Day to Night, Night to Day
"Love is not consolation. It is light." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Harry watched the bubbles rise and burst. Smiling he raised his glass and joined the toast to Ron. "Congratulations mate!" he said, as he clapped Ron on the back with his free hand. Giving him a huge grin in return, Ron turned his eyes to Hermione, then back to Harry. Today felt like a victory for the Golden Trio, each now settled into their dream jobs. Harry was remaining as an Auror, finally on his own now that Ron had moved on.
Excitement was edged in sadness that they wouldn't be partners any more, but some things get old over time, even working with one of your best friends. They needed this space from each other. Harry had begun to find it stressful, the thought that Ron was going home and letting off steam by telling Hermione all the little complaints (about him, he feared) that built up day-to-day in such a demanding and sometimes tense job.
Ron had been head hunted as an analyst for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Although he was in the same building, he was no longer going to be in the field, or sharing an office with Harry. Instead he'd get to look at the bigger picture, theorise, strategise. Hermione had long settled into her own role in spell research. He knew she was looking forward to long and complex conversations with Ron, something Harry would be happy to avoid. But that was part of what made his friends such a strong couple. Under Ron's blokeish exterior was actually a very keen mind. It had only been when Ron had finally grown up that his ability to match Hermione in some areas had become clear. And made sense of their relationship.
With a smile and a shake of the head, Harry returned to the conversations around him.
On Monday Harry got into the office extra early. Today was his first day without Ron, and he wanted to sort a few things in his office before his new partner arrived. He didn't even know if one had been assigned him yet or not. Mostly, though, he was dying to swap chairs. His chair had an irritating squeak: Ron's old chair, by contrast, had a smooth, gliding action Harry had long admired. With a guilt-tinged feeling of sneakiness, he made the exchange. Sitting down, silently, he let his eyes wander around the room as he categorised internally what he wanted to get done that day. First, clear the odd bits of parchment littering the corners of the room. Second, water the one pot plant, a present from Neville when he and Ron had first become partners. Harry had got to keep it, while Ron took the framed picture of their first arrest. They had joked it was like a separating couple splitting up their possessions.
While still sitting and spinning quietly in his newly purloined chair, Harry was surprised when the door opened and a box with a few green leaves poking out of the top floated in. He was more than surprised when he saw the person who followed the box.
"Malfoy!" he shouted, the name leaving him before he had time to think. He tried to stand up, mid-spin, but instead, unbalanced, he stumbled to the side. Embarrassed he sat up, holding on to the arms of the chair.
A sneer curled Malfoy's lips as he looked down at Harry. Then he looked round the room, took in the messy scraps in the corner, the thirsty plant on the desk, and sighed loudly.
"Honestly, Potter, not much of an office, is it?".
"What are you doing here?" Harry spat out, quietly furious. There was only one explanation, but he didn't want it to be true.
"I'm your new partner. Didn't Kingsley tell you? Not quite the golden boy you think you are, are you? I'm a straight swap for your precious Weasel. Unlike him, I want to get out of the office." With this, a gleam lit Malfoy's eyes.
Harry barely managed to keep himself from jumping up again. With effort, he reined in his temper - enough to stop him hexing the arrogant git, at least.
"I'm surprised they've let you out. And isn't this a bit of a demotion for you?" Harry taunted.
Eyebrow raised, Malfoy laughed nastily. "You think that highly of your own job? Says a lot about how you see yourself," Malfoy paused before continuing in a more serious tone, "and yes, the past is, I've been assured, the past. It was all years ago now."
Harry's eyes still went straight to Malfoy's left arm. Whatever was or wasn't there was hidden by a slim-fitting black top. With a start, Harry looked back up at Malfoy. He was wearing... grey trousers too. Expensive looking, but no robe in sight.
"You're wearing Muggle clothes", he stated, surprised.
"And there are your great observational skills at work, Potter. All that training, and that's the best you can come up with."
Harry flushed, knowing that Malfoy's words were true. He was thinking slowly this morning. It was all too surreal to deal with normally. In fact, the whole thing was preposterous. Abruptly making up his mind, he stood up. "I'm going to talk to Kingsley about this. This is a ridiculous idea."
Harry let his anger push him out of the room with a purposeful stride, and he went in search of Kingsley.
Half an hour later, Harry stormed back in. It was all just so unfair. Kingsley had not been amused by Harry's loud and sudden entrance to his office. In fact, he'd given Harry a dressing down about his 'diva' behaviour, reminding Harry that as he had made a huge fuss about being treated like anyone else, he couldn't bank on being the great Harry Potter to demand an audience with him, or for anything else for that matter. Considerably deflated, Harry had still tried to complain about Malfoy but even to his own ears it had sounded like so much whining. Malfoy, it seemed, had requested a transfer of his own, and as Harry needed a new partner, they had been teamed up. Malfoy's skills apparently, were a good match for Harry's (similar in fact to Ron's - not surprising as he was stepping from an analyst role himself).
And as to their shared history? No one cared. The world had moved on. Harry had spent a great deal of time both during and immediately after Auror training insisting on being given fair and equal treatment. Malfoy too, had worked hard to leave his Death Eater past behind him. Harder, probably, Harry grudgingly admitted to himself. It had taken until now for Malfoy to be allowed into the field, he had something to prove and Kingsley had actually thought that Harry would appreciate having a partner with such a good combination of brains and passion for his job.
However much this all sounded sensible though, Harry couldn't accept it. It was still Malfoy, for goodness sake. There was nothing he could do about the situation, but that didn't mean he had to like it. Or Malfoy for that matter. He would, he decided, grit his teeth and be a professional about this. An unwilling one, but hey, you couldn't have everything.
Harry became aware that Malfoy was watching him. Smirking, in fact.
"Realised that there's no alternative but to grow up, Potter? It was bound to happen some time."
Harry clenched his jaw shut and counted to ten silently. Then he started moving round the office, tidying the papers, watering his plant. Pretending Malfoy wasn't there at all. For now, this would have to do. He would be the more mature of the two of them, he would. It was just another competition, really. One he'd win - like all the rest.
Three weeks on though, things were not much better. For one thing, Harry had discovered that while his new chair was silent, it was also bloody uncomfortable. He was beginning to miss his squeaky, bashed-up chair. No matter what he did, he could not find a way to sit which he could tolerate for more than five minutes. Malfoy of course, sat ramrod straight and hardly caused a whisper to rise from his chair. Not for the first time, Harry glanced over at his unnaturally poised partner, close to actually hexing him, just to get a squeak out of the chair.
