By the time the last of too many funerals has been held, Harry is exhausted. For more days than he wants to admit, he lies on his bed in the topmost room of the Burrow while the sun creeps in through the window, blazes over his skin, melts into blunt colours and then darkness.
By the time the others begin to talk of their plans, he is beginning to wonder if he should prise himself from his self-imposed solitude and join them. There’s a bathroom at the foot of the first staircase, and he knows that his clothes are sitting there, washed and pressed, “and dried outside, Harry, dear,” Molly reminds him every time she bustles into his room with cups of tea and sandwiches, face etched into varying shades of anxiety, grief, relief and proud fortitude.
“It’s beautiful out there,” she says. “Smells like summer.” He smiles wearily for her and listens to the others, their tentative ‘maybe we could’-s and ‘do you think Harry would want to...?’-s drifting up through the nooks and crannies of the old house.
By the time he rejoins the world, dragged forcibly by a determined Ron and Hermione, May is slipping into June, and the dust is finally beginning to settle over the wizarding community.
“Life must go on,” Arthur says, joining Harry for early morning coffee in the overgrown garden before heading off to his new job as Undersecretary to the Minister. The loss of his son is visible in his eyes—always—but Harry knows that he believes his own words. He has never known Arthur to tell a lie. “It’s over,” Arthur tells him. “And we’re still here.”
By the time the Daily Prophet runs an article asking for volunteers to help restore Hogwarts castle and grounds, Harry, Ron and Hermione have been there for almost a week. He knows his two best friends have plans of their own but they stay for as long as they can, and the three of them work together in the summer sunshine, rebuilding smashed sections of castle, restoring ruined stretches of lawn and helping a grateful Hagrid to put together a new and better cabin that Hermione assures him is completely fireproof.
By the time he hugs them both and waves them off on their international Portkey, Harry is feeling almost like himself again.
“We’ll write,” Hermione promises, and he smiles at them both. They look strong, he thinks. Healthy. Hermione’s skin is golden from the sun and Ron’s nose is peeling and more freckled than ever. Their fingers are linked, holding on tightly, so much in love. He’s going to miss them horribly, he’s certain, but Obliviated parents demand a certain amount of attention, and as soon as Hermione got wind of the possibility of a term at an Australian wizarding school, Harry had known it was a done deal.
By the time he receives his first news from them—a long letter from Hermione and a postcard with a tanned male bottom on it from Ron (‘thought you might like this, mate’)—the castle is swarming with volunteers and Harry has no time to feel alone during daylight hours, surrounded as he is by classmates, old friends, teachers and Ministry workers. At night, however, the silence creeps under his skin and he finds himself feeling lost. Feeling apart from the games and loud conversations in the Gryffindor common room, he walks through the dark castle, over the lawn and down to the lake.
By the time Ron and Hermione have been gone for a fortnight, he has made a routine for himself. As soon as darkness falls, he walks down to the water’s edge, pebbles shifting under his feet as he throws dinner scraps for the Giant Squid and waits for a tentacle to breach the surface, whipping cold, algae-rich water over him and making him shiver. The night is like soup, airless and thick, and the water jolts him pleasantly, wicking the heat away from his skin as it evaporates. Here, everything is as it ever was, and he feels calm.
By the time August rolls around, many of the volunteers have dispersed. The castle is all but back to its usual self and most of the helpers are taking much-needed holidays with their families before resuming their normal schedules. The majority of the teachers are still in residence, along with a handful of students who have nowhere else to go. Harry remains because... not because he can’t go back to the Burrow, but because Hogwarts is his home. And because, on the third day of August, he looks down from the top of Ravenclaw Tower to see an unmistakeable white blond individual stalking up the drive, dragging his trunk behind him.
“By the time I knew for certain, it was after midnight,” McGonagall says firmly when Harry accosts her in the Great Hall and demands to know why he hadn’t been told about Malfoy. “All of this was arranged on very short notice, Harry, and besides, from what I heard at their trials, I was under the impression you had rather changed your mind about the Malfoy family.”
She fixes him with gimlet eyes and mouth pressed thin, and Harry feels himself folding to nothing.
“I was just a bit surprised,” he says lamely, as she regards him with amusement and then walks away.
By the time he makes it down to the lake that night, it is late, almost one o’clock in the morning. One of his few remaining housemates had wanted to talk, and, much to his frustration, he still hasn’t really grasped the concept of saying no. When the shimmering water comes into view and he finds Draco there, sitting cross-legged on the ground and sifting through pebbles, he isn’t all that surprised. He is, however, irritated, because this is his spot and he doesn’t want to share it. Especially not with an idiot like Malfoy.
By the time he has decided to stop staring at the back of his head and say something, Draco has turned, and in a fraction of a second leapt to his feet, wand drawn and eyes narrowed. Instinctively, Harry reaches for his wand, too, but his stomach turns at the idea of throwing a hex. He sighs and drops his arm to his side, relieved when the spark of confrontation seems to drain from Draco, and he turns away and drops back onto the pebbles without a word. Harry has words—plenty of them, but they seem to jam in his throat. With the sobering knowledge that he hasn’t the heart to even verbally attack Draco after everything that has happened, he sighs and sits at the water’s edge, keeping a careful distance. He can feel their silence, like a fine mesh pulled taut, and he can also feel Draco staring at the side of his head.
By the time Harry finds Draco at the lake for a third night in a row, he no longer feels irritated or even unsettled. When he thinks about it, the whole thing makes sense, both of them wandering the grounds at night when they should be sleeping. Perhaps Draco can’t sleep. Perhaps he doesn’t want to. Harry doesn’t suppose it matters either way. The silence feels different now, and when Harry offers half of his ginger cake to throw to the squid, Draco takes it and almost smiles.
By the time Harry breaks the silence, it’s become so comfortable that he almost doesn’t want to ruin it. But he does, because sitting next to someone without exchanging a word is all very well, but when it’s stretching into its second week, there’s a high potential for weirdness. Not that his and Draco Malfoy’s relationship has ever been particularly normal, but there’s a first time for everything, and besides, Harry is intrigued. Draco is quiet and fragile and oddly fierce, like a coiled snake, and yet here he is, arranging pebbles into gradients of colour by the light of a pale summer moon.
By the time Harry actually asks the question he wants to ask, the sun is coming up. Draco answers as he gets to his feet and then walks quickly over the lawn, back to the castle.
By the time he disappears out of view, the morning dew has climbed all the way up his trousers to his knees, and the sight of it makes Harry smile.
By the time darkness falls on the next night, Harry is prepared. He writes the questions he wants to ask, the things he wants to say, on the back of his hand in ink. Draco stares at his pebbles as he answers, but when he turns to leave, he smiles, lit from behind by the sunrise, and grabs Harry’s wrist.
“That’s cheating,” he says, and Harry feels the touch long after he returns to his dormitory.
By the time August is drawing to a close, Harry is looking forward to his time at the lake more than anything else. He no longer needs to make notes to talk to Draco. Their conversation comes so naturally and with such startling ease that only the sunrise prompts them to stop and look around. He can’t quite decide what feels more wonderful—when they agree or when they absolutely don’t—but it doesn’t matter, because he feels all at once alive and at peace. It doesn’t make sense, of course, or perhaps it does. Draco is clever and stubborn and snappish, and now that he has shaken off the facade his father had given him, Harry can see him. He can see him and he can see what’s happening, and he’s not afraid.
By the time term starts, Harry is heavy with anticipation, stomach lurching and heart pounding as they pass in the corridor, in uniform for the first time in months. Draco brushes past him with a covert half-smile and a drift of lemons and freshly-pressed robes, and Harry misses a step, stumbling and recovering himself against a rough stone wall and managing to graze his palm in the process. His friends are back—Neville, Dean, and Seamus, Ginny and Luna—and he is delighted to see them, but all he can really think about is nightfall.
By the time darkness closes over the castle grounds, he is wound up too tightly to lie when Neville asks him where he’s going. “I have to... lake,” he manages, and breaks into a jog. He doesn’t know how he knew it would be tonight, but when he reaches the water’s edge, he knows that Draco knows it, too.
“You’re late,” Draco says, pale eyes burning in the darkness.
“No, I’m not,” Harry mumbles, and then he’s lost in the landslide of hot, painful, relief that drops them both to their knees on the cold, shifting pebbles, clinging to each other and fighting to pour years of failed connection into a breathless kiss that leaves them both open and needing and shaken.
By the time Harry gets back to Gryffindor Tower that night, he is cold and aching and completely unable to control his face. His mouth seems determined to tug into a smile whether he wants it to or not. Fortunately, his dorm-mates are all sleeping, curtains pulled around their beds, and he is able to crawl under his sheets without attracting undue attention.
By the time the week is out, however, he has run out of luck. Despite his and Draco’s best attempts at discretion, it has not escaped the other students’ attention that former enemies Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy appear to be friends. It has not escaped Harry and Draco’s attention that no one seems to be very happy about the situation.
By the time Harry sits down for breakfast on Saturday morning, he has endured three separate ‘little chats’ from members of his own house, two of them going so far as to stop him in the corridor to offer their thoughts on why he should stay away from ‘people like that’.
“Harry, I don’t mean to be rude, but you do know he’s using you, don’t you?” says Demelza, squeezing into the space next to him on the bench and regarding him with anxious dark eyes. “People like him, they don’t really know what friendship is about. He’s just trying to make himself look good. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Thanks, but I think—”
“Even the Slytherins are cross with him,” Ginny says, frowning and looking across the Great Hall.
“They’re trying to rebuild their image,” Neville puts in, poking at a fried egg. “I was talking to Theo in Herbology. He said a lot of them are mad because Malfoy’s just sucking up to you and it makes them all look bad.”
Harry stares at him and Neville shrugs and looks away.
“That’s just what he said. I’m not getting involved.”
Draco looks up from his seat at the end of the Slytherin table and meets Harry’s eyes wearily.
“You’d think that after everything that’s happened, people might be a bit more accepting,” he sighs.
“You’d think,” Nev says, and then wrinkles his nose. “Lavender’s coming your way and she doesn’t look impressed,” he adds. “Still not getting involved.”
Harry glances at Draco and then over his shoulder at Lavender, who is marching towards him at speed. He really fucking misses Ron and Hermione.
By the time the second week of term is over, Harry has given up trying to reason with his classmates. They don’t hear a word of the arguments he puts forward, despite the use of logic that Hermione would be proud of. The Slytherins are still furious at Draco for, in their words, ‘ruining everything’, and everyone else seems to be fixated on informing Harry that Draco hasn’t changed a bit. He is quiet and contemplative, having finally dropped the mask he’s worn for most of his life but yet to find a new face for the world, but when Harry attempts to explain that this doesn’t mean he’s ‘up to something’, he finds himself the subject of pitying smiles and ‘Oh, Harry’-s.
“Have you thought about a Mind Healer? You know... after everything,” says a Hufflepuff girl he barely knows, and Harry places mark number seven on his mental tally chart.
“You’ve lost your mind,” Seamus says hotly as he stomps around, dressing for bed. “I can’t believe you’d be friends with that bastard. You’re mad. If you ask me, you should see a—”
Harry walks out of the dormitory before he can finish. That night, he and Draco sit by the lake in silence, fingers tangled and holding on tight.
By the time the sun lifts itself above the trees, Harry is resolute.
“We can do this, you know,” he says firmly. “Fuck it.”
Draco stares at the water and pushes out a long breath. “Fuck the lot of them.”
Harry laughs, surprising himself. “Exactly.”
By the time October is in full swing, interest in Harry and Draco’s friendship seems to have died down a little. The Slytherins are still simmering quietly, and they manage to attract dark looks any time they make each other laugh or voluntarily work together in class, but for the most part, things, as they almost always do, return to normal. Hermione continues to update Harry on their progress at the Victoria Institute and Ron sends postcards—mostly of bronzed, naked men—which cause Ginny to snort with laughter at the breakfast table and then mumble some variation on ‘what was I thinking?’ Harry writes back, leaving out the parts about Draco and telling them about Quidditch, all-access passes to Hogsmeade, and the bright purple beard of their new Defence teacher.
On Saturday, the twenty-fourth day of October, the fragile peace is shattered.
Harry doesn’t notice it at first. After a long and rather active night down by the lake, he is ravenous, and has no attention for anything besides his bacon and tomatoes. He doesn’t look up when the post owls swoop into the Great Hall, nor when they drop letters and packages and newspapers beside the plates of those around him. He has only just had a letter from Hermione and he hasn’t ordered anything in weeks. Vaguely, he wonders if he should give Draco some kind of gift, and then he hears it. A gasp, and not a quiet one. Then another and another, until the entire cavernous space is echoing with shocked little whispers. Instinctively, he looks across at Draco, who is staring at his copy of the Daily Prophet with wide, fearful eyes.
Harry can almost hear the slide of hundreds of eyes as they swivel to focus on him, and his stomach tips as he leans over Ginny’s shoulder and forces himself to look at the newspaper.
“Oh... fucking god,” he mutters, feeling his face heat. He lifts a hand to scrub at his skin and then drops it again, barely noticing the pain as his wrist bangs against the edge of the table.
“Harry... is this real?” Ginny whispers, and he loves her for trying to keep her voice down, but the Hall is now so silent that she might as well have yelled her question.
Harry stares at the headline, because it’s better than staring at the picture and seeing them... like that... for all the world to gawp at. He almost feels as though it would have been better if the sneaky fuck of a photographer had caught them going at it; it would have been embarrassing, it would have been sex—everyone understands that. Instead, the picture captures them tangled together on the pebbles, Draco leaning down over Harry with a smile that he thought belonged to him, and now it’s everybody’s. Harry’s fingers in his hair. Both of them laughing as a tentacle whips up and sprays them with water. Harry remembers this night—two nights ago—the first time he had known for sure that he was falling in love with Draco.
And the headline is trying to scrub all of that away. To shatter it and rub dirt into the cracks.
He stares at Ginny. “Does it matter?”
“Not in the way you’re thinking,” she says. “Not to me. But everyone else is... everyone’s looking, Harry. You’ve got to say something.”
He looks up then, heart pounding as he takes in the loaded silence and the unwavering stares.
“This,” he says, voice louder than he wants it to be as he stands, grabs Ginny’s paper and holds it up. He points at the photograph. “This is true. This is real. This—” He stabs at the headline with one finger. “This is bullshit. Leave it alone. Leave Draco alone. I don’t know who did this, but... just... stop.”
