up his wand, arching his eyebrow. Longbottom nodded as if he had never had any reason to fear a spell Draco might have cast.
That, Draco reflected, as he remembered some of the hexes Longbottom had mastered by the end of their first seventh year, is probably true.
He pulled the glamour together from strands of colored light rather than making the image come into being all at once. It was easier and built a more precise illusion, but he had another reason for it now, as well.
He kept one eye on Longbottom, and knew the moment when he recognized the dish, from the tiny sigh that escaped his lips and the glint in his eye. Draco finished the portrait and waited, his free hand twisting behind his back.
“I can tell you it’s been used in a very powerful ritual,” Longbottom said, studying the plant. “But the ritual’s earthed itself there, and it can’t change now, or be affected by anything other than curses aimed directly at it. You can cast spells to speed the growth or give it more water or whatever you think necessary.” He looked up with a polite smile.
“Tell me who it was,” Draco said quietly.
“Who enchanted it?” Longbottom held his eyes and shook his head, slowly. “No one can know that unless you have a means of tracing their magical signature. They didn’t leave a note, telling you?”
Draco felt his shoulders hunch, the slow spiral of heat up from the band that always lay around his heart now. Normally, he didn’t have enough Veela in him to show any of the open traits, only to experience the emotions. But that could change when he knew someone was obstructing him from his mate.
He held himself in check, however, the way he had when he went back to Hogwarts immediately after the war and heard people whispering and exclaiming about him behind their hands. It was possible that Longbottom didn’t know as much as Draco thought he did.
“They left a note that said they would never impose on me,” Draco said. “But now I want them to. You sold them this plant. Who is it, Longbottom?”
“You don’t know it was me,” Longbottom said, not turning a hair. “There are plenty of other wizarding herbalists and apothecaries who could sell that plant.”
“But I’m certain that anyone who would send me one would know of your reputation as the best, and come to you.” Draco couldn’t control the flatness of his voice now, or the warbling snarl in the back of it. He had no idea if Longbottom knew how dangerous someone like Draco could be, but he would try to show him without an explosion. “I want my mate. Who was it?”
Longbottom took a step back for the first time, and Draco saw another wave of movement travel through the vines around them. Longbottom might have his own home-grown defenses, literally. Draco settled his shoulders and tried to do the same thing with his magic, which circled him and buzzed.
“They wouldn’t be your mate,” Longbottom said, voice thick and slow. “Your mate was Astoria.”
“They are now,” Draco said. He paused and moved away from Longbottom, turning his head as though to admire the long-stemmed roses near him. His mate couldn’t be a person like that, he thought, or they would have chosen these plants as symbolic of the bond. “They didn’t mean to, perhaps, but that ritual sealed the bond. They chose me. They loved me enough to potentially sacrifice their life for me, to embody part of their magic in a plant that symbolizes rebirth. The Veela magic only knows one way to respond to something that intense, and it’s a bond. We have one now.”
“You can’t know that for sure,” Longbottom said. “If—if you’re right and the Veela magic responds like that, then perhaps it’s only something the magic is mistaking for a bond, rather than a real one.”
Draco kept his face, and thus his smile, averted. He had heard the changing tone in Longbottom’s voice that might mean he had convinced him. He turned around and made sure that he maintained his earnest expression while he shook his head. “No, Longbottom. I’m sure of this, now. Utterly and absolutely. The magic might fool my brain, but the physical sensations I’m picking up on are the ones that belong to a bond.”
Longbottom paused, studying him. Then he said, “Can’t you just follow that pull and find the person, then?”
“No,” Draco said, showing his teeth. “Because the little idiot planned too well, and the bond, as you pointed out, is earthed in the plant. Trying to follow its pull just leads me straight to my own bed.” He leaned nearer, letting that intensity, that ripple-reflection that made people imitate him, reach for Longbottom again. Sometimes it could also make people desire what Draco desired—the only kind of Veela allure he would ever have. “This is serious. You know it. It might not have been meant to happen, but it did.”
Longbottom sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “If it were just a matter of that person’s happiness, I’d tell you,” he muttered. “But, Malfoy, there’s a reason he just left a note. It’s for your happiness, too.”
“He, then,” Draco said, and shifted closer. He would do what was necessary to follow the bond to his mate: romance Longbottom, influence him, touch his arm and look softly into his eyes with the air of a melting lover. “I can live with that. Perhaps it will be strange, after Astoria, but the bond accustoms you to many things.”
“Damn.” Longbottom shut his eyes briefly. Then he opened them and shook his head. “Didn’t you listen to what I said? You would be unhappy with this mate. He knew that. It’s the reason he held himself back. Well, that and that he’s too decent a bloke to try and make himself your mate when you were grieving.”
“Did he want to be my mate, then?” Draco smiled as he watched his magic work on Longbottom, pulling and plucking at his closed mouth like harpstrings. “That’s very interesting. That subdued desire might be at the bottom of the magic he infused in the plant. That might be the reason we have a mate bond now instead of only what he intended, the ritual that saved my life.”
“I don’t,” Longbottom said, and then reached out and tapped his wand against a glass-colored, bell-like blossom next to him. It swung down in front of his face, and he inhaled what looked like pollen from it. When he faced Draco again, his eyes were unexpectedly clear, and hard. “Don’t try that again,” he said softly.