Really though, the chair was the least of his worries. Whatever assurances they'd both received about trust and forgiveness, they were, it appeared, being held back with pointless paperwork and kept away from field work. Hopefully it was just a matter of time. Harry suspected that Kingsley was just being cautious in giving them time to get used to each other, but as no one ever really spoke to them, he wasn't sure how their progress was being assessed. He was getting bored of waiting.
Malfoy's desire to go out and fight dark magic and other wizarding misdemeanours would have been endearing from anyone else. Instead, it involved long tense silences combined with outbursts on anything from the scruffy state of Harry's shoes, to the quality of the coffee available downstairs, to the latest piece of protocol he was charged with familiarising himself with. The only relief in Harry's day was to poke back. Harry began to take comfort in the momentary sense of victory when he managed to change the subject of one of Malfoy's rants, or even better, start one off when the atmosphere grew too oppressive. He wasn't sure where 'being the mature one' fitted in with this, but was willing to shrug off any contradictions if it got him through the day.
Today was a silent-but-strained type of day. Malfoy had been sitting at his desk for half an hour now, body held erect but tension showing through his occasional mutterings, and by his heavy-handed leafing through of papers. And yet still not one squeak from Harry's former chair. Traitor chair. Harry glared at it - and at the man sitting in it. The worst thing about this was the way he was spending hours glaring at Malfoy's back, studying his every move. It was like bloody Sixth year again, except this time he didn't even have the justification that he knew there was something going on. There was nothing going on, just slow madness by way of either boredom or frustration.
In the interests of preserving what was left of his sanity, Harry decided it was time to start today's campaign. He didn't have the patience for a slow build-up, so went for the quickest method he knew. He balled up the piece of parchment in front of him and threw it at Malfoy. As it hit him, square in the back of the head, Harry had a moment's trepidation; perhaps this wasn't such a good idea after all. But then he manned up, calling on his Gryffindor courage, such as it was, and held his head high as Malfoy turned, slowly. He was immensely gratified to hear a slow creak as the chair turned, but kept his eyes fixed on Malfoy's face, eager to gauge his reaction.
Malfoy's eyes narrowed. "What exactly do you think you are doing?"
Harry adopted what he hoped was an innocent expression. The kind of innocent expression which spoke of the opposite to innocence. He grinned, teeth bared.
"Me? Nothing much."
"I don't have time for your juvenile games-" began Malfoy.
"Yes you do. All we have is time. It's a like a prison sentence, really," interrupted Harry. As Malfoy's face darkened, Harry realised he might have pushed a little too far: Lucius Malfoy was after all, still an unwilling inhabitant in Azkaban.
"Well much as being stuck with you is somewhat akin to a life sentence, I'm sure, this is actually where I want to be. Just because you don't have the brains to do more than run around pointing your wand at people, doesn't mean there isn't more to this job."
Harry snorted at the insult. "Sounds like you're just trying to justify being stuck here and ignored."
Malfoy fixed him with a perfect sneer. "How could I be ignored?" Harry rolled his eyes at such a... Malfoy response. "You just can't see the truth. I've been stuck in here to babysit the Boy who Acts, not Thinks."
"Oh yes, very original," Harry sighed. He had never liked the 'Boy who...' titles.
"Well what else am I supposed to think? I've reviewed your past cases you know. All of them. It seems that your Weasel pulled you out of more holes than would be necessary if you were in any way competent."
"That's ridiculous!" Harry protested, a little too quickly. He had sometimes worried that one of Ron's roles as his partner was to compensate for his reliance on instinct. How did Malfoy do that, anyway? He always seemed to get right to the heart of all his insecurities. He wasn't going to show that it had hit a nerve though. Ron was his best friend and whatever the reasons, they had worked well together. He sniffed. "Ronand I made a great team. And I'm a good Auror."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "He was eager enough to leave you." Harry groaned inwardly. Another lucky shot: he did feel rather abandoned. It was a private thought, one he'd not shared with Ron or anyone else. He wasn't going to now either.
He glared at his perceptive but annoying partner. Denial was going to be the only way forward. "That's got nothing to do with it, and you know it!"
Malfoy closed his eyes and turned back to his desk. "You keep telling yourself that, if it makes you feel better," he muttered under his breath.
"Oh just shut up you stupid... stupid ferret." Harry retorted, irritated enough to fall back on old insults.
"That's really the best you can do?" Malfoy sounding bored, didn't even look up as he dismissed Harry's childish response.
Mildly frustrated at such obvious disinterest, Harry sighed and began to fidget in his chair.
After a minute of Harry's restless twitching and tapping, Malfoy did turn to look at him. "Yes, well, you actually only merit a small portion of my attention at the moment, this is far more interesting. As you would know if you did more than sigh and fidget." Malfoy gestured to the copy of the Daily Prophet he had been reading. After a brief internal debate, Harry realised he was more curious than annoyed, and came over to have a look. His eyes widened as he took in the article which Malfoy had tapped with his long fingers, impatiently.
There had been a break-in at a pureblood's estate. Several things had been stolen, including a rare and valuable collection of artefacts, rumoured to straddle the line between legal and dark. Harry hadn't heard anything on the Auror grapevine, and it seemed that the family had not yet contacted the MLE. Harry gave Malfoy a speculative look. Maybe with his ties to the pureblood world, he could gain them access to what looked to be an interesting case.
The next four weeks of Harry's life passed by in an exhilarating blur as they worked their first case together. Malfoy it turned out, was invaluable for the extra insight his upbringing gave him and was willing to share, under a layer of sarcasm and criticism anyway, his knowledge of pureblood society. He was also talented at putting together the smallest of details, in a way that matched well with Harry's more instinctive approach. They were both as driven as each other, and on a few occasions the animosity between them dropped to almost nothing as they focused on their joint targets. Finally, they brought in the greatest thief the wizarding world had seen in years, and thousands of Galleons-worth of stolen artefacts, jewels and books.
With their first case closed, Harry was forced to admit that they made a good team. Malfoy still annoyed the hell out of him, but the satisfaction of a job well done over rode the frustrations of being stuck with the egoistic idiot. Except he wasn't an idiot, as had been made abundantly clear over the past month. Grudgingly, Harry could admit that to himself. Didn't mean he had to admit it aloud though.