Feeling himself wavering, Harry drops the newspaper and climbs over the bench. He meets Draco’s eyes in a silent question and they walk out together, across the Entrance Hall and out into the grounds.
“My mother still takes the Daily Prophet,” Draco says faintly as Harry nudges him across the lawn towards the lake.
Harry glances at him. “I take it your father won’t get a copy where he is.”
“No, but Mother will be sure to share the news when she next goes to visit him.”
“Sorry,” Harry says, wrinkling his nose.
“Don’t be, he’ll be delighted,” Draco says, almost sounding amused. “All that stuff that the other Slytherins think about me trying to weasel my way into your good graces—he’ll think that’s a brilliant idea. Almost makes me want to call the whole thing off.”
“Really?” Harry asks, heart twisting unpleasantly.
Draco smiles. “No. Not really.”
Harry grins, sliding down the last few feet of grass and throwing himself down at the lakeside. Draco sits next to him, rolling up his sleeves and beginning his pebble-sifting ritual.
“What about Granger and the Weasel?” he asks after a moment.
Draco nods solemnly. “Yes.”
Harry snorts. “I wanted to tell them when we were actually in the same room. Fortunately, they’re several thousand miles away from the nearest Daily Prophet right now.”
“That’s not what I’m asking.”
“They’ll be fine. They’re good people. I think you owe them a few apologies, but I’m sure you can cope.”
Draco sighs. “Do you think Granger will apologise for hitting me in the face? That really hurt.”
“Don’t count on it,” Harry says, unable to hide a smile at the memory.
At the sound of muffled voices, Harry turns, just in time to see a small group of first and second-year Gryffindors creeping towards them across the grass.
“There they are, look,” one of them hisses, and the others break out into little whispers.
“What do you want?” Harry demands, as Draco just sighs and stares at his rows of pebbles.
For several seconds they stare at Harry in silence, and then one steps forward and shouts:
“Don’t do it, Harry Potter! He’s dangerous! He’s a bad man!”
A second, riled by the group, takes out her wand and attempts to disarm Draco. She fails, partly because Draco’s wand is tucked away in his pocket and partly because her command of the spell only allows her to produce a brief flash of red light that makes her squeak and run away.
“If... if you’re gay, then my brother—” one of them begins, faltering at Harry’s glare.
She grabs the others by their cloaks and soon they are all dashing back towards the castle.
“Well, that was special,” Draco says flatly. “I think the last time I was hexed by a first-year... I was also a first-year.”
Harry lets out a sound that is somewhere between a sigh and laughter, and he rests his head against Draco’s, pressing a kiss to his hair.
“Was it me? I bet it was me,” he mumbles.
“Shut up,” Draco says, and Harry smiles.
It’s going to be okay. They’re over the worst now and they’re going to be fine.
As it turns out, things have only just begun. By Sunday, Draco has been sent to Coventry by the entirety of Slytherin house. Not only are his housemates refusing to speak to him, but they have begun pretending that he doesn’t exist. At mealtimes, they cluster around one end of the table so that Draco sits alone, a one-man island in a sea of polished oak. Harry thinks he might invite him to sit at the Gryffindor table if he didn’t think that the hostility level would be just as high. His own housemates do not tend towards passive aggression as the Slytherins do, but overt rage, and, on balance, he thinks Draco is better off where he is.
“Don’t you think the teachers should do something?” Ginny says under her breath, apparently hoping not to rile the others, who are still attempting to protect Harry from his terrible decision.
“They’re Slughorn’s problem, aren’t they?” Harry says. “He probably hasn’t even noticed there’s anything wrong yet.”
“I’d say they’re going pretty easy on him,” Seamus says, leaning over to grab a bread roll. “If it were up to me—”
“Leave it,” Ginny says, and Harry glances at her gratefully.
“I won’t,” he says, and Harry sighs, knowing just how hot-headed his friend can be. Once he’s got something between his teeth, he shakes and shakes until it comes apart.
“I know you think you’re protecting me, but you need to stop,” he says as calmly as he can. “Draco isn’t using me. He’s not who he was. None of us are, you know that. Please just... let it be.”
“Harry, that’s exactly what he wants you to think,” Seamus argues, gesturing with his fork. “Isn’t that right?” he says, nudging Dean.
“I don’t know,” Dean says noncommittally. “I can see that he has a lot more to gain from all this than you do.”
“He’s ugly,” says a third-year at Dean’s other side. “You can do better.”
“That’s not very nice, Danny,” Neville reproves, adding: “Still not getting involved.”
Harry sighs, pushing his food around on his plate without interest. “Do any of you know who took that photograph?”
“No, but they were probably looking out for you, right?” Seamus says.
“How do you figure that?” Harry asks, irritated.
“Brought this whole thing out in the open, didn’t it? Secrets are dangerous, Harry,” he says, biting into a roast potato, and he looks so maddeningly sincere that Harry doesn’t know whether to laugh or spell the gravy pot over his head.
Across the Great Hall, Draco is pushing away his plate, meal practically untouched. Roast chicken is his favourite, but he’s clearly not in the mood for eating, and that fact makes something prickle dangerously inside Harry. He glances over at the staff table to find that only Slughorn, Madam Hooch and Trelawney are currently present. He makes the mistake of meeting Trelawney’s eyes and she stares at him, hand flying up to her mouth in alarm. As quickly as he can, Harry gets up, seeing her do the same. He is faster, though, and is safely inside the Gryffindor common room before she can catch up. The last thing he needs right now is to hear about his impending death.
Unfortunately, Trelawney appears to be feeling uncharacteristically tenacious, and just before lunch on Monday, she catches him in the Entrance Hall, swooping out from behind a suit of armour and seizing his wrist in her jewel-decked hand.
“Harry, my dear,” she says breathlessly. “A word, if I may.”
“Actually, Professor, I was just about to leave. I don’t have any lessons this afternoon and I was going to have lunch in Hogsmeade with—”
“Yes, yes, Draco Malfoy,” she interrupts, drawing out his name with a light shiver. “This won’t take a moment... come with me.”
Harry sighs and allows himself to be dragged into a nearby classroom. Trelawney closes the door behind them and listens, one ear to the wood, for a moment. When she is finally satisfied, she turns on Harry, looming over him and filling his nostrils with the scents of patchouli and sandalwood until he has to suppress a cough.
“Professor Trelawney... what’s this about?” he asks.
“I have consulted with the spirits, my dear,” she says, large eyes glimmering behind her glasses. “I have asked them many questions on your behalf.”
“Er... that’s really not necessary,” Harry says, taking a step backwards. “I’m fine.”
“Oh, but you are not!” she declares, holding up a spindly finger. “You seek companionship, truth, loyalty with Draco Malfoy, but this will only lead to misery... the spirits have foretold a different path for you, my dear, and should you stray from it...”
“Thespirits want me to stay away from Draco?” Harry snaps. “That’s a new one.”
“You must heed this warning,” she insists, beads rattling as she sways from side to side, her eyes never leaving his. “This is not your path, Harry. The Inner Eye sees only destruction ahead, should you choose to ignore the wisdom of the spirits.”
Harry sits down on the edge of the nearest desk and looks at the floor. “Really? The Inner Eye?”
“The Inner Eye is free from the fog of emotion, my dear. In its sight, one will always find the truth. Nothing more, nothing less,” Trelawney says, and when Harry looks at her again she is smiling down at him seraphically.
“Right, well, thanks for that,” Harry mumbles, getting to his feet and heading for the door. Just before he opens it, curiosity snags him. “What is my true path, then?”
“You said that being with Draco isn’t my true path. What’s my true path?”
Trelawney adjusts her shawls, glittering and rustling at him as her smile turns somewhat smug.
“I cannot tell you, Harry. It is a curse to know all that must come. I bear it, as I must, but you may remain unencumbered by the knowledge of the universe.” She waves her hand at him, rings glinting in the afternoon sunlight. “Go now, and do not forget what I... what the spirits have told you.”
“I won’t,” Harry says, shaking his head as soon as he is out of sight.
Checking his jeans pockets for his wand and wallet, he hurries back to the Entrance Hall where Draco is waiting, dressed in dark, close-sitting trousers and a thin green sweater. He smiles when he sees Harry, a real, unguarded smile, and Harry’s heart speeds at the sight of it.
“Fuck the Inner Eye,” he says as they crunch their way down the drive.
“That doesn’t sound very pleasant,” Draco says mildly.
Harry snorts. “Well, no, it doesn’t. But then neither was the conversation I just had with Trelawney, if you could call it that.”
“Do I want to know?” Draco asks.
“I don’t know,” Harry says, but he tells him anyway.
He tells Draco about being cornered by Trelawney and dragged into an empty classroom, putting all of his irritation and sense of injustice into a rather cruel but accurate impression of her. The autumn sun warms their backs as they walk, and by the time they reach the path to Hogsmeade, Harry is starting to overheat, throwing himself around with imaginary shawls and beads flying around him.
“It is a curse... a curse to know all that must come!” he cries, and Draco grins.
“Not that she’d know anything about that,” he laughs.
“No, she wouldn’t.” Harry slows to a stop, breathing hard.
Draco stops, too, regarding him curiously. “What?”
“It’s just... this whole thing is ridiculous. Since when do teachers interfere in our relationships? What gives them the right? What gives any of these people the fucking right?”
“Perhaps they feel they owe it to you... to watch out for you,” Draco says uncertainly. “I can’t complain, not with the things I’ve done.”
“No,” Harry says, rubbing his hot face with both hands. “After the war... everything was supposed to be different. It was supposed to be about acceptance... forgiveness... starting again. God knows every speech I had to make said so. And yet here we are... we find a little bit of peace and it gets ruined. Everything’s... aren’t you fed up, Draco? I’m fed up. I’m extremely fucking fed up.”
“I could do without the spiders in my bed,” Draco says.
“Last night and the night before, my bed has been full of spiders,” Draco elaborates. “If they knew me at all, they’d know I wasn’t afraid of spiders, but I’m not going to tell them that. I just waited until everyone was asleep and put them all out of the window.”
Harry groans and leans against a creaking fence post. “What are we going to do?”
Draco steps close, resting his hands on Harry’s hips. “We could leave.”
“We could... just leave.”
“I don’t do running away,” Harry says. “It’s not... what I do.”
“It’s not what Gryffindors do?” Draco prods, one corner of his mouth pulling into a smile.
Harry rolls his eyes. “Shut up.”
“I won’t. Let’s talk about Sirius Black, then.”
“What about him?” Harry asks, spine prickling at the mention of his godfather’s name.
“He was brave and strong and rebellious... all those things that you are, Harry, and he ran away. He looked at what was happening around him and he fucked right off. Because he had to.”
Harry stares into silvery-grey eyes at close range, heart hammering against his ribcage. Draco leans closer and kisses him, slowly, fiercely, and something inside him snaps.
“Did they really put spiders in your bed?” he murmurs against Draco’s lips.
Harry closes his eyes, letting the warmth of the sun and the press of Draco’s body combine with the surge of adrenaline inside him as he reaches for something, anything, and finds himself in the footnotes of his Herbology textbook. Last night he’d read a chapter on Soporific Plants, and a single, unimportant paragraph jumps out at him now:
Scandara Paxos grows only in the most remote areas of the British countryside. The biggest harvest is undertaken once a year on the first full moon in December, in an area ten miles from the small highland village of Strath Kinna.
Wrapping his arms around Draco’s waist, Harry closes his eyes tightly and focuses on his destination.
“Where the fuck are we?” Draco demands a moment or two later.
Harry opens his eyes, taking a moment to adjust to the swooping feeling of their Apparation. Through the driving rain, he can just about make out a familiar red, green and yellow logo, and the sign that reads: Strath Kinna Post Office and General Store.
“We’re here,” Harry says, rather relieved he managed to make the jump accurately under the circumstances.
Draco stares at him, or, at least, Harry thinks he does. The rain is now blurring his glasses and making him effectively blind. He fumbles for his wand, shivering as the cold droplets pour down his back, and casts an Impervius on the wet glass. Now that he can see Draco, it is apparent that he is extremely confused.
“You wanted to get away,” Harry says, shrugging, as the rain continues to hammer down around them. “And here we are. Away.”
Draco shakes his head and then looks around. Harry follows his eyes. Surrounded by vast, craggy hills, the village of Strath Kinna is barely more than a scattering of stone buildings and a single, uneven road. Several houses crouch at either side of the Post Office, and fifty yards or so along the road sits a little grey building with a slate roof and a sign, swinging violently in the wind, that declares it The Old Trout Inn.
“Come on, let’s get inside,” Harry says, and with a raised eyebrow, Draco follows him down the road and into the little pub.
The Old Trout is blissfully warm and dry, the interior lit by the soft, flickering glow of the fire that burns in the vast granite hearth. The ceiling, low and lined with fissured beams, is painted a determined white that stands out starkly against the dark wood of the bar, the tables and chairs and the worn brown carpet. The walls, too, are papered in a maroon sort of flock, barely any of which can be seen beneath the staggering collection of horse brasses, oil landscapes and faded photographs.
The pub is busier than the deserted, rain-swept street had suggested, and Harry finds himself wondering if the entire population of Strath Kinna is now contained within these four walls, taking up almost all of the small round tables and consuming plates of delicious-smelling food. Several of the diners glance up at the sight of Harry and Draco, only to return to their meals with barely a flicker of interest, something which Harry finds rather refreshing. A gentle murmur of conversation hangs over the whole scene, wrapping Harry in a rather wonderful sense of serenity.
At least until Draco elbows him in the ribs and hisses, “This is a Muggle place.”
“Have you got any Muggle money?” Draco whispers. “Because I haven’t! They’re not going to like it if we just stand here and stare at them.”
Harry rummages in his pockets and extracts a slightly damp ten pound note. He’s been carrying it with him at all times for longer than he cares to think about, and now it might actually be useful.
“I’ve got this. Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”
For a moment, Draco stares at him as though he’s quite mad and then capitulates with a shrug. He nudges Harry and indicates the old woman behind the bar.
“The Old Trout... do you think that’s the old trout?” he asks, smirking.
“I’m no deaf, ye wee bugger,” the old lady says, grey curls bouncing as her head snaps up and she regards Draco with piercing blue eyes.
“No, well... I... sorry,” Draco mutters, taking a step back. Harry doesn’t blame him.
“The name is on account of the brown trout in the loch away there,” she continues, pointing over Harry’s shoulder with a wrinkled finger.
“Aye, especially old Angus,” puts in a man with green wellingtons and windswept hair, turning to look at them from his seat at the bar.