Draco raised his hands. “I wouldn’t have to if you would tell me. The bond can accustom me to anything. It already makes me want this person like I wanted Astoria.” His voice would still waver on her name, and he didn’t think that would help convince Longbottom. He cleared his throat and tried to sound brisk. “And he wants me. Tell me.”
Longbottom stared at Draco some more. Then he said, “Tell you what. I’ll firecall him this evening and give him the choice to contact you himself. That’s the best I can do.”
“That will do,” Draco said, partially because he could feel the pressure in his chest and teeth easing, and partially because one vine was sneaking towards him along the floor. He nodded majestically at Longbottom and turned away, parading towards the door.
He would give his mate the chance to come to him. He might as well.
But if that did not happen…
Draco thought he might enjoy the chase. If nothing else, it would be another way in which this bond was different from the one he had shared with Astoria.
Dear Dad, can I have some money?
Harry groaned a little and flung Albus’s letter down on the floor, rubbing at his head. There was an ache behind his temples that just wouldn’t go away. If it had been behind his scar, he would have worried about it being Voldemort coming back—he sometimes did think about that, even now—but this ranged. Now it was in his temples, and sometimes it felt like a dull iron band pressing all the way around his skull. And sometimes it just hurt.
He sat back up and shook his head. Now that Albus was twelve, he was becoming a little more independent, asking if he could have Scorpius Malfoy and other friends over to visit during the holidays, and asking for a new broom—he hadn’t got that one yet—and asking for his own room. And he had become reconciled to his parents’ divorce, too.
But this was the first time he had asked for Galleons, and Harry was a little afraid to know what it was for. He thought about writing back to Albus and demanding answers, but the thought broke up and drifted away under the pressure of his pain.
Stupid headache. Harry had no idea what was causing them. Hermione had insisted on checking his glasses, but they functioned perfectly. And he’d been eating right lately, and sleeping right, and not using a lot of magic, since Kingsley had the stupid idea that sometimes his best Aurors might enjoy not being in the field.
Harry wandered over to the window and stared out. He usually enjoyed this little house, which he’d bought after their divorce, and which sat on the outskirts of Ottery St. Catchpole and looked out over a field. But it was February now, and snow drifted and skittered in circles. Not much snow, not enough to make things look pure and peaceful and magical, just enough to get underfoot and cause falls at all the wrong times.
Harry massaged his forehead again. He was nearly desperate enough to try a stronger potion than the Headache Draughts Hermione judged safe for him to take. Normally, Harry didn’t dispute her judgment on potions. He still didn’t know as much about brewing them as he should; it was a miracle that Kingsley had been willing to accept him into the Aurors anyway.
Not a miracle, and you know it.
At the moment, though, headache or not, Harry didn’t feel like subjecting himself to another long train of thoughts about How Horrible It Was For People to Think He Was The Chosen One. He didn’t even want to go in search of a stronger headache potion. Staying here and sleeping seemed like a good idea. He wandered back to his chair, flopped into it, and watched the flames.
When the Floo chimed at him—a self-possessed little whistle that at least let him know it was a call from a friend and not the Ministry—Harry sighed and seriously thought about pretending not to be home. But he was an adult now, theoretically, and it could be important. Maybe Ron and Hermione had found out what Al needed money for. He leaned forwards and tapped the stone on the side of the hearth that made the connection come to life.
Neville’s face appeared in the fire, and Harry relaxed, letting his legs sprawl out. At least Neville had no kids, so he was unlikely to call Harry about a family crisis. Maybe a rogue rose had escaped and eaten half the shop. “Hey, Nev. What is it?”
For a few moments, Harry thought he would get a lecture, because Neville’s eyes were dark and his jaw set. Then he took a deep breath and said, “Harry, Draco Malfoy was in here a few minutes ago, and he managed to influence me into letting him know that a man bought a Jericho rose from me and made it into a talisman that could help him.”
Well, Neville sure knows how to banish boredom, Harry thought a moment later. His body had reacted faster than his mind; he’d already sat up, his heart beating louder in his body than the headache, and gripped his wand. “Shit,” he said. “Oh, shit. Why did he do that? How did he track you down?”
Neville snorted a little. “He said that someone would have bought the plant from me because I was the best.”
Harry blinked. “Well, you are.”
Neville glared at him, as if he thought Harry was making fun of him, and then relaxed with a small sigh. “Well. Thank you. But he says—he says that your magic was more powerful than you knew, Harry, and that there’s a real mating bond between the two of you now. And he doesn’t seem worried about what might happen when he finds out who it’s with, because he believes that the bond can accommodate him to any kind of mate, although I tried to warn him that this kind might not be the one he’s expecting.”
Harry felt his heart leap and dive at the same time. Part of him shrieked in glee and clapped its hands. Yes, this is what I wanted, this is what…
No, Harry thought then, and shook his head. He can’t be over the grief from Astoria’s death, not yet. Maybe the bond is still lingering from her, and that’s what he imagines he’s feeling.
“It seemed pretty serious,” Neville added, anticipating Harry’s main objection even before he opened his mouth. “I don’t think he would have been able to use the Veela magic on me if it hadn’t been. That magic’s not active unless they’re looking for a mate, not for a part-Veela like him.” He flushed a little when Harry stared at him. “After you bought the Jericho rose, I did some reading.”
“Well, shit,” Harry said again, and ran his hand through his hair. The headache made his temples pulse this time, and he winced. He had a pretty good idea now why he’d been having those headaches. He’d still needed Neville’s words for confirmation, though, because the last thing he wanted to do was face up to it.