After working a few more cases, they had settled into a familiar pattern. Daily insults, the odd escalation into pushes or shoves, even the odd hex (well Malfoy's continued needling about the 'Weaselette' had got too much in the end) didn't seem to detract from their ability to work together, solve cases. The insults got more personal, not less, but began to lose their impact through sheer repetition. Kingsley had given up trying to stop them, as long as they kept up their high solve-rate and didn't embarrass the department by doing it in front of the wrong people. Everyone else either ignored them or knew to approach them singly or only about work-related matters.
One year after Malfoy had first walked into his office, their relationship had settled into a strange and paradoxical combination of comfortable, prickly, intense, close, and distant. They were still Potter and Malfoy to each other, still trading insults, but they got on well enough. They didn't socialise outside of work, or talk much about their personal lives: the focus was on work. There remained a strained air between them though, to some degree. Harry tried not to dwell on the reasons why.
It had all started when Harry had became uncomfortably aware that he was developing a bit of problem. Without the easy friendship Ron had offered as part of the Auror partnership, Harry was more likely to find himself with his own thoughts for company. And those thoughts sometimes ran along the lines of nice arse, but for entirely the wrong person. Or even type of person. First it was the sight of Ben Erikson, hot and sweaty after a work out, in the changing rooms at work. Harry was drawn to his body in a way which made him flush. And adjust himself. Then it was meeting Oliver Wood to talk over some security details for the upcoming Quidditch world cup, and being uncomfortable aware that he was a little too interested in the stretch of t-shirt over muscles, then strength of his jaw line. He began to notice the broad, hard outlines of chests and backs, legs and arses.
Eventually, Harry was forced to be honest enough with himself to admit that men were interesting to him, that he was attracted to them. Sexually. There was no other explanation for the way his breath would quicken or his trousers tighten in those moments.
Harry spent a considerable amount of energy burying these thoughts deep. He was with Ginny, he was a father. In the end he decided that he might look, occasionally, but as he never did anything, it was fine. Everyone was entitled to a fantasy life, after all. Not that he had fantasies, just flashes of attraction and sometimes desire. He never acted on them, or told anyone.
What took him by surprise was when these rogue feelings began to pop up, with increasing frequency, a little closer to home.
"Look Potter, I don't care about your frankly boring life outside of this office," Malfoy cut off Harry's morning ramble about how Ginny had spent the weekend grumbling about buying a new sofa, and his musings on which was better, something comfortable or something which could endure the onslaught of three children. "I come here to work. I'm not interested in yet another treatise on the inherent dullness of marriage. I'm not even interested in being your friend."
"Do you have to be this rude?" A shudder of irritation passed down Harry's neck and back. He knew if was stupid of him to have talked about home, but he'd had a build up of domestic tension over the weekend, and he knew he was looking to release it somehow. He was well aware that Malfoy would be an arse if he talked about it, but it didn't mean he had to enjoy the reaction. "It's barely 10am and I'm just making conversation."
"Is that what you call it? It was more like some kind of aural anaesthetic. Or a pathetic pain-inducing curse," Malfoy drawled back.
"Yes well, I suppose you can't help being so insufferable," even if the way you curl your top lip when you sneer like that makes me want to lick it. Harry clamped down on the thought as soon as it popped up, and continued seamlessly. He'd had a lot of practice over the past few months. "It's not like you have a life. You're twenty-eight years old and still live with your mother." Malfoy drew himself up, pink flushing across his cheeks. Harry swallowed at the sight, distracted for a moment by the thought of those cheeks aglow with another kind of passion.
"Oh a cheap shot Potter, a cheap shot. Especially as you married yours - or as near as you could get." Attraction easily flipped back to anger once Malfoy had said this. Before Harry could retaliate - insults to his parents or Ginny always made him livid and he needed time to actually get the words out - Malfoy was diving in again. "And at least I get to go out, have fun. Get laid more than you do too, I bet." This rankled as Harry only went out to meet Ron and Hermione, and he and Ginny slept with each other so rarely that Malfoy was probably right on that front too. It didn't mean he had admit it though.
Harry squirmed with discomfort. He always did around Malfoy, because whenever they spent any amount of time together, he wanted to reach out and touch him. Feel the angle of those cheeks with his fingers. The hard line of bone under skin at the shoulder, the hip. Apply pressure to the resistance of firm muscle. It was a physical compulsion. Of course, he also wanted to kill the bastard, especially when he was being malicious. Or he did his spooky insightful insulting thing. The whole thing was just a mass of confusion for Harry.
"You are an absolute idiot sometimes, Malfoy. Just leave what you obviously don't understand - a real relationship - alone. Besides, it really is too early for this. I'm going to get some coffee. For myself." And with that Harry swished out of the office, a childish end to a stupid spat. Once away from the door, Harry swore under his breath and stomped off in the direction of the coffee machine.
In truth, currently it was torture working with Malfoy, but Harry knew it was just a stupid crush. He could get over it, he was true to Ginny, faithful, he loved her. This stupid physical attraction was nothing, it was not voluntary and it didn't count. In a way it was good that Malfoy could be such a prick: it certainly helped take the edge off sometimes, as it had just now. With time Harry knew he would forget about the hot rush, the thrill of the accidental touch. Maybe he was just having his adolescence now as he'd been too busy at the time. He would look back on this period of time with a little embarrassment and life would return to normal. Malfoy would be just another person again. He had to weather it, ignore it, until it passed. His feelings towards Malfoy had moved past hate; he could move past this confused infatuation too.
As Harry poured himself a coffee, he tried to recollect what it was Malfoy had said to rile him. In all honesty, they'd done this so many times it all blurred into one and away from the git he couldn't bring himself to care. He sighed, resigned to the rest of the day being awkward. Making a last-minute decision, he poured a second cup and walked back to his office.
Pushing open the door with his elbow, he saw Malfoy was in his usual spot, head bent over some report or other.
"Honestly, you still don't remember that you're a wizard. It would be much easier to just levitate those back," was Malfoy's way of greeting his return. "Amateur."
Gritting his teeth, Harry made his way over to Malfoy's desk and put the coffee down, a reluctant peace offering. He just wanted to move on. Malfoy had crossed one of their invisible lines, but then so had he. They weren't supposed to mention their parents or wives, ex or otherwise. Malfoy, as if reading his mind, glanced up and flashed him a slightly apologetic look; his face open for the briefest of seconds. It warmed Harry from the inside out. "Sorry, forgot the rules. I'm just having a bad morning," Malfoy apologised, with a small smile.