“Who’s that?” Harry asks.
“If ye see him, ye’ll know,” the man says mysteriously, and the old woman lets out a burst of crackly laughter.
Something about her reminds Harry sharply of McGonagall and he feels a twinge of guilt, knowing that she will inevitably, some time soon, realise they are missing, but then he remembers Trelawney and the Slytherins and the Daily Prophet and he strengthens his resolve. They’re here now, and they might as well make the best of it, at least until they figure out what the best of it might be.
“And where, pray tell, are your coats?” the old woman demands suddenly.
Harry smiles weakly at her and shrugs. He glances between Draco and himself, taking in wet hair and saturated fabric and involuntary shivers. He has to admit that they make a rather miserable sight.
“Must have forgotten them,” he says, approaching the bar and scanning the pumps, deciding that it’s best to at least pretend that he knows what he’s doing. For Draco’s sake if nothing else. “Two pints of...” He pauses, trying to decide between ‘Ginger Rodent’ and ‘Old Mortality’. “Ginger Rodent, please,” he decides, smiling at Draco’s sound of disbelief.
“It’s like he’s here with us,” he mutters, watching the old woman as she expertly draws two pints of rich, amber-coloured liquid, takes Harry’s crumpled note and exchanges it for a handful of coins.
They settle themselves at a small round table near the fireplace, leaning towards the flames until steam begins to rise from their drenched clothes. Draco sips his beer and gazes at Harry, brow furrowed.
“What is this?”
“It’s beer. It’s... real ale,” Harry says, lifting his glass to the light and peering into the depths as though he is some kind of connoisseur.
“As opposed to imaginary ale?” Draco asks.
Harry pulls a face at him. “I don’t know. Just drink it. Maybe I should ask her if there’s somewhere we can stay,” he muses, watching the old woman as she trundles about behind the bar.
Draco stares at him. “You want to stay here? Really?”
“Well, we could...” Harry stops, noticing that the woman is no longer behind the bar but is now stumping towards them at surprising speed.
“Here,” she says, handing each of them a small, rough towel and then resting her hands on her hips. “So, youse are looking for somewhere to stay?”
Draco stares at her. “Where on earth did you get that idea?”
She smiles grimly. “I told youse, I’m no deaf. I’m no daft, either. Run away, have ye?”
“Erm...” Harry manages, and then sighs, setting down his pint. “What makes you say that?”
“I’ve lived in Strath Kinna for seventy-eight years,” she says, staring pointedly at each of them in turn until they pick up the towels and begin to rub obediently at their hair. “I see things. I’ve never seen either of youse before and there’s no good reason to come here unless youse are come to fish. We ken well enough there’s nothing to see here. And youse’ve no come to fish,” she finishes flatly.
“Are you sure?” Draco asks, voice muffled by his towel.
“A fisherman would no come out without his coat,” she says, staring down at Draco as though daring him to argue.
He says nothing. She nods, seemingly satisfied.
“I ken,” she says, voice softer now. “Youse are upset. There’s a wee cabin down by the loch. Might that do?”
“We don’t have any money,” Harry admits, feeling stupid. Not for the first time, he curses his impulsiveness. Had he thought this through for even a moment, he could have...
“I have this. It’s real gold,” Draco says suddenly, producing a heavy fountain pen from his pocket.
The old woman screws up her eyes and leans over the table to examine the object, seeming not to notice when she bangs Harry’s chin with her shoulder. After a moment, she straightens up, leaving Harry slightly dazed and smelling vaguely of cooking oil.
“I’ve no use for a thing like that,” she laughs, and his heart sinks. “A wee bit of this, though, wouldn’t go amiss,” she adds, leaning over again and enclosing Harry’s bicep in an alarmingly strong hand.
Draco splutters on his beer and Harry just stares at the old woman, head full of lurid and terrifying images. A cabin by the loch sounds wonderful, but he’s not quite sure he’s prepared to pay that kind of price for it.
“Oh, aye, that’ll do nicely,” she murmurs, finally releasing Harry.
She nods. “My grandson usually takes care of things, ye ken, but he’s out of action at the moment, the lazy bugger.”
She points across the pub to where a dark-haired young man is sitting on a wooden settle, plaster-encased foot up on a little stool. At the sound of his grandmother’s voice, he looks up, gives them a sheepish wave, and then goes back to polishing cutlery.
Harry glances at Draco, who looks far more amused than is really necessary. He has no idea what to think, but the option of making a run for it and Apparating back to Hogsmeade is becoming more and more attractive by the minute. When he turns his attention back to the old woman, she is in full flow once again.
“... garden’s a state, ye know... needs a firm hand... and there’s a hole in the roof that’s in dire need of some attention. Two strong lads like yourselves should no have a problem. I’ll make sure youse are fed, ye ken,” she says, regarding them shrewdly. “Proper hot meals at the Trout, none of your junky rubbish.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Draco says after a moment, and there’s the slightest tremor in his voice that means he is trying extremely hard not to laugh. “Thank you.”
“Just a minute, then,” she says, before bustling back to the bar.
When she is out of sight, Draco lets out his laughter, leaning back in his chair and hiding his face beneath his towel.
“You thought she wanted...” He pauses, snorting with amusement and then emerging from beneath the towel, mouth stretched into a grin. “You thought she wanted to have her way with you.”
“I did not,” Harry mutters, but he can feel himself flushing, and when Draco starts to laugh again, he can’t help but join in.
Flooded with relief and the first stirrings of hope, he smiles easily at the old woman when she returns with a key. She looks at both of them for a moment and then hands the key to Draco, who tucks it solemnly into his pocket.
“The cabin’s yours, then?” Harry asks, sipping his pint.
“No, laddie, it’s my father’s, but he’s too dead to interfere,” the woman says briskly. “It’s just behind the trees and down the slope, you’ll no miss it. If youse need more wood for the fire, I’ll bring some up from the cellar when youse come for your food. If I’m no here, ask for Gertie. Gertie Campbell.”
Startled by the level of trust being offered up from one stranger to another, Harry says nothing for a moment, and then shakes himself.
“I’m Harry and this is Draco,” he says after a moment. “Thank you for being so kind.”
“Ah, don’t make a fuss,” Gertie says, waving a dismissive hand. “Youse’ll no be saying thanks when ye see that garden.”
Without waiting for a response, she turns and scuttles back behind the bar, where a small queue is forming.
“Aye, I’m sure you’re dying of thirst, Alastair,” she sighs, rolling her eyes and taking an empty glass from the man with the wellington boots. “Cry me a river, eh?”
At the table, Harry and Draco gaze at each other in silence.
“Well... that was...” Harry mumbles.
“I feel as though I’ve stumbled into a very strange dream,” Draco says, frowning. He takes out the key and taps it against the edge of the table. “This seems real enough, though.”
Harry grins. “Want to go and find out what it opens?”
With the help of Gertie’s directions, they find the cabin after two or three minutes of walking, by which time they are both completely soaked and shivering once more. The loch is impressive, large and trembling silver-grey under the force of the deluge, the cabin... rather less so, huddled by the edge of the water in a tangle of bracken and weeds that makes Harry wonder for just how long the injured grandson has been neglecting it.
“Oh, good grief,” Draco sighs, casting a murderous glance at the garden before ramming the key into the wooden door and pushing his way inside the tiny building.
The cabin is almost completely dark, and Harry immediately begins feeling around the walls for light switches but finds none. The floorboards creak under their feet as they move around, Harry managing to stub his toe on something extremely solid a fraction of a second before Draco casts Lumos and fills the interior with light.
Harry hops for a moment, wincing, before he looks down at the offending object and finds it to be a wardrobe, constructed plainly and without fuss from heavy pieces of what looks like teak. He glares at it briefly and then forces himself to look around at his temporary home. The rest of the cabin has been equipped in a similarly utilitarian manner, with a large chest of drawers, a table and a bed all fashioned from the same unvarnished teak as the offending wardrobe. Next to a wood-burning stove, easily the newest item in the room, sit two squat armchairs, upholstered in a mossy green fabric. In the corner, the double bed is tucked into an odd little alcove and piled with mismatched quilts and blankets. Just to the right of the bed, a metal bucket sits on the bare floorboards, into which a heavy, rhythmic series of raindrops falls from a hole in the roof the size of a Bludger.
“What is that smell?” Draco says at last.
Harry wrinkles his nose, placing the sweet, chemical scent for the first time. “I think it’s mothballs,” he says, pulling open the wardrobe and quickly stepping backwards again. “Yep.”
“What are... you know what, never mind,” Draco says.
Harry draws his wand and vanishes the lot of them before the stench permeates the entire cabin. Then, intrigued, he leans into the wardrobe and examines the contents: several old, scratchy jumpers that must have once belonged to a rather large man, and a tweed skirt and jacket that are small enough to fit Gertie herself.
Outside, the wind howls and the raindrops hammer through the hole in the roof and into the bucket. Draco sighs heavily.
“This place is ridiculous, Harry.”
Irritated, cold and soaking wet, Harry turns to stare at him. “You’re the one who agreed to it! Why do you think she gave you the fucking key?”
“Maybe because she thought I looked responsible, unlike people who Apparate off to the middle of nowhere without a moment’s thought,” Draco snaps back.
“You’re not serious.”
“I’m extremely serious,” Draco says, folding his arms and regarding Harry with a look of pure, hard challenge that has been absent from his face for rather a long time. “Look around you. Do you think any of this was a good idea? This whole place is falling apart, we have no money, no change of clothes, and now we’re stuck doing manual labour for an old woman who is clearly mad...”
“It was your idea to get away!” Harry interrupts, riled by the accusing tone in Draco’s voice. “‘We could leave’, you said. ‘We could just leave’. This is as much your fault as it is mine!”
“Yes,” Draco says quietly, lifting a hand to rake through his wet hair. “Yes, I did say that. But I meant we could go to the French Riviera or something, not the back end of fucking beyond!”
“What’s wrong with it?” Harry says stubbornly, even though he knows the answer already.
“What’s right with it, Harry?” Draco snaps, gesturing at the dark sky beyond the windows and the cold, uninviting room. “There’s nothing here! It’s just rain and... mothballs... and... what the hell is this, anyway?”
Harry steps closer to get a better look at the object Draco has picked up and is now glaring at as though willing it to explode.
“Well, it’s...” He looks more closely and wonders if he’s going mad. “It looks like a tape measure. In the shape of a trout.”
Draco stares at the strange object and then at Harry, eyes wild. “Why is everyone here obsessed with fucking fish?!”
Harry’s lip twitches. He tries to keep it under control, but there is something about Draco’s very real bewildered exasperation that just takes his anger and dissolves it into bubbles of amusement in his chest. He can’t help it, and seconds later, he is laughing. To his relief, Draco’s mouth tugs into a reluctant smile, and soon, he too has lost control, alternating between bursts of laughter and mumbles of disbelief as he turns the little fishy tape measure over and over in his hands.
After a couple of rough drying spells, they collapse onto the bed side by side and stare at the ceiling. The silence is comfortable, contemplative, and Harry can almost hear the wheels spinning inside Draco’s head as he tries to work out what to do next. For a little while, Harry tries to do the same, but he is soon lost in the sound of the rain, the pattern of Draco’s breathing, and other, more vague thoughts, such as the realisation that the bed is surprisingly comfortable, and now that the scent of mothballs has dissipated, the cabin smells only of wood and moss and damp wool.
“It was never going to be straightforward, was it?” he says eventually. “You and me?”
Draco snorts. “There’s nothing like a bit of excitement, I suppose.”
“That’s right,” Harry agrees. “I’m very exciting.”
Draco smiles but says nothing. Harry closes his eyes and continues listening to the rain pinging into the bucket next to his head. He is pretty certain that this is going to be his side of the bed, but he doesn’t really mind.
When he opens his eyes again, the rain has eased slightly and Draco is no longer next to him. Startled, Harry sits up bolt upright and feels for his wand, only to find it missing from his pocket.
“It’s on the table, idiot,” Draco says, but his voice is soft and reassuring.
Harry lets out a rough breath and seeks Draco out in the gloom, finding him kneeling on the hearthrug and piling bits of wood into the little pot-bellied stove. Amused, Harry watches him make four attempts at striking a match before the flame lights, and then he holds it to the pile of wood, glaring when the whole thing doesn’t immediately burst into a raging fire.
“You need to put some paper at the bottom,” Harry advises. “The fire needs to—”
“I know,” Draco mutters. “I found a newspaper.”
“In which case, why are you trying to light the wood?” Harry asks, and Draco gives him a filthy look but alters the position of the match, which is now rather close to burning his fingers.
Seconds later, Harry hears the sound of the newspaper catching fire, and he smiles to himself. He knows that Draco could have made a fire with his wand in a moment, and he chose not to. Sometimes Harry thinks that Draco is just as stubborn as he is, and it makes him wants to hold onto to him and not let go. Instead, he creaks across the floor and drops down onto the rug beside Draco, watching the kindling of the fire and stealing a kiss from its single-minded creator.
“Was I asleep for long?”
“A couple of hours,” Draco says. “I’ve been thinking... if we’re going to stay here, we need to—”
“We’re staying here now?” he interrupts, surprised to find himself feeling hopeful.
Draco sighs. “Well, you know... at least for tonight.”
The fire is really coming to life now, and the flickering light is soft on Draco’s sharp features. His hair, drenched and then dried by charm, is slightly wavy as it falls over his forehead. Harry wants to touch it, but he forces his mind back to the issue in hand.
“Okay, we need to what?”
“You’re not going to like it.”
“Fine. We have to let someone at Hogwarts know what’s happening. And by someone, I mean McGonagall.”
Harry’s stomach lurches. “Absolutely not,” he says firmly.
“I told you that you wouldn’t like it,” Draco says.
“And you were right. We’re not kids any more, Draco. We don’t owe anyone an explanation.”
“It isn’t that.”
“What then?” Harry reaches for a poker and prods at the fire, sending out a shower of orange sparks. “If you’re feeling bad for McGonagall, she’s done nothing to stop any of this,” he says, swallowing down the twist of guilt that accompanies his words.
“She’s been back and forth between Hogwarts and the Ministry these last few days. I hardly think that it’s that she doesn’t care about you,” Draco says, and the words hit Harry somewhere sore and unexpected.
Feeling ashamed, he lets out a long breath. “Not just me. You’re getting the worst of this and you know it.”
Draco snorts. “I don’t care about any of that.”