And I really never would have reckoned on it being this, either.
“What are you going to do?” Neville asked simply. “I told him I would contact you—not you, obviously, the one who had bought the rose—and give you some time to make up your own mind, but he seemed pretty determined to hunt you down if you didn’t comply and come to him.”
A long shudder seemed to ring through Harry, so long that he shifted uncomfortably and wondered what could be causing it. Perhaps it was some weird side-effect of the mating bond, one that he’d never read about because he’d never thought that something this weird and stupid could happen when he used the Tellus Ritual—
And then he groaned, and realized the truth.
It’s just the realization that I can’t do anything but brace myself. I can’t end the ritual; I won’t take Draco’s life away from him. I can’t be his mate in the way he thinks, and maybe once he sees me, he’ll realize that. I care for him, but there’s—too much baggage there. Harry was more than smart enough to realize that a nodding acquaintance in the corridors of the Ministry and having sons who were best friends wouldn’t mean anything to Draco.
But I can’t run away from this. I have to face it.
“I’ll send him an owl,” he said, and sighed heavily, dragging his hands through his hair. “Since he’ll definitely hunt me down otherwise.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be hunted down by Malfoy, not in the mood he looked to be in,” Neville said, and looked at Harry sympathetically.
Harry tried to smile, but the corners of his mouth seemed stuck. He kept swallowing to ease his dry throat. “Can we get together for a drink sometime next week?” he asked. “I have the feeling that I’ll need it, and—it’s not something I can tell Ron and Hermione about right now.” Ron didn’t hate Draco, not anymore, but he still made jokes about Malfoys and pure-bloods that Harry didn’t want to listen to. Either he would be angry and astonished at the mating bond, or he would make a huge joke of everything. And Hermione would bury him with books about Veela and second love and the logistics of pure-blood marriage.
Harry was really, really not ready to listen to that.
“Yes, of course,” Neville said, and gave him a gentle smile. “Hannah would be happy to have us in the Leaky, you know that.”
“I know,” Harry said, and then he said good-bye, and then he spent some more time staring at the snow out the window and trying to decide how in the world he should phrase his letter to Malfoy.
In the end, what could he say but the truth, the way he had in the note that he had left with the Jericho rose on the bedside table in St. Mungo’s? He had the feeling that this would be a significantly less welcome truth than that had probably been, but there was nothing he could do about that, either.
Maybe Malfoy knows something that can get us out of a secondary bond like this without hurting anybody. He has to know more about Veela than I do.
But when Harry sent his owl off later that evening, all he had was the gloomy conviction that Ron had been right after all: he had tried to do something good for somebody and had fucked it up. The consequences had just taken a while to show up, this time.
Draco raised his eyebrows as the brown owl settled on the dining table, nearly in the middle of his cheese, and held out its leg to him. A common post-owl, and a rude one, too, to interrupt him in the middle of dinner. Of course, the mating hunger made his appetite sharper, so he was now in the middle of the third course, but there were standards to be upheld.
He looked carefully at the writing on the letter as he took it out of the envelope. Although there was no reason in the world for Scorpius to be using a common post-owl when he had his own bird, Draco had received a request for money earlier that day that still made him wary.
But the handwriting was unfamiliar, and Draco’s practiced eye caught no official seals. Curious, he looked at the signature.
The warmth coiled deep in his chest roared to life, and for a moment, Draco felt as though he stood in the embrace of a bonfire. He shook his head and stared at the signature again, this time noticing the first name that went with it. He ran his fingers along the paper to the top, and then held it near his nose.
It had always seemed bizarre to him that he would have a sense of smell that dealt with locating a mate, since the birds that Veela resembled didn’t, but on the other hand, perhaps that had to do with all his senses sharpening when he sought one. He could smell ink here, of course, and paper, but also a tang of sweat and the sharp saltiness that seemed to cling to the skin of most humans.
And the smell made him want to melt back into the chair. Or attack the sender with teeth bared.
It was Potter.
That made him turn all the more eagerly back, now, to the letter in his hand, because it seemed odd to him that Potter would have done this for him and never communicated with him until now. On the other hand, the reckless gesture for someone’s “good” suited Potter to the core. And Draco could remember the Fiendfyre.
I reckon I should have written to you right away, but I honestly didn’t think that there was any way the ritual I did would replace your bond to Astoria. Sorry. It was only supposed to give you the chance to keep on living.
The Tellus Ritual said that the object I enchanted and chose as the substitute for the bond should symbolize me and that bond; that was why I chose a resurrection plant. But it’s also the opposite of what you had in so many ways. That’s another reason I thought you would be safe. I chose you, not you choosing me. Why it didn’t work out that way, I don’t know.
I imagine this has probably bewildered you. I don’t know how much I want to say in a letter, but you deserve some explanation, so I just want to say that I’ve cared for you for several years now. If you weren’t mated to Astoria, I would have gone after you, but of course I didn’t want to disrupt that.
Sorry, I’m rambling. But I just want you to know that I’ll be at home this evening, and my Floo address is Spiderweb Place. If you want to talk to me personally, that’s where I’ll be.
Draco licked his lips and leaned back in his chair, balancing the letter in his hand. The owl on the table bounced and hooted impatiently, and Draco flicked a fleck of cheese at it. The owl bit into it, discovered it wasn’t meat, and glared at him. Draco ignored it. He had enchantments on the dining room table to clean up any pellets after a few unfortunate incidents with his mother’s elderly owl.