And with that, Harry forgave him. He pulled his chair (still silent; still uncomfortable) over next to Malfoy's and sat down. Together they went over the details from their current case. There was something which didn't quite add up, and with a twinge of guilt Harry realised that while he'd gone home on Friday and promptly forgotten about it amidst the noise and chaos of home, Malfoy had obviously spent all weekend fretting about it, leading to his foul mood this morning. Ignoring the way Malfoy smelt (fresh and almost floral this morning), Harry focused on his work.
After a full day - which had actually turned out much better than expected after an in-depth review of the case in the morning, followed by an interview in the afternoon which had offered up some tantalising new leads - Harry went home feeling satisfied.
Sitting eating dinner by himself, as he'd arrived home too late to eat with his family (yet again), Harry found himself dwelling on his strange working relationship. He got to spend every day with Malfoy, and the constant mocking banter combined with good team work on cases, was, perhaps, enough. Smiling at the thought of how Malfoy stood his ground and wouldn't take anyone looking down on him or dismissing him, yet also how he now knew when to offer an apology, Harry decided that he could be satisfied with their odd almost-friendship as enough of a taste of the other man to make the physical attraction merely an annoying background buzz. Maybe it was just that he liked him as a person, but due to their fucked-up beginning, he had no way of expressing this other than as somehow sexual. Or maybe it was just bad timing, just Malfoy being the man he spent the most time with when he had discovered he was attracted to men too. Whatever it was, his instincts were to shrug it off, so he did. As much as he could.
That night, with Ginny asleep all soft and familiar by his side, Harry wondered about their marriage. He often did, at random, quiet points in the day. This feeling of being cozy, comfortable, that was true love, right? All marriages had off days, periods of boredom, of no attraction, didn't they? Sometimes you didn't want to sleep with your partner, or even talk to them. That was normal. Marriage was something to work for, to not take for granted. No one ever said it was supposed to be easy, and it was unrealistic to expect every day to be filled with passion after more than ten years together.
His final thought that night was that at least he was sure that there wasn't a connection between his crush and the way he felt about his marriage. His feelings about his marriage pre-dated Malfoy's re-emergence and anyway, his marriage was real life, the attraction to Malfoy was a pretend world of primitive emotions and physical reactions. Nothing more. Listening to his wife's quiet snores, Harry rolled over and went to sleep.
It was a cold winter's day when they walked into the travelling supplies shop. It should have been a routine enquiry, following up a lead from the day before, but Vine, the wizard they were there to talk to, pulled out his wand and started firing out Dark curses almost immediately. Flashes of colour shot past Harry, and he ducked and rolled away just in time to dodge a line of light he actually heard hissing as it sped past him. Stopping behind the temporary shelter of the shop counter, Harry cursed his earlier acceptance of Shelwood's description of Vine as 'harmless'. At least they'd stopped him inside the shop, and not out in Diagon Alley.
Looking round the room as quickly as he could to assess the situation, Harry took in Malfoy's position. He was on the opposite side of the room, safe behind a large barrel. As his eyes met Harry's he shook his head and grimaced, obviously also annoyed at their shoddy information; then grinned as he made the hand signal they'd developed for the Mallett attack, named after one of their precious cases. It was a good call, and Harry grinned back and nodded. He turned to face Vine again. Before they could act he let off another curse. Red light shot across the room towards Harry, but hit the polished edge of a metal trunk instead. Harry watched in horror as it was deflected towards Malfoy.
Malfoy was on the floor. Not moving. There was blood. Lots of blood. Harry was aware of the sound of his own pulse thrumming in his ears. For a moment he was back in the bathroom at Hogwarts. The room began to quiver around him, memory and reality colliding into one overwhelming feeling of terrible fear and anger. Then Harry remembered Vine. He looked up and saw him standing there, a cold smile on his face. Harry leapt up, wand in hand, thoughts of his own safety forgotten. He flung out a stunning hex with a growl. It bounced off Vine's wards, but then Harry flung another, and then all the spells he could think of. When he stopped, Vine was also lying on the floor, still breathing but unconscious.
Shaking, Harry made his way over to Malfoy and cast a simple diagnostic spell, an Auror staple. As soon as he saw that Malfoy was alive, but with disturbingly weak life signs, he sent his Patronus to St Mungo's requesting urgent assistance, not daring to Apparate with Malfoy in such a state. A growing pool of blood was gathering around his partner's body, a metallic tang in the air. As an afterthought, he sent out another Patronus: its message just one terse sentence to request back-up.
Harry collapsed back down on the floor, dimly aware as mediwizards brought him to St Mungo's, patched up the spell damage (some kind of burn: he hadn't noticed it at the time) he'd received on his left arm and shoulder. Then he went in search of Malfoy. He found him in a room nearby. He was pale, too pale, and lying still and silent on a bed. Eyes wild, desperate, Harry stepped forward, but found his way barred and a cool hand pressed on his arm. He looked up into the face of Narcissa Malfoy. He learned two things in that moment. One, Malfoy was alive. There was worry etched onto her face, but not loss. Tense relief flooded his body. Two, Harry wasn't welcome there right now. Her eyes were blank when they met his. He held no significance for her in that moment. He tried to ask to stay, but found that he couldn't speak. Instead, defeated, he let himself be guided out of the room, the door shutting behind him as he stood outside, nowhere else to go.
Ron found him, slumped in a chair in the hospital corridor, muttering, hair almost on end as he raked his hands through it. His behaviour had unsettled, then scared the nurses and they'd contacted his friends. Ron took him back to the quiet home he shared with Hermione. He spent the next few hours sitting, wordless. In the end Hermione took him out, Ron left at home with the babies. She took him to a nameless pub Harry didn't recognise. She bought him a drink and slowly, painfully dragged the secret of his attraction to Malfoy out.
"Harry, this is more than worry for your partner, can you see that? Even if it was Ron lying in a hospital bed," Hermione's voice cracked and she paused for a moment and swallowed. "Ron, who's been your good friend for so many years, I don't think you would react like this."
Harry couldn't bear to see the soft pity in her eyes.
Hermione reached out and held his hands in hers. In her gentlest voice she spoke. "Harry, you love him, don't you?" Harry closed his eyes, as if to shut out her words. He couldn't, of course because... because they were the truth.