Harry meets his eyes, scanning them for the false pride that so often used to reside there, but he finds nothing but sincerity and a hint of steeliness that makes his heart hurt. He shifts closer and laces his fingers through Draco’s.
“Okay. Then why do we need to do it?”
Draco gives him a grim smile. “Because if we don’t, someone will notice that we’re gone, there will be panic, the Prophet’s headline will be ‘Harry Potter abducted by evil Draco Malfoy’, and the entire wizarding population will be looking for us.”
Harry blinks. “Oh, god, I hadn’t even thought of that.” In the split second it takes him to realise how disgustingly selfish he is being, he is flooded with hot, prickly shame, and he tries to pull away from Draco, but a strong hand holds onto his tightly and warm grey eyes burn into his.
“Don’t,” Draco says. “It’s good that you don’t think like that, believe me.”
“I’m an idiot,” Harry mumbles.
“Sometimes,” Draco says with a small smile.
Harry lets out a long sigh. “Okay. Fine. We need to do that. The trouble is, there aren’t any post owls here. We’ll have to use the Muggle Post Office.”
“Well, you know how to do that, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Harry says, smiling at last. “But when you send things through the postal system, the person who gets the letter can find out where you sent it from. They put a stamp on it.”
“Really?” Draco says, lifting an irritable eyebrow. “Oh... for goodness’ sake. Okay. Then write to someone you can trust.”
Harry frowns, gazing into the middle distance as he sorts through the people in his life, searching for someone who has a Muggle postal address, a line of communication to McGonagall, and enough integrity to keep the whole thing to him or herself. His search yields only one such result, and after a moment’s consideration, he decides that she is indeed their best hope.
Draco shoots him an inquiring glance and he nods. Leaping to his feet, Draco casts a muttered Summoning Charm, causing several envelopes to fly out from a creaky drawer, and a battered notepad to wiggle itself free from under the leg of a table. In its absence, the table wobbles and sends all the items on its surface pitching to one side.
When Draco passes him the notepad, envelope and his gold fountain pen, Harry shakes his head.
“Your handwriting is much neater.”
“My handwriting will not convince anyone that you’re not a kidnapping victim.”
Harry rolls his eyes and takes the items from Draco, who sits back down on the rug and peers over his shoulder as he writes. Doing his best to ignore him, Harry takes a deep breath and begins:
Dear Mrs Figg,
I hope you are well. Please can you make sure that Professor McGonagall gets the enclosed letter. There is nothing to worry about. I am absolutely fine, but I don’t currently have access to an owl and it’s very important that she hears from me. I would really appreciate it if you would keep this, and my location, a secret for now. I’m sorry to trouble you, but I needed someone I could trust to help me out.
All the best,
Harry James Potter
“Harry James?” Draco says as Harry sets the note aside to dry and tears out a fresh sheet of paper for the letter to McGonagall. “Fancy.”
“Shut up. She’s an old woman. Old women like things formal,” Harry says confidently.
“What about Gertie?” Draco asks, and Harry grins.
“There’s an exception to every rule, I suppose,” he admits. “Come on, help me with this. I have no idea what to write.”
Almost an hour later, they lock up the cabin and head for the Post Office, leaving behind a sea of crumpled paper balls containing failed attempts at letters that will, at least, serve as excellent kindling for the fire later on. The rain is still pelting down and they move as quickly as they can against the wind, which seems intent on blowing them backwards and down into the loch.
“Do you really think she’s going to believe that line about ‘an unexpected opportunity for work experience’?” Harry asks as they pass the Old Trout. Gertie’s voice is clearly audible even above the wind and rain, and the windows of the little pub glow invitingly with soft, yellow light.
“She might,” Draco says. He shivers and tucks his hands into the ends of his sleeves. “It’s technically true, anyway.”
Harry laughs. “Hardly.”
“It really is. When else are we going to have the opportunity to experience landscaping a garden and mending a leaking roof?” Draco points out, expression so earnest that Harry doesn’t have the heart to argue with him.
“Well, let’s just hope she can read between the lines and no one will have anything to worry about,” he says instead. “And that she doesn’t explode with rage about us missing a few lessons.”
“If she does, then we just... won’t go back. We’ll stay here forever and become sheep farmers or something,” Draco says, pushing open the door of the Post Office and setting off the tinkling bell that dangles from the lintel.
Harry steps gratefully into the warm, dry air, breathing in the sweet, papery smell that catapults him back to his early childhood and Aunt Petunia’s judgemental comments about other customers in line, brightly-coloured forms of every kind and pens held in place by little chains. Not much has changed, he realises as he looks around, though this place is rather more impressive than the Post Office in Little Whinging, with one half of the shop given over to shelves full of food and drinks and household products.
At the counter, a middle-aged man with a beard is waiting, and he smiles at Harry when their eyes meet. A moment later, a second bearded man emerges from a back room with steaming cups of tea, and then walks among the shelves, straightening packages of padded envelopes and rows of birthday cards.
“Can I help ye, lads?” the man behind the counter calls, and Harry approaches him with his letter.
When he has paid for his first class stamp and handed the letter over to be sent out with the rest of the day’s post, he looks around for Draco, finally spotting him peering at what appears to be a roll of bubble wrap.
“What is this?” he demands, poking at the roll with one finger.
“It’s bubble wrap,” Harry says, amused.
“Yes, but what is it for?” Draco presses, and the closest bearded man regards them with curiosity.
“It’s... it’s to wrap around things that are fragile for when you want to move them around, like if you’re moving house or if you’re sending them through the post,” Harry explains, trying to keep his voice down. He has the feeling that gossip spreads quickly in a place like Strath Kinna, and he doesn’t really fancy being known by all the villagers as ‘those two lads who don’t know what bubble wrap is’.
“Oh,” Draco says, still sounding puzzled. “And what are those for?”
Harry follows his eyes over to the set of little pigeon holes and sighs. “Forms to fill in, so you can get a passport or a driving licence or insurance... look, shall we buy something to eat?”
Draco is easily distracted by the prospect of food, and Harry is able to steer him away from the stationery before he asks any more strange questions in front of the Muggles. Having counted out all the coins in his pocket, he rashly uses every last one of them to buy bread and milk and cheese and chocolate, hanging onto the hope that he really did see a tin of tea bags back in the cabin. With tea and toast and whatever Gertie has to offer them, they can’t go too far wrong.
Back at the cabin, he pauses for a moment, attempting to ignore the rain while he stands back and tries to examine the hole in the roof from the outside.
“Do you know how to fix it?” Draco asks.
“Not really,” Harry admits.
“I do,” Draco says, and Harry looks at him, startled until he draws his wand.
Harry sighs. “No magic. Not for that.”
“Because she’ll notice, and she’ll be suspicious, especially as we don’t have any tools yet, and then we’ll have to modify her memory. Do you want to Obliviate an old lady? I don’t really fancy it myself.”
“You always ruin my fun,” Draco sighs, putting his wand away and letting them into the cabin.
By the light of a new fire, they spread out on the hearthrug, drinking tea that tastes only a little bit musty and toasting bread on forks until it’s golden and hot enough to melt cheese between two slices. As darkness falls, they curl together in restful warmth and talk of nothing much that matters, just drifting the silence with soft words and insubstantial ideas.
Several hours later, hunger begins to stir and they walk up the hill and through the rain to the Old Trout, where Gertie welcomes them with an ‘aye, youse’re still here, then?’ before disappearing into the kitchen and emerging a few minutes later with two enormous plates of food.
“Get into that, laddies, you’ve a good wee bit of gardening ahead of ye,” she advises, clattering down the plates without ceremony and returning moments later with two fresh pints of beer.
They thank her and stare at each other, somewhere between alarmed and impressed at the sheer amount of food in front of them.
“We could go to Canada,” Draco says, picking up their earlier conversation with ease. “I’ve heard it’s beautiful.”
“I’ve heard it’s cold,” Harry says, picking up his fork and trying to decide where to start.
A vast slice of chicken and mushroom pie takes up much of the plate, and it smells delicious. Also fighting for position are mounds of very well boiled peas and carrots, and a pile of home-made chips. After adding salt and vinegar, he tries one, and silently declares it to be the best he has ever had.
“Why are ye no eating?” Gertie calls from behind the bar, and Draco jumps.
Hurriedly, he picks up his knife and fork and starts into his pie, darting anxious glances at the old woman all the way. Harry hides a smile and gulps at his beer, suddenly parched as well as ravenous. Which is a good job, as it turns out, because Gertie appears set on ensuring that neither of them have an empty glass at any point. By the time he has worked his way through all of the food on his plate, Harry is full to bursting and is feeling quite pleasantly drunk. He has no idea why Gertie is being so kind to them. Perhaps she’s insane. Perhaps she has some sort of evil plan and is lulling them both into a false sense of security. Or perhaps, he thinks, perhaps she’s insane.
But it doesn’t matter.
“You should eat your carrots,” he tells Draco, fixing him with what he hopes is a stern expression.
Draco loves a stern expression.
“I am full,” Draco says, equally sternly, and for a moment, they both regard each other steadily over the tops of their glasses.
“Don’t you want to see in the dark?”
“I can already see in the dark,” Draco says loftily. “I am exspecional. Excessional. Exceptional.”
Harry laughs. “Aye, that ye are,” he says, and then stops, puzzled. “I don’t know what that was.”
“Neither do I,” Draco says solemnly, but this time, when Gertie comes over to take their glasses, he stands up somewhat unsteadily. “No, thank you, Professor, I think you’ve had enough.”
Harry snorts, folding his arms on the table and dropping his face into them. “Draco... no.”
“What?” he demands, whipping around to stare at Harry.
“I don’t know,” he mumbles, looking up just in time to see Gertie shaking her head.
“Pair of bloody Sassenachs,” she mumbles. “Youse can no take your beer.”
“Actually, Draco is very responsible,” Harry says. “Where did you want us to take it?”
Gertie lets out a cackle and startles Harry by ruffling his hair. “The gardening tools are in the big chest near the trees,” she says. “Do a good job and I’ll bring youse some lunch.”
With that, she walks away, taking their empty glasses with her. Harry gets to his feet, swaying slightly for a moment, and then weaves his way out of the pub and into the night. The rain is shocking against his skin and sort of wonderful all at once. Draco steps out onto the street and tips his face up into the downpour.
“It’s raining,” he says, apparently surprised.
“Mm,” Harry says, blinking in the darkness and walking very slowly in the direction of the cabin.
“Geese,” Draco says suddenly.
“If you like geese... they have them in Canada,” he explains.
“I like geese,” Harry confides, tucking his arm through Draco’s. “But we shouldn’t go to Canada.”
“Because it’s too far. I don’t want to... go away. I want to be here.”
“In Stealth Kinna?”
“No,” Harry says, giving Draco a look that he feels conveys all the derision he feels for that idea. “On this island... of tea and... and swans... and... the best Quidditch league in the whole damn... thing. You know.”
“I don’t,” Draco says. A raindrop rolls off the end of his nose.
“With you,” Harry adds emphatically. “Because me and you... we’re... you know.”
“Stop telling me what I know,” Draco says crossly, and kisses him.
Harry pauses, feeling unsteady, and then starts walking again. “You do know. The rest of it doesn’t matter, because I love you.”
Draco’s smile is bright in the moonlight, and he tugs Harry down the slope and into the cabin. He can’t be sure what happens next, but when he wakes, it’s almost four in the morning, he and Draco are tangled together, half-dressed, on top of the bedclothes, and his mouth feels as though it is full of sand. Groaning, Harry spells water into the cup at the bedside and gulps at it gratefully.
Two minutes later, he’s asleep again.
Harry wakes to find the cabin oddly silent. At first, he thinks the lack of sound is merely due to the fact that Draco appears to have wandered off somewhere, but when he looks out of the window and sees the sun, he realises that water is no longer pouring through the hole in the roof and into the bucket.
The rain has stopped.
Scrambling to his feet, he pulls his discarded t-shirt over his head and walks out into the tangled mess of garden. The thick covering of moss is soft and cool against his bare feet and he stretches pleasurably, relieved to feel no traces of a hangover from the previous night. When he spots Draco, sitting on a large rock at the water’s edge, he heads to join him, stepping carefully over the stony ground. He perches beside Draco and leans back on his hands, relishing the morning sunshine on his face and breathing in the cool, damp air. Every breath tastes crisp and pure, as though the rain has washed the landscape clean.
The entire valley now looks beautiful, and Harry feels rather remorseful for thinking it grey and charmless. The hills are green, swathed with sharp crags and dotted with grazing sheep, the sky a cool, clear blue with trailing clouds, and the loch shimmering through endless colours in the sunlight.
“Fine,” Draco sighs as if Harry has spoken. “I’ll admit it. I may have been wrong about this place.”
Harry smiles and decides not to engage. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Draco nods. “When he... when Voldemort was at my house,” he says with some effort, “I used to go somewhere else in my head. It actually looked a lot like this.”
Harry doesn’t know what to say, so he puts his arm around Draco’s waist and tugs him closer. Draco resists for a moment and then falls against him, exhaling against Harry’s chest and spreading heat through the thin cotton of his t-shirt and onto his skin.
“Did you mean what you said last night?” Draco asks, voice barely above a whisper.
Harry hesitates. “Erm... I remember talking a lot of shit about geese,” he says.
Draco straightens up and meets his eyes. “No, that was me, although you did mention swans at one point. I mean when you said... you said you loved me. Was that real or just... talking shit?”
Harry’s heart pounds as he all at once remembers his words with perfect clarity.
“No,” he says, holding the eye contact even though his face is burning. “That was not me talking shit. I meant it. I thought you knew.”
Draco stares at him in disbelief and then pushes him off the rock. He lands on his back, stones and pebbles poking into him and stomach roiling as though he has just missed a step on the stairs.
“What was that for?”
“‘I thought you knew’?” Draco repeats, helping him up and then dragging him into a heated kiss that tastes like tea and chocolate and warm exasperation. “I love you, you absolute tosspot,” he mumbles against Harry’s lips, threading strong fingers into his hair and keeping him close. “I don’t know why... I really don’t know why.”
Harry grins and kisses him back, hands creeping under Draco’s thin sweater and slipping over smooth, cool skin. Behind them, the loch laps contentedly at the shore, and somewhere amid the rushes, a pair of oyster catchers pipe loudly to one another. Harry doesn’t remember the last time he felt so completely peaceful.
“I suppose we should at least look at this garden,” Draco says reluctantly, pulling back a little.
Harry makes a face but releases him and follows him back to where the overgrown plants are beginning to spill out onto the shores of the loch.