So. Harry Potter had been the one to find the Jericho rose, the one to enchant it, the one to give Draco another chance. But he had kept out of the way—and he hadn’t even said why in the letter, other than that he had never meant this to become a mating bond. Perhaps he expected Draco simply to know.
“Oh, I do know,” Draco murmured. “Noble idiot that you are.” His fingers flexed against the top of the table, and he knew he could have left grooves in the dark wood if he wanted to. But this was a relatively new table, bought after the war to replace the one that the Dark Lord tended to feed people to his snake on, and Draco preferred not to damage it.
The hunger that surged through him was strong enough to make him want the rest of his food, and he finished eating. Then he retired to his study to determine what he thought about it.
In the end, he came to the same conclusion that Potter had. (Draco prided himself on the knowledge that he would have reached that conclusion earlier, if he had had all the knowledge and been in a place that allowed him to make the decisions). There was no running from this. There was no fighting it. They were two grown men, and should deal with what fate had handed them.
Aside from that, there were two other things Draco knew that Potter did not, or at least did not seem to have considered.
First, the war had taught Draco very well what kinds of things he could change and what he could not. He could change his ideals, his beliefs, the way he acted, the amount of deference he paid to his father’s ideals. He could not change his blood or his family background, and he did not wish to. But he could try to make that history something to be proud of, instead of wincing from the reminders. For Scorpius’s sake and Astoria’s, if not his own, he had wanted to.
He could change his mind about Potter, too. But he could not change the Veela bond. It was obvious which of the two, in that case, would have to yield.
Second, the war had been over for twenty years. Draco did not remember it fondly, but he had worked hard to survive and then erase the scars. Twenty years was enough time for all but the worst to have healed over.
His memories of Potter were far from the worst ones of the war. Potter could not, after all, compare to the Dark Lord.
Which made it only all the more amazing that he had defeated him, in the end.
Draco held up his small glass of crystal-clear elf-wine to the light, and then drained it in one draught. It made his teeth feel like diamonds in his mouth, and filled his throat with buzzing lightning.
His mate was Harry Potter, and it was far from the worst thing that could happen.
He looked forward to what would happen when they met.
Harry tugged at his robes, and then cursed and turned away from the mirror. If he spent much more time fussing around with his clothing, then he would probably miss the Floo call, and Draco would be free, and right, to think that Harry’s owl today had taken all his courage and left nothing else.
Harry padded into his drawing room and sat down in front of the fire. He did get up, once, and smooth out a wrinkle in the blanket he’d draped over the couch. It had too many stains and crumbs on it to count as “nice,” but the blanket, a rich mixture of orange and gold, could make it look fit to be part of someone’s life, at least.
Part of Draco’s mate’s life.
Harry swallowed, and then spent some time picking at his trousers. He had no idea what to say or do when Draco firecalled. He had no idea how angry Draco would be. Granted, that he had gone to Neville showed he couldn’t be too angry at the thought of the mating bond itself, but that it was Harry? That Harry had done this without asking permission? That he was bound to someone he’d always hated?
Well. Harry had sent the owl, and he was committed, now. Hoping the owl had gone astray and Draco had never received the message was childish.
The fire flared. Harry’s breath caught, and he sat up, even as part of his brain tried to convince the rest that it was only Ron or Hermione calling with an invitation to dinner.
But Draco’s face formed out of the flames, and Harry swallowed again and stuck his hands beneath his knees, because otherwise he would do something stupid, he really would. A year of seeing it from a distance, and knowing that Draco was alive because of him, had done whatever work was wanting. Harry really wanted to reach out and touch Draco, although he knew this was only an image.
“Hello,” Draco said.
Harry blinked at him, and then managed to smile in spite of himself. He was glad that Draco was beginning with something so normal, something that really didn’t require much effort to respond to. “Hullo,” he said. His heart was thumping along fast, and he shivered, but his voice sounded calm. “You got my owl, of course?”
Draco’s eyebrows pinched together. “Why would I be calling you, otherwise?”
Harry winced in spite of himself—of course there was no reason for Draco to look twice in his direction without the bond—but he reminded himself again that they were both adults, and from Draco’s words to Neville, he was committed to dealing with this. “Sorry,” he said. “I forgot how much you hate it when people refer to the obvious.”
“Perhaps,” Draco said, and eyed him. “But I hate it more when people trip over their own tongues with apologies that are not needed.”
Harry smiled and leaned back on the couch. “Tell me what you’re comfortable with, then,” he said quietly. “That’s what I want to know, because I have no idea. I’ve—liked you for a while, but that’s not the same as really knowing you.”
Draco stared at him, and then apparently leaned back on something and sighed. “That’s—the whole of you,” he said. “The essence. You did this for me, you gave me life, but you have no idea whether I could like you back.”
Harry shrugged. “The ritual didn’t require me to get your blood, you know. It was sort of easy to give you a gift and then leave it again.” He wondered for a moment whether he should talk about the stolen kiss in hospital, and then left it alone. Draco might be upset about that right now, considering that Astoria had still been so recently dead at the time. He might talk about it later.
“You don’t consider grand gestures grand,” Draco said slowly. “That’s the opposite of Astoria, in many ways.”
Harry concealed a wince. If Draco didn’t mind talking about his dead wife, why should Harry? “She liked to give you gifts like that?” he asked.
“She knew the value of the gifts she gave,” Draco said, and studied Harry again. “She never would have said that a ritual to save someone else’s life was ‘sort of easy.’”