The room spun around him, and not because of the drink in his hand. He loved Draco Malfoy. Of course he did. Suddenly he saw it all. He felt alive when he was with him. He loved Malfoy's cleverness, the way he challenged him, the way he told the truth, always. He felt him, physically, like an electric current over his skin, or his magic tingling through his body. He knew he every smirk, smile and scowl. He could read tension, worry, joy, relief in his body. And most of all, all that attraction was no stupid crush but the deep desire to be with him. To know him, in every way. Harry felt his world fall away. He buried his head in his hands. "All my life is a lie," he whispered.
Hermione held onto his arm, and with a calculating glance around her and a quick shrug, Disapparated. The shock of the unexpected apparition was like a dunking in cold water, and Harry stumbled, feeling sick, then looked around him. They were in the dark and mildewed sitting room of Grimmauld Place.
"Sorry for the lack of warning," Hermione's voice was quiet but a little shaky, "but I really didn't want to have to continue this conversation in public." She brought him over to a moth-eaten sofa. "Sit!" she ordered, her tone firm but quiet. He complied, and remained immobile and listless as she bustled round for a minute, lighting a fire with a practised flick of her wand. Hermione walked out, returning a short while later with two steaming mugs of Earl Grey and a damp-smelling blanket.
Wrapped in the blanket, Harry felt somehow safe in this forgotten space, the one place that was his alone. Hermione's tender care was too much to bear, so much more than he felt he deserved, and Harry broke down, tears pouring down his face. He hadn't cried for a long time, years, but now he couldn't stop. Soon he was barely conscious of Hermione's presence, just lost in the crashing waves of loss, confusion, sorrow. She sat with him, cradling him in her arms for a long time as he wept. Eventually he calmed, exhausted. Slowly, carefully, she pulled back and looked at him with gentle, sad eyes.
Worn out, Harry met her eyes. "Ginny," his voice wavered as he said his wife's name. "I do love her, but not like this. She's the memories of that time of peace and hope after Voldemort died. She's the mother of my children. But him... he's the air I breathe. That sounds.. pathetic, but that's how it feels." Harry's voice cracked, his throat raw from the crying.
"Harry, I know that the two of you have had an intense relationship, when you were younger as well as now as partners. But are you... sure? I didn't even know that you were attracted to men, Harry." Hermione sounded so tentative, so unlike her usual confident self. "You've kept so much hidden. I don't know what to think, what to believe anymore."
"I'm sure, even though I've only just seen it for what it is," answered Harry, miserably. "And yes, I've known for a while that I like men too." he paused, uncertain of how to explain how he felt. "It's just one of those things," he shrugged "I never thought I'd ever act on it, that it would really be relevant in my life." He stopped, and Hermione kept quiet, perhaps sensing that he had more to say. If she had spoken, Harry didn't think he'd have been able to go on. "I don't know if it ever will be. Acted on, that is. I want.. so much.. but it's not really likely, is it." He gave his friend a wry half-smile. "The thing is though.. I don't think I can keep living the way I have," his voice lowering to a whisper "I can't stay with Ginny. It's a lie, it's not enough. I'll suffocate if I stay."
Hermione's face was solemn as she regarded Harry. "Are you going to leave? You... your children," tears started to run down her cheeks at this. "Oh Harry, I don't know what to say. She's my friend, Ron's family... this is going to hurt her so much. And others too. I know you're in pain, and I want to help you. But I'm going to be stuck in the middle here."
Harry looked down at the floor. "It's ok, Hermione. Be there for her. Make sure the kids are ok. I just need some time... I'm so confused right now." Harry felt crumpled, drained. He didn't think he could do much more talking, today.
She held his hands, as she had earlier, a lifetime ago in the pub. "Ok Harry, ok."
They sat like that for a while, until Hermione gently disengaged herself, wiped her face dry, and brushed her hands flat against her jeans. "I have to get back, I've got to see to my babies. But I'll be back. I.." she hesitated, unsure, "I don't know what I'm going to say to Ginny. Maybe just where you are, nothing more." As if suddenly decided, her voice was fierce as she continued. "I won't say more than that because the rest is up to you." With a sigh and a little more warmth she added "Goodbye, Harry."
Harry could see the shine of tears gathering in her eyes again. Hermione stood and gave him one last look, all sorrow, pity, sadness. Then she was gone.
Harry sat, alone. He sat until his body grew numb and then ached. He stood up, seeing and not seeing the room around him. Idly, he started opening doors and drawers. He felt a vicious stab of triumph when he unearthed a bottle of firewhisky in a sideboard, and sloshed out the cold tea from his untouched mug into the crusted sink in the bathroom.
Number twelve Grimmauld Place was perhaps the most depressing place he knew, so it suited his mood. He'd never sold it, or visited it either, since he married Ginny. It was his last tie to Sirius and he had just buried the thought of it under all his other concerns in life. Now, he was grateful for the dark, the filth, the stench of neglect. Harry wallowed in his misery. He thought of Sirius doing the same, all those years back. Now he was the miserable shadow of a man trapped by his own darkness in the house. He drank himself to the point of passing out, and that was how he fell asleep the first night. And the next. He felt no hunger, only a soul-destroying emptiness.
In the deepest part of the night, he curled up and tortured himself with memories of his children, of all the calm he was so selfishly destroying. On the third day, Ginny arrived, and it was sad and terrible. She looked awful, like she hadn't slept either. They screamed at each other, throwing around blame and recriminations. They had never been like this before. Eventually, they had calmed enough to cry. Harry did not mention Malfoy, just that he had grown to realise that he was gay, that he couldn't go on with their marriage. That he did care about her, but couldn't lie about who he was.
When she asked him if there was anyone he couldn't meet her eye, and he knew that she knew. He'd never seen Ginny look so sad before. He was ashamed that even at this point he had still been lying to her. He refused to go home, not even to see the children. He couldn't bear for them to see him like this. He was filled with guilt for being selfish for once, and guilt because he knew Ginny had no choice about how the children were seeing her. And he did still love her, he'd never hurt her like this before. His heart broke. Harry sank deeper into despair. She did not come again.
Hermione brought him food. Sometimes he ate it. His sleep was messed up: he was awake in the silent hours before dawn, slowly driving himself crazy, drinking himself numb. He slept for hours during the day, hidden behind the heavy folds of musty curtains. He would wake up, determined to escape somehow but he didn't know how, so he would crawl straight back into bed. There were only shadows and shades in his world.
Most times she did not stay, but occasionally Hermione tried to talk to him, to regain the closeness they'd shared by firelight, in a room scented with mould and bergamot. Harry hardly heard her words and would turn his back to her.