“I don’t even know what half of these plants are,” he admits, inspecting the maze of greenery.
“Neither do I,” Draco says, folding his arms crossly. “But I’m pretty sure all of this—” He indicates the mess of bracken with a sweep of his hand, “Isn’t supposed to be here. If we can get rid of this, we might be able to see what else there is.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Harry says, heading to retrieve the tools from the chest and smiling to himself at the thought of Draco wielding a rake or hoe.
“In which case,” Draco says, as though he hasn’t spoken, “I think a little bit of magic can’t hurt.”
Before Harry can respond, he has drawn his wand and targeted the out-of-control bracken, snaring it in a web of white light and then obliterating it with a flick of his wrist.
“That was... efficient,” Harry says faintly. Draco beams.
“Look... lavender... sorrel... sage... there was a herb garden here,” he says, pointing to one corner, where a bedraggled collection of plants are now visible.
“Maybe you’ll be a gardener,” Harry says, passing Draco a spade and beginning to rake leaves into a pile. “You know, when you grow up.”
He doesn’t need to turn around to know that Draco is giving him the finger.
“Maybe you’ll be a roof-mending... person,” he says. “And what of it?”
Harry snorts. “I love you,” he reminds Draco, warmth spreading in his chest when he feels himself being stared at.
The sun is directly overhead by the time they stop for a break, leaning up against the cabin and drinking cold water from thick white mugs. The garden is far from tidy, but they have made a creditable start, Harry thinks. All of the stray leaves have been swept and bagged, the earth around the struggling herb garden has been cleared of weeds and detritus, and Harry has begun the mammoth task of cutting back an enormous thorned bush that seems determined to rip him to shreds in the process.
“Let me look at that,” Draco insists, shoving a pair of shears into his trouser pocket and setting down his mug.
He takes Harry’s hand and examines the scratches, leaning close with eyes narrowed against the midday sun. A light sheen of perspiration covers his face, and his sweater is sticking to his back. Harry quite irrationally wants to pull off his clothes, push him against the side of the cabin, drop to his knees and—
“What was that?” Draco whispers, a split second before Gertie trundles around the corner with a basket on her arm.
Instinctively, they step away from each other, an action which, for some reason, causes the old lady to burst into laughter.
“Youse think I’m blind as well as deaf, laddies?” she says, shaking her head.
“No... of course not... we just...” Harry falls silent at Gertie’s quelling expression.
“Have ye no seen Maurice and Timothy in the Post Office?” She demands. “Youse think we’ve no had gays in Strath Kinna before?”
Harry and Draco glance at each other, both seemingly at a loss.
“Lost your tongues, have ye?” Gertie says, and then she is stumping her way over to them and setting down the basket on a wooden table that Harry has just unearthed from the clutches of the thorny bush. “Never mind. I’ve brought youse a wee bit of lunch. Bring the basket back when ye come for youse dinner, won’t ye? Youse’re doing a grand job out here!”
“Thanks. Do you want us to...?” Harry attempts, but Gertie is already heading back to the pub.
“She is a very unusual lady,” Draco says thoughtfully. After a moment, he shrugs and opens the basket. “Ooh, sausage rolls!”
Gertie’s words swim around in Harry’s head for the rest of the afternoon, and when they return to the Old Trout that evening with their empty basket, he finds himself looking around for the ‘gays’ from the Post Office. It hadn’t occurred to him at the time to think of them as a couple, but when he spots them now, he has no idea how he could have missed it. The two men are sharing a table next to the window, stealing food from one another’s plates and chatting animatedly, despite having probably spent the entire day together already. They look at each other as though there is no one else in the room, and Harry can’t help smiling. He wonders if he looks at Draco like that.
He stops wondering about anything much when their food arrives and the portions are, if anything, even larger than the previous night’s. This time, Draco starts eating immediately and makes a point of finishing all of his vegetables. Gertie, having perhaps learned a lesson when it comes to the alcohol tolerance of eighteen-year-old English boys, draws them one pint of Ginger Rodent each before switching them to water.
“Adam’s ale,” she tells them sternly, grey curls bobbing as she sets down their glasses. “Youse’ll no make a good job of that roof if youse’re out of your wee heads.”
“I think we should consider ourselves told,” Draco says as they make their way back to the cabin.
Harry smiles. The night is cold but clear, and he stares up at the sky for so long that he almost falls over his own feet. At the water’s edge, he sits on the large rock and tips his head back, drinking in black velvet littered with millions of stars.
“I could stay here, you know,” he murmurs, not sure if he really means it, or even if he really cares.
Draco sits beside him, pulling his feet up onto the rock and resting his chin on his knees.
“We can’t,” he says softly, and Harry aches.
“Let’s pretend,” Draco whispers.
Harry can do that. He pushes all thoughts of letters and lies and cruel silence from his head, breathes in the cool night air and grips Draco’s hand tightly.
“Look at the stars.”
By the time the sun goes down on the following day, the garden is beginning to take shape and the roof has been repaired—or at least patched up in a fairly decent fashion. Harry rather thinks it’s the best they (or Gertie) could have hoped for, given the limited selection of tools provided in their lunch basket, and the somewhat unstable nature of the ladder Harry had found folded up under the bed.
The rain starts up again as they sit at their usual table in the Old Trout, and both of them dart anxious glances at Gertie, who is scrubbing down her bar like a demon and does not appear to have noticed the change in weather at all. By mutual tacit agreement, they rush their food and pelt back to the cabin as quickly as they can, where to their astonishment they find that the bucket is as dry as a bone.
“You said you didn’t know what you were doing,” Draco says, eyes narrowed in suspicion as he peers up at the place where the hole had been. “Did you use magic when I wasn’t looking?”
Harry just laughs.
On their fourth day in Strath Kinna, the rain makes working on the garden impossible, but doesn’t stop Gertie from banging on the door at noon and handing Harry a basket full of sandwiches and pastries that he is beginning to suspect the old lady has made herself. There has never been any sign of a cook at the Old Trout, and he wonders just how many hours she spends peeling potatoes and baking pies.
“I don’t think she sleeps,” a gruff voice answers when he shares this thought with Draco over dinner that evening.
Harry looks up to see a tanned, dark-haired man smiling at him from the next table.
“Does she really do everything here by herself?” he asks.
“Aye, most of it,” the man says. “She’s always been stubborn. My mother’s known her since she was a bairn, ye ken, and she’s always liked to do things her way. Don’t tell her I said that, though,” he adds, eyes flicking to the bar and then back to Harry. “I’m William McIntyre.”
He holds out a large hand and shakes with Harry and Draco in turn.
“She’s been very kind to us,” Draco says, sipping his water. “I’m not really sure why.”
William laughs. “She likes to look after waifs and strays,” he says. “Her children and grandchildren are all grown up now, ye see. It’s been a wee while since she had a project.”
Harry bristles at the idea, but then he looks at Gertie and his irritation dissolves. This strange, caustic little woman has decided to take care of both of them, for no reason other than that she wants to.
He sighs. “She’s given us a lot of stuff... you know... food and things.”
William’s eyes turn shrewd. “Youse’re worried that you’re taking advantage? Has she no got ye doing wee jobs for her?”
“You could say that,” Draco says faintly, glancing at his arm even though the deep scratch from the previous day’s garden-wrangling has long since been healed.
“Well, then. That’s how things are done in Strath Kinna. Youse may have noticed there’s no very many of us around here,” William says. “We get by on trading favours, ye ken... I bring Gertie eggs and milk from my farm, and she gives me a good meal when I want it, and a few bottles of her beer, too. That’s what we do.”
“Her beer?” Draco asks, lifting an eyebrow. “You don’t mean that she makes her own beer?”
“Oh, aye,” William says, grinning. “Down in the cellar. It’s a regular... what do ye call it? A microbrewery!”
Harry meets Draco’s eyes and they exchange a look of quiet disbelief.
“It is good beer?” Harry asks after a moment.
“It’s strong beer,” William says. “It’ll blow your bloody head off. Youse should try it.”
“I don’t think we’re allowed,” Draco says drily. “She thinks that excess alcohol will compromise our work ethic.”
William grins. “Aye, well, I have a proposal for youse.”
“Gertie mentioned youse might be looking for work and I need a wee bit of help on the farm tomorrow,” William says. “I’ve got the vet coming for testing at the same time as I need the goats in for milking... I can no be in two places at once, ye ken.”
“Why don’t you get the goats in before the vet comes?” Draco asks, frowning.
William smiles and shakes his head. “My goats cannae stand being cooped up. It’ll take more time than I’ve got to clear up the mess they’ll make. If youse are interested, though, I’ve got fresh butter, cheese, milk, eggs... and I’ll slip youse a few bottles of Gertie’s brew as well.”
Harry glances at Draco, who mouths ‘goats?’ and chews gently at his bottom lip. Harry shrugs. Draco shrugs back. Realising that it is, perhaps, his turn to make a very weird decision, Harry gathers himself and shakes William’s hand.
“Absolutely. Goats. No problem.”
When Harry opens his eyes the next morning, the pale early sunlight is creeping into the cabin, spilling over the bare floorboards and illuminating all the tiny dust particles suspended in the air. The place looks comfortable in a way that reminds him of the Burrow, and lived-in rather than neglected, with clothes draped over chairs and last night’s tea things scattered over the hearthrug. He smiles, closing his eyes again and stretching indolently, breathing in warm wood and sweet smoke and Draco.
He shifts in the rumpled sheets so that he is lying on his side, head propped up one hand, while the other strokes slowly down Draco’s back. He is sprawled on his stomach, hair ruffled and expression utterly peaceful. He doesn’t wake when Harry touches him, even when he traces his fingertips over the pink, crescent-shaped marks that stretch across his lower back, and even when Harry lets out a soft sigh as he thinks about how they got there, hours before the sun came up. Harry fits his fingernails to the marks absently and smiles, suddenly very aware of his morning hardness, brushing the sheets and aching for attention.
When Draco begins to stir, Harry falls completely still and just watches him, the small actions of yawning and soft grey eyes blinking open making him feel exhilarated and drunk in love. This part of Draco is his and his alone, and waking up with him the past few mornings has set him all off balance in the most wonderful way.
He’s going to miss it horribly when they have to leave.
His hand flattens protectively against Draco’s back as the thoughts of suspicion and accusation creep into his head and steal like ice through the contentment in his heart.
“What’s the matter?” Draco mumbles, reaching for him and tugging him close.
“Nothing,” Harry says firmly into a warm, pale shoulder, and with a massive effort, he pushes the thoughts away, conjuring a Patronus in his mind and urging the silver stag to chase out everything that belongs to the world beyond Strath Kinna. He knows this escape cannot last forever, but he doesn’t care. He pulls all the curtains down tight around their little world and tangles himself with Draco.
“Are you sure?” he asks, sliding a hand between them and making Harry groan with just a touch of his fingertips.
Harry opens his eyes, staring at the small clock on the bedside without really seeing it. Until he does see it, and a jolt of panic makes him sit up straight.
“No, actually. Didn’t William say he was coming at nine o’clock?”
“Mmm?” Draco stretches, apparently unconcerned.
“Well, it’s ten to, and we still haven’t figured out what we’re going to wear.”
“Since when do you care about what you wear?” Draco asks, but he is out of bed in seconds and stalking over to the wardrobe in the corner.
“Since fuck you, that’s when,” Harry mutters, but hurries to join him. “I thought we agreed we might need something a bit more substantial for chasing goats around?”
Draco looks at him. “I hardly think we’ll have to chase them.”
“Have you ever met a goat?” Harry says, amused. “They’re not going to come quietly.”
In a blatant attempt to hide his anxiety, Draco turns and stares at the clothes they have been wearing day in and day out since they arrived in the village. With the help of the cabin’s little sink, Gertie’s seemingly endless supply of glycerine soap and more than a few rounds of Scourgify, they have managed to remain clean and mostly presentable, but Harry has the strong feeling that a morning on the farm might be too much for even their very best efforts. Of course, all of this should have been done the previous night, but Draco had found a stash of board games in a cupboard and it really is amazing how many of them can be adapted to include a stripping element. After that, any attempts at planning had flown completely out of the window, and now Harry is standing naked in front of a wardrobe that still smells slightly of mothballs, guiltily willing the farmer to suffer a puncture or two on the country road that leads to the village.
“There’s something at the bottom,” Draco says, and Harry forces himself to focus.
In the darkest corner of the wardrobe, behind a stack of cleaning products, is a jumbled pile of green something, and Harry leans down to retrieve it. As soon as his fingers touch the rubber, he laughs.
“Wellies, look!” he says, pulling out five—he frowns and checks again...no, definitely five—green wellington boots.
“Really?” Draco asks, eyebrows creeping under his dishevelled fringe.
“Believe me, when you see the farm, you’ll be glad of these,” Harry says. “I’ll make two pairs the right size.”
“I suppose I’ll... do something with all of this,” Draco says, regarding the old clothes in bewilderment for a moment and then setting his shoulders into a decisive posture that is quite at odds with his nakedness and sleep-ruffled hair.
After what feels like a minute or two later, a loud horn sounds outside the cabin and they both jump. When Harry glances at the clock, he sees that William is actually dead on time, and he laughs. Partly because perfect punctuality has always escaped him, and partly because of what Draco is wearing. Somehow, he has managed to Transfigure the tweedy ladies’ suit into a pair of trousers, the cuffs of which are tucked into his very first pair of wellington boots. One of the enormous knitted jumpers has been altered to fit his slender frame, and the combination of the fierce red wool and Draco’s supremely uncertain expression is too much for Harry.
“If you think you look any less ridiculous than me, Harry Potter, you are delusional,” he says crossly, yanking open the door of the cabin and stomping out to William’s battered Land Rover, usual stalking gait hampered by the newness of walking in stiff rubber boots.
Harry just grins and follows him, locking the door behind them. He, too, is wearing a pair of the Transfigured tweed trousers, and his jumper is an alarming shade of mustard yellow that Draco had flat-out refused to wear.
William, dressed in worn out jeans and a bobbly, white fisherman’s jumper, laughs until he cries at the sight of them.
“Where did youse get those tweedy trousers?” he demands, wiping his eyes with the back of one hand and gazing delightedly at them in the rear view mirror.
“Don’t ask,” Harry advises, and William says no more on the subject, but he is still grinning when they reach the farm.