Harry rolled his eyes, but he could feel some of the tension creeping out of his muscles, and his arms fell more freely along the back of the couch now. “Well, good for her. But we’re different people.” He paused, but Draco had questioned him more sharply than Harry had expected, and Harry didn’t want to get into the habit of shutting up just because he was afraid to ask. “How much is that going to bother you?”
“That you are male, and she was female?” Draco ran his eyes over Harry’s body and then brought them back to his face, and Harry flushed at what was in them. “The mating bond doesn’t care.”
“But do you care?” Harry persisted. “And I was talking about more important things.”
“Of course you are,” Draco said, and a smile slipped slowly along his face, like a shadow on the surface of the moon. “I am beginning to understand you now, I think, Harry. Well. She was the mate I thought I would have for the rest of my life. And when I lost her, I had no reason to think any differently. Veela follow their mates into death. You know that.”
Harry nodded. It had been the knowledge that drove him to the Ministry Archives the moment he heard the news, after all.
“I think that the idea is still too new for me to say how I will feel about it in a year from now,” Draco said, and watched him again for some minutes before he continued. “But I would like to speak to you more extensively, to get to know you, to know you better. Will you come to the Manor for dinner tomorrow night?”
Harry blinked, thrown. He had hoped, but he hadn’t thought, of anything like this. “Of course,” he said. “If you want me to.”
Draco abruptly leaned nearer, and for a moment, his face seemed as if it would emerge from the fire. Harry shivered in spite of himself.
“I want so many things,” Draco whispered harshly. “I want, and I want, and I’ll never be satisfied until I have you here, beside me.”
Harry felt the prickling flush creep all the way up to his cheeks, so there was no doubt that Draco had seen it. Draco laughed low, wicked and delighted, and then leaned back again. “I’m sure the house-elves can have the meal ready by seven,” he said. “And that will give me some time to speak to my mother. Good-night, Harry.” He paused, then added, “I never expected this, as I said. When I realized what had happened, I was more surprised than anything, rather than considering what I hoped for. But now—I am glad that it was you.”
And the Floo connection shut. Harry took a deep breath and rubbed his hands up and down his trousers, removing a sheen of sweat as well as, he hoped, some of the blush.
It took the mirror in his bedroom to tell him he was smiling.
Watching Harry advance across the dining room to meet him was not an experience Draco would forget in a hurry.
For one thing, changing the name Potter that had echoed in his mind on the rare occasions when they crossed paths during work to Harry seemed to change the light, the angles of the room, and a good many other things, as well. Suddenly he saw the way Harry stiffened his neck so as not to stare around at the walls, and the light way he placed his feet, and the way he kept his right elbow cocked, as though to shake his wand into his hand at any moment. And he saw the faint wrinkles around Harry’s eyes, and the balance he carried within himself, so different from the taut and trembling teenager Draco still half-remembered when he dreamed of the Battle of Hogwarts.
Harry might have more practice in seeing Draco anew, since he apparently liked him. Draco was not sure, but thought it might be worth finding out.
Second, the mating bond rang him like a bell the moment Harry stepped into the room, and Draco’s faint, far doubts that Harry might have lied about sending him the Jericho rose were laid to rest. This was him, yes. The ache behind his teeth receded, and Harry paused, one hand rising to his head as though a pain there had left him as well.
For a moment, they seemed to tilt back and forth like empty shells on the crest of a wave, and Draco was not sure what would come in to replace the emotions they had been feeling up to that point.
Then their balance changed, and Draco knew. Hunger drowned him, and Harry arched his neck back and looked into Draco’s eyes as though he could feel it, as though he knew.
Draco reminded himself there was food on the table already, salads looking as though they were made of emerald and diamond, and that more would come. He could satiate his hunger through food for now, and worry about the rest of it later. He extended a hand, moving around the table, and stopping himself only when he knew that he would charge at Harry if he did not.
Harry stepped forwards and swung his empty hand almost like a weapon to meet Draco’s touch. Draco’s hand closed down, and then spasmed as lightning and magic seemed to run up it. He had forgotten what touching his mate for the first time was like.
Harry felt it, too, from the way he closed his eyes and swayed backwards, leaving only Draco’s hand to support him, to keep him from falling. Draco licked his lips and watched until Harry’s eyes came open again and he shook his head, hair frizzing out gently around him. “Is it always like that?” he asked.
“That intense?” Draco gave him a look that he wished he could make hard, but which was simply too blissful for that. This was the good part about having Veela blood, as much as he might have complained; he would feel, he had to feel, and no one could blame him for that, not even the shadow of his father in the back of his mind. “No. Only with mates.”
“But, I mean,” Harry said, and visibly calmed himself before he continued on. Draco mentally lifted an eyebrow. Harry was doing well. Even Astoria, with more time for self-control, had clasped her hands to her mouth and needed a few minutes before she could continue speaking.
But she was also much younger.
Draco wondered how that was going to change: a male mate instead of a female one, an older mate instead of a younger one. He hoped the reason he licked his lips again was not too obvious.
“Is it like that every time?” Harry asked. He left his hand in Draco’s, but reached out and rested the other on Draco’s shoulder, as if daring something to happen. They both quivered at the same time from the arc that seemed to leap between their bodies. “Or only the first time we touch each other?”
“That particular sensation is first-time only,” Draco said, and turned his head to breathe on the side of Harry’s hand. Harry swallowed and swayed, then got control of himself with a scowl. “The others will last until we fully take control of the bond. And then there will be others, different ones.”