Sometimes Harry thought back to the cool bright white space of the waiting room, and Dumbledore, and death. Would he better off there? Away from the pain. He knew he couldn't though, he knew he must somehow recover, be a father again. He did not know how.
Malfoy seemed like a surreal dream, an illusion. So did his job. Hermione had told him he was now on an official leave of absence. He did not care.
In the end, it was Malfoy who made him leave the house. He arrived one day, uninvited, and told Harry off. First for inconveniencing him, then for throwing away his chance at a charmed life. The part that got Harry out of bed, clean and sober though, was the admission that he missed Harry and the challenge he offered him in life. He needed him to be there. A single spark of hope lit Harry, and it was enough.
They stood beneath a budding cherry tree and pledged a friendship with a handshake and the gift of each other's names; Harry and Draco.
Harry stayed at Grimmauld Place. When blossom covered the cherry tree and each wisp of breeze brought with it a flurry of white petals, Harry decided it was time to see his children. He met them at Ron and Hermione's, not yet able to face his old home nor yet welcome at The Burrow. He hugged them to him, soft hair and warm limbs, breathing in shampoo and milk and the scent of home. It felt bittersweet, and he did not know how he'd ever be able to make it up to them. He did however, arrange to see them twice a week, an arrangement he stuck to. He did not see or talk to Ginny.
Draco came to see him, most days. Slowly he began to climb out of the darkness. They did not talk, at first. Harry would fret, apprehensive, each day before Draco appeared. He would wait, pointlessly wipe down the kitchen table, nervous energy moving him around the room. He was terrified that this would be the day he stopped coming. Draco came though, always popping by in his lunch break, an hour which always seem to pass too fast for Harry. He didn't come at weekends and the time until Monday came around was an agonising wait for Harry.
Once Draco arrived the two men would sit companionably, side by side outside in his small city garden. It was mostly barren except for the cherry tree. They sat on a stone bench, wrapped up against the cold Spring weather. When it rained they cast umbrella charms, or chose to sit instead in the basement kitchen. They would share a simple lunch of sandwiches or hot soup, which Draco often brought with him. Their conversation was sparse, limited; it seemed to be enough to just be together. Harry would have felt comfortable if it weren't for what was going unsaid: that they had acknowledged that they needed each other, that day Draco had first dragged him out into the daylight. It fed Harry's need, their companionable closeness. After Draco left he would enjoy the afterglow of his company, revelling in the time spent together.
Wednesdays and Saturdays he would see Hermione in the early afternoon, and spend time with his children. They filled him with warmth and love, hope and regrets. Saying goodbye each week made his heart ache unbearably.
As the days went by, Harry would rise with the sun and go to bed once the sun had dipped below the city skyline, trailing purple and murk and the moon, bright and blank, hung overhead instead. He began to learn a new rhythm to the day. This was all so new to Harry, just sitting not doing. His life had been a constant series of adventures, action. He'd come to a standstill of misery, but this was different. This felt like learning life again, which Harry supposed in many ways it was.
Early one morning, as Harry sat with nothing to do but wait for Draco, he decided to scrub the kitchen from top to bottom. Even though it had been cleared and cleaned to a degree when Grimmauld Place had been the Order headquarters, it had stood empty for so long that it was just as dark, grimy and mouldy as the rest of the house. By the time Harry opened the front door for Draco, there were smears of dirt down his soggy t-shirt and ancient cobwebs in his hair. Draco raised an eyebrow in question and Harry led the way down to the kitchen. When Draco saw the bucket of water, ladder and assorted rags, he laughed. "You are aware that there a spells for that, aren't you?"
"Yes, but as you've pointed out many a time, I'm not much of a wizard, am I?" Harry smiled gently at their old joke as he washed his hands at the sink. His voice was quiet. "I've decided to make this house clean. I'm going to stay here, live here and besides-"
"It gives you something to do," Draco finished for him, his gaze bright and perceptive. Harry shrugged in assent.
They did not talk again until they had finished their lunch. Harry stood up and automatically started making a pot of coffee. As they sat together Harry began to think about what he'd like to do with his house. Make it clean and light, peaceful. Somewhere his children could visit him. The familiar lump in his throat came at the thought of his children, and he turned his face away as he felt the burn of tears behind his eyes. Sighing, he promised himself that he would make all this happen.
Harry was surprised when, as Draco rose to leave, he turned to Harry and offered to drop by on Sunday to help. As soon as Draco left, Harry floo'd Hermione, his only other link to the outside world, and got the details of the place he needed. Soon he was taking a delivery of brushes and buckets, mops, brooms, paint and tools. Harry spent all of that evening, plus Saturday morning, and, once he'd got home from seeing this family, late into Saturday evening scrubbing, sweeping, and painting. By the time Draco appeared on Sunday morning, Harry was feeling aches in muscles he'd forgotten he possessed, but was nearly bouncing in his eagerness to show Draco what he'd been up to. He got a shock seeing Draco dressed in jeans, jeans! and a simple sweater which looked suspiciously like cashmere. His hair was still shower-wet and Harry felt his heart speed up at the sight. Biting down the urge to reach out or say something, instead he turned away, suddenly shy. He could feel Draco's eyes on him, and looking back he saw they were amused at his energy, yet dark with something else too. Harry stomach fluttered at the thought of what else it could be. They held each other's gaze for a moment. In the next instant he thought he must have imagined it, as there was nothing to see but a slight smirk.
Draco stood in the kitchen, his mouth very close to hanging open at the sight of the transformed room. It was possibly the most undignified Harry had ever seen him look. He quickly composed his face into something more appropriate for a Malfoy. "Well, I see you've been busy," he said dryly.
"You could say that."
Then Draco saw the pile of vegetables lying next to pans scoured shiny, and a range of cooking equipment. A look of confusion crossed his face.
"Seeing as I've done all the hard work already, you're going to help me cook lunch," Harry announced cheerfully.
Draco shook his head. "Malfoys don't cook."
"Yes, well we'll see about that." Harry grinned.
With a resigned pout of the lips, which was only slightly distracting as Harry was already in such a good mood, Malfoy reluctantly came over to look at the food.
"It's not really that different to potions, you know," Harry offered.
"Is that supposed to fill me with confidence? I know I was good at potions, but I don't remember you being exactly talented in that area. Except that odd year with Slughorn... How did you manage that? Pissed me off no end at the time." Draco fixed Harry with a speculative look.
"Oh, I cheated. I had a book. I can follow a book," said Harry airily, and he thrust a heavy cookery book at Draco.