“Right, laddies,” he says, taking one last look at the tweed trousers and shaking his head before heading off down a rough track and indicating for Harry and Draco to follow him. “It’s simple enough—youse need to get all the goats into the wee barn—there are sixteen of them—and then when I’ve finished with the vet, I’ll come and milk them. Then we’ll all go down to the Trout for lunch, okay?”
“Sounds straightforward,” Harry says, stomach rumbling as he remembers that he has missed breakfast.
At the end of the track, William stops. He points at a small wooden building in the distance.
“There’s the barn, ye ken?”
“Yes.” Draco frowns. “Where are the goats?”
William shrugs his muscular shoulders. “They’re about.”
Harry scans the nearby fields, which quickly give way to rolling green hills. There is barely a fence in sight. Pushing down on a flicker of panic, he asks, “Are you sure?”
William laughs. “Aye, they’ve no done a bunk. They’re Alpine goats, they like to be free range. Happy goats make happy milk, laddies.”
“How do we—?” Draco begins, but William slaps each of them on the shoulder and then is gone.
For long seconds, they stand motionless, grass waving around their knees as the wind sweeps through the countryside. Then Draco sighs.
“I can’t believe I’m herding goats. If I get eaten, it will be your fault.”
Harry looks at him, amused. “They’re goats, Draco, not dragons. You’re perfectly safe.”
Draco says nothing, but looks slightly mutinous as he lurches off in his wellington boots, peering about him as though a goat might just pop up out of the ground at any moment. Harry decides to head off in the opposite direction, picking his way through the wild grasses and noting the troughs containing food that do, at least, indicate that the goats might be somewhere around. He smiles at the thought of what Ron and Hermione would say about all of this, and then locks the thought away before it makes him sad. He misses them, and it’s likely that they still think nothing has changed, that he is still at Hogwarts and that Draco Malfoy is simply a person who is no longer the enemy.
After all, no one has tried to reach him with an owl, not even Professor McGonagall. Owls can find anyone. They always found Sirius. Harry sighs.
“I thought goats were little white things,” Draco calls suddenly, sounding alarmed.
Harry jogs over to join him, following his eyes to find a large, black and white creature wandering up the slope towards them. The bell around its neck jangles with each step, and its long, upright ears twitch as it regards them for a moment with dark, liquid eyes.
“Well, some goats are. This one is not.” Harry shrugs. “She doesn’t look unfriendly, though.”
“How do you know it’s a she?” Draco asks, lowering his voice as though the goat might hear him and take offence.
“I think they’re all girls,” Harry says. “William said they were dairy goats.”
“Don’t you think William should have said how to catch the bloody things?” Draco hisses, apparently no longer worried about upsetting the goat’s sensibilities.
“Maybe it’s a test,” Harry says, though secretly he suspects that the farmer views rounding up a few goats as such a basic task that it requires no instruction. If so, they’re just going to have to improvise. “What about food?”
Harry takes off over the grass in his rubber boots, squidging over piles of mud and god knows what else until he reaches one of the troughs. He scoops up a handful of straw and grains and runs back to Draco, who now appears to be engaging the goat in conversation.
“Well, of course, I would rather stay out here, too,” he says seriously.
The goat, who has stopped ten feet or so away from him, flicks an ear in response.
“We are simply acting under the instructions of the farmer, such that they are.”
“Good conversationalist, is she?” Harry asks.
“Don’t mind him,” Draco tells the goat, blithely ignoring Harry. “He’s quite harmless. Now, if you could just share with us the location of your colleagues, we might be able to conduct this operation in a civilised manner.”
The goat lets out a short, raspy cry and then plucks up a mouthful of weeds from the ground, continuing to stare at Draco as she chews steadily.
“She’s not talking,” Harry says wryly. “Maybe you need to lean on her a bit.”
“I don’t think she’ll like that,” Draco says, frowning, and Harry sighs, so stupidly in love with him that it almost hurts.
When he recovers himself, he holds out his handful of food and manages, with the help of some soft, wheedling noises, to attract the goat closer. When he turns his back to her and walks towards the barn, she follows, drawn by an obvious curiosity that makes Harry like her instantly. She trots after him through the long grasses, and when he walks into the barn, she heads in after him. Elated, Harry gives up the handful of food and ducks out, closing the door firmly behind him.
“That was easier than I expected,” he says, grinning.
“One down, fifteen to go,” Draco murmurs, looking rather pleased with himself despite having spent the entire journey to the barn doing nothing but chatting away to the goat about the weather.
The second goat is similarly intrigued by Harry’s offer of food and proceeds happily, if rather more slowly than the first, up to the barn. Buoyed with success, Harry opens the door and ushers her inside. He is just attempting a cautious pat to the goat’s warm, soft neck when Draco’s voice floats in from outside the barn.
“You do know that the first one has escaped, don’t you?”
Frowning, Harry scrambles back out onto the grass just in time to see the black and white shape lolloping down the hill. There is something about her gait that makes him think she is enjoying herself.
“Oh, fucking hell. Why weren’t you watching?”
“I was watching. I watched her slip around you and run away,” Draco says serenely. “Just like I’m watching the other one escape right now.”
Harry spins around and makes a grab for the second goat, but she is deceptively agile and easily evades his attempt at capture, performing an odd little jump before trotting off down the hill and out of sight. He turns back to Draco, who is biting down on a smile.
“You can catch the next one,” he says, wishing he hadn’t left his wand in the cabin. A stinging hex or two would be very well-placed about now.
“Clearly, catching them isn’t the problem. It’s keeping them,” Draco says. “We could put a ward of some kind on the door. An anti-goat spell, if you will.”
“Just because you didn’t bring your wand,” Draco mutters, and Harry pulls a childish face at him.
In thoughtful silence, they walk back past the fields and over the hills in search of goats, but even the two they had almost captured are nowhere to be seen. The sun is warm despite the swirling wind, and Harry rolls up the sleeves of his jumper, swiping his hair out of his eyes and stumping up one fierce incline after another with Draco at his side.
When they reach the top of yet another grassy slope and find several goats standing in and around a little bubbling stream, they let out almost identical sighs of relief. A quick look around reveals another group chewing at the base of a nearby tree, and two more investigating a rusted old tractor. In the shelter of the hills, the wind falls silent, and the only sounds are the high-pitched calls of the goats.
“Sixteen,” Draco says after a moment, something of a manic gleam in his eye. “They’re all here.”
Harry says nothing, opting to enjoy a moment of stillness before the hard work really begins. He watches the sleek, black and white creatures as they pick their way through the water, bending to drink or capering this way and that for no real reason other than pure enjoyment. One or two of them raise their long faces to regard the interlopers for a second or two before returning to their play. If the first two have spread news of the operation at hand to their friends, none of them seem particularly worried about it.
Harry takes a deep breath, makes a cone shape around his mouth and calls out to them, attempting to mimic their vibrating cry and perhaps—one never knows—draw them to him. Once again, several goats look up but quickly lose interest. When an almost deafening bleat blasts out at close range, Harry jumps, just about ready to whirl around and face some sort of enormous monster goat, and then it rings out again and he realises that the sound is coming from Draco, who is leaning down towards the stream, copying Harry’s cupped hands and almost perfectly reproducing the uncanny, childlike cry of the creatures below.
He catches his breath, realising that every single one of the goats is now staring up at them, ears pricked.
“Why didn’t you tell me you could do that?” he whispers.
“I’ve never tried it before, funnily enough,” Draco says drily, continuing to peer down at the goats.
“Well, is it just goats?” Harry asks. He knows he is wasting valuable time, but he is far too curious to care. “Can you do other animal noises?”
Draco glances at him. “I don’t know!”
He reprises the sound and waits. To Harry’s astonishment, several of the goats move towards them. He nudges Draco, who makes the noise again, and the same goats edge closer, leaving the stream and heading onto the slope. Draco hesitates and then takes several steps back before cupping his hands and making the sound again.
“They’re coming,” Harry whispers, edging back at his side. “That’s amazing.”
“Well, it’s alright,” Draco says, but Harry can tell that he’s trying not to look pleased.
Perhaps a gift for goat noises isn’t a fitting talent for a Malfoy. As far as Harry is concerned, that just makes it even more brilliant.
Cautiously, they edge backwards, taking care as they descend the slippery grass on the hillside and make slow but steady progress in the direction of the barn with five curious goats in tow. Draco has to halt every few paces and call out to them again, but each time they trot forward, shiny black eyes alight with mischief and intelligence. By the time they reach the barn, all five are calling back to Draco at regular intervals, and Harry is beginning to develop a headache. Still, he can’t hide his feeling of triumph when he slams the barn door closed behind them, and he doesn’t say a word when Draco glances around, pulls out his wand and loops a simple containing ward around the whole building.
The sun is high in the sky by the time the last goat is safely inside the barn and Draco takes down his spell. Despite the effectiveness of his newly-discovered talent, persuading sixteen wilful highland goats to leave their beautiful grassy valley for a stuffy little barn is a tough task, and scrambling back and forth over the hilly pastures of William’s farm is nothing short of exhausting. The sun is blazing down as they sprawl in the grass beside the barn, breathing hard and sticky with sweat. Harry’s woollen jumper and tweed trousers are rough against his hot skin and his wellingtons are chafing despite his best efforts at charming them to the right size. He smells of goats and mud and dried shit and he really, really doesn’t want to be a farmer.
“I thought that last one wasn’t going to go in,” Draco says, swiping his damp hair off his forehead with the back of his hand.
“So did I,” Harry admits, closing his eyes and remembering how the final goat, a stubborn madam who had required an entire trip across the hills to herself, had attempted to make a run for it just inches from the barn. Harry still isn’t quite sure how they managed to get her inside.
“My throat hurts,” Draco says, and his voice does sound a little bit scratchy.
“That’s the price you pay,” Harry says solemnly. “Only the strongest can become the Master of Goats.”
Draco sighs. “My father will hear about this.”
“I would love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation,” Harry says, grinning.
“All done, lads?” William calls, and a second or two later, he strides into view, loaded down with metal buckets.
Harry and Draco sit up slowly. Draco has grass in his hair and still looks slightly dazed.
“Is it always that difficult to get them in for milking?”
William glances between them with interest and shrugs. “Aye, they’re a bit flighty, ye ken.”
“That’s one way to put it,” Draco says faintly.
“I’ll no be long with the milking,” William tells them over his shoulder as he heads for the barn. “Enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.”
When he closes the barn door behind himself, they flop back into the grass and stare up at the clear highland sky. It seems like only seconds have passed when William emerges with his buckets. They help him carry them down to the farmhouse, watching as the goats spill out of the barn and scatter, before piling back into the Land Rover to join Gertie for a well-earned lunch.
“Youse’ve done a great job, laddies,” William says, buying each of them a pint of Ginger Rodent and chiding Gertie when she makes a comment about drinking at lunchtime. “Don’t fuss, eh? They’ve worked hard, helped me with my goats.”
“Aye, I can smell them,” Gertie says, nose wrinkling. “I suppose youse’ll be wanting food?”
William just smiles at her and she scuttles away, muttering to herself. Soon, she is back, somehow balancing three vast plates in her thin little arms and placing one down in front of each of them. Having not yet sampled the official Old Trout lunch menu, Harry inspects the offering with interest. In the centre of the plate balances a huge bowl of steaming, thick soup with chunks of what appear to be leek and potato, and the surface of which is scattered with crumbly white cheese. The rest of the plate is filled with the fresh, hot chips that seem to accompany every meal as standard.
Harry tries the soup, unsurprised to find that it is delicious. The cheese is creamy and has a distinctive flavour that makes him wonder if it has come from William’s farm. He is just about to ask when Gertie tilts her head on one side and gives him a very strange look. Or, rather, she gives his trousers a very strange look.
“I used to have a wee suit just like that,” she says, and then shrugs and walks away.
When Harry looks at Draco, he is grinning into his soup.
After lunch, William heads out to the Land Rover and returns moments later with a small wooden crate, which he places on the floor next to their table.
“The beer’s under the eggs, ye ken? Not a word to Gertie,” he mumbles under his breath, smiling at the old woman and then retreating with a wave.
Harry watches him go and gazes at the crate with lazy interest. Despite his raging hunger, he is now so full of food that the thought of moving is out of the question. Instead, he leans back in his chair and looks around the little pub, which is now full of locals, chattering and clinking spoons against ceramic as they enjoy their soup and chips. It has become clear to Harry that there is only ever one meal on offer at the Old Trout at any one time, and one must either accept it or go hungry. Luckily, he isn’t at all fussy, and even Draco has completely cleared his plate after a morning spent running around after William’s goats.
In the corner opposite theirs, the two men from the Post Office are playing chess with an ancient-looking set that appears to have been cobbled together from the remains of several others. Gertie’s grandson is sitting on the settle, crunching chips and leafing through a newspaper. The man who had been sitting at the bar when they first arrived in Strath Kinna is in his usual spot, slurping his soup contentedly. He meets Harry’s eyes over the heads of the other diners and offers a friendly wink.
“I didn’t think places like this were real,” Draco says suddenly.
“Maybe they’re not,” Harry says, sipping his pint. “Maybe this really is all a dream.”
“That would explain a lot.” Draco sighs, stretching out one rubber booted foot and then the other. “I feel disgusting. I don’t think that ridiculous little sink is going to cut it this time.”
“I might have an idea about that,” Harry says, but he doesn’t move.
“Go on, then.”
Harry lifts a weary arm and then drops it back to the table. “All in good time.”
Draco grumbles and puts his feet up on a stool, quickly withdrawing them when Gertie bustles past and gives him a sharp look. “Fine. It had better be good.”
By the time they rouse themselves to leave the pub, the sun is hanging low in the sky, pouring orange and golden light over the calm surface of the loch and turning it into molten copper. Still, Harry knows better than most that lakes are almost always colder than they look, and he reminds Draco of this, even as he is setting down the crate on the flat rock and pulling off his wellingtons.
“It’ll be freezing,” he says. “It’ll probably knock the breath out of you. But you’ll feel better for it, I promise.”
Draco stares at the gently rippling water with deep suspicion. “This is your big plan? Hypothermia?”
Harry laughs. “This is the best time. The sun’s been warming it all day.”
He looks around, assuring himself that this part of the loch, at least, is hidden by the trees and that none of the locals will see anything they don’t want to. Once satisfied, he tugs his scratchy jumper over his head and flings it aside. The sun and the breeze are a caress against his prickly skin, and it isn’t long before the rest of his clothes join the tangle of wool on the ground.
Feeling rather exposed, he throws caution to the wind and dashes into the loch, gasping when the cold water hits his skin and forcing himself to keep wading until he is up to his shoulders.