“I—see,” Harry said, and focused wild eyes on his face. “How are we going to wait that long?”
“That is entirely up to you,” Draco said, in a low tone that he heard rattle plates behind them anyway. “I am not against taking up the bond immediately.” The hunger in his belly was worse, and no, food would not truly satisfy it. He moved closer to Harry, and felt, for the first time, the warmth that swirled around his heart thanks to the Jericho rose singing in time with an echo.
“I—no,” Harry said, and moved away from him. “I came here for dinner. We should have it. And I don’t know that you want this, not yet.”
Draco snorted and shifted so that Harry could feel, if only against his hip rather than between his legs, the evidence that Draco wanted this. “What else will it take to convince you?” he whispered harshly.
Harry held his eyes, and there was a glimpse of pity mixed in with the intensity that made Draco want to hit things. “How much of your grief is left unsorted?” Harry asked quietly. “How much do human emotions play into it? For me, they’re all of it, and I’d like some reassurance that they—no, not that they are for you, because it’s asking too much. But that they could be. Do you even like me, as opposed to want me?”
Draco bit his upper lip, then his lower, and forced himself to stand down. He badly wanted Harry, yes, but nothing would be accomplished if he made Harry run before he got to know him properly. “I do,” he said. “I could, at least. Will you come and sit down?” Once again, he gestured Harry towards the table.
Whatever his need for reassurance, Harry didn’t question that statement. Perhaps he trusted Draco to know his mind that well. He smiled and nodded. “Dinner looks good,” he said, and let Draco pull out his chair.
Dinner was good. Harry ate most of his salad, nearly all of the lamb that came out—although Draco had to tell him it was lamb, since Harry really couldn’t really remember having it before—and then the cheese, and the bowl of fruits and nuts, and sipped at the butterbeer that Draco’s house-elves provided for him without question. It was nice to have butterbeer, to remind himself he wasn’t drunk and couldn’t get that way.
But he felt drunk, with the haze that brewed in his head and the way his foot wanted to tap and his hands make random gestures. Gestures that would take him closer to Draco, each time, so perhaps not random after all.
It was incredible. He had felt the warmth in his chest, he had felt the headaches, but he hadn’t realized it would be like this, the grip and the tear and the pull and the urge to be up and doing—
Doing someone, as a matter of fact.
It was one reason he had wanted to sit down to dinner instead of going up to Draco’s room immediately. There was part of him that had been wondering what it would be like to touch Draco’s face for years, sure, and slide his hand down inside Draco’s tight-fitting trousers. It was a part that had spoken up five years ago, not long after he and Ginny had decided that remaining pretend-married until all the kids were out of Hogwarts wasn’t what either of them wanted, after all. Apparently Harry’s desire needed official divorce papers to make itself known.
But he felt that overwhelming pressure beating against him like a wave, and sensed it must be worse for Draco, and it made him worried enough to study Draco. Draco, who’d been talking about the latest detention Al and Scorpius had received when the baby dragon that they’d been keeping captive in the school had escaped, looked up at him and raised an eyebrow.
“I hope you can speak your mind and not just stare at me,” he said dryly.
Harry nodded and decided that there were advantages to being mated to a part-Veela you’d really, really disliked back in school. You knew he was going to say some blunt things, and you could say them back. “This bond could have chosen anyone,” he said. “I kind of forced it with the rose, though. Are you really not unhappy that it picked me?”
Draco laid down his own spoon and studied Harry for a moment with a thoughtful face. Then he murmured, “Will you let me do something, and not either answer back or move while I do it?”
“Yes,” Harry said. “Well, not if it’s breaking my neck.”
Draco smiled at him. “If the bond was truly as strong as it is said to be between a full Veela and their mate,” he said, pushing back the chair and standing, “you would be hard-pressed not to allow even that. But we have free will, Harry. The bond is—part of it, that is all, and a part I’ve had a long time to come to terms with.”
Well, that was true, at least, Harry supposed. He held still as Draco walked around the table, but did tilt his head back when Draco stepped behind his chair. He wanted to see him, though; he didn’t distrust him. Although he might only have realized that himself when he thought of how vulnerable baring his throat like this made him.
Draco stared down at him for such long seconds Harry thought he had changed his mind. Then he reached out and trailed his fingers down the side of Harry’s face.
Harry shuddered. The burning sparks that leaped up in his skin made him want to cry out. And that was with nothing more than the barest brush of Draco’s hand, only the tips of his fingers, really.
Draco, eyes intent and drowning in grey, crouched beside him and drew his fingers down Harry’s throat. Then he lifted his other hand and ran them through his hair, holding up individual strands of it, all the while gazing at him.
Harry stared back, breath short and tight. The heart that beat in his chest had been joined by a second in his throat, he thought, and then a third in his face as Draco touched him again there, tracing the shape of his lips. When Draco stood and moved behind him to stroke and lift and separate Harry’s hair with both his hands, Harry moaned and sank forwards to rest his head on the table, letting Draco touch him all over, his hands light and restless on Harry’s shoulders.
Draco bent over to kiss his ear. His voice was gentle as he said, “Feeling this much pleasure? I say yes to it.” He kissed again, and Harry turned his head in that direction. Draco spoke without moving away. “Being alive again, rather than dying and having to leave my son and my mother and my life behind? I say yes to it.” He kissed again, his tongue darting out to trace the shell of Harry’s ear, and Harry writhed in his chair. “Discovering that the one who saved my life did so with no selfish motive, even wished to leave me alone because he was so concerned about forcing me into anything?”