"I should have known," muttered Draco, "but in that case, let us begin."
And so was born a new tradition. Draco and Harry cooked a meal together every Sunday. Of all the bizarre occurrences in his life so far, teaching Draco Malfoy how to cook had to rank pretty highly. Of course, it turned out that the smug git was pretty good at it, his potions boast having some grounding. And if occasionally he would brush against Draco's side or arm, or find himself staring at confident hands moving as they chopped, so be it. And if sometimes Harry felt Draco's eyes on him, it just served to fan his spark of hope even as he tried to ignore how he felt. Regardless, it kept him going, week to week.
Soon Harry found that his clothes no longer hung quite so loosely, and Draco seemed to relax slightly, some hidden tension relieved. He began to talk to Harry, never seeming to expect anything in return, apart perhaps from their tentative, fledgling friendship. He spoke of work. When he admitted that he didn't want to be partnered up with anyone else, that attempts to do so had not ended well, Harry felt a thrill pass through him. Finally, Draco had ended back behind the scenes, but shrugged off any suggestion that he had lost out due to Harry's absence. He spoke of the Manor, mostly shut up now, his mother haunting a few rooms. Harry was a little unnerved by this cautious, gentle Draco, and was secretly pleased by the times they were a little sharper with each other: that spark between them always helped him to remember that he was alive.
Harry kept working at clearing and cleaning the house. Draco offered his opinion when asked - and sometimes when not - and taught Harry a few extra spells he could use. Mostly Harry liked do things the Muggle way, to work up a sweat and feel a sense of achievement at the end of each day. The other rooms were more work than the kitchen and Harry ended up vanishing anything covered in fabric, ruined as it was by damp and neglect. He ended up with an increasingly empty, but bright house.
One Saturday, when Harry arrived at the Weasley-Granger home to see his children, he found Ron, not Hermione waiting for him. He had not seen Ron since he had left Ginny. Resigned understanding showed in Ron's face as the two old friends regarded each other.
They stood in the hallway, a silence hanging between them.
"When we were seventeen, I was scared it would end like this," Ron said, eventually. "With you hurting my sister."
Harry looked down, uncomfortable, ashamed. "I am sorry about that."
"Don't say it Harry, I don't really want to hear it," said Ron bitterly. Harry swallowed. This was going to be harder than he had thought it would be.
Still, it was Ron who spoke again. "You know Harry, I have thought about you and Ginny splitting up, over the years. Not because you weren't happy, but just because I can't help but... plan a couple of moves ahead." Harry nodded, understanding Ron and his chess analogy, his need to consider every possibility. Ron continued "I decided a long time ago that whatever happened, you'd always be my friend. I'm... It's taken me a while to be ok to see you. But I do want to try. It might take a bit of time though."
They looked at each other for a long moment. Harry reached out and put his hand on Ron's arm. "Thank you," he whispered. "Me too."
After Harry had hugged, played with and talked to James, Albus and Lily, he stopped by the kitchen to have a cup of tea with Ron. It was still awkward but at least he knew that they were both trying.
"You know, I didn't see the gay thing coming, mate," Ron said. Harry choked on his tea in surprise. He should have expected Ron to get to point, really. He put his cup down.
"No, nor did I," Harry smiled ruefully. He looked directly at Ron. "I can't change who I am though."
Harry was unapologetic. He had to be. There was a a long pause before Ron spoke again.
"So Malfoy, Harry?" he asked, but it wasn't really a question.
"Yes, Draco," Ron winced at his use of Draco's name. Harry sighed sadly. "But not like that. Well nothing's happened, anyway." He looked up. "We are friends though, you'll have to accept that."
Ron nodded, slowly.
Relieved, Harry sat back and drank his tea.
Tentatively, they began to rebuild their friendship, with the occasional evening spent chatting on the floo about Quidditch and the latest news from the Weasleys, all except Ginny of course. A few weeks later, Harry invited Ron and Hermione over for Sunday lunch with him and Draco. Draco sat, silent yet defiant, throughout the meal. Hermione cast understanding glances at him and at Harry which both gratified and annoyed, in equal measure. Ron looked around with intelligent eyes, and wisely stuck to commenting on the progress Harry had made with the house.
After they left Harry fell quiet as he nursed the wound of his damaged friendship. He could see a future in which it was mended, if changed. He hoped he was right.
When green leaves and cherries, a rosy-blushed yellow as they ripened, hung on the tree, Draco told Harry it was time to move beyond the little back yard. On a Sunday morning Harry found himself being led out of his front door (after creeping past the still curtained-off portrait of Mrs Black) and crossing the road beside long legs and blond hair. Malfoy pulled back a heavy gate, old enough that it no longer hung straight on its hinges. It formed the only break in the elegant ironwork, flaked with layers of dark paint, which surrounded the space. Stepping through, they found themselves in a small square, bushes all around, some evergreen, some bright with the leaves of a new season. Everything was overgrown. Overhead, a London Plane Tree's broad branches arched up to the sky, its leaves wide but still fresh and new. The place felt wild but peaceful. Hidden to one side was a crooked little bench.
They sat together - a little gingerly as the bench was listing to one side in quite an alarming fashion - and contemplated the space around them.
"I like it," announced Harry.
Draco didn't respond. He didn't need to: they were now as comfortable in their silences as they were in their teasing exchanges or their quiet serious chats.
Due to the angle of the seat, Harry found himself leaning into Draco. He could feel the warmth of the other man's body through their clothes. It was intoxicating. The close press of their legs, their hips, made him close his eyes. He sat, drinking in the feeling of closeness until it was almost unbearable not to have more.
He opened his eyes when he felt a shaky hand brush across his own. Draco was staring at his hand. Harry could feel Draco's body start to tremble.
"Draco..." he whispered, "I..." He paused, his voice stressed by the burden of his months-worth of attraction, his disastrous marriage break-up, his falling apart.
"Oh shut up, Harry. It's not the time for you to start worrying." Draco brushed the back of Harry's hand with his thumb. "You idiot, why do you think I've been coming to see you near enough every day?" He looked up, grey eyes fierce in the tree's shade. He brushed his thumb across the back of Harry's hand once more, then gripped it tightly, wrapping his fingers around Harry's. With his other hand he gently stroked the outline of Harry's jaw, fingers rasping across stubble.
The world went silent as they leant in towards each other, and ever so gently, their lips met. Harry could feel Draco's breath, warm on his face. Tentatively, they began to kiss. Harry was surprised by the soft firmness of Draco's lips, the hot warmth of his mouth. He was lost and it was, without doubt, the best kiss of his life.