“Are you coming or not?” he calls, shivering and working his arms and legs in an attempt to stave off numbness.
Draco stares at him from the shore, still fully dressed. “You’re mad.”
“Yeah, probably, but it’s nice, I promise. Cold, but nice,” Harry says, and it’s not a complete lie. The temperature of the loch is shocking, even after preparing himself for it, but the water is beautiful, pure and soft and soothing against his hot, sore skin, and so clear that he can see his feet slipping over the plants and pebbles at the bottom.
Draco sighs. For a moment, Harry thinks he is going to turn and walk back to the cabin, but then he sits down on the rock and pulls off his boots and socks. Harry grins in triumph, jumping slightly as something—perhaps an eel—swims past his knees.
“It’s fine,” Draco says. “I’ll just have you killed later.”
Harry laughs and whips an armful of cold water towards the shore. “Great, I’ll look forward to it. Now get your kit off.”
Draco regards him steadily, one eyebrow arched, as he steps out of his improvised tweed trousers, kicks away his boxers and peels off his heavy jumper, revealing heat-flushed skin and sharp, graceful angles that make Harry’s stomach tighten. He lifts a hand, betraying uncertainty for the briefest of moments, raking fingers through his hair and displaying the carve of faded dark lines on his inner forearm. The colours of the sunset bleed onto his skin and hair, and all at once Harry can’t stand to look at him. It’s just too much, and he ducks his head beneath the surface of the water, coming up shivering and spluttering on a mouthful of loch that tastes like plants and fish and the earth.
He pushes back his wet hair and rests his glasses on his head, grinning unsteadily as Draco makes his way into the water, swearing under his breath with each step. Harry watches him, forcing himself to see Draco—just for a moment—as perhaps the rest of the world does, but then he smiles and plunges under the surface, emerging seconds later at Harry’s side and kissing him breathless, and the rest of the world fades away.
They aren’t those people, neither of them are. Especially not today.
Harry smothers the unwanted thoughts in the kiss, tasting the loch on Draco’s mouth and running possessive hands over his cold, wet skin. Draco’s tongue is hot against his, stealing Harry’s breath, strong fingers grabbing his hips and pulling him closer, tighter, under the water. By the time they draw apart, Harry’s heart is racing and he can barely feel the pebbles beneath his feet. The light from the setting sun glimmers over the loch, scattering soft ribbons of pastel rainbows all around them that trip over the surface of the water and paint their wet skin, while the cold wind whistles through the valley and fills Harry’s senses with the heavy scent of approaching rain.
Draco releases him and swims away with an efficient backstroke, heading out into the centre of the loch. Harry follows at a more ponderous pace, sticking to breast stroke and stretching out his arms and legs pleasurably with every push forwards. When Draco stops and begins treading water with an alarmed expression, Harry calls out to him.
“What’s the matter?”
“Something just touched me,” Draco says, peering down into the clear water.
“Probably an eel,” Harry says.
Draco shakes his head. “No... it was something big.”
“Maybe it was a big eel,” Harry offers, gazing down into the water around Draco. He laughs, suddenly struck by the memory of a conversation. “Maybe it was Angus!”
Draco stares at him. “Did we ever find out what Angus actually was?” he asks slowly.
“Not exactly, but I think—”
“Fuck!” Draco hisses, looking around wildly and then swimming past Harry and back towards the shore at an impressive rate. “That’s him! That’s Angus! He’s following me!”
Caught between amusement and concern, Harry tracks Draco’s path through the water, and is startled almost into immobility by the sight of a large, dark shape just ahead of him.
“I can see him!” he calls.
“Congratulations!” Draco yells back, breaking into a front crawl and splashing freezing water up from every angle as he fights to stay ahead of his pursuer.
Just then, Angus breaches the surface in a spectacular jump, flinging his body through the air and almost slapping Harry across the face with his enormous tail. Harry stops and stares, treading water for a moment before he realises that he can now just about reach the bottom. Angus crashes back into the loch, but Harry has seen enough to guess that he is, in fact, a very large brown trout. He’s at least five feet long from head to tail, golden brown and gleaming with a pattern of dark spots and a huge, gaping mouth.
Just as Draco scrambles onto the shore, panting, the vast fish pokes his head from the water, opening and closing his mouth in what seems, to Harry, at least, to be a firm scolding.
Get out of my loch, he seems to say, flapping his tail for good measure and then retreating into the depths, his sheer bulk creating an underwater wave that causes Harry to hop from one foot to the other.
Draco stands on the shore, naked and dripping, and stares at Harry. “Did you get a look at him?”
“Yep,” Harry says, swimming slowly to join him. “Looks like our friend Angus is a very grumpy trout.”
“A trout?” Draco repeats, clearly horrified. “I was chased by a fish? Just a normal fish?”
“Well, to be fair, he’s a very large fish,” Harry says, hiding a smile as he picks his way across the stones to retrieve his clothes. “He’s probably not used to having visitors.”
“Yes, well, I think he needs to learn some manners,” Draco says, eyeing the now calm surface of the loch with renewed suspicion.
Just as Harry opens his mouth to respond, the sky seems to darken in an instant and cold, hard raindrops begin to hammer down, bouncing off the surface of the loch and stinging their bare skin. Without a word, they gather their dirty clothes and William’s crate and dash for the cabin, locking the door behind them and standing side by side at the window for long minutes, just watching the downpour.
When they begin to shiver again, Draco builds a fire and they curl up in the old green armchairs, wrapped in rough towels and gripping mugs of tea. Conversation is sparse but comfortable, and when Draco rises, puts on his clean grey trousers and starts wandering around the cabin, Harry just watches him in contented silence. His pale skin glows in the firelight, hair damp and drying in waves, and he moves around the little wooden room, barefoot and humming to himself, as though he has momentarily misplaced his sharp edges. He finds a stash of candles in one of the drawers and lights them on every surface, filling the cabin with soft, flickering light and looking so perfectly at home that Harry is flooded with licking warmth and the knowledge that whatever happens when they leave here, something has shifted inside him that can never be undone.
The rain is pounding against the roof and windows by the time Draco seems satisfied with his work, and it is all Harry can do not to grab him and pull him down onto the hearthrug where he stands. All of his weariness and discomfort have dissolved and he feels as though he could do anything.
“We could,” he says, looking up at Draco from his armchair. “We could do anything.”
“You could,” Draco says softly, barely lifting his voice above the sound of the rain.
“No.” Harry catches his wrist and draws him closer. “It’s you and me. Us. Together.”
Draco stares down at him, grey eyes burning. He says nothing, but Harry’s breath catches in his chest anyway. Draco doesn’t need to say anything. Harry sees him. He sees everything that he is, even if no one else does. His stomach leaps whenever his eyes soften from defensiveness to amusement and his mouth twitches into a real smile, and Draco smiles more than anyone would ever believe. Harry’s insides clench into a fist every time he undresses and shows him how his trousers hang almost indecently low on his hips, and when his fingers brush Harry’s skin, he shivers as though it’s the first time.
Harry reaches for him, wrapping his arms around his waist and shuddering as gentle, questioning fingertips slide through his damp hair.
“Harry?” Draco’s voice is soft and it sweeps away all of the words Harry reaches for.
Instead, he releases the button on Draco’s trousers and tugs the fabric down around his knees. With a rush of relief, he presses his face against Draco’s cock, hard and flat against his belly, so hot against Harry’s skin even when the rest of him is cool to the touch. Harry inhales, the scent of lemons and warm skin and the loch pulling a string through his body, tight and burning, and when Draco lets out a soft groan, Harry’s mouth is everywhere and Draco is cool and hot and heavy against his tongue.
Draco’s breath comes in short gasps as Harry grips his hips, keeping him upright as he leans forward in his chair and slides his mouth over Draco’s cock, slowly, deliberately, needing to reduce him to incoherent whimpers and fingers twisted tightly into his hair. Draco is always quiet at the beginning, insistent somehow on restraining himself, biting down on his cries and closing his eyes tight, but Harry is learning how to unravel him, and it is the most painfully erotic thing he has ever experienced, pushing Draco to the edge of madness to see his eyes fly open and to hear him whisper Harry’s name as he loses himself.
“Don’t,” Draco says suddenly, voice stretched thin.
Harry releases him, breathless and tight with longing. “What?”
Draco pulls him to his feet and Harry’s towel drops to the floor, grazing the sensitised skin of his erection and making him gasp. Wrist caught loosely in Draco’s grip, Harry follows him to the bed and collapses with him on top of the sheets.
“That’s better,” Draco murmurs, pulling Harry on top of him and kissing him slowly, so slowly that Harry’s whole body aches and his cock twitches and leaks against Draco’s belly.
“I want you,” he says, breath hitching in his throat.
“I want you, too,” Draco says, eyes dark and intense as he reaches for the jar of fragrant oil he has made with magic and a bit of help from Gertie’s garden.
Harry swallows hard and takes the jar, swiping his fingers through the contents and releasing the scents of lavender and mint into the room. He doesn’t look away from Draco once as he pushes his fingers inside him, stroking and stretching, and Draco looks right back, pushing back at him with a breathless smile as his cock flushes and jerks against his stomach. All at once, Harry wants to go slow, to drag this out, to keep Draco just like this, hard and wanting and his, but he knows they can’t last. Not today.
Shivering, he strokes the lavender-scented oil over his cock and leans down over Draco.
“I love you,” he whispers as he pushes inside, words mouthed against Draco’s ear and reflected back to him in an almost unintelligible mumble and a stifled groan.
“Yes,” Draco whispers, and that couldn’t be more clear. “Please. I’m so... Harry, I’m so...”
He trails off into incoherent panting as Harry strokes a slick hand over his cock and then presses himself close, bracing himself against the mattress and sliding his belly against Draco’s straining hardness with every push, sliding inside him and then pulling back, rocking into him and letting out a low groan as Draco tightens around him and grips his arse with both hands, pulling him in deeper.
Drowning in sensation, Harry forgets all about going slowly and pushes into Draco with abandon, leaning down to kiss him and almost losing control when Draco gasps and stares up at him and comes hotly between them with an urgent, rhythmic whisper of Harry’s name.
Heart thudding, Harry kisses him slowly, tasting the salt on his skin and stroking his hair back from his eyes. He’s still hard, still aching, still deep inside Draco, but he doesn’t move.
“Don’t stop,” Draco says after a moment. “You didn’t...”
Harry grins. He’s hot and aching and he thinks he might have a better idea. Slowly, he withdraws and rolls onto his side, propping up his head on one hand and gazing down at Draco.
“I didn’t,” he agrees, flushing at the words even before they leave his mouth. “I think I want you inside me when I do.”
Draco’s breath catches and his hand drifts to his cock. He smiles, tugging at his bottom lip with his teeth. “You might have to give me a minute.”
“I’m not in a hurry,” Harry says, ignoring the pulsing in his veins and forcing himself up to rummage in the crate and extract one of the bottles of beer sent by William.
He curls back up at Draco’s side, and they share the beer in between lazy kisses and drifting touches. It is strong, just as William had said, and by the time most of the bottle has been emptied, Harry feels slightly lightheaded, though he can’t be certain if that’s due to the alcohol or the fact that Draco is now slicking his cock with more lavender oil and letting it slide slowly in and out of his fist. When he is refreshed, he sets the bottle down on the floor and nudges Harry over until his back is pressed against Draco’s chest.
He relaxes against his pillows, allowing his eyes to drift contentedly closed as Draco presses hot, slow kisses against his neck and eases him open with one hand still lazily stroking his cock. He’s been hard and wanting for so long now that he knows he won’t last long, and when Draco slides inside him in one, long stroke, he lets out a needy little whine that makes him want to cover his face in embarrassment. Draco catches his breath and asks him to do it again.
Harry laughs, certain he’ll do no such thing, but when Draco pushes into him harder, and then doesn’t stop, he loses all control of the noises he is making. It is far from the first time that he has been fucked by Draco and fucking loved it, but there is something about what’s happening now that feels different. Perhaps it’s the fact that they’re safe, peaceful, and unlikely to be interrupted. Perhaps it’s something more... perhaps the way Draco strokes him, slides inside him and holds him protectively all at once. Harry doesn’t know, but he knows that he can’t hold onto this feeling for much longer, and when Draco urges him to turn his head for a kiss, he cries out and comes all over himself, the sensation of release so powerful that he almost wants it to stop.
Harry can’t be sure exactly what happens next. As every muscle in his body relaxes into the mattress, he has the vague recollection of mumbling something about Draco not being done yet, but then there is a rumble of warm laughter and a hand in his hair, and everything goes dark.
When he wakes, the fire is down to embers and several of the candles have burned out completely. Pleasantly fuzzy from sex and Gertie’s very potent brew, he stretches and glances at the clock.
“Draco... it’s nearly nine o’clock. Gertie’s going to go mad if we don’t turn up for dinner soon.”
“Can’t we stay in?” he mumbles, shifting on the bed behind Harry. “We’ve got all that stuff from William.”
Harry turns to look at him. “Okay, but do you think she won’t just come down here? Banging on the door? Demanding to know what we think we’re playing at...?”
Draco’s eyes widen. “Good grief. Where are my clothes?”
They make it to the Old Trout just as Gertie is buttoning herself into her coat.
“Oh, here they are,” she announces to the pub at large. “Youse’re still alive, I see.”
They make their apologies and retreat to their usual table, while Gertie makes a fuss of removing her coat and bustling into the kitchen. She returns with their food so quickly that Harry suspects she has been saving two portions especially for them, and he accepts his plate guiltily.
“We fell asleep,” he says. “Lost track of time.”
“Oh, aye? Goats a wee bit much for ye, were they?” Gertie says, folding her arms.
“I liked them,” Draco says serenely, shaking vinegar over his chips.
Gertie gives him a brief, rare smile and then turns back to business. “Mrs Callaghan from Rose Cottage wants her gutters cleaning out. Are youse interested?”
Harry glances at Draco, who looks alarmed for a moment and then shrugs. Harry can almost hear him thinking the suggestion through: I can’t clean out a gutter. I’m not even completely certain what a gutter is. Fuck it, of course I can. I can imitate a highland goat, what are a few dirty gutters?
“Absolutely,” Harry says, smiling up at Gertie. “When does she want us?”