There was no answer to the question for a few minutes, and Harry had started to lift his head, turn it, when suddenly the lips and the tongue and the breath were all there in his ear, the words hissing at him like Parseltongue.
“I say yes to it.”
Harry lifted his head and whirled around. Draco’s mouth was still in place, and Harry kissed him, hard enough to make Draco hiss a little and raise a hand to cup his chin. Harry let Draco restrain him for their second kiss, and show him how good it would be when Harry was kissing a part-Veela who knew how to direct the leaping sparks of sensation to the most sensitive places.
Then Draco reared back and stared down at him with enormous dark eyes. “I’m thirty-eight years old, and I know what I want,” he said softly. “I don’t mind that it’s inevitable. I didn’t know I would have a second bond, but I’ve had a year to think about this, and this is what I want. And I know that Astoria wouldn’t disapprove, either.” His hand slid in restless circles on Harry’s chest. “This is the beginning, not the end, but let’s make the beginning. Come with me, Harry.”
He was divorced, and happily so. He and Ginny were friends, but they had both wanted more than they could have as husband and wife. So they had parted, and he had started spending time with his kids and his job, and she had gone off to write and fly, still under the Potter name, because she had begun her career that way. And they both had what they wanted.
His two sons were at Hogwarts. His daughter, who had forgiven them both for the divorce after the first year or so, was with her mother, and would be ready for Hogwarts next year herself. His friends were happy for him, and Ron, at least, understood about the depth of his feelings for Draco.
Harry could do what he wanted.
And right now, that was to sleep with the part-Veela who wanted him, and no matter how permanent the bond that came from that experience, you could see it as just a continuation of the linkage that Harry had already chosen to forge when he infused the Jericho rose with power. Which it was.
“I will,” he said, and laid his hand in Draco’s.
Draco had been half-afraid that Harry might think the grand sweeping staircase up to his room or the room itself too large, and more than half-afraid they might meet his mother. She had stared at Draco when he explained the situation, and then kissed him and taken herself away for a holiday somewhere in Ireland. Draco knew she had friends there, but even their names were unknown to him. She had gone there sometimes when she needed time to think about things, as she had after his father’s death.
But she could have come back, and he thought Harry’s courage might have stuttered to a stop under his mother-in-law’s piercing stare.
Now, though, they were in his room, and Harry only blinked at a few of the many paintings on the walls and the sculpture of a thorn tree in the corner, and smiled at the Jericho rose in its dish on the table, before he turned to Draco. “Nice,” he said. “Are you sure I’m going to be enough to fill up that bed for you?”
The bed, Draco had to admit, was an indulgence, larger than the one his mother had thought appropriate for him when he was growing up, large enough, in fact, for six people. But now, it let him smile at Harry and say, “The more room to fuck you on,” and watch his eyes grow wide and his mouth hang open.
Then Harry began to pull at his shirt, but Draco shook his head and reached a hand towards Harry. He didn’t actually touch him, but the gesture was enough to make Harry stop stripping at once. “I would rather,” Draco murmured.
Harry smiled at him, the same gentleness in his eyes that had been there when Draco pulled out his chair, and then lay down on the bed, looking for permission even before he kicked his boots off. Draco nodded. He didn’t mind that part, since Astoria had generally been barefoot before they got this far.
For a moment, he felt a brutal grief hovering behind his lips, but he shook his head and dismissed it. So he would make some comparisons; that was inevitable. What was not was falling victim to that grief.
Astoria would have smiled at him with brilliant eyes and murmured to him how beautiful Harry was. Draco touched the memory of her until he was sure that it was blessing, not bane, and then let it go and knelt down in front of Harry, delicately unbuttoning his trousers.
Harry’s cock was visible at once, a rigid outline against his pants. Draco exhaled gently, making sure not to laugh, and reached up to run his fingers along it. Harry made a strangled sound and tossed his head back, his eyes closed in bliss similar to Draco’s own, his face drowning in all that black hair.
Draco’s eyes moved from his hair to the Jericho rose, and he smiled, rising to his feet and beginning to remove his own clothes. Harry opened his eyes and rolled over to watch him.
He was staring with open mouth long before Draco finished, and Draco wondered if part of it came from fear. As far as he knew, Harry had never been with a man, even if he had been in love with one for a good long while.
But when he pulled his own pants down, Harry moaned and reached for him, and Draco moved forwards far enough that Harry could feel him. Harry cupped Draco’s shaft in his palm and bent down until his mouth hovered a few inches from it.
“Fuck me with it, please,” he said, and glanced up at Draco, his eyes so bright that Draco fell on him, and kissed, and pulled off his shirt while Harry was still thrashing to get his arms free of it and keep one hand on Draco’s cock.
Harry was scars and muscle and lean, flowing, restless motion under his hands, lunging up to kiss him, moving down to shrug off one sleeve and laugh quietly in the back of his throat, rolling over and spreading his legs with what Draco considered a commendable haste. Draco found his wand and cast a number of spells that he would have spread out over a lengthier period of time if he’d had his way.
But Harry was beneath him, and arching his arse, and scraping the backs of Draco’s legs with his toenails whenever he thought Draco was slowing down too much, and the choice was not all his.
As it should be.