They pulled back, mirrored expressions of wonder, surprise and hope in their smiles.
"I've wanted to do that for so long," groaned Harry gently. Draco didn't answer, instead wrapping his hand behind Harry's head and kissing him again. This time the kiss heated up quickly, mouths opening to each other, tongues exploring. Their hands roamed too, through hair and up and down backs.
Harry and Draco were panting by the time they pulled back from their second kiss. Harry was the most aroused that he had been in a long time. Maybe ever. A quick, thrilling glance at Draco told him he felt the same. Without a second thought Harry Apparated them straight into his bedroom. They landed with a pop and a tumble on Harry's bed. Surprise made them break apart for a moment.
"Well! You don't do things by half measures, do you?" Draco smiled as Harry ducked his head and blushed. But then Harry looked up, desire and determination written all over his face.
"No, I don't," he whispered, low and intense. And this time it was Harry who reached out first. He ran his hands up through the short hair at the back of Draco's head, then down round across to his collar bone, thumbs pressing through flesh to feel Draco's ribs, one at a time as he made his way down to his sharp hips. Holding on, he bent his head forward and kissed Draco's fluttering pulse at his neck, inhaling his warm scent, nosing his way across his jaw as he dropped soft kisses along its hard lines. His hand worked its way under Draco's thin sweater and he touched the hot dry skin of his back. Draco's hands began their own journey across Harry's body: never stopping, always moving.
They kissed again, deeply, passionately. Without seeing when or how, they stripped, clothes discarded in lost little heaps around the bed. Draco's hands sought out the warmth of Harry's back and chest, as Harry did the same, while both still kissing, mouths arching against each other as their bodies moved, hungry for the feel of skin on skin; always seeking more.
They outlined each other's bodies with desperate hands, pulling back to look at their nakedness and arousal, admiring the way their limbs were already wrapping around each other. Harry greeted the hidden planes of Draco's body with greedy kisses, marvelling at his pale skin, his flat, firm back and long legs. He could taste Draco on his tongue, salty and metallic, pure sex and lust. His breath started to come in ragged bursts when he heard Draco groaning as he attacked him with his lips, his teeth, his tongue. With sudden force, Draco flipped them over, pinning him down with passionate eyes, his face fierce, and Harry stopped breathing altogether. Slowly, Draco moved. His fingers trailed across Harry's chest and down his arms, to the crook of this elbows. He bent forward, following his fingers with his mouth. Harry felt alive, aware of every nerve ending as his skin sang with pleasure. He dragged in a breath and then found himself keening with the sensation of Draco's tongue marking swirls across his skin.
Touching, licking, kissing, biting was not enough though. They pulled each other close, closer; muscle, heat and want defining them. Harry's lips found Draco's again, and he poured every bit of desire into the kiss. Painfully hard erections, all hot and swollen, rubbed between them. They moved against each other, a slow rhythm of desperation. As the heat built, hard and sticky against their stomachs, Harry reached a hand down, Draco swiftly mirroring him. The sensation of touching an erect penis that wasn't his own was almost enough to undo Harry - especially when Draco's hand in turn moved on his, first firm and slow but soon building to something more. Draco set a frenzied rhythm which he matched, trying to satisfy the all-consuming fire burning between them. Soon it had built to a heat and intensity beyond anything Harry had experienced before. As his thoughts lost all coherence, Harry heard Draco cry out and pulse in his hand, and found himself blinded by a brilliant white light as he came in turn.
Harry and Draco rested against each other, breathless and sticky. The room spun a little. They looked at each other shakily and smiled, then kissed deeply. Draco accio'd his wand and cleaned them up. Lying back, spent, their fingers entwined, sound rushed back into the world and they were still. Harry felt more at home than he had since he'd first entered the wizarding world, just holding Draco's hand and listening to birds singing and his heart beating and the wind in the trees outside.
Finally, Harry turned to Draco, a shy smile on his face.
"Um-" he started, feeling a little vulnerable.
"Um indeed." Draco squeezed Harry's hand, a big grin stretching across his face. The sight made Harry's heart soar.
There was a silence as Harry considered what to say next. He gazed into Draco's grey eyes, the thread of his thoughts becoming lost in the feelings of just being, there, together. In the end he cleared his throat and whispered the one thing he feared and wanted the most. "I never want to let you go."
"I know," Draco smiled and kissed him gently. "I want to stay here with you." Harry didn't know if he meant right now or forever. He didn't care. "You'll have to let me go tonight though. I need to go back, I need to talk to my mother," he took a deep breath and continued, whispering, "But I'll come back, tomorrow. I promise."
"You don't need to leave right now though, do you?" Harry knew he probably sounded a little desperate, even though he tried to aim for playful.
"Oh no, not now. Not when there's still so much to..." and, leaving his sentence unfinished, Draco's hands began to wander and soon Harry was reassured that Draco really did want to be there, as they found themselves again lost in each other and beyond the need for words.
The next day Draco did come back. At lunch they sat and ate together, then had a long, passionate kissing session which left Harry aching for Draco all afternoon. Draco returned after work. It was the first evening they had spent together, and Harry felt a little awkward. There was no precedent set for what they should do or how they should behave around one another. They cooked a simple meal of chicken and onions, bread and salad, then sat to eat it with a bottle of wine. Once fed and gently relaxed by the wine, they sat together up in the sitting room, leant into each other on the sofa. In the long summer evening, they talked until the sun slowly set in a glory of reds and purple-edged clouds. Hesitantly, they tried out their new intimacy, never letting go of each other, always connected by some form of a touch: hands held, legs stroked. There were moments of silence filled with meaningful glances. Once the room had grown dark they made their way to Harry's room by unspoken mutual agreement.
Naked, in the dark, all insecurities and worries fell away. They drank up each other's bodies and only fell asleep once exhausted.
Draco stayed. Tight-lipped and pale, he returned from the Manor the next Saturday with most of his belongings. He refused to tell Harry what his mother had said to him, but Harry could guess. He soothed Draco as best he could, with his hands, his mouth, his body.
Harry's room became their room.
The house was their house, and it was warm and bright. They filled it with light and colour. Slowly Harry and Draco built a life together, full of passion and warmth. Whatever other regrets he had in life, still, every day Harry woke up and felt happy. This was what he had been looking for, without knowing it, all his life. They argued and bickered of course, but underlying everything they did was the brightness, the truth, of their love.