The next few days slip by in a haze of work, food and sleep, as the residents of Strath Kinna cotton on to the fact that there is a source of reliable and relatively cheap labour in their midst. Word spreads quickly through the little village, and Harry and Draco find themselves taking on a whole range of jobs, from walking Great Danes and feeding pigs to stock-taking at the Post Office and cleaning for an elderly couple who insist on slipping five pound notes into their pockets when they aren’t looking.
With the help of the hard work and Gertie’s home-cooked food, they end each day comfortably worn out, and the addition of clean, fresh air, freezing swims and energetic sex, sleep comes easily. Harry can’t remember the last time he had a nightmare, and Draco has never been so relaxed. He is no longer automatically wary of everyone he meets, and, on rainy afternoons when they aren’t otherwise occupied, he has taken to playing chess with Timothy from the Post Office. Harry, who has never had much skill at either the Muggle or wizarding versions of the game, sits back on the settle with Maurice and sips at a half of Ginger Rodent.
“Sorry if we’ve sort of taken over,” he says. “I know you used to play together.”
“Ye must be kidding,” Maurice says, grinning through his beard. “Fifteen years together and he still hasn’t learned that I hate bloody chess.”
Harry grins. Timothy takes Draco’s Knight and snorts.
“Fifteen years and you’ve still no learned not to leave your socks on the bedroom floor.”
Draco looks at him, scandalised, and the two of them exchange significant glances. On the settle, Harry and Maurice roll their eyes at almost exactly the same moment, and Harry feels rather like he belongs.
It is a chilly, bright Saturday morning when Harry walks out of the cabin and sees the owl sitting on the large flat rock at the edge of the water. He doesn’t need to read the letter that it is carrying to know exactly where it has come from, and his heart sinks. The owl is wearing such a stern expression that, had Harry been unaware of his Professor’s Animagus form, he might have believed that Minerva McGonagall was sitting right in front of him.
For a moment, he just stares at the intruder, awash in a tide of suppressed emotions and responsibilities. He doesn’t want to admit whatever that owl is carrying into the contented little bubble he and Draco have built for themselves, and he wonders if he might just fling the letter into the loch for Angus to deal with. But he won’t.
With a sigh, Harry takes the letter from the owl and carries it back into the cabin, only mildly surprised when the bird swoops after him and settles on the back of an armchair.
Draco looks up from his cup of tea. His face drains of all colour when he sees the owl.
“How did that get in here?” he demands.
“It followed me,” Harry says. “I suppose I didn’t close the door quickly enough.”
Draco shakes his head. “No, I mean how did it get through the wards?”
Harry sits down slowly on the edge of the table. “What wards?”
Draco lets out a ragged breath, all of his old nervousness creeping back into his body. “When we decided to stay, I... the Muggles would never have noticed it... I put an owl-repelling charm around the village,” he says quietly.
“Why?” Harry asks, even though he knows exactly why. His stomach is heavy and uncomfortable, and the thought of opening the letter makes him feel quite sick.
Draco just shakes his head. “You know why.”
Harry sighs and gazes at the familiar handwriting on the envelope.
Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy
The Cabin by the Loch
She found a way. Of course she did.
He knew from the beginning that this couldn’t be forever, and even as he sits there and hates the look of fear on Draco’s face, he knows that he could never have truly run away from his life. His friends. His family. He supposes he has to believe that they will understand, or at least that they will forgive him, and that Draco will find acceptance and peace beyond this place.
Taking a deep breath, Harry opens the envelope. Inside, he finds a letter written on creamy parchment, an envelope addressed simply ‘to Harry’ in Hermione’s neat script, and a postcard of a haughty-looking blond surfer who looks quite a bit like Draco. Smiling in spite of himself, Harry sets the postcard and Hermione’s letter aside.
He reads McGonagall’s letter to himself before he passes it to Draco. It is not a long letter, nor has the writer bothered to mince her words, which is somehow rather comforting.
I have in my possession the letter you sent via Arabella Figg. It has taken me the best part of two weeks to successfully navigate your charmwork, Mr Malfoy, and I must admit that I am rather impressed by your determination to keep me out.
“How did she know it was me?” Draco asks, and Harry shrugs.
“Is it old magic? Pureblood stuff?”
“Oh,” Draco says irritably. “Yes, well.”
Why you thought it more sensible to take off in the middle of a school day than to ask for a meeting with me or any one of the other members of staff, I have no idea, but I cannot claim to be astonished by your actions. I have been made aware of the situation regarding Mr Malfoy and I have made it quite clear to those concerned that we will not tolerate such behaviour at Hogwarts.
My recent absence from the school has clearly proved detrimental to the culture of inclusion and acceptance we are striving to promote following the war. I hope you will accept my apologies and my assurance that the status of your relationship is of no one’s concern but your own.
You are both of age and I cannot force you to return, to Hogwarts or to the wizarding world. However, I believe it would be a shocking waste of talent and education were you to not complete your NEWTs. I wonder if this ‘work experience’ of which you speak will help you to complete the fortnight’s worth of class work that you have missed?
Harry smiles then, just a little, picturing the wry glint in McGonagall’s eye and hearing her voice so clearly in his head that he suddenly rather misses her.
You might also like to know that I am willing to speak with the editor of the Daily Prophet if necessary, though I suspect the two of you are more than capable of taking the scoundrels to task all by yourselves.
Please reply by return. You will also find enclosed a letter from Ms Granger, who is very anxious to hear from you, and a card from Mr Weasley, which rather speaks for itself.
“I thought she’d be angrier,” Draco says, frowning at the letter.
“I think she probably was two weeks ago,” Harry says. “She’s had time to think about things, and to realise that she could have done a lot more to help you.”
Draco snorts dismissively but when Harry opens Hermione’s letter, he is re-reading McGonagall’s words with a thoughtful expression on his face.
What the hell were you thinking? Hermione’s letter begins, and Harry leans back from it instinctively.
I tried to get in touch with you after I saw the Prophet, but we get it three or four days behind over here if we’re lucky, and my owl came straight back to me, nearly unconscious from exhaustion! Did you think I wouldn’t owl McGonagall? Did you honestly not believe the people who care about you would be worried sick about where you were? Or did it just not occur to you, Harry?
Face heating with shame, Harry pauses to take a deep breath and thank anyone who might be listening that Hermione had not decided to send a Howler.
If you wanted to get away for a while, WE WOULD HAVE ALL UNDERSTOOD! You did not have to disappear without telling anyone and then make yourself unreachable! My god, Harry, I could hex you right now but I’m very, very happy that you’re alright.
I don’t care that you’re with Malfoy. None of us do. I know some people have been giving you a hard time but you must understand that everyone feels so incredibly indebted to you that it’s inevitable that some of them will jump on any opportunity to feel like they’re doing you a favour. It’s ridiculous, Harry, but people are ridiculous and that includes you and Draco Malfoy.
We will make this work because we are family now, Harry, and if you doubt me again, I will put a Boggart up your robes. Please come home. Ron and I will be out here for a few more weeks, but I want to firecall with you AND Draco when you get back to Hogwarts.
PS Ron has sent another postcard. He thinks he’s funny.
Harry lets out a long breath and folds up the letter, head spinning.
“Is she angry?”
Draco pales. “About me and you?”
Harry laughs, surprising himself. “No. Just everything else.”
He shows the postcard to Draco, who studies it with mild alarm. Harry notices that on the back, Ron has simply written: IS THIS YOUR FERRET?
Draco scowls when he reads the message, but Harry has the oddest feeling that everything is going to be alright.
After a discussion that lasts long enough to requires three cups of tea and several rounds of cheese on toast, they agree that they will leave Strath Kinna the following morning, giving them just one more day and night before they return to reality.
Fortunately, the weather remains dry and clear, and they are able to finish their work on the garden, tidying up the plots, burning the pruned branches and using tiny touches of magic to make the whole thing look quite beautiful. Inside the cabin, they sweep and scrub and polish, making the sink sparkle and the floorboards gleam in the sunlight. Draco carefully restores the clothes they have borrowed to their original forms and Harry uses his strongest cleaning spells to strip and remake the bed. They shrink and pack away all of the bits and pieces that are special enough to make the return journey with them—pebbles from the loch, an empty bottle of Gertie’s beer, a large cheese from William’s farm, and several other small items, including the trout-shaped tape measure, which Draco insists on having. Harry lets him get on with it. He doubts it will be missed.
At the pub that evening, they tell Gertie the news and Harry is moved to find that she looks genuinely sad.
“Aye, well,” she says after a moment. “Ye cannae run forever. Youse’re good lads. Youse’ll face things head on, I know it.”
When she leaves to fetch their food, her grandson hobbles over and shakes each of their hands in turn.
“I heard youse’re leaving,” he says. “Thanks for all youse’ve done.”
“We haven’t really done anything,” Harry says, shrugging.
“Youse’ve made my nan very happy,” he insists, smiling at them and hobbling back to his seat just seconds before Gertie emerges from the kitchen with more food than ever.
When they have finished, she brings out another plate, this one containing a large steaming fruit dumpling and a jug of sauce that smells strongly of whisky. Harry gazes at it, impressed by its sheer size. They have never been offered dessert before, and neither does Gertie usually stand there while they eat, but tonight she doesn’t budge, bright blue eyes fixed on them as they exchange glances and then pour on the sauce before trying the dumpling.
“It’s lovely,” Draco declares after a moment, and Gertie huffs, apparently pleased.
“It is, it’s really nice,” Harry agrees, and though he’s not lying—the whole thing is hot and soft and fragrant with bursts of fruit and sugar, and the sauce is a revelation—he has no idea how they are going to finish it, and if she continues to stand there, he thinks they are going to have to.
“Good,” she says finally, and then she purses her lips. “Youse are welcome to come back any time, ye ken? That garden has never looked so organised. Youse’ve been useful.”
With that, she nods and hurries back to the bar.
“That’s a wee love letter, that is,” her grandson calls, and she clips him around the ear as she passes. He still grins at Harry, and he grins back.
“We should come back,” Harry says as they walk back down to the cabin, stuffed to the gills with pie and chips and stodgy dumplings.
Draco says nothing, but his smile is bright in the darkness.
The next morning, Harry finds Draco sitting on the flat rock and staring out over the water. Something seems to be amusing him, and for no good reason that Harry can see, he has his wand out and resting on his knee.
“What did you do?”
Draco shrugs. “It wasn’t anything much.”
Harry folds his arms. “What wasn’t?”
“I just made him a bit bigger,” Draco says, getting to his feet and stowing his wand away. “Are you ready to go?”
“You... you made Angus bigger?” Harry asks carefully. “How much bigger?”
“Oh, just a foot or so. Someone in the pub said he was just short of some kind of world record, so I thought I’d help.” Draco beams. “Now he’s special.”
Harry groans. “Isn’t that some sort of Muggle-baiting?”
“Not if no one finds out,” Draco says, and then he’s grabbing Harry by the hand and kissing him, and Harry forgets just what his next objection was going to be.
His sadness at leaving behind the loch and the cabin turn to anxiety as they slip the key through the letterbox of the pub, along with a short thank you note and promise to return, and head for the quiet wooded area they have chosen for Disapparation. For leaving behind this little bit of stillness and leaping back into the real world—their real world—where everything is noisy and messy and complicated.
Harry takes a deep breath and threads his fingers through Draco’s. Draco smiles nervously and grips his hand hard enough to hurt. And it’s alright, because they’re making that leap together, and whatever the real world has to throw at them, this time they’re going to be ready for it.
“Okay?” Harry says, and Draco nods.
Harry glances around at the sleeping village one last time, and then they are gone.
By the time they reach the Hogwarts gates, Harry’s heart is pounding and Draco’s palm is damp against his. He squeezes tightly, dragging in a deep breath and tasting the familiar tang of forest and woodsmoke and magic.
By the time they are halfway up the drive, he can see McGonagall on the front steps, and when they reach her, Harry doesn’t know whether to turn and run or give her a hug. In the end, he holds fast to Draco’s hand and says:
“I’m sorry for causing so much trouble. Again.”
And an odd little smile steals across McGonagall’s lips.
By the time they have been back at Hogwarts for a week, everything is almost back to normal. The Slytherins are no longer excluding Draco, and he no longer cares. The Gryffindors, chastened by McGonagall’s admonishments, have made room for him; Seamus has apologised, and there hasn’t been a single incident of spiders in anyone’s beds. There are those who stare when Draco laughs with Harry or sprawls with him in front of a common room fire, but Harry doesn’t think he has ever given less of a fuck.
By the time Ron and Hermione come home, the Christmas holidays are almost over, and their summer clothes make Harry laugh when they tumble out of their Portkey into foot-deep snow. Hermione hugs him so tightly that he almost can’t breathe. Ron eyes Draco with caution and shakes his hand before folding Harry in arms that have definitely grown stronger over the last few months. Hermione hesitates for a moment and then hugs Draco, too, startling him into complete inaction. Harry knows there is work still to be done, but a month of midnight firecalls has forged a promising start.
By the time winter turns into spring, the seventh and eighth-years are caught up in revision and panic, dormitories strewn with parchments and muttered spells in every corner. Harry, Draco, Ron and Hermione sit down by the lake, surrounded by textbooks and study guides and broken quills. Harry throws scraps for the Giant Squid, wondering how Angus is doing and whether any of the villagers have noticed his increased size. The Daily Prophet continues to run wildly speculative stories about the nature of Harry’s relationship with Draco.
Hermione abandons her newspaper with a roll of her eyes and picks up her copy of Runic Applications in Herpetology. “Just let them get on with it,” she suggests, so they do.
By the time the NEWT results are posted, they are back in Strath Kinna. Two weeks of odd jobs, excellent chips and perfect peace lie ahead of them before they have promised to meet Ron and Hermione at the Burrow, and Draco is doing an almost faultless job of pretending he is not at all anxious about the prospect. When two large Hogwarts owls swoop down to the water’s edge, he leaps to his feet, leaving Harry stretched out in the sunshine by himself.
“Maybe I’ll have failed all my exams and then I won’t have to go,” he says, kicking off his shoes and socks so that he can wade in the shallows of the loch. “I’ll just have to stay here and be Gertie’s errand boy.”
“How likely is that?” Harry mutters, taking both letters and opening them at Draco’s silent request. “All ‘O’s, I’m afraid,” he sighs, smiling to himself at Draco’s startled expression. “I passed everything... and I got an ‘O’ in Defence... and Transfiguration!”
Draco smiles at him and his stomach leaps.
“We should celebrate,” Draco says, already reaching for his shoes.
“We should,” Harry agrees solemnly.
By the time they reach the bar at the Old Trout, Gertie already has two pints waiting for them.