Harry didn’t react as though the stretching and lubricating sensations were unfamiliar to him, and spread his legs wider and wriggled down at Draco’s cock as though he assumed he would be left to do all the work. Draco laughed, the hunger in his mouth making him have to kiss Harry, and then he pushed forwards, and—
There was heat around him, and tightness, and silence.
And very great pleasure.
Draco could feel the bond shock to a stop in him; for the first time in months, he was entirely without the sensations that he had come to associate with the search for his second mate. He opened his eyes, gazing down at Harry, and found Harry drifting open-eyed on the pillow, his hands limp on Draco’s arms.
“Now,” Harry whispered when he saw Draco looking, and shifted to the side and down, Draco shifting with him, so they could both get one of Harry’s legs over Draco’s shoulder. Where the first one had gone, the second one went easily, and Draco bent and panted into Harry’s mouth, and Harry panted back at him.
“Now,” Draco echoed, or perhaps they both said it at once, and Draco began to thrust. Harry closed his eyes and lay there, half-drunk on something that looked an awful lot like happiness.
The bed was as white as the snow that lay clustered on the ground outside, and Harry’s hair was as dark as the night sky, and his eyes were as green as—as summer, Draco thought. The summer of his life that had come back to him, out of season, out of the cycle, but there, there and he would not give it up, never give it up.
Harry looked up at him, and laughed, perhaps because he read the truth of what Draco was thinking from his look. Then he tensed, paused as if counting heartbeats, and thrust his face up in a clumsy movement.
Luckily, Draco was in tune with him, the bond alive and singing again, and he lowered his head at the same time. They kissed, awkwardly and for as long as Harry’s straining neck could stand it, and then Harry sank back on the pillows and gasped and kicked and began to come.
There was heat everywhere, circling around Draco’s heart, blazing from the dish on the bedside table, heat enough to melt the snow. Draco slowed, rocking and watching as Harry’s shakes and shudders played themselves out, and Harry sprawled in a sweetly sticky mess of limbs across the bed, his eyes closed. Draco lowered his head again.
Harry opened his eyes and turned up his hand, the side of his wrist towards Draco.
Draco lowered his head and bit, sinking his teeth deep enough that he felt the throb of blood against them. The bond had wanted that, and he wanted to go along with it, and Harry wanted it enough to sense the bond. It was well.
Harry pulled his bloody wrist back, and blinked at the toothmarks on it, and blinked up at him, grinning. “Come on, you bloody bastard,” he said, voice thick and soft, and then clenched his arse down around Draco.
Draco yelped, and sealed their future bond with his own deep motions and undignified shaking. Harry reached up and laid his bitten hand along Draco’s shoulders, smearing him with blood, letting it trail slowly down as Draco braced himself on shaking arms above Harry. He held Harry’s eyes, and Harry’s smile slowly faded.
The bond was between them now, burning hot and cold, like stars and space, both at once, and then the moment collapsed as Draco did, splintered like his strength, and the intensity was replaced with the gentler warmth of the Jericho rose. Draco rolled over to one side and licked at Harry’s temples, smoothing the hair there away like a cat.
Harry said, “Mmmm,” and pushed close enough to kiss him. Draco tucked Harry’s head under his chin and stroked his shoulder.
“Should I bandage this?” Harry asked lazily, and waved his bloodied wrist around. It had already stopped bleeding, Draco noted, but it would scar. He knew it would scar, and knew, from the beating of the sun-like strength in their bones, that they both wanted it to.
“No,” Draco said, and curled close around Harry. His hands knew how to hold his shoulders, now, and his legs knew how to tangle with his. The bond no longer sparked and leaped between them, but held them, warm and flowing as the Mediterranean. Draco swallowed and closed his eyes.
Come back to life, come back to love.
They had managed it. Harry had taken the first step, but they had managed it, together.
And Draco’s happiness and his grief, his second bond and his first, leaped together and danced like candle-flames lost in one large fire, or like the tendrils of many reaching plants all blended together.
Harry was the one who woke to the tapping on the window, which he thought strange until he remembered how hard Draco had worked last night. He smiled and slid out from the covers and the curtains and Draco’s arms and worked his way over to the glass, thinking it was probably from his friends, wondering where he was last night.
But the owl slid into the room with his beak pointed almost at the ceiling, as though he was used to better people than naked, sticky men receiving his messages, and held out his letter with his head turned completely away. That made Harry start to suspect the truth even before he sneaked a glimpse inside.
I know that you’re mad because we hid that dragon and got detention, and you’re right, that’s what we needed some of the Galleons for, to buy food for it. But not all of them. I promise, we have something else going on this time, something that’s going to make us famous and earn a lot of money, and all we need is a hundred Galleons. Please?
Your loving son,
His snort of laughter woke Draco, although the first Harry knew of it was Draco’s arms draping around his waist and a quick kiss on the back of his neck. “Opening my post already?” Draco murmured.
“I wondered what news we were going to have from our sons this time,” Harry replied, and held out the letter.
Draco took it, and read it, and then began to laugh. The silent quakes of his amusement traveled into Harry at first, and then he laughed aloud, making the eagle-owl hop about in agitation before it turned its back altogether, too highly-strung to deal with all this.
Harry leaned back against Draco and closed his eyes, feeling the stir and the brush of winter air against his front from the open window, and the warmth of Draco against his back, and the warmth of the bond coiled about their shoulders like a basking serpent, full and fiery with promise.
And, from the side, the shining warmth, the resurrection heat, of the Jericho rose.